Vatican II - Voice of The Church
Vatican II - Voice of The Church

Infallibile: Authenticum: Assensus: Obsequium

Christian Teaching Authority and the Christian's Response

By B. C. Butler, O.S.B.

If, as my ancient Concise English Dictionary tells me, kittle cattle are cattle that are 'ticklish, difficult to deal with', then words are certainly kittle cattle. Many a word will not 'stay put' with what Descartes would accept as a 'clear and distinct' meaning. The meanings of words often vary with age, circumstance, and the whim of the man who uses them. The same dictionary tells me that 'to smash' is 'to break utterly to pieces'; but I have a friend who uses the word 'smashing' to mean 'absolutely splendid'. So I hope the reader will take what follows with a grain of the proverbial salt. Yet I am writing with complete seriousness on what I think is an important topic.


The Church is (within a certain area of truth) infallible; so is the college of bishops; so is the Pope. At least, the Pope exercises an 'infallible teaching function' (infallibile magisterium) when he defines a doctrine ex-cathedra; and in so doing he is endowed with 'that infallibility, in defining doctrine concerning faith and morals, wherewith the Redeemer willed his Church to be equipped'. It is abundantly clear that 'infallibility' is not claimed by Vatican I to be a habitual or permanent endowment of the Pope (whether it is a permanent endowment of the Church is another question). Vatican I rounds off this paragraph with the statement: 'Hence such definitions of the Pope are of themselves, not in consequence of the Church's consent, irreformable'. The meaning is pretty clear, but two elucidations seem called for. (1) Vatican I, in the phrase 'not in consequence of the Church's consent' (non . . . ex consensu Ecclesiae) appears to have been excluding the Gallican theory that a papal definition of this kind obtained its infallible status as a result of subsequent endorsement by, for example, an ecumenical council. (2) It is not clear to me whether the 'definition' here referred to and designated as 'irreformable' (irreformabilis) is the form of words in which the Pope expresses his mind, and not rather the interior judgment expressed through that form of words (and it is obvious that the interior judgment needs to be given some outward expression, since otherwise it does not achieve the status of a piece of doctrine, i.e. teaching). My view, bearing in mind for example John XXIII's words when inaugurating the second Vatican Council, is that it is the interior judgment that is irreformable. (1) Bernard Lonergan maintains (correctly, I think) that the home of truth is the interior judgment; verbal statements are not 'true' but more or less adequate expressions of truth.

In short, we are reasonably clear about papal ex cathedra infallibility. It is a transient charism, rarely accorded. Not, in my view, so rarely as is assumed by those who hold that it has only been accorded twice in the last 130 years (the definition of Our Lady's Immaculate Conception and that of her corporal Assumption). In my view papal infallibility comes into operation whenever the Pope officially endorses a new definition of faith published by an ecumenical council. The reason for this view is a simple one. Of no other bishop except the bishop of Rome can it be said that without his endorsement such a conciliar definition is without irreformable validity. Hence, in endorsing such a definition, the bishop of Rome must be bringing into play some gift or charism which is not available to any of his colleagues. One cannot see what this special gift could be except the charism of papal infallibility - especially since nothing but that charism could give the validity to a conciliar definition, as an irreformable definition of truth, which it requires. Let us finally note that this papal charism is an ecclesial reality: it is that infallibility in definiendo wherewith Christ willed his Church to be equipped.


