Do theologians who receive a canonical mission teach with a higher authority?
When a university obtains a charter form the Holy See, it enters into the legal world of the church and becomes part of its structures and operations. Literally a host of new legal relations arise because a new juridic person has been created. Such a university, as an institution, is bound by all the ecclesiastical laws applicable to it; it is subject to the supervision of the appropriate offices of the Holy See and that the potential is there for conflicts between two perfectly legitimate but different orientations. (22)
22. At the last count, the potential for conflict is, of course, not in the different tasks, witnessing and researching, but in human beings who are never omniscient and omnipotent. A theologian may be far ahead of a bishop in his insights into the mysteries; or a bishop may have a clearer and firmer perception of a mystery than a theologian for whom it is an object of analysis. The potential for conflict is in human beings.
The role of the magisterium in such institutions is reinforced by the requirements of the missio canonica (canonical mission), venia docendi (permission to teach), and nihil obstat (no objection), each of these applicable to a distinct group of teachers. Those who teach disciplines of faith and morals must have the mission before they can function; those who teach other subjects within the institution must have the permission, and those who are to be promoted to the highest academic rank (ordinary or full professor) or are to be tenured (at whatever rank) must have the no objection. These requirements are more far-reaching than that of the mandate; the Constitution leaves no doubt that both the institution and the individual persons are bound by its norms.
The canonical mission is granted by the chancellor; he is usually the local ordinary but as chancellor he is also the representative of the Holy See toward the institution. The canonical mission is not unique to the academic world; for instance, bishops need it to take possession of their diocese. (23)
23. The meaning and scope of the canonical mission, however, is not the same in the case of a bishop as in the case of a teacher. The bishop receives his canonical mission from the pope; he is assigned a portion of the people of God for his pastoral care; he is inserted into the visible and hierarchical structure of the church; he obtains legislative, judicial and executive power over his diocese. (In a now antiquated perception, he received the power of jurisdiction over the diocese.) The teacher receives a license to practice what he is professionally qualified for.
It would be better to reserve the expression canonical mission for bishops, and return to the traditional term license for teachers.
Literally translated, canonical mission means an official sending, or a lawful commissioning. In practice it is the act by which an office is definitely conferred. It is the final confirmation of the appointment on the part of an ecclesiastical authority, no matter in what way the candidate arrived at the threshold of that position, by way of an election, through a nomination, or as the result of a promotion. (24)
24. The canonical mission can be granted explicitly or implicitly. Cf. LG 24: The canonical mission of bishops can come about by legitimate customs which have not been revoked by the supreme and universal authority of the Church, or by laws made or recognized by that same authority, or directly through the successor of Peter himself. If it can be given implicitly to bishops, a fortiori it can be so given to teachers.
From: The Church: Learning and Teaching, by Ladislas Örsy, Michael Glazier 1987, chapter 4. Read the whole chapter here.
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