The Magisterium of the Church.
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, nn. 85 -87)
Pope Leo XIII gives as the following explanation: “As the Church was to last to the end of time, something more was required besides the bestowal of the Sacred Scriptures. It was obviously necessary that the Divine Founder should take every precaution, lest the treasure of heavenly-given truths, possessed by the Church, should ever be destroyed, which would assuredly have happened, had He left those doctrines to each one’s private judgment. It stands to reason, therefore, that a living, perpetual “magisterium” was necessary in the Church from the beginning, which, by the command of Christ himself, should besides teaching other wholesome doctrines, give an authoritative explanation of Holy Writ, and which being directed and safeguarded by Christ himself, could by no means commit itself to erroneous teaching” (Encyclical Caritatis Studium on the Church in Scotland, July 25 1898)
The Magisterium of Catholic Church teaches the faithful in three ways:
- Solemn Magisterium: It is used only rarely. This includes dogmatic definitions by Ecumenical Councils or Popes teaching “ex cathedra”. The form of this teaching has infallible character.
- Ordinary universal Magisterium: the teaching of Divine truths by the enterety of the episcopate constantly and unchangingly along all ages. The form of this teaching has infallible character as well.
- Authentic or daily Magisterium is exercised:
- By the official pronouncements, preachings and written documents of the Roman Pontiff (among the most common are Encyclicals, Apostolic exhortations, Apostolic letters, Apostolic Constitutions).
- By the pastoral and disciplinarian documents of Ecumenical Councils and by doctrines which a concrete Council is not proposing definitely, as it did for instance the Second Vatican Council or the Council of Florence, when it taught about the matter of the sacrament of the Orders.
- By the Synods on various level (the Synod of Bishops in Rome, Plenary, Provincial and Diocesan Synods).
- Doctrinal documents unanimously approved by the episcopate of a concrete country or region, that means by Bishops’ Conferences.
- By the teaching office of the diocesan bishops.
The authentic or daily Magisyterium does not possess an infallible character, and in theory can contain even doctrinal errors, which is however rare. Theological errors or doctrinal ambiguities occurred in some Papal documents (for instance in the letters of Pope Honorius I concerning the two wills of Christ, in the Apostolic Exhortation Amoris laetitiae of Pope Francis).
Theological errors and ambugities occurred also in some non strictly definitive doctrinal documents of Ecumenical Councils (for instance the errors regarding the matter of the sacraments of Orders by the Council of Florence, some ambiguous and erroneous formulations in some documents of the Second Vatican Council concerning for example the alleged common adoration of Catholics and Muslims of the one God, affirmations about the non-Christian religions, about the ecumenism, about the alleged natural rights of people who are propagating religious errors and false religions, about the social kingship of Christ in all human societies).
However, the overwhelwing majority even of not strictly definitive doctrinal affirmations of the Ecumenical Councils and of the Popes contain no errors, nonwithtanding the fact that they do not posses in these cases the charism of the infallibility. Usually Divine Providence grants the holders of the Magisterium also in the daily exercise of their teaching office the graces of state. In order that in the authentic or daily Magisterium the Pope and bishops may avoid ambiguities or errors, it is demanded from them an assiduous personal collaboration with the graces of the illumination of the Holy Spirit. This collaboration with the grace on behalf of the Pope and of the bishops presupposes the cultivation of the supernatural faith in the personal life, a life of prayer and virtue, fidelity to the Tradition and to the teaching received by all the Roman Pontiffs, by the Fathers and Doctors of the Church.
Regarding the object of an infallible pronouncements of the Pope and logically also of a Council, we have this dogmatic pronouncement of the First Vatican Council.
These are the conditions for a Pope and logically also for a Council for an infallible pronouncement, called “ex cathedra”:
- It has to be directed to all faithful of the entire Church.
- It has to be exercised in the quality of the supreme apostolic authority.
- It has to oblige the entire Church to hold that specific doctrine.
- The doctrine which is obliged to believe must refer to faith and morals.
The object of an infallible pronouncement must be contained in the written Word of God or in Tradition. An infallible pronouncement must be believed, therefore, by divine and Catholic faith.
The Pope or a Council are very much limited in their choices, actions and formulations when they issue an infallible doctrinal statement. There is nobody less free and there is nobody who must more scrupulously cling to the constant doctrinal tradition of the Church than the Pope, when he issues an infallible doctrinal statement. Very aptly the First Vatican Council states, that “the Holy Spirit was not promised to the successors of Peter that by His revelation they might make known new doctrine, but that by His assistance they might inviolably keep and faithfully expound the Revelation, the Deposit of Faith, delivered through the Apostles.” (First Vatican Council, Pastor aeternus, chap. 4).
