Papal Infallibility

Could someone help me out with this Dogma.

I have had a hard time accepting this dogma, even after being born and raised in the church. I was hoping that someone could help me really dig to the bottom of the dogma, and to basically to get all of the facts on the issue from reliable sources.

The basics of why was it added and what scriptural and traditional evidence was used to add the doctrine to the deposit of faith. (Just so there is no confusion, Scriptural evidence meaning what verses in the bible where used to say “hey, papal infallibility was referenced here, here and here”, and traditional evidence being things like the writings from the early church fathers or other people like them.)

I have been praying and meditating on the issue trying to understand and accept it. So any help I can get from anyone will be helpful!

Here is a tract that you might find helpful:

You might also find The Father’s Know Best by Jimmy Akin helpful.

The short version is that Christ grants the Apostles authority and sets Peter as their head (He names Peter “rock” “You are Rock and upon this Rock I will build my Church.” See also, keys, feed sheep, etc (specific references are in the first link, I think.)

The Church Fathers said many things along the lines of " Where Peter is, there is the Church. And where the Church, no death is there, but life eternal." (St. Ambrose.) This is not the same as “Peter is infallible”. But it does imply it: the Church, to be the Church, cannot hold false teaching. And the Church is where Peter is. And where Peter is has said that Peter('s successor) is infallible. So if he weren’t, then where Peter is wouldn’t be the Church.

For most issues like this, though, I think it’s important not to lose sight of the big picture while exploring individual issues. Namely, Christ came to Earth, and put in place a Church to guide us in truth, and promised that the Advocate would guide this Church in this process. If that Church is teaching error, then either the Advocate is doing a really bad job, or Christ broke his promise.

Which isn’t to say that we shouldn’t look into each of these issue in detail - we certainly should. But we should keep in mind that all these teachings fit into a whole, and that while each stands up to scrutiny on its own, that we should avoid a tunnel vision that prevents us from seeing them together with this larger picture.

Hello EPR -

Welcome and thank you for your question. I’m sure that others will provide a much better answer to your question. However, here is my “go at it.”

First, I want to make something clear. The Catholic Church never creates new Dogma. It only defines it. The Dogma of Papal Infallibility was not created during Vatican I. It has always existed. Vatican I only defined it and how it is applicable.

Papal Infallibility is directly linked to the Infallibility of the Church. Because the Church is infallible when it comes to teaching of Faith and Morals, and the Pope is the “ultimate arbitrator” when their are disagreements in the Church over Faith and Morals, his decisions must be protected under the concept of Church Infallibility.

Therefore, if the Pope wasn’t protected under the general Infallibility of the Church, then concept of the Church being Infallible would fail. In a way, it is a simple application of logic, and **similar **to the logic of A = B and B = C then A = C.

St Peter uses Papal Infallibility when he makes the final decision in the Acts of the Apostles regarding that Christians do not have to first become circumcised before getting baptized.

I pray that this is helpful.

God Bless.

Jesus said, “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, & whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

That’s infallibility , but in matters of faith & morals, only. It is not used casually or frequently.

If you want chapter & verse …look it up!

Hi! Just to clarify, nothing can be added to the deposit of faith (St. Jude 1:3). This is my understanding about the Dogma of papal infallibility: ,Catholic Encyclopedia “Theologians distinguish three classes of revealed truths: truths* formally* and explicitly revealed; truths revealed formally, but only implicitly; and truths only virtually revealed.” According to the same article, papal infallibility belongs to the second category: “… truths revealed by God formally, but only implicitly, are dogmas in the strict sense when proposed or defined by the Church. Such, for example, are the doctrines of Transubstantiation, papal infallibility, the Immaculate Conception, some of the Church’s teaching about the Saviour, the sacraments, etc. All doctrines defined by the Church as being contained in revelation are understood to be formally revealed, explicitly or implicitly.” (Ibid.)

If you want to read the document that defined it at Vatican 1, you can find an English translation of “Pastor Aeternus” here.

