Benedict XVI on Freedom in Obedience to the Truth: A Key for the New Evangelization

… the more fundamental task … is to form human hearts, beginning with those who have already been evangelized and need to be “newly evangelized,” those who know something already, but are not living it; those who are showing up in the pews, but not really getting it.


Mary Magdalene’s box of very precious ointment by James Tissot

The broad strokes of this reflection germinated while I was watching a news program last winter.  We were visiting my parents in Illinois, and as I passed by the TV, I happened to overhear a self-professed Catholic political strategist misrepresenting the U.S. bishops on the subject of the HHS mandate. At the end of the interview, it was pointed out to the woman that “your own bishops don’t agree with you.” In reply, she smirked and sarcastically laughed, “Well, the bishops, that’s a whole other issue.” 1 Anyone watching this interview could tell that this individual, despite claiming to be Catholic, had little respect for the authority of the Catholic hierarchy. In her view, the bishops are just a bunch of old men who are out of touch with reality and refusing to get with the times. Regrettably, this attitude is enshrined in the words and deeds of many well-known Catholic media figures and politicians. Even worse, it colors the way countless Catholics today perceive reality.

As Catholic pastors have had ample occasion to observe, the above mentioned mentality has emerged repeatedly and all too evidently in the wake of the last papal conclave. Both in the media and in my own ministry of evangelization, I have consistently seen a narrative that paints the pontificate of Francis, the “poor man’s pope,” as an opportunity to finally throw off the shackles of traditions and truth claims that have long held us back from true societal progress. Without even knowing it, many have adopted the Marxist analysis of the Church which Joseph Ratzinger spent so much of his career confronting.  Marx’s fundamental law of history—the class struggle—shows itself, time and again, in efforts to set up the hierarchical Church in opposition to the laity, who seek emancipation from centuries of discrimination and abuse of power. 2 Not surprisingly, many who accept this Marxist interpretation follow its philosophy in expecting the new pontiff to eliminate all forms of “duality” in the Church, especially the distinctions among the sexes central to issues such as women’s ordination and gay marriage. I think this is a misinterpretation of Francis’ project, and it stands at odds with the priority of truth and tradition in the quest for freedom as taught in the Gospel. For the sake of brevity, this piece will develop an overview of the Church’s teaching concerning freedom, truth, and obedience in light of the thinker who has treated the issue most profoundly and prolifically: Pope Benedict XVI. Benedict offers a pointed diagnosis of our society’s problem in this area, and provides clear principles for how to address it within pastoral ministry and the New Evangelization.

The point of the above anecdote is to illustrate how deeply our culture stands at odds with the Gospel, and its liberating message, that authentic freedom comes, not from inventing our own ideas, or even deciding upon them democratically, but rather through loving submission to the truth that has been revealed to us through Christ’s Church. In a word, the emeritus pontiff believes that a crisis of trust looms under the surface of many problems we face in society and, in particular, within the Church. 3 Ratzinger rightly wrote that this crisis coincides with an absolutizing of freedom which, in its own turn, “has become an almost magical word” and “the absolutely highest good, to which all other goods are subordinate.” 4 Freedom and rights—nothing should stop us from exercising our freedom to do what we “feel” is right. I believe a key target within the New Evangelization should be to address Ratzinger’s observations about trust, freedom, and the need for an “obedience of faith” of which St. Paul speaks (Rom 1:5; 16:26). While once a very common virtue emphasized (or perhaps even overemphasized) in the Church, today, the importance of filial obedience is highly underestimated, viewed as a relic of an oppressive past, or, at best, as an embarrassing subject pastors fear broaching. Granted that preaching on the subject of obedience must be done with due prudence, I think we need to rediscover and carry out the words of St. Peter: “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere love of the brethren, love one another earnestly from the heart” (1 Pet 1:22). For St. Peter, as for the Catholic Church today, authentic love and evangelization of our brethren is impossible without purification of our own souls and, in particular, that purification which comes through a sincere love of the truth, and the courage to live in accordance with the moral truths of the Church—in other words, obedience to the truth.

