Can Papal Teachings be Rejected for being New?

Vatican I taught:

“For the Holy Spirit was promised to the successors of Peter not so that they might, by his revelation, make known some new doctrine, but that, by his assistance, they might religiously guard and faithfully expound the revelation or deposit of faith transmitted by the apostles.”

And Vatican II clarified that Papal Infallibility applies to teachings from the Deposit of Faith (Tradition and Scripture).

“And this infallibility with which the Divine Redeemer willed His Church to be endowed in defining doctrine of faith and morals, extends as far as the deposit of Revelation extends, which must be religiously guarded and faithfully expounded.”

Therefore, papal critics are proclaiming that they may reject the teaching of Pope Francis on the grounds that it is new doctrine, not the deposit of Revelation faithful expounded.

Of course, the problem is found in this nice passage from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

“88 The Church’s Magisterium exercises the authority it holds from Christ to the fullest extent when it defines dogmas, that is, when it proposes truths contained in divine Revelation or also when it proposes in a definitive way truths having a necessary connection with them.”

The truths with a necessary connection are implicit in Tradition or Scripture. For example, the dogma of the Immaculate Conception is not found in Sacred Scripture, and was not discussed in the early Church. Even at a time 700 years ago, more than 1200 years since the time of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Immaculate Conception was not taught even as a non-infallible teaching; it was an open question (on which St. Thomas erred).

So who is to say whether a truth is implicit in Tradition and Scripture? The Magisterium is the sole authoritative interpreter of Tradition and Scripture. So when the Pope teaches truths said to be implicit in the deposit of Revelation, the faithful cannot reject that teaching on the grounds that is new doctrine. The Pope in fact has the role to propose new definitions of dogma and new understandings of doctrine.

St. Thomas asks Whether it belongs to the Sovereign Pontiff to draw up a symbol of faith? A symbol of faith is a version of the Creed, or any similar list of fundamental truths to be believed. And he answers that the Pope does have that role.

“The universal Church cannot err, since she is governed by the Holy Ghost, Who is the Spirit of truth: for such was Our Lord’s promise to His disciples (John 16:13): “When He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will teach you all truth.” Now the symbol is published by the authority of the universal Church. Therefore it contains nothing defective.”

The reason of this is that there should be but one faith of the whole Church, according to 1 Corinthians 1:10: “That you all speak the same thing, and that there be no schisms among you”: and this could not be secured unless any question of faith that may arise be decided by him who presides over the whole Church, so that the whole Church may hold firmly to his decision. Consequently it belongs to the sole authority of the Sovereign Pontiff to publish a new edition of the symbol, as do all other matters which concern the whole Church, such as to convoke a general council and so forth.

Notice what St. Thomas teaches. The Church cannot err, and so that the Church may be One, She is led by the one Vicar of Christ, the Sovereign Pontiff, who has the authority to publish new version of the Creed, to issue new definitions of doctrine, to convoke an Ecumenical Council, and to exercise the full authority of the Church over doctrine and discipline.

The conservative Catholic subculture does not have the role to review each teaching of the Roman Pontiff, and reject whatever SEEMS new because it is not within their limited and often erroneous understanding of the Catholic faith. So it is not possible to reject a teaching of Pope Francis, on the alleged grounds that it is a novelty. For many truths are implicit in Tradition and Scripture; they have a necessary connection with the truths that are explicitly stated. So they can be taught by the Magisterium with authority.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian