Obeying whil Disagreeing?

Salvete, omnes!

All right, first, I get that Catholics are not permitted even to disagree with a Church teaching on faith/morals that has its origins in the popes, the councils, the magisterium–all infallible sources of moral/faith Truth, at least so I understand.

But, what about cases where, say, one individual priest (say, your own, in your church) thinks something to be sinful while another priest does not? And, what if this very specific matter has not been ruled on infallibly through any of the instruments mentioned above? Is a Catholic, in this situation, obligated, even though he may not agree with his own priest’s assessment of sin, to obey the priest in any action touching on this particular matter as if it were sinfl?

Also, how would this kind of situation worked before modern times? Say, in the early Church, one Church official believed one thing to be sinful while another did not but there had been no what would have then been considered “offcial” ruling from Rome on the issue. Was the Christian back then obliged to follow his local official even when he disagreed with his position? (Of course, as I understand it, in that time, it was less easy/convenient to communicate with Church authority in Rome, especially if you were in charge of a far-off province.)

Le’ts take an antique example, as it is the first one for me that comes to mind on a subject like this. Say we have an early Church Father who disagrees with reading pagan poetry (such as the Aeneid) or even writing poetry because of the pagan/worldly associations of both, but a church member believes that, even if the works he is reading are pagan, they still may contain some wisdom and even delight the reader by their stories. He doesn’t think that he will be adversely affected by reading, say, the Aeneid. What is he to do in this situation, especially if there had been no official ruling on the issue and one person often disagreed with another on issues like this? To whom is he obligated in this case? Can he still read classical poetry?

Finally, is the notion that one must obey even though one disagrees itself a dogmatic/infallible issue of faith and morals? If not, are we even permitted to disagree with, and, thus, potentially not to follow it, with prudence, of course, so that we are careful not to cause any dissensions?

Another issue might be one of gluttony (the teaching on which may have changed over time??). As I understand it, a part of gluttony used to be (officially/infallibly?) defined as including both “needless” snacking and even eating “dainty”/spicey foods/foods highly appealing to the senses. Today, as I understand it, gluttony is now primarily defined essentially as overeating. Prior to this redefinition(?), would someone who consumed spicey foods because he disagreed that doing so was a sin be in violation of some Church precept about obeying while, at the same time, disagreeing? Indeed, was there ever truly an infallibly-determined efinition of, precisely, what gluttony is or were/are(?) the avariants mentioned above varying definition of individuals, albeit scholarly ones such as many ear Fathers as well as Aquiinas?

OK, I do hope the above makes at least some sense! I am still very new to looking into Catholicism so, really, in a lot of this, I am not even quite sure what to ask/how to ask it. Also, my terminology in places may be a bit off, so do bear with me.

And thanks in advance for any help!

Various Priests or laypersons can have some differing judgments about *matters that the Church does not have a Teaching. *

Could one agree with one over the other? Yes that can happen. Sometimes judgements can differ on such matters.

Say judgments about how to apply a particular teaching etc.

Regarding obedience, as Catholics we are not obliged to be obedient to individual Catholic priests. Priests are not to be seen as infallible fonts of knowledge. It is the duty of individual Catholics to make themselves aware of what the Church teaches, and these days, with so much information at our disposal, this is not so difficult for most people.

Priests are human, they make mistakes. The Church however, does not make mistakes in her teachings on faith and morals. Form your consience to Church teachings, take advice, and then act according to your conscience while keeping to Church teaching. Be aware though that knowing what the Church teaches if you act against it because you disagree with it, then that is not justified.

When we have to stand alone before God at our day of judgement and justify what we have done, will we want to be in a position of saying to God, “I broke the Church’s laws, your laws, because I believed those laws were wrong”?

We are obliged to follow what the Church teaches, not individual priest’s interpretations of what the Church teaches. But we individually bear the personal responsibility of following these laws in good conscience and we as individuals will pay the price for not doing so, or for being lax when we actually know we are being lax with an interpretation.

