Infallibility


#1

I asked this in another forum, but didn’t get an adequate response (probably because it was in the Orthodox subforum…), as part of an ongoing discussion. Anyway, I have some confusion about infallibility. My confusion arises when some people say something like “papal infallibility has only been exercised twice, in the case of the IC and the Assumption”, but then other people say that papal infallibility protects documents such as Humanae Vitae. What am I missing?


#2

Infallibility means “protection from error” and applies to (1) the ordinary magisterium, (2) the extraordinary magisterium, and (3) the Pope.

The ordinary magisterium is the basic teaching of the Church. It is something we can absolutely trust, and includes things like “Contraception is wrong because the Church has always held that it is wrong, it contradicts the natural law, and the Church has interpreted her own tradition to be constant and therefore infallible on this issue.” The same would apply to the priesthood as reserved to baptized adult males. It would also apply to “Jesus loves us”, which is clear and true but I don’t think was ever officially defined.

The extraordinary magisterium is what the Bishops, in union with the Pope, teach through special means: the Councils. Jesus is True God and True Man, the Eucharist is the Real Presence of Jesus, there are seven sacraments no more no less, etc., the Book of Tobit is inspired scripture, etc.

The special “ex cathedra” infallibility that protects the Pope when he speaks as defining and infallible matter in his official capacity is the third type. It has only been used twice in the history of the Church: to define the dogma of the Immaculate Conception and the dogma of the Assumption of Mary.

So to answer the Humanae Vitae question: HV isn’t infallible because Paul VI or John Paul II or any other pope made an infallible declaration out of it. Rather, they reiterated that HV summarizes and explains what has always been the ordinary infallible teaching of the Church.


#3

If a book has a Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur, doesn’t that also mean it’s free from error, and therefore infallible?

And wouldn’t they grant these to papal encyclicals?

What’s the difference between the Nihil Obstat and the Imprimatur? I thought they were the same thing until I found a book that had an Imprimatur but not a Nihil Obstat.

Thomas More - thank you for the Kings 19 reference, by the way.


#4

[quote=cardenio]If a book has a Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur, doesn’t that also mean it’s free from error, and therefore infallible?

And wouldn’t they grant these to papal encyclicals?

What’s the difference between the Nihil Obstat and the Imprimatur? I thought they were the same thing until I found a book that had an Imprimatur but not a Nihil Obstat.

Thomas More - thank you for the Kings 19 reference, by the way.
[/quote]

Not really. Here are some definitions…

Nihil obstat is an official approval by a delegated censor (typically a priest) of the Roman Catholic Church to publish a work dealing with faith or morals. It signifies that the publication is free from Catholic doctrinal or moral error.

The phrase is Latin, meaning, “nothing hinders” or “nothing stands in the way.”

In other word, there is “No Obstical” to the faith.

A Catholic **imprimatur **can consist of up to three stamps, each followed by a signature (name and title):

Imprimi potest (Latin, meaning “able to be printed”) – If the work is that of a religious order, this stamp indicates that it has first been examined and approved by the religious superior or head of the religious order (or a duly appointed representative).

Nihil obstat (Latin, meaning “nothing hinders”) – This stamp indicates that the work has been examined and approved by the censor of the diocese, and that he finds it free of doctrinal or moral error. The censor is often a scholarly priest appointed by the bishop, and it is his task to work back-and-forth with the author of the work to correct any inaccuracies or problems.

Imprimatur (Latin, meaning “let it be printed”) – Finally, this stamp indicates that the work has been approved for printing by the bishop of the diocese, or other ecclesiastical authority.

In other words, it is “Free from doctrinal error”. This is extremely reliable, but it is not absolute. Largely, it depends on who’s doing the reviewing. If someone with serious doctrinal problems reviews it, they won’t catch the errors. Only the Pope is guaranteed (by Sacred Scriptures) to have the ability to be *absolutely *certain not to teach error.

And no, the Pope needs no imprimatur on his encyclicals.

Make any more sense?

God Bless,
RyanL


#5

Wow, thank you Ryan for making that so much clearer.

And Thomas More, that answers my earlier question of another thread about the infallibility of the CCC…it’s infallible because of the Council of Bishops in union with the Pope, as evident in his letter releasing it for publication, right?


#6

Still a little confused.

