Rorate Caeli

Guest Book Review: Magisterial Authority, by Fr. Chad Ripperger

Magisterial Authority 
Fr. Chad Ripperger
$ 9.95 on Amazon

Guest Book Review, by Ryan Grant

For many years, the faithful have been confused, bewildered, scandalized and have even lost their faith on account of the verbal bombs and trendy verbiage emanating from various members of the magisterium, even and including the Pope himself irrespective of whether they identify as Traditional Catholics or Conservative Catholics. This has been even more so under the current Pontificate, where absurd statements are made almost for their shock value. The difficulty is, that many people attempting to come to grips with the implications of odd statements of members of the magisterium, often lack the theological training and seriousness to do so. Everyone thinks they are a theologian, and begin misapplying theological arguments, or even argue themselves headlong over the edge, into sedevacantism. The solution to this state of affairs, however, is not to lob the equivalent of bombs with respect to theological arguments, but rather to do theology properly. In his many years of writing, the greatest assistance to the Traditionalist argument along solid theological—rather than polemical—grounds has been given by Fr. Chad Ripperger, Ph. D.

Fr. Ripperger offers well grounded arguments based on principles, and arms the laymen with the well grounded principles necessary to discern what is and is not authentic teaching to which a Catholic is bound. We noted this in our review of the work The Binding Force of Tradition, and it is again the case with his latest work, Magisterial Authority.

Like Binding Force of Tradition, Magisterial Authority (MA) is a succinct and short work, being 60 pages. Behind the beautiful cover featuring Pietro Perugino's Consignment of the Keys to Peter, Fr. Ripperger delves into the topic, which is broken up into 4 sections: I. Papal Infallibility, its principles and qualities; II. What the organs of infallibility are; III. Principles of Judgment; and IV. The proper response to an erring magisterial member.

In the first section, Papal Infallibility, Fr. Ripperger begins by taking Vatican I's decree on papal infallibility and analyzing it for its implications for us. In the first place he notes: “The First Vatican Council essentially states that under certain conditions and only under those conditions are we assured that the statements being made by a pope are infallible. Outside of these conditions for infallibility, we do NOT have the same degree of certitude about the truth of the judgment of a pope. There are members of the Church who treat ALL papal statements with the same degree of certitude: infallible. Aside from real questions of prudence, treating all papal statements as if they are infallible is NOT the mind of the Church.”1 (Emphasis in the original) This is one of the great problems with certain individuals in the Church today, they treat everything as infallible. Vatican I intended to give the criterion of only in certain very limited areas is the Pope infallible. Thus a statement which does not pertain to the faith, such as speaking on global warming and the like, is not infallible. The issue comes in when certain statements are made that seem to pertain to the faith, of which we could name quite a few from the current pontificate. Thus Fr. Ripperger develops this a little further:

“A distinction must be observed between a judgment being true and a judgment being infallible. A true statement adheres to reality and in the case of a theological judgment, the judgment or statement adheres to what is revealed by God Who is Truth Itself. An infallible statement is also a true statement but which also contains the notion of the statement having certitude, in that the statement cannot contain error.”2 Since magisterial teaching operates at different levels with different corresponding degrees of authority, it is necessary to lay out where this restrictive use of infallibility actually lies, and even more, what it is. The importance of this observation is twofold. On the one hand, while the magisterium makes statements that operate at different levels, they can be true without being infallible per se, by corresponding to truth, such as Papal exhortations on political matters, and as such, one cannot develop the attitude that any papal statement that is not infallible by the conditions of Vatican I can be automatically rejected. On the other hand, this observation shows that just as the magisterium is able to make statements which are not infallible but true, moreover it can make statements which are neither infallible nor true, if in the latter case it does not correspond to reality.

To buttress this, Fr. Ripperger develops several historical cases where Popes have in fact erred while employing their teaching office. In the first place there is the well known case of Pope Honorius I, who was actually condemned by the Third Council of Constantinople and its Pope for having taught the Monothelite heresy. Some could object to this that there is evidence, as the old Theologians teach, that Honorius was not actually a heretic and later Popes were deceived by bad or false copies of his letters rendered by the Greeks. Whatever the truth or falsity of that, as St. Robert Bellarmine in De Romano Pontifice, bk II ch. 30, notes: “It must be noted, that although it is probable that Honorius was not a heretic, and that Pope Hadrian II was deceived from corrupt examples of the VI Council, and Honorius was reckoned falsely to be a heretic, nevertheless we cannot deny, in fact Hadrian with the Roman Council, nay more the whole 8th general council had sensed, in the case of heresy a Roman Pontiff can be judged. Add, what would be the most miserable condition of the Church, if she would be compelled to acknowledge a manifestly prowling wolf for a shepherd.”

