Papal Infallability

edited December 1969 in Non-Orthodox Inquiries
Do we believe in Papal Infallability? If so, from where did this concept originate? If not, why do Catholics believe in it?



  • Do we believe in Papal Infallability?

    NO, That's why our pope has a father of confession.

    If so, from where did this concept originate?

    We don't.

    If not, why do Catholics believe in it?

    Not sure, it might have to do with the fact that the popes at one point didn't want anybody arguing with them, so they came up with that concept. The Catholic church went thru a rough time of corruption at one point and this might be one of the concepts still lingering. (Along with Pergatory which we do not believe in as well)
  • Actually, it's not only that H.H. has a father of confession. But also the fact that there is a Holy Synod to make the decisions of the church, H.H. may be the head of that Synod, but there are also 108 (I believe) bishops who are taking these decisions with H.H.

  • Can somebody just fill me in...what's papal Infallabity?

    And can someone fill me in on how H.H. has a father of confession as well? It sounds like it makes sense, but i just wanna know how it works.

  • Papal Infallibility is a concept put forth by the Catholic Church. They believe that when their Pope makes a statement that deals with the Christian Faith or with the Catholic Church they are infallible. In other words, when the Pope deals with matters relating to Church doctrine he cannot make a mistake. The Holy Spirit will not permit him to err.
  • Fadi answered question # 1
    Here is question #2
    The pope, since he is a human being, has a father of confession, much like the rest of us. He goes to him on a regular basis and recieves the absolution from him (I belive but I am not sure how that works). Fr. Mikhael Ibrahim used to be H.H. Pope shenouda's Father of Confession untill he (Fr. Mikhael) passed away. Pope shenouda used to call him (father of the fathers).

    Above you will find very brief description on this topic.

  • Dear all,

    Before delving into papalism, I would like to make it understood that I do not consider the Roman Catholic Church to be heretical, eventhough I do consider it to be schismatical. No matter how sharply I disagree with some of her doctrinal points of view, I do not (personally) question her apostolicity, and the validity of her Sacraments (Mysteries). I look forward to re-union, as long as such a re-union is rooted in Scripture, Tradition, and worship. I (personally) reject any other sort of re-union.

    Quoted from the website provided in a previous post:

    "Although the individual bishops do not enjoy the prerogative of infallibility, they can nevertheless proclaim Christ’s doctrine infallibly. This is so, even when they are dispersed around the world, provided that while maintaining the bond of unity among themselves and with Peter’s successor, and while teaching authentically on a matter of faith or morals, they concur in a single viewpoint as the one which must be held conclusively. This authority is even more clearly verified when, gathered together in an ecumenical council, they are teachers and judges of faith and morals for the universal Church. Their definitions must then be adhered to with the submission of faith" (Lumen Gentium 25).

    Infallibility belongs in a special way to the pope as head of the bishops (Matt. 16:17–19; John 21:15–17). As Vatican II remarked, it is a charism the pope "enjoys in virtue of his office, when, as the supreme shepherd and teacher of all the faithful, who confirms his brethren in their faith (Luke 22:32), he proclaims by a definitive act some doctrine of faith or morals. Therefore his definitions, of themselves, and not from the consent of the Church, are justly held irreformable, for they are pronounced with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, an assistance promised to him in blessed Peter."

    Note that in the first paragraph I quoted it is explicitly stated that a Bishop in his own right, does not enjoy the charism of infallibility. But in communion with each other and the Pope of Rome (Peter's successor as they say), Bishops can define doctrine infallibly. This separates the Pope from the rank of Bishop. He is no "mere" Bishop for his office is graced with something no Bishop has; infallibility. Ordinary Bishops enjoy this charism only "en masse" so to speak and then only if in union with the Pope of Rome. It is clear that the Pope of Rome in papal theology ranks above the Bishop. For infallibility resides in him and is mediated through him to the Bishops.

