Saturday, July 05, 2008

Obedience and authority

~from Cahiers Péguy
Can you guess where Fr. Giussani first begins to speak about authority? Not until we are a good three quarters of the way into Why the Church? do we find a discussion of the subject. Authority, Fr. Giussani stresses, is a function of the life of the community: "The supreme authority of the magisterium is an explication of the conscience of the entire community as guided by Christ. It is not some magical, despotic substitution for it" (page 172). Then he goes on to discuss the Church's teaching authority, pointing out that even in the case of the dogmas that seem to have come down from "on high," in fact, in every case (The Assumption, The Immaculate Conception, papal infallibility), they are the fruit of the whole community; debated, voted upon, and tested, these dogmas were not proclaimed until the popes had come to the firm conclusion that the entire community's conscience had been sounded. Fr. Giussani observes, "Clearly, then, the vast majority of people have no idea of the Church's procedure leading to the proclamation of a dogma, never mind comprehending the meaning of the expression. But, as we have seen, it defines a value when that value has become a sure and living part of the conscience of the Christian community" (page 174). In other words, the Church's teaching authority derives from its unity (and consistency). This is a very different picture from the one conjured by the term, "authoritarian." Then, in the final chapter of Why the Church? Fr Giussani returns to the question of authority. If the Church's catholicity, that is its universality and unity, is a sign of its authority within space, then her apostolicity "is the characteristic of the Church which signified its capacity to address time in a unitary, structured way" (page 230). Then he says something that is really worth pausing over: "...Just as Christ's will was to bind his work and his presence in the world to the apostles and in doing so he indicated one of them as the authoritative point of reference, so, too, is the Church bound to Peter's and the apostles' successors -- the pope and his bishops" (230). Jesus stooped to bind his work and presence to particular persons (colorful, even sometimes idiotic persons!), and the Body of Christ makes the same gesture, in obedience to its own nature. There is a beautiful and audacious symmetry in this thought! For the Body of Christ to fill time and space, in order to be truly "all in all," then it teaches what is true for all (preserving its catholicity/universality) and it remains faithful to Christ's original method, to bind itself to a particular succession of persons, who become its authoritative point of reference (preserving its definitive presence in time).
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