Next, he notes the example of Pope St. Nicholas I, who taught that apart from the Trinitarian formula one could simply baptize “in nomine Christi”, (in the name of Christ), which was clearly against the tradition.3 Moreover some popes contradicted each other on Pauline privilege, and further still the error of John XXII, which was taught during preaching, a magisterial act to be sure.

From that he proceeds to the second section, on the Organs of Infallibility, where he takes up the question of when the Pope is infallible, when the bishops/councils may be infallible and two other areas. The first of these is Solemn Condemnations, and the second is the common consensus of the theological schools.

As for the infallibility of the Pope, and the Bishops, that is well trodden ground and can easily be found in a number of places, as well as in the eloquent words of this section. As to the last two considerations, however, very little is often said. As for Solemn Condemnations, Fr. Ripperger shows that solemn condemnations can employ infallibility, while condemnations which are not solemn are not infallible. This is because in condemning a proposition on faith or morals, the Church is affirming its opposite to be true, or as Tanquery notes: “When a doctrine is observed as heretical, it is of the faith which must be believed as infallible by the Church, which discerned that censure, since this is done by an exercise of the Magisterium about a direct object of infallibility, . . . For, in inflicting this kind of censure the Church bares a true definition, granted, negatively.4 Thus those that claim we don't have to regard to Quanta Cura, or other solemn condemnations (like that of Religious Liberty) are quite mistaken, since those sorts of condemnations are infallible.

Next, Fr. Ripperger enters into a discussion on the category which is often called “De Fide non definita” which means “Of the faith but not defined”. This category comprises both the Fathers and the Theologians, for the reasoning that is taught at the Council of Trent about the Fathers, and by Bl. Pius IX in Tuas Libenter, namely, when the fathers and doctors treat on a matter of faith and morals, and taught the same thing in a true consensus and universally, they cannot err. To these are added the Sensus Fidelium, and the assent due to non-infallible decisions of the magisterium.

In Section III, Fr. Ripperger lays down principles of judgment.
“So even if one finds oneself in a situation where a particular member of the Magisterium is saying things contrary to the Faith, that does not allow us to make our own determination. What we are bound to do is take reasonable means to investigate what the tradition is and conform ourselves to it.”5 This is important because of the dangers we see in those who are not moderated, and determine for themselves that everything is a heresy, or that Popes are heretical without taking sufficient care to truly investigate what is being proposed. Therefore he lays down several categories by which judgments should be made: Natural principles and Supernatural Principles. The net conclusion in applying these principles is that one will have a good sense of prudence in navigating the labyrinth of post-conciliar statements that so often present problems with respect to the Church's perennial teaching.

Who are you to judge?

Lastly, in section IV, Fr. Ripperger lays out the proper response to an erring member of the magisterium. One of the things which sets Fr. Ripperger's work above others, is that he is continuing the theological tradition of laying down principles and solving problems, rather than taking specific issues and attacking them. This raises the level of the work from a polemical work to a theological one, which is completely necessary to recouping the tradition and strengthening the Church. Here, he advises: “The first [thing] is to remember that as pope he holds an office which is established by Christ (God) himself and therefore regardless of his teachings, there is always respect and honour due to the office because it is honouring God Himself. Piety is the virtue by which one gives honour to those who are above oneself as well as care of those who are entrusted to a person. Even if the pope were to speak error, our attitude of piety should not be affected or changed. We ought still to show him the honour that is due to him as our superior. Honour is the praise or the treatment that we show to somebody due to some excellence, and the office of the papacy is an excellence. That means we must always show the pope honour or reverence as a matter of showing it to God.”6 Therefore, no matter how seemingly absurd something that a Pope might do (and history has many examples long before Francis, or have we forgotten the trial of Formosus or John XII), we still owe him the due reverence for his office. No matter what might happen, we are not allowed to take scandal, as St. Thomas teaches.

He closes, reminding us that we get the leaders we deserve. What have we done to preserve the Catholic faith and recoup the Tradition? Have we prayed and practiced a traditional Catholic life? Or do we just talk about it? In that case we get what we deserve.

Thus, this handy little work, while serving as an anti-dote to modernism and a solution to the problem when we see this coming from members of the magisterium, it is also a guide to prudence on the way, to avoid so much bomb throwing that is endemic in many quarters, not only amongst Traditional Catholics.