Matthew 16:18

[quote=Jesus]And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hell will not prevail.

I’ve often heard this quote used as proof that the Church can not err in its teaching.

The argument goes something like: Jesus promised to Peter that the gates of Hell will not prevail. If the Church ever teaches something in error, then the gates of Hell have prevailed. Therefore, the Church has never taught doctrine or dogma in error.

This has always confused me a bit. Where does the idea that teaching in error is equivalent to the gates of Hell prevailing? Why would an incorrect theological position be considered the gates of Hell prevailing, but an immoral action be chalked up to human weakness?

I’ve never seen that argument before. My understanding is that the Church is infallible because Christ said His Spirit would lead it in ALL Truth, the leaders of His Church would speak with Christ’s own Voice and on behalf of the Holy Spirit, and He made it the pillar and defender of truth. For example,

“…if I am delayed, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth.” (1Tim 3:15)

“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.” (Jn 16:13)

“But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” (Jn 14:26)

“Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.” (Lk 10:16)

“As for you, the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and so you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, abide in him.” (1Jn 2:27)

“For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to impose on you no further burden than these essentials:” (Acts 15:28)

“And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Mt 28:18-20)

Well, let’s see what happened to the chosen people prior to the coming of Jesus.

Moses brought the 12 tribes of Israel out of the slavery in Egypt, set up 1 of the tribes (Levites) as the only one allowed to perform the priestly duties (offering sacrifices to GOD). The books of Genesis and Exodus are attributed to him. We can be certain that there was only 1 religion for all the 12 tribes.

Now forward to Jesus’s time and let’s examine the situation. Only 3 tribes remained. Isarel, Juda and Levites. Did all the people have the same religion?
Read your New testament and we hear of at least 2 diferring religions (variants of the Mosaic religion) the Saducees and the Farisees. The first ones denied the resurreccion possibly did not believe in an afterlife. The 2nd thought that trough works of the law you could merit GOD’s reward for Heaven even though they found clever ways to make void the commandments given by GOD directly to them through Moses.
And we know that these 2 were NOT the only sects that were “active” in Jesus’s time.

So let’s now fast forward 2000 years and let’s examine the protestants situation.
How many diferring major branches have sprout out since the 1700’s?

More than 40,000 major denominations, sects and cults.
Each believeing wildly diferring points of view on many of teachings of our Lord.
Did Jesus allow divorce?
Murder innocent babies in the womb?
Allow men or women commit sins of chastity

What do they have in common? Both set up themselves as the arbiters of GOD’s revelation to us. They both then and now lack the protection of the Holy Spirit.

Now teaching error is much more destructive of the fiber of the true Church than the imperfect or failed behaiviour of even the Pope in his personal affairs.
I will give you an example:

King David commited adultery and murder out of passion for a woman he lusted after.
However Jesus’s is said to be a direct descendant of that very same king.
GOD was able to work our salvation even through the failings (horrible indeed) of King David. Even Peter himself denied Jesus 3 times the night HE was arrested. However HE confirmed Peter to be the head of the Apostles.

Hope this helps you in your quest for the truth. Happy New Year…

Because a weak person can still teach truth. An immoral person can still teach 1+1=2. And God has given his warranty that the Church would not teach error, not that the person(s) teaching it is sinless.

Well, another word for teaching “error” is teaching “lies.” Lies are things that are not true. Error is something that is not true. They are really the same in effect (though “error” might be involuntary, but a “lie” is voluntary, but they are both untrue).

Jesus teaches:

He [satan] was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. [John 8:44]

If the Church taught error (lies) then (at least some of) Her teaching would be of satan, and not of the Holy Spirit.

We say (in the Creed) that the Church is “one, holy, and apostolic”. The Church is not “holy” because Her members are collectively holy. Indeed, her members are mostly sinners. The Church is “holy” because She teaches a holy doctrine, and anyone who fully upholds Her doctrine cannot be a sinner.

But, if the doctrine of the Church was corrupted by error (lies) then it would no longer be holy. We could uphold Church doctrines which were really corrupted by lies and consider ourselves faithful and devout Catholics, but God would not see it that way. That’s why God protects the Church from teaching error (lies).

Why would an incorrect theological position be considered the gates of Hell prevailing, but an immoral action be chalked up to human weakness?

Because all Catholics are expected to uphold ALL Church doctrine, which we believe is guaranteed to be holy and, if we persevere in accordance with full Catholic doctrine, we can achieve complete spiritual perfection (aversion to ALL sin, both mortal and venial) while on earth (and this is ABSOLUTELY POSSIBLE (don’t quibble with me on this - you will loose)). We will never commit even the slighest venial sin. We can ALL achieve complete spiritual perfection while on earth which includes a complete aversion to ALL sin, both mortal and venial. But only if we accept the complete doctrine of the Catholic Church. (And, BTW, we can all do this in our ordinary workaday lives as ordinary laypeople).

But we could never do that if the Church’s doctrine includes error (lies). We could never achieve spiritual perfection by following an imperfect doctrine.

Immoral action is a willful FAILURE of a particular individual to uphold Church doctrine. This is an individual fault, not a fault of the Church Herself. The Church can hardly be held accountable for people who FAIL (with knowledge and freewill consent) to live by Her doctrines. It is completely unreasonable to judge the Church by those who FAIL to uphold Her Doctrines, and much more reasonable to judge the Church by those who DO uphold Her Doctrines. We call these people Saints of the Church (and there are many hundreds of them). It is by the Saints that the Church should be judged.


I haven’t heard Mt 16:18 being used to prove infallibility, but I think that Mt 16:19 does a good job of it: “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

So, whatever the Apostolic Teaching is, Jesus will ‘endorse’, such that it will be held both on earth and in heaven. That sounds more like a guarantee of true teaching…!

Actually, I have never heard of this interpretation but quite the opposite - that Matt 16:18 guarantees infallibility, and that Matt 16:19 gives the Church the authority to impose obligations (which are enforced by God, under penalty of sin) or remove obligations (which are remitted by God). Matt 16:19 is commonly used to support the authority of the Church to impose (under penalty of sin) the five Precepts of the Church (which are rules, and are subject to change, and have changed often over the centuries, and are not infallible teaching (which can never change)).

Quoting myself liberally from a recent thread:

Just because the Christian Church abolished almost all of the precepts of the Law of Moses, that does not mean that the Christian Church cannot impose precepts of Her own. Jesus gives the Church this authority:

Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. {Matt 18:18]

“Binding” and “loosing” were rabbinical terms meaning to impose or lift an obligation. Jesus refers to this in Matt 23:4:

They tie up [bind] burdens that are heavy and unbearable and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they refuse to lift a finger to remove [loose] them.

In many translations (such as the KJV) the word “bind” is used instead of “tie up,” and, indeed, the same Greek word (δεδεμένα) is used in both passages.

We see the Church exercising Her authority to bind and loose at the conclusion of the proto-Council of Acts 15, when letters were sent to all of the Churches:

We have heard that some went out from us without our authorization and disturbed you, troubling your minds by what they said. So we all agreed to choose some men and send them to you with our dear friends Barnabas and Paul— men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore we are sending Judas and Silas to confirm by word of mouth what we are writing. It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things. [Acts 15:24-29]

Notice that the Church is teaching in the name of the Holy Spirit. These instructions were not just from them, but from God. That doesn’t necessarily make them infallible, since these are rules and not doctrine, but it does make adherence to these rules obligatory under penalty of sin, because “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven.”

But the Church “loosed” almost the entire Mosaic Law.

The rules imposed (bound) by the proto-Council of Acts 15 were actually not part of the Mosaic Law, but part of the Covenant with Noah. Since Noah was not a Jew (he came long before Abraham), these rules were (at the time of Acts) considered to be binding upon all humanity, not just Jews, and the proto-Council of Acts 15 maintained this distinction, which the Church does not entirely maintain today. After all, rules are not doctrine, and they can change).

There were more than 600 “precepts” under the Jewish law. The Catholic Church has just five. So the Church has used Her authority to loose FAR more than Her authority to bind.

