The Imagisterium vs. the Actual Magisterium

At Where Peter Is, Mike Lewis writes:

The Magisterium is the teaching office of the Church. According the the Catechism (#100), “The task of interpreting the Word of God authentically has been entrusted solely to the Magisterium of the Church, that is, to the Pope and to the bishops in communion with him.” In other words, orthodox teaching is to be found in the official teachings of the pope and the bishops in communion with him.

I understand that many Catholics have trouble with particular teachings, have questions about specific papal decisions, and hope for certain doctrines to change. Some Catholics might even outright reject one or more official Catholic teaching. In most of these cases, the person might express their disagreement by saying, “I wish the Church would change that teaching,” or “I don’t agree with the Church on that.” Many left-of-center Catholics are open and honest about where they dissent. There is a clear sense that “the Church teaches X, but I believe Y.”

In such cases, vigorous dialogue and discussion can take place, but there is clarity about the Church’s official position on the issues. Someone might say, “I think same sex marriage should be sanctioned by the Church,” or “I think artificial contraception is morally acceptable,” but one rarely hears, “the Church teaches that same sex marriage is morally acceptable,” or “the Church’s position on contraception is that it’s absolutely licit.” People might have different positions on these issues, but there is little debate on where the Church stands.

On the right, dissent is often a much more muddled situation. One can point to an official teaching or practice of the Church that they clearly reject, but they will insist that the “new” teaching is wrong, and that what they hold is the true Catholic doctrine. They proudly insist upon their doctrinal orthodoxy, while boldly asserting that official teachings from Church are not orthodox.

Many of these Catholics seem to believe that there is an objective standard against which the teachings of the papal Magisterium and the official Church must be weighed. Whether it’s questioning the doctrinal soundness of parts of Amoris Laetitia or the orthodoxy of the change to the Catechism’s official teaching on the death penalty, they seem to think they have an obligation to review and (if necessary) critique official Church teachings against this standard.

Rather than listening to the Magisterium and simply assenting to the teachings in the way that the Church instructs us, many Catholics instead adhere to a different authoritative body of teaching, which I’ll call the “imagisterium.”…

Catholics who adhere to the imagisterium claim they are weighing novel teachings from the Vatican against Church Tradition or the “perennial magisterium,” or that they are attempting to reconcile the official teaching with “doctrinal orthodoxy.” Among the adherents to the imagisterial approach are journalists, canon lawyers, prominent theologians, priests, bishops, and at least one cardinal. The problem with this is that it has absolutely no basis in what the Church teaches about the Magisterium, and threatens to divide the Church….

The imaginisterium is not new. I wrote a piece months ago about the dialogue in the 1970s between St. Paul VI and Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, leader of the SSPX movement. The issue is fundamentally identical to today’s, but the players and the specific issues have changed….

Catholicism is a received faith, passed down through the centuries by an unbroken line of successors to the apostles. We don’t see the Magisterium as a static collection of doctrines, but we understand and accept that the teachings given to us today come from the same source of authority as those promulgated decades or millennia ago. Don’t fall for the lie that says, “Listen to me, not Pope Francis.” The imagisterium is a fantasy.

Where Peter is, there is the Church.