Sunday, April 29, 2007

Fundamental Theology, § 2. Notae Theologicæ

(Ad versionem latinam legendam, pulsa hic.)

Most theological problems of our day boil down to the notae theologicae (the “theological notes”), which is Sacred Theology's way of classifying doctrinal truths according to their level of certainty, along with the censurae (censures); that is, the classification of opposing errors. The subject is so important that--by popular request--I have decided to write up an English version of my previous post in Latin on the subject. (My main source is Salaverri; Nicolau. Sacrae Theologiae Summa. Madrid: BAC, 1952; vol. 1, pp. 7-8. See also Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, Intr., § 8, “The Theological Grades of Certainty”; as well as The Catholic Encyclopedia, "Censures: Theological," and Bl. Pope Pius IX, Tuas libenter, parragraph quoted in Denzinger, no. 1684--text included below. (For a Latin version of this post, click here.)

1. Truths to be believed with divine faith:

De fide divina (a truth of divine faith): a truth which is contained in the Word of God, whether in written form (Sacred Scripture), or handed down orally (Sacred Tradition): e.g., Our Lord's descent into hell. The error that is opposed to this level of catholic truth is called error in fide (error in the faith).

De fide divina et catholica (a truth of divine and catholic faith): a truth which is contained in the Word of God, whether in written form (Sacred Scripture), or handed down orally (Sacred Tradition), AND which is proposed by the Church--WHETHER through her solemn judgement OR through her ordinary and universal Magisterium--as divinely revealed and as credenda (“to be believed”): e.g., Our Lady's co-redemption. The error that is opposed to this level of catholic truth is called haeresis (heresy).

De fide divina et catholica definita (a truth of defined divine and catholic faith): a truth which is contained in the Word of God, whether in written form (Sacred Scripture), or handed down orally (Sacred Tradition), and which is proposed by the Church, by her solemn judgement--that is, through her infallible magisterium, exercised in an extraordinary manner, whether in an ecumenical council or through the Roman Pontiff speaking ex cathedra--as divinely revealed and as credenda (“to be believed”): e.g., "Souls that die in original sin only suffer eternal damnation." The error that is opposed to this level of catholic truth is called haeresis (heresy).

Fidei proxima (a truth that is proximate to the faith): a truth which, according to the almost unanimous consensus of theologians, is contained in the Word of God, whether in written form (Sacred Scripture), or handed down orally (Sacred Tradition): e.g., Baptism of Desire. The error that is opposed to this level of catholic truth is called proxima errori in fide vel haeresi vel haeresim sapiens (proximate to error in faith or proximate to heresy or savoring of heresy).

2. Truths to be held with ecclesiastical faith:

De fide ecclesiastica (a truth of ecclesiastical faith): a truth which is not formally part of Divine Revelation, but which is infallibly proposed by the Church's Magisterium: e.g., “The soul is the form of the body.” The error that is opposed to this level of Catholic truth is called error in fide ecclesiastica (error in ecclesiastical faith). (Many theologians, even prior to Vatican II, denied the separate existence of this category; many Thomists affirmed it, however, including Reginald Schultes--a student of Garrigou-Lagrange--in his famous, De Ecclesia.)

3. Truths to be held with religious assent of intellect and will:

Doctrina catholica (Catholic doctrine): a truth which is taught in the entire Church, but is not always infallibly proposed: viz., those things which the Roman Pontiffs explicitly desire to teach in encyclicals: e.g., the doctrines on the Sacred Liturgy in Pius XII's Mediator Dei. The error that is opposed to this level of catholic truth is called error in doctrina catholica (error in Catholic doctrine).

Theologice certa (a truth that is theologically certain): a truth which was acknowledged “in the theological schools” as certain and having a necessary logical connection with Revelation; such connection may be virtual, or presupositive, or final: e.g., "Christ posessed the beatific vision while on earth, even before his death and resurrection." The error that is opposed to this level of catholic truth is called error in theologia (error in theology).

Ita tenenda, ut contraria sit temeraria (a doctrine that is to be held, such that the contrary is temerary): a truth proposed by the Roman Congregations, which nevertheless does not enjoy the special approval of the Roman Pontiff: e.g., “The first Gospel was written by the apostle St. Matthew.” The error that is opposed to this level of catholic truth is called doctrina temeraria (temerary doctrine).

4. Doctrines that are to be respected and revered:

Sententia communis, certa in theologia (a common doctrine, a doctrine that is certain in theology): a doctrine that is proposed “in the schools” by the common consensus of theologians (i.e., in pontifical faculties of theologians, prior to 1962, when their orthodoxy was carefully safeguarded) as “well founded”: e.g., “Grace presupposes and perfects nature.” The error that is opposed to this level of catholic truth is called falsa in theologia, vel temeraria, vel scholis catholicis injuriosa (false in theology, or temerary, or injurious to catholic schools).

Sententia pia (pious doctrine): a doctrine which is not theologically exact, but which communicates well the piety and sentiments of the faithful: e.g., “Mary is the Spouse of the Holy Ghost.” A truth that is contrary to this level of catholic truth is called scandalosa seu male sonans seu offensiva piarum aurium (scandalous, or bad-sounding, or offensive to pious ears).