The very aim of an infallible pronouncement of a Pope or a Council consists in the following:
- The defense of all faithful from the poison of doctrinal and moral errors. That “the whole flock of Christ, be kept away from the poisonous food of error” (First Vatican Council, Pastor aeternus, chap. 4). Hence this means refusal of any error and ambiguity. If a doctrinal pronouncement or an affirmation of a Pope or of a Council shows unclarity or ambuiguity, it lacks by this very fact infallibility, since infallibility demans by its nature highest clarity and precision.
- The nourishment of all faithful with the sureness and clarity of the doctrine of the Divine Revelation. That “the whole flock of Christ might be nourished with the pasture of heavenly doctrine” (First Vatican Council, Pastor aeternus, chap. 4).
- The prevention or removal of the occasion of schisms and divisions, caused by errors, doubts and ambiguities regarding the doctrine of faith and morals (cf. ibid.)
- The maintance and guarantee of the internal and external unity of the entire Church, that means among the bishops themselves, among the bishops and the faithful and among all the faithful. “And so the whole Church might be kept one” (First Vatican Council, Pastor aeternus, chap. 4).
- The spiritual equipment of the entire Church against the attacks of the evil spirits. Since the most insidious and dangerous attack of the evil spirits consists in spreading heresies, which spiritually defiles the chaste and virginal purity of the Church. “That the whole Church might stand firm against the gates of Hell” (First Vatican Council, Pastor aeternus, chap. 4).
“The Roman Pontiff – like all the faithful – is subject to the Word of God, to the Catholic faith, and is the guarantor of the Church’s obedience; in this sense he is servus servorum Dei. He does not make arbitrary decisions, but is spokesman for the will of the Lord, who speaks to man in the Scriptures lived and interpreted by Tradition; in other words, the episkope of the primacy has limits set by divine law and by the Church’s divine, inviolable constitution found in Revelation.33 The Successor of Peter is the rock which guarantees a rigorous fidelity to the Word of God against arbitrariness and conformism: hence the martyrological nature of his primacy.” (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The Primacy of the successor of Peter in the mystery of the Church, October 31, 1998)
In 1875 the German Bishops issued a declaration, in which they explain the true meaning of Papal infallibility: “The affirmation which says that the Pope in virtue of his infallibility is an absolute souvereign, is based upon an erroneous concept of the dogma of the Papal infallibility. The Papal Magisterium covers exactly the same field as the infallible Magisterium of the Church itself. The Papal Magisterium is bound by the content of the Holy Scripture and the Tradition and as well by doctrinal decisions of the Church’s Magisterium.”
In teaching the truth of the Divine Revelation every Pope and every Council should have the attitude of Blessed Pope Pius IX, who when asked by a group of bishops to make a little change in the text of the Canon of the Mass (adding the name of Saint Joseph), answered: “I cannot make a change, since I am only the Pope!”
Indeed, all holders of the Magisterium in the Church, in first place the Pope, should categorically avoid an attitude, which seeks novelties and changes in doctrine. The Pope should be that member of the Church, who clings most obediently to the unchanging truths of the Divine Revelation and of the doctrinal Tradition of the Church, since his most apt title is “the servant of the servant of God”.
The following words of Pope Pius VI, with which he in 1794 condemned the cunning and Protestantizing affirmation of the Synod of Pistoia, remain valid and very much up to date for our times and for the Shepherds of the Church in our time: “There is the erroneous pretext that the seemingly shocking affirmations in one place are further developed along orthodox lines in other places, and even in yet other places corrected. By this they allow the possibility of either affirming or denying a statement, or of leaving it up the personal inclinations of the individual. However, such has always been the fraudulent and daring method used by innovators to establish error. It allows for both the possibility of promoting error and of excusing it. Whenever it becomes necessary to expose statements which disguise some suspected error or danger under the veil of ambiguity, one must denounce the perverse meaning under which the error opposed to catholic truth is camouflaged.”
“Ambiguity can never be tolerated in a synod [I would add: in any document of a Pope or of an Ecumenical Council], since its principal glory consists above all in teaching the truth with clarity and excluding all danger of error.”