Thomas More said

So to answer the Humanae Vitae question: HV isn’t infallible because Paul VI or John Paul II or any other pope made an infallible declaration out of it. Rather, they reiterated that HV summarizes and explains what has always been the ordinary infallible teaching of the Church.

but RyanL said

Only the Pope is guaranteed (by Sacred Scriptures) to have the ability to be absolutely certain not to teach error.

This doesn’t make sense.


#7

Cardenio…

I think the distinction is that Humanae Vitae is not “ex cathedra” because he didn’t speak as defining an infallible “matter” in his official capacity as Pope.

It’s still infallible though because it is a teaching (as opposed to a declaration) on faith and morals from the Pope, and since the Pope cannot teach an untruth on matters of faith and morals (that is the protection Jesus promised) we can trust it as being the Truth.

Ex Cathedra seems to be more of a pronouncement - mot up for debate or negotiation…it just is the Truth Revealed.

Whereas teachings, either by the councils or the pope, are developed based on study, reflection, prayer, and other sources. So when the council in union with the pope come to an agreement about church teaching on faith on morals, we the faithful can trust in the protection of infallibility for that teaching (ordinary and extraordinary magesterium).

Does that help?

I should ask the others first, is that the correct understanding?


#8

Perhaps this will help.

The conditions required for ex cathedra teaching are mentioned in the Vatican decree:

  1. The pontiff must teach in his public and official capacity as spiritual head of the Church universal, not merely in his private capacity as a theologian.

  2. He must be teaching some doctrine of faith or morals in a manner that explicitly and solemnly defines an issue.

  3. His teaching cannot contradict anything the Church has taught officially and previously.

  4. It must be evident that he intends to teach with his supreme Apostolic authority. In other words, he must convey his wish to determine some point of doctrine in an absolutely final and irrevocable way. There are well-recognized formulas that are used to express this intention, such as “We declare, decree and define, . . .”.

  5. It must be clear that the Pope intends to bind the whole Church. Unless the Pope formally addresses the whole Church in the recognized official way, he is assumed to not intend his teaching to be ex cathedra and infallible (unless he is reiterating what has always been taught).

    There is not any specific phrasing required for an infallible definition by a pope or ecumenical council. Historically, almost all of these definitions have been attached to anathemas that state that anyone who deliberately dissents is outside the Catholic Church. For example, in Pope Pius XII’s infallible definition regarding the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, there are attached these words: “Hence if anyone, which God forbid, should dare willfully to deny or to call into doubt that which we have defined, let him know that he has fallen away completely from the divine and Catholic Faith.”

HV didn’t satisfy these requirements, so it can’t be said to be infallible. Mostly. To the best of my knowledge, the jury is still out WRT the infallibility of HV, but it has not been explicitly declared to be so. If you want an explicit example, see: Munificentissimus Deus. Once you read it, you’ll see why it satisfies the requirements, and why there’s doubt about HV.

God Bless,
RyanL


#9

oh geez…now I’m confused again.

It still seems to me that HV falls under the ordinary magesterium of infallibility though…

But, let me get this straight - for those non-Catholics who think the Pope speaks infallibly every time - in 2005 or so years a pope has spoken ex-cathedra only twice???

Everything else the Church has taught hasn’t required such a definitive statement?

That the assumption of Mary would call for ex-cathedra and not the Resurrection of Christ or the Trinity or Heaven and Hell, for that matter confuses me…

Is it because the IC and Assumption cannot be confirmed through scripture, while the other teachings can?


#10

[quote=Atreyu]… I have some confusion about infallibility. My confusion arises when some people say something like “papal infallibility has only been exercised twice, in the case of the IC and the Assumption”, but then other people say that papal infallibility protects documents such as Humanae Vitae. What am I missing?
[/quote]

Msgr. James T. O’Connor explains the papal charism of infallibility as follows:

The Pope … acts infallibly when, as pastor and teacher of the Universal Church, he definitively passes judgements – and intends to do so – on some matter of faith and morals.

