Who possesses the revealed Word of God, the bishops and the Pope or the People of God?
A fundamental question, surely, is: who is in possession of the Word of God? In other terms: to whom has God spoken, and to whom has he entrusted his Word? Did he give it to the episcopate so that they alone have it and they alone can communicate it to others? Or did he give it to each one of the faithful so that he or she can form the ultimate judgement on the authenticity of the Word? Or did he give it to the people as a collectivity so that they speak it authentically with the voice of the majority?
The answer is that he has spoken to the whole church, and that he has entrusted his Word to the whole church. But this was not like the depositing of a document for safekeeping; a document in which there is no life and which must be kept unaltered forever.
The whole church is in possession of revelation. But (as it were) God had to provide for two necessities: let the church grow in the understanding of the Word, but also, let the Word be safeguarded in this process. The growing into the Word is surely the task of the whole church, of each and all, bishops and laity. The formal safeguarding of it, however, is part of the sacramental ministry of the episcopate. Sacramental is a key word here: they can do it in virtue of a power received through ordination, independently of their merits.
Thus, the interplay is not between two separate or opposed parts of the church, the bishops versus their subjects; it is more subtle: all participate in one vital development but to some of them is given the charism to prevent the others from going in a wrong direction.
From: The Church: Learning and Teaching, by Ladislas Örsy, Michael Glazier 1987, chapter 1. Read the whole chapter here.
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