Must They Really Believe?

The Question: I have a copy of the 1994 Catechism of the Catholic Church. Do you happen to know where it is stated that a Catholic must agree to believe all the doctrines put forth by the Church, or else?

The Response: As you likely know, the Catechism is not intended to be the definitive source of all Catholic doctrine.

11. This catechism aims at presenting an organic synthesis of the essential and fundamental contents of Catholic doctrine, as regards both faith and morals, in the light of the Second Vatican Council and the whole of the Church's Tradition. Its principal sources are the Sacred Scriptures, the Fathers of the Church, the liturgy, and the Church's Magisterium. It is intended to serve 'as a point of reference for the catechisms or compendia that are composed in the various countries'.[Extraordinary Synod of Bishops 1985, Final Report II B a, 4.]"

12. This work is intended primarily for those responsible for catechesis: first of all the bishops, as teachers of the faith and pastors of the Church. It is offered to them as an instrument in fulfilling their responsibility of teaching the People of God. Through the bishops, it is addressed to redactors of catechisms, to priests, and to catechists. It will also be useful reading for all other Christian faithful.Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed., © 1994/1997 United States Catholic Conference, Inc., p. 9

So, though the new Catechism might be useful for the Catholic-man-in-the-pew, it is intended primarily for the use of those holding apostolic and/or teaching positions within the RCC. These latter would, one might hope, be properly equipped to expound upon and clarify the sometimes-obfuscatory wording of the Catechism.

The Catechism can hardly be expected to contain all Catholic dogma and doctrine. It is, after all, intended essentially as a source document from which regional catechisms will be created. It is but a single volume. In the Vatican's Archives, there are some 25 miles of library 'stacks' holding what must amount to hundreds of thousands or, perhaps, even millions of official Church documents. As the dust jacket notes for the book The Secret Archives of the Vatican © 1969 by Maria Luisa Ambrosini states:

The book, an outcome of the author's rare chance to visit almost all the archives—'twenty-five miles of shelved documents'—describes how this awesome collection of knowledge came into being.

Jacques-Paul Migne, a priest and compiler\publisher of theological documents, gathered monumental collections of documents in the 19th century. The collection he called Patrologiae Latinae Cursus Completu. includes 217 volumes of collected documents and 4 volumes of indexes. The other set, called Patrologiae Graecae Cursus Completus, runs to 247 volumes. (J. P. Kirsch, Jacques-Paul Migne, Catholic Encyclopedia)

Only God can know how many Roman Catholic dogmatic statements lie buried in Vatican archives. Migne's works can include only a small percentage of the total verbiage.

Vatican I's Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith made quite clear that Catholic faithful are obliged to believe everything in Scriptures, in Tradition, and proposed by the Church:

8. Wherefore, by divine and Catholic faith all those things are to be believed which are contained in the word of God as found in Scripture and tradition, and which are proposed by the Church as matters to be believed as divinely revealed, whether by her solemn judgment or in her ordinary and universal magisterium. --Vatican I, Dei Filius, [Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith], Chapter 3; Denzinger 1792

Vatican I was a conservative council. Perhaps the more liberal Vatican II took a less pedantic view of what Catholics are required to assent to. While the 1st Vatican Council indeed did define dogmatic statements to be accepted de fide by the Catholic faithful, Vatican II did not, as Pope Paul VI made clear:

There are those who ask what authority, what theological qualification, the Council intended to give to its teachings, knowing that it avoided issuing solemn dogmatic definitions backed by the Church's infallible teaching authority. The answer is known by those who remember the conciliar declaration of March 6, 1964, repeated on November 16, 1964. In view of the pastoral nature of the Council, it avoided proclaiming in an extraordinary manner any dogmata carrying the mark of infallibility. --Pope Paul VI, General Audience of January 12, 1966

Looks rather like a Catch-22, doesn't it? Vatican II produced no dogmatic definitions, yet what it did produce is backed by the authority of the Ordinary Magisterium. Does that mean that, even though not formally defined as dogma, Catholics are obliged to believe the doctrines produced by Vatican II? The new Catechism is a product of Vatican II, let's see what it has to say about what Catholics must agree to

891. 'The Roman Pontiff, head of the college of bishops, enjoys this infallibility in virtue of his office, when, as supreme pastor and teacher of all the faithful - who confirms his brethren in the faith he proclaims by a definitive act a doctrine pertaining to faith or morals.... The infallibility promised to the Church is also present in the body of bishops when, together with Peter's successor, they exercise the supreme Magisterium,' above all in an Ecumenical Council.[LG 25; cf. Vatican Council I: DS 3074.] When the Church through its supreme Magisterium proposes a doctrine 'for belief as being divinely revealed,'[DV 10 # 2.] and as the teaching of Christ, the definitions 'must be adhered to with the obedience of faith.'[LG 25 # 2.] This infallibility extends as far as the deposit of divine Revelation itself.[Cf. LG 25.]Catechism of the Catholic Church, Op. cit., pp. 235-36

Note: Both Lumen Gentium and Dei Verbum, mentioned in the above paragraph, are available at the Vatican's web site.

I do believe that this paragraph is an answer to your question. Of course, I have encountered a number of Catholic apologists who argue from man-made logic that one cannot be guilty of sinning by not agreeing to a dogma that he was not aware of or did not comprehend.

1859 Mortal sin requires full knowledge and complete consent. It presupposes knowledge of the sinful character of the act, of its opposition to God's law. It also implies a consent sufficiently deliberate to be a personal choice. Feigned ignorance and hardness of heart133 do not diminish, but rather increase, the voluntary character of a sin.

1860 Unintentional ignorance can diminish or even remove the imputability of a grave offense. But no one is deemed to be ignorant of the principles of the moral law, which are written in the conscience of every man. The promptings of feelings and passions can also diminish the voluntary and free character of the offense, as can external pressures or pathological disorders. Sin committed through malice, by deliberate choice of evil, is the gravest. -- Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed., (C) 1994/1997 United States Catholic Conference, Inc.

Certainly that is something for Canon Lawyers to deal with. How much simpler is God's statement of accountability for those who are still trying to work out their salvation by works of the Law:

So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham. For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith. And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them.--Galatians 3:9-12

Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.--Galatians 2:16

I do not consider myself an evangelist, nor even an apologist. Rather, I prefer to think of myself as a polemist aggressively attacking the doctrines and practices of the Roman Catholic Church. When I do settle in to share the Gospel with the lost, I usually do so face-to-face; in order that I might be more responsive to the other person's reactions. For apologetics, when I do get involved, I like to do so in no more than two exchanges of emails limited to a single topic. After that, I believe just about all that is said is mere repetition.

That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. -- Romans 10:9

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