Thus, we have papal infallibility ex cathedra, and we are fairly clear about it. What about the infallibility of the college of bishops (in which college is of course included the Pope, as its head)? Well, it can hardly be contested that the college exercises its infallible magisterium when it defines in council an article of faith. We are, however, further taught, for example by Vatican II, that this infallibility can come into exercise without the formality of a council: 'when (the bishops) even dispersed throughout the world, yet preserving the bond of communion with one another and with the Successor of Peter, in the act of officially teaching matters of faith and morals (2) concur in one judgment as bound to be definitively held, they infallibly express the doctrine of Christ (Lumen Gentium n. 25)'. It is of course implied, indeed stated, that this concurrence must be 'morally unanimous', and that those concurring include the Pope. I further hold with Karl Rahner that behind the judgment (sententia is the Latin word) it is not sufficient that there should be a quasi-accidental agreement of bishops considered as individual atoms; there must be a reciprocal intercommunion in the fashioning and forming of the relevant ideas and the judgment itself. There must, in other words be a 'collegial' act and not just the separate acts of a number of individuals. It is not a question of the results of a sociological survey. The College as such, in other words, is held to be here functioning. If you ask how this collegiate functioning can occur when the bishops are dispersed throughout the world, I am as much at a loss for an answer as you are. Perhaps the difficulty explains why, at various moments of crisis in Church history, it has been thought prudent to proceed to an ecumenical council, where the collegiality and irreversible authority of that collegiality, are 'more evident' (quod adhuc manifestius habetur).

It will, however, be noted that the difficulties about a non-conciliar mode of collegial infallible teaching results from the assumption that we are considering something like a papal or conciliar 'definition'. There is, however, a wider concept of infallibility: that or being maintained by the Holy Spirit in the ambit of revelation and its implications. The appeal to a quasi-consensus of bishops in this respect is ancient. St Irenaeus speaks of the 'charism of truth,' (charisma veritatis), accorded to the world-wide episcopate, in his polemic against Gnostic errors. Granted that bishops have the fullness of the sacrament of Order, and that it is a function of the ordained ministry to watch over the purity and integrity of the faith, it is inconceivable that the whole episcopal college should be allowed by the Holy Spirit to deviate radically from the truth of the gospel.


Thirdly, there is the infallibility of the whole People of God. This, it seems to me, operates at two levels, corresponding to the distinction between the Church's existence - which extends beyond the limits of the Catholic Church to include at least all the baptised - and its subsistence in the Catholic Church hierarchically constituted. The grace of faith inwardly moves the baptised towards orthodoxy, and this tendency bears particular fruit among those who are within the full visible communion of the Catholic Church. Hence the sensus fidelium, and more broadly the sensus Ecclesiae, has a latent infallibility; and pastors, from the Pope downwards, have to pay attention to this sensus and even to learn from it aspects of developed gospel which they might otherwise overlook.

It remains to be said that (a) the faithful may often disagree among themselves, and the genuine Sensus, whether of the faithful or of the Church, can be very difficult to discern. (b) The bishops are not, taken one by one, always orthodox; and taken collectively they may appear to concur in some belief which is not part of the faith; there is a non-infallible ordinary magisterium; (c) Popes do a lot of teaching which is not directly under the protection of their charism of infallibility. Apart from the papal endorsement of the doctrinal definitions of Vatican I there are only two quite clear cases of infallible definition by Popes in the last two centuries: the Marian definitions of 1854 and 1950. (3)


What response is due from the believer to the Church's official teaching; and is the same response due to non-infallible official teaching as to infallible definitions and to the infallible ordinary magisterium of the episcopal college so far as the latter can be ascertained?

It is here that I want to recommend a linguistic precision. Official documents use, with reference to responses to such official teaching, two words: obsequium and assensus (with which is associated the verb assentire). Should not the meaning of these words be distinguished?


As regards assensus, let us turn to the vernacular. There is one use of the word 'assent' which I think we can disregard. In British constitutional practice a parliamentary bill only becomes law when it receives 'the royal assent'; similarly, one can speak of 'assenting to your request'. In such usage, 'assent' refers not to a cognitive act but to an act of the will. The Queen does not have to believe in the contents of a parliamentary bill (still less to approve of them); what is needed is that she should officially consent to its proposals; and it is by this formal and expressed consent that the Bill becomes an Act. But besides assenting to a proposal one can assent to a proposition. In a conference of experts in strategy someone may put forward a theory to explain the Russian intervention in Afghanistan. And this theory may meet with the 'assent' of his colleagues. Their assent may be tacit; or it may be expressed. In either case it means that they all hold that the proposed theory is true.

