Certain Prerogatives Conferred by Jesus Christ Upon His Church: Part 2
Fr. W. Devivier, SJ
Edited by Bishop S.G. Messmer, DD, DCL
Bishop of Green Bay, Wisc.
Imprimatur, 1903


We have seen that, by the will of Jesus Christ, the Church is a real society. We shall now prove that Christ in founding His Church conferred upon her all the power necessary to continue the work of redemption till the end of the world. This power is threefold, representing the threefold office of Christ as teacher, priest, and king: first the power to teach His Church conferred upon her all the power necessary to continue the work of redemption till the end of the world. This power is threefold, representing the threefold office of Christ as teacher, priest, and king: first, the power to teach revealed truths and to impose her teaching (Magisterium); second, the power of exercising the sacred priesthood and of dispensing the Divine mysteries (Ministerium); third, the power of government and administration over all her members (Imperium). Although we have already proved the existence of these three powers in the Church, it will not be useless to put here briefly whatever refers to them.

Speaking of the apostolicity of the Church, we mentioned (p. 329) only two powers given to the chiefs of the Church, that of order and that of jurisdiction [2] But there we considered these powers in regard to the sources from which they flow (ordination and institution), while here we shall view them in regard to the objects to which they relate.


The Church has received from her Divine Founder the power to teach, or doctrinal authority, that is, the right and duty to preach the moral and dogmatic doctrine of Jesus Christ, and to impose this doctrine upon all men. [3] This truth is so evident that we shall content ourselves with merely mentioning the following brief arguments:

FIRST ARGUMENT.----As the doctrine of Jesus Christ can be made known only by teaching, the Church, in receiving the mission to make this doctrine known everywhere, must necessarily have received also the power to teach all men. (See Rom. x. 14 ff.)

SECOND ARGUMENT.----The words of Jesus Christ on this subject are sufficiently clear and well known: "All power is given to Me in Heaven and on earth; going therefore, teach ye all nations " (Matth. xxviii. 18, 19). "He that heareth you, heareth Me: and he that despiseth you, despiseth Me. And he that despiseth Me, despiseth Him that sent Me." (Luke x. 16.)

THIRD ARGUMENT.----The Apostles, strengthened by these words of their Master, devoted themselves immediately after the descent of the Holy Spirit to the ministry of preaching. "Going forth, they preached everywhere," says St. Mark, "the Lord working withal, and confirming the word with signs that followed." To those who would forbid them the exercise of this teaching they answered with the celebrated words which have become the motto of every true Christian brought face to face with tyrannical power: "We must obey God rather than men." Or again: "We cannot but speak" (Mark xvi. 20; Acts v. 29; iv. 20).

REMARKS.----1st. The Church's manner of teaching is always twofold. The ordinary teaching is that which is administered daily through the bishops or their delegates and under their surveillance, by the aid of preaching, or catechising, or theological lectures, etc. The extraordinary teaching is that which is given by the Pope, or the Councils when they proclaim a dogma or condemn an error. It is evident that the extraordinary form of teaching is in no way required to make a doctrine an article of faith to Christians, otherwise the dogma of the Eucharist, for example, would not have been of faith before the tenth century, and in our own day the visibility of the Church, her indefectibility, etc., would not be articles of faith, since they have never been solemnly defined. The Church cannot err in her constant and universal teaching any more than in her definitions of dogma. The promises made by Christ admit of no exception. Heresy may consist, therefore, in denying wittingly a dogma proclaimed by the ordinary and uniform teaching of the entire Church.

2d. In consequence of this mission and this power the Church is obliged to maintain the purity of faith, to guard the faithful against erroneous, impious, and immoral doctrines, to forbid the reading of books and papers that might corrupt faith and morals, to supervise all dogmatic and moral teaching given in society by any teachers whether private or official, that is, appointed by the state. No one will dispute this point when there is question of a Christian society. But even though the constitution be based upon liberty of worship, the state, if it truly respect liberty, cannot refuse the Church this surveillance, which is an integral part of the Catholic apostolate. The state should, moreover, at least for its Catholic subjects, allow ecclesiastical superiors power to exercise an efficacious control over the various branches of human knowledge usually taught by lay professors. Otherwise the liberty awarded the Church would be a fallacy, since official pedagogues could, in teaching science, for example, astronomy, or history, or literature, attack, contradict, or neutralize the lessons, the dogmas, and the moral teaching of the Church. Finally, with still greater reason may the Church claim the right to brand and condemn the anti-religious, atheistical, and so-called neutral (unsectarian) teaching organized under the patronage of the state. In cases of this kind she must have recourse to every means in her power, to every spiritual arm in her possession, to preserve her children from the baneful influence of such teaching.