Make very sure that you have made yourself fully aware of what the Church teaches, form your conscience to this teaching (advise from priests can help this process) and then obey the teaching following your formed conscience in full knowledge that you will be held acountable by God for your actions.

In confession one time I asked my priest if I disagreed with a Church teaching but did not speak out against it or act against it and I was obedient to it was I still in a state of sin for disagreeing. The answer was no. He said to me, “I think when we get to Heaven we will all have a list of 5-10 things we’ll want to ask God about.”

Now I’ve heard everything. Spicey foods forbidden.
I guess all of us Hispanics are in deep trouble.

Well, actually, over-spiced food before refrigerators could be a problem because if the food was bad, the taste of the spices could hide that.

Altho I can also see this in a spiritual way: adding spices enough to hide the flavor of the item itself would make the part you were eating for nutrition be merely a carrier for the spice, and the eater would thus be eating more for the flavor than for the nutrition.

Well, in this case, the teaching has changed because the underlying situation changed. Long ago, in many places spices were very expensive. That, as I understand it, was the reason that people might have been discouraged from using them. If a local family could eat for a week for the money it cost you to spice one dish, you can see why it might be considered gluttony. I think it could still be considered gluttony to spend huge amounts of money on your food in order to have expensive delicacies or rare foods. For example, if you charter a plane to get some rare ingredient delivered to you from far away, that might still fall under the sin of gluttony. (It would almost certainly be a sin against temperance.) Or alternatively, if you neglect your work or family to spend inordinate amounts of time preparing exotic and complicated foods, that might be too.

Gluttony is being too concerned with food, drink, etc. The Magisterium is not going to declare exactly how concerned is too concerned, or how much is too much. That is why we have consciences and spiritual directors, since it depends on the circumstances of the person and the world. If you read the Screwtape Letters, letter XVII has a good discussion of gluttony.

Today, when spices are cheap, it’s not gluttonous to eat spicy food. The principles haven’t changed, just the circumstances.


In matters where teaching is unclear and moral theologians do not hold any real consensus, faithful Catholics enjoy a good degree of liberty (acting with a clear conscience of course). This is expressed in a number of Church teachings but most clearly in the below:

Ad Petri Cathedram
Encyclical of Pope John XXIII

  1. The Catholic Church, of course, leaves many questions open to the discussion of theologians. She does this to the extent that matters are not absolutely certain. Far from jeopardizing the Church’s unity, controversies, as a noted English author, John Henry Cardinal Newman, has remarked, can actually pave the way for its attainment. For discussion can lead to fuller and deeper understanding of religious truths; when one idea strikes against another, there may be a spark.(25)
  1. But the common saying, expressed in various ways and attributed to various authors, must be recalled with approval: in essentials, unity; in doubtful matters, liberty; in all things, charity.

You can also read more about the principle of Probabilism:


Blimey! We are allowed to enjoy our food, we are actually allowed to make our food taste nice, we are allowed to choose meals based on taste preference, rather than make choices based purely on nutritional value. God gave.us taste-buds and we are allowed to enjoy His creation.

I have noticed that Puritanism has influenced to some degree how US Catholics define sin.

I didn’t mean to sound Puritanical or Jansenistic; I was talking about an extreme. For example, if I ran a marathon and then ate two steaks because I was so hungry, yes, I could enjoy them :slight_smile:

But if I sit around all day and eat a pound of my favorite chocolate that evening just because I like the taste so much… that’s a different matter, right?

I think you are maybe subscribing a little bit to one of the most common false perceptions of the nature of God. Many religious people do unfortunately feed into this perception. That perception is of the “prosecuting attorney” image of God as opposed to loving Father, best friend you ever had, source all good in the world, amazing coach, etc. image of God.

I have never heard anyone say that you cannot study any form of poetry or use spices of any kind on your food. There is a recent video on Father Barron’s (now Bishop - elect Barron) You Tube channel on spiritual nutrition. He does not say anything about “don’t do this or else”. He just talks about how to grow in your relationship with God.

