How Many “Ex Cathedra” Statements?

It is commonly stated that there have been but 2 “ex cathedra” statements issued in the Church’s history. Those are stated to be: The Immaculate Conception and the Assumption.

I challenge that common reading. I contend that there have been more than 2.

Interesting: Pius IX urges Catholic thinkers to assent to all the dogmas, those taught “by explicit decrees of ecumenical councils or by the Roman pontiffs [plural!] and by this Apostolic See” (DS 2879, Ignatius Press edition). Note that he uses the plural here. He implies that there have been several such ex cathedra teachings. But the Assumption had not yet been taught in this way. Ergo, there are more than 2.

“Name another.” I’ll name two:

Boniface VIII: “We declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff.” This is an irreformable teaching.

Benedict XII: “By this Constitution which is to remain in force for ever, we, with apostolic authority, define the following: According to the general disposition of God, the souls of all the saints who departed from this world before the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ….”

There are others also. With regard to some there is reasonable dispute as to whether or not they carry that ex cathedra weight. And there is a touch of irony in that.

4 thoughts on “How Many “Ex Cathedra” Statements?

  1. Have you read the Relatio of Bishop Gasser at Vatican I? Or The Gift of Infallibility by Fr. James T. O’Connor? They deal with this topic. The argument is then made that the proper understanding of papal infallibility makes many pronouncements infallible over the course of the history of the Church. For example, I’ve seen persuasive arguments that Humanae Vitae and Ordinatio Sacerdotalis contain infallible pronouncements. Since these documents are so recent yet no one seems to cite them in any list of infallible papal teachings, I imagine most people have no clue of the true extent of papal infallibility.

    1. JPII changed canon law in 1980s. The law stipulates that the delivery must expressly state “irreformable”. He did not. ergo, his act in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis was not infallible. The content was infallible, however, by the Ordinary and Universal Magisterium, as a doctrine taught everywhere and always. I grant that his language, had it been issued before the change in canon law, would qualify as ex cathedra. I can see a reasonable argument to this end even after this change in the law. However, he himself, through Ratzinger his ‘spokesman,’ said it was not.

      Humanae vitae does not have nearly that language as AS. (Recall AS’s language: in order to remove all doubt, I declare… no authority whatsoever, all are to hold this definitively…etc). However, Humane vitae also is infallible in its content, b/c the OUM has always taught it.

      The UN Dissenters who are trying to change the infallible doctrine of faith and morals are taking a stand against the very faith.

  2. I grant that it is necessary to use theological precision. Classifying the magisterial level of teachings can be quite helpful. But trying to pin down the exact number of ex cathedra statements, is, I think, not without some danger. For one, I think it tends toward a certain minimalism, where only what has been infallibly declared is seen as what one is obliged to assent to (condemned under Pius X I believe). Rather, one is obliged to assent to ALL that the Church teaches, regardless of the teaching’s level of authority. As I understand it, the different levels of teaching help one in interpreting the teachings. I.e., the teachings of lower authority should be understood in light of the teachings of higher authority, not vice versa. Seems like common sense, but I think the neglect of this principle is responsible for a great deal of modern heresy. E.g., consider extra ecclesiam nulla salus. We have on the one hand Bonifcae VIII’s so obviously ex cathedra statement (though some deny it that status–but in any case that teaching has been taught very solemnly and several times and its all over the place in the Fathers), and on the other hand we have much less solemn teachings from some modern popes as well as, e.g., the new Catechism, that superficially seem to contradict this teaching or at least to very much downplay it. The modern Catholic (well at least the one who is somewhat educated) holds on to the modern teaching as if it were the solemn dogma and then tries to reconcile/explain-away what is actually the solemn dogma. Madness! The true approach is to do the exact opposite. Take the dogma and hold on to it firmly. And then seek to understand the modern/casual teaching in its light.

    1. 1. We are commanded to ASSENT only to infallible teachings. Assent = Absolute acceptance of some truth. These, in two orders. (a) In the order of faith: De fide divina. (b) In the order of things ‘standing around’ the faith: De fide catholica or Ad fidem pertinens.

      2. You are right about the dangers of minimalism also. Non-infallible teachings call for ‘submission’ of mind and will.

      3. You are correct that dogma must never ‘give way’. It can be ‘further articulated / refined’ but not ‘watered down’.

      4. It is instructive to meditate that Trent (“or the desire for Baptism”) does not contradict earlier teaching on the need for Baptism and Church membership. This is an example of further refinement. Pius IX and XII make even further refinements: That desire can be ‘implicit’.

      I think a really fine theologian on ‘extra ecclesiam’ is Joseph C Fenton. Find all his articles and read them. A friend of mine is publishing a collection. I will advertise it when it comes out.

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