Catholics know that the divine revelation in Jesus Christ calls for their assent: their acknowledgement that this alleged revelation is a real revelation and that its contents are true. They also know that they are called to assent to the Church's infallible teaching and, in particular, to the Church's infallible definitions in the area of the Christian revelation. It further appears to be 'theologically certain' (this is a lower grade of 'certainty' than the certainty of faith) that the Church can define propositions which are not part of the content of faith but are necessarily presupposed or, alternatively, entailed by the faith. (4) In either case, the assent of the faithful is called for though in the latter cases this will be not an assent of faith.

In his Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent (page 5), Newman describes assent as an 'internal act', of which assertion is the expression. Thus, if I assert that 'I exist' I imply that I am making or have made an internal act of assenting to the proposition: 'I exist` (one can imagine a philosopher - or a child; for I have known a child questioning whether he existed - considering the proposition 'I exist' and, after reflection, moving on to the unqualified internal act of assent in: 'Yes, I do exist', and subsequently formulating that assent in words to his neighbour: 'I exist'.) It is essential to Newman's treatment of assent that, according to him, 'assent is unconditional' (page 8). In this it differs from inference. I infer, from the premises that ABC is a triangle, that its internal angles are together equal to two right angles; but my conclusion is obviously dependent upon my premises; if someone (or I myself) regard it as uncertain whether ABC is a triangle, then my conclusion becomes uncertain. Thus, as regards my own existence, I can go through the cognitional process exhibited by Bernard Lonergan in a key chapter of lnsight, and infer that if the premises he offers me are true, then I do exist. But it is possible not only to infer one's existence but simply to recognise and assent to it. Assent, then, is unconditional.

I should like to suggest that, in discussing the attitudes of mind and will that are appropriate in respect of official Church teaching, we should confine our use of 'assent' to those instances where we need, and should, attach no conditions to our acceptance of a doctrine as true. If this suggestion is adopted, then it becomes necessary to find some other word to describe our mental relationship to doctrines that are not certainly true (please note that I am using the word doctrines to cover a wider field than dogmas; by dogmas I shall mean teachings that have the sanction of infallibility, especially, of course, defined articles of faith).


But before leaving Newman I wish to express one difference between his treatment of assent and the meaning that I wish to attach to the word. Newman speaks of assent as an internal relationship of our minds to propositions: 'without a proposition there is', he says, 'nothing to doubt about, nothing to infer, nothing to assent to'. Dare I say that I regard that statement as typical of the 'rationalism' of Newman's age? In any case, I want to be able to say that (a) there is such a thing as an assent of faith, and (b) that the objects of faith are not only propositions. Indeed I would go further, and say with St Thomas Aquinas that the act of faith goes through propositions to adhere to the reality 'on the far side' of the propositions. That reality is the incarnate 'Word' of God, that is to say, Jesus Christ. The Word of God, whether considered in abstraction from the incarnation or alternatively viewed as incarnate, is neither a proposition nor a set of propositions. And yet he is truth. In fact he is the truth that expresses in eternity the reality of God and, in time, God's self-disclosure to us. For me, then, the 'assent' of faith is related not simply to propositions but to the living reality that is Jesus Christ; and no single proposition nor any accumulation of propositions can encompass what that incarnate Word contains, that Jesus Christ 'in whom lie hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge'.


If my proposal that the word assent should, in theology, be confined to our unconditional internal acceptance of the faith and infallible propositional judgments concerning the faith, then we shall need some other word to express the attitude to be adopted to official Church teaching that is not, as we say, de fide; that is proposed to us, in other words, without the sanction of infallibility. What word shall we choose?


