Authority in Roman Catholicism

February 19, 2018

The Roman Catholic Church understands three sources of authority:

  1. Tradition
  2. Scripture
  3. The Church

It is clear therefore that, in the supremely wise arrangement of God, sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture and the Magisterium of the Church are so connected and associated that one of them cannot stand without the others. Working together, each in its own way, under the action of the one Holy Spirit, they all contribute effectively to the salvation of souls (95).


Notice the order of the RCC authority.  Tradition often precedes Scripture as an authority (95, 97).  This may be caused by the RCC view that tradition interprets Scripture, not Scripture interpreting tradition (113, 128).


The RCC believes that God provided two forms of transmitting the Gospel: oral and written (76).  The oral is a living transmission called tradition (78, 126).  The RCC clearly believes that all revealed truths are not from the Scriptures alone but include tradition (81-82, 84, 95).  “Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture make up a single sacred deposit of the Word of God.” (97)


See the paragraphs below that were referenced above:

The Gospel was handed on … orally “by the apostles who handed on, by the spoken word of their preaching, by the example they gave, by the institutions they established, what they themselves had received – whether from the lips of Christ, from his way of life and his works, or whether they had learned it at the prompting of the Holy Spirit” (76)

This living transmission, accomplished in the Holy Spirit, is called Tradition, … Through Tradition, “the Church, in her doctrine, life and worship, perpetuates and transmits to every generation all that she herself is, all that she believes.  (78)

“And [Holy] Tradition transmits in its entirety the Word of God which has been entrusted to the apostles by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit. (81)

As a result the Church, to whom the transmission and interpretation of Revelation is entrusted, “does not derive her certainty about all revealed truths from the holy Scriptures alone. Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honoured with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence.(82)

The apostles entrusted the “Sacred deposit” of the faith (the depositum fidei), contained in Sacred Scripture and Tradition, to the whole of the Church. … So, in maintaining, practising and professing the faith that has been handed on, there should be a remarkable harmony between the bishops and the faithful.(84)

Read the Scripture within “the living Tradition of the whole Church”. According to a saying of the Fathers, Sacred Scripture is written principally in the Church’s heart rather than in documents and records, for the Church carries in her Tradition the living memorial of God’s Word, and it is the Holy Spirit who gives her the spiritual interpretation of the Scripture (113)

The oral tradition. “For, after the ascension of the Lord, the apostles handed on to their hearers what he had said and done, but with that fuller understanding which they, instructed by the glorious events of Christ and enlightened by the Spirit of truth, now enjoyed.” (126)

The RCC view of tradition affects the manner in which they interpret the Scriptures. 

[T]he Church carries in her Tradition the living memorial of God’s Word, and it is the Holy Spirit who gives her the spiritual interpretation of the Scripture. (113)

 [C]onstantly in her Tradition, has illuminated the unity of the divine plan in the two Testaments through typology. (128)

There is a note that distinguishes between Church Tradition and local church tradition.

Tradition is to be distinguished from the various theological, disciplinary, liturgical or devotional traditions, born in the local churches over time. These are the particular forms, adapted to different places and times, in which the great Tradition is expressed. In the light of Tradition, these traditions can be retained, modified or even abandoned under the guidance of the Church’s Magisterium. (83)


Along with RCC tradition the RCC accept the Scriptures as an equal authority (82, 84, 95, 97).  The RCC believes that it had a role in the accepting and giving of the canon of Scripture (138, 2030).  In other words, we would not have a set collection or list of which books are inspired or not inspired without the RCC.  This view is to say that the authority of the church was required to decide which books were in and which were out of the Bible.  Furthermore, the RCC has accepted additional books, chapters and passages not in the Protestant Bible.

It was by the apostolic Tradition that the Church discerned which writings are to be included in the list of the sacred books. This complete list is called the canon of Scripture. It includes 46 books for the Old Testament (45 if we count Jeremiah and Lamentations as one) and 27 for the New. (120)


The RCC believes that the Church is the only authority that can determine which books make up the Bible, therefore, the Protestants lack the whole of Scripture. 

The Church accepts and venerates as inspired the 46 books of the Old Testament and the 27 books of the New. (138)

Further is the view of interpreting Christ in the Old Testament.