These reflections suffice to make us understand and, at the same time, to justify the Church's attitude toward governments which have promulgated similar legislation. It explains the conduct of the Belgian Episcopacy, who in 1869, with admirable energy, saved their country from the corruption of irreligious schools. [4]


The Church has received the power of regulating all that concerns the administration of the sacraments, the celebration of the holy sacrifice, of deciding, in a word, all that belongs to public worship.

FIRST ARGUMENT.----How could the Church fulfill her mission of saving souls if, while enlightening minds with the light of revelation, she did not at the same time impart the strength absolutely indispensable for the observance of the precepts imposed by revelation? Now it is through the Sacraments, through the sacrifice of the Mass particularly, and through the exercises of her worship, that the faithful obtain the graces necessary for the maintenance of the spiritual life.

 SECOND ARGUMENT.----Our Saviour's will in this respect is very clear. Thus we see that when He gave His Apostles the command and the power tb teach He also imposed upon them the obligation to Baptize all men; at the Last Supper, after distributing His Body and Blood to them, He bade them do the same in remembrance of Him; on another occasion He gave them the power to forgive sins, so that they alone had the power to loose and to bind.
THIRD ARGUMENT.----The Apostles themselves affirm this power implicitly by exercising it, and explicitly by their words. In fact we see them Baptizing, confirming, ordaining, celebrating Mass, ministering to the sick, etc., and St. Paul writes: "Let a man so account of us as of the ministers of Christ and the dispensers of the mysteries of God" (1 Cor. iv. 1).


The right of self-government given to the Church comprises three distinct powers similar to those possessed by civil society: legislative power, or the right to make laws and rules binding upon all the subjects of the Church; judiciary power, to define the sense and reach of her laws, to decide disputed cases, to pronounce judgment upon guilt, etc.; and, finally, executive or coercive power, that is, the right to procure, by the necessary means, particularly by the use of penalties either spiritual or temporal, the observance of the laws which she imposes on her members. The present adversaries of the Church rarely deny her the first two powers, that of teaching and of administering the Sacraments; they are, in fact, of little importance to them. But they make fierce war against this power of governing, as to do away with it would create great disorder in the economy of the Church, and she would no longer be able to repress the revolts of her members and to resist the violent attacks or silent intrigues of her enemies.

They allege that the Church has no right to make laws, to judge crimes, to punish the guilty; or if she has any right in these matters, it is not an inherent right of her constitution, but a right which she receives through participation or communication with the civil power, through the courteous concession of rulers, or perhaps through usurpation made possible by the negligence or the connivance of governments. Let us prove, therefore, that the Church has really received this power from Christ.

FIRST ARGUMENT.----A society cannot really exist and attain its end without the power to govern. A multitude of wills seeking to attain the same end necessarily requires common and efficacious guidance. Hence, when it pleased Our Saviour to unite in a perfect society all who believed in Him, He could not but endow this society with the authority necessary to accomplish its mission. In other words, He had to establish heads and rulers invested with a triple power, legislative, judiciary, and coercive; a law supposes the right to judge the guilty and to inflict punishment.

SECOND ARGUMENT, DRAWN FROM THE WORDS OF SCRIPTURE already quoted and explained in speaking of the ministry of the Apostles and the primacy of St. Peter.

THIRD ARGUMENT, DRAWN FROM THE CONDUCT OF THE APOSTLES AND THE HISTORY OF THE CHURCH.----The Apostles from the beginning exercised all these powers, making laws, pronouncing judgment, hurling anathemas at the guilty and the rebellious without consulting the civil power or even despite its opposition (Acts xv. 28; 1 Tim. i. 20; 1 Cor. xi. 33,34; vii. 12, 13; v. 3, 4, 5; iv. 21; xi. 2; 1 Thess. iv. 2.) The Church in the centuries which followed continued to exercise the same powers in virtue of the authority properly belonging to her; nor has belief in the legislative authority of lawful heads ever varied in the Church. [6]


1. Spalding, J. L., lecture 4; Lacordaire, conf. 2 on the Church; Hunter, I., tr. 4, ch. 4; Br. W. viii. 359, 574; C. W. xlii. 158, 324.
2. M agisterium, being the authoritative teaching and thus implying the right to preach and to demand both the "obedience unto faith" as well as the public profession of that faith, is quite appropriately referred to the power of jurisdiction.---EDITOR.
3. Ward, Essays on the Doctrinal Authority of the Church.
 4. It explains in particular the wonderful system of parochial schools in the United States of America, established and maintained by the strenuous efforts of the Catholic priests and bishops and the enormous but voluntary contributions of the faithful.---EDITOR.
5. Burnet, Path, etc.; ch. 3.
6. Lacordaire, conf. 6 on the Church (her coercive power).