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The Holy Spirit assists the Roman Pontiff

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Church
General Audience, Wednesday 24 March 1993 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. The infallibility of the Roman Pontiff is a very important topic for the Church's life. For this reason a further reflection on the conciliar texts seems appropriate in order to state in greater detail the meaning and extent of this prerogative. First of all the councils assert that the infallibility attributed to the Roman Pontiff is personal, in the sense that it falls to him by virtue of his personal succession to Peter in the Roman Church. This means, in other words, that the Roman Pontiff does not enjoy merely an infallibility that really belongs to the Roman See. He exercises the Magisterium and, in general, the pastoral ministry as vicarious Petri: thus he was often called in the first Christian millennium. He personifies, as it were, Peter's mission and authority, exercised in the name of him on whom Jesus himself conferred them. It is clear, however, that infallibility was not given to the Roman Pontiff as a private person, but inasmuch as he carries out the office of shepherd and teacher of all Christians. Furthermore, he does not exercise this office as one having authority in himself and from himself, but "with his supreme apostolic authority" and "through the divine assistance promised him in the person of blessed Peter." Lastly, he does not possess it as if it were available or he could count on it in every circumstance, but only "when he speaks ex cathedra," and only in a doctrinal matter limited to truths of faith and morals and to those closely connected to them.

2. According to the conciliar texts, the infallible Magisterium is exercised in "doctrine concerning faith and morals." This refers to the matter of explicitly or implicitly revealed truths that require an assent of faith, which the Church guards in the deposit entrusted to her by Christ and handed on by the apostles. She would not guard them properly if she did not defend their purity and integrity. These are truths about God in himself and in his creative and redeeming work; the human person and the world in their creaturely status and destiny according to the design of Providence; eternal life and earthly life itself in its basic demands regarding truth and goodness. It is a question, therefore, of "truths for life" and of applying them in human conduct. In the mandate to evangelize, the divine Master ordered the apostles: "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations...teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you" (Mt 28:20). The area of truths that the Magisterium can definitively teach includes those principles of reason that are not contained in the truths of faith but are closely related to them. In actual fact, both in the past and today, the Church's Magisterium, especially the Roman Pontiff's, preserves these principles and continually rescues them from the obfuscation and distortion they suffer under pressure from partisan viewpoints and bad habits well established in cultural models and currents of thought. In this regard the First Vatican Council said that the object of the infallible Magisterium is the "doctrine on faith and morals to be held by the whole Church" (DS 3074). In the new formula of the profession of faith recently approved (cf. AAS 81 [1989]: 105, 1169), a distinction was made between divinely revealed truths and truths definitively taught but not as divinely revealed, which therefore require a definitive assent that nevertheless is not an assent of faith.

3. The conciliar texts also indicate the conditions for the Roman Pontiff's exercise of the infallible Magisterium. They can be summarized in this way: the Pope must act as "the shepherd and teacher of all Christians," pronouncing on truths regarding "faith and morals," in terms clearly showing his intention to define a certain truth and to require definitive assent of all Christians. That occurred, for example, in the definition of Mary's Immaculate Conception, about which Pius IX stated: "It is a doctrine revealed by God and for this reason it must be firmly and constantly believed by all the faithful" (DS 2803), or in the definition of the Assumption of Mary most holy, when Pius XII said: "By the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and our own authority, we declare and define as divinely revealed dogma...etc." (DS 3903). With these conditions one can speak of the extraordinary papal Magisterium, whose definitions are unreformable per se, and not “from the consent of the Church" (ex sese, non autem ex consensu ecclesiae). This means that these definitions do not need the consent of the bishops in order to be valid, neither an antecedent consent, nor a consequent consent, "since they are pronounced with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, promised to him in blessed Peter, and therefore they need no approval of others, nor do they allow an appeal to any other judgment" (LG 25).

4. The Supreme Pontiffs can exercise this form of Magisterium, and in fact they have done so. Many Popes, however, have not exercised it. But it must be noted that in the conciliar texts we are explaining, a distinction is made between the "ordinary" and "extraordinary" Magisterium, emphasizing the importance of the first, which is permanent and ongoing, while the second, which is expressed in definitions, could be called exceptional. Alongside this infallibility of ex cathedra definitions, there is the charism of the Holy Spirit's assistance, granted to Peter and his successors so that they would not err in matters of faith and morals, but rather shed great light on the Christian people. This charism is not limited to exceptional cases, but embraces in varying degrees the whole exercise of the Magisterium.

5. The conciliar texts also point out how serious is the Roman Pontiff's responsibility in exercising both his extraordinary and ordinary Magisterium. He thus feels the need, one could say even the duty, to explore the sensus ecclesiae before defining a truth of faith, in the clear awareness that his definition "expounds or defends the teaching of the Catholic faith" (LG 25). This occurred prior to the definitions of Mary's Immaculate Conception and Assumption through a broad and precise consultation of the whole Church. In the Bull Munificentissimus on the Assumption (1950), Pius XII mentioned among the arguments in favor of the definition that of the faith of the Christian community: "The universal consent of the Church's ordinary Magisterium provides a certain, solid argument to prove that the Blessed Virgin Mary's bodily assumption into a truth revealed by God" [1] . Furthermore, in speaking of the truth to be taught, the Second Vatican Council states: "The Roman Pontiff and the bishops, in view of their office and the importance of the matter, by fitting means diligently strive to inquire properly into that revelation and to give apt expression to its contents" (LG 25). It is a sign of wisdom that finds confirmation in the experience of the procedures followed by the Popes and the offices of the Holy See assisting them in carrying out the duties of the Magisterium and governance of Peter's successors.