5. Opinions that are open to debate among experts:

Sententia communior (the more common opinion): an opinion that is usually favored over its counterpart(s) by most theologians: “Mary suffered a natural, temporal death.”

Sententia propabilis (probable opinion): an opinion which is not certain but which has a high level of probability: e.g., “the Minor Orders are part of the Sacrament of Holy Orders.”

Sententia propabilior (the more probable opinion): an opinion that is not certain but which is better founded than its counterpart(s): e.g., The view that the form of the consecration of the wine includes not only the words hoc est… calix sanguinis mei, but also the words novi et aeterni testamenti, mysterium fidei, qui pro vobis et pro multis effundetur in remissionem peccatorum.

Sententia tuta, sententia tolerata (safe opinion, tolerated opinion): an opinion which may be weakly founded or even altogether false, but which the Church has not, at least for the moment, deemed worthy of censure or condemnation: e.g., Molina’s scientia media.


The core of this classification (at least nos. 1 and 3) is confirmed by the words of Blessed Pope Pius IX, in his letter to the German Bishops, titled Tuas libenter (1863). There he tells Catholic theologians to be aware that they are required not only to believe de fide doctrines (from category 1), but also to submit to other decisions and teachings of the Church and her theologians (category 3):

For even if it were a matter concerning that subjection which is to be manifested by an act of divine faith, nevertheless, it would not have to be limited to those matters which have been defined by express decrees of the ecumenical Councils, or of the Roman Pontiffs and of this See, but would have to be extended also to those matters which are handed down as divinely revealed by the ordinary teaching power of the whole Church spread throughout the world, and therefore, by universal and common consent are held by Catholic theologians to belong to faith.

But, since it is a matter of that subjection by which in conscience all those Catholics are bound who work in the speculative sciences, in order that they may bring new advantage to the Church by their writings, on that account, then, the men of that same convention should realize that it is not sufficient for learned Catholics to accept and revere the aforesaid dogmas of the Church, but that it is also necessary to subject themselves to the decisions pertaining to doctrine which are issued by the Pontifical Congregations, and also to those forms of doctrine which are held by the common and constant consent of Catholics as theological truths and conclusions, so certain that opinions opposed to these same forms of doctrine, although they cannot be called heretical, nevertheless deserve some theological censure. (Denzinger no. 1684.)

Beate Pie, ora pro nobis!


Anonymous said...

Thank you for your attention to this important but often neglected subject.

I wonder if you could comment on the relationship of these traditional categories to Ad Tuendam Fidem and Cardinal Ratzinger's commentary on the Professio Dei?

Also, what is the authority for saying that the doctrine of Mary as Co-redemptrix is de fide?

Finally, in the light of the recent document of the International Theological Commission, how would you describe the status of the doctrine of infant limbo in terms of any of these categories, and why?

Robert J. Kovacs

Don Paco said...

I cannot answer all these excellent questions fully in a short comment like this (perhaps I will take a shot at them later, individually, in several posts) but let me say something brief about each:

1) I have not had a chance to study Ratzinger's commentary at any depth, but my sense is that it is essentially an explanation of the traditional categories, with emphasis on the assent required to the different propositions. This would be a good subject for a later post, but I need to research more.

2) As for the loci for the Co-redemptrix, you will find these carefully laid out in any traditional manual of scholastic theology (these loci include the consensus of fathers, the consensus of the theologians, the consensus of the faithful, and the statements of the Ordinary Magisterium). I would recommend the manual published by the BAC (cited above, in the body of the post); in English, you can look at Ludwig Ott and/or Adolph Tanquerey. Note, however, that I'm not saying it is de fide definita, but only de fide divina et catholica; in other words, it is part of the Faith, and the loci theologici show we've always believed it, but it has not been yet defined--hence the movement to raise it to the level of defined dogma. Eventually, I will write on this issue later; but the doctrine and its defense from the loci is so standard that perhaps a translation of a traditional manual, rather than an original post, would be more appropriate.

3) I insist, as I have done previously, that the issue of limbo, which is a very complex issue, cannot be done away with simply by saying it is at the level of a mere "opinion." One part of the doctrine, and the most essential one--namely, that those who die with original sin only suffer eternal damnation--has the highest level of doctrinal authority, that of de fide divina et catholica definita. Also at that level of de fide definita is the dogma of the absolute necessity of baptism for salvation(necessity of means, and not merely of precept). Finally, the doctrine of the limbus puerorum itself, while not de fide, is at the level of sententia communis, if not higher. I have put together several posts on the loci for this one in Latin (, and one post in English ( There are also a few good links on this issue on the sidebar of this blog (see "II.D. De Christo et Sacramentis").

I hope this helps. Thanks for your excellent questions; I will look into Ratzinger's commentary.

In Domino,

Anonymous said...

Would you mind commenting on where you feel JPII's teachings on the the death penalty, and his interpretation of Ephesians pertaining to the role of wives fits into this schema? I know that both teachings are contained in Encyclicals; does that automatically make them "Catholic doctrine," and if so, what does that mean for me. Sadly, I was taught a big "T" vs. little "t" schema, which is incredibly insufficient.

Thank you

Geremia said...

Surprised there's no mention of Fr. Cartechini, S.J. See his table of theological notes.