To the Federation of Catholic Scholars

Author: Cardinal William Baum


Cardinal William Baum

"Without communion with the Bishop of Rome, the episcopal magisterium does not exist…"

Address of Cardinal Baum of Washington to the Federation of Catholic Scholars

Given on 28 April 1978 in Kansas City, Missouri

Recent studies of the concept of Magisterium and the ministry of teaching in the Church show that it is important to emphasize the link that exists between the episcopal magisterium, the sacramental ministry of the bishops and the permanence within the Church of the normative apostolic proclamation of God's plan of salvation. It is the purpose of this presentation to offer to you some reflections on the nature of this link, and to suggest to you certain characteristics of a theology of the magisterium which will be based on the relation between these three realities of our ecclesial life. Your identity as an interdisciplinary association of Catholic Scholars gives you an opportunity to develop the many aspects and consequences of such a theology.

This paper does not attempt to discuss the unique and proper teaching office of the Roman Pontiff, nor the relationship between his office and the magisterium of the college of bishops in communion with him. Although this is an important element in any discussion of the episcopal magisterium, it will not be examined in this presentation. Let us simply state this: without communion with the Bishop of Rome, the episcopal magisterium simply does not exist. This is the faith of the Catholic Church.

It might be useful to begin our reflection by considering some of the points raised by recent studies in the theology of the episcopal magisterium. While the best of recent scholarship on this subject insists on these points, they are already found in the Second Vatican Council's Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum),as we shall see.

The content of the teaching of the episcopal magisterium should not be seen primarily as propositions conveying some abstract truths about God and his will. Although such propositions are necessary because man is not only will, but also intelligence, they are at the service of a reality which goes beyond intellectual understanding, namely God's communication of his life to the believer. Thus "by divine Revelation God wished to manifest and communicate both himself and the eternal decrees of his will concerning the salvation of mankind" (DV 6). The purpose of the words of the Church is to "proclaim the works (performed by God in the history of salvation) and bring to light the mystery they contain" (DV, 2).

The teaching authority of the episcopal magisterium should not be defined primarily in juridical terms, as if it were a species of legislation. In this connection, the teachings considered to be an "authentic" presentation of the Catholic faith should not be limited to those having a source which is considered to be authoritative only in juridical terms. This would rule out the teaching of many saints, martyrs, and Doctors of the Church. According to Dei Verbum, growth in insight into Divine Revelation "comes through the contemplation and study of believers who ponder these things in their hearts... It comes from the intimate sense of spiritual realities which they experience. And it comes from the preaching of those who have received, along with their right of succession in the episcopate, the sure charism of truth" (DV 8).

It is important to keep in mind that the competence of the episcopal magisterium is limited to the proclamation and interpretation of those saving realities which constitute God's saving deeds. Some scholars complain that insufficient attention has been given to the rightful autonomy of human sciences. Perhaps the most dangerous tendency today is to make episcopal pronouncements concerning all aspects of human activity in which a moral issue is detected, especially in political, legal, social, and economic matters. Such practice weakens the importance and authority of those interventions necessary to assure the Church's fidelity to the apostolic proclamation. Instead, Dei Verbum teaches: "What was handed on by the apostles comprises everything that serves to make the People of God live their lives in holiness and increase their faith" (DV 8).

The normative character and primacy of the apostolic proclamation should not be obscured. Scripture and Tradition should not be used simply to prove more recent magisterial statements, with the task of theology seen primarily as finding such proofs. Language should be avoided which presents the episcopal magisterium as somehow a more certain norm of truth when compared to a remote, obscure, and ambiguous source. Thus, according to Dei Verbum,the "magisterium" is not superior to the Word of God, but is its servant. It teaches only what has been handed on to it... In the supremely wise arrangement of God, Sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture, and the Magisterium of the Church are so connected and associated that one of them cannot stand without the others" (DV 10).

Because of this conciliar teaching, the episcopal magisterium cannot be considered as self-accrediting. The Holy Spirit's assistance to the magisterium cannot be confused with inspiration; rather the assistance is given to enable the episcopal magisterium to make present the apostolic proclamation of. the Word, which alone is inspired. According to Dei Verbum,the help of the Holy Spirit enables the episcopal magisterium to "listen to (the Word of God) devotedly, guard it with dedication, and expound it faithfully. All that it proposes for belief as being divinely revealed is drawn from this single deposit of faith" (DV 10).