We may begin by reminding ourselves that an act of living faith is never a mere intellectual assent. It is an act of worship and a profession of loyalty. It commits us not only to a truth but to the reality of which the truth is an expression. There is a Latin word which seems to me to carry these overtones. It is obsequium. I give it in the original Latin, because there does not appear to be an agreed English translation of it. (5) Fr John McHugh, in the second of his masterly articles on Humanae Vitae (Clergy Review, August, September, October, 1969) mentions six renderings which have been offered of the word obsequium as it occurs in the famous encyclical of Paul VI: obedience, submission, assent, allegiance, compliance, deference. Not unnaturally he goes on: 'What does the word really mean?' And in due course he himself explains obsequium as: a willing compliance. He further explains (since he is at the point in the article discussing the religiosum voluntatis et intellectus obsequium which, according to Vatican II (Lumen Gentium n. 25) is owed to papal statements on doctrine or morality which are not ex cathedra) that 'there are, and must be, other motives for obedience based on the motive of religion, if our religion embraces more than an intellectual acceptance of revealed truth' (Clergy Review, September 1969, page 682).

One or two comments suggest themselves. In the first place, 'compliance' is a word which Fr McHugh does not define. Secondly, he seems to explain it by the alternative word, obedience. 'Obedience' may be an appropriate rendering of voluntatis obsequium (though I think it is too strong to cover all cases); but it cannot render intellectus obsequium. The intellect does not 'obey'; what it can do is: understand and assent - and Fr McHugh fully acknowledges that non-infallible teaching cannot, taken by itself, generate assent (in the narrow sense which I have ventured, following Newman, to give to that word). I can only assent to something as true if it is either self-evident or guaranteed by extraneous conditions. I can assent to an ex cathedra definition because, though usually it is not self-evident, it is guaranteed by the ('negative') assistance of the Holy Spirit covenanted to the Church when it defines a doctrine of revealed faith or morals. But I cannot assent, for example, to the teaching of Humanae Vitae simply on the basis that 'Rome has spoken, the case is finished' - because we have no guarantee that the Holy Spirit will preserve the Pope from error when he is not speaking ex cathedra. I am therefore inclined to think that 'obedience' is too strong a rendering of voluntatis obsequium, and totally incapable of rendering intellectus obsequium. I myself should prefer to render obsequium by another vague term: due respect. I think that a child exhibits obsequium to his father when he listens respectfully to his father's opinions, takes them seriously, and is prepared to admit, when inclined to disagree with his father, that he himself is at least as likely to be mistaken as his father is; but this falls far short of assenting to every assertion uttered by his father. (I remember, during the excitement immediately following the publication of Humanae Vitae, Cardinal Heenan saying that he wished those who disagreed with the Pope would admit that it was just possible that the Pope might be right, and they themselves wrong; I think that the Cardinal, without using the word, was advocating intellectus obsequium; he was certainly not requiring assent).


I have suggested that obsequium should be used to mean due respect. The advantage of this is that the quality of obsequium will vary according to the situation in which it operates. A careful reading of Lumen Gentium n. 25 (para. 1 in Fr Flannery's Vatican Council II) will show that this variation in quality or degree of obsequium is operative in this most important passage of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church. (6)

There is a valuable discussion of obsequium religiosum in L'Eglise et Son Mystere Tome I, by Mgr Philips (Desclee, 1967). Mgr Philips was one of the two secretaries of Vatican ll's Theological Commission. He was a Professor of Louvain and probably had much to do with the actual drafting of Lumen Gentium. He points out that bishops in general deserve from the faithful the 'respect' (venerandi sunt) which is their due when they are teaching the faith; while one's own diocesan bishop, when stating the faith in his official capacity should meet with (one's concurrence, concurrere; a point not mentioned by Philips; and) 'un assentiment intellectual d'order religieux, religioso animi obsequio'; for the bishop, when officially teaching the faith, has the right to expect from his flock 'mental docility', docilité d'esprit.

