On Faithful Dissent (part 2)

In my previous article on this topic, I showed that the Magisterium does in fact teach, non-infallibly, that dissent from a non-infallible teaching can be legitimate, faithful, and not sinful.

Of course, it is to be observed that very much of the dissent in the world today is unfaithful: dissent from infallible teachings, dissent from non-infallible teachings without any basis, and disregard for the work of the Holy Spirit in Tradition and Scripture. Some dissenters are openly contemptuous toward the teaching authority of the Church, per se, and others reject the very idea that the Church has any authority to teach objective truths. So it is that the norms of licit dissent are often exceeded to an extreme degree.

But this article is about faithful dissent: reasonable limited dissent from a particular non-infallible teaching, on the basis of teachings in Tradition, Scripture, Magisterium, on the basis of faith and reason.

What are the arguments against licit dissent from a non-infallible teaching?

The most common “argument” is no argument at all. The individual merely states, emphatically and repeatedly, that there is no such thing as faithful dissent. Such persons think that by rejecting all dissent, they have a greater loyalty to the Church, or perhaps a greater faithfulness. But this is not so.

The Magisterium has taught that some dissent from non-infallible teachings is licit. This teaching of the non-infallible Magisterium is found in “Human Life in Our Day“, n. 49 – 53. This teaching is also implied by the document of then-Cardinal Ratzinger, Donum Veritatis (The Gift of Truth), n. 30. The norms of licit dissent are a non-infallible teaching of the Church.

So the assertion that “no dissent can be faithful” is itself a dissenting position from a non-infallible teaching. This type of contradictory position is philosophically and theologically untenable.

Another common argument is that the non-infallible teachings require assent, just as the infallible teachings require assent. And so, they say, there is no practical difference between infallible and non-infallible teachings; you must believe them all.

This position, too, is self-contradictory. The Magisterium teaches that there are two different types of assent:

1. theological assent, which is the full assent of faith, to infallible teachings
2. religious assent, which is the religious submission of will and intellect

So, according to Church teaching, it is not true that there is no real difference between assent to infallible teachings and assent to non-infallible teachings. If that were so, then there would really be only one type of assent, and the magisterial teaching on two types of assent would be false.

Then there are those persons who claim that the Magisterium never errs, even in its non-infallible teachings. So they interpret the term ‘non-infallible’ as referring to an inerrant teaching, one that is merely not solemnly defined. But this position, too, is a contradiction of Church teaching. The Magisterium teaches that only certain magisterial teachings are infallible, namely those truths taught under: (1) Papal Infallibility, or, (2) Conciliar Infallibility, or, (3) the ordinary and universal Magisterium. To say that all teachings are without any error, is to imply that all teachings are infallible. This position is a rejection of Church teaching on when the Magisterium teaches infallibly.

Now individual Bishops sometimes teach differing views on important matters of faith and morals. If non-infallible teachings never err, how can we explain this disagreement. There are thousands of Bishops in the world, and they do not always agree on every question of faith and morals.

One proposed solution is to say that whichever Bishop erred did not really exercise the Magisterium. But this idea destroys the teaching authority of the individual Bishops. We would have no way of knowing which Bishops are “really” exercising the Magisterium if they only do so when they are correct. And such a solution is not compatible with the teaching of Vatican II on the authority of Bishops. They have authority by virtue of ordination to the episcopal degree (Lumen Gentium 25).

Another proposed solution is to narrow, in effect, the Magisterium to the Pope alone, so that the individual Bishops don’t exercise the Magisterium, except when they repeat what the Pope has already taught. This removes the problem of conflicts on doctrine between Bishops. But it does so by rejecting the teaching of the Church that the Bishops are the successors to the Apostles. Jesus chose 12 Apostles, not just one. Peter was chosen as the leader of the Apostles, and the first Pope, but the other Apostles were not merely his servants or his mouthpieces. They were Apostles in their own right. So it is false to say that the Magisterium is only really exercised by the Pope.

And as for those persons who claim that the ordinary Magisterium of the Pope is without any error, they contradict the dogma of the First Vatican Council that the teaching of the Popes is only infallible when certain criteria are met. To say that the Pope’s teaching is always without any error is to reject the dogma of Papal Infallibility.

Finally, there is the very wicked idea that, even when the faithful realize that a particular non-infallible teaching is false, they are required to believe it. Such a claim is exceedingly offensive to God who is truth. It is essentially an abandonment of the true worship of God. It is idolatrous to claim that we must believe a false teaching because it was taught with authority. God is Truth. We worship in Truth.

{1:14} And the Word became flesh, and he lived among us, and we saw his glory, glory like that of an only-begotten son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

In summary, every proposal that rejects licit dissent is necessarily in some way a rejection of some teaching of the Magisterium. Every proposal claiming that no dissent is faithful, is itself an unfaithful dissent from magisterial teaching.

If you are faithful to God who is Truth, and to the Magisterium guided by the Holy Spirit, then you must admit that non-infallible teachings may contain some errors, and that the faithful can sometimes licitly dissent from a non-infallible teaching.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and
translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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