If you want to see a more in depth Theological proof for the Dogma, you can reference article on infallibility.Catholic Encyclopedia’s (Scroll down to the section on the pope)

I would recommend the following for reading, that may your understanding and give you further insight:

The letter of St. Optatus to the Donatists regarding their schism:

I will let St. Optatus speak, writing against the Donatist schism…sometime in the AD300s……ishop-of-rome/

St. Optatus’s Against the Donatists is composed of seven books (see the table of contents). After laying out the history of the schism in Book One, he turns in Book Two to the question: “Which is the One True Catholic Church and Where is it to be Found?” In what may be the most important and revealing statement in the whole of his work, he writes:

For it was not Caecilian who went forth from Majorinus, your father’s father,12 but it was Majorinus who deserted Caecilian; nor was it Caecilian who separated himself from the Chair of Peter, or from the Chair of Cyprian — but Majorinus, on whose Chair you sit — a Chair which had no existence before Majorinus himself.13

Later in the work he shows that St. Peter, the Head of the Apostles, was the first to occupy the Episcopal Cathedra in Rome, and that the purpose of this Cathedra was to preserve unity among all Christians, including even the other Apostles. He writes:

You cannot then deny that you do know that upon Peter first in the City of Rome was bestowed the Episcopal Cathedra, on which sat Peter, the Head of all the Apostles … that, in this one Cathedra, unity should be preserved by all [in qua unica Cathedra unitas ab omnibus servaretur], lest the other Apostles might claim each for himself separate Cathedras, so that he who should set up a second Cathedra against the unique Cathedra would already be a schismatic and a sinner. Well then, on the one Cathedra, which is the first of the Endowments, Peter was the first to sit.25

And this story from a convert:

The more I understood Catholic doctrine, the more I could appreciate the need for the Church and the magisterium. Clarity of theology and ecclesiology go hand-in-hand. This was first true for the Early Church. Back to that moment when the papacy made sense in the Westminster library. One interesting observation I found was that a greater understanding of the significance of the papacy developed alongside the development of Christology. As we study Early Church history, we find that writings in the first two centuries paled in clarity when compared with Scripture. But doctrinal clarity in the writings of the Early Church Fathers dramatically increased as questions of Christology were resolved in the fifth century. This happens to be at the same time that ecclesiology became more defined through the strengthening of the papacy. The broad parallels suggest that this is no mere coincidence. In order to define the faith in the early Church, the center had to hold. That was found through the papacy in the Catholic Church. The need today is no different–both for the broader Church and in our individual lives.

Scriptural evidence for papal infallibility includes Matt. 16:19 - “Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven.” If the pope’s decisions are ratified by heaven, they can’t be false.

Also Luke 22:32 - “[But] I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren.” If the pope’s faith can’t fail, his declarations about the faith won’t be false.

Patristic evidence for papal infallibility includes:

180 A.D. - St. Irenaeus - “For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with [the Roman Church], on account of its preeminent authority.” source

256 A.D. - St. Cyprian - “[F]aithlessness could have no access” to the Roman See because it is “the chief church whence priestly unity takes its source.” source

367 A.D. - St. Optatus of Mileve - “[A]nyone who would set up another chair in opposition to [Rome] would, by that very fact, be a schismatic and a sinner.” source

431 A.D. - The Third Ecumenical Council - Session 1 - “[If] your holiness * have not a mind to [accept] the limits defined in the writings of [Pope] Celestine, Bishop of the Church of Rome, be well assured then that you have no lot with us, nor place or standing among the priests and bishops of God.” source

451 A.D. - The Fourth Ecumenical Council - Session 2 - [After a declaration of the faith by Pope St. Leo the Great.] “This is the faith of the fathers, this is the faith of the Apostles. So we all believe, thus the orthodox believe. Anathema to him who does not thus believe! Peter has spoken thus through Leo! So taught the Apostles. Piously and truly did Leo teach, so taught [St.] Cyril [of Alexandria].” source

And: The Fourth Ecumenical Council’s Letter to Pope Leo I - “[Pope Leo is] the mouthpiece unto all of the blessed Peter…imparting the blessedness of his Faith unto all.” source

