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For other uses, see Magisterium (disambiguation).

the bishops, taken individually, do not enjoy the privilege

of infallibility, they do, however, proclaim infallibly the
doctrine of Christ on the following conditions: namely,
when, even though dispersed throughout the world but
preserving for all that amongst themselves and with Peters successor the bond of communion, in their authoritative teaching concerning matters of faith or morals, they
are in agreement that a particular teaching is to be held
denitively and absolutely.[8]

In Catholicism, the magisterium is the authority that lays

down what is the authentic teaching of the Church.[1][2]
For the Catholic Church, that authority is vested uniquely
in the pope and the bishops who are in communion with
him.[3] Sacred Scripture and Tradition make up a single
sacred deposit of the Word of God, which is entrusted to
the Church,[4] and the magisterium is not independent of
this, since all that it proposes for belief as being divinely Such teachings of the ordinary and universal magisterium
revealed is derived from this single deposit of faith.[5]
are obviously not given in a single specic document.
They are teachings upheld as authoritative, generally for
a long time, by the entire body of bishops. Examples
given are the teaching on the reservation of ordination to
1 Solemn and ordinary
males,[9] and on the immorality of procured abortion.[2]
Neither of these has been the object of a solemn deniThe exercise of the Churchs magisterium is sometimes, tion.
but only rarely, expressed in the solemn form of an ex
Even public statements by popes or bishops on questions
cathedra papal declaration, when, in the exercise of his
of faith or morals that do not qualify as ordinary and
oce as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, in virtue
universal magisterium have an authority that Catholics
of his supreme apostolic authority, [the Bishop of Rome]
are not free to merely dismiss. They are required to give
denes a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held
that teaching religious submission: Bishops, teaching in
by the whole Church,[6] or of a similar declaration by
communion with the Roman Ponti, are to be respected
an ecumenical council. Such solemn declarations of the
by all as witnesses to divine and Catholic truth. In matChurchs teaching involve the infallibility of the Church.
ters of faith and morals, the bishops speak in the name
Pope Pius IX's denition of the Immaculate Concep- of Christ and the faithful are to accept their teaching and
tion of Mary, and Pope Pius XII's denition of the adhere to it with a religious assent. This religious subAssumption of Mary are examples of such solemn pa- mission of mind and will must be shown in a special way
pal pronouncements. Examples of solemn declarations to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Ponti, even
by ecumenical councils are the Council of Trent's decree when he is not speaking ex cathedra; that is, it must be
on justication, and the First Vatican Council's denition shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acof papal infallibility.
knowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him
The Churchs magisterium is exercised without this are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind
solemnity in statements by popes and bishops, whether and will. His mind and will in the matter may be known
collectively (as by an episcopal conference) or singly, either from the character of the documents, from his freof the same doctrine, or from his manner
in written documents such as catechisms, encyclicals quent repetition
and pastoral letters, or orally, as in homilies. These
statements are part of the ordinary magisterium of the
The First Vatican Council declared that all those things
are to be believed with divine and Catholic faith which are
contained in the Word of God, written or handed down,
and which the Church, either by a solemn judgment or
by her ordinary and universal teaching magisterium, proposes for belief as having been divinely revealed.[7] Not
everything contained in the statements of the ordinary
magisterium is infallible, but the Catholic Church holds
that the Churchs infallibility is invested in the statements of its universal ordinary magisterium: Although

2 Etymology
The word magisterium is derived from Latin magister, which originally meant the oce of a president,
chief, director, superintendent, etc. (in particular, though
rarely, the oce of tutor or instructor of youth, tutorship,
guardianship) or teaching, instruction, advice.[10]


Source and criteria

The Catholic Church teaches that Jesus Christ, the

Logos made Flesh (Gospel of John 1:14), is the source
of divine revelation. The Roman Catholic Church bases
all of its infallible teachings on sacred tradition and sacred scripture. The Magisterium consists of only all the
infallible teachings of the Church, Wherefore, by divine and Catholic faith all those things are to be believed
which are contained in the word of God as found in Scripture and tradition, and which are proposed by the Church
as matters to be believed as divinely revealed, whether
by her solemn judgment or in her ordinary and universal Magisterium. (First Vatican Council, Dei Filius 8.)
However, the criteria for the infallibility of these two
functions of the sacred Magisterium are dierent. The
sacred magisterium consist of both the Extraordinary and
dogmatic decrees of the Pope and ecumenical councils,
and the Ordinary and Universal Magisterium.

