Deciding which teachings from the Magisterium I must assent to and which I can reject

From another thread I have posed this question since so many people state that only some things out of the Magisterium must be assented to.

For the record I’m a cradle Catholic of 57 years and have always believed that the Magisterium is assisted and protected by the Holy Spirit and can never err when teaching on faith and morals.

Even if we include the list of ex cathedra statements, outside of those, who decides what is ‘infallible’ and what is not? Say I’m a new Catholic or thinking of becoming one. How do I determine what teachings are to be accepted in faith and what I can reject?


Canon Law (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.

Canon 1371 – The following are to be punished with a just penalty:

1° a person who, apart from the case mentioned in canon 1364 § 1, teaches a doctrine condemned by the Roman Pontiff, or by an Ecumenical Council, or obstinately rejects the teachings mentioned in canon 750 § 2 or in canon 752 and, when warned by the Apostolic See or by the Ordinary, does not retract;

2° a person who in any other way does not obey the lawful command or prohibition of the Apostolic See or the Ordinary or Superior and, after being warned, persists in disobedience.

Also see Canon Law (CCEO 598 and 1436 for the eastern Catholic churches)

Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma by Ludwig Ott list has about 255 dogmas of faith with sources and various discussions and issues. Other doctrines are also given including 102 certain truths.

List with 426 doctrines:

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Don’t know where you got the idea that only “some things” must be assented to.

From the catechsim:

We are to adhere to non-infallible, ordinary magisterial teaching with religious assent.

We are to adhere to defined dogmas with assent of faith.


It is a very common statement made almost every day here and seems to be allowed ie. not everything from the pope or magisterium is infallible and therefore not needing assent.

I have always believed that we can have utmost faith that everything taught and all guidance from the Magisterium is protected by the Holy Spirit.

Is an excellent reference

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I think we need to distinguish between “teaching” and opinion. If the pope states something about America needing infinity immigrants, for example, I believe it’s acceptable to disagree with him, especially if the disagreement is based on historical or scientific information, which he may well not be aware of. However, when he speaks on faith and morals (ie, abortion, the nature of Christ, the Trinity) we believe he has the closest access to the “true information” (for lack of any better worldly concept) of divine revelation.

This, too, is confusing, though. The only things a pope may speak on infallibly are faith and morals. Many (including our current pope, it seems) believe that immigration is a matter of morality.

But it’s hardly an ignorant opinion to expound upon what Scriptures and the Church have always taught as our duty towards immigrants and refugees. The Pope has never said that America ‘needed infinity immigrants’. He reminds us of the proper Christian attitude towards such people because that is what leads to humanising solutions. We are morally obliged to cultivate that attitude in our faith life.

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We are morally obliged to have a very particular charity towards immigrants especially refugees though.


About which teachings you must believe: I’ve been wondering that too. Doing a little research, I found out that private and sometimes public dissent was an acceptable and expected thing for the Faithful to participate in, in this country, until sometime in the last century. After Vatican II, the bishops in this country (USA) started preaching more of a blind obedience kind of Faith. Blind obedience has never been Catholic. Soon to be Saint John Newman wrote at least one book-length essay touching on this… the sense of the Faith of the lay faithful is part of the Magisterium of the Church, but the bishops in the US have tried very hard to kinda sorta sweep that fact under the rug. I wonder why. Ignoring the sense of the faithful is ignoring one of the ways the Holy Spirit guides the Church.

I wonder if it’s just in the US that this is happening. It seems like the Church in Germany is actually listening somewhat to the sense of the faithful. So maybe it goes country -by - country.

Anyway, ignoring the sense of the faithful has got to stop. We are part of the Church. The Holy Spirit guides the Church. The clergy / hierarchy is only a small part of the Church. They don’t have a monopoly on the Holy Spirit’s guidance.

Hope I haven’t gone too far off topic, but it seemed relevant to me.


They all must be accepted, or at least adhered to. Mother Church is Mother Church. Her rules are the only thing protecting us from sin.


No, it isn’t off topic. I’m not sure which of St JN’s books you are referring to but I know that he is an informed source of the Church’s teaching on the primacy of the conscience.

[1782] Man has the right to act in conscience and in freedom so as personally to make moral decisions. “He must not be forced to act contrary to his conscience. Nor must he be prevented from acting according to his conscience, especially in religious matters.”