The Seconed Vatican Council explained deeper the truth regarding the teaching infallibility of the Church: “The entire body of the faithful, anointed as they are by the Holy One (1 John 2:20, 27) cannot err in matters of belief. They manifest this special property by means of the whole peoples’ supernatural discernment in matters of faith when “from the Bishops down to the last of the lay faithful” (St. Augustine, Praed. Sanct. 14, 27) they show universal agreement in matters of faith and morals. That discernment in matters of faith is aroused and sustained by the Spirit of truth. It is exercised under the guidance of the sacred teaching authority, in faithful and respectful obedience to which the people of God accepts that which is not just the word of men but truly the word of God. (1 Thess. 2: 13) Through it, the people of God adheres unwaveringly to the faith given once and for all to the saints, (Jude 3) penetrates it more deeply with right thinking, and applies it more fully in its life.” (Lumen gentium, 12)
Impressive remains the oath, which every Pope traditionally had to take when coming into his Papal office: “I vow to change nothing of the received Tradition, and nothing thereof I have found before me guarded by my God-pleasing predecessors, to encroach upon, to alter, or to permit any innovation therein; To the contrary: with glowing affection as her truly faithful student and successor, to safeguard reverently the passed-on good, with my whole strength and utmost effort; To cleanse all that is in contradiction to the canonical order that may surface; To guard the Holy Canons and Decrees of our Popes as if they were the Divine ordinances of Heaven, because I am conscious of Thee, Whose place I take through the grace of God, Whose Vicarship I possess with Thy support, being subject to the severest accounting before Thy Divine Tribunal over all that I shall confess; I swear to God Almighty and the Savior Jesus Christ that I will keep whatever has been revealed through Christ and His Successors and whatever the first councils and my predecessors have defined and declared. I will keep without sacrifice to itself the discipline and the rite of the Church. I will put outside the Church whoever dares to go against this oath, may it be somebody else or I. If I should undertake to act in anything of contrary sense, or should permit that it will be executed, Thou willst not be merciful to me on the dreadful Day of Divine Justice. Accordingly, without exclusion, We subject to severest excommunication anyone — be it ourselves or be it another — who would dare to undertake anything new in contradiction to this constituted evangelic Tradition and the purity of the Orthodox Faith and the Christian Religion, or would seek to change anything by his opposing efforts, or would agree with those who undertake such a blasphemous venture.”
The greatest concern and fear of each holder of the Magisterium, be it a bishop or the Pope himself, should be not to change, even not in the slightest, the doctrines of the Divine Revelation. Consequently, every true Catholic bishop and Pope should say, using the formulation of the traditional Papal oath and of the Apostle Saint Paul, “Though we, or an angel from heaven, preach a Gospel to you besides that which we have preached to you, let him be anathema.” (Gal. 1: 8).
May this oath be restored in our days, so that the darkness of errors, ambiguities and novelties in doctrine may be dispelled and the light of the truths of the Divine Revelation may shine in the minds and hearts of all Catholics, and in the first place of all Shepherds of the Church.
Pope Pius X left us the following inspiring words, even though they were written hundred years ago, they remain fresh and very much up to date: “Our Apostolic Mandate requires from Us that We watch over the purity of the Faith and the integrity of Catholic discipline. It requires from Us that We protect the faithful from evil and error; especially so when evil and error are presented in dynamic language which, concealing vague notions and ambiguous expressions with emotional and high-sounding words, is likely to set ablaze the hearts of men in pursuit of ideals which, whilst attractive, are nonetheless nefarious. Such were not so long ago the doctrines of the so-called philosophers of the 18th century, the doctrines of the Revolution and Liberalism which have been so often condemned; such are even today theories which, under the glowing appearance of generosity, are all too often wanting in clarity, logic and truth. These theories do not belong to the Catholic Spirit. We must repeat with the utmost energy in these times of social and intellectual anarchy when everyone takes it upon himself to teach as a teacher and lawmaker – the City cannot be built otherwise than as God has built it; society cannot be setup unless the Church lays the foundations and supervises the work; no, civilization is not something yet to be found, nor is the New City to be built on hazy notions; it has been in existence and still is: it is Christian civilization, it is the Catholic City. It has only to be set up and restored continually against the unremitting attacks of insane dreamers, rebels and miscreants. OMNIA INSTAURARE IN CHRISTO.” (Encyclical Notre Charge Apostolique, August 25, 1910)
THE PREACHING OF THE GOSPEL
- The truths revealed by God to men were, by God’s command, proclaimed to all nations of the earth by the Catholic Church, and especially by means of the living word, that is, by preaching.
