Identify Documents by the Pope that are infallible


There has been a great confusion amongst some Catholics, and Protestants to identify what statements made the popes are infallible.

Jimmy Akin provided an very clear explanation what statements are infallible and which are none. He quotes Canon Law.

Here a link:

Here are some excerpts:

Many people have a difficult time discerning when the magisterium has engaged its infallibility and when it hasn’t. Recently, I came across an instance where a was trying to make hay with the papal bull Exsurge Domine, and I thought the case might be instructive for seeing the delicacy with which such matters have to be treated.

Exsurge Domine (which takes its name from the first two Latin words of the document’s opening sentence: “Arise, Lord, and judge your own cause”) was the 1520 papal bull rejecting forty-one propositions from Martin Luther’s writings. It threatened Luther—who was still a Catholic at the time—with excommunication if he did not repent.

This Jehovah’s Witness claimed that Exsurge Domine was a document for which papal infallibility had been engaged and that it contained error—specifically, in its rejection of the proposition “That heretics be burned is against the will of the Spirit.” This, he argued, made Exsurge Domine a fallible “infallible” document and was evidence against the doctrine of papal infallibility.

There are several ways to resolve this supposed dilemma. One would be to affirm that sometimes it is the will of the Spirit to put heretics to death. After all, didn’t God on some occasions command the use of capital punishment for certain offenses connected with false religion (Ex. 22:18, 20; Deut. 13:5, 8–10, 15, 18:20)? Another would be to point out that when the Church censures a proposition, it means the Church finds something about the proposition problematic. But since the proposition is phrased in the offender’s own words, it is often phrased badly, and so one cannot take the Church’s position to be the opposite of the offending proposition. For example, if the Church chose to condemn the proposition “The sky is white,” one could not then infer that the Church adhered to the proposition “The sky is black.”


It is my understanding that the conditions of Papal Infallibility have only been met some 12 times, the last being in the 1950s.


There are NO documents by any pope that are infallible.


I think they usually say only twice. The reference is usually to the two Marian doctrines - Immaculate Conception and the Assumption. (I think.) These were dogmatic declarations made by the pope outside of a council setting. That doesn’t mean he didn’t consult the bishops before issuing them. I don’t know if there have actually been others or not. I always think St. Peter made the first infallible papal decree when he said it was right to baptize Cornelius without him first undergoing circumcision. (Acts 10, specifically vs 47-48) It was later reiterated and confirmed at the Jerusalem council (Acts 15:7-11).

The Church has made many infallible declarations over its 2000 year history. (For eg. just check out the Council of Trent documents.) The pope’s assent was necessary for any of them to be infallible.



Br. Rich, I do believe that 'Ineffabilis Deus" from 1854 is an infallible Papal document. Also, was not the dogmatic pronouncement by Pope Pius XII in 1950 on the Assumption an infallible document? And can we not argue that Pope John Paul II’s Ordinatio Sacerdolis of 1994, in its continued pronouncement of the ordinary Magesterium’s infallible teaching that the proper matter of the sacrament of Holy Orders must be ‘vir’ or a male, and not a female, is likewise, if not an ‘infallible document’, a document which expresses infallible teachings?

I’m asking because the above have been my understanding in the last 10-20 years or more (in the case of the first two, anyway), but I am only a lay person. Thus, I am not questioning you in the spirit of disputation, but as one who seeks further understanding. Thanks.


I can note two, the **Ineffabilis Deus **by Pope Pius IX which defined the Immaculate Conception (December 8, 1854) and Munificentissimus Deus (Nov 1, 1950 by Pope Pius XII which defined the Assumption of Mary.

Humanae Vitae, On Human Life Encyclical Letter of Pope Paul VI is also infallible because within contains moral teachings on the issue of human life from its natural birth to natural death.


What is necessary is a clear and unmistakable distinction between “teachings” and “documents”. Infallibility can only be applied to teachings, not documents. It is therefore necessary to find the teaching that is contained in the document.


Well, David, the teaching in the first was the Immaculate Conception, the teaching in the second the Assumption of Mary; the teaching in O.S. reiterated the teaching that ordination could only be validly conferred upon males (not females), and --thanks Manny, I knew there was another contemporary document/teaching–There was Pope Paul’s teaching that reiterated the Catholic teaching ban on contraception/abortion. (Of course one could go back to the 19th centrury for the teachings on Labor, etc. too).


Hi Guys,

Is there just a list (of the infallible teachings)that a simple minded NCC could just pull up read and totally understand?:wink:

Thanks for the few already spoken of:thumbsup:

I have a question:D If something is taught in the CC but not taught infallibly, can one then exercise freedom in intrepreting it?


I believe so, so long as the intrepretation doesn’t lead one to be disobedient.


As I far as I know the teachings concerning all faith, which are part of Divine Revelation is binding, and those concerning living a good moral life is also infallible.

I have not seen a list of any statements that contains infallible documents. The Pope when speaking of moral and faith is infallible and so is the Magisterial Teaching of the Catholic Church.

