Natural Law and the Magisterium Term Paper

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Yet official Catholic support for union organizing and for strikes, and for state planning to ensure a decent livelihood for all, has been augmented over the years by a heightened recognition of the need to combat underlying institutional imbalances of power. Though the overarching goal of a peaceful and harmoniously ordered community endures, Catholic sensitivity to the dynamics of power, the reality of sinful systems and structures, and the necessity of struggle for social justice has increased over the past century, becoming especially evident in the social encyclicals of the present pope and the later writings of his predecessor, Paul VI. Seen in light of these developing sensibilities, the living wage is a means of empowering the poor to fulfill their material needs, to cultivate their abilities and aspirations, and to participate in just, enlivening social relationships.

In developing his argument for a family living wage, John A. Ryan was self-consciously faithful to the Catholic natural law tradition and the papal social teachings of his day. Simultaneously, he employed an inductive analysis and evaluation of the specifics of the U.S. economy to fashion a moral and practical argument that was distinctly American. As ethicist and social reformer, Ryan contended with both the theoretical and practical aspects of the issue of economic justice, and as a sophisticated and influential American Catholic case for wage justice, his work remains unsurpassed. 6 Not surprisingly, his work displays the tension, characteristic of the tradition, between a theological affirmation of equal rights and dignity for all and a hierarchical, organic picture of social relations that legitimates differential access to institutional power, burdens, and benefits according to one's function in the social organism. The tension is most obvious in treatments of gender roles, but it also affects other areas, such as models of social transformation and of class relations. We shall see in Ryan's writings the difficulties that this uneasy marriage of egalitarian and hierarchical models wrought.

Truthfulness and Credibility of the Magisterium of the Catholic Church

The Church must be worthy of belief. Faith is certainly not an act of reason to be compelled by rational evidence, but neither is it an irrational act of violence on the part of the will. Christian faith, precisely because it is God's gift, is not a blind "intellectual sacrifice" in which man offers to God, or even to the Church, the sacrifice of his understanding. Christian faith is the intelligent commitment of the whole man, which does not exclude but presupposes rational thinking. Faith is corrupted when it becomes intellectually dishonest, when -- that is --it suppresses, forgets, and shuts out genuine rational difficulties as illegitimate doubts, instead of facing up to them with complete truthfulness. Anyway, the "solution" of these difficulties does not always depend on the believing subject; the "object" to be believed and its credibility are also involved. In the concrete: a Church which has become incredible renders difficult or -- in the individual case -- even impossible a truthful Credo ecclesiam, a faith in God in the Church.

To be sure, an individual believer may occasionally apply to the Church -- to this community of human beings, and sinful human beings -- standards which are too narrow and too strict, to which he himself could scarcely measure up. But this is far from saying that too much is always demanded. Must it, then, not have something to do with the Church, her concrete situation and her defects, that numbers of devout Christians -- by no means individualistic lone wolves in splendid isolation, but the kind who very readily think with a community, co-operate in a common task, indeed want to incorporate their thought into the thought of a community of believers -- feel repelled by the "institutional" Church as it is now and thus prefer to be truthfully Christian outside the Church? For the sake of truthfulness they set themselves apart from this Church by leaving under protest or by silently withdrawing into the inner emigration. Must we suppose all these people have acted in this way merely because of ignorance or vexation? Or has not the Church in the concrete provided at least the occasion for their action? Can a Christian not simply feel that his Credo ecclesiam demands too much of him in a wholly concrete situation involving the Church and himself?

In fact, this "Roman system" -- so far as it means the liturgical, theological and administrative centralism and juridicism which is receding today, so far as it means the authoritarianism, absolutism and imperialism of the Roman Curia, criticized on all sides today-was, particularly after the "Constantinian turning point," more and more clearly in the making, but it prevailed in the Latin Church only in the high Middle Ages after the Gregorian reform, and from then on was methodically expanded, although with frequent reverses, up to the time between the two Vatican Councils. We have examined elsewhere in both its exegetical-historical and systematic theological aspects, as well as the practical-pastoral, the very complex question of the Petrine office in the Church.

There is no doubt that the Church as a whole has gained greatly in credibility in the world through the new, conciliar orientation. At the same time, unfortunately, the fact must be accepted that some who kept loyally to the former regulations (in regard to fasting laws, Latin and liturgy, especially) now feel that they are disowned. If in regard to a particular question the Church has brought very much suffering on human beings, through a false or at least out-of date approach, then precisely those affected ought to understand that she must change her attitude in order not to create still more suffering (this holds analogously too for the law of celibacy). It would hardly be Christian to say: "We had to suffer, the others must suffer too."

Certainly bishops and teachers in the Church ought to grasp fully all possibilities, and better than hitherto, in order to explain and render intelligible why the Church then spoke in one way and today speaks differently. There are actually always very many factors involved in Church and society at a particular time, which make people behave then in one way and not in another. And it is always possible to give many reasons why today we have struggled through to a different outlook. But this justification must not be made a cheap excuse, a tacit dispensation, from accepting unhesitatingly full responsibility also for the human failure of the Church and her government. What will be decisive is to learn from all the failures and do things better in the future -- and this means now, at the present time. Just so ought the church constantly to seek afresh to win the trust of men. But is there not very much more at stake here? More than confidence in the Church? Have we not hitherto overlooked the decisive perspective, that confidence on which all confidence in the Church is based: confidence in the Holy Spirit? A difficult problem-complex emerges here, and it can be fully understood why -- for example -- particularly in the question of birth control, the conservative minority of the Roman commission which the Pope backed wanted this point treated with the utmost seriousness. It had in fact been clear for a long time before Pope Paul VI's encyclical that the real dispute is not about the pill, not about birth regulation at all, but about the truth of the Church's magisterium. It had become more and more established, even in the Catholic Church, that the teaching on birth control ought to be changed; but could it be admitted that the magisterium of the Catholic Church had made a mistake? We shall try to find our way towards answering this question, raised by so many. On this point, too, only complete truthfulness can get us out of the present crisis.


The conservative theology of the minority on the commission is right in insisting that the problem must not be simplified by saying that the encyclical of Pius XI, Casti Connubii, of 1930, was not an "infallible" statement. It can in fact be shown with overwhelming documentation from statements of the popes, of the bishops' conferences, and of so many outstanding individual bishops and of the universal teaching of theologians, that, at least in our century, it is a question of a universal teaching, binding under grave sin, of the Church's magisterium (magisterium ordinarium).

A doctrine taught so intensively and universally is equivalent to an "infallible" doctrinal statement. Thus the conservative group rightly argues:

Our question is a question of the truth of this proposition: contraception is always seriously evil. The truth of this teaching stems from the fact that it has been proposed with such constancy, with such universality, with such obligatory force, always and everywhere, as something to be held and followed by the faithful. Technical and juridical…

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