The command to proclaim to all nations of the earth the truths revealed by God, was given to the apostles by Our Lord at the time of His ascension.
Our Lord, before ascending into heaven, spoke to His apostles as follows: “All power is given to Me in heaven and in earth; going, therefore, teach ye all nations: baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: . . . and behold I am with you all days, even to the end of the world” (Matt. xxviii. 18-20). For this reason the apostles and their successors have never allowed themselves to be prohibited by any earthly authority from preaching the Gospel (Cf. Acts v. 29). Nor has the Church ever been turned aside from fulfilling her mission of preaching the Gospel, by the opposition of the world. Even now in many countries the State seeks to make the Church dependent on her. It is in consequence of the command given by Our Lord to the apostles, that the Popes send missionaries to the heathens, and issue Papal briefs and rescripts to Christendom; that bishops send priests throughout their dioceses, and publish pastoral letters; that parish priests instruct their people by sermons and Catechism.
The Transmission of Divine Revelation
The Council of Trent teaches us: “The Gospel, before promised through the prophets in the holy Scriptures, our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, first promulgated with His own mouth, and then commanded to be preached by His Apostles to every creature, as the fountain of all, both saving truth, and moral discipline; and seeing clearly that this truth and discipline are contained in the written books, and the unwritten traditions which, received by the Apostles from the mouth of Christ himself, or from the Apostles themselves, the Holy Ghost dictating, have come down even unto us, transmitted as it were from hand to hand; (the Synod) following the examples of the orthodox Fathers, receives and venerates with an equal affection of piety, and reverence, all the books both of the Old and of the New Testament–seeing that one God is the author of both –as also the said traditions, as well those appertaining to faith as to morals, as having been dictated, either by Christ’s own word of mouth, or by the Holy Ghost, and preserved in the Catholic Church by a continuous succession.
And it has thought it meet that a list of the sacred books be inserted in this decree, lest a doubt may arise in any one’s mind, which are the books that are received by this Synod. They are as set down here below: of the Old Testament: the five books of Moses, to wit, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy; Josue, Judges, Ruth, four books of Kings, two of Paralipomenon, the first book of Esdras, and the second which is entitled Nehemias; Tobias, Judith, Esther, Job, the Davidical Psalter, consisting of a hundred and fifty psalms; the Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, the Canticle of Canticles, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Isaias, Jeremias, with Baruch; Ezechiel, Daniel; the twelve minor prophets, to wit, Osee, Joel, Amos, Abdias, Jonas, Micheas, Nahum, Habacuc, Sophonias, Aggaeus, Zacharias, Malachias; two books of the Machabees, the first and the second.
Of the New Testament: the four Gospels, according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; the Acts of the Apostles written by Luke the Evangelist; fourteen epistles of Paul the apostle, (one) to the Romans, two to the Corinthians, (one) to the Galatians, to the Ephesians, to the Philippians, to the Colossians, two to the Thessalonians, two to Timothy, (one) to Titus, to Philemon, to the Hebrews; two of Peter the apostle, three of John the apostle, one of the apostle James, one of Jude the apostle, and the Apocalypse of John the apostle. But if any one receive not, as sacred and canonical, the said books entire with all their parts, as they have been used to be read in the Catholic Church, and as they are contained in the old Latin vulgate edition; and knowingly and deliberately contemn the traditions aforesaid; let him be anathema.” (sess. IV, 1)
The Second Vatican Council teaches on the Handing over of the Divine Revelation: “9. Hence there exists a close connection and communication between sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture. For both of them, flowing from the same divine wellspring, in a certain way merge into a unity and tend toward the same end. For Sacred Scripture is the word of God inasmuch as it is consigned to writing under the inspiration of the divine Spirit, while sacred tradition takes the word of God entrusted by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit to the Apostles, and hands it on to their successors in its full purity, so that led by the light of the Spirit of truth, they may in proclaiming it preserve this word of God faithfully, explain it, and make it more widely known. Consequently it is not from Sacred Scripture alone that the Church draws her certainty about everything which has been revealed. Therefore both sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture are to be accepted and venerated with the same sense of loyalty and reverence. (Conc. Trident. De Canonicis Scripturis)
- Sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture form one sacred deposit of the word of God, committed to the Church. Holding fast to this deposit the entire holy people united with their shepherds remain always steadfast in the teaching of the Apostles, in the common life, in the breaking of the bread and in prayers (see Acts 2, 42, Greek text), so that holding to, practicing and professing the heritage of the faith, it becomes on the part of the bishops and faithful a single common effort.
