||This article provides insufficient context for those unfamiliar with the subject. (September 2012)|
In Catholocism, the Magisterium is the teaching authority of the Church. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church: "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." Catholic theology divides the functions of the teaching office of the Church into two categories: the infallible sacred magisterium and the fallible ordinary magisterium. The infallible sacred magisterium includes the extraordinary declarations of the pope speaking ex cathedra and of ecumenical councils (traditionally expressed in conciliar creeds, canons, and decrees), as well as of the ordinary and universal magisterium. Despite its name, the "ordinary and universal magisterium" falls under the infallible sacred magisterium, and in fact is the usual manifestation of the infallibility of the Church, the decrees of popes and councils being "extraordinary".
Examples of infallible extraordinary papal definitions (and, hence, of teachings of the sacred magisterium) are Pope Pius IX's definition of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, and Pope Pius XII's definition of the Assumption of Mary. Examples of infallible extraordinary Conciliar decrees include the Council of Trent's decree on justification, and Vatican I's definition of papal infallibility. Examples of infallible teachings of the ordinary and universal magisterium are harder to point to, since these are not contained in any one specific document, but are the common teachings found among the Bishops dispersed through the world yet united with the pope. Pope John Paul II specifically clarified that the reservation of ordination to males is infallible under the infallibility of the ordinary and universal magisterium of the Church, without issuing a corresponding extraordinary papal definition. This document, signed by then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith answers this question: "Whether the teaching that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women, which is presented in the Apostolic Letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis to be held definitively, is to be understood as belonging to the deposit of faith." with "Affirmative." It has been suggested that Pope John Paul II did this to remind everyone that the ordinary and universal magisterium is also infallible, and that an extraordinary definition is not necessary to make a teaching irrevocably binding and demanding of supernatural faith. In fact, the ordinary and universal magisterium is the usual manifestation of infallibility, the decrees of popes and councils being the extraordinary expression.
The ordinary magisterium includes the potentially fallible teachings of the pope and ecumenical Councils (i.e., not given ex cathedra) and, more commonly, of individual Bishops or groups of Bishops as taken separately from the whole College. Such teachings are fallible and could possibly contain errors; they are subject to revisions or even, rarely, revocation. In the case of the teachings of individual bishops to their diocese, there can of course even be disagreement among the individual bishops on such issues. However, these potentially fallible teachings are necessary to contribute to the development of doctrine. Eventually, many fallible teachings progress to the point where they can be infallibly defined (such as when they become not only Ordinary, but Ordinary AND Universal). Thus, some teachings move from the ordinary magisterium to the sacred magisterium.
Examples of the ordinary magisterium include the Catholic social teachings of recent popes or theological opinions that the popes or bishops make public. Catholics are not free to merely dismiss such teachings, however. The Church demands a "submission of the intellect and will" to them, even if not supernatural faith. However, this is to varying degrees depending on a variety of things, especially when teachers disagree. Catholics must respectfully hear all opinions from equal authorities and judge which is best, makes more sense, is more consonant with the tradition of the whole history of the Church, or how to reconcile them. However, the use of a higher level of authority trumps past disagreement. So, for example, if a pope condemns the teaching of a bishop (even if both the condemnation and the teaching are fallible), or if an infallible teaching disagrees with a past fallible teaching. Catholics are free to weigh a variety of factors, however, in judging divergent opinions that are of the same level of authority, and being taught more recently does not necessarily give it more authority. For example, the different teachings of two bishops may be considered and judged by Catholics, and the fallible teachings of the current pope, for example, do not necessarily trump the equally authoritative fallible teaching of previous popes even when they disagree... especially if many of them taught something different. However, the fallible teachings must always be viewed in light of the infallible teachings of the Church. According to Catholic doctrine, the Magisterium is able to teach or interpret the truths of the Faith, and it does so either non-infallibly or infallibly (see chart below).
The word "magisterium" is derived from Latin magister, which originally meant the office of a president, chief, director, superintendent, etc. (in particular, though rarely, the office of tutor or instructor of youth, tutorship, guardianship) or teaching, instruction, advice.
Source and criteria 
The Catholic Church teaches that Jesus Christ, "the Logos made Flesh" (Gospel of John 1:14), is the source of divine revelation. The Roman Catholic Church bases all of its infallible teachings on sacred tradition and sacred scripture. The Magisterium consists of only all the infallible teachings of the Church, "Wherefore, by divine and Catholic faith all those things are to be believed which are contained in the word of God as found in Scripture and tradition, and which are proposed by the Church as matters to be believed as divinely revealed, whether by her solemn judgment or in her ordinary and universal Magisterium." (First Vatican Council, Dei Filius 8.) However, the criteria for the infallibility of these two functions of the sacred Magisterium are different. The sacred magisterium consist of both the Extraordinary and dogmatic decrees of the Pope and ecumenical councils, and the Ordinary and Universal Magisterium.