In John 8:32, Jesus tells us that the truth will make us free. However, the mentality mentioned above, so prevalent today, is one which fears the truth. It holds that truth is a relative category, and that the truth claims of the Church are not freeing, but rather enslaving. To counter this, Cardinal Ratzinger wrote that Christians today need to counter the skeptics’ question, “What is truth?” with a question of our own: “What is freedom?  What do we actually mean when we extol freedom, placing it at the pinnacle of our scale of values?” 5 Taking up this call, I believe we need to learn and find ways to creatively present the now classical distinctions in moral theology between freedom of indifference and freedom for excellence, on the one hand, and morality of obligation and morality of happiness, on the other. As the Dominican Fr. Servais Pinckaers puts it, people today tend to think that the more options we have, the freer we are—and that the ability to choose indifferently among many possibilities will bring us true happiness (freedom of indifference). A corollary is that we view exterior constraints such as civil laws, Church teaching, and even natural law as forces that detract from our fulfillment. 6 The implications of this mentality vis-à-vis the Magisterium were described well in an article by Cardinal Ratzinger:

The true nature of the Petrine office has become so incomprehensible in the modern age no doubt because we only think of authority in terms which do not allow for bridges between subject and object. Accordingly, everything which does not come from the subject is thought to be externally imposed. 7

As Ratzinger articulated at various points in his career, the allergic reaction of many modern Catholics to the Magisterium is symptomatic of a much broader repulsion to any restraints which would impede progress, make us dependent upon an external authority, and stifle our instinctual desires:

Modern man, who presupposes the opposition of authority to subjectivity, has difficulty understanding this. For him, conscience stands on the side of subjectivity and is the expression of the freedom of the subject. Authority, on the other hand, appears to him as the constraint on, threat to, and even the negation of, freedom. 8

The opposition between authority and freedom of conscience is especially evident in the way our society increasingly tends to approach sexuality. For example, if a person has been given the Cross in the form of a homosexual inclination, then he is told that he ought to be able to act upon this drive because he did not, after all, freely choose to be this way. Truth is relative, irrespective of claims based on natural law or divine revelation. Individuals are the arbiters of right and wrong. 9

In the second volume of his Jesus trilogy, Benedict XVI specified the broader crisis of trust in authority as a crisis of trust in God: “(T)hrough sin, man comes to sense that his freedom is compromised by God’s will, and that consenting to it is not an opportunity to become fully himself but as a threat to his freedom against which he rebels.” 10 In the third volume of the series, he adds, “God himself is constantly regarded as a limitation placed on our freedom that must be set aside if man is ever to be completely himself. God, with his truth, stands in opposition to man’s manifold lies, his self-seeking, and his pride.” 11 Now, it is true that many people who experience a situation like the one I just mentioned do not consent to it, and pastorally we need to be aware that it often constitutes for them a source of great anxiety; but this does not mean the Church needs to change her doctrine. It means, rather, that we need to properly form souls to respond to life’s absurdities with true freedom, to develop the relationship with God that will enable us to see his laws as an expression of his love, rather than as arbitrarily imposed decrees.

It also means we need to do some introspection in our own lives with regard to how we approach Church teaching. We may think we are innocent of the rebellion we have been considering, but if you think of your “favorite sin,” you will realize that you likely often refrain from doing it merely out of duty and, hence, half-heartedly (following what Pinckaers calls a morality of obligation). I am speaking first to myself here, but also to all who read this: we are not going to make converts if we are not first converted ourselves. If you look around the world, and even in your own heart, it is very easy to see the phenomenon Pope Benedict observed in remarking that the God who is Love is also hated when he challenges people to transcend themselves. 12 This is precisely what we observe in the attacks of the secular academy and media upon the Catholic Church.  But remember, this is only half of the story—the other half is that a false notion of freedom is keeping millions of Catholics from deeply living out their faith  and,  hence, from transforming society.  In other words, as Vatican II’s Gaudium et Spes puts it, the problem lies much deeper in the heart of every man and, while we indeed need to fight external battles defending the Church in the public square, the more fundamental task we have on our hands is to form human hearts, beginning with those who have already been evangelized and need to be “newly evangelized,” those who know something already, but are not living it; those who are showing up in the pews, but not really getting it. 13 We cannot focus exclusively on this, but if the Church cannot get her own house in order, it is unreasonable to expect that we can change the world.

