Tests of faith

It may be that there is nothing new in Ad tuendam fidem ("To Defend the Faith"), John Paul II’s June 30 apostolic letter. Perhaps, as many have said, by setting out the levels of church teaching and adding these more consistently to canon law, the pope is simply emphasizing and clarifying the responsibility of church leaders and teachers to uphold Catholic teaching.

And it may be that the accompanying commentary from the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith has no particular standing except as one possible illustration of those three levels of teaching, which were added to the Nicene Creed in a 1989 revision of the profession of faith to be taken by church officials and professors of Catholic theology. The levels consist, first, of truths considered divinely revealed in Scripture and tradition or by the solemn or universal judgment of the church; second, teachings not considered explicitly revealed but so intimately linked to revealed truths as to require full and definitive assent from every Catholic who wishes to be in full communion with the church; and third, teachings that are official and requiring adherence even if not yet judged definitive or irreformable. It is clearly the second of these that the pope’s letter and the CDF commentary wish to expand; the examples provided in the commentary include the restriction of priestly ordination to males, the illicitness of euthanasia and prostitution, the...

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