Papal Infallibility only happened twice?

Some time ago I was under the impression that since the doctrine of papal infallibility was established the Pope has only spoken infallibly on two occasions, once to set forth the dogma of the Immaculate Conception and again to set forth the dogma of the Assumption.

Then I joined CAF and noticed that people are always saying on here that Pope so-and-so infallibly said this or that and it’s not referring to the Immaculate Conception or the Assumption.

Recently I read this Canon Law Made Easy blog post. The blog is quite good and reliable, and the post restates what I originally thought, namely that Popes have only spoken infallibly twice since papal infallibility was declared.

So what’s up with people claiming all kinds of other things are infallible statements of a Pope, when they apparently aren’t? Unless another event of infallibility has happened since 2011 that I missed?


My understanding is that those two events — the Immaculate Conception declared by Pius IX in 1854, and the Assumption declared by Pius XII in 1950 — are the only two ex cathedra (extraordinary) declarations of a De Fide dogma since papal infallibility was itself defined in Vatican I. As in, they were not de fide previous, but are to be so held by all Catholics thereafter. However, other papal statements, such as John Paul II on the sacrament of Holy Orders, re-affirm that a doctrine is already infallible according to tradition or the ordinary magisterium.


One item to note for those who accuse the Catholic Church of making things up as she goes along:

The Church acts slowly and very deliberately - and this is crucial - mostly to combat the various heresies which have arisen.

Has there been a delayed flurry of activity since the great heresy of 1500s Europe?

Oh, yes.

The Church is not making things up. She is reacting to those who have made things up.


Is there a source discussing this? I’m not doubting you, but it seems like the Canon Law Made Easy blogger didn’t really cover such types of infallible statements. This is creating some confusion for me.

Why would a Pope not just use the exact necessary wording and remove all doubt?

There is an affirmation of the affirmation by Cardinal Ratzinger:

What do you mean? That was precisely JP2’s intent in OS. Perhaps he introduced some nuance to emphasize that he was not asserting anything new or changing the status of the doctrine in question?

Jimmy Akin has spoken on this issue on Catholic Answers Live before. I recall that his view was that this is something that scholars don’t agree on. For example, I recall he mentioned that some will argue that canonization of saints are infallible declarations, while others will apparently argue otherwise.


As I understand it, when Saints are canonized (bear in mind we have no way of knowing aside from direct revelation) it is because the Church has determined, to a "moral certainty" that they are enjoying the Beatific Vision.

We will not have absolute certainty is this life.


These people are obviously fallible.


The Canon Law Made Easy blog states that in order to be perfectly clear, the Popes used a specific wording on the 2 occasions the blog mentions.
You’re saying Pope JPII didn’t need to use the wording for some reason. I’m not following what the reason is.
As someone said below, there seems to be disagreement on this topic and I haven’t seen a thread on CAF yet getting to the root of whether there is disagreement (in other words, there are more than 2 infallible pronouncements) or not.

Ad tuendam fidem is a document that made changes to the Oath of Fidelity required of Church officials. Cardinal Ratzinger wrote a commentary that is at the bottom of the linked page.

It describes the differences among doctrines to be believed, those that must be held and those that command respect. Those are the differences you are asking about, and this is the best discussion of them I have seen.

The difficulty here is the canon that says doctrines can only be taken as infallible if it is manifest that it is. So if there is disagreement, that means it is not manifest and so cannot be taken as infallible. (Presuming it is responsible disagreement)

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I think there is a slight difference between papal infallibility declared by an individual Pontiff (as with the two instances cited) and re-affirming what is infallible teaching by reason of agreement of the magisterium. Basically, for something to be infallible it doesn’t have to be proclaimed ex-cathedra by the Pontiff.

The Church has consistently declined to provide a list of which teachings are infallible and which are not. The two instances of papal infallibility that you mention are the ones that are consistently pointed out. But the Church does not provide a list - either of papal infallibility or other infallible teachings. There are several good practical reasons for that. The most obvious (there are others) is that Catholics sometimes seem to think they can ignore a teaching if it is not infallible, but of course the Church does not maintain that non-infallible teachings are “optional”. You can find lists of infallible teachings all over the place - with Denzinger’s being the best known. But, as far as I know, the Church does not officially endorse any particular list of infallible teachings.

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I don’t recall Jimmy Akin’s explanation verbatim, but I agreed with him. My paraphrasing of the situation would be that essentially, all the scholars would agree on the “big 2” you led off with in your initial post. Those are generally accepted as THE infallible papal declarations. The 3rd one has the asterisk of being labeled a papal-infallible-statement by many but disputed by some, and that’s JP II’s declaration on ordination of women. I’ve never heard of any potential 4th infallible statement by a pope.


Yeah, I’ve seen various lists.
I just don’t understand why if we’re even going to have an infallibility doctrine, the Church can’t be more clear about it.
I’m not looking to get around any teachings. This just seems needlessly obscure though.

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Doesn’t Papal Infallibility mean the Pope can never be wrong on faith and moral stuff so doesn’t that mean the Pope is perfect in those areas? How is it possible for a human to be perfect? I am confused

Only under particularly specific conditions; not all the time.

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Yes. When the Pope (1) intends to teach (2) by virtue of his supreme authority (3) on a matter of faith and morals (4) to the whole Church, he is preserved by the Holy Spirit from error. His teaching act is therefore called ‘infallible’.


Pope Leo I confirming the two distinct natures in Christ at the Council of Chalcedon in 451 I would think qualifies as papal infallibility.

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