Ask Fr. Most (2)

Author: Fr. William Most


Can you please tell me the hierarchy of authority of the various types of papal pronouncements, i.e., difference between encyclical, apostolic letter, etc.? *********

I do not see any significant difference in the authority of the different types you name. I know the old books did that. I prefer to follow Vatican II, which sees three or four categories:

1) Solemn definition

2) Teaching of the Bishops, united, and with Pope, even if scattered throughout the world, or in council, when the bishops in union with Pope give authoritative teaching as definitive. That word is the essential, then it is infallible.

3) Pius XII in 1950, :

Nor should we think the things taught in Encyclicals do not require assent, on the plea that in them the Popes do not use the supreme teaching authority. These are taught with ordinary authority, about which it is also correct to say: 'He who hears you hears me.'

-That is promise of Christ which cannot fail, so infallible, but he added that not everything in encyclicals is such: If Pope in his takes position on something then being debated in theology, it is removed from debate, falls under that promise, and so is infallible

4) things not presented as definitive, as in Canon 752- still require religious submission of will and of mind. -

In sum: whatever is presented as definitive- no special language required-is infallible. All else is not,but requires assent of religion.

Fr Most