680 A.D. - The Sixth Ecumenical Council - Session 4 - “[The Roman see] has never erred from the path of the apostolic tradition, nor has she been depraved by yielding to heretical innovations, but from the beginning she has received the Christian faith from her founders, the princes of the Apostles of Christ, and remains undefiled unto the end, according to the divine promise of the Lord and Saviour himself.” (Citing Luke 22:31-32) source

And: “[Peter] received from the Redeemer of all himself, by three commendations, the duty of feeding the spiritual sheep of the Church; under [his] protecting shield, [the Roman Church] has never turned away from the path of truth in any direction of error, whose authority, as that of the Prince of all the Apostles, the whole Catholic Church, and the Ecumenical Synods have faithfully embraced, and followed in all things.” (ibid.) source

The Sixth Ecumenical Council’s Letter to Pope Agatho - “Christ our true God…gave [us] a wise physician, namely your [self], to drive [heresies] away…by the remedies of orthodoxy, and to give the strength of health to the members of the church. Therefore to you, as to the bishop of the first see of the Universal Church, we leave what must be done, since you willingly take for your standing ground the firm rock of the faith, as we know from having read your [letter] to the most pious emperor: and we acknowledge that this letter was divinely written as by the Chief of the Apostles.” source

787 A.D. - The Seventh Ecumenical Council - Session 2 - “[The letter] to the Romans commend[s] their zeal for the true faith… It is necessary to follow out this witness, and he that would contradict it is without good sense. Wherefore Hadrian, the ruler of Old Rome, since he was a sharer of these things, thus borne witness to, wrote [to the emperor]…confirming admirably and beautifully the ancient tradition of the Catholic Church… so [we] have confessed, so [we] do confess, and [we] so will confess… And the holy Synod said: The whole holy Synod thus teaches.” source

And: “[You will be] renowned and praised through the whole world…if you follow the tradition of the orthodox Faith of the Church of the holy Peter and Paul, the chief Apostles, and embrace their Vicar… For the holy and chief Apostles themselves, who set up the Catholic and orthodox Faith, have laid it down as a written law that all who after them are to be successors of their seats, should hold their Faith and remain in it to the end.” source

I think all of this is very strong evidence for papal infallibility in the early Church.*

I don’t know why people fight this belief all the time.

All anyone has to do is say, “Yes, Lord, I believe it because you have revealed it to me” and then don’t worry about it too much. That’s all. Just pray for a minute, say yes and then go make a sandwich and have lunch.

God will let you know about it if he wants you to know. If not, then I recommend the turkey and cheese wrap.


Papal infallibility arises from Christ’s institution of His Catholic Church when he mandated:
**All four promises to 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)
“Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven.” (Mt 16:19) [Later, also to the Twelve].

**Sole authority: **
“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?

From Vatican I (Pastor Aeternus), for infallibility to be exercised the Pope must teach
(a) ex cathedra (from the Chair of Peter), that is as Shepherd and Teacher of all Christians,
(b) speaking with Peter’s apostolic authority to the whole Church,
© defining a doctrine of faith and morals.

Vatican II (Lumen Gentium, 25) reaffirms this teaching: “The Roman Pontiff, head of the college of bishops, enjoys this infallibility in virtue of his office, when, as supreme pastor and teacher of all the faithful – who confirms his brethren in the faith (cf. Lk 22:32) – he proclaims in an absolute decision a doctrine pertaining to faith or morals.”

Thus, 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 that a point of doctrine on faith or morals is true and its contrary false.

The three levels of teaching are:
1) Dogma – infallible (Canon #750.1) to be believed with the assent of divine and Catholic faith.
2) Doctrine – infallible (Canon #750.2) requires the assent of ecclesial faith, to be “firmly embraced and held”.
3) Doctrine – non-definitive (non-infallible) and requires intellectual assent (“loyal submission of the will and intellect”, Vatican II, *Lumen Gentium *25), not an assent of faith.

Vatican II, reiterated the teaching of Vatican I on papal infallibility, and its documents are readily available [from the EWTN Library (, or the Vatican Library).

