Church error on teaching

Is it accurate to say the teaching authority of the Church has never erred and does any other religious organization make that claim?

In matters of faith and morals the Church has not been and cannot be in error.

no it is accurate to say that the popes, and the magesterium united with the popes, when teaching dogmatically on matters of faith and morals, have never erred. since no other human institution has the promise of Christ of the protection of the Holy Spirit in their teaching then obviously no other human institution can make that claim with valid authority.

Are infallible statements inclusive of or exclusive to this notion , and although it is not absolutely true, does anyone else make simply make the claim?

I believe what the above “answerers” are referring to is “infallibility.” The Church never claims that a pope can’t make an error or sin. That’s not infallibility. However, as the folks stated above, when the pope or the Church is teaching on a matter of faith and morals, they cannot err.

As far as your other question, I am not sure. I am heading to google now to see what pops up, but I’m sure you’ve tried that too!

Infallible teaching can be offered dogmatically (divinely revealed and inerrant) or non-dogmatically (not divinely revealed but still inerrant).

Only matters of faith and morals can be taught infallibly, but the commonly-held belief amongst moral theologians is that no moral teaching has been offered dogmatically (if anyone disagrees, please note that I’m not taking a side in that particular discussion, merely reporting what is the general belief; there is always another side to the argument, obviously).

Infallible teachings can be promulgated by the extraordinary magisterium of the church, as follows:

  1. By the pope when making an ex cathedra statement - something which has happened only twice in the last 150 years, and depending on which theologian you consult, perhaps on several other occasions but still a very limited number of times in the history of the church.

  2. By the pope and the other bishops united through the voice of an ecumenical council, of which there have been 14 in total.

Infallible teachings can also be taught by the ordinary magisterium, which is to say the church offers teachings that belong to the deposit of faith but which have never been declared by the methods 1. and 2. above.

This is summarised in canon law:

*Can. 749 §1. By virtue of his office, the Supreme Pontiff possesses infallibility in teaching when as the supreme pastor and teacher of all the Christian faithful, who strengthens his brothers and sisters in the faith, he proclaims by definitive act that a doctrine of faith or morals is to be held.

§2. The college of bishops also possesses infallibility in teaching when the bishops gathered together in an ecumenical council exercise the magisterium as teachers and judges of faith and morals who declare for the universal Church that a doctrine of faith or morals is to be held definitively; or when dispersed throughout the world but preserving the bond of communion among themselves and with the successor of Peter and teaching authentically together with the Roman Pontiff matters of faith or morals, they agree that a particular proposition is to be held definitively.

§3. No doctrine is understood as defined infallibly unless this is manifestly evident.


In any of these methods of teaching, the church claims inerrancy. But remember, inerrant doesn’t necessarily mean dogmatic.

The distinctions are developed in more detail (but beware, it’s a very complex document) in a 1998 statement by the CDF from then-Cardinal Ratzinger. See paragraphs 6 onwards of:

If a pope or the bishops teaches by a method other than those above - let’s say a pope sends a pastoral letter to people which alludes to moral teaching - that teaching is not infallible or inerrant in it’s own right, but only if it has been infallibly taught previously.

Thus although it is true to say that a pope or an ecumencial council cannot teach error when commenting on faith or morals, in this sense ‘teach’ refers specifically to teaching by one of the methods described. This is why, to avoid confusion, canon 749 §3 says that such teaching must be ‘manifestly evident,’ which is usually accomplished by using a particular form of words to indicate infallible status.

As I always like to point out, this is a very complicated area of theology you’ve enquired about, and only a real expert (which sadly I am not) can guide you though the theological maze. Note that at in pargraph 11 of the document referenced above, Cardinal Ratzinger (now His Holiness) gives a list of infallible teachings of the church; acknowledging that the list is not exhaustive, it is nevertheless pretty short. It’s worth saying that the church has never issued a complete list of her infallible teachings.

Hope this helps.

When intending to teach the entire Church on matters of faith and morals, that’s true. Infallibility is not applicable on matters outside matters of faith and morals.

Since Jesus established only one Church, the Catholic Church, and Jesus is truth, and He promised all truth to His Church, it wouldn’t matter what anybody else claimed for themselves.

Are there any books which can explain all of this in an easy to understand format?

Give me a specific example of what is on the table to examine so a determination can be made.

I really don’t understand the question unless the questioner has in themselves a problem with a teaching. I am pretty vocal an open about the teachings I question and appreciate those who put it all on the table for examination rather than allude to something as the conspiracy minded types do.

I do not understand why people just can not spit out what is really on their mind so that they can actually get more informed about the topic, rather than going round and round the mullberry bush.

Has the catholic church failed to give moral and faith guidance to the flock?

Has there been errors in teaching the flock along the way?

Lots of questions. They may or may not be yours, but that is how I read this.

I am certainly prone to misunderstanding written words, as you realize all of us are and I am even reading words in the language I speak.

I guess we just need to define clearly what we are actually asking .

The simple answer is, not really.

One book I have found useful is ‘By What Authority?: A Primer on Scripture, the Magisterium, and the Sense of the Faithful’ by Richard R. Gaillardetz; but people can (and do) dispute some of his positions, and I completely agree that many of his conclusions are his informed opinion, not the voice of the church itself. I certainly don’t agree with everything he says, although I think he does identify a lot of the pertinent issues.

