An Austrian theologian has said that Catholics have no need to identify completely with all Church teachings.

– The importance of “feeling with the Church”

“If there is a sentire cum ecclesia – ‘a feeling with the Church’ – there is no need for total identification with the teaching of the Church”, Viennese dogmatic theologian Jan-Heiner Tück told German Bishops’ news website in an interview July 16.

The idea of sentire cum ecclesiafirst laid down by St. Ignatius of Loyola, and also translated as “thinking with the Church” – is often misunderstood, as Pope Francis pointed out in a 2013 interview, as “only thinking with the hierarchy of the Church”.

However, as the Pope also observed, the principle of “thinking with the Church” is better understood as a “dialogue among the people and the bishops and the Pope”.

“The people itself constitutes a subject. And the Church is the people of God on the journey through history, with joys and sorrows. Thinking with the church, therefore, is my way of being a part of this people. And all the faithful, considered as a whole, are infallible in matters of belief”, Francis further explained the concept of sentire cum ecclesia.

At any rate, Tück – who teaches at the University of Vienna – asserted that “the recognition of the Creed is enough” for people to be considered Christians.

– Are you still a Catholic if you can’t accept the harder points of Church doctrine?

The theologian was responding to a question on whether believers should not longer be considered to be Catholic if they cannot accept some of the more difficult points of Church teaching, such as the doctrine of papal infallibility.

But Tück said “it is understandable if someone in our modern civil society has problems with the dogma of papal infallibility. This is normal”.

“One must see the dogma in the historical context of its origin, without relativising it”, he continued. “It was the First Vatican Council – to put it in a nutshell – that in 1870 made the Pope a monarch who can make final decisions in matters of faith and morals”.

“This strengthening of the papacy was… a defensive strategy against the demands of modernity”, Tück explained.

But the theologian went on to point out that “the Second Vatican Council then almost 100 years later embedded the doctrine of the primacy and infallibility of the Pope more strongly in the teaching of the Church”, in the same way that the Council also “introduced a new, more friendly, pastoral style of teaching, which also allows questions and doubts without immediately threatening condemnation”.

– “Not everything that the Church teaches is equally important”

In his interview with, Tück also touched on some other controversial aspects of the relationship of Catholics to Church teaching, including those of the role of “tradition”, who has responsibility for the “right” transmission of the faith and whether all Church teachings have the same binding force on believers.

At the core of the meaning of “tradition”, the theologian said, is the question: “How can the faith be passed on in such a way that nothing crucial is lost in the process?”

That’s where the Church’s idea of there being different counterbalancing “authorities” for guarding tradition comes in, Tück added, with these including “the community of the faithful themselves, academic theology and the Magisterium, and above all the Bishops and the Pope”.

With regarding to the weight in Catholic identity of different Church teachings, Tück recalled that the Vatican II decree on ecumenism Unitatis redintegratio taught “that in Catholic doctrine there exists a ‘hierarchy’ of truths, since they vary in their relation to the fundamental Christian faith”, in the words of that document.

“That means that not everything that the Church teaches is equally important”, Tück explained, going back to insist on the importance of the Creed for Catholic identity, since in the centre of Christianity “is the faith in the Trinitarian God, the faith in the Incarnation of the Word of God, the Resurrection of the crucified Jesus Christ”.

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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.