"assent of faith" vs certainty

Can someone please clarify these points for me?

There are a lot of teachings that we’re supposed to believe in as Catholics. I believe the way it’s phrased is we have to give “the assent of faith”. Does “assent of faith” mean that we have to agree that the teaching is 100% certain? In other words, Catholics teach that God is a trinity. As a Catholic, can a person say “The Church teaches that God is a trinity, so God is probably a trinity, but I don’t know that for certain” ?

Or is this the only acceptable thought process: “the Church teaches that God is a trinity, therefor God is definitely a trinity, and I know this with certainty”

These are honest questions - I actually don’t know if the second one is a view that a Catholic can hold and still be considered Catholic so I’m asking.

I don’t care about the doctrine of the Trinity in any special way, I’m just using it as an example.

Assent of faith means we believe something because it is the teaching of the Church, whose authority we respect, not necessarily because we are personally convinced.

Most of what we have ever learned follows this principle. Your history teacher taught you about the Russian Revolution. You did not witness it, but you accept the teacher’s word because s/he is an expert in the field of history.

The Magesterium is an authority on theology.

You must agree, however not all teachings of the Church are 100% certain. The matter of the Trinity is certain. For example a dogma of faith is that in God there are Three Persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, and each of the Three Persons possesses the one Divine Essence.

Assent means acceptance of truth proposed for belief by the Church, not that you * understand* that truth. You can say “I know this with certainty” when you have trust in the infallibility of the Church in matters of faith and morals.

See the canon law 750 below for what we assent to.

Modern Catholic Dictionary**ASSENT. **The mental acceptance of a particular judgment as true. Assent is essentially internal, but it may also be manifested externally by some verbal expression or sign. Since the Church is a visible institution, her members must give not only internal but also external assent to her teachings. And in the reception of some of the sacraments, external assent must be given, for example, some sensibly perceptible sign of accepting one’s partner in matrimony. (Etym. Latin assensus, agreement, assent, especially on the part of the mind, approval.)

Note that the Canon law has:CIC Canon 750 –

§ 1. Those things are to be believed by divine and catholic faith which are contained in the word of God as it has been written or handed down by tradition, that is, in the single deposit of faith entrusted to the Church, and which are at the same time proposed as divinely revealed either by the solemn Magisterium of the Church, or by its ordinary and universal Magisterium, which in fact is manifested by the common adherence of Christ’s faithful under the guidance of the sacred Magisterium. All are therefore bound to avoid any contrary doctrines.

      § 2. Furthermore, each and everything set forth definitively by the Magisterium of the Church regarding teaching on faith and morals must be firmly accepted and held; namely, those things required for the holy keeping and faithful exposition of the deposit of faith; therefore, anyone who rejects propositions which are to be held definitively sets himself against the teaching of the Catholic Church.

Okay, then to the heart of the matter, can both thought processes be applied to the very idea that the Magesterium is an authority on theology? In other words, is “I believe the Magesterium is an authority on theology, but I don’t know for certain” acceptable, or is only “I am certain that the Magesterium is an authority on theology” acceptable in order to be Catholic?

Thank you for replying but I’m still not exactly clear on the answer to my question so I will try to rephrase it. First, I do agree that not all teachings are suppose to be 100% certain. What I’m unclear is - are any suppose to be accepted as “absolutely certain”? Is that what “assent of faith” means? You say “assent means acceptance of truth proposed for **belief **by the Church” so my question is, is that the same thing as saying “I know this for certain” or is it the same thing as saying “I believe this to be true because the Church teaches it, but I don’t know for certain”? The question might sound weird, but since faith is different than certainty (I think I remember the Pope mentioning this recently), I’m asking if someone could clarify if we’re required to say “I know this with certainty” regarding anything the Church teaches (even it’s teachings regarding itself such as infallibility), or if saying “I believe this is true, but I don’t know for certain” is acceptable? I personally feel the latter is the best I can do at the moment and I’m trying to decide if it means I can or cannot remain Catholic.

Based on the things you quoted for me here it seems that the Church sets things forth “definitively” and that they “must be firmly accepted and held” and “held definitively”… does this imply with certainty? I can’t tell.

Yes, definitions must be held with certainty. You know it because you have been informed of it, and of the certainty (the quality of being reliably true) of it, by the Church, therefore your assent to it is that it is certain.

