3 Questions About Infallibility


#1

I have three questions about infallibility.

  1. I have heard that there is a difference between what is “binding” and what is “infallible”. What is the difference?

  2. I have heard that no document itself is infallible, only the doctrines or ideas said to be so within the documents. But what does this say about the Bible??? Is this true???

  3. I have heard that doctrines are not always infallible, but dogmas are. How do we know the difference? Surely abortion isn’t a mega dogma, but surely the Church’s teaching on it is infallible…right???

Thanks for the answers! :slight_smile:

-Isaac


#2

I can handle this one. No document or even the Bible can be infallible because the definition of being infallible is being incapable of making mistakes. In order to be incapable of making a mistake you have to be capable of making a choice. Therefore the better terminology for the Bible is that it is inerrant, incapable of being wrong.

So basically the Bible is inerrant and the teachings, doctrines and ideas that are contained within its pages are considered to be infallible. That is until us fallible humans try to interpret its teachings, without someone to guide us. To me it is common sense, Jesus had to leave us the Church to guide us, teach us and lead us to the infallible interpretations while we read the Bible. If he left us on our own there is no logical reason to believe the words contained in the Bible are inerrant, since I am freely admitting I have made many errors in my lifetime.


#3
  1. All that the magisterium teaches is binding upon Catholics, whether a particular teaching is infallible or not. So from a practical standpoint it doesn’t really matter for the average believer. We are called to obey.
  2. The Bible in inspired and thus inerrant (without error if understood according to the original intent of the Sacred Writer). Infallibility refers to doctrines - our certainty that the Church’s teachings are true. Documents are not infallible though they may express infallible (certain) truths. Church documents are not inspired as the Bible is and thus may be written in a way that later generations may not find valuable even if the truths contained with said documents are infallible. For example, if I wished to understand the Church’s teaching on salvation outside of the Church, would I turn to a medieval papal bull or to the Second Vatican Council? While both may express the same infallible truth, the latter expresses that truth with a modern audience in mind.
  3. Dogmas are solemnly defined by an ecumenical council or by a pope (though the latter is extremely rare). Various lists exist. That being said, all doctrine is binding, not just dogmas. We look to the resources the Magisterium has provided for us such as the Catechism for guidance.

#4

It does not matter if a doctrine is infallible or non-infallible because Catholics are bound by both.


#5

Isaac,

A teaching may be ‘binding’ without being ‘infallible’.

A highway speed limit is ‘binding’. It doesn’t have to be an ‘infallible’ statement of truth to be binding.

  1. I have heard that no document itself is infallible, only the doctrines or ideas said to be so within the documents. But what does this say about the Bible??? Is this true???

Documents aren’t what can be claimed to be ‘infallible’; neither are teachings. Rather, *particular expressions of teachings *are what can be infallible (or what can fall short of this standard). As Catholics, we believe that the Bible is inerrant (i.e., it does not teach error). We also believe that there is a particular charism (exercised by the pope alone or along with the college of bishops) that enables them (under certain circumstances) to make expressions (of teachings) that are infallible.

  1. I have heard that doctrines are not always infallible, but dogmas are. How do we know the difference? Surely abortion isn’t a mega dogma, but surely the Church’s teaching on it is infallible…right???

That’s not accurate. Dogma and doctrine are each infallible expressions of the truth. The difference between them as has more to do with whether they’re explicitly found in Scripture than they have to do with ‘infallibility’ (or even ‘binding-ness’).


#6

It is not permitted for anyone to flippantly deny any authoritative pronouncment of the Church. However, not everything the Church teaches is taught as being revealed. Now the Church is infallible only in defining what is revealed and what is closely related to it (dogmatic facts and the like). Also, even on those questions which are about revealed truth, the Church does not always definiteively pronounce on questions, but may bind Catholics to hold an opinion one way or another on a certian subject. The assent given to these however is not that of divine faith, but simply religious assent of the intellect and will. To hold differently would not be heresy (that is, the virtue of faith would not be lost), but it would be either rash or simply erroneous, and a mortal sin. However, if it could be shown, with weighty reasons, not readily or rashly admitted, that such a decision rests on an error, or is simply wrong, then the obligation of religious assent ceases.

  1. I have heard that no document itself is infallible, only the doctrines or ideas said to be so within the documents. But what does this say about the Bible??? Is this true???

The first premise is difficult to assess. There are definitions in documents that certainly are an exercise of infalliblity. The definition of the Immaculate Conception in Ineffabilis Deus, for example, is clearly infallible, but the rest of the document is not (although greatly authoritative). So in that sense, it might be true. That a certain document teaches this is or that infallibly is a so-called dogmatic fact, which is to be believed with ecclesiastical faith. This faith is as certain as divine faith.

As regards the Bible: the charism of inspiration is even stronger than that of the infalliblity possessed by the Pope and bishops. Inspiration not only protects from every error, but also so unites the author with God that the work produced is said properly and not merely metaphorically to be written by God Himself. Even of those infallible definitions of the Church, however, we do not say God wrote them, as He did the Bible.

  1. I have heard that doctrines are not always infallible, but dogmas are. How do we know the difference? Surely abortion isn’t a mega dogma, but surely the Church’s teaching on it is infallible…right???

I’ve heard this too, and it’s not a very good distinction. Catholic doctrine is anything the Catholic Church teaches on matters of faith and morals, or closely related thereto. Those doctrines that the Church teaches as having been supernaturally revealed by God are called dogmas (or dogmata to be proper). Other doctines hold greater or lesser degrees of certainty. Some are held by theologians to be basically dogmas, others simply theological conclusions, i.e., truths derived from revealed articles, but not themselves immediately revealed.

As regards abortion, it is held as a revealed truth of morality that the killing of an innocent person is morally wrong. The Church definitively holds that abortion is a case of this, and thus, this ought to be believed with at least ecclesiastical faith (although given the Tradition of the Church, and passages in Sacred Scripture, it would seem that it is actually divinely revealed, and thus to be believed with divine faith; of course, both are equally certain, so it doesn’t make a terrible difference to the lay person, but nevertheless).

I hope this was helpful,
Benedicat Deus,
Latinitas


#7

Sorry for the late reply, I was at a camp.

But thank you all for your wonderful replies, all were extremely helpful!!!

At this camp I got to talk with Tim Staples and he said basically the same things as you all.

SO I learned something new! :slight_smile:

-Isaac


closed #8

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