Doubts About Infallibility

Hi,

I’ve been struggling recently with doubts especially with doubts about the authority of the Church. For me it is a real difficulty because I FIRMLY believe in the Real Presence and I know that without the Church there is no communion but I have been really sturggling with the idea that the Catholic Church
-has the “fullness of the faith”
-That the teachings of the Church are infallible.

I obviously have a few more specific questions which have led me to these doubts, but mainly this is a doubt which arises from history. I huge part of my faith in the Church has been my study of the Church Fathers. I know when I have read them that the Church in their times seems Catholic. Recently I have read deeper into the church fathers and discovered that nearly every single one of them is a heretic in one way or another. In fact the early Church seemed to be a church of heresy and confusion! This really shook me to the heart of my faith. The idea began to play on my mind that Catholicism is just one of the many “versions” of Christianity at the time which just so happened to gain influence, because it was the church in the most influential city of early Christendom: Rome.

This made me think of all the little doubts I have had which I have dismissed because of my belief in the infallibility of the Church (The idea of the perpetual virginity of Our Lady- specifically that she gave birth miraculously. The existence of purgatory, the Immaculate conception of Our Lady. All things which until now i have accepted happily because the Church tells me they are true without understanding the need for them and with ignored doubts)

I have begun to toy with the idea that perhaps it isn’t necessary for salvation to be Catholic, but I love the Catholic Church because of the Sacraments, because of the beauty of the visible Church on earth.

I guess I am in a real dillemma: I want the Eucharist- which I KNOW to be Jesus Christ- without having to believe in the idea that Christ instituted the Catholic Church. But of course I cannot receive the Eucharist if I subscribe to heresies!
I also WANT to have faith in the Catholic Church, since I do love her. I DO NOT want to be a cafteria Catholic and no-one has ever been able to accuse me of that in the past. I want whole Catholicism, or no Caholicism.

I know I ought to dismiss these temptations but I think I am beyond that now.

You might explore some other denominations. The exercise could either renew your faith in the Catholic Church, or it might lead you down another path.

Hi SirEwenii,

The Church Fathers weren’t perfect. No single one of them was right about every single point of doctrine. That’s why we base our doctrines on a strong consensus of Fathers. If you’re struggling with particular doctrines, you can post them one by one and we’ll reassure you of their orthodoxy and patristic support.

Please don’t leave the Church. Only we have the rich fullness of the faith. Protestants, first and foremost, lack the Sacraments, which are the source and summit of the Christian Life. They lack Mary, who is our Mother, who leads us perfectly to her Son, Jesus. Their theology is razor thin. If you leave the Church, I promise you, you’ll miss out on 99% of the full Faith.

Some have said that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.
Not all the teachings you mention in your post have been declared ex cathedra as infalliable eg purgatory , if only considering the authority of the Pope.If you look at papal infallibility this has been used very sparingly, mainly on the Marian doctrines.
However the truth of the teachings of the Universal church taken from the magisterium over the centuries is founded on Christ’s establishment of His church and the promise made to it.
Personal reading of any history is a difficult task, even in secular history, and the difficulties of confirmed true analysis of such history is still being debated on history as recent as the Second World War or the assassination of Kennedy, much less the tomes of the early church.

It may be better to look to a structured course on Church History available through adult education in any civiised country, rather than agonising over personal subjective albeit erudite study.
Personal doubt can sometimes be bred through unjustified certainty in one’s own scholarship, Prayer to the Holy Spirit is a good companion on any journey to the truth.

A doctrine doesn’t have to be declared ex cathedra to be infallible. The Perpetual Virginity of Mary and her Immaculate Conception, as well as the existence of Purgatory, are infallible dogmas. But that doesn’t matter. Catholics are to accept all Church teachings, not just the infallible ones.

Dear SirE, I would recommend you taking Catholic bible study or faith formations classes in the areas that you have doubts, to see how biblical these things and how much they make sense before you draw any conclusions.

As prophecied from the beginning, God gave Himself to Mary so that everyone would have life through Jesus Christ. And in turn, she is our nurturing Mother who turns our hearts to Jesus.

If that doesn’t show you that she has a pure soul, I don’t know what will. But faith and prayer would help you understand.

Purgatory is the temporary cleansing of ones soul that happens before a person can enter heaven because to share in Gods inheritence we must become fully like God, free of all impurities prophecied since the beginning.

1 Kings 8:36 then hear in heaven, and forgive the sin of your servants, your people Israel, when you teach them the good way in which they should walk; and grant rain on your land, which you have given to your people as an inheritance.

Regarding infallability… Jesus Himself placed authority in the Church, He trusted the Apostles to build the Church in order to spread the truth so that people would be drawn to Jesus and saved.

Matthew 16:19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.”

Matthew 18:18 Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

That said, the Church was built upon the framework set up by Jesus and the Apostles… The Way… God put his hand on the church and God remains faithful to it, so you must have faith to believe that God won’t let Go of His Church. The Church is part of all of us, not some entity out there we can’t reach. By the power of the Holy Spirit we become the Church it doesn’t become us.