All Sacred Scripture is but one book, and that one book is Christ, because all divine Scripture speaks of Christ, and all divine Scripture is fulfilled in Christ (134)

It should be noted historically that the Jews had a list of the books of the Canon for hundreds of years before the RCC developed their list.  The earliest known complete Old Testament list was discussed at the council of Jamnia in about 90 A.D.  The council of Jamnia was a meeting of Rabbi’s where they answered the issues of which of the Old Testament books were part of the Old Testament.  The issue of note was that the Old Testament books that the RCC accepts as the apocryphal books were not part of the Jewish canon.  They were books of historical value that were placed in the back of the Old Testament.  However, the RCC moved them into their chronological placement and called them Scripture. 

The Church

The RCC sets itself up the only true “church” (838, 866).  There is no Protestant church that is part of the “church”, because only the RCC fulfills the purpose and has the authority of the “church”.

  1. Only the RCC can provide:
  2. the Scriptures (2030)
  3. grace through sacraments
  4. an example of holiness
  5. announce the saving truth (2032)
  6. announce moral principles
  7. make judgments on human affairs
  8. make present and manifest the visible sign of communion between God and men (1071)

The RCC is the only true “church” because of its authority.  The RCC believes that it is holy and infallible (869, 891, 1426), therefore, it must have complete authority.  The authority of the RCC is not rooted in their holiness or infallibility, but instead in their apostolic succession and function (the Magisterium).


See the paragraphs below that were referenced above:

The Church is one: she acknowledges one Lord, confesses one faith, is born of one Baptism, forms only one Body, is given life by the one Spirit, for the sake of one hope (cf. Eph 4:3-5), at whose fulfillment all divisions will be overcome. (866)

The Church is ultimately one, holy, catholic, and apostolic in her deepest and ultimate identity, because it is in her that “the Kingdom of heaven,” the “Reign of God,” already exists and will be fulfilled at the end of time. (865)

From the Church [the baptized] receives the Word of God … From the Church he receives the grace of the sacraments that sustains him on the “way.” From the Church he learns the example of holiness and recognizes its model and source in the all-holy Virgin Mary; he discerns it in the authentic witness of those who live it; he discovers it in the spiritual tradition and long history of the saints who have gone before him and whom the liturgy celebrates in the rhythms of the sanctoral cycle. (2030)

The Church … has received this solemn command of Christ from the apostles to announce the saving truth. To the Church belongs the right always and everywhere to announce moral principles, including those pertaining to the social order, and to make judgments on any human affairs to the extent that they are required by the fundamental rights of the human person or the salvation of souls. (2032)

It makes the Church present and manifests her as the visible sign of the communion in Christ between God and men. (1071)

The liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; it is also the font from which all [the church’s] power flows. (1074)

As she has done for the canon of Sacred Scripture and for the doctrine of the faith, the Church, by the power of the Spirit who guides her into all truth, has gradually recognized this treasure received from Christ and, as the faithful steward of God’s mysteries, has determined its dispensation. (1117)

The Church … is upheld infallibly in the truth. (869)

The infallibility promised to the Church is also present in the body of bishops. … When the Church through its supreme Magisterium proposes a doctrine for belief as being divinely revealed, and as the teaching of Christ, the definitions must be adhered to with the obedience of faith. This infallibility extends as far as the deposit of divine Revelation itself. (891)

The Church herself, the Bride of Christ, is holy and without blemish. (1426)

Reconciliation with the Church is inseparable from reconciliation with God. (1445)

The local bishops have authority of the local church but only as they receive it from the RCC (834, 894-895, 877). 

The bishops, as vicars and legates of Christ, govern the particular Churches assigned to them by their counsels, exhortations, and example, but over and above that also by the authority and sacred power.  The power which they exercise personally in the name of Christ, is proper, ordinary, and immediate, although its exercise is ultimately controlled by the supreme authority of the Church. (894-895)

Bishops will always strive to discern new gifts of consecrated life granted to the Church by the Holy Spirit; the approval of new forms of consecrated life is reserved to the Apostolic See. (919)

However, it is clearer in the fact that the RCC displays a tight relationship between itself and God (2039).  In fact, to be at odds with the RCC is to be at odds with God (1445). 

