Retraction on Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi

One thing about being a loyal Catholic is that you are always ready to be corrected in one’s theological and moral opinions by the Church’s supreme magisterium. This is a case in point.

In the comment string of a previous post, we got into a discussion of the correct interpretation and application of the dictum “lex orandi, lex credendi”. In those comments, I stated:

legem credendi lex statuat supplicandi. Unlike the more commonly used phrase [lex orandi, lex credendi], it cannot be reversed. This is not to deny that there is a relationship which works both ways, but rather to say that this is not a chicken-or-the-egg question. It is so characteristic of Lutherans to put the matter the other way around with doctrine coming first. Remember that for them, there is another principle which precedes even the lex credendi, ie. the principle of sola scriptura. To acknowledge the lex orandi as primary would, in effect, require the acknowledgement of Sacred Tradition as a source of doctrine.

Pastor Mark Henderson has been reading papal encyclicals over the holidays (see this entry on his blog) – something I can only encourage him to keep on doing – and has come up with this from Pope Pius XII’s Mediator Dei:

On this subject We judge it Our duty to rectify an attitude with which you are doubtless familiar, Venerable Brethren. We refer to the error and fallacious reasoning of those who have claimed that the sacred liturgy is a kind of proving ground for the truths to be held of faith, meaning by this that the Church is obliged to declare such a doctrine sound when it is found to have produced fruits of piety and sanctity through the sacred rites of the liturgy, and to reject it otherwise. Hence the epigram, “Lex orandi, lex credendi” – the law for prayer is the law for faith.

47. But this is not what the Church teaches and enjoins. The worship she offers to God, all good and great, is a continuous profession of Catholic faith and a continuous exercise of hope and charity, as Augustine puts it tersely. “God is to be worshipped,” he says, “by faith, hope and charity.”[44] In the sacred liturgy we profess the Catholic faith explicitly and openly, not only by the celebration of the mysteries, and by offering the holy sacrifice and administering the sacraments, but also by saying or singing the credo or Symbol of the faith – it is indeed the sign and badge, as it were, of the Christian – along with other texts, and likewise by the reading of holy scripture, written under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost. The entire liturgy, therefore, has the Catholic faith for its content, inasmuch as it bears public witness to the faith of the Church.

48. For this reason, whenever there was question of defining a truth revealed by God, the Sovereign Pontiff and the Councils in their recourse to the “theological sources,” as they are called, have not seldom drawn many an argument from this sacred science of the liturgy. For an example in point, Our predecessor of immortal memory, Pius IX, so argued when he proclaimed the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary. Similarly during the discussion of a doubtful or controversial truth, the Church and the Holy Fathers have not failed to look to the age-old and age-honored sacred rites for enlightenment. Hence the well-known and venerable maxim, “Legem credendi lex statuat supplicandi” – let the rule for prayer determine the rule of belief.[45] The sacred liturgy, consequently, does not decide or determine independently and of itself what is of Catholic faith. More properly, since the liturgy is also a profession of eternal truths, and subject, as such, to the supreme teaching authority of the Church, it can supply proofs and testimony, quite clearly, of no little value, towards the determination of a particular point of Christian doctrine. But if one desires to differentiate and describe the relationship between faith and the sacred liturgy in absolute and general terms, it is perfectly correct to say, “Lex credendi legem statuat supplicandi” – let the rule of belief determine the rule of prayer.

So I was wrong. More or less. Perhaps less than more. Here is what I posted in Mark’s comment box (writing while sitting next to the Yarra yesterday on my mobile phone, so it is not an extensive commentary):

Well, there you go. Always ready to be corrected by a pope. But as always, in the passages you quote from Catholic authors, I wonder if you have quite understood what the Holy Father is saying.

Specifically, he is writing in the context of defending his own reforms of the Catholic liturgy, which were extensive. He was defending the right of the Supreme Pontiff to make changes to thwe Sacred Liturgy. He was defending the right of the Magisterium in relation to the liturgy over the rights of academic liturgical theologians. He affirms that the sacred Liturgy is a dependable repository for the Catholic faith. He is not suggesting that an individual theologian can make changes to the liturgy on the basis of their own judgement of what is or is not in accord with the Catholic faith.

For all the reasons, to say as Pope that “lex credendi legem statuit supplicandi” in the context of the Catholic teaching Magisterium is quite a different thing to say it in a context where no such authority is acknowledged.

For all that, I remain suitably chastised and have been enlightened by your research. For this I thank you.


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4 responses to “Retraction on Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi

  1. Christine

    One thing about being a loyal Catholic is that you are always ready to be corrected in one’s theological and moral opinions by the Church’s supreme magisterium. This is a case in point.

    Sheesh, almost sounds like the days under Chairman Mao. As Supreme Leader he did a lot of correcting too.

    Well, it’s been fun, kids, but time to go on a long hiatus. As regards Catholicism, there is truly nothing new under the sun. The empire lives.


  2. Christine

    Wow, now who is being predictable?

    Just one more time and then I’m really outta here.

    Christ conquers, reigns and commands.

    Christ the King. Who said His Kingdom is not of this world — which the empire, a.k.a the Church of Rome has forgotten in usurping what is rightfully His.

    As the old hymn said:

    “I know my own, my own know me, you not the world my face shall see.

    My peace I live with you.”

    Ta ta!

  3. Christine

    Not enough coffee yet, my peace I LEAVE with you.