Papal Infallibility

I have a hard time understanding the doctrine of papal infallibility. It seems to me that history disproves that. Were the Borgia and Medici popes really infallible… wouldn’t they have behaved better if they were? I’m also struggling to understand the idea that the church is always correct.

Also, the line of reasoning used to prove that the pope is infallible bothers me. It goes in circles… How do we know the pope is infallible? Church councils say so. How do we know the church councils are correct? Pope so-and-so said so. But how do we know the pope is infallible? The Catechism says so. How do we know the Catechism is correct? The church wrote it. So how do we know the church is always correct? Well… the catechism says so, and so did the church, and so did a pope.

I’m coming back to the same question. How do we know?

Papal infallibility was a political attempt to reassert the Church’s authority during a time of its diminishing influence. There were many valid arguments against it but Pope Pius IX won the day. A Pyrrhic victory at best.

This is a very common misconception. What papal infallibility means is that the pope, when speaking ex cathedra about a moral or theological doctrine, he is protected from making a mistake due to a charism of the Holy Spirit. It does not mean that popes are individuals that are free of sin - quite the contrary. Remember what Peter says to Jesus when he gets that huge catch of fish: Lord, leave me, I am a sinful man.

While it is true that the doctrine of Papal Infallibity was first defined dogmatically in the First Vatican Council, the Church affirms that this is in virtue of Jesus’ promise to Peter.

I strongly recommend this link: newadvent.org/cathen/07790a.htm :smiley:

Well said.

As another poster stated, the Pope if infallible only when ruling on matters of faith and morals to be held by the faithful. It does not mean that he is without sin. Where anyone gets this idea from, I don’t know. As for those Popes whose lives were far less than they should have been, even they were infallible and none, absolutely none, made rulings that were heretical.

How do we know that the Pope (and also the bishops, in union with the Pope) is infallible? Because Jesus said so. He told the Apostles “Whatever you bind on earth is bound in Heaven and whatever you loose on earth is loosed in Heaven.” Clearly, He would not make such statement if He had not meant it, and the Holy Spirit ensures that no Pope will ever get it wrong.

I was just wondering about a simple and direct way to explain this. How would you further define ex cathedra for someone neither familiar with Latin or Catholicism?

Perhaps an analogy may help; 2+2=4, I have just made an infallible declaration. That does not make me personally infallible, but on the basis of simple mathematics I have made an infallible statement. Same goes for the occupant of the Chair of Peter, being protected by the Holy Spirit against teaching error, in conjunction with brother Bishops, in making statements on faith and morals would be infallible teaching.

This tract is helpful, I suggest reading it…
catholic.com/tracts/papal-infallibility

Also Dr. Hahn on CA Radio explains it…
youtube.com/watch?v=5crScs1uWtg

I’ll second what others have said: I believe the Pope can and does make mistakes, just not regarding spiritual and theological matters by grace of the Holy Spirit :thumbsup:

Ex cathedra means literally “from the chair.”

The principle symbol of a bishop’s office as shepherd of his diocese is the actual chair in the cathedral (we name the building after the chair). In the case of the Pope, that is his chair in the Cathedral (and Arch-Basilica) of St. John the Baptist* (which is actually the papal cathedral, not St. Peter’s Basilica as many often think).

It means that he is exercising very specifically his office as pope and shepherd of the universal church.

Perhaps a good way to explain this would be to look at the President of the United States (none in particular). When a President makes an offhand comment, that’s not considered official. But if the President is seated in his chair at his desk in the Oval Office and addressing the nation, there is a certain air of authority conveyed by this setting.

It’s not a perfect comparison and there are many differences.

Another comparison would be a king sitting on his throne (certainly a more direct analogy).

In human symbolism we very often associate a chair as symbolic of a person’s authority. We see this all the time even though we don’t always realize it. The term “county seat” expresses this idea. The chair of the leader (pope, president, king, chairman of the board, etc) symbolizes his official office.

When the pope speaks “from the chair” or “ex cathedra” it means that he is specifically exercising his office. This is distinct from something like a comment made to an interviewer or a casual phone call.


  • This is “St John Lateran Cathedral” but there was no “St. John Lateran.” It really means the church of St John the Baptist which has the nickname “Lateran” after the family who sponsored a re-building of it in early history.

