The doctrinal mission of the Successor of Peter
According to the Gospel texts, the universal pastoral mission of the Roman Pontiff, the Successor of Peter, involves a doctrinal mission. As the universal pastor, the Pope has a mission to announce revealed doctrine and to promote true faith in Christ throughout the Church. This is the integral meaning of the Petrine ministry.
The importance of the doctrinal mission entrusted to Peter - still according to Gospel sources - is due to the fact that he shares in the pastoral mission of Christ. Peter is the leader of those Apostles to whom Jesus said: 'As the Father sent me, so I am sendingyou' (John 20:21; cf. 17:18). As the universal pastor, Peter has to act on Christ's behalf and in tune with him throughout the vast human area in which Jesus wishes his Gospel to be preached and the saving truth to be carried - that is, the whole world. In the mission of universal pastor, the Successor of Peter is thus the heir to a doctrinal munus, in which he is intimately associated with Peter in Jesus' mission.
This detracts in no way from the pastoral mission of the Bishops who, according to the Second Vatican Council, have among their principal duties that of preaching the Gospel: for they 'are heralds of the faith ... who preach the faith to the people assigned to them, the faith which is destined to inform their thinking and direct their conduct' (Lumen gentium 25).
The Bishop of Rome, however, as the head of the episcopal college by Christ's will, is the first herald of the Faith, to whom falls the task of teaching revealed truth and of showing how it is to be applied in human behaviour. His is the primal responsibility for spreading the Faith in the world.
The Successor of Peter has carried out this doctrinal mission by issuing a continual series of oral and written interventions, which constitute the ordinary exercise of the Magisterium as the teaching of the truth to be believed and to be translated into practice (fidem et mores). The acts which express this Magisterium may be more or less frequent and may take differing forms, depending on the needs of the day, the requirements of particular situations, the possibilities and means available, and the methodologies and techniques of communication; but, given that they derive from an explicit or implicit intention to pronounce on matters of faith and morals, they are connected to the mandate received by Peter and invested with the authority conferred on him by Christ.
To discharge this task, the Successor of Peter, in personal form but with institutional authority, expresses the 'rule of the Faith', which all members of the Universal Church ought to keep - the faithful at large, catechists, teachers of religion, theologians - in seeking the meaning of the permanent contents of the Christian faith, or in relation to discussions that arise within and without the ecelesial community on various points or on the whole corpus of doctrine.
True, everyone in the Church, and theologians especially, is called to carry out this task of constant clarification and explanation. But the mission of Peter and his successors is to establish and confirm what the Church has received and believed from the beginning, what the Apostles have taught, and what Holy Scripture and Christian tradition have fixed as the matter of faith and as the Christian norm of life. Furthermore, the other pastors of the Church, the
Bishops who are the successors of the Apostles, are 'strengthened' by the Successor of Peter in their fellowship of faith with Christ and in the proper fulfilment of their mission. Thus the magisterium of the Bishop of Rome marks a line of charity and unity for all, which especially in times of maximum communication and discussion - such as our own - is absolutely necessary.
The Roman Pontiff has the mission of protecting Christians from errors in the field of faith and morals, and the duty of guarding the deposit of faith (Cf. 2 Timothy 4:7). Woe to him if he were to fear being criticized or misunderstood. He is charged with hearing witness to Christ, to his word, to his law, to his love. To awareness of his own responsibility in the doctrinal and moral sphere, the Roman Pontiff must add the commitment of being, like Jesus, 'meek andhumble of heart'.
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