What is an ICSA? And what is its authority?

An ICSA is an Independent Catholic Scholars’ Assessment. It is an assessment of the academic evidence affecting a specific issue. The assessment is made by Catholics professionally qualified to judge the topic. The assessment is based on the evidence itself, independent from the official view proclaimed by church authorities.

Here we will discuss:

  1. The ‘Authority’ of ICSAs
  2. Precursors to our ICSAs

1. The ‘Authority’ of ICSAs

According to Catholic belief, the judgement by theologians carries weight. Scholars exercise the ‘charism’ of both teaching and, occasionally, prophecy (1 Corinthians 12,4-11). This charism of theologians is another source of ‘authority’ in the Church – next to the authority of popes and bishops.

aquinasIn our own days the word ‘Magisterium’ is usually reserved to the teaching authority of the Pope and Ecumenical Councils. It was different in the Middle Ages. The 13th-century Thomas Aquinas recognised the ‘academic magisterium’ of university professors next to the ‘pastoral magisterium’ of bishops (Quodlibet 3.4.1 ad 3 [Parma ed., 9:490-491]. He distinguishes ‘the office of being in charge (the bishop’s)’ from the ‘office of teaching such as professors in colleges exercise’ Contra Impugnantes (Pars 2, cap 2 co. [Parma ed., 15:3-8]). Medieval scholars were voting participants of Ecumenical Councils – see Avery Dulles, “The Magisterium in History” & “The Two Magisteria” in A Church to Believe in (Crossroad, New York 1983, pp. 103-133). Theologians played a crucial role at Vatican II. That role continues.

We accept the teaching authority of the pope and the bishops. It should play an important role. But we believe that the specific teaching charism and prophetic mission of scholars are not sufficiently recognised in the Catholic Church of our own time. Especially during periods of enormous change, as the Church is undergoing in our own days, the contribution of Catholic scholarship should be clearly heard.

In recent years the Pope and other authorities in the Catholic Church have tried to impose their own views on the academic world. Catholic institutions are made to enforce ‘doctrine’ emanating from the Vatican. Numerous theologians who express opposing academic views have been dismissed from their teaching posts or silenced in other ways. We know that there are official committees of experts set up by Vatican offices to give advice on issues affecting the life of the Church. However, these bodies have lost their credibility because members of these committees are hand-picked for their known agreement to the official party line. They do not really guide Church authorities as they should. That is why we believe there is a need of truly independent assessments representative of international scholarship.

Karl Rahner expounds the wider implications of charismatic authority in his writings. Here we quote a few extracts from his work:

rahner“There are persons in the Church endowed with the charismatic gifts of the Spirit outside the sacred ministry. They are not merely recipients of orders from the hierarchy; they may be the persons through whom Christ ‘directly’ guides his Church. Obviously office is not thereby abolished. The Lord, of course, guides and rules his Church through the medium of the sacred ministry . . . But if Christ also directly operates in his Church apart from the hierarchy, if he rules and guides the Church through charismata that are not linked to office and in this sense are extraordinary, and if, nevertheless, there is a valid and irrevocable official ministry in the Church, then harmony between the two ‘structures’ of the Church, the institutional and the charismatic, can only be guaranteed by the one Lord of both, and by him alone, that is to say, charismatically.”

If the structure of the Church is of this double kind and if her harmonious unity is ultimately guaranteed only by the one Lord, then office-holders and institutional bodies must constantly remind themselves that it is not they alone who rule in the Church . . . It is important for office-holders and their subjects, too, to keep it clearly before their minds. Both must realize that in the Church which has this charismatic element, subordinates are quite definitely not simply people who have to carry out orders from above. They have other commands as well to carry out, those of the Lord himself who also guides his Church directly and does not always in the first place convey his commands and promptings to ordinary Christians through the ecclesiastical authorities, but has entirely reserved for himself the right do this directly in a great variety of ways that have little to do with keeping to the standard procedure and the ‘usual channels.”

Seeing that there is a divinely-willed dualism of charisma and office of a permanent kind in the Church, then, the “monarchical” Church, with its authority deriving from above downwards, has, nevertheless, also something of the nature of a democracy—the opposite of a totalitarian system . . . It is clear that even in the Church, something can originate from among the people. Not from the people of this earth merely, but from the people of God in the Church, the people of God that is guided directly by God.”

If by her very nature there is necessarily a multiplicity of impulsions in the Church, then a legitimate opposition of forces is not only, in fact, unavoidable, but is to be expected and must be accepted by all as something that should exist. It is not just to be regarded as a necessary ‘evil’. Only impulses that in the human sphere flow from a single source cannot be felt to be “dialectical”, opposed. A number of forces like this within the Church here on earth must be felt by human beings themselves as disparate and opposed, precisely because they are unified by God alone. God alone can fully perceive the meaning.”

Karl Rahner, The Dynamic Element in the Church (Herder & Herder, New York 1964, pp. 42-83).