Thoughts on Year of Faith

Author: Bishop Jean-Marie Fortier


Jean-Marie Fortier

On 29 June next, the Year of Faith promulgated by His Holiness Pope Paul VI will end. May this Year of Faith have planted in the depth of our soul a faith which is more enlightened and, therefore, more enlightening! May this year have given a new strength to our faith and so enable it to exert a strong and lasting influence on all our actions!

Before this year of Faith closes, I would like, as bishop, "authentic teacher, authorized by Christ (1) of the well beloved Church of Gaspe, to pay a public and very humble tribute to Peter and Paul, and a tribute of respect and filial piety to His Holiness Paul VI, who is authorized by the first and protected by the patronage of the second (2). "Devotion to the two great Apostles should be part of our daily religious life..." (3) Peter and Paul, because of their particular mission, because of their inspired writings, because of their work, their suffering and their glorious death, are for ever "the main pillars, not only of the particular Church of Rome, but of all the holy Church of the living God, scattered throughout the world" (4). To cling to Peter and Paul is to cling to Christ.

Fidelity to the Magisterium

The finest monument we can build to the glory of Peter and Paul, the most eloquent speech we can make in praise of them will always be our fidelity to the magisterium of the Church, the special magisterium of Peter's successor...

It is all the more important to remember this since some, even inside the Church, regard the magisterium with reserve and wariness. "Some would like the function of the magisterium to be first and foremost to confirm the infallible belief of the communion of the faithful". Others, disciples of doctrine which deny the magisterium of the Church, would acknowledge the ability of the faithful to interpret the Scriptures freely, according to their own insight, which claims to be easily inspired". (5) Others, without going any further, seem to allow the magisterium only ex cathedra definitions, and reject or at least minimize the ordinary magisterium or keep silent about it. Others, with more or less respect, try to detect the influences surrounding the origin of a pontifical document. They try to discover who might be the secret authors of it, at the risk of weakening its force and reducing its import.

The drafting of a pontifical document may not come from the pen of the Holy Father himself. But who would dare to suggest that a text signed by the Pope or approved by him does not reflect his thinking exactly? Who would dare think that he does not assume responsibility for it? Finally, others try to weigh, as on a scale, the Pope's opinion against the opinion of a greater or lesser part of the faithful. It is good to remind ourselves that the assertions of theologians, however eminent, of laymen, however numerous they might be, do not outweigh the precise teaching of the supreme authority enjoying the special assistance of the Holy Spirit.

Magisterium worthy of respect

With regard to these theories it is expedient to recall the clear and unequivocal teaching of the Constitution on the Church. "The offering of this religious allegiance of mind and will is singularly owed to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra. It must be offered in such a way that his supreme magisterium receives respectful acknowledgment. The result should be a sincere adherence to the judgments which he has delivered that complies with his manifest meaning and intention, and this is conveyed chiefly by the character of the documents, by the frequency with which the same teaching is put forward, or by the style of the utterance." (6)

It would be easy to apply these principles to the painfully debated question of birth control and suitable methods of practising it. Whether we consider "the character of the documents" issued by the Holy Father or "the frequency with which the same teaching is put forward", Paul VI has told us that we must, on this point keep to the teaching of Pius XII unless he decides otherwise.

The German episcopate, in its circular letter to all those whose mission it is to teach the faith, has distinguished the infallible teaching of truths proclaimed by solemn definition of the Pope or of an ecumenical Council, the infallible teaching of truths taught by the sacred magisterium of the Church and a teaching which, without enjoying the charism of infallibility, must be respected hic et nunc as a prudent criterion of thought and action.

