Faith, Authority, Charisms in the Church

Author: Most Rev. Aldo Gobbi


Most Rev. Aldo Gobbi, Auxiliary Bishop of Imola

In the concluding celebration of the Year of Faith, Paul VI delivered his Credo, as a reaffirmation of what the Church proposes to our belief in fidelity' to the deposit that has been entrusted to her. And we have all been invited to give public adhesion to that Credo oil tile feast of Christ the King. It seems opportune—in line with this invitation—to give readers some thoughts on the times that we are living in.

Tradition and Modernity

Our times are marked by a certain fear that something is changing or that it is not changing. Speaking on September 16th last, the Pope mentioned the curious fear some Catholics have of lagging behind the movement of ideas. This easily induces them to align themselves with the spirit, of the world, adopting favourably the newest ideas, the ones most opposed to Catholic tradition. But there are also believers, theologians or otherwise, who accuse the hierarchy of the opposite fear of novelties, even when the latter aim at the practical implementation of conciliar renewal.

In the meantime let us at once dispose of one question. We cannot in fact take time as the absolute criterion of truth. What is the past but yesterday's today? And what is today but tomorrow's past? There exist musty traditions and eccentric novelties. In two recent addresses the Pope has dealt in a masterly way with the relationship between tradition and modernity. Speaking to a group of pilgrims from Verona he stressed the values of tradition, which are the fruit of the wisdom of men who lived before us, of the holiness of. the witnesses and friends of Christ and of the action of the Holy Spirit that always assists his Church, Then speaking in the last few days to the "Consilium" for liturgical reform, the Pope insisted on concordance with the Roman tradition, also because of the certain fruits it has given. Renewal. must plunge its roots into the fruitful ground of the past; the Church, is in fact a living body in continual development.

There is no reasonable motive to judge all that is old as wrong and all that is new as perfect and vice versa. It is for us rather to make an intelligent selection of old and new.

Papal Authority and Collegiality

A. fundamental point is the authority of the Pope, which the dogmatic constitution on the Church recognizes as infallible, when, "as the supreme shepherd and teacher of all the faithful, who confirms his brethren in their faith, he proclaims by a definitive act some doctrine of faith or morals. And even when he is not speaking ex cathedra, his supreme magisterium (must be) acknowledged with reverence ... (and) sincerely adhered to". How can those people who contradict papal documents, such as "Humanae vitae", with impertinent and rebellious words, be in harmony with the Council?

Others again misunderstand the doctrine of episcopal collegiality, as restricting the full, supreme and direct power of the Pope, a power that he can always exercise freely, without anyone being able to reprove him for having done so. Our Lord made Simon alone the rock and key-bearer of the Church, while the office of binding and loosing, which was given to Peter, has also been granted to the college of Apostles, together with their head.

Nor are we on the right path when we set up all alleged "sensus ecclesiae" or "sensusfidelium" against that of the Pope. His powers do not have a democratic origin by election or delegation of the people of God, but derive, as Bishop, from the sacrament of the Order, and, as Pope, from the succession to Peter and therefore from Christ's will.

Obedience an Essential Virtue

Certainly, authority exists to serve and not to dominate the faithful. The Council stresses this point which is one of the motives of the new times. But among the services of governing, preaching and sanctifying are included leadership and admonition, approval and reproof and also judgment.

Today many people find the intervention of authority annoying. I can also add that it is annoying for the authority to intervene. Nevertheless it remains true that among the faults we must accuse ourselves of there is the fact of having been silent or having spoken out, as the case may be, The address delivered on Wednesday October 17th on obedience to the Church deserves careful meditation.

After pointing out that the subject of obedience is compromised by the atmosphere of freedom that modern man breathes and also by the apologia of freedom spread throughout the various conciliar documents, the Pope added that "overestimation of subjective criteria leads to a failure to understand how another extrinsic criterion, authority, is entitled to interfere in the spontaneous and natural expression of a being or a human group".

