Date of Award


Document Type

Dissertation - Restricted

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Paul Misner

Second Advisor

Robert Masson

Third Advisor

David O. Moberg

Fourth Advisor

Daniel C. Maguire


This project attempts to analyze, critique and develop George Tyrrell's theological perspectives on authority in the Church. In the context of a long turbulent history, the Roman Catholic Church had appropriated to itself a socio-political self-understanding, as a societas perfecta in which some command and the rest obey. Christ was alleged to have established a power of ruling which he handed over to his succesors. Authority amounted to the rule of the clerical elite over the Christian society. Tyrrell repudiated the classicist position as being a "regal" notion of authority, and instead proposed what he called a "spiritual" notion. In other words, the theory of authority has to be drawn not out of the political reality of dominium or power of subjection, but from the reality of God's self-giving in Spirit and grace to all the faithful. The theological question one faces and Tyrrell faced was: What is the foundational reality from where we are supposed to draw a theoretical articulation of the authority in the Church? If we hold that authority in the Church is unique and sui generis, then the theological articulation of authority cannot be derived simply from the prevailing socio-political realities or be dependent upon socio-political theories. It ought rather to be drawn from the reality of the mystery of divine economy of grace, sacramentally operative in history and embodied in the Church. Tyrrell began his articulation of authority from a right perspective, but his shortcoming lies in failing to develop that perspective, and above all in trying to identify it with the political ideals of democracy. Furthermore, the classicist position defended a complete identification of God's will with the institutional form of authority. The absolute standard of the divine authority was identified with and invested in the human standard of the ecclesiastical authorities. This study, by making use of the insights provided by the social sciences, further attempts to explore another dimension of absolutism, that of sacralization. The latter compromises God's transcendence and ultimacy; by raising a finite reality to the order of the absolute, it upholds idolatry.



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