The Dogma of Intrinsically Evil Acts

Dogma versus heresy —

The teachings of the Magisterium are called doctrines. The infallible doctrines of the Magisterium are called dogmas. The Magisterium teaches either infallibly or non-infallibly. All infallible teachings require the full assent of faith (also called theological assent, or divine and catholic faith). The Magisterium teaches infallibly in any of three ways:

1. solemn definitions of the Roman Pontiff (papal infallibility)
2. solemn definitions of an Ecumenical Council
3. the ordinary and Universal Magisterium

“Wherefore, by divine and Catholic faith all those things are to be believed which are contained in the word of God as found in Scripture and tradition, and which are proposed by the Church as matters to be believed as divinely revealed, whether by her solemn judgment or in her ordinary and universal magisterium.” (First Vatican Council, chapter 3, n. 8).

The solemn judgment of the Magisterium is expressed by papal infallibility or by the definitions of an Ecumenical Council. But the Universal Magisterium is the more frequent expression of the infallible teaching authority of the Church.

Pope John Paul II: “This magisterium is not above the divine word but serves it with a specific charisma veritatis certum, which includes the charism of infallibility, present not only in the solemn definitions of the Roman Pontiff and of Ecumenical Councils, but also in the universal ordinary magisterium, which can truly be considered as the usual expression of the Church’s infallibility.” (Address John Paul II to the bishops from the United States on their ad limina visit, 15 October 1988)

Whosoever obstinately doubts or obstinately denies any infallible teaching of the Magisterium commits the grave sin of heresy.

“Heresy is the obstinate post-baptismal denial of some truth which must be believed with divine and catholic faith, or it is likewise an obstinate doubt concerning the same” (CCC, n. 2089)

“A person must believe with divine and Catholic faith all those things contained in the word of God, written or handed on, that is, in the one deposit of faith entrusted to the Church, and at the same time proposed as divinely revealed either by the solemn magisterium of the Church or by its ordinary and universal magisterium” (Code of Canon Law, 750, 1)

The teachings of the ordinary and universal Magisterium require belief with divine and catholic faith (the full assent of faith, or theological assent). Whoever denies or obstinately doubts such a teaching is guilty of heresy.

intrinsically evil acts

The Magisterium has always taught, on the basis of Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture, that certain types of acts are always immoral, by the very nature of the act. These types of acts are called intrinsically evil, or intrinsically illicit, or similar terms (see below). This doctrine, referring to intrinsically evil acts in general, is taught definitively in:

Evangelium Vitae,
Veritatis Splendor,
Catechism of the Catholic Church,
Compendium,
USCCB Catechism,
Address to Midwives,
Reconciliation and Penance,
and other documents.

The same doctrine is expressed in many magisterial documents in reference to particular intrinsically evil acts. For example:

On Contraception:

“the intrinsic evil of contraception” (Vademecum for Confessors, n. 4)
“intrinsically against nature … a deed which is shameful and intrinsically vicious.” (Casti Connubii, n. 54)
“intrinsically immoral” (Address to Midwives)
“intrinsically wrong” (Humanae Vitae, n. 14)
“intrinsically immoral” (Compendium, n. 498)
“intrinsic unlawfulness of contraception” (Pope John Paul II, Speeches, 27 Feb. 1998)
“intrinsically evil acts … something which of its very nature contradicts the moral order” (Veritatis Splendor, n. 80)
“intrinsically immoral” (Familiaris Consortio, n. 32)

On homosexual acts: “intrinsically immoral and contrary to the natural law” (Instruction Concerning the Criteria for the Discernment of Vocations)

On laws allowing abortion or euthanasia: “legislation allowing such crimes is intrinsically immoral” (Speech John Paul II, July 7, 2000)

On wars of aggression: “intrinsically immoral” (Compendium of Social Doctrine, n. 500)

On artificial procreation: “intrinsically illicit” (Dignitas Personae, n. 17)

On human cloning: “intrinsically illicit” (Dignitas Personae, n. 28)

On certain types of laws: “intrinsically unjust” (Evangelium Vitae, n. 73; et alia)

and other documents.

The Magisterium has also specifically condemned the idea that an act can be known to be moral without knowing whether or not it is intrinsically evil (Veritatis Splendor, n. 82).

Universal Magisterium

The Ordinary Magisterium of the Church has consistently, repeatedly, definitively taught that certain types of acts are intrinsically evil and therefore always immoral, by the very nature of the act, apart from intention and circumstances. The body of Bishops dispersed through the world, in union with successive Roman Pontiffs, have taught one and the same doctrine, on a matter of morals, as definitively to be held. Therefore, in accord with Lumen Gentium, n. 25, this doctrine is an infallible teaching of the ordinary universal Magisterium.

And therefore also, in accord with Canon Law and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, whosoever obstinately denies or obstinately doubts this dogma is guilty of heresy.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and Bible translator

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