Papal Infallibility and Post-Conciliar Writings

One of the things that I have always been told is that the Pope is infallible in matters of faith and doctrine and also when he speaks ex cathedra (is that one in the same?) Additionally, I have been taught that all teachings of the church are in harmony - i.e. new teachings do not contradict previous teachings - and that the current teachings must be taken in context of the previous teachings (so there is no rupture). All of that being said, how does one interpet some of the post-Conciliar documents since there seems to be (on this Forum, at least) quite a bit of departure from earlier doctrine. The same question applies to Vatican II. Are all Papal documents considered infallible if they concern faith and doctrine (Bulls, etc?). Sometimes it seems as though we are working really hard to fit a square peg into a round hole when the obvious answer is that this new document is an obvious departure from earlier doctrine or teachings – but if that is the answer, then how does that jive w/ Papal Infallibility and the Infallibility of the Church?


I would suggest picking one or two specific documents. More than likely, the Church has already clarified how they are consistent with Tradition. Take, for example, the who “subsists” situation. The Pope just addressed it (although I think JPII) had already addressed it.

Infalliblity applies when the Pope definitively declares that something regarding faith and morals must be believed or even just held by the entire Church (and also solemn condemnations of errors).

If you look through Church history, there’s a lot of stuff that *appears *to contradict other things. It’s nothing new to our era. The key is understanding the meaning of terms and how they are being used in a particular instance (they are not always used the same way). Often times heretics use Catholic terms the wrong way and Popes condemn the heretics using the heretics’ own phraseology.

Here’s a great explanation by Cardinal Newman. When Bl. Pius IX condemned freedom of conscience, some people though he was contradicting Catholic teaching–such as that of Lateran IV (ironically, the opposite thing happens today!). Cardinal Newman here defends Bl. Pius IX by showing how he is not contradicting Catholic teaching but using terms differently:

Papal Infallibilty is only one element of the Church’s infallibility trusted to it by Christ, but from it stems all other forms of Her infallibility. Not everything that the pope publishes is infallible, however, that doesn’t mean it’s not true and that we don’t have to follow it. Infallible just means that it is absolutely imperiteve that a Catholic believe this dogma. For instance, the Bishops (successors of the Apostles) in communion with the Roman Pontiff can make infallible declarations when gathered in an Ecumenical Council…

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