Having summarized Benedict’s diagnosis of the problem of truth and freedom in our society today, along with a few indications of what work needs to be done, at this point I would like to turn to the more positive side of the story, and paint a picture of what true freedom consists in, the type of freedom we want to exude and invite people to in the New Evangelization. As far as Pope Benedict is concerned, it is “evident that the unlimited arbitrariness of the ability to do all has an idol as its model and not God.” 14 So if unbridled freedom is an idol, what is God’s idea of human freedom?  In the Greek New Testament, the term eleutheria, which we translate as “freedom,” is a concept that can only be understood in light of its opposite: slavery. As Paul tells us in Galatians 5:1, “For freedom, Christ has set us free; stand fast, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”  Freedom of indifference, doing whatever we want, is slavery when it leads to sin. Shortly thereafter, in the same Letter to the Galatians, Paul exhorts us: “Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love, be servants of one another” (5:13). Pope Benedict comments, “And now (Paul) explains what freedom is—namely, freedom in the service of good, freedom that allows itself to be led by the Spirit of God. The law of Christ (a term used earlier in Galatians 6:2) is freedom—that is the paradox of Paul’s message in Galatians.” 15

In many places, Benedict notes that people tend to mistake what Jesus is actually saying here for what they want him to say. They want him to say that Christ has moved beyond the Old Testament and its “rules-based morality,” because that, in turn, would justify our desire to move beyond the Church’s rules which appear to modern man as a retrogression to the Old Testament. In his third volume on the life of Jesus, Benedict pointedly tells us:

In some portrayals of Jesus, the emphasis is placed almost exclusively on the radical aspect, on his challenge to false piety. Thus, Jesus is presented as a liberal or a revolutionary. It is true that Jesus did introduce a new phase in man’s relationship with God … but this was not an attack on Israel’s piety. Jesus’ freedom is not the freedom of the liberal. … As Son, Jesus brings a new freedom: not the freedom of someone with no obligations, but the freedom of someone totally united with the Father’s will, someone who helps mankind to attain the freedom of inner oneness with God. 16

Who is this person who helps mankind to attain the freedom of inner oneness with God?  The saint.  In the Jesus series, as well as in his masterful weekly catecheses, Benedict illustrates the true nature of freedom in the lives of the saints. For example, “For Francis (of Assisi), this extreme humility was above all freedom for service, freedom for mission, ultimate trust in God.” 17 I think our current Holy Father would agree with this! I think he would also agree with Benedict in observing that for saints, like the Jesuit Francis Xavier, true freedom and deliverance in the core of their being came through the complete gift of self they made in martyrdom. 18 Benedict’s words here resonate clearly with the words of the Second Vatican Council, so often quoted by yet another pope, John Paul II: namely, the biblical notion of freedom in which man finds himself only through a sincere gift of self. 19 

Whether or not we are called to be blood martyrs for the faith, Benedict tells us that our search for true freedom and happiness will mean being constrained to undergo a crucifixion—a crucifixion which means the putting to death of our own selfish desires and favorite sins so as to make room for Christ to live in us (Gal 2:20). Benedict calls this process theiosis, to be made like God, or, as the Church Fathers, like St. Athanasius, put it, theosis—to be God-ized, to become sharers in Christ’s divinity through grace. He expounds:

The pedagogy of freedom is guidance in ontological dignity, education for being, education for love, and thus guidance in divinization … To be like God means to be like the trinitarian God. Therefore, it means to be like Christ crucified. The pedagogy of divinization is necessarily a pedagogy of the Cross.” 20

