Help needed: Continuity of Magisterial teaching

On another thread I asked about religious liberty, but that’s a separate issue from the one I’m about to post now.

I have been discussing the question of whether the Church can change her doctrine, and if she even has, with a lady who is either good at sophistry, or who has a point. Let me outline the positions.

My opponent’s position
*]The Church can change her doctrine, although she doesn’t like people to think she could.
*]The Church has changed her doctrine.
*]The Church has erred in the past, from the modern teaching’s point of view.
My position
*]The Church cannot change her doctrine/dogma.
*]The Church has not changed her doctrine/dogma.
*]Doctrine/dogma can develop, but not in a way that is contradictory to a previous teaching.
*]Anything that has changed in the past was either of a disciplinary nature, is not in the realm of faith or morals or is related to circumstances unique to the time.

Now for her argument:
*]The Church has changed her position on religious freedom. [See other thread]
*]The understanding of the Magisterium’s infallibility has changed over time. It used not to be limited to faith and morals. An example given is Quanta Cura:

Nor can we pass over in silence the audacity of those who, not enduring sound doctrine, contend that “without sin and without any sacrifice of the Catholic profession assent and obedience may be refused to those judgments and decrees of the Apostolic See, whose object is declared to concern the Church’s general good and her rights and discipline, so only it does not touch the dogmata of faith and morals.” But no one can be found not clearly and distinctly to see and understand how grievously this is opposed to the Catholic dogma of the full power given from God by Christ our Lord Himself to the Roman Pontiff of feeding, ruling and guiding the Universal Church.

Another one, which she only alludes to (not naming it), is Pope Boniface VIII’s famous Unam Sanctam.
Quite simply put: Is this lady right? Has the Church changed her doctrines? What about the quote from Quanta Cura, and Unam Sanctam?

This is really worrying me, and accordingly I have let her know that I am at my wit’s end and that I will end the discussion due to lack of further information.

Again with worry and at your wits end? Can we add this to the near despair you experienced on the other thread?

It’s your own fault. Why do you torture yourself?

Disengage and be at peace. Pray hard, work hard, go to Mass and confession, examine your conscience every night, try not to stare at pretty girls and try not to eat too much, take care of your health, do good things to other people and forget about the rest of this nonsense if it upsets you so much. .

Talk to someone once. If they won’t listen then shake the dust off your feet and move on. That is not my advice but the command of our Lord Jesus.


That one was about another matter, namely what to do in the face of people who are doing harm to the Church. Rather, this is about an argument she is making.

Oh thanks, how kind. I am not going to shut my mind, nor am I going to stop speaking what I believe is the Truth, just for fear of that I might end up somewhere where I don’t know the answer.

I believe that the Church is free from error in matters of faith and morals. It would not hurt, however, if someone knowledgeable would address the CutlerB’s friend’s points above. Who knows? It might serve to bring her into the Church, and it would surely be a faith booster to those of us who admit not to having all the answers or even understand all the questions.

It is not a matter of shutting your mind. You are as upset about these things as you choose to be.


I cannot choose not to be intellectually challenged by an argument posed to me.

Let me try to answer these as simply as possible. However these are not “simple” issues.

First the passage from *Quanta Cura *does not say that all teachings are infallible. It merely says that it is an infallible teaching that we must abide by all teachings, whether infallible or not, such as canon law, disciplines etc…

Second, and more difficult, but nonetheless addressable is the issue of *Unam Sanctam. *The short answer is that it must be read in context. It was issued before the Protestant Reformation and was directed to, and only to, Catholics. Since then, the situation has changed so the doctrine has “developed”.

That is a serious oversimplification. I suggest you read these:

I am by no means an expert in this area but I would like to make a couple of comments. I don’t think that you need to worry that there is a contradiction between the modern teaching of the Church and the quote from Quanta Cura because there isn’t any change in the teaching.