Thanks alot you guys for the food for thought. I do like Tims advice, Pray about it, submit to it, then go have a sandwich for lunch!

My post was a bit tongue-in-cheek but in all seriousness, I used to struggle with all these beliefs, reverse engineer them and try to find the basis in scripture, figure them out and understand them.

Every one I could figure out turned out to be true. The ones I couldn’t figure out turned out to be true when I let go - God would show me something in the Bible or in a homily or just walking through the grocery store which made me realize that it was true.

Eventually I gave up. The Church had been right over and over and over so I just accepted it all and it really hasn’t been that big of a deal.

Adam and Eve? I don’t know how but yeah, whatever. :shrug:

Papal infallibility? Sure? Why not? The Pope said to recycle and so now I recycle. :thumbsup: I know what you all are going to say…

Mary? Yep. Indulgences? Sounds good to me! Purgatory? Most excellent because at least I have a chance now.

Do yourself a favor and just accept it all. Say yes and then go on with your life, working and raising your kids and frequenting the sacraments and increasing in virtue. You will save a lot of time and aggravation and will be at peace.


*]Re: deposit of faith i.e. DE FIDE
[/LIST]These aren’t [additions] to the faith. They are truths that were there from the beginning.


Was God always Trinity? Yes. Even though the dogma wasn’t defined untill 100’s of years later in council.

What is the pillar and foundation of truth? It’s the Catholic Church. [1 Timothy 3:15](“ Timothy+3:15&version=RSVCE”) . It’s the only Church Our Lord established. #[FONT=Arial]34[/FONT]
]how can the Church be the pillar and foundation of truth if it makes errors in faith and morals? It has to be protected by God from error in her teaching that is to be believed by EVERYONE, or it is NOT the pillar and foundation of truth…agreed?
]Has the Church in the last 2000 years made any errors in doctrine / dogma that must be believed by everyone
,** on matters of faith or morals? No. If you can find the error please show it.
[/LIST]Re: Papal infallibility. Here’s the definition from Vat I.[LIST=1]
*]we teach and define as a divinely revealed dogma that
*]when the Roman pontiff speaks EX CATHEDRA,
*]that is, when, [LIST=1]
*]**in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, **
*]**in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, **
*]**he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole church, **
*]he possesses,
*]by the divine assistance promised to him in blessed Peter,
*]that infallibility which the divine Redeemer willed his church to enjoy in defining doctrine concerning faith or morals.
*]Therefore, such definitions of the Roman pontiff are of themselves, and not by the consent of the church, irreformable.

As an aside, don’t confuse disciplines with doctrine or dogma. Disciplines can come or go.

I don’t really have much to add, except that Catholics will not be answering these questions:

…but rather these:

“why was it confirmed to be within”
“what scriptural and traditional evidence was used to discern that the doctrine was indeed within”

We don’t believe it was added, but rather that it was ***confirmed ***to have been always present within the deposit of faith.


The folks here have done a great job with the Scripture and recognition from the Early Church. I just wanted to add one more thing. I believe I heard this from Msg Swetland on “Go Ask Your Father” today, and it makes a lot of sense:

A writing without an interpreter is nothing. If there is no way to interpret a writing than the writing is useless.

If God made an infallible book, than there must be an infallible interpreter or the book is useless and God really doesn’t care about us.

Proof: The Catholic Church has not contradicted a single one of it’s official Dogma in 2,000 years. The Catholic Church is also the only religion to get it right on serious issues; even when she doesn’t know how serious of an issue it is and even when she doesn’t know what she’s talking about, necessarily.

Case and point: oral contraception. Prior to 1930, every Christian (and quasi-Christian sect) believed that contraception in general - including oral contraception - was serious sin.

In the 1930’s the Anglicans were the first Christian group to ‘OK’ contraception - including oral contraception - in certain circumstances. Since then, every Christian denomination has said “ok” to contraception, including the Pill.

Catholicism alone has held that contraception, including the Pill, is serious sin - reitterated in 1965 (?) by Humane Vitae (On Human Life).

In the 1980’s Sciense discovered that oral, chemical contraception also acts as an abortafaciant. Every single Christian denomination said “ok” to possibly killing babies.