Neither Christ nor Pope Benedict tells us that this process will feel good: “It is not a romantic ‘good feeling.’ Redemption is not ‘wellness,’ it is not about basking in self-indulgence; on the contrary, it is a liberation from imprisonment in self-absorption. This liberation comes at a price: the anguish of the Cross.” 21 To use the language of Paul’s famous hymn in the Letter to the Philippians, kenosis, or the self-emptying that comes through obedience to death on the Cross, is alone the path that leads to theosis, being filled with the fullness of God (Phil 2:7-8; Eph 3:19).  Riffing off of the Mass’ offertory prayer, we ought to hold up for folks the lofty goal of becoming sharers in the divinity of Christ through humbling ourselves to share in his humanity—especially by bearing our share of his Cross. This message we need to convey is best summarized by Ratzinger when he says, “We all thirst for the infinite: for an infinite freedom, for happiness without limits … Man is not satisfied with solutions beneath the level of divinization.” 22 Concealed within the heart of every human person is the yearning for perfection, but at the end of the day, the path to true happiness and liberation lies in placing our freedom at the foot of the Cross. Like any authentic Christian teaching, this is nothing new, but what I am aiming to do here is look at this fundamental truth from a different angle that will help us to better evangelize, namely, the angle of preaching to modern man the Good News that an obedient submission of our freedom is precisely the gateway to perfect freedom and fulfillment.

At this point, I would like to build on our treatment of freedom by elaborating on Pope Benedict’s thought concerning the relationship of truth, freedom, and law—and, in particular, on those ecclesiastical norms to which so many today find it hard to submit.  Our emeritus pope summarizes the same key point in various places: “Truth and freedom belong together. There is no courage of freedom when there is no truth, and truth does not manifest itself except by dint of the courage of freedom.” 23 With a slightly different emphasis, he elsewhere writes, “Fidelity to man requires fidelity to the truth, which alone is the guarantee of freedom (cf. Jn 8:32) and of the possibility of integral human development.” 24 For Benedict, it is clear that humans become free and attain happiness to the extent that we appropriate the truth and live with virtue or excellence based on it (what Pinckaers calls freedom for excellence). Benedict is a lover of Blessed John Henry Newman’s writings, and at one point he shows his agreement with the latter in emphasizing “truth’s priority over consensus, over the accommodation of groups.” 25 Truth and law, in particular the doctrines and norms of the Church, protect us from “the whim of the majority” and from the “dictatorship of relativism” that dominates the way many modern people think. Change is not a good in itself, Benedict reminds us, but conformity to the truth is. 26

The following is a very simple, real-life illustration of the proper relationship between truth, freedom, and law which we can use in evangelizing. The truly free basketball player is he who freely submits to the law of practicing his free throws outside of games. Why is this player truly free, and not the guy who went out partying instead? Because of his obedience to the nature of basketball playing which requires practice, he is then able to consistently excel in his shooting, even in the fourth quarter of a grueling game. It is not better for the shooter to neglect his practice shooting in favor of exercising some other option, such as practicing spinning the ball on his finger, or making grandma shots from half-court. This example simply serves to point out that in life, there are objective truths and goods, and that our happiness as humans is commensurate with our ability to align ourselves with them. We did not invent the reality that practicing free throws makes one able to make free throws in a game. This is simply the reality to which the athlete has to conform.  In like manner, the Church did not invent her dogmas or moral teachings. They were given to us by God directly through revelation and through nature, which he created. Our happiness consists in discerning these truths, and lovingly embracing them. Once a person comes to terms with this reality, he will come to see the beauty of Fr. Pinckaers’ statement that “Catholic moral teaching is not a mere code of prescriptions and prohibitions … Catholic morality is a response to the aspirations of the human heart for truth and goodness.” 27 To put this in Pope Benedict’s terms, “(F)reedom is bound up with the existence of law; the law is not the opposite of freedom, but rather its prerequisite … Anyone who wants freedom, therefore, cannot strive for lawlessness, but rather must strive for good law.” 28

