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Liturgical Press

By What Authority? Revised and Expanded Edition

Foundations for Understanding Authority in the Church

Richard R. Gaillardetz

By What Authority? Revised and Expanded Edition SEE INSIDE
By What Authority? Revised and Expanded Edition

ISBN: 9780814687888, 8788

Details: 264 pgs, 6 x 9
Publication Date: 01/25/2018
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Few topics are as important, or as controversial, as the proper role and exercise of authority in the Roman Catholic Church. Inspired by Pope Francis's bold rereading and determined implementation of the teaching of Vatican II, Richard Gaillardetz has completely revised and expanded his book By What Authority? It offers a helpful introduction to the nature and forms of church authority and their relationship to authentic Christian belief and discipleship. Gaillardetz offers theologically clear and pastorally insightful considerations of:

  • the character of divine revelation, the authority of Scripture and tradition
  • the role of the pope and bishops in preserving the Christian faith
  • the levels of church teaching authority, the central faith witness of all the baptized
  • the possibility of disagreements with church teaching, and the proper relationship between theologians, the magisterium, and the whole people of God
  • the authority of the believing community and the controversial questions that arise when there are conflicting interpretations of church teaching.


Richard R. Gaillardetz (1958-2023), held the Joseph Chair of Catholic Systematic Theology at Boston College. He published numerous articles and authored or edited twelve books, including An Unfinished Council: Vatican II, Pope Francis, and the Renewal of Catholicism and Keys to the Council: Unlocking the Teaching of Vatican II (co-authored with Catherine Clifford), both published by Liturgical Press. He was a contributor to Give Us This Day. Gaillardetz was a delegate on the US Catholic-Methodist Ecumenical Dialogue and served as president of the Catholic Theological Society of America between 2013 and 2014.

ISBN: 9780814687888, 8788

Details: 264 pgs, 6 x 9
Publication Date: 01/25/2018


"The writing style is clear and enjoyable. Any reader who wishes to understand what Catholics believe about Scripture, about teachings of the magisterium, and the forms of authority in the church will find this book to be clear, informative, and enjoyable."
Reading Religion

"I will certainly recommend the text for my graduate and undergraduate students of fundamental theology and ecclesiology."
Theological Studies

"The lucid style makes this book a highly valuable resource not only for theology courses but also for journalists who wish to inform themselves about the Catholic Church, and even for trained theologians who have not had sufficient exposure to fundamental theology or ecclesiology."

"A sensitive yet bold and enlightening look at the proper role of authority in the Church. Offers a theologically clear consideration of the proper relationships among theologians, the magisterium, and the people of God."
Catholic Press Association

"Like its predecessor, this volume does an admirable job of presenting a basic understanding of the pillars of doctrinal authority in Roman Catholicism and, very importantly, the relationships among them."

"Gaillardetz’s updated text would seem to lend itself to wide application. The text contains a wealth of helpful foundational content in fundamental theology and ecclesiology, but intertwined throughout are points of contention and disputable guiding narratives that serve more as kindle for theological debate. The author clearly recognizes the value of such debate as evidenced by his inclusion of disputed questions at the conclusion of each chapter."
Newman Studies Journal

"Richard Gaillardetz offers a reliable, balanced, and systematic guide to understanding key questions of authority in the Catholic Church. Historically-grounded and pastorally-oriented, By What Authority? demonstrates how the church has often sifted through competing and conflicting interpretations in order to arrive closer to a vision of church ministry and teaching that allows the gospel message to flourish around the world in diverse circumstances.

"Of special merit is the Disputed Questions feature that challenges us to wrestle with matters not yet firmly settled. These Disputed Questions invite readers and classroom students into the creative process of discernment, learning, and teaching that must involve all members of the church at every level and in every place."

Christopher M. Bellitto, PhD, Professor of History, Kean University

"Richard Gaillardetz is the premiere authority on the multiple voices of ecclesial authority. He writes with clarity and grace. His new book with three additional chapters is an expanded version of one published 15 years ago, updated in light of Pope Francis's efforts to reclaim Vatican II's vision. It will be a basic text on authority for graduate students, seminarians, and pastoral ministers."
Thomas P. Rausch, SJ, T. Marie Chilton Professor of Catholic Theology, Loyola Marymount University

"Richard R. Gaillardetz's By What Authority? is a sound guide and a comprehensive introduction to the complex and often misunderstood world of Catholic belief and teaching. Beginning from a clearheaded discussion of the dynamics of power and authority, it moves from a consideration of Vatican II's personalist, Trinitarian understanding of revelation, to the canonicity, inspiration, and normative role of Scripture; the meaning of tradition; the understanding of `magisterium;' and the various forms for the exercise of the pastoral teaching office by bishops and popes. The strength of his presentation is its description of the interdependence and constant interaction of the pastoral teaching office with the `sense' of all the baptized faithful, including the community of theologians, as the whole church, guided by the Spirit, seeks to discern the meaning and the demands of the gospel. Particularly helpful is the sensible discussion of disagreement in the lif e of the Church. An excellent resource, this book should be required reading for anyone seeking to understand Catholic tradition and ecclesial life."
Catherine E. Clifford, Saint Paul University

"This new and expanded edition of Richard R. Gaillardetz's invaluable primer By What Authority? displays his characteristic thoroughness and nuanced approach to questions of the interpretation of dogma and doctrine. In particular, Gaillardetz's inclusion of disputed questions in each chapter retrieves ancient Christian methodologies that model constructive dialogue for our increasingly polarized world. Ecclesiologists, historians, and theologians in general will all benefit (as will their students) from this magisterial work."
Natalia Imperatori-Lee, Manhattan College

"It is hard to imagine that Gaillardetz could improve on his original masterpiece but he has done just that in this revised and expanded edition of his compelling work. Looking through the lens of scripture, the magisterium, and the sense of the faithful, Gaillardetz offers valuable insight into the many ways that God, `the only ultimate spiritual authority in our lives' chooses to manifest that authority through the sacred and yet quite human instrumentality of the Church. This new edition gives the reader a deeper appreciation for the Church which is at once the recipient and mediator of divine authority."
Most Reverend John C. Wester Archbishop of the Archdiocese Santa Fe

"As in the original edition, Professor Gaillardetz provides a powerful antidote to a Catholic version of dogmatic fundamentalism by addressing the origin, development, and context of the church's formulation of its beliefs and the authority by which it teaches them. After an exploration of the nature of authority itself, he carefully distinguishes the basic gradations of authoritative teaching in the church and the important dynamic of the articulation and reception of that teaching. Inspired by Pope Francis' approach to the exercise and structure of authority in the church, the revised version freshly looks at the role of the sensus fidei in a more deliberately synodal church that depends on discernment and dialogue to articulate the faith in the present context."
Bishop John Stowe, OFM Conv., Diocese of Lexington, Kentucky