Infallible only Twice?

I have been engaged on some other Catholic blogs and I have heard that the Church has only defined two doctrines infallibly: The Immaculate Conception and The Assumption.

Then, at a class I took at my parish, taught by a candidate for the diaconate, based on his diocesan education, he reiterated that those were the only two infalible teachings of the Church.

I was under the impression that things like councils, and encyclicals were infallible when they taught on faith and morals. The debate that first started this was women’s ordination, which I thought had been closed infallibly. I don’t want to get into that specific subject, but I need to know if those are the only two infallible doctrines of the Church and how close to certain the other theologically defined doctrines are?

The church is failable.

So is the Pope.

Holy Scripture is infallible, as is Apostolic Tradition. After that, all pronouncements made by all ecumenical councils of the assembled bishops are also infallible. (Lateran Council, Council of Niceaea, Council of Trent, etc.)

Then we get into papal pronouncements. In order for a papal pronouncement to be infallible, it must meet the following criteria: 1. It must be put forth by the pope, and he must be speaking to the entire Church in his position of chief bishop of the Christian faithful. 2. It must deal with faith and morals. 3. It must be a definition (or final explanation) of some already existing doctrine or teaching (he can’t just make this stuff up), and 4. It cannot contradict Scripture, Tradition, a conciliar pronouncement, or an earlier infallible statement. (Encyclicals are not infallible, by the way.)

So far, there have been four infallible papal pronouncements:

  1. Pope Pius IX’s definition of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of Mary (1854)

  2. Pope Pius IX’s confirmation of the 1st Vatican Council defining the dogma of papal infallibility (1870)

  3. Pope Pius XII’s definition of the dogma of the Assumption of Mary (1950)

  4. Pope John Paul II’s confirmation that women may not be ordained as priests (1994).

Oh, how conveeenient! The pope declares “infallibly” that the pope is “infallibe”. What else can we wish for as “proof”?

You misinterpret. Note what I said: the Pope confirmed what the Council said. The bishops at the council defined (defined, not invented) papal infallibility, and the pope confirmed it. Also please note that as I said, any infallible statement must define an already existing truth; papal infallibility goes back to at least Pope Clement I in 99 AD.

not even remotely helpful.

I think what these people meant is that these are “arguably” the only 2 times that the POPE has exercised papal infallibility to define doctrine. The Church of course has many infallible doctrines, like the Trinity, Incarnation, etc… Check Ludwig Ott’s Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma for all teachings and the level of doctrine they embody.

As has already been indicated, the “only two” infallible statements that have ever been made are references to the two ex cathedra infallible statements made by popes throughout the centuries. Beyond these, all the public doctrine put forth by ecumenical councils is infallible, etc. (as has also been mentioned).

This is one of those ex cathedra statements.

  1. Pope Pius IX’s confirmation of the 1st Vatican Council defining the dogma of papal infallibility (1870)

This is not. It is simply a ratification of an ecumenical council.

  1. Pope Pius XII’s definition of the dogma of the Assumption of Mary (1950)

This is another.

  1. Pope John Paul II’s confirmation that women may not be ordained as priests (1994).

I forget whether this counts or not. The CDF issued a statement clarifying whether this declaration was in itself an infallible pronouncement from the Pope or simply an affirmation of the already infallible doctrine of the Church manfiested in Tradition. I don’t remember now what they said.

Does this help, Nate?


Everyone that has had a helpful response, thanks! It certainly has…I had been terribly confused.


According to Vatican I and Vatican II
Four conditions must be met for the Pope to be infallible.

He must be teaching in a definite way.
As head of the Church (ex-cathedra)
It must concern faith or morals
It must be for all Christians.

Therefore, whenever the Popes teach for the whole Church, as Popes, they are infallible, unless one of these conditions is missing
Therefore there are thousands of infallible definitions by the Popes.

We must note that in the history of Christianity **all heresies were started by Catholic scholars, **some by Catholic bishops.
No Catholic scholar has ever been infallible.

No Pope has ever taught heresy when teaching as the Pope, for all Catholics.

Catholic scholars are totally untrustworthy.
The Popes are totally trustworthy when teaching for all Christians has head of the Church.

That is a totally ridiculous statement to make!

Of course not.
John Calvin was a brilliant Catholic, Martin Luther was a Catholic priest, an expert in scripture., both started heresies.

It is only logical. Only Catholics could know enough about Christianity to make their heresies plausible. That is why all heresies were started by Catholic scholars .
Many bishops can be fooled into accepting heresies, such as the Jansenist heresy in France which was endorsed by many Catholic bishops, and theologians.

In fact, one of the Pope’s primary duties is to preserve the deposit of faith. Many of the encyclicals they write are to correct the numerous errors of Catholic theologians and scripture scholars.
Many dissident scholars hate that fact, that none of them has ever been error free and that the Popes have never taught error.
That is why they try to reduce the times of infallible teachings to only a few instances.

In 2000 years, despite encyclical after encyclical, papal bull after papal bull, no pope, when teaching as pope, for all Christians on faith or morals has ever taught error.

Pope John Paul II for example has taught much in his many encyclicals. But he has never taught error when clearly defining teachings in these encyclicals, intended for the whole Church.

