Interpreting the heritage of faith

Cathal Barry reflects what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says about the interpretation of God’s Word

The apostles entrusted the ëSacred deposití of the Faith (the depositum fidei), contained in Sacred Scripture and Tradition, to the whole of the Church.

By adhering to this heritage, the Church holds that the entire holy people, united to its pastors, remains always faithful to the teaching of the apostles, to the brotherhood, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Therefore, in maintaining, practising and professing the Faith that has been handed on, there should be a ìremarkable harmonyî between the bishops and the faithful.


According to the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum, ìthe task of authentically interpreting the word of God, whether written or handed on, has been entrusted exclusively to the living teaching office of the Church, whose authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christî.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church makes it clear that this means that the task of interpretation has been ìentrusted to the bishops in communion with the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Romeî.

However, Dei Verbum notes that this teaching office is not above the word of God, but serves it, ìteaching only what has been handed on, listening to it devoutly, guarding it scrupulously and explaining it faithfully in accord with a divine commission and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it draws from this one deposit of faith everything which it presents for belief as divinely revealedî.


Mindful of Christís words to his apostles: ìHe who hears you, hears meî (Luke 10:16), the Catechism states that the faithful ìreceive with docility the teachings and directives that their pastors give them in different formsî.

The Churchís Magisterium, according to the Catechism, exercises the authority it holds from Christ to the fullest extent when it defines dogmas, that is, ìwhen it proposes truths contained in divine Revelation or also when it proposes in a definitive way truths having a necessary connection with themî.

ìThere is an organic connection between our spiritual life and the dogmas. Dogmas are lights along the path of faith; they illuminate it and make it secure. Conversely, if our life is upright, our intellect and heart will be open to welcome the light shed by the dogmas of faith,î it says.

The Catechism also recognises the mutual connections between dogmas, and their coherence, ìcan be found in the whole of the Revelation of the mystery of Christî.