As has been mentioned, the infallibility of the Pope is tied to the infallibility of the Church. Since Christ promised the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, to the Church, the Church is ensured of handing on and teaching what God has revealed for all time. Since the Pope can exercise the supreme authority of the Church in judging and teaching definitively what belong to this deposit of revealed truth, he is infallible when he does so. But otherwise, he can err and sin like the rest of us.

I think you’re confusing “true” with “infallible.” You made a true statement, but it was possible, albeit improbable, that you could have said 2+2=5, since you are fallible. The difference is it is impossible for the Church to corrupt the truth revealed by God.

And how does a Protestant know that Luther and/or Calvin were correct?

Christ said that true believers would worship in both spirit and truth. There has to be a discernable truth in Christ’s Church, and the Holy Catholic Church is basically the only church that claims real truth.

In Protestantism all one has is just differing, man-made opinions. It is almost as if the very idea of truth is rejected. Nor is God the author of confusion.

So, if not the Catholic Church where does one then find truth?

Couldn’t have explained it better than FrDavid96. :smiley:

Quick! Get a copy of Catholicism for Dummies! It will greatly help you understand this doctrine, as well as the other major doctrines. It is an excellent resource which you will be able to rely on for years.

And please disregard cynical responses which claim it was a desperate political move - very poorly informed opinion there.

I trained as an accountant and I can show you how 2+2 does not equal 4, or 5 or 3. Sorry, what was the number that you wanted?:smiley:

Dear Grace

Glad to see you are continuing your catechism. As other posters have mentioned, the infallibiity is not on the person of the Pope but on the office of the Pope. We do not have to look as far as the Medicis and Borgias for sinner Popes. The first question posed to Pope Francis in that now-famous (or infamous) first interview last year was “Who is Jorge Bergoglio?” and his answer was “He is a sinner” Say no more. Our Pope by his own admission is a sinner and so are all of us and the saints too (with the only exception of Our Lady).

However, an early Church teaching makes clear that the personal piety or impiety of the priest does not have any effect on the validity of the sacraments he minister (otherwise we have to check the recent spiritual health of the priest everytime we go for communion!) and by extension the office he holds. So, the personal life of the Pope should not have any effect of the validity of the actions of the office of the Pope (of course, in theory it can still be invalidated by the nature of the action itself: for instance, taking an extreme example, if the Pope were to deny the divinity of Christ, the action would not be a valid action of the office of the Pope, even if the Pope is personally very pious).

The infallibility does not extend to everything the Pope does. As another poster alluded to, it really is the infallibility of the Church, of which the Pope is a spokesman. It is limited to pronoucements on faith and morals and even that is limited. For instance, the Pope cannot declare a new doctrine as an infallible teaching. It has to be part of divine revelation that the Church has adhered to since apostolic times (examples of such pronoucements are the Immculate Conception and the Assumption of Mary, both of which are beliefs held by the Church from the earliest days).

Also, (under current rules) he has to use a specific formulation of words to indicate that he is now makeing a solemn defnition of a particualr belief that the Church has believed in since the beginning. I don’t think any Pope is going to come near those specific words without careful consideration of the implication of what he says.

So, as you can see there will not be many infallible teachings pronouced. How many: unfortunately, the Church does not have a definitve list but I did come across a list (of only 7 trachings) from a scholar.

Unfortunately, the Pope is often painted as infaiilible whenever he opens his mouth: by some Protestant to descredit the notion of papal primacy and by some Catholics when the Pope says something that agrees with them. I hope a little bit of elucidation can go some way to eradicate this illogical idea.

graciesings #1
Also, the line of reasoning used to prove that the pope is infallible bothers me. It goes in circles… How do we know the pope is infallible? Church councils say so. How do we know the church councils are correct? Pope so-and-so said so. But how do we know the pope is infallible? The Catechism says so. How do we know the Catechism is correct? The church wrote it. So how do we know the church is always correct? Well… the catechism says so, and so did the church, and so did a pope.
I’m coming back to the same question. How do we know?

The reasoning is not circular, but the objection indicates a failure to listen to what Jesus said and did.
**All four promises to St Peter alone: **
“You are Peter and on this rock I will build My Church.” (Mt 16:18)
“The gates of hell will not prevail against it.”(Mt 16:18)
I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of heaven." ( Mt 16:19)

First to St Peter:
“Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven.” (Mt 16:19) [Later also to the Twelve].

Sole authority to St Peter:
“Strengthen your brethren.” (Lk 22:32)
“Feed My sheep.”(Jn 21:17).

How could these commands be fulfilled if Peter or his successors could TEACH error on faith and morals to the whole Church? Do you think that the Christ lied?

It was Christ who taught “Going therefore, teach all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Teaching them to observe whatsoever I have commanded you” (Mt 28:19).

And the promise was fulfilled: I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you." (John 14:15-18) “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit that the Father will send in My name, He will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.” (John 14:26) “But when He comes, the Spirit of truth,He will guide you to all truth. He will not speak on his own, but He will speak what He hears, and will declare to you the things that are coming. He will glorify me, because He will take from what is mine and declare it to you. Everything that the Father has is mine; for this reason I told you that He will take from what is mine and declare it to you.” (John 16:13-15)

St John counsels you: “We belong to God, and anyone who knows God listens to us, while anyone who does not belong to God refuses to hear us. This is how we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of deceit.” (1 Jn 4:6).

That’s how we know that the Pope is infallible when teaching the whole Church on faith and morals, as actually defined by Vatican I.

Sailor Kenshin #5
How would you further define ex cathedra for someone neither familiar with Latin or Catholicism?

This has been explained for you and the revered Fr John A Hardon, S.J. writes:
“EX CATHEDRA. The term commonly applied to the special and explicit exercise of papal infallibility. When the Pope speaks from the chair (cathedra) of authority, as visible head of all Christians, his teaching is not dependent on the consent of the Church and is irreformable. (Etym. Latin ex cathedra, from the chair.)”
[therealpresence.org/cgi-bin/getdefinition.pl]](http://www.therealpresence.org/cgi-bin/getdefinition.pl])

No dogma has to be affirmed, nor anyone anathematized, nor the word “define” or “definition” be used for an infallible papal teaching – only that the Pope is handing down a certain, decisive judgment for the whole Church, that a point of doctrine on faith or morals is true and its contrary false. The words ex cathedra are never included.

**Answer by David Gregson of EWTN on Nov-22-2002: **
“You are correct in stating that the Pope exercises his charism of infallibility not only in dogmatic definitions issued, ex cathedra, as divinely revealed (of which there have been only two), but also in doctrines definitively proposed by him, also ex cathedra, which would include canonizations (that they are in fact Saints, enjoying the Beatific Vision in heaven), moral teachings (such as contained in Humanae vitae), and other doctrines he has taught as necessarily connected with truths divinely revealed, such as that priestly ordination is reserved to men. Further details on levels of certainty with which the teachings of the Magisterium (either the Pope alone, or in company with his Bishops) may be found in Summary of Categories of Belief.”

See: Summary of Categories of Belief in *Professio fidei *at:
ewtn.com/library/Theology/SUMMARY.HTM

  1. Infallibility does not mean that Popes will always BEHAVE properly or in accordance with Catholic values, it just means that when declaring matters of faith and morals, the Pope is able to be free from error.

  2. The Church isn’t right because the Church says it’s right. The Church receives her authority to teach, as well as the assurance to be free from error, from Jesus Christ himself (Matt. 6:16-18).

That came up on another thread as well. Infallibility ≠ impeccability
#8

As an aside, the Church is Holy, not because of her membership, but because of who started her and gave all His promises to her.

That same question could be asked of all sorts of knowledge we have.
[LIST]
*]How do we know for sure any argument isn’t going in circles
*]How do we know " " there are only 27 books in the NT and 46 books in the OT?
*]How do we know " " scripture is even scripture
*]etc etc etc
[/LIST]At some point in time, one has been convinced that there is not only authority, but that there is ultimate authority. Even in our judicial system, created by fallible humans, after one exhausts all the appeals in the lower courts, there has to be a final court that ends the appeals process, and renders a final judgement. But no one would ever think courts make an infallible statement or that they were the pillar and foundation of truth.

What about God and the Church He said He will build, and gave all His promises to? The only Church that scripture calls the pillar and foundation of truth, with Jesus as the Divine head, and Peter as the earthly head. Only one Church qualifies. The Catholic Church #34 .

Infallible = without error.

When Jesus said John 16:12-15

it’s the Holy Spirit then, promised to Peter, preserving the pope as successor to Peter, from making an error in teaching matters of faith and morals to the entire Church. When Benedict XVI resigned the papal office, he no longer has the charism of papal infalliblity

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