The Catholic Church alone did not - even when they didn’t know the consequences fully.

I found out from Tim Staples at a conference this past weekend that virtually the same thing happened with abortion as well. Most every Christian denomination caved to abortions in, at least, “life of the mother” situations. The Catholic Church has stood virtually alone in that regard too.

Without Infalibility there is no way to be assured of how we are to live as Christ wants us to.

Hope this helps,
God Bless, :signofcross:
Poor Knight for Christ and His Church

The Church was commissioned as a “Divine” Church to teach and to baptize. That’s her mission and goal, her divine power comes from Christ. [Cf. Matthew 28:19]. It was through the Church in the persons of the Apostles that Christ’s words were received and revealed.[Cf. John 14:16-17]

If we say that this commission was only meant for the Apostles then we rightly need to ask why the Farmer would plant his vine only to abandon it to be overgrown and possibly choked out by the wild weeds. History seems to prove otherwise, doesn’t it? Instead we find the Farmer tending his vine through all the seasons, age after age.

Thus, we find that if one kingdom is commissioned to accomplish a goal it must also have the powers with which to fulfill his mission. It’s a cruel thing to commission a child a man’s job - it only reinforces is immaturity not having the wherewithal to accomplish the goal. Therefore, Papal infallibility is that divine imbued power for the purpose of fulfilling her divine mission of preaching and baptizing divinely.

If Christ withdraws his promise abandoning the Church to her own means then it would seem we are doomed to the ways of protesting one and another and soon overgrown with the religion of men. The protesters would typify a church that has lost the divine ability to teach divinely.



Wouldn’t you need an infallible source (Church) to declare an infallible instrument (Sola Roma Episkopos) and then the infallible instrument becomes greater than the infallible source, since the infallible source is not able to depose the infallible instrument?

Why would anyone struggle with that?


If you believe Scripture to be written without error, then you already have the foundation to accept the teaching of infallibility. If God can operate through Matthew, Mark, Luke, Isaiah, etc… then the Spirit is quite able to operate through someone else in a related fashion. :o

First, I don’t think the word “sola” belongs in front of “Roma Episkopos.”

Second, I don’t think it was necessary for the Church to declare the pope infallible, at least not in the following sense: I don’t think the rest of the Church is the source of the pope’s infallibility. I think the pope would have been infallible whether or not the rest of the Church said he was. But perhaps I am misunderstanding you. Are you saying that the pope wouldn’t be infallible except that the First Vatican Council said he was? Or perhaps you only mean that that is the Catholic view? I think I must be misunderstanding you.

Third, I want to emphasize a part of what I just said: I do not think Catholic theology permits the view that the rest of the Church is the source of the pope’s infallibility. I think the papal office is a part of the infallible Church. It is a part of the source, I don’t think it is an instrument of the source, except perhaps in the sense that an organ of your body is an instrument of your body.

and then the infallible instrument becomes greater than the infallible source, since the infallible source is not able to depose the infallible instrument?

I do not think the pope is greater than the Church, because he is a part of it. I don’t think the part can logically be greater than the whole. But the rest of the Church on earth is, I think, less than the pope, though not in dignity, only in authority.

I hope that helps. Please let me know what you think.

It doesn’t, but thank you.

Current Canon Law places the Pope above the entire Church, rendering the Church useless and unable to depose him for any reason. Even if the Pope is to be classified sui juris, the Church has no mechanism to remove him.

Also, the only manner for us to know if the Pope is infallible or not is through the Pillar and Bulwark of the Truth. That is the Church. The only reason for us to know anything true about God is through that same pillar. That this pillar is rendered useless against one of Her Bishops is astounding.

You are pitting all the other members of the Church against one member. Are we talking about majority rule here? Who are these other members of the Church to decide the Pope should be deposed? Where did THEY derive THEIR authority?

Don’t you realize that if there were no authorities within the Church, then no one could say who is teaching properly and make decisions to exclude him (or her)?

And even if there were a group having authority, once again, is majority rule the case here (or was it ever)?


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