Challenge: list three teaching that are non-infallible

The Magisterium teaches some things with Her full force of authority, such as ex cathedra papal pronouncements or in ecumenical councils. These are considered infallible, and requires an assent of faith; other teachings are taught non-infallibly, and to these we must assent with a religious obedience (in Latin, obsequium religiosum). My question is, it’s not easy to identify which are which. I am a good researcher, but was unable to locate even a small list of teachings that would require religious submission instead of an assent of faith.

Can you list even three teaching that are non-infallibly taught, to which we would submit our “religious submission?”. I’m only asking for three.

I don’t think it really makes sense to say which doctrines receive religious submission, but rather which acts. Doctrines are classified with their degree of certainty which indicates how we assent to them–“of faith,” “of ecclesiastical faith,” " proximate to faith," “theologically certain,” “common teaching” “safe,” “probable,” etc. (there are also corresponding negative notes and censures).

Theologians used to work with these notes, and you can find which notes apply to which doctrines in the old manuals. One criticism of the Catechism is that it doesn’t provide these notes, even though it includes doctrines in various categories (to be fair, catechisms traditionally don’t do this).

The absolute assent of divine faith is due to what the Church proposes as revealed truth, and revealed truth never changes. Those doctrines which are proposed by an act which guarantees this level of certainty are therefore due this absolute assent.

Religious assent or submission, on the other hand, is essentially the respect the divinely authorized teachers are due from those of us they are authorized to teach. Every act of teaching for these teachers is due this, whether they are trying to give us a better understanding of revealed truth or are addressing contingent matter or intervening in the prudential order. We are to adhere to what is taught by these acts in the manner the teacher intends us to (the intention for an absolute assent would be manifested by a definitive judgment, for example). Pope Francis, for example, in his encyclicals and exhortations tends to do a really good job of laying out his intentions in an early paragraph (see e.g. Evangelii Gaudium 16-18 , Laudato Si 15-16, Amoris Laetitia 6, and Gaudete et Exsultate 2).

We must of course give the authorized teacher the presumption of truth and give our due effort to internalize it in the manner they intend, but the the degree of certainty of the doctrines taught depends on the doctrine at issue and how the teacher intends to teach it. And depending on how often and in what manner a doctrine is taught by the authorized teachers, it can increase in certainty.

As a random example, take Pope Benedict XVI’s exhortation Sacramentum Caritas, promulgated after consulting in synod with various bishops. It contains no definitive or infallible judgments, but as an act of an authorized teacher, it deserves that religious submission. However, in it he teaches many doctrines on the Eucharist which the Church has always proposed as revealed, and these doctrines must of course still be believed with faith.


This is one of the best and most concise explanations of this I’ve ever seen. Well done.


True, this is an excellent answer, thank you. But, still, there is something that isn’t clear: even if you focus on the acts, those acts will contain a teaching. Can you give an example of a single teaching within said acts which call for religious submission of the intellect and will?

In the 1990s JP2 issued Ad Tuendam Fidem to modify the profession of faith taken by “teachers” in the Church. Cardinal Ratzinger added a commentary that addressed 3 levels of teaching, those to be believed, those to be held, and those to which we submit. He offers examples for the first two categories, but for the 3rd says;

one can point in general to teachings set forth by the authentic ordinary Magisterium in a non-definitive way, which require degrees of adherence differentiated according to the mind and the will manifested; this is shown especially by the nature of the documents, by the frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or by the tenor of the verbal expression.

I didn’t think that was a good answer to your question, so I am glad someone else answered.

Anyway, before Ordinatio Sacerdotalis the reservation of ordination to women had not been taught definitively so it would have met the 3rd category’s requirements, but does not anymore. Pope Francis has certainly made concern for “the stranger in the land” a central teaching of his pontificate. And… almost everything else? “Religious submission of the mind” is not true or false, but about respect for the office. It really is not something in the doctrines so that you can list them? IDK.

If you’re thinking of something that is not proposed definitively and is not of faith, I think the social encyclicals are good examples. While founded on fixed principles, they apply them to changeable circumstances–which is why we get a new one every few decades. For example, there clearly was nothing directly revealed about labor unions, but Leo XIII’s teaching in Rerum Novarum that they are good and in accord with Catholic principles should be assented to, even if he didn’t propose it in a definitive way.

On the more speculative front, various Popes have taught in a non-definitive way that since Mary’s Assumption into Heaven no grace is conferred on man without her actual intercessory co-operation. This degree of certainty of this doctrine is generally “sentia pia et probabilis.” Of course, some have advocated for the Church to pass a definitive judgment that it is known with a higher certainty (there’s a decent argument for that). We should receive that teaching in the way they intended (which is reflected in the theological note it has been given).

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What about the church’s most recent teaching on the death penalty? It’s even been updated in the Cathecism. I’d bet some conservative Catholics disagree. Do they not owe religious assent to this teaching? Would it be wrong for them to dissent?

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