Papal Infallibility

While i am not catholic, I am interested in learning more about Catholicism and Christianity in general. As part of an English assignment we must answer a series of questions about catholicism. One question has me stumped and I came here hoping someone could help me. so here goes

What is the doctrine of Papal infallibility and **how does this doctrine affect the authority of a priest within his given parish or community? **

The boldfaced part is what i am having trouble with. How does Papal infallibility affect priests?

It might be helpful if you posted the other questions that you were asked so that we would have some idea of the context in which this question is posed. I have to say that a lot of people (yes, English professors too) are very confused about what infallibility really means (some confuse it with impeccability, others seem to think that it either has ‘no effect’ on ‘conscience’ or that it has a blighting effect, etc.).

Really as it stands, the question is not only too vague, it is almost a non sequiter. I’d really appreciate seeing ‘what else’ is being presented as part of this series of questions. As it stands, that question is pretty much unanswerable because it does not really make ‘sense’.

God bless.

Here are all the questions

  1. What are the three vows of the Catholic clergy, and what are the purposes behind each of these vows?
  2. What is Communion, and what is its purpose? Also, explain the difference(s) between Catholic communion and Protestant
  3. What is the doctrine of Papal infallibility, and how does this doctrine affect the authority of a priest within his given parish or community?
  4. Explain the process and meaning behind confession. Also, why is a priest necessary for confession?
  5. According to Catholics, what is original sin, and how does baptism address it?

I received this answer from another forum, is it correct?

Because papal infallibility is based on the concept of apostolic succession, and by that authority he grants apostolic gifts (ability to give last rights, hear confession, etc.) to those who are ordained. That would seem to suggest that inasmuch as priests are in line with the pope in their preaching they have the same degree of infallibility that he does because their authority is from the same source with the pope as an intermediary.

Papal infallibility really has no effect at all on the “authority” of a priest. It’s a statement made by the First Vatican Council that the Pope is “posessed of infallibility” by the Holy Spirit when speaking ex cathedra on matters of faith and morals.

The only answer I can think of is that, once the Pope has made an infallible statement, a priest can now teach this newly defined dogma as an article of faith which must be accepted by his parishioners. Still, this has nothing to do with his own authority, but everything to do with the authority of the Pope…

This is quite a stretch. To say that priests receive their faculties because of papal infallibility is just plain wrong.

Priest have absolutely no infallibility. The fact that they “relay The Pope’s message” has absolutely no bearing on priestly authority.

I think it’s just a bad question.

If this helps, this research was designed to help us prepare to read Things Fall Apart and The Power and the Glory

That doesn’t really help…

If I were answering this question, I would explain why the question doesn’t make sense by giving a full explanation of papal infallibility and detailing exactly why it doesn’t affect the authority of a priest in the slightest.

Hmmm. Well, for starts, #1 is problematic. I’m sure the intended response is “poverty, chastity, and obedience”. However. . .diocesean priests (who are clergy) are NOT bound by the vow of poverty – they do not take such a vow, and they may own property. Further, Catholic Nuns take those three vows. . .but they are NOT CLERGY.

So right there, the first question shows a lack of understanding of what ‘clergy’ is.

  1. Communion. First, we have the “Real Presence”. Actually there are a LOT of differences between Catholic communion, not just in Catholic rites themselves (I believe some Eastern Rite Catholics practice intinction, not all Catholic Latin parishes offer communion under both species, etc.) but in Protestant groups. . .the “high church” Episcopal will often state a belief in “real presence” (but lacks valid orders); Lutherans (but not all of them) believe in consubstantiation, and many Protestants have at most a ‘monthly’ communion with bread and grape juice, and some even ‘other’ foods, and some do not have ‘communion’ at all!

  2. Already well answered earlier. Again, shows a very imperfect understanding of ‘infallibility’.

  3. The priest acts as a representative of God. We confess to God through the priest (an actual physical person) to God (spirit). This is not only Scriptural, it is a very long practice of the Christian church. Like any sacrament, having a valid ‘representative’ (the priest) is the ‘matter’ needed. One cannot ‘confess’ over the telephone to a ‘physical person’, one must be ‘face to face’ (or face to screen), in the DIRECT PRESENCE of the other.