5.1.1 Bishops as authority

The most basic foundation of the Magisterium, the apostolic succession of bishops and their authority as protectors of the faith, was one of the few points that was rarely
debated by the Church Fathers. The doctrine was elaborated by Ignatius of Antioch (and others) in the face of
Gnosticism, expounded by others such as Irenaeus, Tertullian, Cyprian, Ambrose, and Augustine, and by the end
of the 2nd century AD was universally accepted by the
bishops. [16]

Some of the rst problems began to arise, however, with

the increasing worldliness of the clergy. Criticism arose
against the bishops, and an attempt was made to have
all bishops drawn from the ranks of monastic communities, whose men were seen as the holiest possible leaders. However, there had also developed in the Church a
Roman sense of government, which insisted upon order
at any cost, and this led to the phenomenon of the imThe Second Vatican Council states, For this reason Je- perial bishops, men who had to be obeyed by virtue of
sus perfected revelation by fullling it through his whole their position, regardless of their personal holiness, and
work of making Himself present and manifesting Him- the distinction between man and oce.
self: through His words and deeds, His signs and wonders, However, this understanding was not universally acbut especially through His death and glorious resurrection cepted. One of the most famous critics of the episfrom the dead and nal sending of the Spirit of truth. copal corruption was the inuential theologian Origen.
(Dei Verbum, 4). The content of Christs divine revela- Throughout his life, many of Origens writings were contion, as faithfully passed on by the Apostles, is called the sidered to be questionably orthodox, and he seemed to
Deposit of Faith, and consists of both Sacred Scripture espouse the idea of a teaching authority based on theoand Sacred Tradition (as John 21:25 states, Jesus did logical expertise alone rather than, or at least along with,
many other things as well. If every one of them were writ- apostolic succession. [18]
ten down, I suppose that even the whole world wouldn't
have room for the books that would be written.).
The teachings of popes are believed by Catholics to be 5.1.2 Other early disagreements
infallible when and only when they are speaking ex
Another early disagreement in the Church surrounding
the issue of authority manifested itself in Montanism,
The infallible teachings of the ecumenical councils conwhich began as a movement promoting the charism of
sist of the solemn dogmatic, theological or moral deprophecy. Montanism claimed, among other things, that
nitions as contained in declarations, decrees, doctrines
prophecies like those found in the Old Testament were
and condemnations (traditionally expressed in conciliar
continuing in the Church, and that new prophecies had the
canons and decrees) of councils consisting of the pope
same authority as apostolic teaching. The Church, howand the bishops from all over the world.
ever, ruled that these new prophecies were not authoriA teaching of ordinary and universal magisterium is a tative, and condemned Montanism as a heresy.[19] Other
teaching of which all bishops (including the Pope) uni- times, private revelations were recognized by the Church,
versally agree on and is also considered infallible.
but the Church continues to teach that private revelations
are altogether separate from the deposit of faith, and that
they are not required to be believed by all Catholics.




Historical development
Early Church

5.2 Medieval period

Perceptions of teaching authority in the Middle Ages are
hard to characterize because they were so varied. While
there arose a keener understanding and acceptance of papal primacy (at least until the Great Schism), there was
also an increased emphasis placed on the theologian as
well as numerous dissenters from both views.


