Friday, November 01, 2019

Standing in judgment of the Magisterium

The Magisterium must seek to present a convincing case, showing how its presentation of the faith is in itself coherent and in continuity with the rest of Tradition. The authority of the papal Magisterium rests on its continuity with the teachings of previous popes. In fact, if a pope had the power to abolish the binding teachings of his predecessors, or if he had the authority even to reinterpret Holy Scripture against its evident meaning, then all his doctrinal decisions could in turn be abolished by his successor, whose successor in turn could undo or redo everything as he pleased. In this case we would not be witnessing a development of doctrine, but the dire spectacle of the Bark of Peter stranded on a sandbank.

I quoted this once before, without comment, but now I'd like to tease out the implications of the statement. Cardinal Müller is one of the premier Catholic theologians of his generation. Benedict XVI appointed him prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, but Francis sacked him. So he represent the conservative wing of the church. 

1. The first implication of his statement is that the veracity and legitimacy of Catholicism depends on historical continuity at the level of Sacred Tradition. Likewise, popes don't have the authority to abrogate the binding teachings of their predecessors. 

2. The second implication is lost on many converts and Catholic apologists. Continuity at the level of Sacred Tradition must be demonstrable. The Magisterium must be able to show continuity, not stipulate continuity. The argument can't be that it's consistent because the Magisterium says so. No, that has it backwards. For the authority of the Magisterium hinges on continuity at the level of Sacred Tradition. So whether or not there is historical continuity at the level of Sacred Tradition is an independent judgment that must be made apart from the Magisterium. Hence, private judgment is indispensable, and prior to the Magisterium. 

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