If the Pope is Infallible, then why do we need Ecumenical Councils

If we can ask the Pope to speak infallibly, via ex-cathedra, to settle any theological issue, then why organize an ecumenical council, to begin with? If the Early Church knew since the beginning that the Pope has this special case of charism of infallibility, then why, during the rise of Arianism, did they have to spend so much time and money organizing the Nicean Council, bringing hundreds of bishops from all over the Mediterranean, debating the issue for a long time, and casting votes to decide on the final decree? Why couldn’t they just skip the whole thing and take the question to the Pope and let Him have the final say? Surely, it would be much easier just to copy and distribute a letter of his ex-cathedra statement to the other Churches outside of Rome. After all, he can speak infallibly without the need of consent from any bishop, correct?

Thanks.

Defining infallible doctrine is not the primary role of the Church. Its primary role is to spread the Gospel to the ends of the earth. This is more than one person can do. The councils are meant to further this role.

But isn’t it the primary role of the Ecumenical Council? Your answer doesn’t address why they had to vote.

The Pope never really acts without the Magisterium. This can be seen in the Relatio behind the original definition of Infallibility at Vatican I. Something I just happened to blog about with regard to reconcilement with the Orthodox:smiley:

Excerpts from Relatio:The Pope is "no more able to be separated from the universal Church than the foundation from the building it is destined to support" when exercising his "function as teacher.“and[T]he consent of the present preaching of the whole Magisterium of the Church, united with its head, is a rule of faith even for pontifical definitions."

One reason is that it clarifies terms. The pope does not automatically know the perfect answer to every question. A council brings many minds together to come up with a solution to difficult questions. This helps the pope because he is an ordinary human being and knotty problems can tie his tongue as well as anyone else’s. By bringing great minds together to discuss an issue, the pope can learn what to speak with his infallible tongue. That’s my understanding, anyway.

If the Early Church knew since the beginning that the Pope has this special case of charism of infallibility, then why, during the rise of Arianism, did they have to spend so much time and money organizing the Nicean Council, bringing hundreds of bishops from all over the Mediterranean, debating the issue for a long time, and casting votes to decide on the final decree? Why couldn’t they just skip the whole thing and take the question to the Pope and let Him have the final say?

One reason is given above. But I do think it is noteworthy that the Council appears to have promulgated a decision that had been reached by Pope St. Dionysius during the century prior to the Council. It is my understanding that Pope St. Dionysius, in about 260 A.D., issued an encyclical rejecting Sebellianism, affirming the divinity of Jesus and the Holy Spirit, and using the word “homoousios” as a mark of orthodoxy – whoever affirms that the Son and the Spirit are “homoousios” with the Father is orthodox, and whoever denies it is not. (That’s a summary, not a quote. See here for more info.)

Surely, it would be much easier just to copy and distribute a letter of his ex-cathedra statement to the other Churches outside of Rome. After all, he can speak infallibly without the need of consent from any bishop, correct?

Sometimes the function of the Council was to distribute a papal encyclical to all the bishops, at least in part. It is my understanding that the Third, Fourth, Sixth, and Seventh Ecumenical Councils were all organized at least in part so that a papal encyclical on the subject of the Council could be promulgated and accepted by the universal Church and used as a mark of orthodoxy by the bishops. I also think there is evidence that something similar happened with the First Ecumenical Council, since I think it adopted the encyclical and the mark of orthodoxy decided upon in about 260 A.D. by Pope St. Dionysius.

Anyway, I hope that helps. Please let me know if it does.

No. A Pope would never attempt to make an ex cathedra pronouncement without consulting with the bishops and theologians.

An ecumenical council is the highest action of the Magisterium of the Church. The Magisterium of the Church finds its fullest expression in an ecumencial council.

See CCC891.

-Tim-

Interesting quotes :slight_smile:

Yes, this is helpful. Thanks. :slight_smile:

Then what is the correct understanding of this statement from Vatican 1?:

Therefore, faithfully adhering to the tradition received from the beginning of the Christian faith, for the glory of God Our Savior, the exaltation of the Catholic Religion, and the salvation of Christian people, the Sacred Council approving, We teach and define that it is a divinely-revealed dogma: that the Roman Pontiff, when he speaks ex Cathedra, that is, when in discharge of the office of Pastor and Teacher of all Christians, by virtue of his supreme Apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine regarding faith or morals to be held by the Universal Church, by the divine assistance promised to him in blessed Peter, is possessed of that infallibility with which the divine Redeemer willed that His Church should be endowed for defining doctrine regarding faith or morals: and that therefore such definitions of the Roman Pontiff are irreformable of themselves, and not from the consent of the Church.