    The second paragraph I quoted emphasizes this idea when it clearly states that the Pope enjoys this charism as head of the Bishops and in a special way which in fact is inherent to the papal office or as they define it: in virtue of his office. So much so that the personal definitions of the Pope of Rome, functioning in his office, can define dogma and morals in such a way that the definitions are irreformable in themselves, and need not be related to the Church. The Pope can function above the Church as its visible head.

    The problem with this is first that neither in Scripture, nor Tradition can we find any justification for such a papal theology. A Pope is a Bishop, and only a Bishop. All charisms he has in virtue of his office are shared by all other Bishops equally. The difference between a normal Bishop and a Pope, are functional not essential. To occupy the Papal throne is a function within the limits of each Bishop. A Pope does not stand above the Bishops, but is himself a Bishop with different responsibilities than normal Bishops. Nothing is changed in his nature as a Bishop. He remains exactly what he was, but in a different Bishops-function; that of Pope.

    The Pope is not the fountain upon which the other Bishops depend for their own Bishop-hood, such as Roman Catholicism assumes. Rather the Pope is a function depending upon the office of the Bishop! It is precisely as a Bishop that the Pope can be Pope! Papal-olatry is a dangerous deviation from Scripture and Tradition, that, potentially, ruptures the Church. In fact, it can be argued that Leo of Rome's papalism is one the, if not the, most important factors that caused the schism of Chalcedon.

    The Roman theology disconnects the Pope from the Church, cleaves his office from the Church. This is evident from the fact that the Pope's infallibility charism functions without regard of the Church as a whole. The Pope rises above the Church, and therefore outside the Church. The Roman Catholic theology has elevated the Pope so high, that he is no longer within the Church, but outside it. The Pope is an external hierarch, separated from the Church. One might wish to meditate here on the fact that this is in fact an excommunication of the Pope. For he is not in communion with the Church in this respect, and therefore in this respect he is out-of-communion with the Church.

    Interrestingly, the Pope's infallibility was uncertain until defined at a Council (which must be Ecumenical too). Yet, the Catholic will have us believe that the Pope can define such things regardless of Councils, why then does he depend on it? Papal infallibility is self-contradictory. It therefore blows itself up from the inside out. In this sense the doctrine of papal infallibility suffers a serious defect. Pope Pius IX had to work hard, and smart to have this doctrine defined. It was intended to secure the Catholic Faith against the onslaught of modernism and such-like heresies, but de facto it has delivered the Catholic Church into the hands of precisely these heresies.

    Also, if the pope is the fountain of life for the Bishops, and in this way, for the whole Church, what happens when his office becomes vacant? That is when a Pope dies? The personal occupation of the papal office becomes vacant, but also the charism of infallibility for the Bishops at large who depend upon the Pope. So the infallibility of the Bishops has no point of reference, for it is vacant, empty. The infallibility of the Bishops is then also vacant, empty. The Church suffers very great disaster indeed! This must sureløy be solved quickly, and a conclave must elect a new Pope! But,.. Who will,.. or rather, can ordain the candidate elected to Pope-hood?

    The Pope, is not a mere Bishop, he outranks a Bishop. Only higher orders can ordain a lower one, who then will ordain the candidate Pope, to be Pope? Obviously no-one will,.. cos no-one can. With the death of the infallible Pope, infallibility has also died, and the Roman Catholic Church has fallen prey to the stormy seas of false doctrine without any means to defend itself, to cure itself from the blight of false doctrine and heresy.

    No such problem occurs in Orthodoxy, for the Pope in Orthodoxy is a Bishop, who can be ordained by other Bishops. It would therefore be a good idea for Roman Catholicism to give up the hopelessly confusing and burdening doctrine of papal infallibility, tempting as it may be, it will inevitably, result in disaster. Mind you, Pope Pius IX defined the doctrine of Papal infallibility, and since he died, the Roman Church has been a rather unlucky boat tossed and batterd by the angry seas of the world without any doctrinal compass to plot its course; for the compass has died.

    IC XC

  • Grigorri,

    Thanks for your post, very enlightening. I would just like to ask you regarding a couple of things stated which were not exactly central to your post or this topic in general:

    In fact, it can be argued that Leo of Rome's papalism is one the, if not the, most important factors that caused the schism of Chalcedon.

