Saturday, November 22, 2008


In a recent conversation, over on facebook, my friend Cameron keeps invoking the Magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church. I have been thinking about this. I know from discussions at Saint Paul that what actually constitutes this Magisterium is a bit of a debated topic. For instance there is the teaching office of the Bishops, but the concept of Magisterium includes other voices such as the Magisterium of the poor. The reality, as I understand it, is that this is not a concrete well defined body of teaching, but rather a charism possessed by the whole Church and brought to consciousness to lend weight to ecclesial decisions. Sort of like the tradition of pseudopigrapha in the writings of the early Church.

Regardless of how this charism is expressed, I am wondering if this is a useful concept. In the Protestant Evangelical world, the one with which I am most implicated, there is a resistance to a definitive body that imposes dogma on the rest of us. Yet, at the same time we can be some of the most dogmatic of Christians. I think the biggest roadblock to a Magisterium in the Prot-Evangelical world is our commitment to individualism and personal revelation. This is a debate for another thread, but it doesn't mean that a Magisterium is a bad thing, just not something that would readily fly for Prot-Evangelicals. Or would it?

There is a strong leader-follower mentality in the Prot-Evangelical world. This is most clearly seen in our Fundamentalist roots. Another way of naming it is cult of personality. In this model it is a few dominant voices, claiming unmediated access to revelation as support for their truth claims, who lead the majority of followers. There is little wrestling together for what might seem good to us and the Holy Spirit, rather it is presented as a propositional reality. At least in the idea (abstract as it is) of the Magisterium, there is an attempt to acknowledge this process. The Magisterium, as I understand it, is never a single individual and almost never a dominating subgroup. Although I think there are Roman Catholics who wish this were the case.

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