Archive for March 29th, 2012

Sola Ecclesia

Roman Catholic Definition of Magisterium

The Latin word magister for the English word magisterium means, “master.”[1]  The meaning master is not only in the sense of “teacher” but it also means in the broader sense, someone who possesses authority or mastery in a particular field.  In the contemporary Roman Catholic usage, this term basically means that the teaching is reserved exclusively for the office of the pope and bishops. [2]  It is important that we consider the topic of the magisterium, because without it, we would not be debating the subject of tradition versus Scripture in the first place.  In regards to the magisterium, the Catholic Church considers themselves the master or the entity that possesses the authority—whether it be the written Word of God or in the form of tradition.  This concept of the Roman Catholic Church being the master dates back to the fourth session of the Council of Trent in 1546 A.D.  For example, in the first decree in the Council of Trent, it states that the Old and New Testament were not the only inspired source, but the traditions concerning faith and morals are also inspired because the Roman Catholic Church believes it came from the mouth of God; and it believes that it is preserved by the Holy Spirit in continuous succession in the Catholic Church.[3]

When defining their source of authority, the Roman Catholic Church continues by saying,

The totality of the Bishops is infallible, when they, either assembled in general council or scattered (has to be unanimously agreed by the bishops) over the earth, propose a teaching of faith or morals as one to be held by all the faithful.”

[4]  Moreover the pope, who is part of the magisterium and who is the icon of the magisterium is believed to be infallible when he defines doctrines concerning faith and morals.[5] To question the pope in matters of infallibility is to second-guess him.[6]  The so-called divine promise given to him through the succession of Apostle Peter, concerning the pope’s definition of doctrine concerning faith and morals cannot be revised or altered. [7]  For example, papal infallibility in the area of making saints is final and irrevocable.[8]  The pope who is the iconic leader of the magisterium can speak ex cathedra, which means, that with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, the Pope speaks without error.[9]

Church’s Proof that Magisterium Has Divine Authority

For the Roman Catholic Church, this is more than apostolic succession, but it is the gift of inspiration itself.[10]  Here is what the Roman Catholic Church says concerning the very gift of inspiration itself being passed down to them,

But in order to keep the Gospel forever whole and alive within the Church, the Apostles left bishops as their successors, ‘handing over’ to them ‘the authority to teach in their own place.'”

[11] Dei Verbum 8 says,

This sacred tradition, therefore, and Sacred Scripture of both the Old and New Testaments are like a mirror in which the pilgrim Church on earth looks at God, from whom she has received everything…”[12]

Because apostolic succession is key to this belief of authority, let’s take a look at how the Roman Catholic Church validates this claim.  For example, they try validating their claim by using the apostles as an example to validate apostolic succession.  They claim that all of the activities such as delegating authority (2 Corinthians 3:5-6; 5:18-6:1; Ephesians 6:28) in matters such as the proper interpretation of the Gospel (2 Peter 2:20-21), the norm of sound teaching (2 Timothy 1:13) that is to be found with the apostles, the eye witnesses of Christ and His resurrection (Luke 24:47-48; Acts 1:8-9; Jn 20:31; 1 John 1:3; 4:16), delegated authority to others within the church of God.[13]  The leaders appointed by the apostles within the church, that received delegated authority from the apostle, (Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5; 1 Timothy 3:1-7; 5:22; cf. Titus 1:6-9) would assume the tasks such as teaching and government duties in the church of God.[14]  This thinking results in the logic that the Catholic Church too received delegated authority that was passed down to the bishops of the church. The biggest proof they have in order to validate the infallibility of the magisterium is Apostle Peter.  They believe that their apostolic succession came from the line of Apostle Peter.[15]  Because Christ promised that Hades will not prevail against the church that is founded on the faith of Peter (Matthew 16:18); and that God will remain with the successors of the apostles to the end of time (Matthew 28:20), then the magisterium can be reliable and will never lead the church into doctrinal error.[16]

Since the bishops of the Catholic Church received authority because of apostolic succession, then the bishops have authority to teach salvation in the name of Christ; and also the bishop through the Catholic Church, reveals what God wants us to know whether it be via the inspired written Word of God or in the form of tradition.[17]


Roman Catholic Church believes that tradition is everything that contributes to the holiness of life and the increase of faith of the people of God.[18]  Tradition is key to Catholics because the Bible would not be understood rightly if we limit it to sola Scriptura.[19]  They will go on to say that the church’s history and experience cannot be excluded if the Bible is to be rightly understood.  According to Vatican II Council, the Catholic Church believes in the unity and consistency of Scripture because tradition and Scripture are closely connected.[20]  Scripture and tradition is illustrated as two streams flowing from the same divine well-spring; and they actually merge together.[21]  They say the apostles handed down the traditions to them.