    Would you say that the Roman legates insistence on the tome of Leo being accepted in toto (which they ultimately achieved through political pressure, and the threat that they would leave the council and start their own in Rome?) without any alteration or amendment being made to it, nor its orthodoxy challenged or questioned, was a direct consequence of their conception of Leo as an infallible Pope? If so, I wander why everyone was so blind to see it at the time.

    I would like to make it understood that I do not consider the Roman Catholic Church to be heretical, eventhough I do consider it to be schismatical.

    So where does one draw the line?

  • Hey All,

    Thanks a lot for all the posts, the concept of Papal infallability is much clearer now. Grigorri thanks for the brilliant post it's always great to get a complete, academic answer. I just wanted to point out that, in my opinion, you do not treat the catholic tradition of Papal election entirely fairly. You stated that the Catholic Pope outranks a bishop and, therefore, cannot be chosen by bishops as they are "below" him in the hierarchy. In all fairness, however, Catholics believe that the Holy Spirit acts through the Bishops during a Papal Election. As such it is not the bishops who choose the Pope but rather God acting through the bishops. Thus, someone "above" the Pope is doing the choosing. Unless I am mistaken, and very often I am, we also hold the same belief. It is not some random child who through chance decides our next Pope; but rather God acting through that child makes his will known. I know this isn't really connected to Papal infallability, but I just felt I should point it out. I am obviously not a religious academic of any sort, so if I've gone and put my foot in my mouth again, it would be great for someone to correct me. I'd hate to be the cause of misinformation.

  • Dearest to Christ Fadi,

    Thx for your post and your perceptive criticism. May I answer however, that the problem I adressed is still not solved? The problem is that no-one can ordain Pope unless he is himself a Pope. The Holy Spirit can guide the choice for the candidate, I am aware that Catholics believe this to happen. But that still does not answer the question of ordination.

    Take for example a case where priests, would choose a person to be Bishop, even if inspired by the Holy Spirit, is this priest therefore a Bishop without being so ordained by another (at least three) Bishop? Can these inspired priests ordain one among their own ranks Bishop? You will find that the answer is "no" and the same answer goes for the Cardinals and the Pope. The ordination-question remains a problem that cannot be solved, even if the selection procedure is guided by the Holy Spirit, and is charismatic. The ordination is sacramental and institutional and not charismatic. This is the problem Catholkics face, and this they cannot overcome.

    IC XC

  • Hey Grigorii,

    Yes I see your point, that is quite the predicament. It makes one wonder why the Catholic Church has held on to this mistaken belief for so long.

  • [quote author=Grigorii link=board=4;threadid=1428;start=0#msg23641 date=1113379613]
    Dear all,

    Before delving into papalism, I would like to make it understood that I do not consider the Roman Catholic Church to be heretical, eventhough I do consider it to be schismatical.

    Hmm ... I think, that from Your, Coptic, point of view, we catholics are both heretics and schismatics. And so You are to us ... Maybe it sounds bad, but even though I like You and love You as brothers in One God :)

    Iqbal wrote :
    So where does one draw the line?

    It is rather simple - at least for me. A heretic is one who believes in something that is no truth, for example - for all Christians Jehovah's Witnesses are heretics because they say that Jesus was not God. For catholics, a schismatic is one who does not obey the church hierarchy. Maybe you heard of Society of Saint Pius X. After Vaticanum Secundum SSPX was found by Archibishop Marcel Lefebvre. Its aim was to keep the Tradition alive in times of big changes in Church. They celebrated masses in Tridentine Rite (in Latin) etc. In '80 Archibishop Lefebvre wanted to ordain (I do not know if it is right word) new bishops for Traditionalists, but John Paul II, the Pope, refused to allow thereto (in canonic law there is a principle that to ordain new bishops it is (except special situations) needed to have a permission of the Pope). But even though Lefebvre did it and so he did a schism.
  • Dearest to Christ Eire00,

    Hmm ... I think, that from Your, Coptic, point of view, we catholics are both heretics and schismatics. And so You are to us ... Maybe it sounds bad, but even though I like You and love You as brothers in One God

    No,.. I really don't think you, as a Roman Catholic are a heretic. I think the Vienna Agreement between my Church and yours prevents us from hurling that epithet at each other. Tho I do consider certain doctrinal developments as erratic, such as the one I criticized above, I do not consider it heretical.

