Are all papal encyclicals binding?
Jesus said, “Whoever hears you hears me.” The Church has the mission to teach and we have the mission to be taught. We should do our best to accept and put into practice the teachings of the pope, whether in or out an encyclical. That’s the way a good Catholic looks at it.
If one is looking for “infallible” teaching, an encyclical is not by definition an “infallible” teaching. Parts of it may be. It depends on certain conditions that theologians love to discuss among themselves.
They are authoritative.
Has the church ever taught that all encyclicals are authoritative and binding?
The Second Vatican Council teaches in Lumen Gentium:
“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, [and] 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” (no. 25)
Which is to say an Encyclical is not infallible in the same way as a Dogma but to the extent that it is immersed in the Infallible Magisterium then its contents can be considered binding. See more at the authority of papal encyclicals and Encyclopedia of Theology
By Karl Rahner
Encyclicals and other pspal documents are authoritative and binding in that they are part of the Ordinary teaching magisterium. So what Doctrines they contain and explain are part of the teaching of the Church and as such are binding on all Catholics.
*]At the time they are written - yes
*]Later - not necessarily[/LIST]They are addressed to meet specific situations - and these situations don’t last; & the passing of the specific needs of the difficulty or crisis or whatever makes the Encyclical addressed to the crisis less relevant to the time after. An Encyclical of 1873 concerned with a schism in Armenia is as a whole not terribly relevant to the Church elsewhere & later on, though parts may be: that Encyclical would be waste paper when the problem to be addressed is the rise of Nazism in Germany in the '30s: how would talk of Armenia be of any use then & there ? If they take for granted a state of things no longer the case, such as the sinfulness of marriage between Catholics & Jews, which is now not regarded as a sin, but as a positive benefit, condemnations of the practice have no more force: they have been made irrelevant by the Church.
Encyclicals vary greatly in their subject matter. One that is now irrelevant if taken as a whole, may contain plenty that is still of value - it depends, for not all of them are concerned with doctrine; more than a few are concerned with practice. Mit Brennender Sorge (1937) has plenty of criticisms of Nazism that are also very applicable to the customs of our times: the Nazis placed great emphasis on perfect bodily health, & on its consequences in practice - their body-worship is all too relevant, & is still worthy to be condemned.
Taken from OCE - Encyclicals:
As for the binding force of these documents it is generally admitted that the mere fact that the pope should have given to any of his utterances the form of an encyclical does not necessarily constitute it an ex-cathedra pronouncement and invest it with infallible authority. The degree in which the infallible magisterium of the Holy See is committed must be judged from the circumstances, and from the language used in the particular case. In the early centuries the term encyclical was applied, not only to papal letters, but to certain letters emanating from bishops or archbishops and directed to their own flocks or to other bishops. Such letters addressed by a bishop to all his subjects in general are now commonly called pastorals. Amongst Anglicans, however, the name encyclical has recently been revived and applied, in imitation of papal usage, to circular letters issued by the English primates. Thus the reply of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York to the papal condemnation of Anglican Orders (this condemnation, “Apostolicæ Curæ”, took the form of a Bull) was styled by its authors the Encyclical “Sæpius officio”.
**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” (Luke 10:16); 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. **
[RIGHT]*- Humani Generis, #20
You may read Humani Generis in full on the Vatican’s website:
Earlier this week a priest speaking on “Lumen Gentium No. 25” stated that all papal pronouncements, dogmatic or otherwise, are binding on all Catholics. As I review the comments in this forum (or “thread”?) I read degrees of agreement ranging from “Absolutely” to “depending on current circumstances.” Furthermore, I seem to recall the priest’s having said that it is the responsibility of the laity to question perceived errors on the part of the members of the clergy. In short, exactly what am I bound to accept and what am I bound to question? JBW
[quote="jbwayjr, post:11, topic:131314"]
Earlier this week a priest speaking on "Lumen Gentium No. 25" stated that all papal pronouncements, dogmatic or otherwise, are binding on all Catholics. As I review the comments in this forum (or "thread"?) I read degrees of agreement ranging from "Absolutely" to "depending on current circumstances." Furthermore, I seem to recall the priest's having said that it is the responsibility of the laity to question perceived errors on the part of the members of the clergy. In short, exactly what am I bound to accept and what am I bound to question? JBW
My question is: Are papal encyclicals infaillable?
The short answer is No. If they were, I’d have to add them to the back of my bible as the infalliable Word of God.
It is important to be careful here, however, because we don’t want to fall down a slippery slope and start believing whatever makes us feel good and disregard the teachings of the Church.
But it is also equally important to understand that it is possible for a pope to write a letter and not be 100% correct on every single detail.
Of course, I am not a priest or theologian. I am just a weak, repentant sinner.
