Ad Tuendam Fidem

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Apostolic letter, "To Protect the Faith," issued motu proprio by Pope John Paul II, May 28, 1998, adding to the codes of canon law for the Latin and the Eastern churches. The additions add a third distinction in the levels of teaching of the Magisterium, stipulate the adherence this teaching requires and the penalties to be imposed for violation, thereby making the adjusted canons reflective of the levels of teaching set out in the Profession of Faith and Oath of Fidelity issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1989.

The first paragraph of the motu proprio explicitly states that it is written in response to concern for errors, especially "from among those dedicated to the various disciplines of sacred theology" (Introduction). Following some comments on the history of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed as a summation of the faith, the document turns to an explanation of the 1989 Profession of Faith and Oath of Fidelity, which is composed of not only the Creed but also three paragraphs "intended to describe the truths of the Catholic faith" (no. 2). The text continues with an explanation of these three paragraphs, pointing out that while the levels of teaching described in the first and third paragraphs are provided for in the codes of canon law, the level of teaching mentioned in the second paragraph is not. Ad tuendam fidem then supplies for this omission since the level of teaching omitted illustrates "the Divine Spirit's particular inspiration for the Church's deeper understanding of a truth concerning faith and morals, with which they are connected either for historical reasons or by a logical relationship" (no. 3).

The levels of teaching mentioned in the Profession of Faith and Oath of Fidelity and already provided for in the law are found in canons 750, §1, and 752 of the Latin code, and canons 598 and 599 of the Eastern code. Patterned closely on the wording of the Profession of Faith, the motu proprio adds the following paragraph to the law:

Each and every thing which is proposed definitively by the magisterium of the Church concerning the doctrine of faith and morals, that is, each and every thing which is required to safeguard reverently and to expound faithfully the same deposit of faith, is also to be firmly embraced and retained; therefore, one who rejects those propositions which are to be held definitively is opposed to the doctrine of the Catholic Church. (Translation from Code of Canon Law: Latin English Edition, rev. ed. [Washington: Canon Law Society of America, 1998] 247.)

The same text is added to the Code of Canon Law for the Eastern Churches. A cross reference to canon 1371 of the Latin code stipulates that violations of this canon are met with a "just penalty."

Questions surrounding this document focus on the meaning of the word "definitive" as that is applied to official teaching, and also on which teachings fall into this second category of teaching rather than the third. When issued, the motu proprio was accompanied by a doctrinal commentary issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The commentary states that "the correct explanation" of the three final paragraphs of the Profession of Faith and Oath of Fidelity deserve "a clear presentation, so that their authentic meaning, as given by the Church's Magisterium, will be well understood, received and integrally preserved."

Bibliography: For the text of Ad tuendum fidem, see: Acta Apostolicae Sedis 90 (1998) 457461 (Latin); Origins 28, no. 8 (16 July 1998) 113116 (English); The Pope Speaks 43 (1998) 327330 (English).

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