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Leo XIII—TESTEM BENEVOLENTIAE NOSTRAE (1899) Concerning New Opinions, Virtue, Nature And Grace, With Regard To Americanism
In the apostolic letters concerning the constitution of states, addressed by us to the bishops of the whole Church, we discussed this point at length; and there set forth the difference existing between the Church, which is a divine society, and all other social human organizations which depend simply on free will and choice of men.
It is well, then, to particularly direct attention to the opinion which serves as the argument in behalf of this greater liberty sought for and recommended to Catholics.
It is alleged that now the Vatican decree concerning the infallible teaching authority of the Roman Pontiff having been proclaimed that nothing further on that score can give any solicitude, and accordingly, since that has been safeguarded and put beyond question a wider and freer field both for thought and action lies open to each one (The virus of dissent creeps in!). But such reasoning is evidently faulty, since, if we are to come to any conclusion from the infallible teaching authority of the Church, it should rather be that no one should wish to depart from it (O how we wish those dissenters who are obstinately opposed to Church teaching would spare us their heresy and collusion with anti-Catholic bigotry and depart from the Church, and leave the rest of us in peace to try, with God's grace, to live the Faith with integrity!), and moreover that the minds of all being leavened and directed thereby, greater security from private error would be enjoyed by all (The faithful Catholic thinks with the Church—sentire cum ecclesia—and his/her conscience is configured to the teaching of the Church.). And further, those who avail themselves of such a way of reasoning seem to depart seriously from the over-ruling wisdom of the Most High—which wisdom, since it was pleased to set forth by most solemn decision the authority and supreme teaching rights of this Apostolic See—willed that decision precisely in order to safeguard the minds of the Church's children from the dangers of these present times (God established His Church. He gave to this Church the promise to protect it from error [St. Matthew 16:18-19]. The Church is "the pillar and bullwark of truth" [1 Tim. 3:15]).
These dangers, viz., the confounding of license with liberty, the passion for discussing and pouring contempt upon any possible subject, the assumed right to hold whatever opinions one pleases upon any subject and to set them forth in print to the world, have so wrapped minds in darkness that there is now a greater need of the Church's teaching office than ever before, lest people become unmindful both of conscience and of duty.
We, indeed, have no thought of rejecting everything that modern industry and study has produced; so far from it that we welcome to the patrimony of truth and to an ever-widening scope of public well-being whatsoever helps toward the progress of learning and virtue. Yet all this, to be of any solid benefit, nay, to have a real existence and growth, can only be on the condition of recognizing the wisdom and authority of the Church.
There is no escaping it: no matter what source we examine, whether canon law, the Catechism of the Catholic Church or various Church documents, we will find that the faithful are bound to accept and obey the teachings of the Church. No matter which current issue is being examined, we are under an obligation to have faith in our Tradition and in the Magisterium of the Church as well as in Scripture, and to exercise the obedience of faith.
Conclusion: Joyful obedience
To some, obedience may seem restrictive, and they may opt for following their own ill-formed consciences, believing that they are justified and correct in their choices. However, an erroneous conscience results in an ignorance of the freedom which truth promises us. And it is that very freedom that can bring us joy: "Your will is my heritage forever; the joy of my heart" (Psalm 119:111).
Correctly forming one's conscience means submitting one's own opinions and desires to the truth, but we should not misunderstand Holy Mother Church as a finger-shaking matron admonishing us to "be good." Rather, obedience to the truth liberates us from slavery to our own sinfulness. Those who find the secret of willing obedience to the truth find great joy and freedom in conforming to the mind of the Church (and, therefore, to the mind of God). The Psalmist expresses this eloquently in Psalm 119, as shown by these few examples:
Your will is my delight; your statutes are my counselors (v. 24).
Wonderful are your decrees; therefore I follow them (v. 29).
I will run the way of your commands; you give freedom to my heart (v. 32).
I shall walk in the path of freedom for I seek your precepts (v. 45).Dr. Boyd's essay contains extensive references to the Catechism of the Catholic Church.