I hear what you’re saying, but infallibility speaks to teaching authority. Matt 16:18 can only be construed as touching upon teaching in the most indirect of ways – that, under the strain of false teaching, the Church might fall apart, and such a collapse is impossible. We’ve seen many ways in which some within the Church have taught incorrectly… and the Church hasn’t collapsed.

On the other hand, Mt 16:19 speaks specifically to the kinds of pronouncements that the apostles – that is, those who were the first teaching authority in the Church – could make; Jesus assures them that their assertions would be upheld in heaven. You make a good case for discipline, but I’m not certain that we should conclude that your case excludes doctrine and dogma from Jesus’ proxy in that verse.

Because Jesus is the Way, The TRUTH, and the Life.
Jesus guides His Church and so, since Jesus cannot teach err, His Church cannot teach error as that would be teaching against Jesus from whom it receives it’s teaching.
It would be a contradiction.

It is a common misconception that all teachings of the Magisterium (the teaching office of the Church) are infallible.

Canon Law says:
749 §3. No doctrine is understood as defined infallibly unless this is manifestly evident.

Canon 752 explains that the faithful must give religious submission of intellect and will to teaching that are not proclaimed by a definitive act (i.e. the non-infallible teachings). The full assent of faith required for infallible teachings is elsewhere (750, 751) called “divine and Catholic faith”.

Canon 753 explains that the individual Bishops cannot teach infallibly (on their own), but they still exercise the Magisterium.

Pope John Paul II: “With respect to the non-infallible expressions of the authentic magisterium of the Church, these should be received with religious submission of mind and will.” (Source)

The same idea is implicit in Vatican II: “This religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra.” The Council did not say “non-infallible”, but it is clear that not every teaching is infallible: “Although the individual bishops do not enjoy the prerogative of infallibility…” (LG 25)

And this document from the U.S. Bishops (NCCB) speaks about licit theological dissent from non-infallible teachings (n. 49ff)

To my mind, the non-infallible teachings have only a limited possibility of error. So non-infallible is not the same as fallible.

Thats what I think. And if you add 16:17 along with it, so three verses.

Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus said to him, "Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.

Its no small thing St Peter who is Blessed by God received the Keys imho. :slight_smile:

Just to add and fine tune a few small points to the already good responses above.

The answer lies in understanding Jesus’ purpose and hence the purpose, the need, and the nature of the Church.

Jesus came to give us the Church we need, one that has an infallible character in teaching the truth, not necessarily the Church we want where “nobody sins against me.”

One of Jesus’ purposes was to teach the truth because we need that in order to know the road map to heaven.

**Mark 1:32-38
****“ … they brought to him all who were ill or possessed by demons… He cured many who were sick with various diseases, and he drove out many demons… **
Simon … said, ‘Everyone is looking for you.’ He told them, ‘Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose have I come.’ ” **
Rather than go to those who are seeking Him because He worked miracles for them, He goes on to the next town to fulfill the more important mission of preaching the truth.

See more on Jesus’ Mission.

We need to know that the Church has this infallible character in her capacity to teach because we need to know that in order to be courageous enough to die to ourselves.

See why that is so here.


IMO (Who am I to add the “H.” IMHO? )

When an apologist speaks God’s truths it is better to say,

“You and I will both win as you come to see that the false position has no good defense. This is not a battle between you and me, but a battle by me for you.”


I guess I still don’t quite understand. Basically, you’re saying if the Assumption of Mary was incorrect doctrine, it would be a lie from satan, and one could not achieve spiritual perfection believing in it.

And on the converse, you’re saying that since the Assumpion of Mary is true doctrine, one can’t achieve spiritual perfection by not believing in it.

But there have been some things that have come out Rome, like the Papal Bull Dum Diversas:

[quote=Pope Nicholas V]We grant you [Kings of Spain and Portugal] by these present documents, with our Apostolic Authority, full and free permission to invade, search out, capture, and subjugate the Saracens and pagans and any other unbelievers and enemies of Christ wherever they may be, as well as their kingdoms, duchies, counties, principalities, and other property …] and to reduce their persons into perpetual servitude.

Following this would seem to be far more damning to one’s soul than doubting the Assumption, wouldn’t it? But we end up chalking this Papal Bull up to the human weakness of Nicholas V.