But the task of authentically interpreting the word of God, whether written or handed on, has been entrusted exclusively to the living teaching office of the Church, whose authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ. This teaching office is not above the word of God, but serves it, teaching only what has been handed on, listening to it devoutly, guarding it scrupulously and explaining it faithfully in accord with a divine commission and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it draws from this one deposit of faith everything which it presents for belief as divinely revealed.
It is clear, therefore, that sacred tradition, Sacred Scripture and the teaching authority of the Church, in accord with God’s most wise design, are so linked and joined together that one cannot stand without the others, and that all together and each in its own way under the action of the one Holy Spirit contribute effectively to the salvation of souls.” (Dei Verbum, 9 – 10).
It is an error to suppose that Holy Scripture is the only means intended by almighty God to communicate to the nations of the earth the truths of revelation.
It was the will of God to make use of preaching for the conversion of the world. Our Lord said to His apostles, “Go and teach all nations,” not “Go and write to all nations.” Out of the apostles only two wrote; all the rest preached. The apostles themselves were the books of the faithful (St. Augustine). St. Paul tells us that “Faith cometh by hearing” (Rom. x. 17), not from mere books. Teaching by word of mouth corresponds to human needs; every one prefers to be taught, rather than to have to hunt out the truth from books by study. If writings were the only means by which men could arrive at a knowledge of revealed truth the Christians of the first two centuries would have been at a terrible disadvantage; so too would those who cannot read, as well as the great mass of mankind in the present day, who have neither the knowledge nor the capacity to penetrate the meaning of the written Word. Yet it is the will of God that “All men should come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. ii. 4). Holy Scripture soon loses its value in the eyes of those who have not the assurance of the living Word that it is truly of divine origin. St. Augustine says: “I should not believe the Gospel unless the authority of the Church moved me to do so.”
The Catholic Church derives from Holy Scripture and from Tradition the truths that God has revealed.
Holy Scripture and Tradition are of equal authority, and claim from us equal respect. Holy Scripture is the written, Tradition the unwritten Word of God. St. Paul exhorts the faithful to hold fast the traditions they have received, whether it be by word of mouth or by writing (2 Thess. ii. 14).
The First Vatican Council established the following dogmatic canons about Divine Revelation: “2. If anyone shall say that it is impossible or inexpedient that man should be taught, by Divine Revelation, concerning God and the worship to be paid to Him; let him be anathema. 3. If anyone shall say that man cannot be raised by Divine power to a higher than natural knowledge and perfection, but can and ought, by a continuous progress, to arrive at length, of himself, to the possession of all that is true and good; let him be anathema. 4. If anyone shall not receive as sacred and canonical the Books of Holy Scripture, entire with all their parts, as the Holy Synod of Trent has enumerated them, or shall deny that they have been Divinely-inspired; let him be anathema.” (Constitution Dei Filius, canons
The First Vatican Council warned against the dangers of errors regarding Divine Revelation: “There arose and spread, exceedingly widely throughout the world, that doctrine of rationalism, or naturalism, which opposes itself in every way to the Christian religion as a supernatural institution, and works with the utmost zeal in order that, after Christ, our sole Lord and Savior, has been excluded from the minds of men, and from the life and moral acts of nations, the reign of what they call pure reason or nature may be established. And after forsaking and rejecting the Christian religion, and denying the true God and His Christ, the minds of many have sunk into the abyss of Pantheism, Materialism, and Atheism, until, denying rational nature itself, and every sound rule of right, they labor to destroy the deepest foundations of human society. Unhappily, it has yet further come to pass that, while this impiety prevailed on every side, many even of the children of the Catholic Church have strayed from the path of true piety, and by the gradual diminution of the truths they held, the Catholic understanding became weakened in them. For, led away by various and strange doctrines, utterly confusing nature and grace, human science and Divine faith, they are found to deprave the true sense of the doctrines which our Holy Mother Church holds and teaches, and to endanger the integrity and the soundness of the faith.” (Constitution Dei Filius, Introduction)
A truth which the Church puts before us as revealed by God is called a truth of faith, or a dogma.
