How Holy Mother Church teaches her children…

What are Catholics Bound to Believe?

These days it is very fashionable — among those who acknowledge Jorge Bergoglio as a valid Pope, yet try to adhere to the immemorial Catholic Faith — to minimize what Catholics are required and permitted to believe by restricting it to those things that were taught by the Church prior to the death of Pope Pius XII in 1958, plus a few select doctrines and ideas that they have privately judged to be “in conformity with Tradition”, as their jargon usually goes. As for the rest, that is declared to be either impermissible or at least “utterly non-binding”, to stay with the typical recognize-and-resist lingo, in defiance of the official teaching of the people they claim are the present-day Catholic authorities.

In order to counter this grave error, which is so popular among these “recognize-and-resist” traditionalists because it is the necessary linchpin that keeps them from having to embrace that awfully-inconvenient and much-despised Sedevacantism, we have put up a number of pertinent posts over the years that lay out the true Catholic teaching on the Papacy and the Magisterium, including the following:

This time around, we would like to present two chapters from a book written in 1906 by Father H. G. Hughes answering the question: “What are Catholics bound to believe?”

Before we share the link to Fr. Hughes’ entire essay, we will highlight some of its most salient portions (all underlining added):

We have seen that [the Catholic Church] is not only the teacher but also the custodian of the deposit of revelation. It is her office, therefore, to protect and keep intact the body of revealed truth. Now, it constantly happens that men put forth, on a multitude of subjects, opinions which are incompatible with some acknowledged truth of revelation. In such a case the Church has the power to condemn the false opinion or to define what is the truth of the matter, even though that truth be not contained in the original revelation delivered to her by the Apostles. Without this power she could not fulfil that most important duty of “keeping the faith,” ––defending and protecting the deposit of revelation. When, therefore, the Church does define a truth, not as revealed but as necessary to the defence of revealed truth; when, too, she proscribes some error incompatible with revealed doctrine, Catholics are bound to assent to her judgment, to accept the truth and reject the error….

Having now inquired into the obligations of Catholics in regard to infallible pronouncements of the Church, there remains to be considered a third class of authoritative decisions which also have a binding force upon the faithful. The Church does not in all her pronouncements intend to exercise in full her supreme prerogative of infallibility. The reason for this we may suppose to be a merciful regard for human weakness, and a desire to give erring souls every opportunity of retractation before the final definitive sentence goes forth which would cast them out of the fold if they remained obdurate. Hence she frequently utters, in the exercise of her authority to teach and govern Christ’s flock, words of warning, exhortation or direction, in virtue not of her infallibility, but of her ordinary ecclesiastical authority. When she thus speaks, it is without doubt the duty of Catholics to listen and to submit their judgment to that of their pastors. This assent is one of religious obedience rather than of faith, though. It does pertain, in a certain degree, to the latter virtue.

If a man wishes to exercise perfectly the virtue of temperance, he must not only avoid downright excess, but must put a general restraint upon himself in regard to all things which might endanger temperance. So, too, a Catholic, in order to keep thoroughly sound and whole the virtue of faith which God has given him, must not be content with avoiding out-and-out heresy, but must be prepared to steer clear of everything which approaches in the slightest degree thereto. It is to direct us in avoiding such things that the Church speaks from time to time warning words, which, though they are not in the nature of infallible pronouncements, demand, nevertheless, our ready attention and complete acceptance….

After all, when the Church speaks, even when she does not speak with all the weight of her infallible utterance, she does invariably give us safe guidance; for, though the speculative truth or falsity of some matter which she treats in this particular way may be, for a time, a matter of question, there can be no question at all that a Catholic is practically secure in listening to the voice of those whom God has set as bishops and pastors to rule the Church….

Enough has been now said, I hope, to show in general what are the obligations of Catholics in matters of faith and in those things which pertain in any way to the doctrines of faith. And to a Catholic there is nothing burdensome in all this. He knows that the Church is his divinely-given teacher and guide in all that concerns his eternal salvation; he is ready, whenever and however she speaks, to listen and to obey. He has the same trust in her that a child has in his mother. When she speaks to him he does not require to know, before he obeys her, precisely what grade of her authority she is acting upon. Sometimes, indeed, she does speak in strong terms, making it quite clear that any who withhold their assent will thereby make shipwreck of the faith and be cast out of the fold; but she does not always choose to speak thus, nor is it needed. A good mother will not always accompany her commands, firm though they be, with threats of punishment. So it is with the Church. She knows well that her faithful children will render willing submission to her slightest word, and she reserves the thunders of anathema for great crises that must be sharply dealt with.

No good Catholic will take advantage of this to allow himself any freedom of opinion short of downright heresy. A Catholic knows that, short of heresy, he may yet sin gravely against the virtue of faith, by failure to think and believe with the Church. And in thus assenting to the Church’s teaching, he in no way abdicates his reason; for his assent is not a blind and unreasoning one. On the contrary, it is eminently reasonable.

[B]eing the teacher of truth, the Church can never bring forward and impose upon her children anything contradicting reason. To be the bearer of a divine message and at the same time to contradict the truth of reason is an impossibility. There is no need, therefore, to examine singly every Catholic dogma, to look up every decision of Popes and councils since the Church began, in order to find out whether you can bring yourself to give adhesion to them. If you are certain that the Church speaks in God’s name you can rest assured also that no dogma of hers will cause you uneasiness. You know she can not teach anything that is false; you trust her, therefore, in matters which may not as yet have come to your own knowledge, or been submitted to your personal investigation.

…[T]he Church can never impose a new doctrine as to be believed with divine faith. In the solemn definition of any doctrine––as, for instance, that of the Immaculate Conception, or of the Infallibility of the Roman Pontiff in his ex cathedra utterances, ––she says nothing new. It is beyond her power to teach any new doctrine.

In succinct and easy-to-understand language, the author explains how the Catholic Church exercises her Magisterium, whether its mode be ordinary or extraordinary, infallible or not.

Are you listening, Christopher Ferrara? Steve Skojec? Peter Kwasniewski? Rev. Chad Ripperger? Brian McCall? Matt Gaspers? Michael Matt? Michael Voris? SSPXers? No, you’re not, because this is the death knell of your pseudo-traditionalist position of “recognizing and resisting” the people whom you recognize as the lawful Roman Catholic hierarchy.

To access the full text of Fr. Hughes’ essay, which is taken from Chapters II and III of his 1906 book Essentials and Non-Essentials of the Catholic Religion, please click on this link:

What are Catholics Bound to Believe?
by Fr. Henry George Hughes (1906)

We would like to thank the volunteer who transcribed this text for publication on this site. The entire book has been reprinted under a different title by the Novus Ordo publisher Sophia Institute Press, with some minor editorial revisions. However, the original is freely available electronically in the public domain.

The traditional Catholic doctrine on the Church, the Magisterium, and the Papacy is of the utmost importance, especially in our day, because it is what clearly and definitively refutes the Vatican II Sect’s claim to being the Catholic Church and its heads’ claim to being true Vicars of Christ.

Don’t take our word for it, though; simply look it up yourself or at least rely on the word of Fr. Hughes and all other theologians prior to the Modernist takeover in 1958.

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