Why is having correct doctrine of the Assumption more important than the above Papal Bull to where we would consider an error in the Assumption doctrine to be the gates of Hell prevailing, but an immoral Papal Bull to be human weakness?

Good quotes, and I understand what you’re saying. I guess I just find there to be a profound difference between infallible teaching and non-infallible teaching. One has been stamped with God’s seal of approval and is definitely correct. The other is a teaching by current leaders which is likely correct, but not for certain. The non-infallible teaching should be more open to discussion and debate, while the infallible teaching should be closed to debate.

I believe the quote is that Jesus said ‘… the gates of hell will not prevail against it’

meaning that the church will not be destroyed.

The importance of that is to say that the church is still around, it was not destroyed (not that the church is infallible).

Where things get mixed up is that many protestants will tell you that they believe that the church lost its authority at some point. It became corrupted. So the question becomes if the church still exists as Jesus said it would, then does it still have the authority? Catholics say yes, Protestants say no.

This gets confused since protestant folks think that the church is infallible (but it never claimed that actually). So they think if it made mistakes, then it must not exist.

This whole issue of the church existing and having authority got mixed up with infallibility.

Infallibility is a rare thing used by the church only a few times to settle certain issues.

But some folks say if they are not perfect on everything, then that proves they are not the true church anymore.

Yep, I’m with you. Although I read “the gates of hell shall not prevail” to mean kind of the opposite thing. When you attack an enemy in battle and storm the gates, the gates prevail if you are repelled. So I read Jesus’s quote to be more of Hell’s defenses will not prevail when the Church is attacking and storming the gates. (Instead of an offensive from Hell).

And why or rather how did you arrive at the conclusion that this particular bull was inmoral?

Have you evaluated the historical context or are judging it from the 20th century perspective?
The sarracens were invaders of the kingdom of Spain. They had already conquered important and vast areas of the Iberic peninsula.
They enforced conversion by the sword killing monks and priests and anyone not willing to convert to islam.
Also and perhaps this is your gripe with this particular document is the bolded passage:

Originally Posted by Pope Nicholas V
We grant you [Kings of Spain and Portugal] by these present documents, with our Apostolic Authority, full and free permission to invade, search out, capture, and subjugate the Saracens and pagans and any other unbelievers and enemies of Christ wherever they may be, as well as their kingdoms, duchies, counties, principalities, and other property …] and to reduce their persons into perpetual servitude.

Are you by any chance equating servitude to slavery?

It has been postulated before you know…

But it denotes ignorance of the middle ages system of governemnet. A king, duque, prince, baron they all had people who where put under their care (In servitude).

Sometimes perhaps too many times these masters abused their position of power.
BUT they were certainly NOT slaves.

So the bull constitutes “the permission to liberate their country from the sarracens and incorporate them into the servitude of the rest of the servants of the kings of Spain and Portugal”.

This bull does not contain any doctrinal issues it merely confirms to the rulers of the kingdom of Spain and Portugal that they can wage a just war against the sarracens.

Where is the inmorality :ehh:
Believe me there are better examples of Pope’s personal debauchery but you will not find any that taught error to the faithfull…

Found this on a blog about the gates of hell:

As I said, this is a good summary of the objections that I am rather consistently hearing recently. In effect, the objection amounts to taking the word “gates” in a rather literal sense. And thus, interpreting the word gates rather literally, our questioner humorously asserts the gates don’t normally go around attacking things. But language, as is true with many things human, admits of subtleties. And thus it may be helpful to explore the figurative meaning of the word “gates” as well.
The Greek word underlying our English translation “gates” is πύλαι (pulai). And “gates” is a fine translation of the word.
However Strongs Greek Concordance and Greek Lexicon of New Testament indicates that πύλης “gates” in antiquity was also used to indicate authority and power.

Further, while the word may simply refer to the large entrance gate to a city or fortress, it also typically refers to the exit the people go out of. And in this sense, word focuses on “what proceeds out of something.”

And thus we see some of the subtleties of the word pules. Now, for the translator, “gates” is a perfectly adequate translation. But for the reader and interpreter, more is required.