If you have a question, you can ask your parish priest who is a much better source than CAF because many posters on religious forums feed into the false perception mentioned above. I am not sure if this is because forums attract a certain type of person, or if it is because it is difficult to convey emotions, expressions, etc. on a forum. So people can read / assume something that is not there. Thus, it is much better to talk to a real person in real life when you can. Another great way to learn is from books / CD’s / DVD’s from theological scholars. Scholars will teach you how to grow and sort out misconceptions.

I go to a liberal parish where they almost never talk about avoiding sins. One of our liberal priests even said some things are not even sins that most priests would disagree with. I like this parish because they often talk about antiwar issues and environmental issues. However, I also visit other more conservative parishes because I am curious about their point of view. So I might listen to what a conservative has to say for myself, while consciously avoiding trying to relate that conservative view to other people, especially here.

Why is that? That is because if you want to see for yourself what it is like to get in “better shape” in some aspect of your life then different types of coaches might help you. For example, almost no priest is going to tell you that eating at a nice restaurant and having a couple glasses of wine is some sort of sin. However, if you are someone who wants to be a boxer, and you do that every day, when you get in the ring you are going to be destroyed.

However, few people are trying to be boxers in the physical or spiritual realm. For myself, I am very curious about different points of view, especially from people who live in different worlds from myself. I spent my career in a high risk industry where mistakes kill people.
In this industry, you need to turn certain ways of thinking on and off like a light switch. For example, you don’t want to think that way at home. However, other people, try to think the way they do at home, in this industry, and that can be very dangerous. They might think some safety rule is optional etc.

So, I learn from people who think differently, so when I turn off the “high risk” mode, I have something to emulate. Staying anchored in your local church, and regularly reading / listening to a scholar will help you discern who / what to learn from. You do not need to only listen to the most conservative theologian to “be safe”, and the world is not a high risk industry. You can associate with and learn from people who are different from you.

God is there to help you, not to catch you.

Good luck.

That is true. But we also have a duty to love God, we cannot simply take God’s love for granted without fulfilling our part of the bargain, “If you love me, keep my commandments”. Since the time of Adam and Eve, that has been the way.

Yes, God loves us, always, but that does not mean we have no obligation to obey Him. Throughout the Old Testament, and right though the Gospels (from Christ Himself) and into through writings of St Paul, the message is clear, we are obliged to follow God’s commandments. If we do not do this then we will be punished.

The Catechism is our essential guide to what God’s commandments mean, how we should keep His commandments. If a priest ever tells you something that is contrary to what is written in the Catechism (or in any other documents of Church teaching) then that priest is wrong. Truth is not subjective, morality is not subjective, sin is not subjective.

Straw man argument.

I never said that we have no obligation to obey God.

What I said is to listen to the right people. The parish priest, and a theological scholar trumps a fear mongering layman on an internet site by an overwhelming margin.

In general, the difference between true evangelization, and a religious predator is that the predator will present himself as the ultimate “authority” and try to scare people with his knowledge, but the evangelist will encourage people to come closer to God, and to seek knowledge from a real authority. In the Bible, the predators were called Pharisees.

Even real scholars like Bishop - elect Barron, and Matthew Kelly tell people to seek out knowledge from known scholars. Pharisees don’t do that.

I’m not trying to argue with you.

I’m saying that the tenets of our faith are absolute and not relative and are laid down in the catechism and other Church documents. What is written in the Catechism trumps a parish priest or a theological scholar (the fact that so many priests and theologians disagree, therefore some of them must be wrong, makes that clear). If in doubt turn to the Catechism. Truth is what it is, not what we personally believe it to be.

And yes of course we should encourage people to come to God rather than scare them away, but we are called to proclaim the truth, not alter the truth to suit our audience. We do no service to people by pretending that sin, Hell, the devil etc. don’t exist.

Actually, when speaking of food, the movement against eating anything fancy pre-dates Puritanism by a millennium and a half. When the Ante-Nicene Fathers wrote about food, they were pretty much universally against anything fancy; they advocated eating plain foods, and not much of them.