An example from St. Pope John Paul II on the Assumption dogma. “As you know there are cases in which the papal Magisterium is exercised solemnly regarding particular points of doctrine belonging to the deposit of revelation or closely connected with it. This is the case with ex cathedra definitions, such as those of Mary’s Immaculate Conception, made by Pius IX in 1854, and of her Assumption into heaven, made by Pius XII in 1950. As we know, these definitions have provided all Catholics with certainty in affirming these truths and in excluding all doubt in the matter.”
vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/audiences/alpha/data/aud19930317en.html

Dei Verbum:Chapter I, Revelation Itself
6. Through divine revelation, God chose to show forth and communicate Himself and the eternal decisions of His will regarding the salvation of men. That is to say, He chose to share with them those divine treasures which totally transcend the understanding of the human mind. (6) As a sacred synod has affirmed, God, the beginning and end of all things, can be known with certainty from created reality by the light of human reason (see Rom. 1:20); but teaches that it is through His revelation that those religious truths which are by their nature accessible to human reason can be known by all men with ease, with solid certitude and with no trace of error, even in this present state of the human race. (7)[INDENT] 6. First Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith, Chap. 2, “On Revelation:” Denzinger 1786 (3005).
7. Ibid: Denzinger 1785 and 1786 (3004 and 3005)
Chapter II, Handing on Divine Revelation

  1. Hence there exists a close connection and communication between sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture. For both of them, flowing from the same divine wellspring, in a certain way merge into a unity and tend toward the same end. For Sacred Scripture is the word of God inasmuch as it is consigned to writing under the inspiration of the divine Spirit, while sacred tradition takes the word of God entrusted by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit to the Apostles, and hands it on to their successors in its full purity, so that led by the light of the Spirit of truth, they may in proclaiming it preserve this word of God faithfully, explain it, and make it more widely known. Consequently it is not from Sacred Scripture alone that the Church draws her certainty about everything which has been revealed. Therefore both sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture are to be accepted and venerated with the same sense of loyalty and reverence.(6) 6. cf. Council of Trent, session IV, loc. cit.: Denzinger 783 (1501).
    [/INDENT]vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19651118_dei-verbum_en.html

Okay, thank you for responding. I’m impressed with how quickly you pulled together those resources!

As Catholics, we must believe the authority of the Catholic Church.

I have 4 thoughts in my mind in answer to this, but I think I will just pick one, even tho it’s somewhat speculative.

St Thomas Aquinas (1400s) did not believe in the Immaculate Conception of Mary–that she was conceived without Original Sin.

Several hundred years later, in the 1800s, the Immaculate Conception was proclaimed as dogma, declared to be true.

Because St Thomas Aquinas thoroughly believed in the authority of the Church, once rhis doctrine was proclaimed infallibly, he would have believed it, based on his assent to the authority of the Church. He might not have *understood *it, bit he would have assented.

St Thomas also explained the difference between a heretic and a person who was simply in error. He showed that a heretic who disbelieved only 1 doctrine of the Church had put all the teachings of the Church into matters merely of opinion–that despite the f act that he believed in all of them except one, the fact that he did not accept that one showed that he did not believe based on his acceptance of the authority of the Church but based on his own opinion or feeling towards each teaching. (i hope that is clear)

The person in error, however, merely had a glitch in his thinking, and remained willing to change his mind to agreement with the Church as soon as he understood what the Church’s teaching in fact is.

So we are supposed to believe the Church as a whole. We may mot even know some of the teachings; we may not understand all those we do know, but we rely on the God-given authority of the Church that they are correct.

Oh, yet another example: I read about a blind person who got a guide dog for the first time. She had to undergo training to learn to use the guidedog, and one thing she had to get over was distrusting the dog. Even if they had been over the same sidewalk the day before, if the dog moved her over, she was to follow, because the dog could see and she couldn’t. The dog was trying to guide her around a open manhole which had not been there the day before, and she resisted. If she had not been able to learn to place all her trust in the dog, they would not have let her keep the dog–it would not have worked out and she would have ruined the dog’s training.

So even thi we may be unable to see the open manhole in front of us, we must trust the Church when it tells us it is there.

I’m not asking about understanding. I’m not saying I don’t understand something, either. I’m just asking what does “assent of faith” mean? Does it mean we have to view the Church’s teachings as something we can know with certainty or can we say “I believe it’s true, but I can’t actually know for certain”? My confusion comes from the fact that the word “believe” implies a little bit of ambiguity in my mind, whereas the word “certain” does not. Also, the Pope recently mentioned that faith is not the same as certainty… to have faith is to believe, no? Then to believe is not the same as to say “I know this with certainty”, no? At least that was what I understood the Pope to be saying…

I think it is actually in between these two. Since the Church is infallible, whatever has been proclaimed is true, but we may not yet be persuaded or “know for certain”, even though it is a certainty.

It is more a matter of accepting that God has revealed something that we do not grasp, understand, or have trouble embracing. We can acknowledge with our will that it is divinely revealed truth, though our understanding, faith, and experience may take some time to follow.

I think Peter and the Apostles demonstrate the “assent of faith” in John 6, when the disciples walked away from Jesus at the Bread of Life discourse, the Apostles didnt understand what He meant either. They may not even have understood when they shared the Passover, but they did come to understand in time. But in the moment, all Peter could say was “to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life”.

An interesting question. I know one reason I don’t practice the Catholic faith is at the very heart of this matter. Faith and belief and being certain are not the same to me. And anytime I hear someone say they have the truth, it raises a red flag for me. In matters of belief, it takes faith. And I suppose I just don’t have enough faith in the teaching authority. And for me believing we know is not the same as knowing with certainty. Faith is something that can’t be proven. Not on this earth at least. For one reason it takes faith to begin with.

