Necessity of Precept

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Something is said to be necessary by necessity of precept when it is required by a positive will of the superior or legislator. Hence the quality or entity in question is not intrinsically related to the nature of the subject requiring it, but only extrinsically, i.e., by the free determination of another subject.

This necessity belongs to the moral order, and not to the metaphysical order; hence it ceases to urge when it is physically or morally impossible to satisfy it. Thus, to hear Mass on Sunday, being imposed by a positive law of the Church under pain of mortal sin, is necessary by necessity of precept. If a dispensation is obtained from the legitimate authority, or if the law cannot be fulfilled except with grave inconvenience, or if it is physically impossible to fulfill it, the law ceases to urge.

The Catholic Church, for instance, is said to be necessary for salvation, not only by necessity of means, but also by necessity of precept. Christ set up the kingdom of God on earth, which is the Church, and entrusted it to the Apostles and their successors. All must have the Gospel of the kingdom preached to them and be baptized in order to form part of this kingdom, and those who refuse cannot be saved (Mk 16.16). Similarly Baptism is necessary for salvation, not only by necessity of means, but also by necessity of precept, namely, by the positive will of Christ and by the law of the Church.

See Also: necessity of means; salvation, necessity of the church for; votum.

Bibliography: j. schmid and f. lakner, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner (Freiberg 195765) 7:105659. É. amann, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al. (Paris 190350) 11.1:5556.

[m. eminyan]