    I have no issue with affirming that at the absolute, bare, basics the Catholic and the Orthodox Church are identical (for they both find their true identity in the One Jesus Christ), and are the One True Church. Ecclesial differences, also including the doctrinal ones, have separated us sacramentally, but the walls have been erected within the One Church. Only on this basis can we recognize each others as Christians and have any form of ecumenical dialogue, working towards our re-union. The Vienna Agreement is an agreement between Christians, and as Christians we share, at some point, a common basis of Life in Christ. Tho I am absolutely convinced that there is a schism, I am not convinced it involves heresy. However, this is a strictly personal pov, not necessarily shared by other Orthodox. Tho I would urge that this statement of mine here not be controverted or propagandized. It is a personally held belief, born in my heart out of hope in Christ. But I hold it as a hope, and do not promote it as a fact.

    As to where to draw the line, I think it would be errors of faith that separate one from Christ and His salvation and thereby does irreperable damage to one's soul. For there where one's soul and salvation is at stake there we will certainly find heresy. Perhaps other things can also be termed heresy, but heresy, I think, always involves damage to one's spiritual life.

    IC XC

  • Grigorii,

    I have one disagreement with your clear and concise presentation. The Pope of Rome doesn't have to be ordained by another Pope to be Pope. See, all Cardinals are Bishops, and the Pope is the Bishop of Rome. His selection is not an ORDINATION, because he is already bishop. His ELEVATION to the See of Rome is by Election. So there is not a unsolvable problem. This is the same for any Patriarch - he is already Bishop and is ELEVATED or CONSECRATED as Patriarch or Pope, but not ordained. The ordination to Bishop has already taken place (in most cases).
  • Michael_Thoma,

    What you are decribing is another errata of the Catholic church when it comes to ecclesiology. The ancient Church canons, especially Nicea, strictly forbade a Patriarch from being already a bishop. This is because the Patriarch is the bishop of a See (the city of which the Holy See resides) and the translation (the transferring) of a bishop from one place to another place is strictly forbidden.

    For example, St. Gregory the Theologian was made the Patriarch of Constantinople, but he was already a bishop in Anatolia! After much discussion, he was deposed and sent back to his bishopric in Anatolia.

    Pope Shenouda was a bishop before he became the Patriarch only because he was the bishop of a non-See, i.e. not connected to a place. This is something which Pope Kryllos VI invented, and it was on the fact that the See of Christian Education was not connected to a place which made Shenouda canonically eligible to be the Patriarch. I think this is really kind of dodgy. The Nicene canons prohibited the translation of bishops to decrease the amount of politicing and increase the connection the bishop had to his bishopric. A bishopric of "Christian Education" or "Youth" is as subject to the concerns felt by Nicea as any other local bishopric, so I am not sure about the wisdom of this, it remains to be worked out.

  • Here's a good riddle:

    If the Pope put out an ex cathedra Bull saying he really wasn't Infallible, then would he be infallible in making that statement or not?

    p.s. Presumably that is precisely what he would have to do for the re-union of the Roman and Orthodox churches.
  • Dearest to Christ Michael_Thoma,

    I know that the Pope is selected, and that he is only a Bishop. However, since the Pope is bestowed with special charisms (such as infallibility) he is different from the other Bishops. He is more (and thereby other) than they. It is this that creates the problem. For this otherness of the Pope is inherent to his papal rank or office. It is not natural to other Bishops, it does not belong to their office. The Pope, due to his infallibility, is a "super-bishop" a higher rank of Bishop, in a similar way that a Bishop is a higher rank of priesthood than a normal priest.