Another significant aspect concerning the church’s perspective is that tradition does not stay static or fixed.[22]  Instead, with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, tradition keeps progressing until it reaches the fullness of divine truth when the Lord returns.[23]

Another category that is important when it comes to the Vatican view of tradition is the context of locations or loci of tradition.  There are four loci of tradition: rite of baptisms accompanied with prayers, repetition of the Eucharist, the writings of the church fathers, and the life of the church.

The loci of tradition in the area of liturgy for example such as baptism, imparts a sense of the universal need for redemption and the removal of sin by grace; and the Eucharist, together with the elevation of the consecrated elements impresses a realization of the real presence of God.[24]  Church Fathers are also important sources of tradition, because they are believed to be the one’s who established the canon of Scripture, articles of the creed, the basic dogmas of the faith, the basic structures of the church, and also the essential forms of the liturgy.[25]  The last location of tradition, which is the life of the church, is key, because the Roman Catholic Church believes that the Holy Spirit gives inspiration to the church in producing faithful members a sense of what is agreeable and disagreeable when it comes to revelation.  Vatican II says this about the faithful members of the church,

The sense of the faithful is not a totally autonomous source of doctrine, since it depends in part on the other bearers of tradition and overlaps with them, but it can often help to identify the true content and meaning of tradition, especially when it confirms what is also attested by other sources.”[26]

The Roman Catholic Church contests that traditions are important.  For example, they believe that Paul spoke about tradition when he wrote to the Corinthian Church.  In his letter, Paul says,

Now I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you” (1 Corinthians 11:2).”[27]

Karl Keating a Catholic apologist has this to say about this verse,

There is no contradiction here.  On the one hand, Paul condemned erroneous human traditions; on the other, he upheld truths handed down orally and entrusted to the Church.  It is these truths Catholics know by the term tradition.”[28]

It is clear that the Roman Catholic Church sees that tradition, the magisterium, and Scripture cannot be without the other.  They have a problem with the idea of sola Scriptura.  There are three reasons why the Catholic Church rejects the doctrine of sola Scriptura: the Bible does not argue for the doctrine of sola Scriptura, the Bible teaches the authority of tradition, and the Bible cannot correctly be interpreted without tradition.[29]

Please stay tune for the next post, as I will be giving arguments in favor for sola Scriptura.



[1] Michael Glazier and Hellwig Monika, The Modern Catholic Encyclopedia (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1994), 536.

[2] Ibid, 536.

[3] James J. Megivern, Bible Interpretation (Wilmington, N.C.: Consortium Books, 1978), 179.

[4] Ludwig Ott, “A Summary of the Dogmas and Teachings of the Catholic Church,” Catholic Apologetics, http://www.catholicapologetics.info/thechurch/councils/summary.htm (accessed December 1, 2011).

[5] Francis Schüssler Fiorenza and John P. Galvin, Systematic Theology: Roman Catholic Perspectives (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1991), 357.

[6] Garry Wills, Why I Am a Catholic (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 2002), 254.

[7] Francis Schüssler Fiorenza and John P. Galvin, Systematic Theology: Roman Catholic Perspectives, 426.

[8] Garry Wills, Why I Am a Catholic, 254.

[9] Michael Glazier and Hellwig Monika, The Modern Catholic Encyclopedia, 426.

[10] Robert Michael Zinns, “Why the Bible Alone?” A Christian Witness to Roman Catholicism, http://www.cwrc-rz.org/whybiblealone.html (accessed December 1, 2011).

[11] Pope Paul VI, “Dogmatic Constitution On Divine Revelation: Dei Verbum,” Vatican, http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19651118_dei-verbum_en.html (accessed December 1, 2011).

[12] Ibid.

[13] Michael Glazier and Hellwig Monika, The Modern Catholic Encyclopedia, 65.

[14] Michael Glazier and Hellwig Monika, The Modern Catholic Encyclopedia, 65.

[15] Francis Schüssler Fiorenza and John P. Galvin, Systematic Theology: Roman Catholic Perspectives, 104.

[16] Ibid, 104.

[17] Michael Glazier and Hellwig Monika, The Modern Catholic Encyclopedia, 536.

[18] Francis Schüssler Fiorenza and John P. Galvin, Systematic Theology: Roman Catholic Perspectives, 102.

[19] Ibid, 102.

[20] Francis Schüssler Fiorenza and John P. Galvin, Systematic Theology: Roman Catholic Perspectives, 102.

[21] Ibid, 102.

[22] Ibid, 102.

[23] Ibid, 102.

[24] Ibid, 102.

[25] Ibid, 102.

[26] Francis Schüssler Fiorenza and John P. Galvin, Systematic Theology: Roman Catholic Perspectives, 103.

[27] Karl Keating, The Usual Suspects: Answering Anti-Catholic Fundamentalists (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 1994), 129.

[28] Ibid, 129.

[29] Ron Rhodes, Reasoning from the Scriptures with Catholics, 50-51.

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