The Second Vatican Council states, "For this reason Jesus perfected revelation by fulfilling it through his whole work of making Himself present and manifesting Himself: through His words and deeds, His signs and wonders, but especially through His death and glorious resurrection from the dead and final sending of the Spirit of truth." (Dei Verbum, 4). The content of Christ's divine revelation, as faithfully passed on by the Apostles, is called the Deposit of Faith, and consists of both Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition (as John 21:25 states, "Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world wouldn't have room for the books that would be written.").
The teachings of popes are believed by Catholics to be infallible when – and only when – they are speaking ex cathedra.
The infallible teachings of the ecumenical councils consist of the solemn dogmatic, theological or moral definitions as contained in declarations, decrees, doctrines and condemnations (traditionally expressed in conciliar canons and decrees) of councils consisting of the pope and the bishops from all over the world.
A teaching of ordinary and universal magisterium is a teaching of which all bishops (including the Pope) universally agree on and is also considered infallible.
|Teacher:||Level of Magisterium:||Degree of certitude:||Assent required:|
|1. Pope ex cathedra||Extraordinary (and universal)||Infallible on matters of faith and morals||Full Assent of Faith|
|2. Bishops, in union with Pope, defining doctrine at General Council||Extraordinary (and universal teaching of the Church)||Infallible on matters of faith and morals||Full Assent of Faith|
|3. Bishops proposing definitively, dispersed, but in unison, in union with Pope||Ordinary and universal teaching of the Church||Infallible|
|4. Pope||Ordinary||Authoritative but noninfallible||Religious submission of intellect and will|
|5. Bishops||Ordinary||Authoritative but noninfallible||Religious submission of intellect and will|
|6. Theologians||Magisterium cathedrae magistralis (according to Thomas Aquinas)||Neither authoritative nor infallible||Legitimate Disagreements and Dialectic (according to the long tradition of Quaestiones Disputatae)|
|7. Priests||No magisterial authority|
Historical development 
While the Magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church is well-defined today, it has not always been so clear a doctrine. Until the formal pronouncements in the 19th century, the subject of teaching authority in the Church was a matter of disagreement and confusion, and indeed, the concept of papal infallibility still remains controversial in some Roman Catholic circles.
Early Church 
The most basic foundation of the Magisterium, the apostolic succession of bishops and their authority as protectors of the faith, was one of the few points that was rarely debated by the Church Fathers. The doctrine was elaborated by Ignatius of Antioch (and others) in the face of Gnosticism, expounded by others such as Irenaeus, Tertullian, Cyprian, Ambrose, and Augustine, and by the end of the 2nd century AD was universally accepted by the bishops. 
Some of the first problems began to arise, however, with the increasing worldliness of the clergy. Criticism arose against the bishops, and an attempt was made to have all bishops drawn from the ranks of monastic communities, whose men were seen as the holiest possible leaders. However, there had also developed in the Church a Roman sense of government, which insisted upon order at any cost, and this led to the phenomenon of the “imperial bishops,” men who had to be obeyed by virtue of their position, regardless of their personal holiness, and the distinction between “man” and “office.” 
However, this understanding was not universally accepted. One of the most famous critics of the episcopal corruption was the influential theologian Origen. Throughout his life, many of Origen’s writings were considered to be questionably orthodox, and he seemed to espouse the idea of a teaching authority based on theological expertise alone rather than, or at least along with, apostolic succession. 
Other early disagreements 
Another early disagreement in the Church surrounding the issue of authority manifested itself in Montanism, which began as a movement promoting the charism of prophecy. Montanism claimed, among other things, that prophecies like those found in the Old Testament were continuing in the Church, and that new prophecies had the same authority as apostolic teaching. The Church, however, ruled that these new prophecies were not authoritative, and condemned Montanism as a heresy. Other times, private revelations were recognized by the Church, but the Church continues to teach that private revelations are altogether separate from the deposit of faith, and that they are not required to be believed by all Catholics.
Medieval period 
Perceptions of teaching authority in the Middle Ages are hard to characterize because they were so varied. While there arose a keener understanding and acceptance of papal primacy (at least until the Great Schism), there was also an increased emphasis placed on the theologian as well as numerous dissenters from both views.