You answer a very old thread. You further seem to confuse the term “binding” (posed in the original post) with “infallible” (introduced later).
Faithful Catholics are “bound” by each and every teaching from every Roman Pontiff and all Ecumenical Councils, unless such teaching has been countermanded by a subsequent comparable authority.
Almost NONE of these teachings can be regarded as infallible. The Church alone has authority to make this declaration, and She has done so rarely.
The distinction is irrelevant to almost all Catholics. If a Pope or Ecumenical Council said it, it is binding (but not necessarily infallible, but that doesn’t matter).
The following concern this question.
Answer by Matthew Bunson (EWTN) on 06-16-2007:
The authority of encyclicals was stated by Pius XII in the encyclical Humani generis Aug. 12, 1950: “Nor must it be thought that what is contained in encyclical letters does not of itself demand assent, on the pretext that the popes do not exercise in them the supreme power of their teaching authority. Rather, such teachings belong to the ordinary magisterium, of which it is true to say: `He who hears you, hears me’ (Lk. 10:16) (1); for the most part, too, what is expounded and inculcated in encyclical letters already appertains to Catholic doctrine for other reasons.”
The Second Vatican Council declared: “Religious submission of will and of mind must be shown in a special way to the authentic teaching authority 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 chiefly either from the character of the documents (one of which could be an encyclical), from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking”(Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, No. 25).
**Answer by David Gregson of EWTN on Nov-22-2002: **
“You are correct in stating that the Pope exercises his charism of infallibility not only in dogmatic definitions issued, ex cathedra, as divinely revealed (of which there have been only two), but also in doctrines definitively proposed by him, also ex cathedra, which would include canonizations (that they are in fact Saints, enjoying the Beatific Vision in heaven), moral teachings (such as contained in Humanae vitae), and other doctrines he has taught as necessarily connected with truths divinely revealed, such as that priestly ordination is reserved to men. Further details on levels of certainty with which the teachings of the Magisterium (either the Pope alone, or in company with his Bishops) may be found in Summary of Categories of Belief.”
The three levels of teaching from *Ad Tuendam Fidem *are:
1) Dogma – infallible (Canon #750.1) to be believed with the assent of divine and Catholic faith.
2) Doctrine – infallible (Canon #750.2) requires the assent of ecclesial faith, to be “firmly embraced and held”.
3) Doctrine – non-definitive (non-infallible) and require intellectual assent (“loyal submission of the will and intellect”, Vatican II, *Lumen Gentium *25), not an assent of faith. See the Explanatory Note on ATF by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, at ewtn.com/library/CURIA/CDFADTU.HTM
Of course they are authoritative and binding, why would the Pope take the time to put a pen to paper to address the Church and the faithful in matters of faith and morals? The Holy Father is exercising his function as pastor and teacher of all Christians.
Church documents may contain infallible teaching even though they make no “ex cathedra” pronouncements. Ut unum sint of Pope John Paul II gives out previously defined articles of dogma, often this may be the case such as with No Salvation Outside the Church through the centuries. Infallible truths are discerned by their conformity to the unchanging teachings of the Church.
And there’s many in the Church from antiquity in regards to many areas, Jesus Christ-Nature, Mother of God, Eucharist, etc.
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.
Encyclical’s which appear to alter a previous encyclical such as No Salvation, doesn’t change the context/content of the original and its intent, it further elaborates in the present period of time. So the issue of how can an obsolete encyclical still be binding is clearly seen and resolved. “The obligation holds until the Church might come to modify its position on some particular portion of the teaching contained in the encyclicals, or at least until the time when very serious reasons for such modification might become apparent.”
Perhaps I am somewhat concerned with the black & white judiciary notion that once a Roman Pontiff says something, it’s final for everyone under all different circumstances of their lives and it’s impossible to dissent without committing sin. This is not so in the East & perhaps is one of the underlying issues of The Great Schism. This may sound more Orthodox than Catholic, but I’m starting to see the value of councils as opposed to one man’s sole authority over all. And yes I am familiar with St. Peter’s special commission from Christ himself, but all of the apostles, including Peter, made mistakes from time to time.
I pray they actually have their scheduled Pan Council so perhaps the confusion could be cleared “somewhat” and productive dialogue could proceed.
“The problem is that there is no common expression of unity that supersedes ethnic, linguistic and cultural divisions: there is no synod of bishops responsible for all the churches in America, and no primacy or point of accountability in the Orthodox world with the authority to correct such a situation”
Father Josiah Trenham lists the following divisions of pastoral practice among the Orthodox jurisdictions in the United States:
1.Some Orthodox jurisdictions receive persons from Latin and certain Protestant bodies into Holy Orthodoxy by baptism and chrismation, some by chrismation alone, and some merely by confession of faith.
2.Some Orthodox jurisdictions receive Latin clergy converting to Holy Orthodoxy merely by vesting, while others ordain.
