ex cathedra

What does ex cathedra really mean in practice to you? How much latitude do you see in your understanding of the Bible and practice of worship? Do you see it as an admission of potential errancy or as attempt to provide disambiguation to it?

There are two extremes, in my opinion:

  1. A clear statement by the Pope defining a doctrine that is to be believed by all the faithful everywhere, which is always infallible; and

  2. A statement as to a particular fact, which may be mistaken (e.g., the Pope may say, “It’s raining outside”, when in fact it is sunny).

A possible case in which a Pope was mistaken as to a particular fact is Pope Adrian I, who seems to have been under the false impression that the canons of the Council of Trullo had been adopted by the Sixth Ecumenical Council, which was not the case.


The real point of discussion is the “in-between zone” - statements not ex cathedra, but not as to a particular fact. There was a party at the First Vatican Council that wanted to adopt the dogma that the Pope is infallible in all his statements (just as there were those who did not believe he was infallible even in ex cathedra statements). The council only defined a dogma with respect to ex cathedra statements - it did not define a dogma with respect to non-ex cathedra statements.

Thus, it may be the case that the Pope is infallible in all his statements. Vatican I did not reject this. It simply affirmed that he is infallible when speaking ex cathedra. The weight of tradition prior to Vatican I strongly supports that the Pope is, at least as a general matter, infallible when speaking about the faith. This type of infallibility seems to have been proclaimed by Pope Agatho I in his letter to the Sixth Ecumenical Council:


And Vatican I summed up the tradition concerning infallibility as follows in Canon 6:

"For the Holy Spirit was promised to the successors of Peter not so that they might, by his revelation, make known some new doctrine, but that, by his assistance, they might religiously guard and faithfully expound the revelation or deposit of faith transmitted by the apostles.

Indeed, their apostolic teaching was embraced by all the venerable fathers and reverenced and followed by all the holy orthodox doctors, for they knew very well that this See of St. Peter always remains unblemished by any error, in accordance with the divine promise of our Lord and Savior to the prince of his disciples: I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren."


  1. . I have no trouble accepting it in practice exactly as it is defined by the church.
    2)latitude in the practice of worship and the Bible? . I see nothing in Catholic Liturgy that is in conflict with the Bible. Perhaps you should clarify your question.
    3)it is part of the definition of papal infallibility. I suppose it helps alleviate any ambiguity, isn’t that what all definitions do in a certain sense? Certainly has nothing to do with any admission or error. .

Defining the term itself:


In practice? It means almost nothing at all since it is invoked so infrequently. I’m way more concerned with my immediate priest and his boss, the Bishop than I am the Pope. Not to say I’m indifferent to the Pope. He’s just not part of my day-to-day.

In terms of my own understanding of scripture, I’m encouraged to read and study it. But I’m not led to believe that my own musings are somehow authoritative. Like in statistics class, my understanding to the text can be incorrect.

And can Popes be wrong? Of course they can be. Just not “from the chair” - which hasn’t been spoken from in that specific context since I’ve been alive. I’m not young.

I don’t really understand the question.

This was meant to be an open question about your personal relationship with ex cathedra. Do you see it as a constraint or explanation of things Christian that may not be so clear in the Bible? I was also asking if Catholic tradition was, for yourself, needed to make sense of the Bible or if you felt you could make sense of the Bible without it.

To me, “ex cathedra” (which means “from the chair”) means that the authentic authority of the Church, with regard to faith and morals is our guide.

Not only having to do with the Assumption of Our Blessed Mother, and her Immaculate Conception, but also the ordinary Magisterium that has to do with moral directives. (abortion, birth control, assisted suicide, etc…grievous sins).

We mustn’t pick and choose the directives we like and leave the others aside.

With regard to worship, customs can and do change

That is the way I would describe it…

Are “Epistles” by Popes of the first millennia infallible? It would seem so since the word Epistle is used for books of the Bible. However, have Church Fathers who weren’t Popes ever written an “Epistle”? I’ve always wondered about that

What does the bible say is the pillar and foundation of truth?
If there is disagreement, who does the bible say to go to?

The answer to both is the same.

Let’s start there.

Although it certainly seems the plain reading of the Bible suffices most of the time, this may just be because I am so used to having the Catholic tradition “at my side”. Certainly, there are lots of misinterpretations of many Bible passages in existence (this has to be admitted by both Catholics and Protestants). I doubt I would be immune to the same problem without the Catholic tradition.


A few questions to ask:

*]Which came first - the church and the bishops appointed by the apostles, or the bible?
*]Does the bible exactly lay out everything you need to know about worship? How to baptize with water? How the liturgy should look? How to perform a marriage?
*]To expand on the second question - If the answer is no, then was the bible meant to lay out everything with regard to worship and liturgy?
*]What is the source of governance and authority as originally established by Christ?
*]Did Luther, in practice, grant himself authority? If so, on what grounds?
*]Would I apply the same logic regarding authority to the Book of Concord, the 95 theses, or for that matter, the Reformation itself and its various leaders?

You can see where I’m going with this. You may need to challenge your own assumptions to arrive at the answer.

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