ASSENT TO THE NON-DEFINITIVE MAGISTERIUM - A Brief Look at Key Selections From Magisterial Documents



Compiled by Parker H Zurbuch on December 15, 2023

***The below links are best used in the Google Chrome browser, as they will open to the exact cited paragraph in the particular document. ***

EDIT (12-28-2023): To be extra specific, documents themselves do not hold status as either magisterial or not -- only specific sentences or phrases in documents require assent (see Humani Generis 20 for evidence of this).

Quanta Cura 5 (Pope BI. Pius IX - 1864): Catholics must assent to Magisterial teachings on faith and morals, but also to teachings on other matters, as well.

"Nor can we pass over in silence the audacity of those who, not enduring sound doctrine, contend that “without sin and without any sacrifice of the Catholic profession assent and obedience may be refused to those judgments and decrees of the Apostolic See, whose object is declared to concern the Church’s general good and her rights and discipline, so only it does not touch the dogmata of faith and morals.” But no one can be found not clearly and distinctly to see and understand how grievously this is opposed to the Catholic dogma of the full power given from God by Christ our Lord Himself to the Roman Pontiff of feeding, ruling and guiding the Universal Church."

Quanta Cura - Papal Encyclicals.

Caritatis Studium 6 & 8 (Leo XIII - 1898): The Magisterium interprets Scripture and Tradition, and cannot "be committed to erroneous teaching." The Magisterium is the uniting aspect of the Church.

"It stands to reason, therefore, that a living, perpetual "magisterium" was necessary in theChurch from the beginning, which, by the command of Christ himself, shouldbesides teaching other wholesome doctrines, give an authoritative explanation ofHoly Writ, and which being directed and safeguarded by Christ himself, could by no means commit itself to erroneous teaching. God has provided for these needsmost wisely and effectively through His Only-begotten Son Jesus Christ, Whoplaced the true sense of the Scriptures in safety, when He laid upon HisApostles as His primary and most momentous injunction, not to devote themselvesto writing, nor to spreading the volumes of the Old Testament indiscriminatelyand unguardedly among the multitude, but to teach all nations with the livingvoice, and to lead them by speech to the knowledge and profession of HisHeavenly doctrine: "Going into the whole world preach the Gospel to everycreature." (Mark xvi. 15.) But the supreme teaching authority was committedto one, on whom, as on its foundation, the Church must rest. For Christ when Hegave the keys to Peter, gave him at the same time the power to govern those whowere charged with the "ministry of the word:" "Confirm thyBrethren" (Luke xxii. 32). And since the faithful must learn from the"magisterium" of the Church whatever pertains to the salvation oftheir souls, it follows that they must also learn from it the true meaning ofScripture."

6. Caritatis Studium (July 25, 1898) | LEO XIII.

"8. The truth of what We have just stated is proven by what has actually takenplace since, of all the sects, deprived as they are of the Catholic Faith anddisagreeing among themselves on religious matters, each one claims that its ownteaching and practices are in accord with HolyWrit. There is no gift of God so sacred, that man cannot abuse it to his own detriment; since, according to the stern warning of Blessed Peter, "the unlearned and unstable wrest" the very Scriptures "to their own destruction" (2 Peter iii., 16). Hence Irenaeus, who lived shortly after the Apostolic age, and who is a faithful interpreter of Apostolic doctrine, always taught that a knowledge of the truth could only be had from the living voice of the Church: "Where the Church is, there is the Spirit of God, and where the spirit of God is found, there is the Church and all grace, and the Spirit is truth" - (Adv. Haer. lib. iii.). "Where, therefore, the gifts of God are placed, it is necessary to learn the truth from those who have in the Church the Apostolic Succession"- (Adv. Haer. lib. iv.). And if Catholics, who may differ on all other matters, are found united in marvellous concord in the faith, there can be no doubt that this is chiefly owing to the authority and power of the "magisterium.""

8. Caritatis Studium (July 25, 1898) | LEO XIII

Graves De Communi Re 9 & 22 (Leo XIII, 1901): Obedience to Ecclesiastical Authorities is in keeping with human dignity. There are certainly aspects upon which Catholics may disagree with the Church's pastors, but one must always be disposed to "listen with religious obedience" to the Holy See.