One or two comments. First, I welcome the word docility, teachableness or willingness to be instructed; this is a better word than 'obedience' (whatever the word translated by 'obedience' in our English versions may mean in the original Greek). The docility is very close to Cardinal Heenan's 'being prepared to admit that it is just possible that the Pope is right and I am wrong'. Secondly, I regret the phrase 'un assentiment intellectual', for the same reason as I wish to put a restricted meaning on the English word 'assent'. Thirdly, the reader will note the paradox that, even when they purport to speak as 'witnesses to divine and catholic truth', the bishops of neighbouring dioceses apparently do not merit from me the same obsequium as that which I owe to my own diocesan bishop. It looks as though obsequium, if it has something to do with truth, has much more to do with loyalty and the respect due to a superior. Such thoughts may remind us that the official teaching of the faith is done within a structured koinonia, and tends to build up the local church in which the universal koinonia is actualised. In fact, one may suggest, the ideal place for a diocesan bishop to instruct his flock would be at the eucharistic homily.


Following the text of this paragraph of Lumen Gentium, Mgr Philips proceeded to the response due to official but not infallible teaching of the Pope. He remarks that 'no-one can claim to place upon us an obligation of unconditional intellectual assent to such teaching' (the reader will remember that, in my usage, assent is always unconditional). But, says Philips, the Pope has authority to make pronouncements 'less absolute' than ex cathedra definitions; and to limit him to ex cathedra pronouncements would, 'in a community animated by charity', be barely thinkable. And when the Pope does engage in teaching which is not ex cathedra, 'the faithful will be deeply ready ('auront à  coeur') to respect (vénérer') his authority rather than to treat it with contempt or even with mockery . . . 'the obligation of submission' (or obsequium) is exactly proportionate to the degree in which the teaching office is exercised . . . If the official teacher (bishop or pope) makes an official declaration which falls short of 'definition' (what I call ex cathedra or infallible teaching), or if he gives only prudent advice, we shall be bound, proportionately, to assent, to docility, or to cordial attention (attention bienveillante)'. Most importantly (and showing that by assentiment Philips does not always mean what I mean by 'assent') he observes that the 'assentiment' due to these non-ex-cathedra teachings is 'neither irrevocable nor absolute'; 'if the Pope wished to elicit such an (absolute and irrevocable) assent, he would have recourse to an ex cathedra definition (une définition proprement dite)'.


Obsequium, then, is a variable, while assent is, in my use of the word, unconditional: I do not give more assent to the proposition 'one and one are two' than to the proposition 'five squared equals twenty-five', nor less than to the proposition 'I exist'. In each case, I simply assent - or with-hold assent. But I show more obsequium to my diocesan bishop when he is officially expounding the faith than to similar statements by other bishops; and less than to official, but not ex cathedra, teachings of the Pope when he addresses the whole universal Church and not merely his local flock at Rome or the conference of the bishops of Italy. I think 'theoretical and practical respect' will more or less render the meaning of obsequium. 'Theoretical and practical' will translate intellectus et voluntatis: and as regards practical respect, I would simply observe that when practical consequences are implicit in official teaching such teaching has consequences for my will as well as for my intellect. But just as my intellect will not be bound to 'assent' when the teaching is not guaranteed by infallibility, so my practical duty of compliance will be limitable by other factors.

So variable is obsequium that while, at one end of the spectrum, it is due from me to my bishop should he quote as current Canon Law something which I happen to know has been abrogated by Rome (not that he has ever done so), at the other end one can legitimately call the assent of faith an obsequium. A reference to the index of the Roman edition of the Constitutions, Decrees and Declarations of Vatican II will illustrate this variability. We have already seen that obsequium is due (in varying measure) to one's bishop in respect of his official teaching and (singulari ratione, says one Council) to the Pope, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra (but, we should add, is speaking officially, and is addressing not just his local diocese or province or patriarchate, but the whole Church; if his chosen audience is restricted then this special obsequium (singulari ratione) will be due only from those belonging to that restricted audience). On the other hand, the Council speaks of the 'full obsequium of intellect and will' which is due to God when he reveals himself (and this seems identical with 'assenting voluntarily to the revelation thus given by God'), (Dei Verbum n. 5). Similarly (Ad Gentes n. 15) we are told that 'the Holy Spirit provokes in (men's) hearts the obsequium of faith', and in Dignitatis Humanae n. 15, we are told that the act of faith is 'free' since the only way one can positively respond to God revealing himself is by a 'reasonable and free obsequium of faith'. Religious assent, then, is always an obsequium, but not every obsequium is an act of assent.