How this is manifest is still unfolding in revelation but we are coming to understand ‘the internal forum’ more in the life of Catholic faith. But at the same time we aren’t permitted to directly defy a Church teaching publicly.

She probably was referring to On Consulting the Faithful in Matters of Doctrine. If not that, The Grammar of Assent is probably pertinent.

On the OP’s question, the teaching from Vatican 2 is helpfully vague:

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.
Lumen Gentium 25

I am not sure what to this, beyond observing that the reservation of priestly ordination to men has been taught infallibly by the Ordinary magisterium (bishops) but we did not know that until JPII defined that it has been taught infallibly. If that tangle is he best way to describe the teaching’s authority.

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You mean…it’s sort of like a cafeteria? You can go down the line and pick the items you want. I like this idea. We should start a new term for it . . . how about Cafeteria Catholic?

In all honesty, I don’t agree with everything but I do my best to follow along with what I’m told to do. Maybe that makes me a Cafeteria Catholic. But it’s the best I can do.

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IMO, Cafeteria Catholic is a common dirty slur. Anyone can use it against anyone they don’t agree with.

An only-male priesthood isn’t infallible. Some people said it was/is, but they are wrong. Mistaken. Even if they are currently saints! Even saints made mistakes.

So now someone’s gonna call me a cafeteria Catholic … and I can throw that right back at them… and in the end, all we’ve got is a massive wordy food fight.

Bah humbug! Let’s just all do our best and quit being so legalistic , ok? God’s not a lawyer. Jesus condemned the Pharisees. Let’s not be like them.

The law - “infallible” and fallible - was made for Man, not Man for the law.

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This is what is expected of anyone who wishes to call themselves, and truly be, Catholic:

I, N., with firm faith believe and profess each and everything that is contained in the Symbol of faith, namely:

I believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible. I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God,
born of the Father before all ages. God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father; through him all things were made. For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven, and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate, he suffered death and was buried, and rose again on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets. I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. I confess one baptism for the forgiveness of sins and I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen.

With firm faith, I also believe everything contained in the word of God, whether written or handed down in Tradition, which the Church, either by a solemn judgment or by the ordinary and universal Magisterium, sets forth to be believed as divinely revealed.

I also firmly accept and hold each and everything definitively proposed by the Church regarding teaching on faith and morals.

Moreover, I adhere with religious submission of will and intellect to the teachings which either the Roman Pontiff or the College of Bishops enunciate when they exercise their authentic Magisterium, even if they do not intend to proclaim these teachings by a definitive act.

Read this very carefully to avoid the dangers of a heretical or schismatic mindset that becomes a magisterium onto its own. We do not make our own rules nor decide what to believe in. We are the sheep of Christ’s flock and we listen and obey.


Remember the words of St. Pius X:

how must the Pope be loved? Non verbo neque lingua, sed opere et veritate. [Not in word, nor in tongue, but in deed, and in truth - 1 Jn iii, 18] When one loves a person, one tries to adhere in everything to his thoughts, to fulfill his will, to perform his wishes. And if Our Lord Jesus Christ said of Himself, “si quis diligit me, sermonem meum servabit,” [if any one love me, he will keep my word - Jn xiv, 23] therefore, in order to demonstrate our love for the Pope, it is necessary to obey him.

Therefore, when we love the Pope, there are no discussions regarding what he orders or demands, or up to what point obedience must go, and in what things he is to be obeyed; when we love the Pope, we do not say that he has not spoken clearly enough, almost as if he were forced to repeat to the ear of each one the will clearly expressed so many times not only in person, but with letters and other public documents; we do not place his orders in doubt, adding the facile pretext of those unwilling to obey - that it is not the Pope who commands, but those who surround him; we do not limit the field in which he might and must exercise his authority; we do not set above the authority of the Pope that of other persons, however learned, who dissent from the Pope, who, even though learned, are not holy, because whoever is holy cannot dissent from the Pope.


Today we live in… difficult times. But we must have faith.

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But it is, and there is no mistake.

This was declared with solemn authority by the Pope and cannot be contradicted. It is also a teaching of the ordinary and universal Magisterium, for this was taught semper ubique ab omnibus.

Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church’s divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.

[Apostolic Letter “Ordinatio Sacerdotalis”, 5/22/1994]


Blind obedience is not something Jesus ever taught.

Poor Pope St Pius X. He’s so often taken out of context… the SSPX bases their whole ideology on his words. :pensive:

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