    Here we arrive at the problem I posed,.. The Pope must be ordained (since he is not a "mere" Bishop after all, but higher than a "mere" Bishop)by at least his equal (which the Cardinals are not, nor any other "mere" Bishop). This equal does not exist. Therefore "apostolic succession" for Popes does not exist. If it is true that the "apostolic succession" rests in the Pope of Rome, than the Church of Rome is in deep deep trouble. For Benedict the VI-th appears to be non-valid as a Pope,.. and so does JPII, and JPI, Paul VI, John XXIII etc etc. Only St. Peter is left,.. He seems to have been the only Pope of Rome, and the See has been vacant ever since St. Peter fell asleep in the Lord.

    IC XC

  • It is this that creates the problem. For this otherness of the Pope is inherent to his papal rank or office. It is not natural to other Bishops, it does not belong to their office. The Pope, due to his infallibility, is a "super-bishop" a higher rank of Bishop, in a similar way that a Bishop is a higher rank of priesthood than a normal priest.

    Dear Grigorii,

    Here is the flaw in your reasoning. The Pope is no super-bishop. He a bishop, the Bishop of Rome.
    CCC 894 "The bishops, as vicars and legates of Christ, govern the particular Churches assigned to them by their counsels, exhortations, and example, but over and above that also by the authority and sacred power" which indeed they ought to exercise so as to edify, in the spirit of service which is that of their Master.426

    895 "The power which they exercise personally in the name of Christ, is proper, ordinary, and immediate, although its exercise is ultimately controlled by the supreme authority of the Church."427 But the bishops should not be thought of as vicars of the Pope. His ordinary and immediate authority over the whole Church does not annul, but on the contrary confirms and defends that of the bishops. Their authority must be exercised in communion with the whole Church under the guidance of the Pope.

    Here we arrive at the problem I posed,.. The Pope must be ordained (since he is not a "mere" Bishop after all, but higher than a "mere" Bishop)by at least his equal (which the Cardinals are not, nor any other "mere" Bishop). This equal does not exist.

    The Pope is bishop as any other bishop, but the infallibility lies in the office of the Bishop of Rome as Successor to Peter.

    Now let me post the text pertinent to infallibility:

    890 The mission of the Magisterium is linked to the definitive nature of the covenant established by God with his people in Christ. It is this Magisterium's task to preserve God's people from deviations and defections and to guarantee them the objective possibility of professing the true faith without error. Thus, the pastoral duty of the Magisterium is aimed at seeing to it that the People of God abides in the truth that liberates. To fulfill this service, Christ endowed the Church's shepherds with the charism of infallibility in matters of faith and morals. The exercise of this charism takes several forms:

    891 "The Roman Pontiff, head of the college of bishops, enjoys this infallibility in virtue of his office, when, as supreme pastor and teacher of all the faithful - who confirms his brethren in the faith he proclaims by a definitive act a doctrine pertaining to faith or morals.... The infallibility promised to the Church is also present in the body of bishops when, together with Peter's successor, they exercise the supreme Magisterium," above all in an Ecumenical Council.418 When the Church through its supreme Magisterium proposes a doctrine "for belief as being divinely revealed,"419 and as the teaching of Christ, the definitions "must be adhered to with the obedience of faith."420 This infallibility extends as far as the deposit of divine Revelation itself.421

    892 Divine assistance is also given to the successors of the apostles, teaching in communion with the successor of Peter, and, in a particular way, to the bishop of Rome, pastor of the whole Church, when, without arriving at an infallible definition and without pronouncing in a "definitive manner," they propose in the exercise of the ordinary Magisterium a teaching that leads to better understanding of Revelation in matters of faith and morals. To this ordinary teaching the faithful "are to adhere to it with religious assent"422 which, though distinct from the assent of faith, is nonetheless an extension of it.

