The Magisterium: A Gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church

As Catholics we believe, and the Church teaches that we have the line on truth where faith and morals are concerned. Now, by baptism (and confirmation, if we are confirmed), we are all blessed with gifts of the Holy Spirit (in varying degrees and varying gifts). Protestants claim that the Holy Spirit guides them, too. So, what makes our situation different from theirs and why are there 30,000+ Protestant sects while there is only ONE Catholic Church. (There are several “branches,” but they are all part of the ONE holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.)

The answer is, we have something they don’t: the Magisterium. The description of the Magisterium and its role can be found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) in articles 85-87. The Catholic Church is based on Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. Before any of the Gospels were written, the teachings of Jesus through the Apostles (and, as such, the Church) was done by word of mouth. Jesus’s commission to the Apostles was to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and behold, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” (Mt 28:19-20) Additionally, we know that Jesus said and did much more than is contained in the Gospels. St. John tells us this at the end of his Gospel, “But there are also many other things which Jesus did, were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” (Jn 21:25) St. Paul recognized that information about Jesus and his teaching would be passed along by tradition and told the people in the Churches he founded to “stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us either by word of mouth or by letter.” (2 Thes 2:15, 1 Cor 11:2, 1 Tim 4:11-16, et al.)

 The Magisterium is the teaching arm of the Church and is responsible for the deposit of faith to ensure that God’s word and message are interpreted properly. As the Catechism states, “Yet this Magisterium is not superior to the Word of God, but is its servant. It teaches only what has been handed on to it.” As Dr. Peter Kreeft has said, the Church’s job is to interpret and pass on God’s mail, not to edit it. Having this discussion with some other men in my parish, several of whom are converts from Protestantism, a few of them pointed out that these Protestant sects have no overarching governing body that guides them, going back to the foundation of Christianity. This is why you find some significant deviations among these sects, including such things as the denial of the Trinity or not acknowledging the divinity of the Holy Spirit (this will be the topic of a future post). One of my fellows used the term “heresy” in this discussion, akin to the heresies in the early Church (such as Arianism which denied the divinity of Jesus Christ). The basis for the Magisterium goes back to the first council of the Church, Council of Jerusalem, where the Apostles met to pray and decide on an important matter of faith relating to Gentile converts (Acts 15:28).

The Magisterium is the embodiment of St. Peter’s admonition, “First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation because no prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” (2 Peter 1:20-21) The Magisterium also is the fulfillment of Jesus’s promise to send his Spirit and that of the Father and “when He comes, the Spirit of truth, He will guide you to all truth” declaring from the Father and the Son. (Jn 16:13-15)

The connection of the Magisterium to the topic of moral decision making can be found in articles 88-90 which state that the Magisterium defines dogmas and doctrines based on truths contained in divine Revelation which the people of faith can then apply to their daily lives.

The sum of this teaching can be found in two places, the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Compendium of Catholic Social Doctrine. Many of us have a Catechism (if you don’t, you should get one); both can be accessed through the Vatican website.  Additionally, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has published a document entitled “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” which summarizes much of the doctrines, especially as relates to activities in public life.

By using these resources, we can properly form our consciences so as to know how to follow God’s teaching in our daily lives as well as know what to expect of others or how to support our brethren in their daily lives. Knowing what the Church teaches is especially important in these troubled times when the challenges of living in the world (but not being of the world, see Jn 15:18-19) bombard us daily and the actions of self-proclaimed “devout” Catholics in public life constantly defy Church teaching.

6 thoughts on “The Magisterium: A Gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church

    1. These apocrypha belong to a set of non-canonical books that, as a whole, were never accepted by the church and, in many cases have a heretical history. While purporting to be written by the names in the titles, most are attributed to later periods of history than the supposed authors’ lifetimes. For example, the Apocalypse of Peter. according to critics is attributed to the first quarter of the second century, i.e., long after Peter’s martyrdom in Rome. However, it did have some acceptance for a while in parts of the early church. Notably, it did not become part of the Church’s canon. Similarly, the Apocalypse of St. Paul is estimated to have been fabricated in the late 300’s AD, during the reign of Theodosius and is considered to be a Gnostic (i.e., heretical) work.

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    2. A careful reading of the description of the Apocalypse of Peter from the infobooks website you refer to clearly shows that this is deemed a Gnostic, i.e., heretical, work and even includes fragments of Docetism, another heresy which plagued the early Church.

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    1. By virtue if the fact that they supported the fact that God cannot bless same sex unions, they do know. The problem is that many of them obfuscate some of the issues when given a chance. However, we have to believe that when push come to shove, as with the same sex union issue, the Holy Spirit will keep us on track.

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