Need some help with papal infallibility

My roommate has been extremely hostile towards the Catholic faith ever since I started conversion more than 5 months ago (despite the fact that he’s the one that got me to look into the Church to begin with). Up until now I like to think I’ve held my own against him in all of our arguments.

Lately he’s begun using papal infallibility to attack the Church. Saying that “if papal infallibility fails as a doctrine, then the entire faith falls apart” and that it is one of the “foundation blocks” of the faith. Personally I think it’s a ridiculous statement to say that somehow even if the Church did get papal infallibility wrong that it somehow means that everything else the Church has ever taught is wrong. I also don’t really consider it to be one of the “foundation blocks” of the faith either.

That being said, I was hoping to get some help on how to combat him on this:

When is the pope infallible? I know it’s on matters of dogma, but I was hoping to get some hypothetical examples of what might be considered infallible.

What is meant by the term infallible? I’ve seen differing opinions of what papal infallibility is and I’m honestly very confused. Does it mean that it is 100% impossible for the pope to be wrong about something declared ex cathedra? Or is it just an acknowledgment of the fact that we have to have a leader to decide certain matters of dogma and that we should regard these pronouncements as being infallible?

Honestly, I’m just confused on the entire thing, and I have no idea how to argue something I don’t fully understand. Any help would be greatly appreciated :slight_smile:

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Arguing with people is hardly going to convert…just let it go, by engaging you are lowering yourself to his level.

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It’s very difficult to just not engage with him. It’s not like this is something we talk about and it turns into an argument. More like I’ll be reading a certain book, or I’ll be in my room praying the rosary, or something of that sort and he’ll walk in and just start lashing out about it.

I try to tell him I’m not interested in discussing it with him, but when I do that he just starts screaming louder and gets even more aggressive until I have little choice but to engage with him.

It’s not a question of converting him, right now it’s a question of my own faith surviving his attacks.

If your faith is at risk for surviving his attacks perhaps you could make an appointment with a priest to discuss how best to handle this situation. Your roommate is harassing you in my mind. He is not worth engaging with.

I agree with the other poster; the more he lashes out the more I would “turn the other cheeck” until finally he realizes that under NO circumstances will you engage in dialogue with him.

He reminds me of a child with a temper tantrum. These get worse and worse until the child realizes this will not get him what he wants. Once a child realizes that the temper tantrum will usually stop.

Sorry to hear of your situation. Prayers for you and God Bless.

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Papal infallibility has been used only a couple of times in the past hundred years or so … both times were in connection with the Blessed Mother.

Papal infallibility does not mean the pope always WILL teach the truth. It is a negative feature. It means IF he teaches in a certain way on faith and morals, it will not be in error. But there may be times a given pope does not know the answer, or not know the compete answer; or he may choose not to teach on this topic at this time (for instance, if there were mobs outside his door).

It would be better to explain papal infallibility within the context of the magisterium. If your roommate is a Christian, he probably believes the New Testament canon - these 27 books, and no other NT books. Well, who on Earth decided that a New Testament ought to exist, ought to be authoritative, and then, which books should be included, and which excluded?

This points to an active, visible, human agent to communicate to people that this is God’s will. From here you bring in apostolic succession and the fact that there had to be a visible human agency to identify which ancient scholars would be regarded as “Early Church Fathers” and which as “heretics”. Protestants not only accept the (magisterium’s) NT canon, most of them also accept the (magisterium’s) designation of other things, like the Trinity.

Of course, if he is not a Christian, he would still have other means of determining Certainty. He might say he only accepts what can be shown as true in the lab; but then all scientists accept what other scientists have done in the lab, and they assume what was true yesterday is still true today. A kind of faith.

But the other posters are mostly right. Don’t go out of your way to argue with him. I am just trying to clarify things a tiny bit for you yourself.

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Why do you take questioning or criticism of something as “lowering to his level”?

If he is hostile about the Pope, it might be worth reading Pope Fiction by Patrick Madrid. This can help give you some solid arguments to help you reason with your roommate. If he’s not going to actually listen to you with an open mind then don’t engage with him. Don’t try to argue or defend the Faith with him right now. You need to deepen your own faith by learning the reasoning behind why we believe what we do. Get good apologetics books and listen to apologetics on the radio. Later, when you are really confident and secure in your faith, you can possibly engage with him. Have you read Why We’re Catholic by Trent Horn? Its a good basic place to start. I’m sorry you’re in this situation…I’ll pray for you.