Either a universal council (i.e., one consisting of the bishops of the whole world) acting under the authority of the Pope, or the Pope himself, has power to declare a truth to be revealed by God. Thus the Council of Nicea declared the divinity of Our Lord to be an article of faith; and Pope Pius IX. the Immaculate Conception of the holy Mother of God (1854). Thereby no new doctrines were taught, but these truths were declared to have been truly revealed by God, and thenceforth they became dogmas of the faith. When a child advances in its knowledge of religious truth, it does not really change its belief; so the Church, the collected body of all the faithful, receives dogmas new to it, when, on the appearance of some new form of error, it sets forth, after careful examination, certain truths of religion in explicit form and imposes their acceptance on all the faithful. Before the definition of it by the Church it was only a “pious opinion,” or one proximate to faith. Such is at the present time the belief in the assumption of the body of Our Lady into heaven.
Was is truly Catholic doctrine, explained profoundly and masterly Saint Vincent of Lerins, a saint theologian from the fifth century, in his book Commonitorium. There is know this his short formula: “We hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all (quod ubique, quod semper et quod ab omnibus).”
The theological rule of Saint Vincent of Lerins (Commonitorium, Chapters 2, 4, 27 and 29) assigns universality, antiquity and consensus of faith as characteristics of Catholic doctrine. In other words, a doctrine bearing these marks is certainly a dogma of the Catholic faith. It is not however true in the exclusive sense, i.e. if it be understood to mean that nothing can belong to the Catholic faith which has not been explicitly believed always, everywhere and by all.
We have to note first that there is the reference not to any points whatsoever that are held and observed in the Church, but to those which are believed, i.e. held by faith. Now a thing can be believed in either of two ways: explicitly, or only implicitly. Whatever is contained in the deposit of Divine revelation has certainly been believed at least implicitly everywhere, always and by all Catholics. One would at once cease to be a Catholic if one were not ready to believe everything which has been sufficiently proposed by the Church as divinely revealed.
Certain points of doctrine can be contained in the deposit of objective revelation which were not always contained in the manifest and explicit preaching of the Church, and that for as long as they were not sufficiently proposed it was possible for them to be the object of controversy within the limits of the Church without loss of faith and communion (for instance the truth of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin mary). So a given point of doctrine can be contained in objective revelation and can also, with the passage of time—when it has been sufficiently explained and proposed—come to belong to those truths which must necessarily be believed with Catholic faith, while yet this truth, though always contained in the deposit of revelation, has not been explicitly believed always, everywhere and by all. The absence of a defined dogma of faith in a certain time by no means necessarily proves that a given doctrine was not contained in the deposit of faith; neither does it prove that a doctrine, which, for want of sufficient proposition at a given time, did not need to be explicitly believed, may not at some other time be the object of obligatory belief.
As marks by which the apostolicity of a doctrine can be known, two characteristics are nevessary:
1) universality, i.e. the present consensus of the Church, and,
2) the consensus of antiquity, to be understood in a relative sense, i.e. a consensus shown to have existed before a doctrinal controversy arose.
In virtue either of a solemn judgment of the Magisterium (whether of an ecumenical council or of the pope) or by the unanimous preaching of the Church (the ordinary universal Magisterium), a universal present consensus is clear and manifest, this alone suffices of itself. But if, through the arising of a controversy, this consensus were to become less apparent, or were not acknowledged by the adversaries to be confuted, then—says Vincent—appeal must be made to the manifest consensus of antiquity, or to past solemn judgements of the Magisterium, or to the consentient convictions of the Fathers.
Saint Vincent says that one must hold “what has been believed everywhere, always and by all,” without distinguishing whether it was so believed implicitly or explicitly (Chapter 2). But then he indicates marks by which we can come to know whether something was thus believed everywhere, always and by all, and these marks are: universality, antiquity and consensus.
What saint Vincent means by universality he explains straight away: “We shall follow universality if we confess that one faith to be true, which the whole Church throughout the world confesses.” Hence universality is the agreement of the entire Church, and, insofar as it is distinct from the mark of antiquity, it is the consent of the Church at this present time when a concrete controversy has arisen. Since, the present consensus can be troubled by newly invented errors, with contradict antiquity, i.e. the agreement of the previous age.
The mark of antiquity is understood by Vincent in the sense of relative antiquity. For he invariably situates antiquity in the judgement of preceding Fathers or Councils—a judgement existing before the appearance of the heresy to be refuted or the controversy to be decided. “97 And in Chapter 28 he says that to ancient heresies one should oppose councils which took place before those heresies arose, while, if even these councils are condemned by the heretics, there remains only the common source of Scripture to use in argument against them.