Will address #5 in next post

  1. For Baptism and original. The best answer would be from the Catechism itself. Here is the link for baptism, which also addresses original sin :

And original sin also from the catechism: 406 The Church’s teaching on the transmission of original sin was articulated more precisely in the fifth century, especially under the impulse of St. Augustine’s reflections against Pelagianism, and in the sixteenth century, in opposition to the Protestant Reformation. Pelagius held that man could, by the natural power of free will and without the necessary help of God’s grace, lead a morally good life; he thus reduced the influence of Adam’s fault to bad example. The first Protestant reformers, on the contrary, taught that original sin has radically perverted man and destroyed his freedom; they identified the sin inherited by each man with the tendency to evil (concupiscentia), which would be insurmountable. The Church pronounced on the meaning of the data of Revelation on original sin especially at the second Council of Orange (529) and at the Council of Trent (1546).

and God created man in his image and established him in his friendship. A spiritual creature, man can live this friendship only in free submission to God. The prohibition against eating “of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” spells this out: "for in the day that you eat of it, you shall die."276 The "tree of the knowledge of good and evil"277 symbolically evokes the insurmountable limits that man, being a creature, must freely recognize and respect with trust. Man is dependent on his Creator, and subject to the laws of creation and to the moral norms that govern the use of freedom.

Man’s first sin

397 Man, tempted by the devil, let his trust in his Creator die in his heart and, abusing his freedom, disobeyed God’s command. This is what man’s first sin consisted of.278 All subsequent sin would be disobedience toward God and lack of trust in his goodness.

398 In that sin man preferred himself to God and by that very act scorned him. He chose himself over and against God, against the requirements of his creaturely status and therefore against his own good. Constituted in a state of holiness, man was destined to be fully “divinized” by God in glory. Seduced by the devil, he wanted to “be like God”, but “without God, before God, and not in accordance with God”.279

399 Scripture portrays the tragic consequences of this first disobedience. Adam and Eve immediately lose the grace of original holiness.280 They become afraid of the God of whom they have conceived a distorted image - that of a God jealous of his prerogatives.281

400 The harmony in which they had found themselves, thanks to original justice, is now destroyed: the control of the soul’s spiritual faculties over the body is shattered; the union of man and woman becomes subject to tensions, their relations henceforth marked by lust and domination.282 Harmony with creation is broken: visible creation has become alien and hostile to man.283 Because of man, creation is now subject “to its bondage to decay”.284 Finally, the consequence explicitly foretold for this disobedience will come true: man will “return to the ground”,285 for out of it he was taken. Death makes its entrance into human history.286

401 After that first sin, the world is virtually inundated by sin There is Cain’s murder of his brother Abel and the universal corruption which follows in the wake of sin. Likewise, sin frequently manifests itself in the history of Israel, especially as infidelity to the God of the Covenant and as transgression of the Law of Moses. And even after Christ’s atonement, sin raises its head in countless ways among Christians.287 Scripture and the Church’s Tradition continually recall the presence and universality of sin in man’s history:

What Revelation makes known to us is confirmed by our own experience. For when man looks into his own heart he finds that he is drawn towards what is wrong and sunk in many evils which cannot come from his good creator. Often refusing to acknowledge God as his source, man has also upset the relationship which should link him to his last end, and at the same time he has broken the right order that should reign within himself as well as between himself and other men and all creatures.288


The consequences of Adam’s sin for humanity

402 All men are implicated in Adam’s sin, as St. Paul affirms: “By one man’s disobedience many (that is, all men) were made sinners”: "sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned."289 The Apostle contrasts the universality of sin and death with the universality of salvation in Christ. "Then as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men."290

403 Following St. Paul, the Church has always taught that the overwhelming misery which oppresses men and their inclination towards evil and death cannot be understood apart from their connection with Adam’s sin and the fact that he has transmitted to us a sin with which we are all born afflicted, a sin which is the “death of the soul”.291 Because of this certainty of faith, the Church baptizes for the remission of sins even tiny infants who have not committed personal sin.292

Hope this helps!