6. We will close by noting that the exercise of the Magisterium is a concrete expression of the Roman Pontiff's contribution to the development of the Church's teaching. The Pope (who not only plays a role as head of the college of bishops in the definitions on faith and morals that the latter make, or as the notary of their thoughts, but also a more personal role both in the ordinary Magisterium and in his definitions) carries out his task by applying himself personally and encouraging study on the part of pastors, theologians, experts in different areas of doctrine, experts in pastoral care, spirituality, social life, etc.

In this way he fosters a cultural and moral enrichment at all levels of the Church. In organizing this work of consultation and study too, he appears as the Successor of the "rock" on which Christ built his Church.

[1]   AAS 42 (1950):757"

After the Catechesis, Papa Giovanni Paolo II greeted the pilgrims in various languages

Ai pellegrini di lingua francese

Chers Frères et Sœurs,

J’adresse un salut cordial à toutes les personnes de langue française présentes à cette audience.

En particulier, j’accueille avec joie les membres du “ centre Madeleine Daniélou ” qui sont venus à Rome en voyage spirituel et culturel. Chers jeunes, je vous encourage à bien accueillir la Parole de Dieu, comme l’a fait la Vierge Marie, à l’Annonciation, en ouvrant tout son cœur au message de l’Ange. Et vous aussi, annoncez l’Evangile en menant une vie chrétienne authentique.

À tous, jeunes et adultes, je donne de grand cœur ma Bénédiction Apostolique.

Ai fedeli di espressione inglese

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I am pleased to welcome the group of "Jewish and Catholic Leaders" from Philadelphia. I also greet the pilgrims from the Jesus and Mary School in Lebanon, assuring you of my constant prayers for peace in your beloved country. My greeting also goes to the members of the Kilkenny Archaeological Society. Upon all the English–speaking visitors, especially the pilgrims from Sri Lanka, I cordially invoke the abundant blessings of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Ad un gruppo di pellegrini giapponesi

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo!

Dilettissimi pellegrini e carissime studentesse di Kobe–Kaisei, di Nagasaki–Junshin e di Sendai–Shirayuri.

Vi saluto tutti cordialmente augurandovi di poter trarre abbondanti frutti dal vostro pellegrinaggio e dal corso di aggiornamento culturale, con un particolare auspicio di progresso per il collegio femminile di Sendai–Shirayuri che festeggia il primo centenario della fondazione. Vi benedico di cuore.

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo!

Ai fedeli di espressione tedesca

Liebe Schwestern und Brüder!

Nach dieser kurzen Betrachtung und mit dem innigen Wunsch an Euch, liebe deutschsprachige Pilger und Besucher, durch einen hochherzigen Glauben und in froher Hingabe dem nahen Osterfest entgegenzugehen, grübe ich Euch recht herzlich. Mein besonderer Willkommens grub gilt den Teilnehmern am Romseminar der Arbeitsgemeinschaft Katholische Presse, der Gruppe des Kreuzbund–Diözesanverbandes Mainz sowie der Pilgergruppe VDK aus Jena. Ebenso herzlich begrübe ich die Pilger aus Neunkirchen mit dem Chor Pro–Musica aus Breitenau und die Studentinnen und Studenten aus China und Korea, die in Deutschland am Arbeitskreis China–Europa teilnehmen.

Euch allen, Euren lieben Angehörigen und Freunden daheim sowie allen, die uns auf dem Weg durch die österliche Bubzeit verbunden sind, erteile ich von Herzen meinen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai pellegrini di lingua spagnola

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

Me es grato saludar ahora a todos los visitantes de lengua española. En particular, doy mi afectuosa bienvenida al grupo de Neocatecumenales de Murcia, a los feligreses de la parroquia del Santo Ni$ño de Cebú, de Madrid, a los miembros de una Coral de San Sebastián, así como a los peregrinos de México y Sevilla. A todos os exhorto a seguir viviendo con intensidad el tiempo cuaresmal, a la vez que os imparto la Bendición Apostólica.

Ai fedeli di espressione portoghese

Amadíssimos Irmãos e Irmãs.

Abençoo de coração os peregrinos de língua portuguesa aqui presentes, augurandolhes, desde já, uma Feliz Páscoa na Paz do Senhor.

Ai pellegrini polacchi

Pozdrawiam w szczególności pielgrzymów z parafii Lubawka w diecezji legnickiej, kolejarzy z Krakowa oraz innych uczestników audiencji z kraju i z emigracji.

Ai pellegrini di lingua italiana

Desidero ora salutare i pellegrini di lingua italiana. Rivolgo in particolare un cordiale benvenuto ai membri del Gruppo di preghiera “Padre Pio”, venuti a Roma da Loreto con il loro Arcivescovo, il caro Monsignor Pasquale Macchi.

Desidero formulare uno speciale saluto al gruppo romano della Comunità di Taizé guidato dal caro ed amato Priore Frère Roger.

Saluto, poi, i fedeli della Comunità di Gesù Divino Lavoratore della città di Vigevano che, accompagnati dal loro Prevosto, hanno celebrato ieri, presso la tomba degli Apostoli e in comunione con la Chiesa universale, il XV di erezione della loro parrocchia.

Saluto, inoltre, i rappresentanti del gruppo provinciale “50 e Più - Fenacom” di Modena e li ringrazio per il contributo che, come appartenenti alla cosiddetta “Terza età”, offrono alla vita sociale, specialmente nel settore del volontariato, dell’assistenza e della solidarietà.

Il mio pensiero si rivolge anche ai membri del “Lions Club” e dell’“Associazione Cristiana Artigiani Italiani” di Cerea (Verona), accompagnati dal Direttore dell’Ufficio Nazionale problemi sociali e lavoro della Conferenza Episcopale Italiana. Mentre li esorto ad affrontare con coraggio e senso di solidarietà le difficoltà attuali dell’economia, assicuro loro il mio ricordo nella preghiera per la soluzione dei problemi della categoria.

Ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli

Desidero, infine, rivolgere un caro saluto ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli. La Solennità dell’Annunciazione, che domani celebriamo, sia per tutti un invito a seguire l’esempio della Madre di Dio: per voi, giovani, si traduca in generosa disponibilità alla chiamata del Padre, che vi esorta ad essere fermento per l’edificazione di una nuova società; per voi, fratelli sofferenti, sia una spinta a rinnovare l’accettazione della vostra croce, mezzo di redenzione del mondo intero; per voi, sposi novelli, il sì di Maria sia sprone a rafforzare il vostro impegno nella costruzione di una famiglia veramente cristiana, fondata sul reciproco amore ed ispirargli ideali evangelici. A voi ed a tutti i vostri Cari la mia speciale benedizione.

Ai giovani nella Basilica Vaticana

Carissimi fanciulli e ragazzi, sono molto lieto di incontrarvi in questo giorno di festa, in cui tutta la Chiesa ricorda l’Annunciazione dell’Angelo a Maria Santissima, a Nazaret. Il Signore vi ha fatto il bel regalo di partecipare a questa Udienza e vuole certo chiamarvi a dirgli un “sì” chiaro e gioioso, proprio nella vostra situazione presente di vita.

Penso anzitutto a voi, bambini della prima Comunione. Sapete che, quando ricevete la S. Eucaristia, voi potete diventare come il giovane Samuele? Stando vicino al Signore, egli imparò a dirgli: “Parla, Signore, il tuo servo ti ascolta!” (1 Re 3, 9). Ma c’è una realtà ancora più grande: nella S. Comunione, dopo aver ascoltato attentamente il Vangelo nella Messa, voi potete essere come la Vergine Maria, quando disse all’Angelo: “Ecco l’ancella del Signore, avvenga di me secondo la sua parola” (Lc 1, 38).Vedete, cari fanciulli com’è grande il dono che Gesù vi fa! E quale fiducia Egli ripone nel vostro cuore, giovane, e perciò tanto generoso!

Mi rivolgo pure ai ragazzi della Cresima. Carissimi, il “sì” maturato nella vostra età, fa germogliare in ciascuno di voi il seme della fede, che è stato posto nel Battesimo. Potete così confermare, con la libertà illuminata dallo Spirito Santo, l’impegno di essere cristiani sempre, non solo in chiesa o all’oratorio, o nell’intimo segreto della vostra anima; ma sempre e in ogni luogo, comportandovi come Gesù si è comportato, con umiltà e coraggio. Per questo vi esorto: non isolatevi mai dalla Comunità cristiana! Siate sempre fedeli a Cristo e alla Chiesa!

E infine penso a tutti voi, studenti. Sapete qual è il segreto per rendere bello lo studio? Avere la mente aperta alla verità, qualunque materia si debba affrontare. Chi ha l’anima aperta alla verità, a conoscere il perché, il significato delle cose, allora sì, impara ad essere più uomo. Carissimi, ogni giorno, prima di sedervi al vostro banco di scuola, aprite il cuore e dite “sì” al Signore, alla Verità, che vi chiama a conoscere il suo amore senza fine.

Saluto anche i Presidi e i Docenti dell’Associazione Europea degli Insegnanti, che, con i loro Studenti, si sono uniti a questa Udienza. Affido tutti alla Vergine dell’Annunciazione, Madre di Gesù e Madre nostra. Ella, che ha detto quel “sì” a Nazaret, vi aiuti ogni giorno a dire il vostro “sì” pieno al Signore, che vi chiama ad accoglierlo e a seguirlo in tutte le situazioni concrete in cui vi troverete a vivere.

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