"9. Let there be no question of fostering under this name of Christian Democracy any intention of diminishing the spirit of obedience, or of withdrawing people from their lawful rulers. Both the natural and the Christian law command us to revere those who in their various grades are shown above us in the State, and to submit ourselves to their just commands. It is quite in keeping with our dignity as men and Christians to obey, not only exteriorly, but from the heart, as the Apostle expresses it, "for conscience' sake," when he commands us to keep our soul subject to the higher powers.(3) It is abhorrent to the profession of Christianity that any one should feel unwilling to be subject and obedient to those who rule in the Church, and first of all to the bishops whom (without prejudice to the universal power of the Roman Pontiff) "the Holy Spirit has placed to rule the Church of God which Christ has purchased by His Blood."(4) He who thinks or acts otherwise is guilty of ignoring the grave precept of the Apostle who bids us to obey our rulers and to be subject to them, for they watch as having to give an account of our souls.(5) Let the faithful everywhere implant these principles deep in their souls, and put them in practice in their daily life, and let the ministers of the Gospel meditate them profoundly, and incessantly labor, not merely by exhortation but especially by example, to teach them to others."

Graves de Communi Re (January 18, 1901) | LEO XIII.

Praestantia Scripturae - Paragraph 4 (Pope Pius X - 1907) 

All are bound in conscience to submit to the decisions of the Roman Congregations approved by the Pope. To disobey such decisions by speech or writing is grave matter.

"Wherefore we find it necessary to declare and to expressly prescribe, and by this our act we do declare and decree that all are bound in conscience to submit to the decisions of the Biblical Commission relating to doctrine, which have been given in the past and which shall be given in the future, in the same way as to the decrees of the Roman congregations approved by the Pontiff; nor can all those escape the note of disobedience or temerity, and consequently of grave sin, who in speech or writing contradict such decisions, and this besides the scandal they give and the other reasons for which they may be responsible before God for other temerities and errors which generally go with such contradictions."

Humani Generis 20 (Pius XII - 1950): Official Papal documents, even Encyclicals are a part of the Pope's authentic Magisterium.

"It is true that Popes generally leave theologians free in those matters which are disputed in various ways by men of very high authority in this field; but history teaches that many matters that formerly were open to discussion, no longer now admit of discussion.

20. Nor must it be thought that what is expounded in Encyclical Letters does not of itself demand consent, since in writing such Letters the Popes do not exercise the supreme power of their Teaching Authority. For these matters are taught with the ordinary teaching authority, of which it is true to say: "He who heareth you, heareth me";[3] and generally what is expounded and inculcated in Encyclical Letters already for other reasons appertains to Catholic doctrine. But if the Supreme Pontiffs in their official documents purposely pass judgment on a matter up to that time under dispute, it is obvious that that matter, according to the mind and will of the Pontiffs, cannot be any longer considered a question open to discussion among theologians."

Humani Generis (August 12, 1950) | PIUS XII.

Si Diligis (Paragraph 10)[Pope Pius XII - 1954]: Definitive matters of faith and morals cannot be changed ("Let nothing new be introduced, but only what has been handed down") -- however, many other matters are subject to change ("Not new things but in a new way").