Saint Vincent of Lerins everywhere clearly teaches that either one of these two marks—i.e. universal consent and the agreement of antiquity—suffices to demonstrate the apostolicity of a doctrine. Thus he writes: 1) “What then will a Catholic Christian do if a small portion of the Church have cut itself off from the communion of the universal faith of all times? What, surely, but prefer the soundness of the whole body of the Church in all times to the unsoundness of a pestilent and corrupt member in his novel contagion?” Here universal consent is opposed to local and new error. 2) “What, if some novel contagion seeks to infect not merely an insignificant portion of the Church, but the whole Church? Then one has the care to cleave to antiquity.” (Chapter 3) Here antiquity is appealed to in the event that contemporary controversies should have muddied the waters and made it hard to establish for the time being the belief of the universal Church.
Any doctrine which is repugnant to either mark (antiquity and universality) must be considered to be a profane novelty. Saint Vincent recounts the innovation of the re-baptisers in the third century in North Africa: “When then all men protested against this novelty of re-baptizing, and the bishops almost everywhere opposed it, Pope Stephen laid down this rule: Let there be no innovation—nothing but what has been handed down… What then was the issue of the whole matter? What but the usual and customary one? Antiquity was retained, novelty was rejected.” (cf. Cardinal Johann Baptist Franzelin S.J., Thesis XXIV in his work De Divina Traditione et Scriptura, Rome, 1875)
Saint Vincent speaks quite clear that the Roman Pontiffs by the virtue of their task have been always against doctrinal novelties or ambiguities. Ge says: “It has always been the case in the Church, that the more a man is under the influence of religion, so much the more prompt is he to oppose innovations. It may be clearer than day to everyone with how great energy, with how great zeal, with how great earnestness, the Roman Pontiffs have constantly defended the integrity of the religion which they have once received.” (Chapter 6)
On the true meaning of a development od the doctrine the First Vatican Council teaches the following: “The doctrine of the faith which God has revealed is put forward not as some philosophical discovery capable of being perfected by human intelligence, but as a divine deposit committed to the spouse of Christ to be faithfully protected and infallibly promulgated. Hence, too,that meaning of the sacred dogmas is ever to be maintained which has once been declared by holy mother church, and there must never be any abandonment of this sense under the pretext or in the name of a more profound understanding. May understanding, knowledge and wisdom increase as ages and centuries roll along, and greatly and vigorously flourish, in each and all, in the individual and the whole church: but this only in its own proper kind, that is to say, in the same doctrine, the same sense, and the same understanding.” (Dogmatic Constitution Dei Filius, chap. 4)
Let us hear the following words of Saint Irenaeus of Lyons, who was a disciple of Saint Polycarp, who in turn was a discipline of Saint John the Apostle: “As I have already observed, the Church, having received this preaching and this faith, although scattered throughout the whole world, yet, as if occupying but one house, carefully preserves it. She also believes these points [of doctrine] just as if she had but one soul, and one and the same heart, and she proclaims them, and teaches them, and hands them down, with perfect harmony, as if she possessed only one mouth. For, although the languages of the world are dissimilar, yet the import of the tradition is one and the same. For the Churches which have been planted in Germany do not believe or hand down anything different, nor do those in Spain, nor those in Gaul, nor those in the East, nor those in Egypt, nor those in Libya, nor those which have been established in the central regions of the world. But as the sun, that creature of God, is one and the same throughout the whole world, so also the preaching of the truth shines everywhere, and enlightens all men that are willing to come to a knowledge of the truth. Nor will any one of the rulers in the Churches, however highly gifted he may be in point of eloquence, teach doctrines different from these (for no one is greater than the Master); nor, on the other hand, will he who is deficient in power of expression inflict injury on the tradition. For the faith being ever one and the same, neither does one who is able at great length to discourse regarding it, make any addition to it, nor does one, who can say but little diminish it.” (Adversus haereses, I, 10, 2)
The Catholic and Apostolic Faith can never change, under no pretext, not even under the pretext of erudite and seductive expressions such as: “hermeneutic of continuity”, “living tradition”, “paradigm swift”, “development of doctrine” and so on. Our true paradigm is Christ, and He is the truth. Christ-Truth “is the same yesterday, today and forever.” (Heb. 13: 8)