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The teachings of the Pope fall under papal infallibility only when they meet certain conditions, as taught by Vatican I and reiterated by Vatican II. His teachings which do not meet those conditions, and his decisions on discipline, are not infallible.
Vatican I:

  1. “the Roman Pontiff”
  2. “speaks ex cathedra” (“that is, when in the discharge of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, and by virtue of his supreme apostolic authority….”)
  3. “he defines”
  4. “that a doctrine concerning faith or morals”
  5. “must be held by the whole Church” [Pastor Aeternus, chap. 4.]

If the teaching or decision does not meet the above conditions, then it does not fall under papal infallibility. When it does meet these conditions, it cannot contain error; it is a true doctrine on faith or morals which must be held by the whole Church.

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Lately he’s begun using papal infallibility to attack the Church. Saying that “if papal infallibility fails as a doctrine, then the entire faith falls apart” and that it is one of the “foundation blocks” of the faith.

I mean, he’s not wrong on this point. After all, the church claims some pretty amazing things! One of the foremost is that the church was given the magisterial authority, as the stewards of Christ’s Kingdom on earth, to teach without error on behalf of God insofar as it comes to faith and morals. Either that claim is true, or it is an abomination. Fortunately, it’s true!

When is the pope infallible? I know it’s on matters of dogma, but I was hoping to get some hypothetical examples of what might be considered infallible.

If I’m not entirely mistaken, the pope is infallible when certain conditions are met. Here are a few of those conditions which are very prominent. First, the teaching must be on the subject of faith and morals. It cannot be a matter of science or opinion. Example: Pope John writes a papal bull that declares abortion an atrocious act against God. This is a candidate for infallible statement. Pope Benedict publishes a paper about why cheddar is the best cheese… not infallible!

Second, the pope has to intend the teaching for the universal church. It cannot be a private teaching intended for only a few people. For example, Pope John Paul II publishes a bull to the entire church on a matter of faith and morals. Good to go. Pope Origin sends a private letter with some discussion of an idea that later comes to be understood as heretical… no problem, the contents of a private teaching or debate on theology is not ex cathedra.

Third, the pope has to intend to teach ex cathedra. The pope doesn’t just accidentally spew out some ex cathedra statement. An offhand comment in a homily may be absolutely theologically true, but unless the pope is intending to make an ex cathedra statement, this would not going into formal infallible teaching.

What is meant by the term infallible? I’ve seen differing opinions of what papal infallibility is and I’m honestly very confused.

It means that when the pope teaches with intent to invoke magisterial authority, to infallibly declare a teaching to the universal church on the matters of faith and morals, that the Holy Spirit, acting on the promise of Christ that the church is the pillar and bullwark of truth, and will lead to truth, the teaching produced by this authority is protected from containing errors by the Holy Spirit’s actions.

In other words, the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, as an infallibly declared doctrine, is not wrong. That doesn’t mean that what the church will eventually reveal and teach on this doctrine is completely and 100% revealed, or that nuance won’t have to be cleared up in the statement at some later date. The infallible teaching is only certified as being free from any error (in context of the idea itself, grammar mistakes may still abound!).

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You’ve already been given some great answers in regards to Papal Infallibility.

The only thing I wanted to add is that no answer will be good enough for him. Have you tried asking him questions instead of giving answers?

In regards to his comments, maybe say I see the point you are making. However, if Christ didn’t leave us a chief steward to guide His Church, into all truths, how can we know for certain that what either of us believe is Christ’s truth?

He will probably say the Bible. At which point ask him why He believes the Bible is the Word of God. He will probably respond with of course it is are you saying it isn’t. Respond I never said that, I was just wondering why you believe it is.

Most anti-Catholics never sit down and really ask the question where we got the Bible. They just follow their man made tradition that it just is the word of God and everyone believed it from the beginning. I’ve even talked to anti-Catholics who truly believe that first century Churches had complete Bibles.

You need to ask him questions to bring the conversation around to why he believes what he believes. He could care less what you believe and will never believe a word you say even when it’s clear as day in the Bible.

Go to the other side of the website and search for Trent Horn on the Catholic Answers side. He does a really good job of speaking with non-Catholics by getting them to answer questions instead of just giving answers that he knows they will reject.

Hope this helps,

God Bless

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Is your roommate a Protestant?

I think it’s really cool your roommate is inspiring you to learn more about the Faith!

The Biblical Basis for the Papacy by John Salsa is a good start. Jesus, Peter & the Keys by Butler, Dahlgren & Hess is another good book.

The Pope’s infallibility is related to the infallibility of the Church and his relationship to the rest of the Church. Christ promised the Holy Spirit to the Church to lead it into all truth and He Himself promised to always be with the Church as we taught all Christ instructed to all the nations. Therefore, the truths revealed by God and the moral law, those things so intimately tied to salvation, will always be handed on by the Church. They will never become lost or corrupted as the Protestants, Mormons, JWs, etc. all claim to justify their late founding and existence.