3.Some Orthodox jurisdictions recognize all marriages performed outside Holy Orthodoxy as being real marriages (though certainly not sacramental) whether performed for an Orthodox or non-Orthodox, while others recognize no marriages performed outside Holy Orthodoxy whether performed for an Orthodox or a non-Orthodox.
4.Some Orthodox jurisdictions bury suicides under certain circumstances, while others forbid the burial of suicides under all circumstances.
5.Some Orthodox jurisdictions bury a person who was cremated with all funeral rites in the church temple, others permit only Trisagion Prayers of Mercy in the funeral home, some forbid any prayers anywhere for a person who was cremated.
6.Some Orthodox jurisdictions recognize civil divorce as complete and sufficient for ecclesiastical purposes, while others do not recognize civil divorce at all and insist on Church Tribunals, while yet other deal with divorce in other ways.
7.Some Orthodox jurisdictions penance a person when he/she is divorced (either by civil or Church court), while others penance a person only after he/she enters into a second or third marriage.
8.Some Orthodox jurisdictions accept clergy suspended or even deposed by other Orthodox jurisdictions.
9.Some Orthodox jurisdictions ignore bans of excommunication pronounced by hierarchs of other Orthodox jurisdictions.
Sorry but I obviously disagree, but thanks.
And yes I am familiar with St. Peter’s special commission from Christ himself, but all of the apostles, including Peter, made mistakes from time to time.
The grave error here is the implication that a Pope can teach error when, as Christ’s Supreme Vicar, he defines dogma or doctrine for the whole Church.
Perhaps I am somewhat concerned with the black & white judiciary notion that once a Roman Pontiff says something, it’s final for everyone under all different circumstances of their lives and it’s impossible to dissent without committing sin. This is not so in the East & perhaps is one of the underlying issues of The Great Schism.
The following indictae the reality.
Answer by Fr. Thomas Loya (EWTN) on 08-13-2008:
Prior to the Schism of 1054 the terms “Orthodox” and “Catholic” as we use them today did not exist. It was basically just the “Church” but the Church of the West and the Church in the East (the “two lungs” of the Church as John Paul II would say.) The term “Roman Catholic” developed well after the Schism. After the Schism the Eastern Churches referred to themselves as Eastern “Orthodox.”
**Answer by Matthew Bunson (EWTN) on 10-20-2009: **
The Eastern Catholic Churches are those Churches whose members follow the Eastern rite and are in communion with Rome. The Eastern Catholic Churches, like their Orthodox counterparts, trace their origins to the four great patriarchates in the East: Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, and Constantinople. The fifth, and supreme, patriarchate was, of course, Rome, in the West. These so-called Mother Churches were the bases of the various rites to which the Eastern Christians belong: the Alexandrian, Antiochene, Armenian, Byzantine, and Chaldean. They differ from each other through their liturgies, traditions, histories, theology, hierarchy, and language. Eastern Catholic Churches are distinguished from the Orthodox Churches by their acceptance of the supreme pontiff; most, at one time, were not in communion with Rome. The jurisdictions of these Churches are as follows: Antiochene – Syrian, Malankar, and Maronite; Armenian; Chaldean (or Chaldaean) – Chaldean and Malabar (or Syro-Malabar); and Byzantine – Albanian, Belorussian, Bulgarian, Croatian, Greek, Hungarian, Italo-Albanian, Melkite, Romanian, Russian, Carpatho-Russian (or Ruthenian), Slovak, and Ukrainian. Also called the Galician-Ruthenian, the Ukrainian Catholic Church has recently experienced an explosion in membership in Ukraine owing to recently established freedom of worship, the high degree of respect Ukrainian Catholic clergy earned during the long years of Soviet oppression, and the widespread disaffection with the Orthodox Church owing to its ties to the discredited Communist regime. As in other parts of Eastern Europe, the newfound freedoms enjoyed by the Catholic Church have created friction with the Orthodox communities over such matters as property, jurisdiction, and the right to proselytize. These are part of ongoing negotiations between the Holy See and the Orthodox hierarchy. [My emphasis].
I certainly see the confusion that lies within the Orthodox churches and the Protestant churches having no one in charge. It’s one of the reasons why I have never left the Catholic Church. The core of my question was are papal encyclicals infallible? This is not to say that they are wrong or in error. But that the possibility exists that they could be. If they were in fallible then they would be equal to scripture which they are not. Don’t get me wrong I see the papacy as the unifying element within Christianity. It’s a tragedy that so many others do not. But the Popes teachings do not have to be considered infallible for him to be recognized as the supreme pontiff and leader of the Christian world. I think a decentralized Rome would bring back many other denominations into Christendom, in particularly the Orthodox Christians. And the way things are going perhaps most of the Anglican Communion.