More attention should be given to the intrinsicmeaning andvalue of the proposedteaching, towhich the Council calls "theintimate sense of spiritual realities which (believers) experience" (DV 8).

What some have called an "ecclesial monophysitism" should be rejected, namely, a theology in which the word of the Church loses its identity as the human expression of a divine mystery. Equally unacceptable is what might be called an "ecclesial Nestorianism", in which the divine and human character of the word of the Church are seen as separable. Hermeneutical considerations are thus important: both what may be called a "human hermeneutics" which respects the human character and corresponding relativity of the ecclesial word; and a "hermeneutics of the divine Spirit", which respects the divine character of the word of the Church and its corresponding certainty. What the Council teaches about Sacred Scriptures should be applied to the teachings of the episcopal magisterium: "God speaks through men in human fashion... The words of God, expressed in the words of men, are in every way like human language, just as the Word of the eternal Father, when he took on himself the flesh of human weakness, became like men" (DV 13).

In my opinion, these and other similar observations point to the need for a theology of the magisterium based on the evangelical notion of the proclamation of the kerygma and on the sacramental nature of the episcopal order. We shall examine these two realities in turn.

It will be useful to begin with a brief linguistic survey of the pertinent New Testament words.

In the secular world of the time of the New Testament the word keryx designated the herald who proclaimed the outstanding events of the polis and the Greek court (events such as the birth of the son of the king, coronations, victories in battles, the arrival in a city of the king, etc.). The announcement of the keryx was not something conveyed purely for the sake of information. Rather, it was an announcement which actually had an impact on the daily life of the people, such as, for example, the inauguration of a period of public celebration with the granting of certain privileges such as amnesty to prisoners, etc.

The word keryx also acquired a cultic use. It designated a messenger of divinity. In stoic philosophy the keryx was the witness to the true philosophy of salvation.

Notice that throughout these various uses of the word keryx there is an emphasis on three points. First, there is the authority of the keryx, who was an official herald who spoke with official approval. Second, there is the public or political nature of the proclamation. The mission of the keryx was not a private mission, but a publicly authorized one. And third, there is the existential import of the news itself, that is, the proclamation brings about a change in the life of the hearer.

It is difficult to give a simple definition of the word kerygma as found in the New Testament itself. Any one definition is bound to exclude some important aspects of it, or to emphasize some at the cost of others, because it would be attempting to give a restrictive technical meaning to something which does not have such a sense in the New Testament. With these qualifications in mind, however, it is still possible to summarize the characteristics of the kerygma in the New Testament which have a bearing on the subject of our reflection.

The kerygma isthe word of God who solemnly proclaims the salvation of humanity through the Incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is the announcement of the mirabilia Dei actualized in us. It is the announcement of the paschal mystery of Christ: the mystery of his person and his mission, but especially his death, resurrection, and exaltation to Lordship. The kerygma isthe inauguration of the Kingdom of God and the proclamation of the beginning of the period of waiting for its definitive manifestation. For that reason it always involves the urgency of conversion.

The notion of kerygma can never be limited to its "format". That is to say, the kerygma isnot only a powerful appeal to existential self-transcendence in such a way that the content of what is proclaimed or transmitted is not important. Rather the kerygma always incorporates historical elements of the life of Jesus of Nazareth. This shows that what is reported, what is proclaimed, what is transmitted is not a subjective creation. The real elements of the historical life of Jesus underline the extra-nos character of salvation as something offered to us prior to our faith.

Limiting the kerygma to an appeal to existential self-transcendence also does violence to the dimension of authority and of witness which are always associated with kerygma.In this connection, it is to be noted that preaching and mission are always intimately related in the use of kerygma in the Acts of the Apostles and elsewhere. That is to say, the speaker as a keryx presents himself as someone sent to make this proclamation, someone officially sent, and therefore authorized.

On the other hand, the call to self-transcendence—more precisely, the call to repentance and conversion—is a constitutive part of the kerygma and its importance cannot be minimized. The message is not presented merely as some information but rather as a confession, an acknowledgement which leads necessarily to a demand for a change of heart, for acceptance, for obedience. This is always an inseparable characteristic of the proclamation of the New Testament church.

