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Do the Roman authorities promote a wrong understanding of "ordinary magisterium"?
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Do the Roman authorities promote a wrong understanding of ‘ordinary magisterium’?

The expression “ordinary magisterium” is used also in a different way, in particular by Roman authorities:

“The Church does not build its life upon its infallible magisterium alone but on the teaching of its authentic, ordinary magisterium as well. (Sacra Congregatio pro Doctrina Fidei, ]uly 25, 1986, Re Curran.) (15)

15. See Charles E. Curran, Faithful Dissent, (Kansas City: Sheed & Ward, 1986), p. 268. Cf. also Page, Qui est l’ Église?, vol. 3, p. 547: he warns about the different senses of magistère ordinaire.

On the basis of this text, the suggestion could be made that ordinary and universal teaching is infallible, while ordinary and non-universal is fallible. But the term universal is not precise enough to ground such an important distinction. After all, the ministry of Peter’s successor is certainly universal, his proclamations are, as a rule, addressed to the whole church, hence have a universal character, but without having necessarily the character of infallibility. The same could be said of the college of bishops: Vatican Council II was certainly a universal gathering; its proclamations could not have been more universal; yet, no one has ever asserted that they are infallible in all their parts.

The statement is substantially correct, but undoubtedly it uses the expression “ordinary magisterium” in a sense different from the one in the canon quoted; “ordinary” now is opposed to “infallible”. It refers to something less than the proclamation of a point of belief with full and final apostolic authority (whether in council or otherwise); it means simply the ordinary and usual teaching and preaching activity of the hierarchy, affirming a point of doctrine which (as yet) cannot be said to be part of our Catholic faith because (as yet) the church has not affirmed it with a conclusive judgment.

To call such teaching “ordinary magisterium” is a relatively new use of the term “ordinary.” In theory such an ambivalence in its meaning should cause no serious problem, provided we are aware of it, but in practice conflicts are bound to break out when ecclesiastical authorities begin to demand the same absolute obedience to their usual teaching and preaching as is due only to articles of faith, or when they attempt to impose their views with heavy (or subtle) penalties on all those who see the matter otherwise. (16)

16. In the years after Vatican Council II there has been much talk about “creeping infallibility,” meaning the tendency to regard doctrines not infallibly defined as if they had been so defined. To hold such exaggerations on a purely intellectual level is already bad enough, but when practical sanctions are taken against someone who does not accept them, the situation becomes even worse. Failure in truth may lead to failure in justice... (One more reason to promote sound, loyal and critical theological reflection!)

From: The Church: Learning and Teaching, by Ladislas Örsy, Michael Glazier 1987, chapter 2. Read the whole chapter here.

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