To sum up. (1) The Good News, or gospel (by which of course I do not here mean 'the Gospels'), that is to say the incarnate Word of God, is true, divinely true - the word 'infallible' could only be used of the gospel in the highly 'analogous' sense in which it was stated at Vatican I that only God is absolutely infallible. (2) The teaching of the college of bishops is infallible when the bishops, 'even dispersed throughout the world but preserving ... amongst themselves and with Peter's successor the bond of communion', are in agreement, in their authentic teaching concerning matters of faith and morals, that a particular teaching is to be held definitively (Lumen Gentium n. 25). The college of bishops is also and 'more manifestly' teaching infallibly when, in ecumenical council, it defines an article of faith. (3) The Pope is teaching infallibly when (and, so far as we know, only when) he teaches ex cathedra.

The response due to the Good News and to the infallible teaching of the college of bishops and its head is what I call assent; it can also be called 'obsequium fidei' - thus obsequium is a sort of genus of which religious assent is a species.

The infallible teaching of the college of bishops and of its head is of course 'official', by which I venture to translate authenticum. But the term 'official' or 'authentic' has a wider range than 'infallible' in its message, The Easter People, issued in 1980, the bishops' conference of England and Wales described the teaching of Humanae Vitae as 'authentic' - they did not call it 'infallible'. So, just as assent is a species of the wider genus obsequium, so 'infallible' is a species of the wider genus 'authentic'.

Only infallible teaching can of itself command assent.

Authentic but not infallible teaching calls for obsequium, which is a variable to be measured according to the source, circumstances, importance of the teaching, etc.

If we could agree to reserve the word 'assent' to describe unqualified mental acceptance, and translate obsequium by 'respect', we should prevent confusion and misunderstanding.


In conclusion, however, I want to express the unease that I feel when such a discussion as this moves, as it almost inevitably does today, within the sphere of notions like 'must' (believe), 'must' offer obsequium, duty, obligation, 'being bound', obedience (not to say, 'blind obedience'), the constraints on a believer, the lack of the freedom which an unbeliever (or even a liberal Protestant) 'enjoys'. We talk, and perhaps still more often think, of catholicism in terms of a totalitarian empire, or a renaissance monarchy, or a modern police state, or a highly disciplined army, or what in England we call a 'Victorian' family - with a father exercising a patria potestas rather too reminiscent of that of ancient Roman society. But Christianity is not like that at all. It is 'the glorious freedom of the sons of God'; it is an escape from slavery and an invitation to the responsible freedom of human maturity. An assured truth, such as that communicated in an infallible definition, is not a restriction of our effective freedom; it is a vast expansion of that freedom, for freedom is correlative with knowledge of reality, and every truth is an addition to that knowledge. One of the most heartening products of the turmoil of those weeks after the publication of Humanae Vitae was an article, in the French edition of the Osservatore Romano, by a Jesuit who had, I think, played his part in the preparations of or for that document. He stated that it was quite wrong to think that the Church, in its official teaching, expects the faithful to be like photographic films, simply reproducing in a passive way the image projected on them. On the contrary, the appeal of the teaching was to the (responsible) and conscientious freedom of the faithful. It was (to use a phrase which the Jesuit did not use) an appeal of love to loyal love rather than a ukase. In other words, it was not the orders issued with threats of sanctions by a nursemaid to a child of four, but a call to the mature judgment of a young person already able to respond with mature, reasonable, and responsible freedom. After all, all Church authority is a distant reflection of the 'authority' of divine love; and love, in its purity, cannot command, it can only appeal.

