In that same encyclical, Pope Leo XIII teaches that the dictum of Trent and Vatican I concerning the unanimous consent of the Fathers pertains to matters of faith and morals (section 14). If the Holy Spirit did not even put details of the physical universe into sacred Scripture, then those details certainly cannot be a matter of faith and morals. And therefore, even if the the Fathers were unanimous on a matter of natural philosophy, it would not bind as Catholic doctrine. Their testimony is binding on matters of faith and morals.
I am not just manufacturing this distinction.
Fr. William A. Most, theology professor at the Notre Dame Apostolic Catechetical Institute in Alexandria, Virginia, draws attention to two separate items. First of all, he claims, there are at least three conditions that need to be filled before one can claim something in the Patristic writings is authoritative. First, the Fathers must be nearly unanimous on the subject in question at least one time in history. Second, they must admit to be relating something they themselves have received from the beginning; that is, from Christ and the Apostles. Finally, the Church must check the proposed finding against the entire deposit of faith, of which she is the custodian and judge (cf. 1 Tim. 3:15, 6:20; 2 Tim. 1:14) (http://www.ewtn.com/library/answers/extreccl.htm).
And here is Fr. Ludwig Ott, focusing more specifically on matters of natural philosophy:
The data [in sacred Scripture] inspired per accidens is also the Word of God, and consequently without error. However, as the hagiographers in profane things make use of a popular, that is, a non-scientific form of exposition suitable to the mental perception of their times, a more liberal interpretation is possible here. The Church gives no positive decisions in regard to purely scientific questions, but limits itself to rejecting errors which endanger the faith. Further, in these scientific matters there is no value in a consensus of the Fathers since they are not here acting as witnesses of the Faith, but merely as private scientists. (Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, p. 92.)
Even Sungenis seems to understand this principle and indeed pushes it even further (at least when it comes to dismissing doctrines about The Jews
that he doesn’t like):
It is the divine origin of a particular doctrine that makes the doctrine a requirement of belief for salvation, not the majority or common opinion of the Fathers, the medievals or theologians and prelates of today (Enoch and Elijah, p. 3).
[N]ot one of the [patristic] witnesses ever provide exegesis of the passages, nor cited early patristic support for their interpretation, nor showed that the apostolic tradition demanded their interpretation." ("Intense Dialogue" -- Question).
. . . no Catholic is under any compulsion whatsoever to abide by whatever was predicted about Israel among even a majority of patristic writers ... even if the Fathers are in consensus on a given topic, we are still permitted to add information that has been gleaned from fresh studies of Scripture (Never Revoked, p. 12).
He tends not to apply those same principles to his pet topic, geocentrism.
As I have pointed out elsewhere here on CAF
, the Holy See has given every possible indication that this is not a matter of faith.
[to be continued…]