The blog posts I’m going to quote from here contain a number of statements and conclusions that I would take exception to. But their author looks at the doctrine of ecclesial infallibility in a frank way that I haven’t encountered elsewhere. Below I cite the material I’d like to put forward as the starting point for a discussion on whether the Early Church believed in ecclesial infallibility.
From this response to Dave Armstrong’s case for ecclesial infallibility:
His major Scriptural argument for infallibility is Acts 15:28. It is also the passage Theodore Abu Qurra used when he first invented conciliar infallibility in the 9th century.
But the passage does not teach the a priori infallibility of ecumenical councils. All it says is that after the Apostles had agreed on the issue, they believed that the Holy Spirit had spoken. …
Armstrong rejects Protestant explanations (that this was isolated and unusual and restricted to the apostolic age) of Acts 15:28 as if they were the only arguments against this passage teaching infallibility. But of course it is as simple as this: the passage does not mention infallibility, the a priori immunity from error of ecumenical councils’ dogmatic definitions.
Infallibility works only if God guaranteed it, if Christ taught it and if the Apostles passed it on. This is what Vatican I claims. If and since Vatican I is wrong on this and infallibility is a medieval theological opinion that made it to a conciliar teaching, then for the sake of truth it is better to question conciliar infallibility than to abandon faith or reason.
As far as Tradition goes, Armstrong sometimes appeals to the development of doctrine, but sometimes he seems to hint that the Church believed in infallibility from the very start. Specifically, he quotes Pope Leo, Thomas Aquinas and Francis de Sales. The only one of these with a doctrine like that of Vatican I is Francis de Sales, which simply confirms the fact that the doctrine is no older than the Middle Ages.
From this response to common arguments for papal infallibility:
- But Jesus promised the Church that the gates of Hades would not prevail, that whatever Peter would bind would be bound in heaven, that the Holy Spirit would lead the Church to the fullness of the truth, that he would be with his Church till the end. So he can’t allow the Pope to err.
- But the Church still recognizes the Pope can err in all kinds of matters (even faith-related, just not ex cathedra statements, which are very few), so the question is how we want to understand truth and the nature of Jesus’ promises. None of the early fathers interpreted any of those passages to mean that the Bishop of Rome can make solemn dogmatic statements which cannot err. …
- But there are quotes from the Fathers saying that no error can come from Rome and that the Roman See has never erred.
- Again, that as such would prove too much for the dogma, for the dogma restricts papal infallibility to solemn declarations, of which there is no official (not to mention) infallible list. Most theologians think these sorts of declarations started long after the Fathers, in the Middle Ages or as late as the 19th century. The way Rome didn’t err was by keeping the Christological faith of the universal Church, not by defining new infallible dogmas on its own.
- But there you have it: the Roman See always kept the true Faith. The Pope was never heretical.
- This is true only from the perspective of the ones that agree. According to the Nestorians and Monophysites, the Pope was heretical. Later the Eastern Orthodox and the Protestants thought the same. After Vatican II Traditionalists and Sedevacantists think he is.
- But Jesus prayed for Peter that his faith would not fail. God couldn’t let the Church go astray.
- The verse doesn’t talk about Peter’s successors, and again the early Christians wouldn’t have understood it that way. And we’re not in the position to say what God couldn’t do: he allowed the great schisms, heinous sins committed in the name of the Church, the Galileo affair, the Arian crisis and the Vatican II confusion. I wouldn’t like him to have allowed all that. So it’s totally possible that God would allow the Church to make dogmatic mistakes, as long as the core of the truth (the Gospel and the Apostolic faith) are preserved, as they are.
- That’s too big of a leap, in none of the cases mentioned above did the Pope make an infallible declaration that was in error.
- This is precisely the problem: in the face of mistakes the scope of infallibility is narrowed down. But then the argument becomes futile that infallibility is needed to preserve the Church in truth, if it only concerns a couple modern definitions (such as the Marian dogmas). How did the Church manage to stay in the truth for all those centuries without infallible definitions? …
- But the consensus of the Church believes these traditional dogmas, the Pope consulted the bishops and found universal agreement, it is the faith of the Church.
- The sensus fidelium isn’t enough, it has been declared to have been revealed, and general revelation is taught to have ended at the death of the last Apostle, so you have to find it in the 1st century or in the next generations as a strong tradition. …
- The dogmas were implicitly revealed, and you have to understand the development of doctrine.
- The development of doctrine is a modern idea. Not that it is false, but the point is that the Apostles and Fathers always denied that something could be added to the faith. Growing insight is very different from solemn declarations: we could believe the Marian dogmas as theological opinions that deepen our devotion, but we cannot require anyone to believe them as divinely revealed under the pain of anathema.
Continued in next post.