[Cited by Fr Peter Pilsner in his article, “Is ‘Ordinatio Sacerdotalis’ an Infallible Exercise of the Extraordinary Papal Magisterium?”
[url=“http://www.ewtn.com/library/ISSUES/PILSORD.TXT”]http://www.ewtn.com/library/ISSUES/PILSORD.TXT

]

From the same article by Fr Pilsner:

At Vatican I, some of the bishops objected to the use of the word “define” claiming that it was too restrictive and too juridical, implying the use of a specific formula or limiting the Pope to putting an end to a controversy which had arisen about something which was already a matter of faith. The word was accepted only after Bishop Gasser had assured the bishops that** the word “define” was not to be understood in a juridical sense but rather** signifies that the Pope directly and conclusively pronounces his sentence about a doctrine which concerns matters of faith or morals and does so in such a way that each one of the faithful can be certain of the mind of the Apostolic See, of the mind of the Roman Pontiff; in such a way, indeed, that he or she knows for certain that such and such a doctrine is held to be heretical, proximate to heresy, certain or erroneous, etc, by the Roman Pontiff."

So the pope acts infallibility on those occassions when he proclaims material dogma is to be assented to as a formal dogma, as in the case of the doctrine of the Assumption and Immaculate Conception. Yet, the pope also acts infallibly when he defends against erroneous understandings of Catholic doctrines which are already formal dogma, that is, already matters of faith. Pointing just to the two material dogmas expounded upon and made formal dogmas (Assumption and Immaculate Conception), while not appreciating the countless formal dogmas defended by papal judgment is to only grasp part of the concept in my opinion.

Vatican II’s, Lumen Gentium 25*, *clarifies this by speaking of the charism of infallibility which the Roman Pontiff enjoys when he acts as supreme teacher of the universal Church and is “expounding or defending a doctrine of Catholic faith.”

So, when a pope defends a doctrine of faith that is already a formal dogma, by proclaiming a contary proposition to be erroneous or heretical for example, he is also acting with the charism of infallibility.

There have been countless occasions in the past 2000 years when the pope has definitively passed judgment on some matter of faith and morals. A “list” of these occasions is impractical as it would be too volumous.


#11

[quote=itsjustdave1988]So the pope acts infallibility on those occassions when he proclaims material dogma is to be assented to as a formal dogma, as in the case of the doctrine of the Assumption and Immaculate Conception. Yet, the pope also acts infallibly when he defends against erroneous understandings of Catholic doctrines which are already formal dogma, that is, already matters of faith. Pointing just to the two material dogmas expounded upon and made formal dogmas (Assumption and Immaculate Conception), while not appreciating the countless formal dogmas defended by papal judgment is to only grasp part of the concept in my opinion.
[/quote]

So twice in 2000 years the pope has been called by the Spirit to proclaim a material dogma not already formalized as such. But the pope has spoken infallibly to DEFEND many other dogmas whenever they were challenged (thush having the final say, I suppose?).

All the other dogmas and doctrines the pope we hold true were inffalible because they were handed down to the pope over time by the body of bishops as a whole, so to speak, so the Pope’s final word wasn’t required to make it so…since he’s the defender of the faith as well as the teacher???

Then when the non-Catholics press me about all these infallible teachings and how several popes behaved badly during their time therefore the line of trust was broken with those bad apples - what I should counter with is that during those times the Church herself declared the doctrines and dogmas, not those specific popes, and it is because it was done through a body of bishops the teachings from that body were protected with the grace of infallibility from the Holy Spirit?

I can hear them citing personal/moral/ethical errors of particular bishops and cardinals as well though…but to that charge, my response would be Jesus promised the body of work from a gathering of bishops agreed upon is protected from erring from the Truth, regardless of the individual states of grace of each bishop was during the council???


#12

[quote=Atreyu]What am I missing?
[/quote]

What you are missing is that there is no infallible list of infallible statements. Thus, faithful Catholics can and do disagree on which Church teachings are infallible, and which are authoritative but non-infallible. (The latter teachings are often termed the “authentic” magisterium.)

In the face of such disagreement, canon law steps in with the following rule:

Canon 749 §3 No doctrine is understood to be infallibly defined unless this is manifestly demonstrated.

Thus, the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption are the only two papal teachings which must be treated as ex cathedra.


#13

RyanL,

Other truths are infallible, not simply because they meet the requirement of some papal ex cathedra pronouncment, but because the Church has taught something “everywhere, always, and by all.” The teachings of Humanae Vitae are infallible if one agrees that it was indeed a doctrine held “everywhere, always, and by all” by the ordinary universal magisterium.

If you’ve read John T. Noonan’s book *Contraception, *it is difficult to discount that Humanae Vitae is indeed an infallilbe teaching of the ordinary universal magisterium in every age.

