How do we surrender in faith to authentic doctrine set forth by the magisterium?
We know that the whole church is the trustee of the word of God; we know also that the episcopate plays a special role in the preserving and unfolding of the Word in the course of history.
We know also that there is a sacred dialectic going on all the time between the episcopate and the people. In the previous section we have reflected on the pronouncements of those who have authority in matters doctrinal; in this section the scope of our reflections will be the response of the people. Let us remember, though, that people here may well include everyone; popes and bishops of modern times are part of the whole church which responds to the great councils of the early times.
The response, of course, must correspond to the call. If the episcopate brought solemn witness to the Word, the response cannot be anything else than a surrender in faith; if the episcopate speaks with authority but still searching for the whole truth promised by their Lord, the response of the community ought to be an obsequium which, depending on the certainty the church has reached, can be anything from an assent of faith to a respectful pondering how further progress toward the whole truth can be made.
Within the great community of the church, there is the community of the bishops. Ever since the beginnings, there has been a belief in the consciousness of the Christians that they, the bishops, when in communion with each other, have a power in the Spirit to proclaim the authentic word of God. Vatican Council II did no more than to articulate this ancient belief:
Although the individual bishops do not enjoy the prerogative of infallibility, they can nevertheless proclaim Christs doctrine infallibly. This is so, even when they are dispersed around the world, provided that while maintaining the bond of unity among themselves and with Peters successor, and while teaching authentically on a matter of faith or morals, they concur in a single viewpoint as the one which must be held conclusively. This authority is even more clearly verified when, gathered together in an ecumenical council, they are teachers and judges of faith and morals for the universal Church; their definitions must then be adhered to with the submission of faith. (LG 25)
With the submission of faith translates fidei obsequio, which means surrender to the truth with an act of faith.
Indeed there is the sacred play: the bishops in communion assisted by the Spirit bear witness to the truth; the people of God, guided by the same Spirit, recognize the truth in their voice; as they accept it they surrender their mind to God. An act of worship: obsequium fidei.
The image of a sacred play is not merely an abstract construct. The play is enacted every time a Christian community recites the traditional (Nicene-Constantinopolitan) Creed. When they do so, usually before the celebration of the Eucharist, they respond to the ancient councils. There is a timeless beauty in this ceremony: far away in space and in time, at Nicaea in 325 and in Constantinople in 381, the assembled bishops proclaimed the Word through a Creed they composed. Today Christian communities respond by accepting their witness and surrendering with an act of faith to the truth of what they heard, notwithstanding the immense distances in space and time.
No more need be said here about this assent in faith; the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen gentium explicates the doctrine in some detail concerning the particular charisms of the pope, of the episcopal college and of the faithful.
From: The Church: Learning and Teaching, by Ladislas Örsy, Michael Glazier 1987, chapter 3. Read the whole chapter here.
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