Does the last sentence imply that the Pope’s ex-cathedra statement does not have to have consent from any cardinals and/or archbishops in the Church?

It is my understanding that a pope’s infallibility does not depend on the consent of the rest of the Church, but his definitions of faith always get the assent of the rest of the Church. The reason is: it is my understanding that whoever does not assent to the pope’s definitions of faith is by that fact cut off from the Church, and the only Church that remains at that point is among those who do assent. If my understanding is correct, then it seems to follow that the pope’s definitions of faith do not require the consent of the rest of the Church in order to be infallible, but in fact they always get that consent because the Church, by definition, always remains faithful to the pope’s definitions of faith.

I hope that makes sense.

He can but it is fitting for him to allow the entire Magesterium to work. His infallibility is more of a humble protection than an overbearing stick he carries. The pope is not God, and it is proper, wise, and traditional for him to consult the wisdom of the church as a whole in decision making. Of course if the issue needs final arbitration, he will do so and be protected from error by the Holy Spirit.

The only times he acted individually were in the Marian dogmas that were widely held and not controversial, basically making official what was already held .

The magesterium’s decision is only binding if the pope oversees and “ratifies” it. So he is still showing his headship in ecumenical councils.

First, the Pope is not omniscient–it is often better that all the bishops participate in considering what exactly needs defining and how to do so (not to mention that fact that Ecumenical Councils tend to make lots of other decisions relating to governing the Church, rather than just teaching). Even in the case of papal definitions, Popes almost always consult the other bishops, either partially or universally. Furthermore, it’s often more effective to make decisions in a collegial way with those who will be implementing them actually participating in the decision making. This is why St. Leo the Great said that even though he already gave the authoritative judgment, the Council of Chalcedon was still a good idea:

[quote=Pope St. Leo I]On the return of our brothers and fellow priests, whom the See of the blessed Peter sent to the holy council, we ascertained, beloved, the victory you and we together had won by assistance from on high over the blasphemy of Nestorius, as well as over the madness of Eutyches. Wherefore we make our boast in the Lord, singing with the prophet: “our help is in the name of the Lord, who has made heaven and earth :” who has suffered us to sustain no harm in the person of our brethren, but has corroborated by the irrevocable assent of the whole brotherhood what He had already laid down through our ministry: to show that, what had been first formulated by the foremost See of Christendom, and then received by the judgment of the whole Christian world, had truly proceeded from Himself: that in this, too, the members may be at one with the head. And herein our cause for rejoicing grows greater when we see that the more fiercely the foe assailed Christ’s servants, the more did he afflict himself. For lest the assent of other Sees to that which the Lord of all has appointed to take precedence of the rest might seem mere complaisance, or lest any other evil suspicion might creep in, some were found to dispute our decisions before they were finally accepted. And while some, instigated by the author of the disagreement, rush forward into a warfare of contradictions, a greater good results through his fall under the guiding hand of the Author of all goodness. For the gifts of God’s grace are sweeter to us when they are gained with mighty efforts: and uninterrupted peace is wont to seem a lesser good than one that is restored by labours. Moreover, the Truth itself shines more brightly, and is more bravely maintained when what the Faith had already taught is afterwards confirmed by further inquiry. And still further, the good name of the priestly office gains much in lustre where the authority of the highest is preserved without it being thought that the liberty of the lower ranks has been at all infringed. And the result of a discussion contributes to the greater glory of God when the debaters exert themselves with confidence in overcoming the gainsayers: that what of itself is shown wrong may not seem to be passed over in prejudicial silence.
[/quote]

newadvent.org/fathers/3604120.htm

The Popes didn’t act individually in those cases either. In both cases, the Pope first requested and received input and consultation from all the bishops (see for example Deiparae Virginis Mariae of Pius XII and Ubi Primum of Bl. Pius IX). There have been many papal definitions, but none (AFAIK) were made unilaterally without consulting the bishops or at least the College of Cardinals.