Well seems like my best bet is to go with Dauphin’s answer

“The only answer I can think of is that, once the Pope has made an infallible statement, a priest can now teach this newly defined dogma as an article of faith which must be accepted by his parishioners. Still, this has nothing to do with his own authority, but everything to do with the authority of the Pope…”

Thank you all very much for your help. I will relay your answers to my teacher so that he may perhaps change the question next year.

The pope is considered to be guided by the Holy Spirit, and be infallible, in matters of faith (doctrine) and morals, when he speaks officially (ex cathedra, that is, “from the chair”). There are only two times in the last 2000+ yyears that this has happened; once, when the declaration was made about Mary’s Immacualte Conception (she alone} was conceived without sin), and the Assumption (that Mary was assumed into heaven bodily). Even if the last issue, it was never defined whether or not she died, and her body was assumed into Heaven to be reunited with her soul, or whether she was assumed directly into Heaven while alive - that is, did not die.

There was much discussion when John Paul 2 said that women could not be ordained; many tried to say that this was “ex cathedra”; however Rome (through Cardinal Ratzinger) stated that it was not an ex cathedra statement.

There are two other areas we consider the Church to be infallible - in matters of fatih (doctrine) and morals - when the Church speaks unified at a Council (example, the Council of Nicea), and the third area, again covering faith an morals, is when the Church has consistently from its beginning had a position on faith an morals through its consistent teaching - for example, that Christ set up the Apostles with the authority to found a Church and pass that authority along.

The official teachers of the Church are the bishops in union with the Pope. Priests represent the bishops in parishes, and are under his authority, but they do not share in what is called the charism (gift) of infallibility. If they teach what the Church officially teaches, then they are teaching an infallible truth, but they are not infallible.

Papal infallibility means that definitive papal judgments and confirmations of doctrines of faith or morals binding on the whole Church are protected from error. It essentially assures that God’s revelation and law will be preserved (since the Pope has the final say as to whether a doctrine is true or erroneous).

For the priest, that means he must teach the faith in accordance with such papal judgments and confirmations. The Holy Spirit ensures that these papal declarations are not mere human opinion, but divine revelation or law. The priest must echo the words of Christ–this is not my teaching, but that of he who sends me.

This is simply untrue. No offense, but where do people get this idea? So many otherwise very informed Catholics believe this. That means the First Vatican Council defined this dogma based on one example. That’s absurd.

If we read the acts of the Council and appropriate relatios, as well as previous teaching on this subject through the millenia, we see that it applies everytime the Pope defines a dogma to be believed by the whole Church or condemns an error to be held as heretical by the whole Church. Not only that, but definitive proclamations of tenenda are also covered–that is, not only solemn dogmatic declarations, but also those truths which must only be held.

This is why Pope John Paul II’s definitive judgment on the issue of women’s ordination was not a dogmatic definition, but what still an exercise in papal infallibility.

These things have happened a LOT. In fact, some Fathers of the Council wanted to make the definition more specific–including certain phrases the Pope had to use, or certain procedures he had to take–but they couldn’t because Popes had been making such infallible judgments using many different formulas and phrases and following different processes to come to their decisions.

For the sake of this thread, here’s another example besides the two Marian dogmas:

Considering I did not say it was based on one example, I fail to see why you accuse me of that.

It’s rather an odd question. A priest may not contradict a dogma infallibly declared by the Pope and remain in good standing. However that is typical of organisations, if a McDonalds’ restaurant manager says something about the burgers that the chairman of McDonalds has clearly indicated may not be said, he would get the boot. The Church being large and old just has the theory worked out a bit more precisely than most organisations.

However there is plenty of room for a priests’ personal intepretation, within very broad parameters laid down by the Church.

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