A Micromanaging Magisterium?

Someone recently asked me if luck was a concept compatible with Christianity. I explained it goes against the Biblical concept of divine providence. At that point, the person asked me whether this was just my opinion or something the magisterium teaches. I explained it was my opinion and to my knowledge luck is not directly addressed by the magisterium.

This is a perfect example of how some have a distorted view of the magisterium. Many think the magisterium has to micromanage everything, as if it is necessary before one can believe anything about faith or morals. It seems to me this is generally due to an overreaction to Protestants, who are notorious for private interpretation. However, Catholics who overreact to this error in Protestantism end up undermining their own position because the Fathers of the Church often pointed the faithful to consult the Scriptures. Moreover, since the magisterium has not weighed in on numerous matters of faith and morals, the individual Catholic must use private interpretation by consulting Scripture, the Fathers of the Church, the theologians and the liturgy if they are to have a perspective on most matters.

If the magisterium is not supposed to micromanage every theological decision then why was it established by the Lord? This is a fair question and worth addressing. The magisterium was not established to be a mechanism whereby we ask our apostolic magic 8-ball a theological question, shake it up and out pops the answer. Instead, it was established to be the objective means that arbitrates between opposed theological perspectives when necessity dictates the need for an authoritative decision. In other words, Catholics are to ordinarily consult the Scripture and Tradition themselves and when absolutely necessary, the magisterium is supposed to step in when a major theological controversy plagues the church.

For example, prior to the Council of Nicaea, how was a Catholic supposed to know the teachings of Arius were wrong? Well, there was Scripture, the writings of the ante-nicene fathers and local councils. It is true local councils and the teaching of a bishop in his own diocese are both examples of local expressions of the magisterium, however, what if you were a Christian in a diocese whose bishop embraced an Arian interpretation of Scripture and maintained the decisions of Arian councils? Since the local magisterium in such a diocese would have been considered compromised, does this mean there were no means available to know the truth until the universal magisterium weighed in on the matter? No, one could always fall back on their own reading of Scripture until such a time that the universal magisterium weighed in on the matter.

In other words, the magisterium must not be seen as something that has to weigh in on every single theological matter, unless necessity requires it. Until then, what should the Catholic do? Answer: make a tentative private judgment based on non-definitive means.

Leave a Reply