Official Church Positions - How?

Hello all,

My understanding is the solemn and official positions of the Catholic Church are infallible, such as positions from the Pope and Councils of Bishops. Through what means does solemn and official (infallible) decisions of the Catholic Church occur? In other words I’m trying to differentiate the Popes unofficial positions (that are in error), eg.the earth being the center of the solar system, with solemn and official decisions (infallible). What made the Popes error, back in the old days, about the earth and solar system not the official position of the Papacy and Church and what are the means of solemn and official decisions? I hope I was able to explain my question well. Thanks to all that reply.

Solemn, official decisions from the Popes began with these (or similar) words: We(or I) pronounce, declare, define, profess, etc. You’ll find these words typically among Papal Bulls (for older documents), in encyclicals for contemporary Popes.

You can also typically find the doctrines reiterated in the Councils of the time.

A similar discussion has just begun in this thread.

  1. The infallible teachings of the Church come through the action of the Holy Spirit.
  2. The unoffical positions of the popes are not necessarily in error.
  3. The earth is the center of the solar system. Not physically perhaps, but certainly theologically.


I guess you are questioning why Catholics believe that the pope is infallible when teaching issues of Faith and Morals even though he is a human being who can sin or be fallible…It is the same reason why Jesus said this in Matt 23

Matt 23:1-12: “Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, saying: "The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. "Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do.

Note that Jesus didnt think much about the Pharisees but still he knew that when they teach the law from the seat of Moses everyone has and will to submit to the teaching. It is imperative.

How much more would it mean to be teaching from the Seat of Peter? Here is what Jesus had to say to Peter in Luke 22

31“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you(Note that ‘you’ in Greek is plural referring to the apostles) as wheat. 32But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

Jesus not only hands the keys to Peter but he says that his faith will not fail…So when the pope who occupies the seat of Peter is teaching issues of faith or morals, he is speaking using God’s authority and not his own…There is a difference between the Pope having his opinion about the center of the solar system and teaching issues of Faith and Morals…The pope while teaching issues or morals and faith represents the teaching of the church that Christ instituted and is guided by the holy spirit to be infallible. There is numerous mentions about the holy spirit protecting the truth and the teachings.

Read this:

Thanks everyone… First let me state that I totally believe in the infallibility of the Pope and Truth of the Church. I was really just attempting to ask: the official positions (which are infallible) of the Church come from encyclicals, Councils etc. and unofficial positions (which mostly are NOT wrong but some historically have been wrong like earth and solar system) never were asserted in encyclicals and Councils? So during the process of an official position by means of an encyclical or Council, the Holy Spirit guides the discernment assuring Truth.

Also the issue of non-Christians in Africa taken in as slaves was approved by some past Popes. Is it safe to say this position to allow slavery of non-Christians was NOT an official position of the Church/Papacy? Rather it was just the position of a man whom was Pope, but not the official position of the Seat of Peter instituted by Christ? Therefore the fallibility of the approval of slavery does not reflect upon the official position of the Church/Papacy?

Also, what are the more technical processes, including encyclicals and Councils, for a solemn and official position of the Church?

More replies are welcome… thank you.

A few things:

  1. The Church is only infallible in matters of faith and morals. That puts things like the solar system on the outer edge, if not totally outside what the Church claims to have authority to teach about.

  2. The Pope is only infallible when he teaches ex cathedra. This has only happened twice in the history of the Church. At all other times the Pope is not infallible. However, even when he is not infallible, we are still obligated to believe what he teaches with a submission of mind and will. When he is infallible we must believe what he says with an assent of faith.

  3. The College of Bishops are infallible when, together with the Pope, they are gathered together in an Ecumenical Council and when they issue dogmata as an Ecumenical Council.

  4. The College of Bishops as a whole are infallible when they teach something universally, together with the Pope. However in all practicality this can only be known when a Pope declares such a teaching infallible, as Pope Pius XII did in the 1950’s, or when the bishops, together with the Pope, teach as an Ecumenical Council.

Popes have spoken ex cathedra more than when defining Marian doctrines, especially in the past. The Immaculate Conception and Assumption are not the only things to be infallibly defined by the Popes. Canonization of Saints are infallible, (“we declare/define Blessed [name] is a Saint…”) so right there you have way more than two instances.

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