I may not have expressed myself with accuracy, due to unfamiliarity with Catholic usage of certain terms. I don’t want to get into a wrangle about terms such as “binding” and “doctrine”, which you appear to give a much more technical sense to than I deem necessary for the original point I was trying to make. Let me restate:
First, I don’t fully understand the technical status of encyclicals. Inspired by your comments, I dug around and found this:
Apparently – according to the writer of the article – there is disagreement among Catholic theologians about what kind of authority encyclicals have. But he says that despite this disagreement, it is clear that in an encyclical the Pope is speaking as head of the faithful, and in a teaching capacity as the leading teacher of the Church – and therefore his words are to be treated with reverence, and accepted as true. (He doesn’t say they are “binding” but he does say they should be accepted as true, meaning not merely refraining from contradicting, but inwardly accepting.) Do you agree with this, that statements of the Popes in encyclicals should be accepted by Catholics as true?
Now, you don’t want to call the public teaching of Pope in an encyclical “doctrine”; you reserve that term for special use. I won’t quarrel over this. I mean merely that the Pope, head of the faithful, Vicar of Christ on earth, the man who has the power to grant or withdraw teaching authority to Catholic teachers, makes statements in encyclicals about what the teaching of the Church is, is not, permits, forbids, etc. If you won’t call that “doctrine”, then fine, call it “teaching”. What I’m saying is that when a Pope teaches something in an encyclical, he isn’t speaking merely as private person, or as a university professor of theology, or as a priest, or as the bishop of a particular diocese, etc. He is speaking as the Head of the Church. I therefore call his statements in the encyclical a teaching of the Church. If they are not a teaching of the Church, then whose teaching are they?
We seem to be using different meanings of infallibility. Again, I won’t quarrel if you say that a large number of teachings are technically “infallible”, because I’m not an expert on the history of the term, but not all Catholic writers agree with you. In one article I just read, the writer calls the doctrines you are speaking about “irreformable” rather than “infallible”, and restricts the “infallible” statements to the ex cathedra states about the Assumption and Immaculate Conception.
I had in mind the latter restricted meaning of “infallible statements” – which is why said there have been very few. But quarreling over terms is profitless. My main point was that the Church teaches things – infallible, irreformable, settled by Creeds, settled by Councils, declared ex cathedra by Pope, whatever – which it regards as true and which it expects Catholics to accept. They might be divided up by scholars among various “levels of authority” as you say, but I don’t think that makes much practical difference.
Popes have issued very strong statements regarding abortion, birth control, etc., which may never have been declared “infallible” statements, but which they clearly intend that the faithful should accept and follow in practice. To say that these statements are not “binding” (using some technical sense of “binding”) strikes me as merely an excuse for disobedience, and this distinction between teachings of the Church that are binding and teachings of the Church that are not binding strikes me as pernicious, being very obviously open to abuse. Human beings being what they are, they will always be trying to get out of obedience to doctrines they don’t like, and the legal loophole of “Catholic teaching, but not binding Catholic teaching” will be naturally eagerly seized upon.
But anyhow, back to the main point. My point was that Pius taught something about Adam as the ancestor of all true human beings. Don’t call it doctrine, don’t call it infallible, don’t call it binding – but he did teach it. Did he not believe that what he taught was true? Did he not intend his teaching to guide Catholics to right thinking about the subject? I would think that as long as that statement of Pius stands uncontradicted by any official Catholic document (bull, encyclical, catechism, whatever), it should be presumed to be current Catholic “teaching” – as I’m using the term.