Letters | Episcopal Authority, Gutting Aquinas

Readers Write

Newman’s Own

John Thiel’s efforts to correct Cardinal Donald Wuerl’s misconception that bishops are the “only authoritative teachers of the faith” hit a consistently judicious and generous note (“Parallel Magisterium?” May 16). Pointing gently to the dynamics of development in Catholic teaching spearheaded by theologians, Thiel points out that Wuerl’s cramped understanding of theologians’ role in the church “runs counter to the understanding of a large majority of Catholic theologians.”

Among these theologians can be numbered Cardinal John Henry Newman, who outlined a far more nuanced view of the role of the hierarchy, situating it within the broader apostolic tradition committed to the whole church. In his groundbreaking On Consulting the Faithful in Matters of Doctrine, Newman affirmed that the tradition “manifests itself variously at various times: sometimes by the mouth of the episcopacy, sometimes by the doctors, sometimes by the people, sometimes by liturgy” none of which “may be treated with disrespect.”

In the 1877 edition of The Via Media, Newman formalized this understanding as the threefold office of the Body of Christ, in which teaching (theology), rule (governing), and ministry (worship) together constitute a virtual system of checks and balances. At the center is “the action of pastor and flock,” but serving this center are the ...

To read the rest of this article please login or become a subscriber.