Correct me if I am wrong, but it seems that the passage you quoted is saying that the Magisterium can set certain disciplines and practices for the faithful and the laity cannot refuse to adhere to these disciplines without being in sin. That was in effect in the early and medieval time as well as ours. For instance, the Church has declared that the faithful are to abstain from meat on Fridays during Lent. The Magisterium has allowed regional bishops conferences to set other disciplines on the other Fridays (such as no meat every Friday or some other kind of penance on Fridays). I as a layperson cannot say “well I don’t really feel like doing those things, but I’m still a good Catholic!” because I would be in sin for doing so. Other examples of disciplines would be obligatory reception of the Sacraments of Penance and Eucharist once a year and prohibitions on married clergy.

You are correct in saying that disciplines can change over time but faith and morals do not change. But the moral that is in question is whether a layperson is obligated to follow the disciplines set by the Magisterium. We are, and always have been, required to follow them. Does that help?

No. The church has not changed its doctrines. No one can change that which is Divinely Revealed. Your opponent is twisting ideas (Unam Sanctam is among the most misunderstood and abused of papal documents) and disregarding the context in which the documents were written. I don’t understand why you are so worried.

Also, there are “levels” of Church teaching. Not all teaching is infallible, and the Church does not claim it all to be infallible.

Regarding Quanta Cura, it definitively condemns some quoted errors. Since these errors are quoted, they must be understood in their original sense–the encyclical says they are errors of"naturalists" so we must understand them as condemned as naturalists would understand them (naturalists denied the supernatural). Here are the relevant condemned erros in Quanta Cura–the Church still rejects them:

[1]“the best constitution of public society and (also) civil progress altogether require that human society be conducted and governed without regard being had to religion any more than if it did not exist; or, at least, without any distinction being made between the true religion and false ones.”

The Church does not teach that this is the best constituion of society (although it can be a tolerable one in some circumstances). See CCC 2105 and 2244.

[2]“that is the best condition of civil society, in which no duty is recognized, as attached to the civil power, of restraining by enacted penalties, offenders against the Catholic religion, except so far as public peace may require.”

Again, the Church does not teach this. See CCC 2109.

[3]“liberty of conscience and worship is each man’s personal right, which ought to be legally proclaimed and asserted in every rightly constituted society; and that a right resides in the citizens to an absolute liberty, which should be restrained by no authority whether ecclesiastical or civil, whereby they may be able openly and publicly to manifest and declare any of their ideas whatever, either by word of mouth, by the press, or in any other way.”

The Church does not teach this absolute liberty. In addition to CCC 2109, see this from a contemporary of the encyclical, Bl. John Henry Newman, for an explanation on what this was actually condemning:

Regarding Unam Sanctam, there are two parts to. The dogmatic part deals with the dogma that there is no salvation outside the Church. Unam Sanctam merely clarified which Church: the one subject to the Roman Pontiff.

Not too long ago, Pope Bl. John Paul II affirmed this, directly citing Unam Sanctam:

[quote=Bl. John Paul II]Since Christ brings about salvation through his Mystical Body, which is the Church, the way of salvation is connected essentially with the Church. The axiom extra ecclesiam nulla salus"–“outside the Church there is no salvation”–stated by St. Cyprian (Epist. 73, 21; PL 1123 AB), belongs to the Christian tradition. It was included in the Fourth Lateran Council (DS 802), in the Bull Unam Sanctam of Boniface VIII (DS 870) and the Council of Florence (Decretum pro Jacobitis, DS 1351).

Cutler, thank you for starting this thread. :slight_smile:

The lady says this about Unam Sanctam:

In the Middle Ages one regarded the Church of having absolute and universal authority, and especially the Pope. There is a papal document including the infallibility-formula at the end that defines just this!

That is the “allusion” I mention in the OP. Her emphasis is on “absolute” authority is in reply to my assertion that the Church’s infallibility is only engaged in matters of faith and morals.

You’re welcome, is there a particular reason you’re thankful? :slight_smile:

I’ve been up against and involved with similar people.

First, authority and infallibility should be distinguished. The Pope does not only have teaching authority (for which he has the charism of infallibility), but also governing and judicial authority in the Church. One cannot resist this authority without sin either and the Church still teaches this (it was defined at the First Vatican Council and reaffirmed at the Second, for example). So the Church even today acknowledges this universal authority of the Pope.

However, she may also be referring to an idea entertained by some medieval theologians, that the Pope had universal civil jurisdiction, as well as universal ecclesiastical jurisdiction. She may be arguing that Unam Sanctam dogmatized this idea.