Throughout the Middle Ages, support for the primacy of the pope (spiritually and temporally) and his ability to speak authoritatively on matters of doctrine grew significantly. Two popes, Innocent III (1198–1216) and Boniface VIII (1294–1303), were especially influential in advancing the power of the papacy. Innocent asserted that the pope’s power was a right bestowed by God, and developed the idea of the pope not only as a teacher and spiritual leader but also a secular ruler. Boniface, in the papal bull Unam Sanctam asserted that the spiritual world, headed on earth by the pope, has authority over the temporal world, and that all must submit themselves to the authority of the pope to be saved.
In the medieval period, statements of this papal power were common in the works of theologians as well. In the late Middle Ages, Domingo Bañez attributed to the Pope the “definitive power to declare the truths of the faith," and Thomas Cajetan, in keeping with the distinction made by St. Thomas Aquinas, drew a line between personal faith manifested in theologians and the authoritative faith presented as a matter of judgment by the pope.
Papal infallibility 
In the Decretum of Gratian, a 12th century canon lawyer, the pope is attributed the legal right to pass judgment in theological disputes, but he was certainly not guaranteed freedom from error. The pope’s role was to establish limits within which theologians, who were often better suited for the full expression of truth, could work. Thus, the pope’s authority was as a judge, not an infallible teacher.
The doctrine began to visibly develop during the Reformation, leading to a formal statement of the doctrine by St. Robert Bellarmine in the early 17th century, but it did not come to widespread acceptance until the 19th century and the First Vatican Council.
Other concepts of teaching authority gained prominence in the Middle Ages, as well, however, including the concept of the authority of the learned expert, an idea which began with Origen (or even earlier) and still today has proponents. Some allowed for the participation of theologians in the teaching life of the church, but still drew distinctions between the powers of the theologian and the pope or bishop; one example of this view is in the writing of St. Thomas Aquinas, who spoke of the “Magisterium cathedrae pastoralis/pontificalis” (Magisterium of the pastoral or pontifical chair) and the “Magisterium cathedrae magistralis” (Magisterium of a master’s chair). Others held more extreme views, such as Godefroid of Fontaines, who insisted that the theologian had a right to maintain his own opinions in the face of episcopal and even papal rulings.
Council of Constance (1414–1418) 
A significant development in the teaching authority of the Church occurred from 1414 to 1418 with the Council of Constance, which effectively ran the Church during the Great Schism, during which there were three men claiming to be the pope. An early decree of this council, Haec Sancta, challenged the primacy of the pope, saying that councils represent the church, are imbued with their power directly by Christ, and are binding even for the pope in matters of faith. This declaration was later declared void by the Church because the early sessions of the council had not been confirmed by a pope, but it demonstrates that there were still conciliar currents in the church running against the doctrine of papal primacy, likely influenced by the corruption seen in the papacy during this time period.
Council of Basle (1439) 
The theologian began to play a more prominent role in the teaching life of the church, as “doctors” were called upon more and more to help bishops form doctrinal opinions. Illustrating this, at the Council of Basle in 1439, bishops and other clergy were greatly outnumbered by doctors of theology.
Despite this growth in influence, popes still asserted their power to crack down on those perceived as “rogue” theologians, through councils (for example, in the cases of Peter Abelard and Beranger) and commissions (as with Nicolas of Autrecourt, Ockham, and Eckhart). With the coming of the Reformation in 1517, this assertion of papal power came to its head and the primacy and authority of the papacy over theologians was vigorously re-established. However, the Council of Trent re-introduced the collaboration between theologians and council Fathers, and the next centuries leading up to the First and Second Vatican Councils were generally accepting of a broader role for the learned in the Church, although the popes still kept a close eye on theologians and intervened occasionally.
Vatican Councils and their Popes 
Pius IX and Vatican I 
The groundwork for papal primacy was laid in the medieval period, and in the late Middle Ages, the idea of papal infallibility was introduced, but a definitive statement and explanation of these doctrines did not occur until the 19th century, with Pope Pius IX and the First Vatican Council (1869–1870). Pius IX was the first pope to use the term “Magisterium” in the sense that it is understood today, and the concept of the “ordinary and universal Magisterium” was officially established during Vatican I. In addition, this council defined the doctrine of papal infallibility, the ability of the pope to speak without error “when, acting in his capacity as pastor and teacher of all Christians, he commits his supreme authority in the universal Church on a question of faith or morals.”