The Pope, as chief bishop and therefore chief teacher in the Church, can provide the final judgment either confirming a proposition as revealed by God or part of the moral law or condemning it as contrary to it. If, when providing such a final, definitive judgment for the whole Church the Pope were to err, the doctrine of the Church would be corrupted. Therefore, the Pope must also be infallible when he is making such a judgment for the whole Church.

The scope of the Church’s infallibility (and therefore the Pope’s) is limited to matters which cannot be known with certainty otherwise–ie those truths revealed by God or necessarily proceeding from revelation. This revelation ended with the death of the last Apostle, so it is only the custodianship of the Church that ensures it is available to all men in every age without corruption or loss. It also includes the moral law, since following it is necessary for salvation, and man in his fallen state easily deceives himself as to its contents.

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Maybe you should move… If he can’t allow other people to hold views contrary to his own, that’s kinda crazy and unstable

Often people simply don’t want to “hear” any other view. So you end up arguing past each other.

Sometimes… sometimes you can get a little glimmer of understanding using the analogy I heard on Catholic Answers Live:

Suppose the pope were infallible in arithmetic. He’s not, but let’s suppose he is. You hand him a test with 100 math questions on it. How many does he have to get right to be considered infallible?

Answer: none.

He Can simply hand you back the test with no questions answered. Since he has none wrong, he has met the criteria… that he teach no error.

Sometimes that simple analogy gets thru, when more complex answers dont.

Peace.

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An unusual interpretation of the situation.
I notice you haven’t identified yourself as a Catholic.

I think that’s probably going to be the best course of action going forward, as hard as it may be to do. Last night shook me soundly to my core. He told me later that the reason he’s so aggressive about it is because he feels somewhat responsible for me becoming Catholic (like I said, he was the one who turned me onto the faith to begin with), and now he has to do everything he can to “try and right that wrong”.

In a way I suppose it’s sweet that he cares so much. At the same time I grow more and more certain every day that the Catholic Church is the one, true, holy, & apostolic Church.

Pray that God will give me the strength to discern truth and to grow stronger in faith.

The funny thing is that he doesn’t act this way with Islam, or Hinduism, or Buddhism. Completely different religions with completely different belief sets are somehow fine. It’s specifically Catholicism that he rails agains so harshly.

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He will probably say the Bible. At which point ask him why He believes the Bible is the Word of God. He will probably respond with of course it is are you saying it isn’t. Respond I never said that, I was just wondering why you believe it is. Most anti-Catholics never sit down and really ask the question where we got the Bible. They just follow their man made tradition that it just is the word of God and everyone believed it from the beginning. I’ve even talked to anti-Catholics who truly believe that first century Churches had complete Bibles.

I can’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve tried this strategy. No amount of reasoning can convince him that Tradition is not evil, despite the obvious fact that the NT canon proceeds from Tradition, and vice versa. Even when I found a verse in the NT (he won’t accept OT verses because all he needs is the NT) that affirmed Tradition, he wouldn’t accept it because the words were spoken by an Apostle and not by Jesus directly.

According to him, Jesus condemned the idea of churches (he’s a nondenominationalist, and an at-home worshipper). When I asked him to please show me where he said that, he spent 10 minutes looking online, and when he couldn’t find the verses he started about how it was obvious Jesus didn’t want churches to exist when you took what he said about the Sagisees and Pharisees in context.

When I pointed out that Jesus actually called for a community of believers and for us to gather for worship, and even showed him the verses, he went off about how I was taking the verses out of context. The verses were pretty explicit. So even confronted with the very words of Christ, and with no evidence to back up his claims, he holds fast to his beliefs, and refuses to acknowledge that any other view could possibly be correct.

The only thing I wanted to add is that no answer will be good enough for him. Have you tried asking him questions instead of giving answers?

Correct, no answer will be good enough for him, that much is becoming clear. When he attacked the very institution of the papacy, I pointed him to Matthew 23:2, as well as to the writings of the early Christians. None of this was good enough for him.

You need to ask him questions to bring the conversation around to why he believes what he believes. He could care less what you believe and will never believe a word you say even when it’s clear as day in the Bible.

From what I’ve been able to figure out, his reasoning is entirely circular. His arguments against Catholicism are easy enough to overcome, it’s his ability to deny what would seem to be undeniable facts that is most astounding.When a person refuses to acknowledge the writings of the earliest Christian martyrs, people who happily died in the name of Christ, for the sole reason that, and I quote, “those are Catholic sources, they’re worthless to me”, I think it’s safe to say that his problem is more of a personal nature than it is a theological one.

Edit: sorry for the rant, I’m still worked up and very shaken by the whole thing, and this response was more me thinking through it myself than anything else.

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