The problem here for us non-theologians is that we do have to rely on the official documents - such as I alluded to in my former post - despite their complexity, because only they represent an authoritative position.

Even good books are not authoritative - they do not represent the voice of the magisterium, nor even necessarily a concensus of opinion, but merely the views of one theologian; and however comprehensive they are in their exposition, they remain open to question.

To understand complex theology and teaching in detail basically requires a lot of hard work. And even then we can only scratch the surface. It’s frustrating for all of us.:frowning:

I am trying to learn what the Magesteriums position on exactly what it claims to never be able to make a mistake on. i know people make mistakes, but i would like to know what specifically the Magesterium has been prevented from making an error on. i will use this knowledge to demonstrate to my Jehovahs Witness friend the difference between the Governing Body and the Magesterium. He seems to think they are very much the same. Not to get off topic, but if this will help answer my initial question, i am willing to expand. Sorry for the bad grammar, but i am on vacation in Mexico, and this hispanic keyboard is driving me nuts.

From Vatican Council I (emphasis mine)

we *teach and *define as a divinely revealed dogma that

*]when the Roman pontiff speaks EX CATHEDRA,
*]that is, when, [LIST=1]
*]**in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians,
*]in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority,
*]he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole church, **
*]he possesses,
*]by the divine assistance promised to him in blessed Peter,
*]that infallibility which the divine Redeemer willed his church to enjoy in defining doctrine concerning faith or morals.
*]Therefore, such definitions of the Roman pontiff are of themselves, and not by the consent of the church, irreformable.
[/LIST]IOW, he can’t make a mistake under these conditions.

In addition to the material from Pastor Aeternus quoted by Steve b, you may wish to look at the 1964 Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium; this document summarises the teaching of the First Vatican Council regarding papal infallibility and clarifies the nature of magisterial infallibility (a broader teaching authority than that of the pope’s alone):
Among the principal duties of bishops the preaching of the Gospel occupies an eminent place.(39*) For bishops are preachers of the faith, who lead new disciples to Christ, and they are authentic teachers, that is, teachers endowed with the authority of Christ, who preach to the people committed to them the faith they must believe and put into practice, and by the light of the Holy Spirit illustrate that faith. They bring forth from the treasury of Revelation new things and old,(164) making it bear fruit and vigilantly warding off any errors that threaten their flock.(165) Bishops, teaching in communion with the Roman Pontiff, are to be respected by all as witnesses to divine and Catholic truth. In matters of faith and morals, the bishops speak in the name of Christ and the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent. This religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra; that is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will. His mind and will in the matter may be known either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking.

Although the individual bishops do not enjoy the prerogative of infallibility, they nevertheless proclaim Christ’s doctrine infallibly whenever, even though dispersed through the world, but still maintaining the bond of communion among themselves and with the successor of Peter, and authentically teaching matters of faith and morals, they are in agreement on one position as definitively to be held.(40*) This 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, whose definitions must be adhered to with the submission of faith.(41*)

And this infallibility with which the Divine Redeemer willed His Church to be endowed in defining doctrine of faith and morals, extends as far as the deposit of Revelation extends, which must be religiously guarded and faithfully expounded. And this is the infallibility which the Roman Pontiff, the head of the college of bishops, enjoys in virtue of his office, when, as the supreme shepherd and teacher of all the faithful, who confirms his brethren in their faith,(166) by a definitive act he proclaims a doctrine of faith or morals.(42*) And therefore his definitions, of themselves, and not from the consent of the Church, are justly styled irreformable, since they are pronounced with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, promised to him in blessed Peter, and therefore they need no approval of others, nor do they allow an appeal to any other judgment. For then the Roman Pontiff is not pronouncing judgment as a private person, but as the supreme teacher of the universal Church, in whom the charism of infallibility of the Church itself is individually present, he is expounding or defending a doctrine of Catholic faith.(43*) The infallibility promised to the Church resides also in the body of Bishops, when that body exercises the supreme magisterium with the successor of Peter. To these definitions the assent of the Church can never be wanting, on account of the activity of that same Holy Spirit, by which the whole flock of Christ is preserved and progresses in unity of faith.(44*)

But when either the Roman Pontiff or the Body of Bishops together with him defines a judgment, they pronounce it in accordance with Revelation itself, which all are obliged to abide by and be in conformity with, that is, the Revelation which as written or orally handed down is transmitted in its entirety through the legitimate succession of bishops and especially in care of the Roman Pontiff himself, and which under the guiding light of the Spirit of truth is religiously preserved and faithfully expounded in the Church.(45*) The Roman Pontiff and the bishops, in view of their office and the importance of the matter, by fitting means diligently strive to inquire properly into that revelation and to give apt expression to its contents;(46*) but a new public revelation they do not accept as pertaining to the divine deposit of faith.(47*)*

See section 25 of:

The material I quoted in my first post from the 1983 Code of Canon Law regarding infallible teaching is a summary of the teaching of Pastor Aeternus and Lumen Gentium.

Remember that a teaching on faith and morals is only infallible if explicitly stated to be such. Other teachings on faith and morals are authoritative - we must obey them - but are not infallible.

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