St. Francis de Sales said (well before the famous Marian definitions), as the history of papal definitions up until his time showed, the Holy Spirit leads the Pope, He does not carry him. As such, the Popes used the usual means of determining the truth before issuing a definitive judgment, including convoking councils or consulting some or all of the bishops spread throughout the world.

THIS is an excellent question.

It would be from my understanding, that the infallible statements made by the Pope, Ex-Cathedra are infallable. Not the POPE, but the statements. How he comes to those statements is within the context of the Churche’s teaching body. The Church as a body and the Pope must act within that body - he’s not individualistically outside of The Church. As the whole of the Magisterium is given the authority of teaching, they must reasonably be consulted. How the Holy Spirit works is a mystery.

The Pope’s authority is not dependent on the Cardinals or the other bishops. However, a Pope would never make an ex cathedra statement on something that a majority of the bishops did not agree on.

We must remember the historical context of the First Vatican Council. The Pope had just lost Rome and the Papal States to the Italian Monarchy. Many were predicting that the Papacy was finished and that the local bishops would run the Church without him. In fact, the Popes gained respect as a spiritual leader after they lost temporal authority in Italy.

We don’t ask the Pope to speak infallibly. Here’s how it works: The normal means for considering questions of faith and morals is for the Ordinary Magisterium and Eccumenical Councils to decide. When there is a dispute, if they are unable to come to a decision, they then refer the matter to the Pope.

The pope does not make bishops irrelevant, anymore than Jesus making Peter the greatest among the apostles, make the other apostles irrelevant.

Neither do the bishops together, make the pope irrelevant, anymore than all the apostles together make Peter irrelevant.

Jesus established his hierarchy. #[FONT=Arial]30[/FONT] or #[FONT=Arial]385 ] looking at the same verses in Luke in different ways. [/FONT]

There is papal infallibility

AND THERE IS

Episcopal infallibility = Preservation from error of the bishops of the Catholic Church. They are infallible when all the bishops of the Church are assembled in a general council or, scattered over the earth, they propose a teaching of faith or morals as one to be held by all the faithful. They are assured freedom from error provided they are in union with the Bishop of Rome and their teaching is subject to his authority. The scope of this infallibility, like that of the Pope, includes not only revealed truths but any teaching, even historical facts, principles of philosophy, or norms of the natural law that are in any way connected with divine revelation.

I feel so out of depth with threads like these, where do you learn it all?

For context

For since Peter and his successor are the center of ecclesiastical unity, whose task it is to preserve the Church in a unity of faith and charity and to repair the Church when disturbed, his condition and his relation to the Church are completely special; and to this special and distinct condition corresponds a special and distinct privilege. Therefore, in this sense there belongs to the Roman Pontiff [size=2]a separate infallibility. But in saying this we do not separate the Pontiff from his ordained union with the Church. For the Pope is only infallible when,[/size]exercising his function as teacher of all Christians and therefore representing the whole Church, he judges and defines what must be believed or rejected by all. He is no more able to be separated from the universal Church than the foundation from the building it is destined to support. Indeed we do not separate the Pope, defining, from the cooperation and consent of the Church, at least in the sense that we do not exclude this cooperation and this consent of the Church. This is clear from the purpose for which this prerogative has been divinely granted.

The purpose of this prerogative is the preservation of truth in the Church. The special exercise of this prerogative occurs when there arise somewhere in the Church scandals against the faith, i.e., dissensions and heresies which the bishops of the individual churches or even gathered together in provincial council are unable to repress so that they are forced to appeal to the Apostolic See regarding the case, or when the bishops themselves are infected by the sad stain of error. And thereby we do not exclude the cooperation of the Church because the infallibility of the Roman Pontiff does not come to him in the manner of inspiration or of revelation but through a divine assistance.

for context

“It is true that the consent of the present preaching of the whole magisterium of the Church, united with its head, is a rule of faith even for pontifical definitions. But from all that it can in no way be deduced that there is a strict and absolute necessity of seeking that consent from the rulers of the Churches or from the bishops. I say this because this consent is very frequently able to be deduced from the clear and manifest testimonies of Sacred Scripture, from the consent of antiquity, that is, of the Holy Fathers, from the opinion of theologians and from other private means, all of which suffice for full information about the fact of the Church’s consent.”

here is the Relatio
[/FONT]https://sites.google.com/site/thetaboriclight/official_relatio

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