"Not without serious reason, Venerable Brothers, have We wished to recall these things in your presence. For unfortunately it has happened that certain teachers care little for conformity with the living Teaching Authority of the Church, pay little heed to her commonly received doctrine clearly proposed in various ways; and at the same time they follow their own bent too much, and regard too highly the intellectual temper of more recent writers, and the standards of other branches of learning, which they declare and hold to be the only ones which conform to sound ideas and standards of scholarship. Of course the Church is very keen for and fosters the study of human branches of learning and their progress; she honors with special favor and regard learned men who spend their lives in the cultivation of learning. However matters of religion and morals, because they completely transcend truths of the senses and the plane of the material, pertain solely to the office and authority of the Church. In Our encyclical letter, Humani generis, We described the attitude of mind, the spirit, of those whom We have referred to above; We also recalled to mind that some of the aberrations from the truth which We repudiated in that Encyclical had their direct origin in a neglect of conformity with the living Teaching Authority of the Church. Time and again St. Pius X, in writings whose importance is known to all of you, urgently stressed the need for this union with the mind and teaching of the Church. His successor in the Supreme Pontificate, Benedict XV, did the same; in his first Encyclical (Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum Principis, Nov. 1, 1914), after solemnly repeating Pius’ condemnation of Modernism, he thus describes the attitude of mind of followers of that doctrine: “He who is influenced by its principles disdainfully spurns whatever appears old, and eagerly pursues the new: in his manner of speaking of divine things, in performance of divine worship, in Catholic usages, even in private devotions” (AAS VI [1914], 578). And if there are any present-day teachers making every effort to produce and develop new ideas, but not to repeat “that which has been handed down,” and if this is their whole aim, they should reflect calmly on those words which Benedict XV, in the Encyclical just referred to, proposes for their consideration: “We wish this maxim of our elders held in reverence: Nihil innovetur nisi quod traditum est (Let nothing new be introduced but only what has been handed down); it must be held as an inviolable law in matters of faith, and should also control those points which allow of change, though in these latter for the most part the rule holds: Non nova sed noviter (Not new things but in a new way).”"

Si Diligis - Canonisation Of St Pius X - Papal Encyclicals

Lumen Gentium 25 (Vatican II - 1964): Catholics owe assent of intellect and will to even non-definitive teachings of the Pope's magisterium.

"25. Among the principal duties of bishops the preaching of the Gospel occupies an eminent place.(39*) For bishops are preachers of the faith, who lead new disciples to Christ, and they are authentic teachers, that is, teachers endowed with the authority of Christ, who preach to the people committed to them the faith they must believe and put into practice, and by the light of the Holy Spirit illustrate that faith. They bring forth from the treasury of Revelation new things and old,(164) making it bear fruit and vigilantly warding off any errors that threaten their flock.(165) Bishops, teaching in communion with the Roman Pontiff, are to be respected by all as witnesses to divine and Catholic truth. In matters of faith and morals, the bishops speak in the name of Christ and the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent. This religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra; that is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will. His mind and will in the matter may be known either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking.

Although the individual bishops do not enjoy the prerogative of infallibility, they nevertheless proclaim Christ's doctrine infallibly whenever, even though dispersed through the world, but still maintaining the bond of communion among themselves and with the successor of Peter, and authentically teaching matters of faith and morals, they are in agreement on one position as definitively to be held.(40*) This is even more clearly verified when, gathered together in an ecumenical council, they are teachers and judges of faith and morals for the universal Church, whose definitions must be adhered to with the submission of faith.(41*)

And this infallibility with which the Divine Redeemer willed His Church to be endowed in defining doctrine of faith and morals, extends as far as the deposit of Revelation extends, which must be religiously guarded and faithfully expounded."

Lumen gentium.

Address During The Last General Meeting Of Vatican II (Pope Paul VI - 1965)

The Magisterium does not always teach definitively, but also teaches non-definitively. Assent is owed to both definitive and non-definitive teachings.

"But one thing must be noted here, namely, that the teaching authority of the Church, even though not wishing to issue extraordinary dogmatic pronouncements, has made thoroughly known its authoritative teaching on a number of questions which today weigh upon man’s conscience and activity, descending, so to speak, into a dialogue with him, but ever preserving its own authority and force; it has spoken with the accommodating friendly voice of pastoral charity; its desire has been to be heard and understood by everyone; it has not merely concentrated on intellectual understanding but has also sought to express itself in simple, up-to-date, conversational style, derived from actual experience and a cordial approach which make it more vital, attractive and persuasive; it has spoken to modern man as he is."

Address During The Last General Meeting Of Vatican II - Papal Encyclicals

.Evangelii Nuntiandi 64-65 (Paul VI - 1975): The more an individual Church is in communion, in charity and loyalty, in receptiveness to the Magisterium of Peter, in the unity of the lex orandi which is also the lex credendi, in the desire for unity with all the other Churches, the more said Church will be able to live an authentic theology, liturgy, and spirituality; the more it will be able to evangelize. The Church insists upon "the role of Peter’s Successor as a visible, living and dynamic principle of the unity between the Churches and thus of the universality of the one Church." The bishops are tasked with preserving the unaltered faith. Each Church is to be authentic to its own in culture and theological expression, but must always be faithful to the Magisterium as the Church has received and transmits the faith thereby.

