If saints aren't infallible, to what degree should a Catholic believe what they say?

There are many great and admirable saints but, if not infallible, to what degree must we understand them to be correct?

They are correct in that they do not teaching anything contrary to the faith. The saints who were not theologians, like Augustine or Aquinas were, usually didn’t stray into matters of doctrine or dogma. They usually wrote for our spiritual benefit–to help us grow in faith, hope and charity.

Our theologians have to be read understanding that they were debating doctrinal issues, not making doctrine. I’ve found it best to leave such writings to those who are trained in doctrinal matters.

We are all called to be saints at baptism. When we biff it, goto confession, look to Godand try again. Technically, saints are in heaven with God. Since nothing unpure goes before God, they must be purified to be in heaven. We can look to our immediate family tree and seek their intercession (those in purgatory, & heaven can intercede for us).

Now the Canonized saints are those who came before us who gave signs to the church militant, that they are in heaven. Writing of the “doctors” of the church are also studied by the Bishops to review how their written teaching lead us to God.

You don’t have to believe that everything that they say is correct. Many Saints discuss things that they were revealed by private revelation, no one is required to believe that stuff. However, everything they say jives with what the Church says, so there’s nothing that they say regarding spiritual matters that is incorrect.

It isn’t just the saint, but the biographers and journalists who write about them. Sometimes they have their own agenda. And then there is time as well, which facilitates knowledge and document loss.

from 1John 4… Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world……………6 We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit[a] of truth and the spirit of falsehood.

In other words…when their writings or works have been submitted to the Church and bear the approval of a bishop.

If I’m not mistaken, besides being doctors of the Church, I think Augustine and Aquinas were also theologians

Sorry for the confusion, I corrected my text when I realized it could be read that way, but not in time for you, it seems. Indeed, they were theologians, which was my point, if poorly made. :blush:

Thomas, infallibility is a very limited charism not granted to all Catholics no matter how holy they might be. It is reserved for the Pope and the Magisterium under quite narrow circumstances. It isn’t spread over all Catholics like butter on toast just because they are exceptional in some way.

This doesn’t mean they can’t be trusted in what they write. Their writings have been approved by their local bishops as not containing anything contrary to the truths of the Church. That’s all that is necessary for us to read and trust them.

Wait a minute…

A person is a saint because they are in heaven. It has nothing to do with what they taught or wrote and whether their teaching contains errors or is contrary to the faith or not.


You can accept them wherever their writings conform to Catholic doctrines and moral teaching.
If it’s an area where the Church has not yet spoken definitively, then you shouldn’t go so far as affirming it to be correct.
If something they wrote contradicts current doctrine, then you reject that part. (Eg. Aquinas did not teach that Mary was immaculately conceived. At the time he wrote, it was still acceptable to hold that opinion. However, since 1854 AD, when the dogma of the Immaculate Conception was defined, such an opinion is no longer acceptable and must be rejected.)

I’m afraid that’s not correct. No one is approved for the canon of saints without their writings and beliefs being thoroughly examined for errors. So, it does matter quite a lot.

It wasn’t a matter of what he believed, but as a theologian he was concerned with sorting out the hows, whys, and ifs of Mary’s Immaculate Conception, which is the kind of thing theologians do no matter what they personally believe.

I realize that - and I know the high view Aquinas had of Mary. I was just pointing out that because someone is a saint, it doesn’t mean you can accept everything they said or wrote as being correct. The writings of saints should not be one’s primary source of learning what is Church doctrine/dogma. For that, we need to go to the official documents and catechisms put out by the Catholic Church. These are our protection against error - the protection we need to arm ourselves with.

As far as I know, there is no “Church declared” saint who died knowingly teaching or writing something that he knew contradicted what was a defined Church doctrine at the time.

You are talking about the processiculi diligentiarum, an examination of the writings of the person being beatified. It does indeed examine any writings the saint may have done to ensure that there is nothing contrary to the faith. The processiculi diligentiarum however, is done according to the b


Forgive me if I seemed to be nitpicking. :tiphat: I agree, except that I wouldn’t say that the saints wrote about what the Church taught at the time because the Church has never changed its teachings. Rather, a teaching that had always been believed was declared dogma in 1854, so there would be no further confusion or debate about the issue. Again, I apologize for seeming to nitpick, but there are those who might leap on the idea that the Church changed its teachings over time, which is not the case, and not, I’m sure, what you meant to say.

I understand. But the OP didn’t limit his question to only what saints wrote about what the Church taught (doctrines) at the time.

In regards to the Immaculate Conception, it wasn’t “Church teaching” (doctrine) prior to 1854. I’m not sure when the topic of Mary being immaculately conceived first appeared in writings and preaching, but there were problems reconciling it with her need for a redeemer. The topic was open to discussion and varying opinions for hundreds of years prior to its being officially defined.
The Church didn’t change its teaching/doctrine in 1854. Rather, it had no official teaching/doctrine until then.

What you are talking about is the processiculi diligentiarum - the examination of the writings of a person who is a candidate for beatification. This is done to ensure that nothing they wrote is contrary to the faith. That is done however, in the context of the faith as it was understood by the Church at that time.

St. Thomas Aquinas denied the Immaculate Conception, but a full understanding of the Immaculate Conception by the Church wasn’t realized until many centuries after Aquinas. He did not teach anything contrary to the faith at the time he wrote it and at the time it was examined. We now know that it was an error. The Immaculate Conception is dogma. Aquinas was wrong.


If we go into detail about this we will take the thread off topic. But, it’s not a matter of Aquinas being “wrong” only that, as a theologian, he could not see how it was theologically possible. That doesn’t mean he didn’t bow to the Church’s wisdom on the matter. His “job” was to debate theological matters–that he couldn’t find the answer which others did doesn’t mean that he was wrong–in the sense that he held a belief contrary to that of the Church.

Here is what he believed. It’s very close to the IC.

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