Another example of infallible teaching having never been pronounced ex cathedra is the absence of error in the inspired sacred texts.

Thus, from June 29, 1998, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, while the president of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, and the prelate of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, asserted that “the absence of error in the inspired sacred texts” is an infallible immutable dogma of the Catholic Church, “to be believed as divinely revealed,” and is “of divine and catholic faith which the Church proposes as divinely and formally revealed and, as such, as irreformable.” This Catholic dogma “require[s] the assent of theological faith by all members of the faithful. Thus, whoever obstinately places them in doubt or denies them falls under the censure of heresy” (Doctrinal Commentary on Professio Fide, approved and promulgated by Pope John Paul II).

Take note that there is no papal ex cathedra pronouncement or ecumenical council that has ever declared this teaching infallible. Yet, no less an authority than Cardinal Ratzinger places it among infallible dogmas of the Catholic Church. Thus, it appears that infallible dogma can and is promulgated by the ordinary universal magisterium and not merely the solemn magisterium.


#14

[quote=cardenio]If a book has a Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur, doesn’t that also mean it’s free from error, and therefore infallible?
[/quote]

Imprimaturs (and nihil obstats) are not infallible; it is possible for an imprimatur to be granted in error. There are cases where a book has been granted an imprimatur, only to have the imprimatur be revoked later when doctrinal problems in the book have come to light.

Also, an imprimatur doesn’t meet that what the book says is correct; it only means that believing what it says does not conflict with the faith. Thus, a book stating that ensoulment happens at conception could have an imprimatur, because this belief does not conflict with the faith. But a book stating that ensoulment happens several weeks after conception could also have an imprimatur, because this alternative belief also does not conflict with the faith.

In short, an imprimatur means that you are allowed to believe what a book says, not that you are required to believe what it says.


#15

[quote=itsjustdave1988][Cited by Fr Peter Pilsner in his article, "Is ‘Ordinatio Sacerdotalis’ an Infallible Exercise of the Extraordinary Papal Magisterium?"
http://www.ewtn.com/library/ISSUES/PILSORD.TXT
[/quote]

]

In this article, Fr. Pilsner claims to know more about the theological conditions for papal infallibility than Pope Benedict XVI. Thus, I would take anything this article says with several grains of salt.


#16

** sigh ** :whacky:

You both have done a wonderful job explaining things…too good of a job, because I’m even more disappointed now. There doesn’t seem to be a solid, easy response to my non-Catholic/fallen away Catholics with regard to this matter of church teaching being The Truth.

It’s the reason my siblings are fallen away. I know their arguments but I don’t know how to counter them. Not that there’s much opportunity to do so, but I plan to spend some quality time with them next summer and I’d really like to be able to approach them about their rejection of the Faith. Being the baby of the family, I know it will not be taken well, but I’m praying the Holy Spirit will be with me and guide me through it (plus I plan to plant green scapulars in their homes while I’m there). In the meantime I’m really trying to get a clearer picture of how these Church teaching came to be regarded as infallible - and if that means they are THE TRUTH, the ONLY TRUTH.

So many Catholics cannot reconcile the Church teaching on condoms cannot be given an ‘exception’ for those in Africa ‘given the AIDS epidemic there’. I know the answer to that and I’ve come to terms with it, but it means many lives will have to be lost until abstinence and the value of human dignity can be restored to the people there. For those who disagree, they don’t believe lives should be lost while waiting for the teachings of the Church to ‘catch on’.

In any case, not to change the subject to condoms in Africa, but the point was - in their minds - since the Pope has the ‘power’, so to speak, to declare a teaching TRUE, they believe, erroneously, that he also has the ‘power’ to call exception to the teaching (especially since it isn’t ex-cathedra) given the study of a particular circumstances (in this case, how could the pope possible ‘sentence’ so many innocents to death?)

If only I had more than 2 hours to get into it with these people, they might understand, but that’s why I’m trying to find a way to get the the meat of the issue. But I’m not clear on it myself yet - the infallibility thing and why teachings can’t be ‘modified’ to accommodate certain circumstances.


#17

[quote=Catholic2003]What you are missing is that there is no infallible list of infallible statements. Thus, faithful Catholics can and do disagree on which Church teachings are infallible, and which are authoritative but non-infallible. (The latter teachings are often termed the “authentic” magisterium.)

