Reading this comment by Mike Liccione reminds me of a psychic who does cold readings. The psychic appears to have uncanny knowledge of the stranger in the audience, whom he’s never met before.
However, the psychic has a hidden earpiece which is patched into a geeky guy in a room offsite with a supercomputer. The computer has facial recognition technology, along with access to every database on earth.
Unfortunately, the psychic loses the satellite uplink at a crucial point in the cold reading. Suddenly he has to bluff his way through the reading.
It’s clear from Liccione’s comment that the church of Rome has no divine foresight. It is having to make things up after the fact, just like any other fallible, shortsighted, uninspired human institution–its pretensions to divine guidance notwithstanding.
The problem arises when the question is how to discern when the ordinary and universal magisterium (OUM) has taught infallibly.
It’s not surprising that the theologically untutored have difficulty with that question, because it wasn’t until Vatican II that the Magisterium itself explicitly addressed the matter at all, in Lumen Gentium §25, and it wasn’t until 1995 that any representative of the Roman Magisterium applied V2′s criteria to a particular case: that of women’s ordination. Theologians themselves disagree about the clarity and significance of such a recent development. But it’s not difficult to show how the issue must be resolved.
If the question which doctrines count as OUM-infallible were always a matter to be left to the individual discernment of the faithful, then the question would essentially be left to private opinion. If it were left at that level, the category itself would be effectively empty. For private opinions, even those of individual bishops and popes, are fallible; so if the question which doctrines are OUM-infallible were left to private opinion, then the doctrines themselves would remain a matter of opinion, which they couldn’t be if they are infallibly taught by the OUM as binding on the whole Church. So if there is such a thing as a doctrine that’s OUM-infallible, the Roman Magisterium has to have the last word about how to apply the criteria for identifying it as such.
As I’ve said, so far there’s been only one explicit statement from Rome to that effect. But there are other signs, such as Evangelium Vitae §57 (1995) and Ratzinger’s doctrinal commentary on Ad Tuendam Fidem (1998) that the way to apply the relevant criteria is taking shape.
Development of doctrine in general takes time. Development of doctrine about various doctrines’ level of authority has taken still more time. That frustrates a lot of people because not all questions get answered fast enough to please anybody, much less everybody. But perhaps that’s how prudence would have it.