Yet this virtue must be rehabilitated by showing its connection with the equilibrium of any society, with the overcoming of individual weaknesses and with the attainment of good social results. In the ecclesiastical sphere, unity of faith and charity demands a concurrence of will, guaranteed by the authorized power, itself obedient to the will of God. The whole plan of our salvation depends on a free and responsible exercise of obedience. Our Christian profession is obedience. The time has certainly come to clarify the happy and fruitful relationship between obedience and freedom, conscience, personality, maturity, moral force, patiently examining the legitimate rights, exigencies and limits of obedience, and imitating Christ who was obedient unto death. Thus Paul VI speaks with a heavy heart, showing an immense patience.

Pope John's motto "obedience and peace" should illuminate our life. Only silence and prayer and calm thoughts will be able to re-establish peace. And peace can come only through filial union with the Vicar of Christ, in obedience and adhesion to his words, the English theologian David Knowles writes.

Authority and Charism

Theologians have a noble and fruitful task but they are not the supreme authority in the Church nor do they enjoy the charism of infallibility, or even of unquestionable authoritativeness.

In connection with charisms, it will not be out of place to clarify some ideas. The Holy Spirit, the soul of the Church, blows where and how it wishes on all the members of the people of God, so that everyone may develop in docility his priestly, prophetic and royal mission, according to his own function: charisms are not given only to laymen, or to priests and bishops, or to religious, but to all. This elementary truth entails for the hierarchy attention to all the charisms of the faithful and for the latter openness to the charisms of ministers; and for everyone the humble, patient and trusting effort to do God's will.

Some people have a conception of the history of the Church which resolves everything to an irreducible tension between the hierarchical authority and charismatic effervescence. This is not an orthodox way of seeing the Church; for us Catholics, authority and charism are in the same Church, sometimes in the same persons, always coming from the one and only Spirit that intends not to divide, but to unite. Moreover St. Paul, in the first letter to the Corinthians, already reminds the prophets to be submissive in the order of the Church which is an order of charity, requiring subordination and authority.

But then, one may object, why are charisms sometimes not recognized immediately by the Hierarchy? Schmaus replies (Dogmatica Catolica, vol. 3/1; page 324), that the action of the Spirit is not always clear from the beginning, because of the opaqueness of each of us. In any case the Council is precise on this point: "Judgment as to their genuineness and proper use (of charismatic gifts) belongs to those who preside over the Church, and to whose special competence it belongs, not indeed to extinguish the Spirit, but to test all things and hold fast to that which is good" ("Lumen gentium", 12).

1 have reflected, at length upon the saying: "The prophetic act is never expressed through formal disobedience to the authority of the Church".

For this reason those with charismatic gifts who are really useful to the Church are the saints. I believe in saints who are humble, patient and trusting, who can cast the seed and wait the necessary months for its germination and maturation, who are not like racing-cars tearing along and frightening the pedestrians, but panting pilgrims like all other believers on their way to the heavenly country. They alone build, with their charismatic gifts, for the kingdom of God, if we believe with the Gospel that eternal life consists in knowing and loving God and him whom he sent, Jesus Christ, and the Church he founded. And the others, who are not saints, whose charismatic gifts are often self-attributed, who do not cast the seed to rot in order that it may be born, are they building on rock or on sand?

Father Rahner writes: "I give preference and greater weight to the drab normality of a Bishop who lacks brilliance (and no one can deny that there are such Bishops) in that such normality is more open to the whole truth, rather than to the inspired intuition of the scholar who, intoxicated by the new perspective opening out before him, mutilates the truth by forcing it into his system". It is for the reason cited above that I have dared to write, agreeing with what follows, also by Fr Rahner: "More than anything else I prefer, of course, the two put together, if they both understand each other, each in his office, as necessary aspects of the one, history of faith of the Church, guided supremely by God and only by him (Discepoli di Cristo, p. 70).

In a spirit of harmony with tradition and of progress in conciliar orientations, with serenity, courage and balance, checking the old and the new also in the pastoral field, in complete fidelity to Christ and to his Word, we docilely adhere to the Credo of Paul VI.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
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