First, I would like to thank everyone for the responses thus far.

As regards the one that might’ve bee considered too “strict” by some, to be quite honest, I like that kind of approach. The poster was, I think, just being honest/blunt, not trying to “scare” anyone. Just my feeling, anyway, as I know I can rather often come off like that, too. :slight_smile:

As far as the food question in particular: It is true that most if not all evidence we have from the early Fathers (at least from what I have read thus far) seems to condemn “fancy” fare. And, indeed, this provides further topics for discussion on obedience and agreeement/disagreement. So far as I know (and DO correct me if I’m wrong), even back then, the Church as a whole never outright condemned the eating of “fancy” foods, though many Fathers did. So, in this case, could an early Christian have been justified if he, being ealthy, decided to eat something “fancy” either once or even routinely, so long as he paid sufficient attention also to the needs of the poor/the Church in using his wealth? I mean, even if the Church never condemned such outright (apparently, anyway?), could not some argument be made for “sensus fidei” in saying that individual parishioners were obligated not to eat anything fancy (or to support such actions by anyone else) because there was such universal agreement, even if not official? Basic question: Could an early Christian during the time of the Fathers, despite almost universal condemnation by them, eat “fancy” food (with qualifications, of course) even though there was almost universal condemnation of it?

And here’s another one – laughter: As I understand it, most if not all the Fathers condemned pretty well any laughter outright because of their interpretation of certain verses in Sacred Scripture as well as their more serious/severe/conservative tendencies (tendencies which, as I understand it, were later spoken against as being “too” severe/etc.). But, again, as I understand it (again, correct me if I’m wrong), there was never any official censure of laughter by the Church. Still, with such universal condemnation by the Fathers, would Christians ofthat age be sinning if they liked to laugh or if they even condoned such in others?

Thanks again for all your input and I look forward to hearing from folks on this as well as these current questions I’ve raised in future!

Gratias multas.

Early Church fathers recommend against fancy food. Modern(ish) saints and popes recommend for praying the rosary every day.

However, neither of those recommendations is in canon law or is a prohibition or command of the Magisterium. It is not disobedient not to follow them, but it would be a really good idea to listen, pray, and at least consider trying them out to see if you are helped spiritually.

Just my :twocents:


Where gluttony and intemperance are concerned, the circumstances about what food habits fall into gluttony, also evolve with what foods are considered “luxurious”. But it’s not just about once-luxurious foods now becoming “common” such as some spices. Some “luxury” foods such as lobster and oyster, used to be much more abundant, cheap, and “common”. Same could be said of seafood in general.

But though I do live in a region where there are enough Catholics that many local eateries still run “fish fry” specials on Friday, and many more do so during Lent – if I were to see a Catholic consuming a large amount of lobster and oysters, then claim to be “abstaining” from meat as a penance, I’d seriously question their understanding of the principles behind the practices. Unless, I suppose, that person really hated seafood. But why then would that person spend money on lobsters and oysters, instead of cheap fish sticks?

The moral permissibility of dissenting from/disobeying the moral direction of one’s priest or bishop is conditioned by the objective authority enjoyed by the prescriptions in question (some things they teach are infallible - because infallibly defined elsewhere -, others may enjoy near-universal consensus, others may be quite particular and controverted positions), in which case we are less bound to obey the less certain the teaching is. But there is also a subjective component to morality, and the intention/attitude that informs our actions can affect their moral value. Parting ways with a pastor because I’ve thoroughly studied the issue and know there is a legitimate diversity of opinion would be one thing; simply saying “I bet that’s not infallible” without bothering to inform oneself could be sinful negligence or contempt of God-given authority *even if *the course of action you decided upon turned out to be objectively neutral or good. Before modern means of communication it would be far more difficult to query the mind of the universal Church, and thus far more necessary to simply trust the word of the one with a magisterium. Unless I can establish that a teaching is, in fact, doubtful, it is presumptuous of me to use my prima facie disagreement as grounds to disobey.

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