Personal opinions no substitute

"...In preaching and catechesis, opinions contrary to these provisional doctrinal teachings of the Church may in no case be put forward. But in certain circumstances, the faithful must be informed of the nature and limited scope of these teachings. This subject has already been dealt with. If there are people who believe they can confine themselves to their personal opinions, who, claim to possess henceforth the best insight into what the Church of tomorrow will be, let them ask themselves in all sincerity before God and their conscience if the extent and depth of their theological knowledge are sufficient for them to allow themselves to deviate in theory and practice from the current teaching of the Church's magisterium. It is not of itself excluded that this may be possible, but the presumptuous person who says rather too quickly that he knows better than everyone will one day have to account for it before God's tribunal." (7)

The French Episcopal Commission on the Family applies these general criteria to the particular case of birth control. This is a quotation from its second Pastoral Note dated 20 February 1968:

"However the Council does not deny that married couples must prudently regulate births." It asks them to "take into account both their own welfare and that of their children, those already born and those which may be foreseen" (Gaudium et spes, 50, 2). Concerning the methods to be used, "they must always be governed according to a conscience dutifully conformed to the divine law itself, and should be submissive towards the Church's teaching office, which authentically interprets that law..." (Gaudium et spes, 50, 2). Already the magisterium has declared itself positively on the subject of infertile periods. With regard to the various contraceptives, the Holy Father while recalling that the Church's fundamental teaching cannot change, will make a. precise statement necessary to enlighten consciences. Although the work and research of the moral specialists are legitimate and necessary, it is nevertheless astonishing that Catholic authors take it upon themselves to settle the question with authority, without waiting for. the Pope's teaching.

Remain anchored to Peter

Devotion to the Holy See is all the more necessary since we are living in troubled times. Rather than let ourselves be carried away by these tempestuous waves of the most varied ideas, the most rash opinions spread by the powerful social communications media, let us stay firmly anchored to the unchanging rock of Peter. He himself asks us to do so through the voice of his successor, in a very beautiful metaphor: "And if We contemplate this situation (the confusion of contemporary thought) from the safe and friendly shore on which We carry out Our ministry of Christian salvation, the disturbing spectacle of the intellectual uneasiness of so many people today evokes for Us the formidable vision of the moving sands, on which so many men at times seem to strive in vain to walk and go forward. Instead of the solid ground of the old wisdom and of Our shore, they have chosen the unstable ground of modern philosophies where they have unwisely ventured. Although they are far from Us, they are near to Our heart, and We would like to cry out to them: 'Be careful'; We would like to hold out a hand to them or show them a way out.

We are confident of being able to offer this providential and friendly assistance, this service of truth. We, the disciple of the Master whose words do not deceive, We who are also master, echo and interpreter of His message of human and divine light." (8).

"Supreme judge of the Faithful"

"That is why, to sum up, the Catholic acknowledges Peter, without any of the niggling reserves of Gallicanism, as the one who has "the charge of the universal Church". That is why, according to the expressions sanctioned by the Vatican Council, the Catholic holds him to be "the supreme judge of the faithful", and the one who holds the "fullness of power" in the Church. That is why he repeats, with St. Ambrose, "Ubi Petrus, ibi Ecclesia." He always sees in Peter the unshakable rock which he can lean on for support and, at the same time "the centre of truth and the unity of Catholics", the one visible centre of all the children of God. In the authority of Peter, he sees the support of his faith and the pledge of his communion. So his fidelity to the Christian faith becomes concrete in fidelity to Peter. His love of Christian unity is made concrete in love of Peter. He is devoted to him, without regard to external vicissitudes, with every fibber of his being". (9)

Let our affection for the Holy Father go beyond words and writings. Let it be made concrete in deep respect and humble submission. Let it be expressed in this unceasing prayer which is a distant echo of the early Church's prayer in the distressing days of Peter: "Let us pray for our most Holy Father Pope Paul. May the Lord keep him, give him life, happiness on earth, and not deliver him up to the hatred of his enemies."

1. Lumen Gentium, n. 25.

2. Paul VI, Allocution, June 28th, 1966.

3. Paul VI, Allocution, July 6th 1966.

4. Paul VI, Apostolic Exhortation, Petrem et Paulum Feb. 22nd, 1967.

5. Paul VI, Allocution, January 11th, 1967.

6. Lumen Gentium, n. 25,

7. Letter of the German Bishops, Sept. 22nd, 1967.

8. Paul VI, Allocution to Members of the Academic Movement of Italian Catholic Action, Aug. 29th, 1967.

9. H. de Lubac, Meditation sur I'Eglise, p. 234-235.



Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
4 July 1968, page 6

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