Benedict masterfully turns today’s freedom of indifference mentality on its head by showing that it, rather than the Church, is negative and gloomy. When the Christian accepts the invitation to embark on the life of the Sprit, he certainly must recognize that in doing so “a clear limit is placed upon arbitrariness and subjectivity,” yet, he consents to this precisely because of an awareness that an “absence of obligation and arbitrariness do not signify freedom, but its destruction.” 29 As he explained elsewhere:

This much has become clear: constraints are an essential, formal part of human freedom. No type of actualization of freedom can escape this fact. It is certain, furthermore, that indeterminacy does not constitute the essence of human freedom … Freedom must be defined positively if it is to be something positive. 30

What is this positive definition of freedom we need to offer in order to reach modern Western man? The New Evangelization needs to make a priority of showing that the moral truths of the Church are here to make us free and happy. Freedom for excellence consists precisely in becoming an excellent human being, an end which can only be achieved through humble obedience to reality.  This is the Catholic Church’s morality of happiness.

Following Newman and Benedict, I have found that most, if not all, of the issues people have with the Church boil down to a fundamental mistrust in Church authority. This is a mindset in which people think deep down that the Church’s doctrines and discipline are not there for our happiness, but rather for the gratification of ecclesial authorities. Evangelists today must be equipped to diagnose and address this deep authority issue with which so many people—including practicing Catholics—need help. The following statement from Newman hits the nail on the head in a positive way:

He who believes in the depositum of Revelation, believes in all the doctrines of the depositum … whether he knows little or much, he has the intention of believing all that there is to believe whenever, and as soon as it is brought home to him, if he believes in Revelation at all. All that he knows now as revealed, and all that he shall know, and all that there is to know, he embraces it all in his intention by one act of faith; otherwise, it is but an accident that he believes this or that, not because it is a revelation. 31

A person could go on and on raising challenges against the Church while we respond with good answers to them, but we need to press people more on this authority issue. For Newman, the Catholic faith is, by its very nature, comprehensive, meaning that in assenting to the Magisterium, a believer assents to the whole deposit of revelation.

The negative corollary to the above quote, however, is that in dissenting from a definitive teaching, a person is in effect rejecting the Magisterium itself. Interestingly, Newman’s thought was recently eloquently applied in the encyclical cowritten by Francis and Benedict:

Since faith is one, it must be professed in all its purity and integrity. Precisely because all the articles of faith are interconnected, to deny one of them, even of those that seem least important, is tantamount to distorting the whole …  (T)o subtract something from the faith is to subtract something from the veracity of communion. 32

As Francis and Benedict indicate, people today find it hard to conceive of a unity in truth. They fear that assenting to the Church, putting all our chips on the table, will lead to the destruction of our freedom. In reality, however, this is precisely how we walk the Gospel’s paradoxical path of freedom. Ironically, if we choose not to follow the path of total obedience, we end up locked within the boundary of our own ego. What results is the oxymoron of what Ratzinger calls “a faith of one’s own devising … a self-made faith (which) would only vouch for, and be able to say, what I already am and know anyway.” 33 In other words, if we don’t completely buy into the Magisterium, we are left with no faith at all, but rather a ratification of what we already thought to be true anyway.

I would like to conclude with a final suggestion any Catholic can perform by way of encouraging obedience in the Church and going into the faith “whole hog,” as it were. One of the evangelist’s most timely tasks is to encourage people not to simplistically accept the media’s portrayal of the Church, not to reject the Church’s teaching before sincerely learning what the Church’s teaching actually is. Extending an invitation in this regard is often quite easy. If you are a layman, and someone has a problem with the Church’s teaching on contraception, email him/her a link to Humanae Vitae or to one of Janet Smith’s works. If people keep pestering you about women’s ordination, kindly print them a copy of the writings of John Paul II or Vatican II on the priesthood.  Finally, invite them to put into practice the words of Lumen Gentium which teaches that the true liberty of the children of God comes through sincere dialogue with, and obedience to, our spiritual shepherds. 34 And let them see us, who profess our love for the Magisterium, radiate the joy and freedom that come through this obedience to the truth.