If you look at the big picture (in Gods eye view), that’s exactly what the Church has done for 2,000 years. Jesus Saves by drawing people into the TRUTH, the LIFE,. Jesus Way…Many may have branched off away from the Church, but the influence of the church on them never goes away. much, not all, gets integrated into their beliefs.

Jesus is the TRUTH, and the LIFE and the WAY…

There’s so much to this, but it take faith and a desire to walk in the path of truth even when you can’t see the entire path at first.

Merry Christmas! May the Peace of Christ be with you!

Also consider taking a look at Dr. Scott Hahn’s Rome Sweet Home and Thomas Howard’s On Being Catholic in the meantime. Very interesting, informative reads on our faith and beliefs from a couple of guys who’ve taken a hard look at Catholicism in their journey from protestantism.

SE,

Let’s look at those two assertions, though, and examine both what they mean and what they don’t mean.

To say that the teachings of the Church in faith and morals are inerrant (infallibility is a charism of the teaching authority; the teachings themselves are without error) is a statement about the end result, not about the process itself. As you’re learning, the process was long, and convoluted, and messy. But, Christ promised us that He would send us the Advocate, and that, through the promptings of the Holy Spirit, He would guide His Church. Therefore, what we’re not saying is that a pope woke up one day and just knew everything! Rather, we’re saying that we gain knowledge in a human way – we study, and discuss, and pray. Finally, then, those to whom the teaching authority has been given, sit down prayerfully and decide what the truth of the matter is. We believe that in their exposition of the truth, then, there is the protection from error that comes from the Holy Spirit.

That protection only applies to the magisterium – that is, the teaching authority of the Church. It is exercised either by the Pope alone (in some cases) or by the Pope in union with the college of bishops (in other cases). It is not, strictly speaking, exercised by a single bishop or by a small group of bishops (unless they are simply repeating what has already been declared authoritatively). It is definitely not exercised by theologians or Early Church Fathers! (However, the proclamations that theologians or ECFs make may be taken into account by those who exercise the magisterium; and, using these insights, they may express those thoughts in an authoritative way… or, using their prerogative, the pope and college of bishops may ignore them altogether as erroneous!)

So, it’s not so much that truth fell from the skies, or that a particular wise person always knew the truth on all matters. Instead, the process is much more a human process that is touched by the divine, rather than a divine process that incidentally uses humans.

Hope this helps!

G.

SirEwenii,

I found your post (and the replies so far) very interesting. I’m coming from a totally different direction, having been born and raised a Jehovah’s Witness and now feeling drawn to the Catholic faith, but I feel I can relate on a basic level to issues you presented. I’ve often prayed asking God “why is it so complicated, why can’t everything thing be entirely clear and beyond questioning.” I feel overwhelmed, as if I would need a doctorate degree in theology to understand and completely accept Mariology, for example, as I’ve run in to challenges trying to explain things to others. I find myself balancing two thoughts: On one hand, humbly admitting to myself that I simply can’t understand every question I will have about God and faith and that I need the Church to guide me, and on the other hand, worried about “just going along with it” with a vague sense of discomfort and helplessness. So I thank you for your post and will be reading the replies.

The Church fathers were not heretics…not sure how you got that idea…

If you leave the Catholic Church, where will you go?

Do you think that Martin Luther and Henry VIII were not heretics? How will you decide which of the hundreds of sects offering themselves to you is the true Church? Or will you decide there is no true Church at all?

Jesus said that through him you would know the truth, and the truth will set you free.

If the Catholic Church does not own the truth, on what authority will you deciude that somebody else does? Your own?

A very self indulgent path to follow. I hope you don’t enter that darkness as I once did.

Thanks everyone for your answers.

@Gorgias. Thanks that really gave me something to think about (in terms of infallibility not being about the process but the end result) I still struggle with the idea that there should be a process for concluding revealed truth but it is certainly something to think about.

@Charlemagne: It is not so much that I want to leave the Catholic church, more that I am starting to doubt the Catholic Church and one cannot just remain a Catholic because you have no-where else to go if you no longer have faith in the Church. If I cannot resolve my doubts then it will not be that I will leave the Church but simply that I will be cut off from the Sacraments because of my lack of faith in the Church. That is the last thing I want but it is where I would head if i cannot resolve my doubts.

@JamestheJust I have been speaking with my confessor and we are going to go through each of my doubts individually but the truth of the matter is no matter how reasonable all of the doctrines are my doubts will mean nothing with restored faith in the Church, and the reasons will mean very little without it.

Thank you everyone, please spare a prayer for me :slight_smile:

You’re welcome!

Remember, though: there’s a difference between revealed truth and our understanding of revealed truth! The Bible is a source of God’s revelation to humanity; we’ve had it for centuries. However, even though we’ve had access to it since it was written down (and, in fact, had access to it in oral form prior to its being committed to writing!), that doesn’t imply that we’ve always understood it! There’s still the need to understand what’s been given to us in God’s self-revelation, and that’s where the ‘magisterium’ (or ‘teaching authority’) of the Church comes in. We haven’t been promised ‘magic knowledge’ by Jesus – that’s nowhere in the Bible! – but we’ve only been promised that the Holy Spirit will guide us as a Church!

In the beginnings of the Church, we didn’t really understand the Trinity, or Jesus’ nature. It took the great councils of the first centuries of the Church to reach the understanding that we have today! (In fact, when you profess the Creed at Sunday Mass, you’re professing the conclusions that the councils at Nicea and Constantinople reached! These aren’t professions of faith that just popped out of nowhere – they had to be declared by the teaching authority of the church (that is, by the pope together with the bishops)! So, as you can see, even these foundational statement of Christian belief is something that came about by virtue of a ‘process’! It’s not that God’s revelation (through, for instance, Scripture) didn’t contain the necessary info to lead us to these conclusions, but that we, as people, had to engage our intellects and rely upon the guidance of the Holy Spirit in order to understand them!

Blessings,

G.

Please remember what Jesus said to the doubting apostle Thomas.

“Blessed rather are those who have not seen, but believe.”

Consider whether your allegiance must be to Jesus, or to your own doubts. It is no sin for us to doubt. It is a great sin to give in to our doubts. Job had more reason to give in to his doubts than anyone else in the Old Testament. But he did not. That is the lesson of the Book of Job.

“Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father. But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father.” Matthew 10:32-33

This is what we have to decide. Believe or perish by our own willful doubts.

SirEwenii
To doubt the teaching of the Catholic Church is to doubt Christ Himself for this is what Christ, Jesus, the Son of God mandated in installing Peter as His Supreme Vicar:
All four promises to Peter alone:
“You are Peter and on this rock I will build My Church.” (Mt 16:18)
“The gates of hell will not prevail against it.”(Mt 16:18)
“I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of heaven." ( Mt 16:19)
“Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven.” (Mt 16:19) [Later to the Twelve]

Sole authority:
“Strengthen your brethren.” (Lk 22:32)
“Feed My sheep.”(Jn 21:17).

The Church is “the pillar and bulwark of the truth (1 Tim 3:16).” St. Paul says also, “through the Church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places (Eph 3:10).” The Church teaches even the angels! This is with the authority of Christ!

As Jesus had commanded: “Going therefore, teach all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Teaching them to observe whatsoever I have commanded you” (Mt 28:19).

And the promise was fulfilled: I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you." (John 14:15-18) “The Advocate, the holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name, he will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.” (John 14:26) “But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth. He will not speak on his own, but he will speak what he hears, and will declare to you the things that are coming. He will glorify me, because he will take from what is mine and declare it to you. Everything that the Father has is mine; for this reason I told you that he will take from what is mine and declare it to you.” (John 16:13-15)

There is nothing more that God the Son, the Christ, did to make it crystal clear that His Church could not teach error or lead astray in doctrine or dogma

St. Paul has counseled you as to whom to avoid: “Preach the word. Be urgent in season, out of season; reprove, entreat, rebuke with all patience and teaching. For there will come a time when far from being content with sound teaching, people are avid for the latest novelty and collect themselves a whole series of teachers according to their own tastes.” (2 Tim 4:3).

A great part of the Protestant attitude toward infallibility is that it is both ignorant and inconsistent.

It is ignorant because it does not understand that infallibility is a charism that Christ necessarily had to give the true Church in order for the true Church to teach the truth and not be corrupted by falsehoods.

It is inconsistent because the same infallibility denied to the Catholic Church is asserted by those who (infallibly) deny the infallibility of the Catholic Church. Let’s not fool ourselves that doubts about infallibility are not rooted in our sense of personal infallibility.

Well said, my friend. :thumbsup:

Thanks everyone for your replies.

I thought you might like to know how I resolved my issues.

After speaking to a friend she explained to me the difference between faith and certainty. That rather than looking for truth I have been looking for certainty, which is subjective

Basic truths (death and resurrection of Christ for my sins) I not only believe but believe with certainty, the rest of the truths taught by the Catholic Church I am taking on faith WITHOUT certainty. I am not certain of them, but I have faith that they are true because I have been taught. I am happy to accept the authority of the Church these matters because obedience is always pleasing to God and though I do not FEEL certain I still have faith.

I take on FAITH then, and not in certainty, that the Catholic Church is infallible that she teaches the fullness of the truth.

I was in the end looking for the wrong thing: a feeling that it was true rather than the truth.

This is a good attitude to have. We don’t have to understand doctrine, just affirm that all doctrine taught by the Church is correct. For example, I am often confused about the Catholic position on justification. But that doesn’t matter, as long as I believe that whatever the Church does teach about justification must be correct.

As Aquinas is reported to have said on his deathbed.

“Thee have I preached; Thee have I taught. Never have I said anything against Thee. If anything was not well said, that is to be attributed to my ignorance. Neither do I wish to be obstinate in my opinions, but if I have written anything erroneous … I submit all to the judgment and correction of the Holy Roman Church, in whose obedience I now pass from this life.”

Would that all of us could be so humble.

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