It is difficult for any Catholic scholar to write anything of substance without error. The Popes do it constantly. They are the rock.

As early as January 1870, at the initiative of Bishops Martin and Senestre a petition was sent to the pope; it immediately received the support of the majority of the Council members and thus anticipated the decision before any discussion on the subject. The petition asked for the proclamation of the pope’s supreme and infallible authority in matters of faith. Forty-six Council members from Austria-Hungary and Germany immediately sent a counter-petition, asking not to submit this subject for discussion; they were joined by 38 French, 27 American, 17 Eastern and 7 Italian bishops.** **

The collection of written protests against the dogma of papal infallibility shows how strong was the opposition to it. Sixty-one members wrote that the proposed dogma should be withdrawn and some gave decisive dogmatic and canonic reasons for this; fourteen said that the subject required further investigation; others regarded the proposed dogma as a self-contradictory innovation likely to lead to schism; only 56 were more or less in favour of it.
(Excerpts from “The Vatican dogma”)

The participants at Vatican I overwhelmingly accepted the dogma of infallibility. After all, it has always been taught, but never formally put down in writing.

If the Pope was never first in authority, there never would have been unity in the Church. Church General Councils are not even valid unless the Pope gives his final approval.

We must remember that theologians, scripture scholars, bible experts, even saints have NO authority to authentically interpret the word of God. Jesus gave that authority ONLY to Peter and the apostles and they handed that authority down ONLY to their successors, the Pope and those bishops in union with the Pope.

When we rebel against the teachings of the Pope, we are rebelling against Jesus.

There is no agreement among theologians about how many times papal infallibility has been used. Pope Benedict XVI, prior to becoming Pope and speaking as a private theologian, attempted a list of infallible papal teachings. There were several different pronouncements on the list and he added the caveat that the list is not exhaustive.

The First Vatican Council’s dogma of papal infallibility falls under the infallibility of an Ecumenical Council, not under papal infallibility.

Other candidates for papal infallibility that are sometimes suggested:

Evangelium Vitae’s three pronouncements against murder, abortion, and euthenasia.

Pope Boniface VIII Papal Bull, Unam Sanctum.

Pope Leo XIII, Providentissimus Deus, n. 20.

JP2’s statement against on the priestly ordination of women.

Pope Benedict XII on the beatific vision of God.

There may be others.

Let’s not forget all of these infallible teachings.
The Body and Blood of Jesus Christ are truly, really, and substantially present in the Eucharist.
Christ becomes present in the Sacrament of the Altar by the transformation of the whole substance of the bread into His Body and of the whole substance of the wine into His Blood.
The accidents of bread and wine continue after the change of the substance.
The Body and Blood of Christ together with His Soul and Divinity and therefore, the whole Christ, are truly present in the Eucharist.
The Whole Christ is present under each of the two Species.
When either consecrated Species is divided, the Whole Christ is present in each part of the Species.
After the Consecration has been completed the Body and Blood are permanently present in the Eucharist.

And there are many more

Dogmas of the Church

It’s remarkable, isn’t it, how the Holy Spirit is unpersuaded by petitions and protests? He will work through councils and popes in the manner He sees fit for the Church, regardless of how many people don’t like it.

Very much like Humane Vitae, Pope Paul’s 1968 encyclical on artificial birth control…everybody he talked to told him to lift the ban, and after much prayer, he left the ban in place, listing his reasons why. It resulted in nothing less than a small-scale rebellion in the Church, and a lot of people walked out. To all appearances, it was a disaster for the Church.

However, in the 40 years since, every one of the things the Pope listed has come to pass----all the things he feared would happen if ABC became commonplace have, indeed, transpired, to the greater detriment of the world in general. His encyclical, in its warnings, was nothing less than prophetic.

Interesting, isn’t it?

Great post. at first I thought your claim on the holy spirit being unpersuaded was going to be an unfounded argument. But I like your use of Humanae Vitae. The Church (and her Pope) truly knows what is good for mankind…

Read your statement again:

Catholic scholars are totally untrustworthy

I repeat that is a totally ridiculous comment to make!

Also do you mean before John Paul II became Pope everything he wrote could not be trusted??

Extremely interesting. The odd innovation of 1870 caused small schisms within Roman Catholicism and widened the schism with Holy Orthodoxy considerably. Relativism and dissention is widespread. Bishops give Holy Communion to dissenting homosexuals and there have been strange anomolies such as clown Masses–and that is but the tip of the ice berg.

Yes–very interesting indeed.

Certainly, no one who claims allegiance to Catholic theology can simply declare the doctrine of primacy null and void, especially not if he seeks to understand the objections and evaluates with an open mind the relative weight of what can be determined historically. Nor is it possible, on the other hand, for him to regard as the only possible form and, consequently, as binding on all Christians the form this primacy has taken in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The symbolic gestures of Pope Paul VI and, in particular, his kneeling before the representative of the Ecumenical Patriarch were an attempt to express precisely this and, by such signs, to point the way out of the historical impasse.
*[Joseph Ratzinger, Principles of Catholic Theology (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 1987), p. 198]

Rome must not require more from the East with respect to the doctrine of primacy than had been formulated and was lived in the first millennium.
Joseph Ratzinger****

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