  1.  For another striking illustration of the mentality that severs freedom from obedience to the truth proclaimed by the Magisterium, it is illuminating to watch the brief dialogue between CNN host Piers Morgan and atheist Pen Jillette at  For an incisive satire that calls out self-avowed Catholic media personalities on their misrepresentation of actual Catholic magisterial teaching, see the Lutheran-made video “Choose Your Pope” from the recent conclave at
  2. For an incisive critique of the Marxist interpretation of Christianity, see the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith instruction “On Certain Aspects of the ‘Theology of Liberation,’” VII-VIII.  Also insightful are Cardinal Ratzinger’s comments in The Ratzinger Report (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1987). Here he explains the attractiveness of liberation theology and its hermeneutic of Church history: “{I}f one accepts the fundamental assumptions which underlie liberation theology, it cannot be denied that the whole edifice has an almost irresistible logic.” Ibid., 185.
  3. Among the many places in which Benedict alludes to this, one of the most poignant is his essay “Why I Am Still in the Church,” published in the volume Fundamental Speeches from Five Decades (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2012), 133-53.
  4. Benedict XVI, Church, Ecumenism, and Politics (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2008), 175; Ratzinger, “Truth and Freedom,” 16.
  5. Ratzinger, “Truth and Freedom,” Communio 23.1 (1996): 17.
  6. Benedict XVI, Church, Ecumenism, and Politics, 176.   See also Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes, 17.
  7. Ratzinger, “Conscience and Truth,” Communio 37 (2010): 536.  See also a similar thread concerning the relationship of freedom, theology, and the Magisterium in the encyclical co-written by Benedict and Francis, Lumen Fidei, 36.
  8. Ratzinger, “Conscience and Truth,” 530.  For an insightful discussion of the modern notion of freedom and “progress,” see Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi, 18.  See also his pointed discussion of freedom in relation to moral relativism: “Here we come in contact with the really critical issue of the modern age. The concept of truth has been virtually given up and replaced by the concept of progress. Progress itself “is” truth…There are no directions in a world without fixed measuring points. What we view to be direction is not based on a standard which is true in itself but on our decision and finally on considerations of expediency.” Ratzinger, “Conscience and Truth,” 532.
  9. Cardinal Ratzinger also offers a pointed example of the desire for unbridled freedom in relation to abortion: “What is at stake is the right to self-determination. But is it really the case that the woman who aborts is making a decision about her own life? Is she not deciding precisely about someone else—deciding that no freedom shall be granted to another, and that the space of freedom, which is life, must be taken from him, because it competes with her own freedom? The question we must therefore ask is this: exactly what sort of freedom has even the right to annul another’s freedom as soon as it begins?” Ratzinger, “Truth and Freedom,” 27.  Benedict returned the theme of freedom and natural law at many points in his pontificate.  For one important example concerning the reality that “man is not merely self-creating freedom,” see the speech from his visit to the Bundestag in Berlin on September 22, 2011.
  10. Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week: From the Entrance Into Jerusalem To The Resurrection (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2011), 160.
  11. Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2013), 86.  This is a theme the pontiff returned to many times and speaking to a variety of audiences.  For an illuminating discussion of freedom and its limits in relation to technology, see his encyclical Caritas in Veritate, 70.  For an application to international relations and regulations, see Benedict’s address to the United Nations in New York on April 18, 2008.
  12. Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, 86.
  13. Second Vatican Council, Gaudium et Spes, 10.
  14. Benedict XVI, Church, Ecumenism, and Politics, 255.  See also a discussion where he describes the quest for unbridled freedom as a fallen response to Satan’s temptation to “become as gods.” Ratzinger, “Truth and Freedom,” 28.
  15. Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2008), 100.
  16. Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, 120.
  17. Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration, 78.
  18. Ibid., 163, 166.
  19. Second Vatican Council, Gaudium et Spes, 24.
  20. Benedict XVI, Church, Ecumenism, and Politics, 188.
  21. Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, 86.
  22. Ratzinger, Address to Catechists and Religion Teachers (December 12, 2000).
  23. Benedict XVI, Church, Ecumenism, and Politics, 190.
  24. Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate, 9.
  25. Ratzinger, “Conscience and Truth,” 531.
  26. Ratzinger, “Crises of Law.”  Address the LUMSA Faculty of Jurisprudence in Rome (November 10, 1999); Homily to the College of Cardinals for the Election of the Roman Pontiff (April 18, 2005); “Truth and Freedom,” 35.
  27. Servais Pinckaers, Morality: the Catholic View (Notre Dame, IN: St. Augustine’s Press, 2003), 1.
  28. Benedict XVI, Church, Ecumenism, and Politics, 183.
  29. Benedict XVI, Address to Representatives from the World of Culture  in Paris (September 12, 2008).
  30. Ibid., 182.
  31. John Henry Newman, An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent (Garden City, NY: Image Books, 1955), 130.  See also Newman’s An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1989), where Newman states that “the essence of all religion is authority and obedience.” Ibid., 86.  Concerning the importance of assent to the Magisterium as the foundation of all other beliefs, Newman adds: “That the Church is the infallible oracle of truth is the fundamental dogma of the Catholic religion.” Ibid., 131.
  32. Francis, Lumen Fidei, 48.
  33. Ratzinger, “Why I am Still in the Church,” 147.
  34. Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium, 37.
Dr. Matthew J. Ramage, PhD About Dr. Matthew J. Ramage, PhD