There’s a lot packed into the short Bull, but the dogmatic definition at the end of Unam Sanctam clearly ties into the section dealing with the necessity of belonging to the Church subject to the Pope for salvation. It was reaffirmed explicitly in this sense,by the Fifth Lateran Council.

[quote=Lateran V]Moreover, since subjection to the Roman pontiff is necessary for salvation for all Christ’s faithful, as we are taught by the testimony of both sacred scripture and the holy fathers, and as is declared by the constitution of pope Boniface VIII of happy memory, also our predecessor, which begins Unam sanctam, we therefore, with the approval of the present sacred council, for the salvation of the souls of the same faithful, for the supreme authority of the Roman pontiff and of this holy see, and for the unity and power of the church, his spouse, renew and give our approval to that constitution, but without prejudice to the declaration of pope Clement V of holy memory, which begins Meruit.

Some at the time did misinterpret Unam Sanctam the way your debate opponent may be doing and Clement V, who became Pope after Boniface VIII and the short papacy of Benedict XI, issued the declaration cited by Lateran V to clarify that Unam Sanctam did not effect the civil authority of the king of France, but only his duties as being a subject of the Church–in other words, it did not make the Pope the absolute ruler of other nations:

[quote=Clement V, Meruit]That is why we do not wish or intend that any prejudice be engendered for that king and kingdom by the definition and declaration of our predecessor Pope Boniface VIII of happy memory, which begin by the words “Unam sanctam.” And we do not wish or intend that through this declaration the aforesaid king, kingdom and its inhabitants be more subject to the Roman Church than they had been before, but we wish that all be understood to remain in the same state as it had been before the above-mentioned declaration, both with regard to the Church and to the aforesaid king, kingdom and its inhabitants.

To add to this, prior to Unam Sanctam, a forged bull (Deum Time) was circulated that had Boniface VIII purportedly claiming to be the feudal lord of France and that France was subjsect to him in both spiritual and temporal matters. Boniface outright refuted its authenticity and the claims wrongly ascribed to him.

The idea that the civil power is subordinate to the spiritual power contained in Unam Sanctam has to do with the fact that even kings are subject to truth and true morality and the Church is the authority and judge as to what is true morality. Temporal authority is bound to have laws that govern the people in true justice and morality, and the Church is the authority as to what is true justice and morality. It is an indirect, not a direct authority. These principles were carried out in a very special way during the time of Christendom, when pretty much all the people and rulers were also members of the Church, and so Unam Sanctam reflects this historical relationship as well.

I hope that helps!

See also this articel on Unam Sanctam from the Catholic Encyclopedia:

PS: the following document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is a great explanation of the infallibility and overall authority of the Magisterium, and the kind of assent that is necessary. It is in the context of explaining the different paragraphs of a profession of faith required of clergy and other teachers:

You should get a Denzinger.

870-875: Bull Unam sanctum, November 18, 1302

This bull was occasioned by the controversy between the pope and King Phillip IV of France over the legal rights of the king in regard to the temporal goods of the clergy. Since the bull claims an unlimited and direct power of the pope over the king even in temporal matters, it led to much agitation and frequently gave offense. Within the bull, there is missing a distiction that Boniface VIII himself had explicitly made in the presence of the french legate on June 24, 1302: the king, like any other believer, is subject to the spiritual power of the pope only “with regard to sins” (ratione peccati). On the same occasion, the pope protested that he had been attacked as if “We had demanded that the king should recognize that his rule as king is from Us. For forty years, We have been experienced in the law, and We know that two powers have been ordained by God. Who, therefore, should or could believe that such foolishness, such stupidity was or is in Our head? We say that in no way do We wish to usurp the jurisdiction of the king…”

Good post JM3.

Just to add to my previous post, the Church still teaches that she can pass judgment on political matters. From the CCC, quoting Vatican II’s Gaudium et Spes:

2246 It is a part of the Church’s mission “to pass moral judgments even in matters related to politics, whenever the fundamental rights of man or the salvation of souls requires it.”

Thank you. It appears the entire controversy is over a faulty interpretation of the words.

As an additional question: Are there any quotes on this? Perhaps Popes have made some statements about the immutability of doctrine?

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