In the face of such disagreement, canon law steps in with the following rule:

Thus, the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption are the only two papal teachings which must be treated as ex cathedra.
[/quote]

So by your understanding, what’s written in the CCC as our guide to being Catholics - is that infallible on the whole? or are you one which says some of the teachings inside are infallible while others are not? And if you are of the latter, then how the heck are we faithful supposed to know which is which???

(I’m not frustrated with you, honest, just the state of confusion) :confused:


#18

[quote=YinYangMom]** sigh ** :whacky:

You both have done a wonderful job explaining things…too good of a job, because I’m even more disappointed now. There doesn’t seem to be a solid, easy response to my non-Catholic/fallen away Catholics with regard to this matter of church teaching being The Truth.
[/quote]

I wish I could be the bearer of better news, but I’m afraid I can’t. Before I joined the Church, the two “hot button” issues for me were infallibility and annulments, so I’ve spent a fair amount of time and effort studying each. Without exception, every book or article that I’ve read on infallibility has left me more confused than enlightened. There doesn’t seem to be any real consensus in the Church on how infallibility works.

In the Vorgrimmler Commentaries on Vatican II, Karl Rahner wrote the commentary on the section of Lumen Gentium that dealt with infallibility. In it, Rahner makes two very discouraging comments. First, that it is not possible to make sense of the text of Lumen Gentium itself without already having significant knowledge of the issues that the Vatican II fathers were dealing with. Second, that although Vatican II resolved some of the controversies surrounding how infallibility works, there are still several issues that Vatican II left unresolved.


#19

[quote=YinYangMom]So by your understanding, what’s written in the CCC as our guide to being Catholics - is that infallible on the whole? or are you one which says some of the teachings inside are infallible while others are not? And if you are of the latter, then how the heck are we faithful supposed to know which is which???
[/quote]

This is just my personal opinion, but to me it seems that the CCC makes it very difficult to figure out which teachings are infallible and which are not. I believe that this is deliberate, because Catholics are called to obey all authoritative Church teachings, whether infallible or not. If the CCC had explicitly pointed out which parts are infallible, then dissenters would have just taken that as license to ignore all the non-infallible parts.

If you really want to determine which teachings are infallible and which are not, then you need to first locate (via the CCC footnotes) the magisterial documents that support the teaching. Then you have to check if those documents meet the requirements for any of the three modes of infallibility - (1) papal infallibility, (2) conciliar infallibility, and (3) the infallibility of the ordinary and universal magisterium.

[quote=YinYangMom](I’m not frustrated with you, honest, just the state of confusion) :confused:
[/quote]

I understand completely. I’m in the same boat you are.


#20

[quote=Catholic2003]This is just my personal opinion, but to me it seems that the CCC makes it very difficult to figure out which teachings are infallible and which are not. I believe that this is deliberate, because Catholics are called to obey all authoritative Church teachings, whether infallible or not. If the CCC had explicitly pointed out which parts are infallible, then dissenters would have just taken that as license to ignore all the non-infallible parts.

If you really want to determine which teachings are infallible and which are not, then you need to first locate (via the CCC footnotes) the magisterial documents that support the teaching. Then you have to check if those documents meet the requirements for any of the three modes of infallibility - (1) papal infallibility, (2) conciliar infallibility, and (3) the infallibility of the ordinary and universal magisterium.

I understand completely. I’m in the same boat you are.
[/quote]

Hmmm…
So when the non and fallen away Catholics tell me the Church can change teaching but chooses not to because it would mean everything would be negotiable, my response should be:

The Church can never teach anything contrary to what has been taught previously, but it can teach an expanded view of a previous teaching.

Without having to get into infallibility about specific teachings, right?

I’m thinking about the position of suicide victims. For centuries these people would be considered damned straight to hell by the official teaching of the Church, but today the Church teaches in the CCC that the mercy of the Lord is His to dole out and He alone knows the state of the person’s heart (or something to that effect) so that the Church cannot stated definitively where that soul would end up.

To many this is a contradiction. To me, it’s an expansion - as they learned more, they taught more. To which they would respond the case in Africa is also an situation where more has been learned, certainly more than the Church knew about condoms when they were addressing it’s use solely to prevent pregnancy, but not as a medical necessity. You get the drift…


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