"As history in fact shows, whenever an individual Church has cut itself off from the universal Church and from its living and visible center- sometimes with the best of intentions, with theological, sociological, political or pastoral arguments, or even in the desire for a certain freedom of movement or action- it has escaped only with great difficulty (if indeed it has escaped) from two equally serious dangers. The first danger is that of a withering isolationism, and then, before long, of a crumbling away, with each of its cells breaking away from it just as it itself has broken away from the central nucleus. The second danger is that of losing its freedom when, being cut off from the center and from the other Churches which gave it strength and energy, it finds itself all alone and a prey to the most varied forces of slavery and exploitation.

The more an individual Church is attached to the universal Church by solid bonds of communion, in charity and loyalty, in receptiveness to the Magisterium of Peter, in the unity of the lex orandi which is also the lex credendi, in the desire for unity with all the other Churches which make up the whole- the more such a Church will be capable of translating the treasure of faith into the legitimate variety of expressions of the profession of faith, of prayer and worship, of Christian life and conduct and of the spiritual influence on the people among which it dwells. The more will it also be truly evangelizing, that is to say, capable of drawing upon the universal patrimony in order to enable its own people to profit from it, and capable too of communicating to the universal Church the experience and the life of this people, for the benefit of all."

64. Evangelii Nuntiandi (December 8, 1975) | Paul VI.

"65. It was precisely in this sense that at the end of the last Synod we spoke clear words full of paternal affection, insisting on the role of Peter's Successor as a visible, living and dynamic principle of the unity between the Churches and thus of the universality of the one Church.[93] We also insisted on the grave responsibility incumbent upon us, but which we share with our Brothers in the Episcopate, of preserving unaltered the content of the Catholic faith which the Lord entrusted to the apostles. While being translated into all expressions, this content must be neither impaired nor mutilated. While being clothed with the outward forms proper to each people, and made explicit by theological expression which takes account of differing cultural, social and even racial milieu, it must remain the content of the Catholic faith just exactly as the ecclesial magisterium has received it and transmits it."

65. Evangelii Nuntiandi (December 8, 1975) | Paul VI.

Professio Fidei [(Concluding 3 Paragraphs) John Paul II - 1998]: Describes the 3 types of assent due to the 3 types of Magisterial teachings.

"With firm faith, I also believe everything contained in the word of God, whether written or handed down in Tradition, which the Church, either by a solemn judgment or by the ordinary and universal Magisterium, sets forth to be believed as divinely revealed.

I also firmly accept and hold each and everything definitively proposed by the Church regarding teaching on faith and morals.

Moreover, I adhere with religious submission of will and intellect to the teachings which either the Roman Pontiff or the College of Bishops enunciate when they exercise their authentic Magisterium, even if they do not intend to proclaim these teachings by a definitive act."

PROFESSION OF FAITH- Concluding 3 Paragraphs

The first paragraph states: “With firm faith, I also believe everything contained in the word of God, whether written or handed down in Tradition, which the Church either by a solemn judgment or by the ordinary and universal Magisterium sets forth to be believed as divinely revealed.”(4) This paragraph appropriately confirms and is provided for in the Church’s universal legislation, in canon 750 of the Code of Canon Law(5) and canon 598 of the Code of the Canons of the Eastern Churches.(6)

The third paragraph states: “Moreover I adhere with submission of will and intellect to the teachings which either the Roman Pontiff or the College of Bishops enunciate when they exercise their authentic Magisterium, even if they do not intend to proclaim these teachings by a definitive act.”(7) This paragraph has its corresponding legislative expression in canon 752 of the Code of Canon Law(8) and canon 599 of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches.(9)

3. The second paragraph, however, which states “I also firmly accept and hold each and everything definitively proposed by the Church regarding teaching on faith and morals,”(10) has no corresponding canon in the Codes of the Catholic Church. This second paragraph of the Profession of faith is of utmost importance since it refers to truths that are necessarily connected to divine revelation. These truths, in the investigation of Catholic doctrine, illustrate the Divine Spirit’s particular inspiration for the Church’s deeper understanding of a truth concerning faith and morals, with which they are connected either for historical reasons or by a logical relationship."

