Objections to Teaching Authority in the Church


According to some critique the hierarchical authority is a juridical concept, which has no place in teaching. It has to do with the truth and the bishops or the hierarchy cannot make something true by their teaching authority. If something is not true, no authority here on earth can make it so.

But when many things are not intrinsically evident, and we rely much on faith, we need the help of those who are in authority. It is true that this cannot be a purely arbitrary authority, but it should appear as reasonable to us. Thus for example it was reasonable for most of the Christians to accept the authority of the apostles since they were called and commissioned by Christ himself. So also in the Catholic Church it is reasonable to accept the authority of the bishops because they share the mission and ministry of the apostles and also the promise of the assistance of the Holy Spirit.

Some authors like Hans Kung denied any teaching authority of the bishops in the Church. For him all cannot teach, only the one who has the charisma to teach can do so. He claims that Church leaders were not teachers in the Early Church. He quotes 1Cor 12:28 “God has appointed in the Church first apostles, second prophets, and third teachers.” Son the bishops as successors of apostles cannot be teachers. This argument does not hold water when we see other texts from the New Testament explicitly assign teaching authority to the apostles (cf. 1Cor 4:17; Rom 6:17; 2Thess 2:15; Col 1:28; Acts 2:42; 4:2; 5:21 etc).

Tradition also gives us valid proof with regard to this. We have the writings of bishops like Ignatius of Antioch 110 CE (FEF, Vol 1, pp 17-26), St Iraneus of Lyons 150 CE (FEF, Vol 1, pp 84-106), their writings manifested without any doubt that they were good teachers of faith. Also we had the Practice of Local Synods like that of Elvira in Spain, of Toledo and so on where the local bishops gathered and gave their authentic teachings. Hence we not in the Early Church teachers who were not apostles directly called and commissioned by Christ but became teachers as they were bishops and successors of the apostles (cf. Polycarp, FEF 80a).

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