Contextually, it would seem rather clear that Jesus does not have literal gates in mind. First, Hell does not have literal iron gates. Further, since Jesus speaks of the gates as “not prevailing,” it would also seem that he has in mind something more than inanimate metal gates of some sort. For as our reader states, it does not pertain to gates to do much more than just sit there.

Further still, the verb κατισχύσουσιν (katischusousin = will prevail) is a future, indicative, active verb. Now, inanimate objects tend to be acted upon, and thus they generally take passive verb forms, not active ones. For again it does not pertain to inanimate object to act, but to be acted upon.

And thus, contextually, it seems clear that our Lord here uses the word “gates” in a figurative, rather than a literal sense. Figuratively, he probably means that the powers of Hell would not prevail against the Church. And, as stated above this is a common figurative meaning of the Greek word πύλης (gates) in ancient usage.

You can read the rest of the article at the link bellow, I would post it in it’s entirety but it exceeds the 6000 characters limit of the forum.

Credit to whom credit is due…

I’m saying much more than that. I’m saying that, if the Assumption was a lie from satan, we can’t trust ANY Church doctrine. We would have no way to isolate satanic doctrines, and everything the Church taught would be suspect, even if only one teaching was actually a lie. We would have no way to know how many lies had infiltrated Church doctrine, and no way to identify and correct them.

If it was POSSIBLE for the Church to teach lies as doctrines, we could not trust any of it. The only way we can trust it is because the Holy Spirit protects it (not because Bishops and Popes are all morally upright, wise, and insightful).

And on the converse, you’re saying that since the Assumpion of Mary is true doctrine, one can’t achieve spiritual perfection by not believing in it.

One cannot achieve spiritual perfection unless s/he accepts the full doctrine of the Church. But, obviously, nobody actually KNOWS full Church doctrine (it’s a BIG subject). There were Saints who achieved spiritual perfection, such as St. Ignatus of Loyla, long before Assumption was taught as doctrine. Had someone suggested it to him and he said, “naw, I don’t think so,” it would not have mattered.

But, had Assumption been taught in Ignatius’ day, he could not have achieved spiritual perfection if he knew about it but rejected it.

We are not required to personally discern the truth of things that the Church has not taught (such as Assumption in Ignatius’ day). We may very well believe things that are not true, but we can yet achieve perfection if we accept the teaching of the Church, to the best of our knowledge and ability.

(It is important that I make clear that I am NOT saying we can achieve perfection by ONLY accepting Church doctrine. There’s a lot more to it than that. But we can never get there if we REJECT Church doctrine. We don’t even get out of the starting gate)

But there have been some things that have come out Rome, like the Papal Bull Dum Diversas:

Which is not a doctrine of the Church. The Pope is giving certain people permission to do bad things. That doesn’t mean he is giving US permission to do bad things. In order for something to be considered doctrine, it must apply to all Catholics everywhere.

You could point to any number of Popes who were personally very sinful. You chose to cite a Pope who was actually pretty good (his reign was only eight years, but he accomplished many amazing things). There are far worse examples you could have cited, such as Alexander-4. I think he committed just about every sin that the Church has a name for, and didn’t feel any remorse at all. But that doesn’t mean WE can commit these sins. As a man, he was detestable, but as a Pope, he was faithful to his Office. He never attempted to enshrine his faults or sins into Catholic doctrine.

Jesus tells us to respect the Authority of the Church, even if its leaders do not obey Church teaching:

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “The Scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat [we would say Peter’s seat]. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. [Matt 23:1-3]

Sinful Popes are no different than sinful Scribes and Pharisees. Do as they say, not as they do.

In fact, Alexander-4 is my favorite of the “evil” Popes. I bring him up often, because he is the worst of the worst. When people come here and bring up Pope Nicholas-5 (actually, I think you’re the first) or Pope Stephen-6 (who comes up often because of the Cadaver Synod), I say, “let’s not piddle with the small timers. Let’s talk about Alexander-4.” Because, if personal imperfection actually impact Church doctrine, Alexander would surely have had the greatest impact. But, like all Popes, he was a sinner (just worse than the others), but he was faithful to his Office. This, in itself, is a remarkable testimony to how well the Holy Spirit protects the Papacy.

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