Academic journal article Theological Studies

Reply to Richard Gaillardetz on the Ordinary Universal Magisterium and to Francis Sullivan

Academic journal article Theological Studies

Reply to Richard Gaillardetz on the Ordinary Universal Magisterium and to Francis Sullivan

Article excerpt

IN A RECENT ARTICLE in this journal on the ordinary universal magisterium, (1) Richard Gaillardetz took issue with some of my observations and criticisms that I wrote on the same subject in an article published in the Heythrop Journal. (2) I suggested the discussion about the definitive teachings of the ordinary universal magisterium could be helped if it were conducted within the context of catholicity in time and the communio structure of the Church. Our communion with one another in Christ and the Holy Spirit stretches through time and is not limited to the present age. I stated that questions about what the ordinary universal magisterium has taught definitively has to do with the task of achieving catholicity in time and communion across time between different generations of members of the Church. Obviously, theologians have an important role to play in this process. My article examined and criticized some principles that Francis Sullivan proposed as important for determining whether a doctrine had been definitively taught by the ordinary universal magisterium. I presented arguments against some of his principles because I believed that, despite Sullivan's intentions, they were of limited value or worked against the task of identifying definitive doctrines of the ordinary universal magisterium. My primary interest was, and remains, what is helpful to the Church in bringing the wholeness of the Catholic faith to a new expression and therefore to accomplish catholicity in time and communion in time. Here I reply to Gaillardetz's criticisms, and, in doing so, offer some further reflections on the ordinary universal magisterium.

AN ACCURATE READING OF SULLIVAN

Gaillardetz takes exception to my criticism of Sullivan. After describing what he believes is the difficulty of directly discerning episcopal consensus today, Gaillardetz observes that Sullivan has proposed the constant and universal consensus of theologians, and the common adherence of the faithful as criteria for determining whether the ordinary universal magisterium has taught a doctrine definitively. He points out that Sullivan derives the criterion of the consensus of theologians from Pius IX's letter Tuas libenter. Gaillardetz goes on to note my criticism of Sullivan's argument about the importance of the consensus of theologians. I made the point that Sullivan's argument depends largely on the accuracy of his interpretation of Tuas libenter. I examined the historical context of that papal letter and argued for modesty as to what it could contribute today to the discussion about criteria for discerning definitive teachings of the ordinary universal magisterium. I contended that the most we should conclude was that Pius IX asserted that the constant and universal consensus of theologians is a sign that the ordinary universal magisterium has taught a doctrine definitively. I claimed that it does not follow that Pius IX meant that the consensus of theologians is not only a sign but a condition for definitive teachings, the absence of which would throw into doubt that the ordinary universal magisterium had taught a doctrine definitively. I went on to criticize Sullivan for not making what I think is an important distinction between a sign and condition. Gaillardetz, ignoring the context of my argument, quotes my conclusion to this effect. He then alleges that I misread Sullivan's argument about the criterion of universal and constant consensus of theologians. Below Gaillardetz speaks of "either criteria" but he clearly refers to the consensus of theologians with regard to me since I make no argument about the common adherence of the faithful. He writes: As best as I can ascertain, however, Welch has misread Sullivan's argument, for nowhere does Sullivan assert that either criteria are necessary conditions for the exercise of the ordinary universal magisterium. Rather, he recognizes that there is an important distinction between a factual instance of universal episcopal teaching to be held as definitive by the faithful and the verification that such a teaching has been so proposed. …

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