AD TUENDAM FIDEM - JPII's Commentary on the Concluding 3 Paragraphs

Donum Veritatis 18, 24 & 39 (CDF, Ratzinger & P. John Paul II - 1990): Catholics owe assent to CDF documents approved by the Pope in the same way that they owe assent to documents described under Lumen Gentium 25 (with one minor exception given in Domum Veritatis 31). DV 24 also discusses how the magisterium cannot be habitually in error, even on prudential issues.

"18. The Roman Pontiff fulfills his universal mission with the help of the various bodies of the Roman Curia and in particular with that of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in matters of doctrine and morals. Consequently, the documents issued by this Congregation expressly approved by the Pope participate in the ordinary magisterium of the successor of Peter.(18)"

18. Instruction | Donum Veritatis | On the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian

"24. Finally, in order to serve the People of God as well as possible, in particular, by warning them of dangerous opinions which could lead to error, the Magisterium can intervene in questions under discussion which involve, in addition to solid principles, certain contingent and conjectural elements. It often only becomes possible with the passage of time to distinguish between what is necessary and what is contingent.

The willingness to submit loyally to the teaching of the Magisterium on matters per se not irreformable must be the rule. It can happen, however, that a theologian may, according to the case, raise questions regarding the timeliness, the form, or even the contents of magisterial interventions. Here the theologian will need, first of all, to assess accurately the authoritativeness of the interventions which becomes clear from the nature of the documents, the insistence with which a teaching is repeated, and the very way in which it is expressed.(24)"

When it comes to the question of interventions in the prudential order, it could happen that some Magisterial documents might not be free from all deficiencies. Bishops and their advisors have not always taken into immediate consideration every aspect or the entire complexity of a question. But it would be contrary to the truth, if, proceeding from some particular cases, one were to conclude that the Church's Magisterium can be habitually mistaken in its prudential judgments, or that it does not enjoy divine assistance in the integral exercise of its mission. In fact, the theologian, who cannot pursue his discipline well without a certain competence in history, is aware of the filtering which occurs with the passage of time. This is not to be understood in the sense of a relativization of the tenets of the faith. The theologian knows that some judgments of the Magisterium could be justified at the time in which they were made, because while the pronouncements contained true assertions and others which were not sure, both types were inextricably connected. Only time has permitted discernment and, after deeper study, the attainment of true doctrinal progress.

24. (A) Instruction | Donum Veritatis | On the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian

24. (B) Instruction | Donum Veritatis | On the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian.

"31. It can also happen that at the conclusion of a serious study, undertaken with the desire to heed the Magisterium's teaching without hesitation, the theologian's difficulty remains because the arguments to the contrary seem more persuasive to him. Faced with a proposition to which he feels he cannot give his intellectual assent, the theologian nevertheless has the duty to remain open to a deeper examination of the question.

For a loyal spirit, animated by love for the Church, such a situation can certainly prove a difficult trial. It can be a call to suffer for the truth, in silence and prayer, but with the certainty, that if the truth really is at stake, it will ultimately prevail."

31. Instruction | Donum Veritatis | On the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian.

"39. The Church, which has her origin in the unity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, (39) is a mystery of communion. In accordance with the will of her founder, she is organized around a hierarchy established for the service of the Gospel and the People of God who live by it. After the pattern of the members of the first community, all the baptized with their own proper charisms are to strive with sincere hearts for a harmonious unity in doctrine, life, and worship (cf. Acts 2:42). This is a rule which flows from the very being of the Church. For this reason, standards of conduct, appropriate to civil society or the workings of a democracy, cannot be purely and simply applied to the Church. Even less can relationships within the Church be inspired by the mentality of the world around it (ct. Rom 12:2). Polling public opinion to determine the proper thing to think or do, opposing the Magisterium by exerting the pressure of public opinion, making the excuse of a "consensus" among theologians, maintaining that the theologian is the prophetical spokesman of a "base" or autonomous community which would be the source of all truth, all this indicates a grave loss of the sense of truth and of the sense of the Church."

39. Instruction | Donum Veritatis | On the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian


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