Furthermore, the kerygma is not a narration of events in the way of an historical instruction into the ways and acts of Jesus of Nazareth. Without faith these narrations are of no present importance. The Kerygma is tied to faith, and it is indeed this connection which gives to the proclamation a certain independence from the moment or the particular context of the original proclamation and allows it to be applied and developed in many faith-situations. That is why St Paul is able to say that his "kerygma is not chained" (2 Tim 2:9) in "its triumphant march through the world" (2 Thess 3:1).

It is also important to advert to the notion of power which is involved in the proclamation. The Apostolic Church believes that it is the power of God which is present in the proclamation, not the power of the preacher. This power does not derive its justification from the objectivity of what is announced in itself, but rather it is God himself through his Word who is forming the community of salvation through this very proclamation. That is why the keryx is someone who has to receive from God the authority to make this proclamation in power. The evangelizer presents himself as someone who has received this authority and power from Jesus Christ. It is Jesus Christ who is the only self-accrediting salvific event.

The evangelist's proclamation derives its power from the gift of the Spirit. It is interesting to note in this connection that holiness, understood as the communication of a divine life with visible results in the life of the evangelist, is appealed to as demonstrating the authority and the power of the message.

One should also notice the public nature of the announcement. Through it the community of salvation is not only constituted, but it is also defined publicly as such, and thus separated from the rest of the world.

The kerygma contains what one may call true information, including truths about the nature of God's salvation, but it contains these as necessary for the realization of the salvific event which is always the central point of the kerygma.

A word must also be said about the normative nature of the apostolic kerygma. St Paul alludes to an earlier kerygma in some of his letters or even summarizes it (cf. 1 Cor 1:17-23; 2:28; 2 Cor 4:3-5; Rom 2:16; etc.). There are also references to earlier proclamations in the synoptic gospels, especially in the passion narratives (cf. Mt 16:21; 17:22-23, 20:18-1). It appears from these references that the decisive acts of salvation have been summarized very early in somewhat stabilized phrases and concepts. There is evidence of respect for a kind of official version of a kerygymatic formula. The impact of the missionary preaching was apparently kept in fixed forms and these were deepened by systematic theological instructions. In this connection, one of the stable elements appears to be a way of interpreting Old Testament passages. There seems to be already a certain canon of Christian interpretation of the Old Testament. The presence of the Old Testament references also underlines the salvation-history aspect of the kerygma.Thatis, although what is announced is a new intervention of God, this intervention is always referred to as a plan which has its roots in former interventions of God in the past. There is thus a certain continuity, and the interpretation of this continuity is itself part of the profession of faith.

Another element which is present in the New Testament notion of the kerygma is the confession of faith as a judgement in the time of persecution. For example, in 1 Timothy 6:12-16, the context shows Timothy represented as standing at the bar of judgement where he has already made "a good confession of faith" in the presence of many witnesses. Now he has to "fight the good fight" that is, to confess Jesus Christ openly before his judges as Jesus Christ did during his own trial, and in this way to testify to the arrival of the messianic kingdom. The confession of First Corinthians 12:3, for example, portrays the Holy Spirit as the court paraclete (cf. also Mt 10: 17-20; Lk 12:11-12). These confessions judge the persecutors as guilty of opposing the appearance of the messianic kingdom (a characteristic theme also in Johannine theology). There is thus frequently a polemical tone to these proclamations of faith, especially in the struggle against false teachers.

It is the position that the saving reality conveyed by the act of proclamation as discussed above constitutes the proper content of the activity of the episcopal magisterium. The purpose of the episcopal magisterium is to ensure the permanence within the Church of the apostolic proclamation of the faith, a proclamation which has the characteristic outlined above.

