April 30, 2010

Magisterium: Teacher and Guardian of the Faith

By Valerie Haas *

By Valerie Haas *

 Avery Cardinal Dulles, SJ. Naples: Sapientia Press, 2007 $ 21.95. ISBN 978-1932589382.

Cardinal Avery Dulles, SJ’s book focuses on the Magisterium, or the teaching body of the Church, which is exercised by the Pope and bishops. He said that one of his goals in writing was to produce a “clear concise, up-to-date manual” on the subject of revelation and transmission in the Church. And he has succeeded.

Dulles noticed that very few people know much about “the types and degrees of authority” in the Church. He also knows that even some of the faithful are “confused about the biblical sources and historical development of the Magisterium as a normative organ of doctrinal authority.”

That is why he wrote a book that seeks to explain why such a teaching body is necessary in the Church. He analyzes the biblical reasons for its existence, and examines its development throughout history. He also explains the how the Magisterium works, especially when it comes to the topic of infallibility.

Although many documents about the Magisterium have been published in the last several decades, this book tries to give a simple explanation using terms that the average person can understand. He uses a variety of resources such as Papal documents, letters, encyclicals, and several of his own articles on the Magisterium.
Dulles begins by laying out a simple foundation and proceeding to build upon it by explaining the nature and function of the Magisterium. Then he describes the threefold teaching authority of Christ and how it has been passed onto the Church. He also presents and breaks down the authority that the Church has in the offices of priest, prophet, and king.

The book flows smoothly as Dulles proceeds to explain how power was vested in the Church by the use of Scripture and the institution of Peter as head of the Church. Through the use of Scripture and Tradition, Dulles demonstrates how the Apostles received their power and how it is indeed intended to be passed on. He also distinguishes between the different hierarchical and non-hierarchical teachers of the faith as he touches on the subject of Church Fathers and theologians.

Cardinal Dulles’ work is a brilliant and concise examination of the Magisterium that is easy to understand and bursting with information. And for those seeking a greater wealth of detailed information, his appendices prove to be enriching and enjoyable. It is the perfect book for an informative glimpse into the Magisterium of the Church.

Valerie Haas is a junior at Franciscan University of Steubenville, where she is studying history and theology.


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