Let’s continue to focus on leadership in the Church, and in particular the role of the bishop, who is the ordinary shepherd of a diocese. As I said in the last morceau, bishops fundamentally exercise two types of authority, their “power of holy orders” and their “power of governance” (also called “power of jurisdiction”). Using both kinds of authority, they lead the local Church entrusted to them in three broad areas: they teach, they sanctify and they govern.
Let’s consider the first of these: the teaching office of the bishop. In Latin there are two well-known phrases for it: magisterium and munus docendi. Given the importance of always proclaiming the truth about Jesus Christ and our salvation in Him, this is usually considered the most important role of all. That’s what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says in its article 888: “Bishops, with priests as co-workers, have as their first task to preach the Gospel of God….” It goes on to say in article 890 that the task of the Church’s magisterium “to preserve God’s people … in the true Faith … without error.”
It is at this point that somebody usually asks about the charism of infallibility which the Church possesses in its role of teaching about faith and morals. Most formally exercised by the Pope and bishops of the entire Church when acting together in a Council, it can also be exercised by all the bishops together with the Pope at other times if they are truly united in teaching, or even by the Pope alone – for he is head of the apostolic college of bishops (see art. 891). As you might suspect, since the truths of the faith as defined over the past 20 centuries are pretty settled, this has been a truly rare event in recent times.
The scope of the Church’s infallible teaching is also limited: only “divinely-revealed doctrines which must be adhered to with the obedience of faith” – often known as the “deposit of divine revelation itself” – fall into this category. This of course includes beliefs that are necessary for salvation, but also includes other foundational truths about God which He wishes us to know. More on that next time!