Not having the French text of the Jesuit, I quote from an unsigned English version - 'an unofficial translation for private circulation' which 'may not be published' (I have it in typescript). I assume that, since the original was published in the French edition of the Osservatore Romano on August 30th, 1968, there can be no valid objection to the following extracts being published today:

In spite of all appearances to the contrary, it is not the intention of the Encyclical to abolish ... the legitimate liberty of consciences but only to enlighten consciences and so help them to be more truly themselves. . . .

Has not the Council reminded us clearly that this conscience is not a sort of film which it is the Church's mission to imprint as it pleases so that the conscience will produce the desired photograph to order? If this were true, if this had ever been true, the Church would be a world of terror and the Encyclical could only plunge Christians into amazement and despair. . . . 'The Church has done enough condemning' said John XXIII at the beginning of the Council - a phrase which still has depths unplumbed. Are the members of the Church to be the only ones not to benefit from this armistice?

The Church isn't a blind juggernaut crushing all before it. The Church is a prop and support to help a man not to reject what he cannot yet hold.

It is not the Church of fear but of freedom.

(I should make it clear that my quotations have been selective. The Jesuit obviously believes that the teaching of Humanae Vitae is true - while, as we see, he refuses to condemn or discourage those whose conscience does not yet 'go along' with the encyclical). He is asking, in effect, for obsequium religiosum; he is not demanding blind obedience.



1. I would wish to make one further distinction. An interior judgment may have a basic and one or more contingent components. For example, it is conceivable that a mediaeval pope could have used the words 'and ascended into heaven' meaning both that the glorified Jesus was assumed into heaven and (on the assumption, accepted by the Pope, that 'heaven' is 'up there') that this ascension involved a journey through space in a more or less vertical direction to a destination locally above the empyrean. His basic meaning would have been both orthodox and true; his contingent meaning would have been false - unless we still accept the Ptolemaic cosmology. I should argue that what is irreformable in an ex cathedra definition is simply its basic meaning.

2. 'Faith and morals' is a phrase borrowed from tradition. I am not aware that a definitive exegesis of it has been attained. In Humanae Vitae it is not claimed that the teaching there expounded is part of revelation; rather, it is put forward as an authentic interpretation and enrichment of the natural moral law, an interpretation and enrichment enlightened by the grace of revelation.

3. Apart, that is to say, from a few occasions when Pius XII, in canonising saints, used the expression 'infallibili meo (nostro) judicio'. I submit these instances to better judgment than my own.

4. Thus I suppose that the Church could define that the human intellect, enlightened by grace, is capable of grasping truth; revelation presupposes this. An instance of entailment might be more difficult to discover - except the somewhat tautologous one that, if it is of faith that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead, it would be contradictory to hold an opinion implying that he was not so raised.

5. There are two English derivatives from the Latin. 'Obsequies' are funeral rites. And 'obsequious' means 'obedient, dutiful' - both these are designated as archaic in my old edition of the Concise Oxford Dictionary - or 'servile, fawning'. 'Obsequies', seems to result from a conflation between obsequim and exsequiae. The archaic meaning of 'obsequious', namely 'obedient, dutiful' comes close to the meaning of the Latin word.

6. I am here using Fr Flannery's first edition of this work; but with one reservation: in that edition sincere adhaereatur is rendered: 'sincere assent be given'. I think that 'assent be given' is too strong here, since the passage of Lumen Gentium in question is explaining what it means by obsequium voluntatis et intellectus religiosum. The meaning of the rather vague word adhaereatur must be determined by the context in which it occurs. [The rendering has been changed for the 1981 edition, at Bishop Butler's suggestion. The 1981 edition will be available in March. Editor].

This article first appeared in Doctrine and Life, 31 (1981), p.77-89