Pius XII and Paul VI 
Later, Pope Pius XII took the concept of the newly defined Magisterium even further, stating that the faithful must be obedient to even the ordinary Magisterium of the Pope, and that “there can no longer be any question of free discussion between theologians” once the Pope has spoken on a given issue. Additionally, he proposed the understanding of the theologian as a justifier of the Magisterium, who ought not be concerned with the formulation of new doctrine but with the explanation of what has been set forth by the Church.
Pope Paul VI agreed with this view, and in a speech to the International Congress on the Theology of Vatican II, he described the theologian as a sort of middleman between the Church and the faithful, entrusted with the task of explaining to the laity why the Church teaches what she does.
Postconciliar era 
The debate concerning the Magisterium, papal primacy and infallibility, and the authority to teach in general has not lessened since the official declaration of the doctrines. Instead, the Church has been torn by arguments; at one end there are those with the tendency to regard even technically non-binding papal encyclicals as infallible statements and, at the other, are those who refuse to accept in any sense controversial encyclicals such as Humanae Vitae and who consider the dogma of papal infallibility to be itself a fallible pronouncement. The situation is complicated by changing attitudes toward authority in an increasingly democratic world, the new importance placed on academic freedom, and new means of knowledge and communication. In addition, the authority of theologians is being revisited, with theologians pushing past the structures laid out for them by Pius XII and Paul VI and regarding themselves purely as academics, not in the service of any institution.
See also 
- Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary
- Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed. 1997, pt. 1, sect. 1, ch. 2, art. 2, III [#100]
- Lewis and Short
- Archbishop Michael Sheehan, Apologetics and Catholic Doctrine, revised by Fr. Peter Joseph ISBN 1-901157-14-8, Saint Austin Press, 2001
- Code of Canon Law, can. 749–754
- Lumen Gentium n. 25
- Thomas Aquinas, IV Sent. D. 19 q. 2, a. 2. qa 2 ad 4; Thomas Aquinas, Quodlibet III, 9 ad 3
- C.f., http://dhspriory.org/thomas/QDdeVer.htm
- Congar, Yves. "A Brief History of the Forms of the Magisterium and Its Relations with Scholars." Readings in Moral Theology: The Magisterium and Morality. Ed. Charles E. Curran and Richard A. McCormick. New York: Paulist Press, 1982. p. 315.
- Olsen, Glenn W. "The theologian and the Magisterium: the ancient and medieval background of a contemporary controversy." Communio 7.4 (1980): p. 310.
- Eno, Robert B. "Authority and Conflict in the Early Church." Eglise et Theologie 7.1 (1976): 49.
- Eno, Robert B: p. 47.
- Collins, Paul: p. 26.
- Congar, Yves: p. 321.
- Olsen, Glenn W: pp. 313–136.
- Collins, Paul: p. 34.
- Congar, Yves: pp. 318–322.
- Congar, Yves: p. 324
- Congar, Yves: p. 325.
- Congar, Yves: p. 327.
- Congar, Yves: pp. 326–328.
- Boyle, John (1995). Church Teaching Authority: Historical and Theological Studies. University of Notre Dame Press. ISBN 0-268-00805-1.
- Gaillardetz, Richard (2012). When the Magisterium Intervenes: The Magisterium and Theologians in Today's Church. ISBN 978-0814680544.
- Gaillardetz, Richard (2003). By What Authority?: A Primer on Scripture, the Magisterium, and the Sense of the Faithful. ISBN 0-8146-2872-9.
- Gaillardetz, Richard (1997). Teaching With Authority: A Theology of the Magisterium in the Church. Theology and Life Series, vol. 41. Liturgical Press. ISBN 0-8146-5529-7.
- Gaillardetz, Richard (1992). Witnesses to the Faith: Community, Infallibility, and the Ordinary Magisterium of Bishops. Paulist Press. ISBN 0-8091-3350-4.
- Sullivan, Francis (2003). Creative Fidelity: Weighing and Interpreting Documents of the Magisterium. Wipf & Stock Publishers. ISBN 1-59244-208-0.
- Sullivan, Francis (1983). The Magisterium: Teaching Authority in the Catholic Church. Paulist Press. ISBN 0-8091-2577-3 (paper), ISBN 1-59244-060-6 (Wipf & Stock 2002 reprint) Check
- Gerard Mannion, Richard Gaillardetz, Jan Kerkhofs, Kenneth Wilson (eds.), Readings in Church Authority - Gifts and Challenges for Contemporary Catholicism, Ashgate Press, 2003; 572pp
- The Canonical Safeguarding of the Word of God by Jaime B. Achacoso, J.C.D., Philippine Canonical Forum, Volume II, January–December 2000.
- Tradition and Living Magisterium Article in the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia