By Fr. Chad Ripperger, PhD
Sensus Traditionis Press
$9.95 Paperback; $8.95 ebook
Fr. Ripperger begins his short yet concise book on the Magisterial authority of the Church by discussing Papal Infallibility, what it is, and what it is not. After giving the basic principles of papal infallibility, Fr. Ripperger turns to when popes have been in error and what that means for us. One of the examples he gives is that of Pope John XXII who taught that departed souls do not see the Beatific Vission until the Final Judgment. Of course, this position is not true. This was, however, the pope's personal opinion. Fr. Ripperger explains that “...these acts did not meet the conditions for infallibility and so there was no guarantee that they would be infallible, i.e. they are non-infallible statements.” (12)
In our current day, there is much confusion regarding the teachings of the Church and those of the popes. Many teachings from various popes through the past few decades have been their own personal opinions or personal beliefs. A great example of this is Benedict XVI's monumental series Jesus of Nazareth, in which he states “It goes without saying that this book is in no way an exercise of the magisterium, but is solely an expression of my personal search 'for the face of the Lord' (Ps. 27:8).” (From the Forward to Jesus of Nazareth) Therefore, not every single teaching from the popes should be taken as infallible. Fr. Ripperger says that since the Church has clearly defined the necessary aspects of an infallible statement or teaching, “...if a pope speaks in a non-infallible manner and does not lapse into error, it is not grounds for scandal...it should not impact our faith in any way if a pope were to say something contrary to an infallible statement.” (13-14)
Continuing, Fr. Ripperger turns to the different modes in which the magisterium presents infallible teachings. He discusses when the pope, bishops, and ecumenical councils are infallible. He also treats, though briefly, when the Fathers and Theologians of the Church are infallible as well.
One of the most interesting sections of Magisterial Authority is when Fr. Ripperger talks about judging whether or not a statement or teaching from the magisterium is infallible. He says that there are two types of principles that help to guide us in our judgment: natural principles and supernatural principles.
According to the natural principles, if a magisterial member teaches something that is contrary to “...metaphysical and logical first principles automatically discredits what any magisterial member says.” (47) Another natural principle is when a teaching of the magisterial member is contrary to natural law. For instance, if a magisterial member were to say that homosexual “marriages” were permissible, he would be in error, because according to the natural law, marriage is between one woman and one man. In this section, Fr. Ripperger stresses the importance of having a “...true grasp of the Church's actual teaching on the matter...” (48) and having a “...certitude about what the actual magisterial member said.” (48)
Fr. Ripperger lists many supernatural principles, but here I will only give a few. One of the supernatural principles is that if a magisterial member teaches something which is contradictory to the Church's understanding of Divine Revelation, he is in error. Continuing, another supernatural principle is “When papal documents or teachings conflict with what curial members or bishops teach, that which is minor gives way to what is major.” (50) Another important principle that Fr. Ripperger points out is that all the members of the magisterium, including the pope, are bound by prior infallible teachings. Therefore, if a member of the magisterium were to teach something directly contradicting an already defined infallible statement, then they would be in error, and the laity would not need to listen to them. The very last principle Fr. Ripperger shares is that when the popes have not clarified a certain teaching yet, we are to “...follow the principle: in necessary things, unity; in doubtful things, liberty, in all things, charity.” (52)
In conclusion, Fr. Ripperger offers advice on how to deal with members of the magisterium who teach error. He says that “...we must pray and do penance for him. If we see a bishop say things contrary to the faith, our first approach should not be to criticize him, but to pray and do penance for him.” (56) In this time of confusion let us turn from anger to prayer. Fr. Ripperger offers a sobering meditation: “When we stand before God, will we be able to adequately answer the question that Christ may pose to us: 'What did you do to help him?' Or 'What did you do to help the Church?'” (56) Therefore, we should pray for those who teach error, that they might turn away from their error to the truth.
Overall, Fr. Ripperger's book was short and precise. In our confusing times, it is very timely and many would benefit from reading it.