According to this perspective, the teachings of the magisterium will then be seen as confessions of faith. Just as in apostolic times common confessions of faith had certain obligatory directional lines which guided or configured the preaching of the Church, the teachings of the episcopal magisterium also have this obligatory, directional and binding character. They define the visible boundaries of the community of faith. They constitute what the community professes at any given time and situation in order to remain itself by being faithful to the apostolic proclamation which gives to it its life. In the words of Dei Verbum,"in this way the Church, in her doctrine, life and worship, perpetuates and transmits to every generation all that she herself is." (DV 8)

On the other hand, just as in the apostolic proclamation no one theological system is presented as all-inclusive, the teaching of the episcopal magisterium embodies a divine salvific reality which cannot be exhausted by human concepts. The teaching is like a reflection of this reality; it always points to mystery, that is, to something given beforehand by God. It is not to be identified with the reality proclaimed.

Because of its origins in the apostolic proclamation, a magisterial teaching cannot be dissociated from the experience of the history of salvation. We know that all human statements are historically conditioned. Yet, the "history" which conditions magisterial teachings cannot be reduced to secular history. It is always the history of salvation. These teachings are a part of this salvation history; they are not isolated, a-temporal truths about God, but rather the continuing unfolding of the history of salvation. This history, prefigured in historical events of the past and brought to fulfilment in Jesus Christ, continues in the life of the Church. The teachings of the episcopal magisterium—both as a proclamation and contour of the faith—are therefore instrumental in the continuation of the history of salvation.

The necessary eschatological character of the teachings of the episcopal magisterium is related to its roots in an apostolic proclamation which was shown above to be a judgement amidst persecution. This persecution denotes the presence of something which is not part of the history of salvation, which is in opposition to it: the history of sin. The proclamation of the faith, and therefore the teaching of the episcopal magisterium, is thus a decision against this other opposed history. There is thus always a narrowing of possibilities present in the teachings of the magisterium, a rejection of a path seen to be contrary to the history of salvation. In each of the great controversies in the Patristic Church we see the Church proclaiming this judgement against theological paths which were not those of the apostolic kerygma "in its triumphant march through the world" (2 Thess 2:1 quoted above). This judgement is part of the judgement of God revealed in Christ, especially, the judgement of the Cross against merely human wisdom, human law, and human effort. (After all, the word "Truth" has this meaning in Scripture: the meaning of judgement by the realization of God's plan of salvation).

The link between the episcopal magisterium and the apostolic proclamation of the faith also allows us to give a proper place to hermeneutical considerations. The obvious variety of emphasis, terminology, and even theological development of the New Testament's proclamations are reflections of the human and thus historically-conditioned character of the proclamation. On the other hand, since this proclamation is an event in the history of salvation, what we have called a "human hermeneutics" is not sufficient to capture its meaning. The presence of the Word of God in the proclamation creates a history for itself. Its presence in the proclamation made in the power of the Spirit already is part of, and communicates, that divine life which is not subject to the limitations of the flesh. A spiritual interpretation, a hermeneutics in and of the Spirit is therefore always necessary, and this is not possible without faith, without grace, without the activity of God within us.

We have discussed the link between the episcopal magisterium and the permanence within the Church of the normative apostolic proclamation of God's plan of salvation. It remains to say a word about the basis of this link in the sacramental ministry of the bishops.

Dei Verbum willagain help us, for it teaches that the "Tradition which comes from the apostles makes progress in the Church, with the help of the Holy Spirit" as a result of the "preaching of those who have received along with their right of succession in the episcopate, the sure charism of truth" (DV 8). Although the power to preach in this manner is one of the factors through which "there is a growth in insight into the realities and words that are being passed on," the Council insists on its normative character. What interests us now is the use of liturgical, sacramental terminology to describe the episcopal magisterium.

The reason for this is the sacramental nature of the life of the Church itself. God's plan for our salvation, the purpose of salvation history, consists in our assimilation into the risen Body of Christ: in this way to share the life of the Holy Trinity. The risen Body of Christ is thus the primordial sacrament through which our divinization takes place.

Now, according to the Second Vatican Council, the church herself "in Christ, is in the nature of sacrament—a sign and instrument, that is, of communion with God and of unity among all men" (LumenGentium, 1).