I think what guanophore said above put it well.

I’d add that “assent of faith” to me means giving the Church the benefit of the doubt rather than our own views on the matter in question, or a segment of society’s views on it. I’d say it means I may have a doubt or even a disagreement but I’m not going to openly act on it in any way, put myself in a position of open opposition to the Church about the issue, or share my doubts/disagreements with others in case it might cause them to have the same doubts/disagreements. That last one can possibly be open to extremely careful discernment if you’re pretty sure the person you share with is well catechized and stable in his or her Faith. Or perhaps if they are having a doubt and are trying to resolve it and you feel confident that sharing your doubt might help them feel that they aren’t a terrible person, and reaffirm their faith. But if you aren’t sure if that might cause them a wider rift with the Church - if they or you or both are too shaky on the issue, it might be wiser to remain silent.

I think the problem is that of definition. What is the difference between knowing certainly and believing?

Belief *can *have an element of doubt: I believe my boss has done that vs I saw him do it, bit it doesn’t have to have that element of doubt: I believe electricity does not leak out of the light socket when I take the lightbulb out. Like I now believe that where once I didn’t.

And how much do we *really *know for certain? I no longer believe electricity leaks out of the empty light socket, but suppose a scientist came along and said, actually, small amounts of electricity do leak out. Well, then we would all know *that *for certain, wouldn’t we?

In the same way, some people know for sure that vaccines cause autism. Their certainty is based on scietific investigation which showed that. Unfortunately, that investigatikn was falsified. It’s utter trash, and yet there are those who “know this with certainty.”

From my point of view, what the Church teaches can be known with certainty *because *it is truth revealed by God, Who protects the Church from teaching error. To me, this is the highest and most truth-filled knowledge I can have, because it comes from God, “Who knows all thing and can neither deceive nor be deceived.”

But that doesn’t mean I know everything the Church teaches, and if I don’t know something, one could say I couldn’t possibly know it with certainty: that would be a contradiction.

So I would say, you don’t have to know everything with certainty; it is more important to assent to the Church’s authority to teach in areas of faith and morals and really understand what that means.

Are you saying or asking about “Church teaching” as a dirty thing? Some people get hung up on the phrasing of "Church Teaching"or “Church Authority” as a thing that is hard to swallow but the Church is the body of Christ and as such she studies and prays to discern enlightenment. She doesn’t just make up rules that are hard for us to swallow or follow. Each rule that the church puts forward is carefully studied and answers what did Jesus tell us about that? It’s not what did the pope tell us about that. It’s what did JESUS tell us. All the church does is TRY to keep us close to the teachings of Jesus. Does this offend anyone?

As for assent of faith, this is why we take things on assent of faith, because the Church has this treasure left by Jesus that He wanted her to share with all nations. Some things we can’t know for certain except that Jesus said it. Even He knew his sayings were hard. The one about His body and blood for example and the one about divorce for another… But because the church is the body of Christ, she can’t change his words. She can’t change the truth of the words. So, even though I can’t know for certain, I give my assent by faith because I believe in Jesus, and guess what? He started His Church! :slight_smile:

It’s the “vs I saw him do it” that is the problem. Not one of us on God’s earth today saw anything 2000 yrs ago. We can only “know with certainty” if something comes from God if we first place faith and belief in Scripture and in interpretations given to us by others.

Do you mean like Jesus truly present in the Eucharist? It’s true that we can’t see Him, hear Him, discern his presence. But HE SAID “Take this and eat. This is my body.” Now, in my present condition I can’t be CERTAIN, but I give my assent of faith because Jesus said that. It was a hard saying 2,000 years ago and it’s hard now. Still I choose to go with what Jesus said and the Church encourages me to to this because the Church is the body of Christ and can’t change the words even if it means more people could believe in the Church… :blush:

Now you said “For one reason it takes faith to begin with.” and this is interesting. The Church teaches that God makes the first move towards us (actual graces), and that we would not be able to find salvation without that grace. Also, faith is supernatural rather than a capability of the natural rational mind or heart, and is infused at baptism. Faith can only be lost through an act of will.

Except when I was baptized I knew nothing about matters of faith, the Catholic faith or any religion. So I could not lose the Catholic faith you believe was infused into me that I knew nothing about until much later. Sure once I knew more, then I could have lost it. But I have not lost all Christian faith. Not by a long shot. And others actually come to faith be it in God or in Christ to begin with before they seek baptism.

I’m not sure it’s healthy to force people to keep silent and not be able to be open and honest and truthful. I know for me my mind would explode if I practiced a faith in which I had to keep quiet and couldn’t be open about matters of faith and belief without repercussions. It’s actually something that pushes me away and is a draw for me towards other traditions. I suppose I’m just not one that needs everything spelled out in black and white for me though. I like some uncertainty with regard to matters of faith.

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