To believe that the Church is “holy” and “catholic,” and that she is “one” and “apostolic”, is inseparable from belief in God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In the Apostles’ Creed we profess “one HolyChurch”, and not to believe in the Church, so as not to confuse God with his works and to attribute clearly to God’s goodness all the gifts he has bestowed on his Church. (750)

Apostolic Succession

Apostolic succession is the belief that there is a direct line from the apostles handed down to bishops in directsuccession (77, 816, 860, 862-863, 869, 935-936, 1313, 1341, 1575).  This succession is an office in the church held by few and is believed to have been established from the beginning of the church in an unbroken line (1555).  This office gives certain men authority and power of the Apostles, which is to be different then the authority or power of other Christians (1023, 1087).

It is this belief that the RCC teaches that the Pope is a successor of Peter and therefore has ultimate authority on earth over the “church” (870, 880-884, 937, 1560, 1594).  Furthermore, as Peter’s successor, the Pope is infallible, like the RCC (891-892).


Apostolic succession is a key ingredient to understanding the RCC.  This doctrine is where they attempt to get their authority and control of the people.  It is this doctrine that will later link to the view that the RCC has the power and right to dispense salvation and forgiveness of sins.  Yet there is no Scripture that teaches that there would continue to be an apostolic line, this doctrine was developed by RCC tradition. 

The entire belief system of the RCC is based on this one doctrine.  This is a case where the RCC view of tradition interpreting Scripture affects greatly the result of doctrine.  It is their tradition that teaches the doctrine of apostolic succession and it must be true according to the RCC because their Magisterium teach it to be so.  However, the Magisterium are part of this apostolic succession, so it is a circular argument. 

These paragraphs are only some of the ones that describe the RCC view of their apostolic succession. 

In order that the full and living Gospel might always be preserved in the Church the apostles left bishops as their successors. They gave them their own position of teaching authority.”[35] Indeed, “the apostolic preaching, which is expressed in a special way in the inspired books, was to be preserved in a continuous line of succession until the end of time. (77)

 [T]he Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him. (816)

 [T]he apostles took care to appoint successors. (860)

Just as the office which the Lord confided to Peter alone, as first of the apostles, destined to be transmitted to his successors, is a permanent one, so also endures the office, which the apostles received, of shepherding the Church, a charge destined to be exercised without interruption by the sacred order of bishops. … Hence the Church teaches that the bishops have by divine institution taken the place of the apostles as pastors of the Church,

The whole Church is apostolic, in that she remains, through the successors of St. Peter and the other apostles, in communion of faith and life with her origin: and in that she is “sent out” into the whole world. (862-863)

Divine assistance is also given to the successors of the apostles, teaching in communion with the successor of Peter, and, in a particular way, to the bishop of Rome, pastor of the whole Church, when, without arriving at an infallible definition and without pronouncing in a “definitive manner,” they propose in the exercise of the ordinary Magisterium a teaching that leads to better understanding of Revelation in matters of faith and morals. (892)

Amongst those various offices which have been exercised in the Church from the earliest times the chief place, according to the witness of tradition, is held by the function of those who, through their appointment to the dignity and responsibility of bishop, and in virtue consequently of the unbroken succession going back to the beginning, are regarded as transmitters of the apostolic line. (1555)

The Church is apostolic because she is founded on the apostles, in three ways:

she was and remains built on the foundation of the Apostles, the witnesses chosen and sent on mission by Christ himself;

with the help of the Spirit dwelling in her, the Church keeps and hands on the teaching, the “good deposit,” the salutary words she has heard from the apostles;

she continues to be taught, sanctified, and guided by the apostles until Christ’s return, through their successors in pastoral office: the college of bishops, “assisted by priests, in union with the successor of Peter, the Church’s supreme pastor. (857)


The Magisterium are the third great pillar of authority of the RCC (95).  They get their authority from their apostolic succession.  They guide (67, 93), teach (77, 85-86, 873, 2034, 2050), sanctify (873), govern (873) and exercise the authority (88) of the RCC.  The Holy Spirit is known in the church’s Magisterium, which He assists (688).  They are without error (92).  It is the Magisterium who have the sole responsibility and authority to interpret tradition and Scripture (85-86, 100, 119, 1008).

The task of interpreting the Word of God authentically has been entrusted solely to the Magisterium of the Church, that is, to the Pope and to the bishops in communion with him. (100) (emphasis added)

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