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BEYOND ITS AUTHORITY? THE MAGISTERIUM AND MATTERS OF NATURAL LAW.

BEYOND ITS AUTHORITY? THE MAGISTERIUM AND MATTERS OF NATURAL LAW. By Frank Mobbs. Alexandria, Australia: Dwyer, 1997. Pp. 341. $19.95.

In this provocative study Mobbs challenges the commonly held view that the teaching authority of the magisterium extends beyond divine revelation to moral matters found in the "natural law." He tries to demonstrate that this assumption is grounded in ambiguous understandings of both the magisterium and natural law and, consequently, is indefensible. He carefully examines not only the accounts of natural law found in magisterial documents but also alternative accounts in the writings of Aquinas, Suarez, the manualists, and a number of leading contemporary theologians. He finds all of these accounts wanting on several points.

M. rightly draws attention to the many ambiguities surrounding the magisterium's claim to teach on matters of natural law. Of particular importance are the questions he raises regarding the claim made since Vatican I that the object of infallible judgments extends beyond divine revelation (to what is generally called the "secondary object"). His basic argument can be read as an attempt to distinguish revealed from nonrevealed propositions and then to limit the scope of the Church's teaching authority to the former. However, in doing so he appears to offer only two options: either the magisterium possesses an infallible competence, over the natural law, or no competence whatsoever. That it might possess a more limited, provisional competency does not seem to be considered.

Moreover, M.'s study is weakened by his often uncritical assumption of the very propositional model of revelation that is so evident in the magisterial documents he is engaging. Addressing the difficulties that he has correctly identified may require more radical measures, e.g., abandonment of this propositional approach and a fundamental rethinking of the Scholastic distinction between supernatural revelation and natural law within a new theological-philosophical framework.

Stylistically, the frequent recourse to bold-face type and the failure to employ even moderately inclusive language can be distracting to the reader. Nevertheless, the volume stakes out a position that will have to be engaged in future debate on the scope of doctrinal teaching authority.

RICHARD R. GAILLARDETZ

University of St. Thomas, Houston
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:GAILLARDETZ, RICHARD R.
Publication:Theological Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 1, 1999
Words:359
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