I can recommend you to read the 16 Document of the Second Vatican Council.

I believe there is a book called Catholicism for Dummies.


Ok so when the Pope actually speaks ex cathedra(is that the right term:o if so see I am reading and learning:p ) nobody writes it down somewhere so as to keep track so people like us can look at the list?:frowning:

Thanks for the other info.


I am sorry but I have always found questions lke this one perplexing from a non-Catholic point of view. How can you have a infallible authority and not know what has been infallibly defined? I note the thread on Outside the Church there is no salvation. For example if people are unsure what that means how does infallibile teaching authority help? Does it not in reality result in personal interpretation once removed? You have the infallible teaching but then you have to interpret exactly what it means.


Thank you:thumbsup: Be careful though sounds a bit like what I think and Im not catholic:p

We have to be careful we dont agree too much–It just might kill the ambiance of the forums.:stuck_out_tongue: :wink: :smiley: LOL


Hmmm yeah what he said:confused:


Every papal utterance is not infallible. Therefore, the Pope must clearly indicate when he is speaking infallibly from his position of authority on a matter of faith and morals.

This is typically done through specific language of the “We are required to believe as a matter of faith that…” etc.

There are books on Catholic dogmas, they are also addressed in the Catechism. Many of these are found in the Nicene Creed.


Yeah…what he said.



I am more confused now than I was before I read this thread!


Actually, a lot of time the infallible teaching is ‘right there’ so to speak and is understood as ‘infallible’ teaching. . .until there starts to be a ‘question’ about it. Then the first response is to ‘reiterate’ the teaching to be quite clear it is legitimate teaching. Only if there becomes a HUGE problem with people refusing to accept the clear ‘reiteration’ does there normally come about the ‘official, ex-cathedra’ approach.

For example, the Assumption of Mary was not made up out of whole cloth in 1950. It was not practiced in ‘many different ways’. It did ‘develop’ over time but at no time did the Church teach, say, at one time that Mary was ‘assumed’ and at another that ‘she was not’. The idea of ‘how’ she was assumed is still unknown but the fact that she WAS assumed is considered until now the ‘moot’ point. No doubt if knowing the ‘way’ in which she was assumed will become germane to salvation, the Holy Spirit will guide us to the ‘answer’.

So there is no ‘need’ for a ‘guide to infallible statements’.

We have: 1. The Bible. 2. The Church itself, its leaders, and its magesterium which has assembled throughout its history the Bible, many teachings of varying types which it can use–or not–when necessary and guided by the Spirit for any ‘questions’. 3. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, which contains the Scriptural and Traditional wherewithal of ‘what’ we believe.

If you ever have a question of what the Church teaches, may I suggest that you first consult the Catechism, and (since most teachings are footnoted to the germane Scripture) the Bible, and if still uncertain, come to us and we’ll help you research what documents and writings there may be which help to explain WHY the teaching is what it is.

In the final analysis, there will be times when (considering God’s word can NEVER be ‘fully understood’ by us as we are NOT God) we simply have to take The Holy Spirit’s ‘word’ for it on a given subject. God ‘has answered’ our questions.


The Tome of St Leo (the Great) must be considered to contain infallible teachings. In it, in response to the heresies of his day, he defined the Doctrine of the Incarnation: that Christ was both God and Man, with completely human and Divine natures, yet distinctly One Person. Sure it was written for the Council of Chalcedon, but if I recall, it was written before said council, and when it was read, the issue was settled (in terms of orthodox dogma, not in politics).

In addition, I do not remember Chalcedon being on the list of Ecumenical councils (I may be wrong, though…), and if it is not, then we can’t say it was a conciliar or Magisterial document or teaching, but a papal one.

When the doctrine of infallibility was defined, it did not mean that only documents or statements after it were infallible. It just limited infallibility to matters of faith and morals (as opposed to criticisms of popular literature, proper forms to dispose trash, or whatever) throughout the life of the Church.

I agree with davidv: documents are not what is infallible, it is the teaching that is infallible. This is kind of obvious seeing as Jesus commanded his disciples to “preach the Word to all nations”, not “write down all that I said in error-free, universally understood documents that can be easily translated into all languages of the present and future”. Even the Scriptures are not perfect: Matthew, in his geneology of Jesus has several inaccuracies in the number of generations (of course these can be explained by the fact that he was making each age 14 generations, twice the “perfect number” of seven).

I was discussing the Canon of Scripture with my cousin. He argued that if the Church needed four Councils to establish the “obvious” (what books should be in the Bible) it cannot be considered infallible. I responded by saying the the three pre-Tridentine Councils in the 4th Century 1) were not ecumenical, 2) established norms for Canon use in those particular areas, 3) never requested Papal approval (and if I am not mistaken, lacked papal representation), 4) there were no further attempts to settle or change the Canon until Luther, and 5) Trent, with its papal approval and ecumenical nature, closed the Canon issue as a result of Luther’s destruction of Holy Writ, not on a whim.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit