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What does it mean to teach doctrine "with authenticity"?

What does it mean to teach doctrine ‘with authenticity’?

In theological literature, there is a permanent problem with the meaning of the word “authentic” and its derivatives. If anything the problem is compounded in canon law.

The ambivalence inherent in the term is brought out in the listing of the Oxford English Dictionary: “authentic” can mean “of authority, ... entitled to obedience or respect," or “really proceeding from its reputed source or author, of undisputed origin, genuine.” Those meanings are not the same; the first one can be rendered also as “official,” the second one must be rendered as “genuine.”

Vatican Council II uses the word repeatedly—but not univocally: bishops are “authentic teachers” (LG 25), the pope has an “authentic teaching authority . . . even when he is not speaking ex cathedra” (LG 25), and “the task of authentically interpreting the word of God . . . has been entrusted exclusively to the living teaching office of the church” (DV 10). The word is the same, but the meaning keeps shifting. At one time, what is authentic is not necessarily infallible (therefore fallible); at another time, authentic implies utter fidelity to the word of God (which is equivalent to being infallible.)

The same ambivalence is found in the new Code of Canon Law. Canon 753 uses the term authentic with the warning that it may be compatible with error:

The bishops . . . although not endowed with infallibility in teaching, are authentic doctors and teachers of the faith for the faithful entrusted to their care. . .

Canon 749 uses the same word to designate infallibility:

The College of Bishops is also endowed with infallibility in teaching . . . whenever the bishops gathered in an ecumenical council . . . or whenever, dispersed in the whole world, . . . they authentically teach what belongs to faith and morals,. . . as to be definitively held.

The conclusion is inevitable: the official documents of the church use the term “authentic” in two distinct senses; the one is “official but subject to correction if so warranted”; the other is “really proceeding from its reputed source or author, of undisputed origin, genuine.” (19)

19. 0n the use of “authentic” see also the judicious remarks of Sullivan in his Magisterium, pp. 26-28.

Thus, there are two types of authentic teaching; one with authority but not irreformable; the other with the assistance of the Spirit solemnly confirming that a particular point of doctrine is an integral part of God’s revelation. The capacity for such an authentication (in the fullest sense), the Catholic church believes, is given to the episcopal college.

The Word, therefore, cannot get lost; after nearly two thousand years, I can still hear the message. If there were no ways and means of finding it with certainty today, as far as I am concerned, the preaching of the Logos would have been in vain. His words would have been an ephemeral phenomenon, long lost in the mist of history.

Of course, it would be useless to search in the New Testament for an explicit statement concerning the power of the episcopate to authenticate the Word; it has developed gradually. Originally, the apostles were given the command to go out and proclaim the mighty deeds of God; they carried the genuine Word; they witnessed what they had seen and heard; they were the link between Jesus and the first converts. But what about later generations? How could they know?

Long before a theoretical answer was worked out, the church found a practical solution, and found it in an existential way. If there were dissensions, peace and unity had to be restored; a decision had to be made. Thus, from the earliest of times, the practice of holding synods developed. The deliberations and the decisions of the first one are reported in the Acts of the Apostles (concerning the observance of )udaic laws by converts from paganism; see Acts 15). Eventually, the local synods led to “great synods”—we call them ecumenical councils. Behind this evolution, there was, no doubt, the conviction that the Spirit of the Lord would always be with the community, and protect it from falsehood. But if the synods could mislead the church, there would be no protection—which was unthinkable.

Out of such existential considerations, the doctrine of the “assistance” of the Spirit developed. This doctrine is of great finesse. It sees the Spirit as giving life to the church, nourishing it, sheltering it and protecting it, and in particular preventing the universal episcopate from misleading it through a false proclamation. For the sake of the chosen ones, the Spirit does not allow corruption to penetrate into the evangelical message. (20)

20. To put it differently: Christ sent the apostles to be witnesses to the fact of the resurrection. But today there are no such living witnesses to the same event. How do I know? I accept the Word of the church because the Spirit witnesses in my heart that it is the truth (the evidence is from the Spirit, not from anyone else). At the same time the Spirit protects those who have taken the place of the apostles from misleading me in narrating the truth.

This assistance of the Spirit must not be conceived as something magical, coming instantaneously (whispering words to inspire a statement) or working dramatically (striking down someone to prevent a fatal error). No. The best way of understanding it, or to have a good image representing it, is to think of Christos Pantocrator, Christ to whom all power was given in heaven and earth, who takes care of his church. In his providence, which extends from the beginning of all times to their very end, he orders all things in such a way that his church will be preserved in truth through the ministry of those whom he chooses to follow the early witnesses. It is a gentle way of providing, through the invisible work of the Spirit, independently from any human merit, by ordering the succession of events to a goal that was set by God. Our faith is ultimately not in any bishop or pope but in the Christos Pantocrator who is intent to keep his Word alive in the church. (21)

21. (We believe that:) The One who holds this world in his hands and has so arranged the course of human events that Simon and Andrew, James and John should meet him at his own appointed time by the Sea of Galilee, is also taking care of his church in such a way that the right persons are

From: The Church: Learning and Teaching, by Ladislas Örsy, Michael Glazier 1987, chapter 1. Read the whole chapter here.

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