    As these texts show, infallibility already exists for Oecumenical Councils (this both Orthodox and Catholics agree). Papal infallibility, we believe, is a necessary extension of this.
  • during the renessance era, the popes were so infallible, they were sometimes considered more kings of italian city-states more than spiritual leaders of the catholic world...I learned that one in, if they were to keep their position as leaders of their city-states, they had to remain infallible to keep their unquestioned command and authority over their cities
  • so, if they were to keep their position as leaders of their city-states, they had to remain infallible to keep their unquestioned command and authority over their cities

    This makes no sense, how many political leaders claim infallibility?
  • Michael, I guess so that people could keep believing him, they always had to claim infallability. If you could remember the Pharohs, they were considered as Kings and Gods, which is why everybody had to listen to their very command, and they were unquestionable.
  • exactly, christ4life, and it jsut gave them more authority; because if u read about The papal city-states and Rome during the Renaissance, it'll say that the pope had tottal control over all power, commerce, and trade going on in those city-states, and by doing so, they controlled other big city-states, like Florence and later on, Kingdoms such as England and France; and what helped him achieve that power was his infallability...and with this new authority, he not only controlled the major european relegion of that time, but also the political drive of the Italian city-states, which were, back then the heart of the Renaissance. Now, Rome may not be the heart of the world; but I guess its sort of like that. So, in my view, the whole infallible thing started with a bit of greed; it may not be so now, but who knows what goes on in the heart of man?...right?
  • Right... :)
  • we take Papal Infallibilty from Mathew When the the Lord says to Simon "Tu es Petrus" you are (the Rock) and on this rock I will build my church.
  • tu es Petrus,

    Welcom to tasbeha, I see it is your second post, hope to hear from you soon.
    I would like first to quote some verses from the Holy Bible:

    “The LORD is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold..” Psalm 18:1

    “The stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner.” Psalm 118:22 “

    And all drank the same supernatural drink. For they drank from the supernatural Rock which followed them, and the Rock was Christ.” 1 Cor. 10:4

    1- The “ Rock “, in the Holy Bible, is always The Lord Jesus Christ, as the previous versus testify.

    2- The Lord even rebuked the Pharisees by using the second verse to denote about Himself.

    3- It is so wrong to ascribe the rock to be St. Peter, The Lord meant in that verse that the words of Peter “ You are the Christ the Son of the Living God “, describe the faith that the Church will be built on it.

    4- St. Peter and the rest of the Disciples understood that meaning very well, because later on they were arguing between themselves who is the greater among them. This circumstances would had never happened if they knew that the lord had already chose Peter to be the boss among them.

    5- And you do not like for St. Peter, after few verses in the same famous chapter 16 of the book of Matthew, to be described as .........
    "But he turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me; for you are not on the side of God, but of men."

  • HI,

    I actually am debating a member of the Coptic Orthodox church at Christian forums right now, and do not feel like anymore debates on the subject of Papal Infallibility or the Primacy of Saint peter.

    unfourtanatly i am very busy at the moment, please give me a couple weeks and maybe we can set up a thread about this and i will debate you there

    God Bless,

  • Take your time!!!!

    I just wanted to emphasize that the word “Rock : means the Lord Jesus Christ and also the faith of believing in Him, that He is the Son of the Living God.

  • The subject of papal infallability, implying that someone is perfect, sinless, or blameless is completely out of sync with the specific teachings of the bible. There is no debate when it comes down to the Bible. If we claim ourselves to be Christians then we also hold ourselves to the standards written in the Bible.

    On the subject of Peter being referred to as "Tu es petrus" (a rock), this verse is taken out of context. As it is stated in Matthew 16:13-20, the subject had come up of "Who do men say I am?" After the disciples had answered, Christ asked His disciples and Peter was first to reply,
    "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God (v.16)". A few verses later, when Christ refers to Peter as "the rock", it is to mean that on the faith of Peter, the faith the is based on nothing else but that Christ is the Son of the living God, the faith in God is what the church will be built on. Otherwise, you mean to say that our entire religion is based on one man, who is just as imperfect as we are, which is completely incorrect.

    Also, if you claim that the pope is infallible then you are refuting biblical verses in Romans which state,
    "As it is written: "There is none righteous, no, not one; There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one.' " (Romans 3:10-12)
    This verse, in and of itself clearly states there this is none sinless, even the pope himself, no matter the authority enstilled in him, still makes him subject to wyles of the "ruler of this world" (John 14:30).
  • Many Protestants and Orthodox do not understand papal infallbility. It is not papal impecability. Popes still have confessors and go to confession as all practicing Catholics are obligated to do.

    the question comes up are their any Pope's in Hell?

    probably. I am not God so i could not say for sure, the church has never said that someone is in Hell.