Vatican Councils and their Popes

Papal primacy and teaching authority

Fontaines, who insisted that the theologian had a right to

maintain his own opinions in the face of episcopal and
Throughout the Middle Ages, support for the primacy of even papal rulings.
the pope (spiritually and temporally) and his ability to
speak authoritatively on matters of doctrine grew significantly. Two popes, Innocent III (11981216) and Boni- 5.2.4 Council of Constance (14141418)
face VIII (12941303), were especially inuential in advancing the power of the papacy. Innocent asserted that A signicant development in the teaching authority of
the popes power was a right bestowed by God, and devel- the Church occurred from 1414 to 1418 with the Counoped the idea of the pope not only as a teacher and spir- cil of Constance, which eectively ran the Church duritual leader but also a secular ruler. Boniface, in the pa- ing the Great Schism, during which there were three men
pal bull Unam Sanctam asserted that the spiritual world, claiming to be the pope. An early decree of this council,
headed on earth by the pope, has authority over the tem- Haec Sancta, challenged the primacy of the pope, sayporal world, and that all must submit themselves to the ing that councils represent the church, are imbued with
their power directly by Christ, and are binding even for
authority of the pope to be saved.[20]
the pope in matters of faith.[23] This declaration was later
In the medieval period, statements of this papal power declared void by the Church because the early sessions
were common in the works of theologians as well. In of the council had not been conrmed by a pope, but
the late Middle Ages, Domingo Baez attributed to the it demonstrates that there were still conciliar currents in
Pope the denitive power to declare the truths of the the church running against the doctrine of papal primacy,
faith, and Thomas Cajetan, in keeping with the distinc- likely inuenced by the corruption seen in the papacy durtion made by St. Thomas Aquinas, drew a line between ing this time period.
personal faith manifested in theologians and the authoritative faith presented as a matter of judgment by the
5.2.5 Council of Basle (1439)
The theologian began to play a more prominent role in the
teaching life of the church, as doctors were called upon
more and more to help bishops form doctrinal opinions.
In the Decretum of Gratian, a 12th-century canon lawyer, Illustrating this, at the Council of Basle in 1439, bishops
the pope is attributed the legal right to pass judgment and other clergy were greatly outnumbered by doctors of
in theological disputes, but he was certainly not guar- theology.
anteed freedom from error. The popes role was to esDespite this growth in inuence, popes still asserted their
tablish limits within which theologians, who were often
power to crack down on those perceived as rogue thebetter suited for the full expression of truth, could work.
ologians, through councils (for example, in the cases of
Thus, the popes authority was as a judge, not an infallible
Peter Abelard and Beranger) and commissions (as with
Nicolas of Autrecourt, Ockham, and Eckhart). With the
The doctrine began to visibly develop during the Refor- coming of the Reformation in 1517, this assertion of
mation, leading to a formal statement of the doctrine by papal power came to its head and the primacy and auSt. Robert Bellarmine in the early 17th century, but it did thority of the papacy over theologians was vigorously renot come to widespread acceptance until the 19th century established. However, the Council of Trent re-introduced
and the First Vatican Council.[20]
the collaboration between theologians and council Fathers, and the next centuries leading up to the First and
Second Vatican Councils were generally accepting of a
5.2.3 Theologians
broader role for the learned in the Church, although the
popes still kept a close eye on theologians and intervened
Other concepts of teaching authority gained prominence occasionally.[24]
in the Middle Ages, as well, however, including the concept of the authority of the learned expert, an idea which
began with Origen (or even earlier) and still today has 5.3 Vatican Councils and their Popes
proponents. Some allowed for the participation of theologians in the teaching life of the church, but still drew 5.3.1 Pius IX and Vatican I
distinctions between the powers of the theologian and the
pope or bishop; one example of this view is in the writ- The groundwork for papal primacy was laid in the meing of St. Thomas Aquinas, who spoke of the Mag- dieval period, and in the late Middle Ages, the idea of
isterium cathedrae pastoralis/ponticalis (Magisterium papal infallibility was introduced, but a denitive stateof the pastoral or pontical chair) and the Magisterium ment and explanation of these doctrines did not occur
cathedrae magistralis (Magisterium of a masters chair). until the 19th century, with Pope Pius IX and the First
Others held more extreme views, such as Godefroid of Vatican Council (18691870). Pius IX was the rst pope

Papal infallibility

to use the term Magisterium in the sense that it is understood today, and the concept of the ordinary and universal Magisterium was ocially established during Vatican I. In addition, this council dened the doctrine of papal infallibility, the ability of the pope to speak without
error when, acting in his capacity as pastor and teacher
of all Christians, he commits his supreme authority in the
universal Church on a question of faith or morals.[25]

Pius XII and Paul VI

Later, Pope Pius XII took the concept of the newly dened Magisterium even further, stating that the faithful
must be obedient to even the ordinary Magisterium of
the Pope, and that there can no longer be any question
of free discussion between theologians once the Pope has
spoken on a given issue.[26] Additionally, he proposed the
understanding of the theologian as a justier of the Magisterium, who ought not be concerned with the formulation of new doctrine but with the explanation of what has
been set forth by the Church.


7 References
[1] Merriam-Websters Online Dictionary
[2] Thomas Storck, What Is the Magisterium?"
[3] The task of interpreting the Word of God authentically has been entrusted solely to the magisterium of
the Church, that is, to the Pope and to the bishops
in communion with him (Catechism of the Catholic
Church, 100)
[4] Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei Verbum,
[5] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 86
[6] First Vatican Council, First Dogmatic Constitution on the
Church, chapter 4, 9
[7] Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith Dei Filius,
chapter III
[8] Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the
Church Lumen gentium, 25

Pope Paul VI agreed with this view, and in a speech to the [9] Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Responsum
International Congress on the Theology of Vatican II, he
ad propositum dubium concerning the teaching contained
described the theologian as a sort of middleman between
in Ordinatio sacerdotalis"
the Church and the faithful, entrusted with the task of
explaining to the laity why the Church teaches what she [10] Lewis and Short
[11] Archbishop Michael Sheehan, Apologetics and Catholic