This sacramental nature of the Church is most profoundly realized and made .manifest through the celebration of the Eucharist. Thus the teaching of the Council: "For it is the liturgy through which, especially in the divine sacrifice of the Eucharist... the work of our redemption is accomplished, and it is through the liturgy, especially, that the faithful are enabled to express in their lives and manifest to others the mystery of Christ and the real nature of the true Church" (Sacrosanctum Concilium,2). The same Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy begins its teaching on the nature of the liturgy by relating it to the continuation of the history of salvation, to the mirabilia Dei which, as we saw above, serve as the content of the apostolic proclamation and the teaching of the magisterium. Here we see the link between the proclamation, the magisterium and the liturgy. The well-known teaching of the Council asserts this link: "The liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; it is also the fount from which all her power flows. For the goal of apostolic endeavour is that all who are made sons of God by faith and baptism should come together to praise God in the midst of his Church, to take part in the Sacrifice and to eat the Lord's Supper" (SC, 10).

The episcopal magisterium, a reality within the Church, a reality which, as we have seen, is so linked to the "apostolic endeavour" of the proclamation of the Word, must also have as its goal the faithful's participation in the liturgy.

Is this not the purpose of the sacramental ministry of the bishop and of the priests who share it with him? Thus is established the link between the episcopal magisterium and the sacramental liturgical ministry of the bishop (which makes the celebration of the liturgy possible). Thus is cemented the unique power and authority of this magisterium, its doxological character, its relation to the apostolic proclamation, and its authority to call for conversion, repentance, obedience to the will of God: the indispensable conditions for an efficacious participation in the celebration of the Liturgy.

There is a good word to denote this theology of the magisterium: the word mystical, understood in its original sense. The word mystical and the word mystery (which is the reality behind the notion of sacrament) are related. The word mystery in the bible designates the saving plan of God, the blueprint of salvation history, the designs of his

will. Later, it came to designate the sacramental rites, not in the sense that these are to remain hidden or mysterious, but in that through them we are assimilated into the mystery or plan of God in Christ: the one paschal mystery. The adjective mystical (which originally meant only "hidden" or "secret" without any religious connotation) came to characterize the sacramental experience of the mystery or plan of God into which we are

assimilated by the sacramental celebration. Accordingly, mystical also designated that interpretation of Scripture and that proclamation of the Word which was centred on the one paschal mystery: the salvific power of the death and resurrection of Christ.

Is it not possible then to speak of the mystical nature of the episcopal magisterium?

The theology which I propose for your study is one in which the episcopal magisterium appears as a component of the episcopal sacramental ministry. It is as such that the magisterium makes present the saving mysteries proclaimed and celebrated by the Church. The teachings of the episcopal magisterium have a mystical nature: they interpret the paschal mystery for us with a power and authority which enables us to be assimilated into this mystery by means of the sacraments of our faith.

Such a theology will also give the required importance to the bishop's ministry of preserving that intimate communion of life which empowers the Church's celebration of the Eucharist to be the celebration of the entire Church (on earth and in eternity) united with Jesus Christ, the High Priest, whose heavenly liturgy is the one efficacious liturgy.

To make the sacramental life a reality by preserving the Church's unity of faith and life: this is the purpose of the episcopal magisterium.

The episcopal magisterium is thus not above, below, or alongside that of theologians and others. It is a reality of a different order. It pertains to the sacramental transmission of the divine realities, the saving mysteries, which define or constitute the Church as the ecclesia,the assembly of worship, at all moments. The teaching of the episcopal magisterium is thus to be distinguished from the making of theology. While the task of theological development takes place according to its own characteristics and requirements, the episcopal magisterium has the duty of discerning the state of the Church's life and making sure that the faithful are not separated from the mystery into which we have been assimilated. The interventions of the episcopal magisterium in the life of the Church and its judgements concerning the faith of the Church are justified by this responsibility for the permanence within the Church of the evangelical proclamation of the word and its interpretation in the present situation of the Church according to the paschal mystery.

A theology of the episcopal magisterium based on the link between the evangelical proclamation of the Word and its mystical interpretation will have the pastoral advantage of allowing the faithful to discern the teaching of the apostles in the midst of the life of the Church and distinguish it from the other possible authenticand even authoritative testimonies to God's marvellous deeds for our salvation.

It is my hope that members of this fellowship whose competence covers the spectrum of scholarship, will make a contribution to the formulation of such a vision: at once so traditional and so urgent for the Church of today.  

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
7 December 1978, page 6

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