    Papabl Infallbility Means the following:

    The Catholic Church’s teaching on papal infallibility is one which is generally misunderstood by those outside the Church. In particular, Fundamentalists and other "Bible Christians" often confuse the charism of papal "infallibility" with "impeccability." They imagine Catholics believe the pope cannot sin. Others, who avoid this elementary blunder, think the pope relies on some sort of amulet or magical incantation when an infallible definition is due.

    Given these common misapprehensions regarding the basic tenets of papal infallibility, it is necessary to explain exactly what infallibility is not. Infallibility is not the absence of sin. Nor is it a charism that belongs only to the pope. Indeed, infallibility also belongs to the body of bishops as a whole, when, in doctrinal unity with the pope, they solemnly teach a doctrine as true. We have this from Jesus himself, who promised the apostles and their successors the bishops, the magisterium of the Church: "He who hears you hears me" (Luke 10:16), and "Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven" (Matt. 18:18).

    ased on Christ’s Mandate

    Christ instructed the Church to preach everything he taught (Matt. 28:19–20) and promised the protection of the Holy Spirit to "guide you into all the truth" (John 16:13). That mandate and that promise guarantee the Church will never fall away from his teachings (Matt. 16:18, 1 Tim. 3:15), even if individual Catholics might.

    As Christians began to more clearly understand the teaching authority of the Church and of the primacy of the pope, they developed a clearer understanding of the pope’s infallibility. This development of the faithful’s understanding has its clear beginnings in the early Church. For example, Cyprian of Carthage, writing about 256, put the question this way, "Would the heretics dare to come to the very seat of Peter whence apostolic faith is derived and whither no errors can come?" (Letters 59 [55], 14). In the fifth century, Augustine succinctly captured the ancient attitude when he remarked, "Rome has spoken; the case is concluded" (Sermons 131, 10).

    Some Clarifications

    An infallible pronouncement—whether made by the pope alone or by an ecumenical council—usually is made only when some doctrine has been called into question. Most doctrines have never been doubted by the large majority of Catholics.

    Pick up a catechism and look at the great number of doctrines, most of which have never been formally defined. But many points have been defined, and not just by the pope alone. There are, in fact, many major topics on which it would be impossible for a pope to make an infallible definition without duplicating one or more infallible pronouncements from ecumenical councils or the ordinary magisterium (teaching authority) of the Church.

    At least the outline, if not the references, of the preceding paragraphs should be familiar to literate Catholics, to whom this subject should appear straightforward. It is a different story with "Bible Christians." For them papal infallibility often seems a muddle because their idea of what it encompasses is often incorrect.

    Some ask how popes can be infallible if some of them lived scandalously. This objection of course, illustrates the common confusion between infallibility and impeccability. There is no guarantee that popes won’t sin or give bad example. (The truly remarkable thing is the great degree of sanctity found in the papacy throughout history; the "bad popes" stand out precisely because they are so rare.)

    Other people wonder how infallibility could exist if some popes disagreed with others. This, too, shows an inaccurate understanding of infallibility, which applies only to solemn, official teachings on faith and morals, not to disciplinary decisions or even to unofficial comments on faith and morals. A pope’s private theological opinions are not infallible, only what he solemnly defines is considered to be infallible teaching.

    Even Fundamentalists and Evangelicals who do not have these common misunderstandings often think infallibility means that popes are given some special grace that allows them to teach positively whatever truths need to be known, but that is not quite correct, either. Infallibility is not a substitute for theological study on the part of the pope.

    What infallibility does do is prevent a pope from solemnly and formally teaching as "truth" something that is, in fact, error. It does not help him know what is true, nor does it "inspire" him to teach what is true. He has to learn the truth the way we all do—through study—though, to be sure, he has certain advantages because of his position.

Sign In or Register to comment.