Authoritative Teaching of the Church

My understanding is that an authoritative teaching of the Church is one to which we must assent. Is that correct?

What makes a teaching authoritative? For example, what levels of documents are authoritative? Who has to write them for them to be authoritative? Is each and every thing in them authoritative?

My apologies if this is in the wrong forum! I couldn’t think of a better one :o

When the Church, through the Pope ex cathedra or the supreme Magesterium through an ecumenical council or other means proposes doctrine for belief as being divinely revealed, we must give assent of the faith.

When the Church, through the ordinary magesterium, exercises teaching we are to adhere to it with religious assent.

So when is the Church teaching through the ordinary magisterium? And what is religious assent?

Lumen Gentium 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. And this is the infallibility which the Roman Pontiff, the head of the college of bishops, enjoys in virtue of his office, when, as the supreme shepherd and teacher of all the faithful, who confirms his brethren in their faith,(166) by a definitive act he proclaims a doctrine of faith or morals.(42*) And therefore his definitions, of themselves, and not from the consent of the Church, are justly styled irreformable, since they are pronounced with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, promised to him in blessed Peter, and therefore they need no approval of others, nor do they allow an appeal to any other judgment. For then the Roman Pontiff is not pronouncing judgment as a private person, but as the supreme teacher of the universal Church, in whom the charism of infallibility of the Church itself is individually present, he is expounding or defending a doctrine of Catholic faith.(43*) The infallibility promised to the Church resides also in the body of Bishops, when that body exercises the supreme magisterium with the successor of Peter. To these definitions the assent of the Church can never be wanting, on account of the activity of that same Holy Spirit, by which the whole flock of Christ is preserved and progresses in unity of faith.(44*)

But when either the Roman Pontiff or the Body of Bishops together with him defines a judgment, they pronounce it in accordance with Revelation itself, which all are obliged to abide by and be in conformity with, that is, the Revelation which as written or orally handed down is transmitted in its entirety through the legitimate succession of bishops and especially in care of the Roman Pontiff himself, and which under the guiding light of the Spirit of truth is religiously preserved and faithfully expounded in the Church.(45*) The Roman Pontiff and the bishops, in view of their office and the importance of the matter, by fitting means diligently strive to inquire properly into that revelation and to give apt expression to its contents;(46*) but a new public revelation they do not accept as pertaining to the divine deposit of faith.(47*)

See the links I posted

If I am considering a particular teaching, I need to find out if the author(s) wrote it in a particular type of document. If a priest makes an off-hand comment, well, I think that is not authoritative (unless of course it has a source which is authoritative).

If the Pope writes something, then what standing does it have? How does it fit in? Consider some of the condemned propositions of the Syllabis of Errors, and the fact that the Syllabus was later considered not to be authoritative in and of itself because it was an apendix.

OTOH, looking at some of the “questioned” propositions, such as those regarding religious freedom, and then Dignitatis Humanae, and one can see that the supposed contradiction between the two was not a contradiction at all because they each referred to a different type of freedom.

So i think there seems to be an area of confusion regarding what is authoritative and that is why I am asking about it.

If you get into the fine details concerning the question you raised, you will find that there are different levels of assent that are owed to doctrines taught by the Church. The different levels of assent correspond to the degree of certitude that the doctrine beign taugth is true.

The highest certitude we have are doctrine that have been taught infallibly, either by a solemn act of a Pope or by the force of the ordinary and universal magisterium (i.e., what has always been believed and accepted by the Church).

For this first category of truths, one must give the unqualified assent of faith. No exception and no wavering. You have to accept them as infallibly true, which they are.

A lesser level of teaching are those doctrines that are indeed taught authoritative - meaning they come from the proper authorities in the Church - but they have not been taught infallibly, meaning they have not been defined and there has not traditionally been a unanimous agreement concerning them. It is possible that these teachings can be revised, and, because of this possibility, they are not accepted with faith, but only with a “religious submission of intellect and will”.

Now, due to the unusual situation in the Church today, we should note a third category, which, in normal times, is something Catholics don’t have to concern themselves with. This is a category in which a particular teachings appears to contradict what has been commonly held for centuries, and/or is directly opposed to what many other Popes have taught. When faced with such a contradiction, common sense tell us that it is imprudent NOT to question the new teaching. The safe course is to hold to tradition - that is, to continue believing what has been traditionally taught, and not to adhere to the contrary. God sometimes allows errors to be taught for a time, as a test of our fidelity to the truth, but the errors will eventually be corrected.

And there are examples of Popes in the past who have taught errors contrary to tradition. During these extraordinary time, some resisted the errors while others went along with them. But in the end the “new doctrine” was always shown to be false.

Here is a good article on an error taught by a Pope during the 14th century, and how the Catholics of the day responded.

The Pope has never taught error. For the actual sermons given by His Holiness Pope John XXII, see this:

During 331-34, Pope John XXII delivered a series of sermons in which he argued that the souls of the redeemed do not enjoy the face-to-face vision of God until the resurrection.31 In the interim, they are “under the altar” (Rev. 6:9) and while they are blessed through their union with the humanity of Christ, they do not yet see God. These sermons were not binding teaching and were circulated with the request for response. An intense debate was set off, with John’s views both supported and criticized. On his death bed in 1334, John retracted his views.

John Calvin tried to use John XXII as proof that the Papacy had fallen into error. Loyal Catholics should not be copying Protestant arguments against the Papacy.

Saying John XXII taught an error is not a false Protestant argument. In fact, the quotation you provided confirms that he taught an error. You are confusing teaching an error with defining an error. John XXII never attempted to define the error, but he did teach it publicly. Here is what he taught:

John XXII: ““I say that the souls of the faithful departed **do not enjoy that perfect or face to face vision **of in which, according to St. Augustine (in Psalm xc, sermon II, No. 13), consists their full reward of justice; nor will they have that happiness until after the general judgment. When, and only when, the soul will be re-united to the body, will this perfect bliss come to man, coming to the whole man composed of body and soul, and perfecting his entire being.”

That is an error. His immediate predecessor defined the doctrine that John XXII denied. And if he didn’t teach an error, what did he retract on his deathbed? Did he retract the truth? Of course not, he retracted the error that he taught and defended for years.

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