Dr. Matthew Ramage is associate professor of theology at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas. He earned his MA from Franciscan University and his PhD from Ave Maria University. He is author of the book Dark Passages of the Bible: Engaging Scripture with Benedict XVI and Thomas Aquinas (2013, CUA Press).


  1. Well done Dr. Ramage. As you point out, many Catholics, under the influence of the American sense of individual liberty and the underlying Enlightenment philosophy, have an innate aversion to obedience. When we speak of obedience to truth, as you have done, it should be clear (apologetically speaking) that what we are talking about is truth more so than obedience. What I mean by that is that truth can only be obeyed or denied, and denying the truth is simply foolish. At that point, as Aristotle said, you can’t have a discussion with an irrational person. Sometimes that is what apologetics comes down to.
    Deacon Peter Trahan
    Archidocese of Miami

  2. Avatar Tom McGuire says:

    There is a problem of ego deeply imbedded in the individualism of the way of life in the United States. But I am not ready to accept the truth of this statement. “if we choose not to follow the path of total obedience, we end up locked within the boundary of our own ego.” A Buddhist from Taiwan who admired the Rule and practice of monks living the Rule of St Benedict had one objection. She found the identification of the the Abbot with Christ created an absolute power. Her challenge: How do you protect against abuse? There is great danger in total obedience, that does not necessarily mean being locked into our own ego.

    There are plenty of misguided ideas about freedom, obedience and magisterium. However, the real challenge is the way authority has been and in some cases still is exercised in the Catholic Church. Clerical arrogance makes the the message of the Gospel dull and unappealing. Those who live the Gospel are like Jesus, the crowds follow them. Francis, Bishop of Rome, is an example. Just yesterday a young Catholic woman who has had little contact with the Church commented: “My friends, many non-Catholic are paying attention to Pope Francis; they say that he gets it.” She meant that Francis gets what Jesus was about.


  1. […] live in accordance with the moral truths of the Church—in other words, obedience to the truth.  Check out the article here over at Homiletic and Pastoral Review.Share this:FacebookEmailLinkedInTwitterGoogle This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged […]