The False Teachings of Jeff Mirus on Church Authority

In a recent post, Islam: When the Church can speak authoritatively, and when she cannot, Dr. Jeff Mirus utters a series of false statements on Church authority.

1. Jeff Mirus: “The Church’s Magisterium applies exclusively to matters which God has revealed.”

Well, that assertion is problematic. The Church (CCC 36-38) distinguishes the truths that can be known by reason alone — which include the whole moral law and knowledge of the existence of God — from truths given to us by Divine Revelation (Tradition and Scripture). And certainly the Magisterium can teach from natural law, not only from Divine Revelation. When the Church uses the term “revealed truths”, She refers only to Tradition and Scripture, not also to natural law.

This distinction between the truths of Divine Revelation and those of natural law known by reason alone is taught dogmatically by the First Vatican Council [Dogmatic constitution on the Catholic faith, Chapter 2]. Mirus confuses the two, and treats natural law as a type of Divine Revelation.

2. Jeff Mirus: “God has revealed things to us explicitly (in what we call Divine Revelation as preserved in Scripture and Tradition) and implicitly (through creation, in which we perceive what we call the Natural Law).”

Mirus speaks as if the truths of Divine Revelation in Tradition and Scripture are always revealed explicitly, but that claim is false. Many truths of Divine Revelation are implicit in Tradition and Scripture, such as the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption of Mary. Read the Magisterial documents on those dogmas, and you will find explanations as to how various passages of Sacred Scripture implicitly refer to and teach about those truths.

Mirus also speaks as if the truths of natural law were always implicit. This claim is also false. Human reason is capable of understanding that some acts are gravely immoral, such as the murder of an innocent person. The reason of fallen sinners is flawed, and often errs. But this does not make moral truths merely implicit. Moral truths that are clear to reason alone are not properly termed implicit; they are manifest to everyone who seeks moral truth with sincerity and therefore explicit.

3. Jeff Mirus: “The Church can speak surely only on faith and morals, which in turn are revealed only in these two ways.”

What a poorly phrased, distorted claim. Instead of saying “the Church can speak surely”, he should have said “the Magisterium can teach infallibly” only on faith and morals. Then the assertion would be correct, as long as the scope of “faith and morals” is properly defined. The problem with the above phrasing is that the Church not only exercises infallibility by teaching through the Magisterium, She also exercises infallibility by issuing a judgment on dogmatic facts. And dogmatic facts are, by definition, not teachings on faith and morals. When the Church speaks on a dogmatic fact, She cannot err.

4. Jeff Mirus: “Moreover, the Church speaks infallibly and requires religious submission of mind and will only when the pope alone or the bishops in union with the pope clearly intend (1) to teach, (2) on a matter of faith or morals, (3) to the whole Church, (4) by virtue of the supreme Petrine authority.”

The above single sentence contains numerous grave doctrinal errors.

The “religion submission of mind and will” is always only used in magisterial teaching for non-infallible teachings [Lumen Gentium 25]. This religious assent, as it is also called, is of a lesser degree and different type than the full assent of faith, also called theological assent, which is required of infallible magisterial teachings. Canon Law [752] distinguishes between “the assent of faith” for infallible teachings and “a religious submission of intellect and will” for non-infallible teachings.

Jeff Mirus errs gravely by teaching — in contradiction to Canon Law, Second Vatican Council, and Ad Tuendam Fidem — that mere religious assent is required for infallible teachings.

5. Mirus speaks as if the Magisterium teaches infallibly only in TWO ways (“the pope alone or the bishops in union with the pope”), whereas the Magisterium teaches infallibly in THREE ways (Papal Infallibility, Conciliar Infallibility, ordinary and universal Magisterium). Here Mirus is substituting his own flawed understanding, which confounds Conciliar Infallibility with the ordinary and universal Magisterium, for actual Church teaching.

6. Mirus goes on to reduce magisterial teaching on Papal Infallibility to an utter shambles. Aside from confusing Papal Infallibility with the other types of infallible magisterial teachings, he errs in his list of criteria for Papal Infallibility: “only when the pope alone or the bishops in union with the pope clearly intend (1) to teach, (2) on a matter of faith or morals, (3) to the whole Church, (4) by virtue of the supreme Petrine authority.”

He lists 4 criteria. OK, but those criteria are preceded by the claim that the Pope must “clearly intend” the 4 criteria, thereby implying an extra criterion of clear intention. Does the Pope have to intend to fulfill the criteria for an infallible papal teaching? How would a Pope, prior to the definition of Papal Infallibility at Vatican I, fulfill this claimed extra criterion of the intention to teach infallibly? Yes, a Pope must act with intention; he cannot accidentally teach. However, he need not have the intention to exercise Papal Infallibility.

Worse still is the claim that this intention must be clear, as if an infallible papal teaching lacks infallibility unless the inner intention of the Pope is clear to other persons. How many persons? Which persons? This idea that Papal Infallibility rests upon other persons, to whom the intention of the Pope would be clear is contrary to the definition of Papal Infallibility by the First Vatican Council:

“Therefore, such definitions of the Roman Pontiff are of themselves, and not by the consent of the Church, irreformable.”

The Second Vatican Council teaches the same point:

“And therefore his definitions, of themselves, and not from the consent of the Church, are justly styled irreformable, since they are pronounced with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, promised to him in blessed Peter, and therefore they need no approval of others, nor do they allow an appeal to any other judgment.”

The idea that the intention of the Pope must be clear to others, or else his teaching is not infallible is a gravely erroneous claim; it is a false teaching on an important matter of faith.

7. As for the 4 criteria that Mirus lists for Papal Infallibility, they are not accurately stated. Mirus says: “(1) to teach, (2) on a matter of faith or morals, (3) to the whole Church, (4) by virtue of the supreme Petrine authority.”

But I would number the criteria under which the Pope exercises Papal Infallibility as five. Now most other commentators put the first two criteria that I list together. My reason for separating them is to be able to apply the criteria to the other two ways that the Magisterium teaches infallibly.

First Vatican Council:

1. “the Roman Pontiff”
2. “speaks ex cathedra” (“that is, when in the discharge of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, and by virtue of his supreme apostolic authority….”)
3. “he defines”
4. “that a doctrine concerning faith or morals”
5. “must be held by the whole Church”

Second Vatican Council:

1. “the Roman Pontiff”
2. “in virtue of his office, when as the supreme shepherd and teacher of all the faithful, who confirms his brethren in their faith (cf. Lk 22:32),”
3. “by a definitive act, he proclaims”
4. “a doctrine of faith or morals” (“And this infallibility…in defining doctrine of faith and morals, extends as far as the deposit of revelation extends”)
5. “in accordance with revelation itself, which all are obliged to abide by and be in conformity with”

These are the same 5 criteria in each Council, but with different wording. Notice the difference between what the Councils teach and what Mirus claims. He says “teach”, but the Councils say “defines” or, phrased another way, “by a definitive act, he proclaims”. So mere teaching does not fit this criterion.

Mirus say that the Pope teaches “to the whole Church”, but the Councils again disagree. The Pope must not merely be teaching to the whole Church, but defining a truth which “must be held by the whole Church”. And this phrasing “must be held” is not met by Mirus’ religious submission of mind and will, but only by the full assent of faith. Mirus reduces defining to teaching, and he reduces “must be held” to the mere fact that the whole Church is addressed.

Yes, the matter must be on faith or morals.

Finally, Mirus lists the criterion of teaching “by virtue of the supreme Petrine authority.” This expression has numerous problems. First, it lacks the traditional formula “ex cathedra”. Is ex cathedra the same as teaching “by virtue of the supreme Petrine authority”? Do not all the congregations of the Holy See teach “by virtue of the supreme Petrine authority”? Second, Mirus uses these 4 criteria not only for Papal Infallibility, but also for Conciliar Infallibility and for the ordinary and universal Magisterium (which he ham-handedly lumps together without even naming them). But at an Ecumenical Council and also under the ordinary and universal Magisterium, the Magisterium teaches not only by papal authority but also by the authority of the body of Bishops as the true successors of the Apostles. Third, the expression “by virtue of” the Pope’s authority does not seem to specifically require that the teaching come from the Pope himself. Does not the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith teach by virtue of the Pope’s authority?

The first of the 5 criteria for Papal Infallibility is that the teaching come from the Pope himself, not merely a congregation of the Holy See, even if the Pope approves of a document from a congregation. And if the teaching comes from an Ecumenical Council or from the Pope teaching with the body of Bishops dispersed in the world [ordinary and universal Magisterium], then we would modify this first criteria from “the Pope” to “the body of Bishops in union with the Pope”. For Conciliar Infallibility and the ordinary and universal Magisterium are not solely from papal authority.

Then, in the case of Conciliar Infallibility and the ordinary and universal Magisterium, the second of the five criteria is not merely “ex cathedra”, but the Pope teaching ex cathedra and the Bishops teaching from their respective offices in the Church as successors to the Apostles.

8. So after teaching all of the above errors and distortions on Church authority, Jeff Mirus arrives at his main point: “The issue of whether Islam is a religion of peace or a religion of violence cannot be considered a fit subject for Magisterial teaching unless we fall into the grave error of believing that Islam is Divinely revealed.”

Jeff Mirus has arrogantly decided that the Church lacks the authority to teach on whether Islam is a religion of peace or of violence. Yet Mirus speaks as if he himself does have said authority, and as if the question were an important matter of faith and morals.

Then the reason for this alleged deficit in Magisterial Authority is even more disturbing: because Islam is not divinely revealed. Wow. That would imply that the Magisterium has no authority to teach on any question in Islam, nor in any other religion except Judaism and Christianity. It also suggests that the Magisterium has no authority to teach on scientific, economic, or social questions, unless these fall under Mirus’ disordered definition of Divine Revelation.

Fortunately, for us poor sinners in need of guidance, Popes and Councils have decided to teach on a wider range of questions that Jeff Mirus would allow. How dare they defy him. But ignorance must be bliss, for Mirus has not seemed to notice these teachings:

Pope Saint John Paul II: “Both Christianity and Islam inculcate in us a commitment to persevere in the pursuit of justice and peace for them and for all victims of conflict.”

Pope Benedict XVI: “Christians and Muslims both worship the One God, the Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.”

Pope Benedict XVI: “Jerusalem is the cross-roads of the three great monotheistic religions, and its very name “City of Peace” expresses God’s plan for humanity: to make it one great family.”

Vatican II: “the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator. In the first place amongst these there are the Mohammedans, who, professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God” (LG 16)

Vatican II: “The Church regards with esteem also the Muslims. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all- powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to men; they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even His inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God. Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere Him as a prophet. They also honor Mary, His virgin Mother; at times they even call on her with devotion. In addition, they await the day of judgment when God will render their deserts to all those who have been raised up from the dead. Finally, they value the moral life and worship God especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting.” (NA 3)

Pope John Paul II: “Praise to you, followers of Islam in Azerbaijan, for being open to hospitality, a cherished value of your religion and your people, and for having accepted the believers of other religions as brothers and sisters.

“Praised be God for this testimony of love, borne by the three great religions!” (Address, May 2002)

Pope John Paul II: “I wish to reaffirm the Catholic Church’s respect for Islam, for authentic Islam: the Islam that prays, that is concerned for those in need. Recalling the errors of the past, including the most recent past, all believers ought to unite their efforts to ensure that God is never made the hostage of human ambitions. Hatred, fanaticism and terrorism profane the name of God and disfigure the true image of man.”

The Church can teach on Islam, even though it is not a divinely revealed religion. Authentic Islam is a religion of peace, of love of neighbor, and true worship of God. However, the extremist Muslims have rejected peace and love of neighbor, thereby rejecting God. But we Christians should not speak or act as if all Muslims were violent extremists. Such a claim is contrary to reason and contrary to the teaching of the Church.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

Please take a look at this list of my books and booklets, and see if any topic interests you.

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3 Responses to The False Teachings of Jeff Mirus on Church Authority

  1. Kirk Hansen says:

    Dr. Mirus has been known to take liberties with logic and I am not intending to defend that. However, for you to say that Islam is a religion of peace can only be done by citing post V2 non dogmatic sources. On the other hand, the Fifth Lateran Council said, “For, in the previous seventh session, the council was confronting, among other matters, the threatening and very obvious danger from the infidels and the spilling of Christian blood”

    • Ron Conte says:

      Same issue back then: some violent Muslims and other Muslims sincerely worshiping God. A religion is of peace if its adherents are peaceful and love their neighbor. There is no sense to Christians insisting that the Quran can only be interpreted as they, the Christians, think correct. By the way, the Church has infallibly decided that Mormon baptism is not valid, and that Anglican Orders are not valid. The Church can decide things about other religions.

  2. Kirk Hansen says:

    From the First Lateran Council: “To those who set out for Jerusalem and offer effective help towards the defense of the Christian people and overcoming the tyranny of the infidels, we grant the remission of their sins, and we place their houses and families and all their goods under the protection of blessed Peter and the Roman church, just as has been decreed by our lord pope Urban.”

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