Postconciliar era

Doctrine, revised by Fr. Peter Joseph ISBN 1-90115714-8, Saint Austin Press, 2001
[12] Code of Canon Law, can. 749754

The debate concerning the Magisterium, papal primacy

and infallibility, and the authority to teach in general has
not lessened since the ocial declaration of the doctrines.
Instead, the Church has faced contrary arguments; at one
end there are those with the tendency to regard even technically non-binding papal encyclicals as infallible statements and, at the other, are those who refuse to accept in
any sense controversial encyclicals such as Humanae Vitae and who consider the dogma of papal infallibility to
be itself a fallible pronouncement. The situation is complicated by changing attitudes toward authority in an increasingly democratic world, the new importance placed
on academic freedom, and new means of knowledge and
communication. In addition, the authority of theologians
is being revisited, with theologians pushing past the structures laid out for them by Pius XII and Paul VI and regarding themselves purely as academics, not in the service
of any institution.[28]

See also

[13] Lumen Gentium n. 25

[14] Thomas Aquinas, IV Sent. D. 19 q. 2, a. 2. qa 2 ad 4;
Thomas Aquinas, Quodlibet III, 9 ad 3
[15] C.f.,
[16] Congar, Yves. A Brief History of the Forms of the
Magisterium and Its Relations with Scholars. Readings
in Moral Theology: The Magisterium and Morality. Ed.
Charles E. Curran and Richard A. McCormick. New
York: Paulist Press, 1982. p. 315.
[17] Olsen, Glenn W. The theologian and the Magisterium:
the ancient and medieval background of a contemporary
controversy. Communio 7.4 (1980): p. 310.
[18] Eno, Robert B. Authority and Conict in the Early
Church. glise et Thologie 7.1 (1976): 49.
[19] Eno, Robert B: p. 47.
[20] Collins, Paul: p. 26.
[21] Congar, Yves: p. 321.

Sacred Tradition

[22] Olsen, Glenn W: pp. 313136.

Catechism of the Catholic Church

[23] Collins, Paul: p. 34.

Roman Curia

[24] Congar, Yves: pp. 318322.

[25] Congar, Yves: p. 324

[26] Congar, Yves: p. 325.
[27] Congar, Yves: p. 327.
[28] Congar, Yves: pp. 326328.


Roger Mahony, The Magisterium and Theological Dissent in Dissent in the Church (Paulist Press


Boyle, John (1995). Church Teaching Authority:

Historical and Theological Studies. University of
Notre Dame Press. ISBN 0-268-00805-1.
Gaillardetz, Richard (2012). When the Magisterium
Intervenes: The Magisterium and Theologians in Todays Church. ISBN 978-0814680544.
Gaillardetz, Richard (2003). By What Authority?: A
Primer on Scripture, the Magisterium, and the Sense
of the Faithful. ISBN 0-8146-2872-9.
Gaillardetz, Richard (1997). Teaching With Authority: A Theology of the Magisterium in the Church.
Theology and Life Series, vol. 41. Liturgical Press.
ISBN 0-8146-5529-7.
Gaillardetz, Richard (1992). Witnesses to the Faith:
Community, Infallibility, and the Ordinary Magisterium of Bishops. Paulist Press. ISBN 0-80913350-4.
Mannion, Gerard; Gaillardetz, Richard; Kerkhofs,
Jan; Wilson, Kenneth (2003). Readings in Church
Authority - Gifts and Challenges for Contemporary
Catholicism. Ashgate Press. ISBN 978-0-75460530-0.
Sullivan, Francis (2003). Creative Fidelity: Weighing and Interpreting Documents of the Magisterium.
Wipf & Stock Publishers. ISBN 1-59244-208-0.
Sullivan, Francis (2002). The Magisterium: Teaching Authority in the Catholic Church. Wipf & Stock.
ISBN 978-1-59244-060-3.


Jaime B. Achacoso, The Canonical Safeguarding

of the Word of God in Philippine Canonical Forum,
Volume II, JanuaryDecember 2000


magisterium_may07.asp Thomas Storck, What
Is the Magisterium in Catholic Faith magazine,
July/August 2001]
Jean Bainvel, Tradition and Living Magisterium in
Catholic Encyclopedia (New York 1912)
John Young, The Magisterium: A Precious Gift
in Homiletic & Pastoral Review (1 November 2008)
Austin B. Vaughan, The Role of the Ordinary Magisterium of the Universal Episcopate in Proceedings of the Twenty-second Annual Convention of the
Catholic Theological Society of America

8 External links
Pope John Paul II, The Roman Ponti Is the
Supreme Teacher
Pope John Paul II Truth in the Magisterium



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