Misconceptions About Papal Ex Cathedra Infallibility



OM: Ordinary Magisterium

EM: Extraordinary Magisterium

V1DPI: Vatican 1 Definition of Papal Infallibility

Vatican 1 Definition of Papal Infallibility (V1DPI)

For a teaching to be ex cathedra infallible, it simply must meet the following criteria:1. The pope must indicate that he is teaching from the chair (Chair of St. Peter). That is he must be exercising his office as pastor of all Christians by virtue of his supreme authority that was granted to St. Peter by Jesus.2. The teaching must be about faith and morals.3. The pope must define a doctrine to be held by all Christians.
Common Misconceptions**

Misconception #1: That definition is too simple, this would mean that too many papal teachings will be recognized as ex cathedra.
Untrue. Popes do commonly speak of faith and morals. However, most statements by popes do not indicate that he is using his supreme Apostolic authority to irreversibly decide a doctirne and that this decision is to be irreversibly held by all Christians.

Misconception #2: An ex cathedra teaching requires use of a specific language formula.
This is absolutely incorrect. It is true that the pope’s statements must meet the criteria of the V1DPI, however the V1DPI does not at all specify a formula.

Misconception #3: If a teaching is already known about or taught by the OM, then it cannot be proclaimed ex cathedra.
This is completely false. In fact the Vatican has made it clear that just the opposite is more common!

The Vatican has made it clear that ex cathedra teaching is for the purpose of removing doubt about existing teachings:
"The*** reason for ex cathedra definitions*** is almost always to give this certification to the truths that are to be believed as belonging to the “deposit of faith” and to exclude all doubt…***"***

Both the doctrines of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption were well known before they were declared ex cathedra. The doctrine of papal infallibility itself is also an excellent example. This doctrine was held by the OM long before it was taught definitively by the EM: "…the Vatican Council introduced no new doctrine when it defined the infallibility of the pope, but merely re-asserted what had been…and had even been explicitly proclaimed…by more than one of the early ecumenical councils."


The above link to the Vatican document regarding Papal Infallibility was not working - here is the correct link:


Your points are well taken. However, there are doctrines that have not been enunciated ex cathedra that are treated with the same, or almost the same, dignity as doctrines declared to be infallible ex cathedra. I think this contributes to confusion.


You may be referring to Ordinatio Sacerdotalis for example. If so,

I suggest reading the entire thread there before discussing. Many points have been coverd, however I am happy to discuss further any points regarding OS there or papal infallibility in this thread.


Misconception #4: A teaching is not ex cathedra until the Church states that it is or until there is a consensus among clergy and laity.

From V1DPI it is clear that** an ex cathedra teaching requires absolutely no further confirmation or consent of others.** The pope is the supreme authority. It may be that others don’t immediately recognize that a teaching is ex cathedra but this does not change the *fact *that it is ex cathedra.

V1DPI: “…such definitions of the Roman pontiff are of themselves, and not in consequence of the Church’s consent, irreformable."

“…This means that these definitions do not need the consent of the bishops in order to be valid,…”

Also see thread about Ordinatio Sacerdotalis:

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