18 July 2012

Obsequium Animi Religiosum and Loyalty Oaths

[[Dear Sister, if a loyalty [or fidelity] oath requires a "religious assent of mind" what does this mean?]]

The first thing it means is that one is dealing with a category of non-definitive teaching known as "authoritative doctrine." It is a level of teaching which is authoritative but at the same time does not rise to the level of either definitive doctrine (which requires "firm acceptance") or dogma (which requires the assent of faith because one trusts this is revealed by God) and it is a level of teaching which admits what some refer to as "a remote possibility of church error." It therefore means or should mean that the fidelity oath does not combine different levels of teaching in the hierarchy of truths and allows the faithful to take into account that the teaching requiring such a level of assent could change. Lumen Gentium affirmed this level of teaching as well as this level of assent (LG25).

The second thing it means, however, is more complicated. The actual meaning of the term "Religious submission of mind and will" hinges on the Latin obsequium, which has been defined in a variety of ways. Richard Gaillardetz lists the following meanings: obedience, submission, docility, due respect, or assent. (These are not synonyms but responses along a spectrum of responses.) Noting that there is great disagreement on this matter he also proposes [[that the appropriate response to authoritative doctrine requires the believer to make a genuine effort to assimilate the given teaching into their personal religious convictions. In doing so, the believer is attempting to give an "internal assent" to the teaching.]] He goes further in articulating the requirements of "religious docility" as meaning three things: 1) one will be willing to engage in further study of the issue; 2) if the teaching in question regards moral matters one will do an examination of conscience and "ask oneself some difficult questions" with regard to the difficulty one is having with the teaching. [[ Am I having difficulty because I cannot discover in it the will of God, or is it because, if true, this teaching would require real conversion]] or change in lifestyle? 3) Do I have trouble with this specific teaching or with the idea of a teaching office itself?

Gaillardetz's conclusion here is important: [[This is a fairly demanding regimen, as it ought to be if I am to take issue with accepted church teaching. However, if I have difficulties with a particular teaching and I have fulfilled these three steps and still cannot give an internal assent to that teaching I have done all the church can ask of me and my inability to give an internal assent to this teaching does not in any way separate me from the Roman Catholic Communion.]] By What Authority? A Primer on Scripture, the Magisterium, and the Sense of the Faithful, Richard R Gaillardetz Liturgical Press

Avery Dulles echoes much of what Gaillardetz says about the term "religious submission of mind and will" when he writes, [[. . .noninfallible teaching. . . as we have seen, is reformable. Such teaching is not proposed as the Word of God, nor does the church ask its members to submit with the assent of faith. Rather, the church asks its members for what is called. . . obsequium animi religiosum --- a term which, depending on its context, can be suitably translated by "religious submission of the mind, " "respectful readiness to accept," or some such phrase.]]

He goes on, [[This term actually includes a whole range of responses that vary according to the context of the teaching, its relationship to the gospel, the kind of biblical and traditional support behind it, the degree of assent given to it in the church at large, the person or office from which the teaching comes, the kind of document in which it appears, the constancy of the teaching, and the emphasis given to the teaching in the text or texts. Because the matter is so complex, one cannot make any general statement about what precisely amounts to"religious submission of the mind." (See on this subject Ladislas Orsy, SJ, "Reflections on the Text of a Canon," America, 17 May, 1986, pp396-99.)]] Dulles, Avery "Authority and Conscience" Readings in Moral Theology #6, Dissent in the Church pp 97-111.

Ladislas Orsy adds to this rich and hard-to-nail-down-to-a-single-meaning sense of the term when he writes about obsequium as a seminal word from Vatican II which therefore, like all such words, "must be assimilated, pondered over before its potential meaning can unfold." He goes on, [[When the council spoke of religious obsequium it meant an attitude toward the church which is rooted in the virtue of religion, the love of God and the love of the Church. This attitude in every concrete case will be in need of further specification, which could be "respect", or could be "submission," depending on the progress the church has made in clarifying its own beliefs.]] or a bit later, [[ To put it another way: the ongoing attempts to translate obsequium by one precise term are misguided efforts which originate in a lack of perception of the nature of the concept. Obsequium refers first to a general attitude, not to any specific form of it. The external manifestation of a disposition can take many forms, depending on the person to whom the obsequium must be rendered, or the point of doctrine that is proposed as entitled to obsequium. Accordingly, the duty to offer obsequium may bind to respect, or to submission --- or to any other attitude between the two.]] Orsy, The Church Learning and Teaching, Michael Glazier, pp 82, 87-88.