Question: I would be interested to hear your convictions regarding what is to be the authority for the foundation of, and what or who has the final word in the matter of the practice of our faith.
I’m assuming (and forgive me if I’m wrong) that the reply you may be anticipating is that, for Catholics, the Pope has the final say in all matters regarding our religion. And you’d be sort of correct. But first, to the non-correct part. πŸ™‚
For Catholics, in all matters of faith and morals, the ultimate authority is each person’s own conscience. defines conscience thus:
  1. The awareness of a moral or ethical aspect to one’s conduct together with the urge to prefer right over wrong.
  2. A source of moral or ethical judgment or pronouncement.
  3. Conformity to one’s own sense of right conduct.
Each person has the responsibility and the blessing to follow what they think is good, right, moral, ethical, etc. However, the Church doesn’t leave it there. It should be a properly informed conscience that directs each person’s actions. “Properly informed” then becomes a catch-phrase that includes the following (not necessarily in order of importance): reading Scripture, listening to the teachings of the Magisterium of the Church (the Pope and/or a collective body of Bishops), praying for guidance from the Spirit on particular matters, listening to the stories told of our saints, discussing matters with trusted clergy/family/friends, and looking for guidance from secular authorities as needed (doctors, lawyers, psychologists, etc.).
Once all avenues have been exhausted in trying to come to a decision over a particular matter/issue/decision, a persons’ conscience becomes the ultimate court for deciding a certain course of action. The Church affirmed, in one of the documents from the Second Vatican Council, that we would be judged according to our properly informed conscience.

This leads some to say that anything is OK as long as you think it’s OK. And some would say the Church irresponsibly advocates this position by teaching about conscience. But I think that if people are looking for excuses to commit sin, well . . . they’ll find the excuses anywhere. The Church stresses a properly informed conscience because, come on! – once we’ve gone through that list of Six Things To Do Before Making A Decision, chances are really, really good that you’ll make a God-delighting decision. πŸ™‚

However, if you’re asking about the teaching authority of the Church (as the Catholic church sees it), then this is where the Pope and bishops come in. It’s Catholic teaching that the Pope, in conjunction with the worldwide body of bishops, has ultimate authority to proscribe and define the moral/ethical and faith-related doctrine that the Church stands for.

In other words, if the Pope definitively gives a moral/ethical stance, then it is the moral/ethical stance of the Church, and by definition requires every Catholic to seriously study the meaning and implications of that message. A “properly informed conscience” requires that we give serious thought and prayer to the moral imperative handed down by our church’s temporal leader. In practice, the Pope and the bishops (collectively called the Magisterium) don’t often hand out definitive statements on faith and morals. Similarly, our church doesn’t have many Scripture passages that have been definitively interpreted in one way or another – as Catholics we do have latitude in our interpretation of Scripture (St. Jerome used to talk about the many hidden levels of meaning in each word of Scripture, let alone each passage / section!) and in our practice of our faith. But if there ever is a debate on something, and a definitive answer has to be given on an issue of faith or morals, as Catholics we would look to our Pope and the teaching authority of the Catholic Church (the Magisterium).

Blessings & Peace,

2 thoughts on “Authority

  1. Hugo says:

    πŸ™‚ Glad to be back, and glad to see you're still around spreading your heretical notions πŸ™‚ I look forward to some good conversation πŸ™‚

    Blessings & Peace,

  2. pecheur says:


    Thanks for you comment at CL. Finally, I’ll get a bona fide Catholic’s response, and coming on the heels of my return from Ireland. What a blessing for me!!!

    And as for authority, the real reason I should be commenting, right?

    I have to admit I am still pondering the question. So…I don’t have much to add. =(

    Good to see you around!!

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