In this brief, yet illuminating work, Richard Gaillardetz (the Margaret and Thomas Murray and James J. Bacik Professor of Catholic Studies at the University of Toledo) explores the function and utilization of authority within Catholicism. Emphasizing authority in terms of several relationships that exist within the community of believers, Gaillardetz provides readers with a concise introduction to the means by which authority is understood and exercised within the Catholic community. The book is written with Vatican II as its "immediate frame of reference" (xiii), but Gaillardetz preserves an historical outlook via his explanations and examples.
The text is geared toward those at an undergraduate level, for use in seminaries or for those in adult education programs, so its depth is suited for that particular audience. Gaillardetz clearly states that he is not advancing a work that will provide an original theology of authority. Rather, he is providing an introductory text detailing the developments concerning revelation and authority since Vatican II (xiv).
The work is divided into three parts. Before these sections begin, there is an introductory chapter devoted to Vatican II's Theology of Revelation. In it, Gaillardetz describes his framework for the actual investigations of authority. Since the foundation upon which he builds his work is Vatican II, revelation for Gaillardetz is "encountered through the medium of the symbolic and within the context of human experience" (10). His thought is also well grounded in the personalist and trinitarian focus of the Council. Ultimately, for Gaillardetz, revelation is a trinitarian invitation to relationship. In other words, "revelation is summed up in the person of Jesus Christ" (5).
The first part of the book deals with the authority of scripture and tradition wherein Gaillardetz defines several theories of biblical inspiration as well as identifying and explaining what is meant by biblical inerrancy. He then moves forward with an overview of the history and development of the canon and addresses the difficulties associated with the different canons used by Catholics and Protestants. The final aspects of this section deal with the practical significance associated with having a biblical canon as a medium of authority. After addressing Scripture, Gaillardetz discusses tradition and its relationship to the canon. In a section titled "Tradition: Continuity and Discontinuity," the author provides an illuminating overview of the diverse ways that tradition has been lived out within the community of faith. He uses the work of John Thiel to describe "senses" that Catholics use to understand and interpret the developments that have taken place in the life and teaching of the Church. He details the spectrum of traditions from those teachings that have been more enduring throughout Christian history to those that seem to be a reversal of previous thought or simply novel to contemporary Catholic teaching.
The second part of the book explains the authority of the magisterium and its relationship to scripture, tradition, and the people of God. This section is divided into three very useful and descriptive chapters that ask: how we are to understand the magisterium today, how does the magisterium exercise its authority, and what is meant by doctrine and dogma. Each of the three chapters offers a detailed introduction into the theological and practical features of what it means to have a teaching authority within the Church (a communion of communions 66 ff.) and the many modes through which it is utilized. Of particular value is the section entitled: Gradations in Church Teaching. It explores the levels of magnitude within magisterial teaching so that one may perhaps more aptly "distinguish between teachings expressive of those vital faith commitments that constitute the core of our Christian identity, and those which play a more dependant role" (94).
The third and final section of the book is devoted to the sense of the believing community, or the "particular authority that ordinary believers and the entire believing community possess by virtue of their baptism" (xiv). Within this section are three very insightful chapters addressing specifically the sense of the faithful, the place of disagreement in the Church, and finally, the relationship between the magisterium and professional theologians. This section offers several informative features including an analysis of reception and the importance of the community of faith functioning as a community of dialogue and discernment. For Gaillardetz, reception has been an important element of the faith since the time of the early Church. It is distinguished "in the way...local churches received (or at times did not receive) the authoritative pronouncements of synods and councils" (113). He interprets the shift that takes place in lay reception from a more reciprocal (communio) approach to a more juridical approach as a result of the transformation of ecclesiology that occurred beginning in the late Middle Ages. Included is a description of how these models have functioned (and continue to function) in the community of faith. In the chapter dedicated to the place of disagreement, Gaillardetz provides a descriptive and very reasoned response that both takes seriously the rightful authority of bishops to safeguard the faith, as well as the authority of an individual's conscience who may struggle with Church teaching. He again describes the gradations of authoritative magisterial pronouncements and explains what might be a proper response to the specific teaching in question. The final chapter deals very sensibly with the relationship between the magisterium and theologians. Gaillardetz includes a reflection on the development between the pre and post-Conciliar understanding of this relationship. He also offers several thoughts in terms of how to deal with conflict between these two groups as they work together in their different, yet complimentary ministries. According to Gaillardetz, these are not oppositional forces, rather they are different types of authority that can relate and support one another.
Gaillardetz has succeeded in achieving his goal of providing the non-expert with a primer on the different modes of authority within the Catholic tradition. The book should be very accessible to that particular group. Although he does not offer a new framework or much original thought on authority, he fairly and honestly explains the situation of authority that exists in contemporary Catholicism. He provides a thorough overview of the different modes of authority and describes the differing perspectives observed in today's theological landscape with profound charity and clarity.
Even though the work is marketed for the non-expert, several of its features provide the more advanced reader with sufficient material for reflection. The inclusion of a "disputed questions" section allows the reader to understand the complexity of most of the issues raised within each chapter. These questions provide a great starting point for discussions, as well as an opportunity for students to analyze contemporary issues in the Church. Also included at the end of each chapter is a list of recommended further reading. This feature permits the reader to seek answers to more specific questions that the author is simply not able to address within the scope of this current work. This work is a great resource for those interested in understanding the several sources and practical uses of authority within contemporary Catholicism.