Issues with papal infallibility

I’m Catholic but I have some issues about a couple of doctrines. One of them is papal infallibility.

I can understand that having an infallible authority would be a good idea. It would certainly be nice to have a certain answer to controversial questions. However, just because it would be nice doesn’t mean that it exists.

I can also see papal primacy in both Scripture and Apostolic Tradition but primacy and infallibility are not the same thing. Despite this many of the articles I’ve seen defending infallibility end up focusing on primacy.
5My doubts come from a couple of questions:

  1. If the pope is infallible, why do we need church councils? Just ask the pope.

  2. Papal infallibility has only been used twice. Once to define the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception and once to define the doctrine of the Assumption of Mary. Both of these were in the last 150 years or so. If papal infallibility is true, why wasn’t it used more often?

  3. I keep hearing that “Unam sanctam”, a papal bull written in 1302 by Pope Boniface VIII is not considered infallible yet it says: “Furthermore, we declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff.” How could this not be considered to be intended as an infallible declaration?

Any input is appreciated.

Gary, this question is relatively easy to answer, I think. The pope is infallible, but he is not omniscient, agreed? So, he calls an Ecumenical Council so that all the voices of the Bishops as well as that of the Holy Spirit may be heard. Otherwise, he would have to come up with all the answers himself, and that’s simply too much to ask of one man.

  1. Papal infallibility has only been used twice. Once to define the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception and once to define the doctrine of the Assumption of Mary. Both of these were in the last 150 years or so. If papal infallibility is true, why wasn’t it used more often?

Jimmy Akin answers this question here:

Two Instances Of Papal Infallibility?
jimmyakin.com/2004/06/two_instances_o.html

  1. I keep hearing that “Unam sanctam”, a papal bull written in 1302 by Pope Boniface VIII is not considered infallible yet it says: “Furthermore, we declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff.” How could this not be considered to be intended as an infallible declaration?

Any input is appreciated.

**Can Non-Catholics Be Saved? **
by Mark P. Shea
insidecatholic.com/Joomla/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=59&Itemid=121&ed=1

Many people here say that the declaration of Pope John Paul II stating that women cannot be priests was infallible.

It was per then Cardinal Ratzinger.

The problem I have with this answer is that he could still get input from bishops and a variety of others and still make the final decision himself. It’s not like he would have to spend all his time deciding on doctrine.

However, your response brings up another issue. We often use God speaking to Peter up on the roof about receiving Gentiles into the church as evidence. Peter didn’t study the issue. He just acted on what he heard God say to him. When he told what happened to the Council of Jerusalem, they decided based on what God revealed to Peter, not on the basis of study. If God wants to proclaim a truth, why can’t He do what he did in Acts 10? Why does the issue have to be studied?

Jimmy Akin answers this question here:

Two Instances Of Papal Infallibility?
jimmyakin.com/2004/06/two_instances_o.html

I’ve heard this argument before and it is not convincing. First of all, not all theologians agree that canonizations are infallible. Also, keep in mind that the pope has only been the one to canonize for about half of the church’s history. Before that they were done by the local bishop. If canonizations are infallible, then all those local bishops were exercising infallibility.

**Can Non-Catholics Be Saved? **
by Mark P. Shea
insidecatholic.com/Joomla/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=59&Itemid=121&ed=1

Sorry but there was no article when I clicked on the link. It looks as if there had been one in the past but it wasn’t there now.

Yes and no. It was considered infallible teaching but not because of John Paul II’s statement. According to then-Cardinal Ratzinger, the pope was quoting dogma, not making it. It was already the church’s infallible teaching before JP2 said anything about it.

mark-shea.com/unam.html

Luckily, the Web Archive took a snapshot of that page for us. As a result, you can still access it here: web.archive.org/web/20091113231342/http://insidecatholic.com/Joomla/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=59&Itemid=121&ed=1

Unless I missed something the Shea article doesn’t address my point about Unam Sanctam. It’s not the teaching about the church but why, given how it is worded, can it not be considered to be an infallible declaration.

Unless I am misunderstanding something, Unam Sanctam meets the conditions for being an ex cathedra statement. Therefore, unless I’m missing something, it is an ex cathedra statement. But I would love for someone who knows more than I do to come along and shed some light on this.

By searching “papalencyclicals.net” for the phrase “we define,” I also found a document called Benedictus Deus, from 1336, which also seems to meet the conditions for infallibility. That seem to mean that two infallible documents were issued by popes in the 14th century, and two infallible documents were issued by popes between 1854 and 1950. Interesting that in both cases the two documents were close together in time.

This is an extremely long explanation in what looks like an attempt to soften what is said:
“We declare, say, define and pronounce, that it is absolutely necessary for the salvation of every human creature to be subject to the Roman Pontiff.”

What about it do you think is softened?

This one is better and it explains everything you will ever really need to know:

The Necessity of Being Catholic
by James Akin
catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=3447

One of the most controversial papal documents ever released was the bull, Unam Sanctam, issued in 1302 by Pope Boniface VIII. Today the most controversial part of the bull is the following infallible pronouncement: “Now, therefore, we declare, say, define, and pronounce that for every human creature it is altogether necessary for salvation to be subject to the authority of the Roman pontiff.”

and it goes from there…

Unlike our Protestant brothers and sisters, we Catholics have the benefit of an apostolic church with the Pope as Christ’s Vicar on earth. What makes the Pope infallible is the Holy Spirit; God Himself. When speaking on dogma, the Pope is guided by the Holy Spirit so he is incapable of speaking in error on spiritual matters but not on matters of doctrine. The Pope can still make a mistake on other matters such as doctrine.

For example, if the Pope were to say “God is a Martian”, he would clearly be in dogmatic error as this is not something that is true or the core of our belief. If the Pope said, “Mass said over a cell phone is valid”, he is speaking on doctrine; how we practice our faith. He may be in error or not.

This is my understanding and I hope others can add definitive statements. Please pray on your questions. I’m sure God will provide you guidance. God Bless you.

And the teaching against the use of artificial birth control is sometimes said to be infallible by people on CAF.

Again, but not by any papal statement.

There are plenty of dogmas but, according to almost all Catholic theologians, only the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption were defined by papal infallibility.

So is the teaching against the use of artificial birth control infallible? There was at least one papal encyclical teaching that it was wrong to use ABC.

Artificial birth control of any sort is sin. However, there has never been an infallible statement from a pope declaring it to be a sin. Pope Paul VI dealt with the issue in Humanae vitae and what he said was 100% true.

If Paul VI had made an infallible statement condemning birth control, it would have meant that it was up to the individual before that.

Yes, it is my understanding that the teaching about artificial birth control is infallible, but no pope has made an ex cathedra statement about it, at least not any that I know of. Ex cathedra statements and conciliar decrees, unless I am missing something, are only two ways a doctrine can be infallible. It s my understanding that there is another way a teaching can be infallible, and it is this third way that covers the teaching about artificial birth control.

I don’t think that’s true, because the Church had made statements condemning artificial birth control before, and the faithful were bound to follow those, unless I am missing something. Casti Cannubii 53-56, for example, seems to forbid contraception.

God created man and woman to have children, not to have sensual pleasure. That the conjugal act is pleasurable is a plus but not the goal. To artificially eliminate the possibility of conception is the sin. Papal infallibility has nothing to do with the Church’s dogma against artificial birth control.

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