St. Thomas Aquinas:
Quaestiones quodlibetales III, q. 4
Article 2: Whether those listening to different teachers
of Theology who have contrary
opinions are excused from sin if they follow the false opinions of their
Sic: As for the second article, the case for an affirmative answer
goes as follows: It seems that those listening to different teachers who
hold diverse opinions are excused from the sin of being in error if they
follow the opinions of their teachers. For at Matthew 23:2 the Lord says,
"The scribes and pharisees sit upon the chair of Moses: do everything
and observe everything they tell you." It follows that those things
which are taught by doctors of Sacred Scripture are all the more to be
respected; so those who follow their opinions do not sin.
Sed contra: But opposed to this is what is said at Matthew 15:14,
"If one blind man leads another, they will both fall into the pit."
But anyone who is in error is blind insofar as he is in error. Therefore,
whoever follows the opinion of a teacher who is in error falls into the
pit of sin.
Response: It should be said that if the differing opinions of
the doctors of Sacred Scripture do not pertain to faith or good morals,
then the listeners can follow either opinion without danger. For in that
case what the Apostle says in Romans 14:5 applies: "Let each abound
in his own understanding."
But in those matters that pertain to faith and good morals no one is
excused if he follows the erroneous opinion of some teacher. For in such
matters ignorance does not excuse; otherwise, those who followed the opinions
of Arius, Nestorius and the other heresiarchs would have been immune from
Nor can the naivete of the listeners be used as an excuse if they follow
an erroneous opinion in such matters. For in doubtful matters assent is
not to be given easily. To the contrary, as Augustine says in De Doctrina
Christiana III: "Everyone should consult the rule of faith which
he gets from the clearer texts in the Scriptures and from the authority
of the Church."
Therefore, no one who assents to the opinion of any teacher in opposition
to the manifest testimony of Scripture or in opposition to what is officially
held in accordance with the authority of the Church can be excused from
the vice of being in error.
As for the argument on behalf of the contrary position, then, one should
respond that the reason he first said "The scribes and pharisees sit
upon the chair of Moses" was so that what he then added, viz., "Do
everything and observe everything they tell you," might be understood
to apply to those things which pertain to that chair. However, things which
are contrary to the faith or to good morals do not pertain to that chair.
Alfred J. Freddoso
University of Notre Dame