Date of Award

Spring 1991

Document Type




First Advisor

Rev. Michael Driscoll

Second Advisor

Rev. Eugene Peoples

Third Advisor

Rev. Jeremiah Sullivan


Karl Rahner has stated: “The history of the doctrine concerning the magisterium is in the concrete almost identical with the history of the self-understanding of the Church itself.”1 In keeping with this perception, this paper will trace the changing ecclesial selfunderstanding concerning authority from the High Middle Ages through the present time. Undoubtedly it will prove insightful as it delves into the meaning of magisterium, which in the present day is associated exclusively with the bishops. To achieve this goal, the study is divided into three chapters. The first chapter takes an historical overview of the development of the notions of magisterium and infallibility from the Middle Ages until Vatican II. The second chapter studies select documents of the Second Vatican Council to examine how authority was understood and redefined at that period in the Church’s tradition. The last chapter looks at the tensions and conflicts which have arisen since the Council by examining three post-conciliar documents addressing such points of debate. In focusing on the interaction between theologians and bishops, this paper will attempt to provide a greater respect for the functions of both. It is realized that not everything has been said about this topic; to try to do so would be inane. Yet becoming aware of the tensions which exist allows for questions to be asked and hopefully in turn will lead to greater dialogue.