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Priests Belong to the Learning Church

There is a common mistake being made today by lay people: It is to consider that the priests belong to the Teaching Church – Ecclesia Docens. They do not. They belong to the Learning Church – Ecclesia Discens – and are part of the faithful. Ecclesia Docens is constituted only by the Pope and Bishops. The other members of the Catholic Church constitute the faithful.

This is clearly explained in the Dictionary of Dogmatic Theology by Card. Pietro Parente, Msgr. Antonio Piolanti and Msgr. Salvatore Garofalo.


Parente, Piolanti & Garofalo


"Ecclesia discens" (Learning Church) (Latin discere = to learn) – That part of the members of the Church which consists of subjects. The Church is a society of unequals, in which by divine right some are superiors (the Pope and the Bishops) and have the authority of teaching, while the others are subjects (all the other faithful) and have the obligation of accepting the teaching of Faith and Morals imparted by the legitimate pastors. Hence the theological distinction of Ecclesia docens (teaching Church – Pope and Bishops) and Ecclesia discens (learning Church – the other faithful).

Even the priests, while they indeed have care of the souls, like parish priests, belong to the Ecclesia discens, although the Bishops ordinarily use their priests in the service of teaching the divine word; the Bishops are teachers by virtue of their function, while the priests are such only by participation and delegation.

Moreover, the Bishops, united with the Pope in their teaching, enjoy active infallibility (infallibility in teaching). The faithful, insofar as they are recipients of this teaching and assimilate the doctrine without error, enjoy a sort of reflex infallibility, called by the theologians passive infallibility (infallibility in believing).

Dictionary of Dogmatic Theology,
Pietro Parente, Antonio Piolanti, Salvatore Garofalo,
Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Co., 1951, entry Ecclesia discens, p. 83.

Posted January 19, 2019


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