Question About Infallibility


I have been reading about papal infallibility and have a question about some “loopholes” or possible loopholes to infallibility.

My understanding about infallibility is that the Pope, as successor of Peter, is prevented from teaching error when he makes an statement ex Cathedra. However, this does not imply to his personal judgement.
Question 1

**What part of the infallible statement is infallible? For example, take the Apostolic Constitution of Pope Pius IX on the Immaculate Conception (December 8, 1854).

This clause is beyond a doubt infallible:

We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful.

But is this clause?:

Hence, if anyone shall dare – which God forbid! – to think otherwise than as has been defined by us, let him know and understand that he is condemned by his own judgment; that he has suffered shipwreck in the faith; that he has separated from the unity of the Church; and that, furthermore, by his own action he incurs the penalties established by law if he should dare to express in words or writing or by any other outward means the errors he thinks in his heart.

**Question 2

**Is the pope’s judgement as far as the timing of the declared dogma also deemed infallible? For example, could anyone such as a future Pope ever say that the Immaculate Conception is true, but it was revealed at the wrong time in history. Would that contradict the truth?

Please know I am trying to understand, so please - DON’T HURT ME!!!:smiley:




There is no new public revelation. An infallible pronouncement is not a new revelation but is a definitive formulation/explication of what is contained in the deposit of faith.


One of the reasons I asked about number 2 was a document I read regarding a lecture given by Archbishop John R. Quinn at Oxford. Here is the title and link:

Archbishop John R. Quinn’s Oxford Lecture on Papacy and Collegiality

In the last century, a number of persons in Rome, as well as Cardinal Manning and others in England, thought that John Henry Newman, who expressed clear and principled objection to the opportunness of the definition of papal infallibility and who spoke in strong condemnatory tones about the methods used by the pro-definition group, was lacking in Catholic faith and disloyal to the Pope. Yet today, Newman is under consideration for canonization as a saint of the Catholic Church. Newman himself distinguished between the truth of a dogmatic definition and the prudence of the Pope in making it. (21) This example makes it clear that while great emphasis has been given to the doctrinal aspects of the exercise of the primacy, too little attention has been given to the place of prudence in the exercise of the primacy. The doctrinal questions do not exhaust the discussion of the primacy. There is a legitimate and necessary place also for discussion of what is prudent at a given time in history.

If Archbishop Quinn is wrong, I am sure that anti-Catholics will pick this up and use it against us. If the church is unclear on some aspects of infallibility, how does one go about seeking clarification? Is it my place to write to Cardinal Levada, the current prefect of the CDF in Rome?


As to question No. 2, I can’t imagine that the timing of any doctrinal statement would ever be a matter of infallibility. There were many in the Church who, while firmly believing in the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, opposed making a doctrinal statement at the time.

As to question 1, if an infallible declaration is made, the quoted part is simply a logical conclusion: i.e. this is what the Church believes; consequently if you do not believe this, you are not in union with the Church.


Is the pope’s judgement as far as the timing of the declared dogma also deemed infallible? For example, could anyone such as a future Pope ever say that the Immaculate Conception is true, but it was revealed at the wrong time in history. Would that contradict the truth?

The problem with infallibility is that it is a very bad choice of word. It implys that the Church is teaching something special, provocative or extraordinary, whilst in fact the teaching does not go beyond the obvious, if you accept that Jesus gave a guarantee that the Church would not defect from His teachings, or in other words that the Dan Browns of this world are not correct in their claims that the real teachings were suppressed by the wicked followers of St Paul who usurped leadership from Mary Magdalen and Jesus’ love child, or whatever the theory is.

The Church is the Church therefore important teachings must be substantially true. So how do we know what the Church teaches and what is regarded as of first rank importance? Generally it is pretty much self-evident. Clearly we believe that there was such a person as Jesus, that He died for the sins of man, that human beings have an obligation to God to seek to be good, that humans have souls and that all souls are of value, and so forth, but there are a few areas round the margins which might be regarded as essential or just significant. For instance do Catholics have to believe in the Virign Birth, in the Immaculate Conception, in the Assumption, that Mary was the Second Eve, in the Lourdes Apparitions? The answer is that it is the Pope’s call whether a widely held belief is essential, or dogma, or merely something worthy of belief. That is essentially all that Papal infallibility means.


So, allow me to expand the papal infallibility questions with questions regarding reunification with the Eastern Churches. From what I hear, papal infallibility isn’t so much of an issue for reunification as the requirement that the infalible statements be believed and accepted by Churches that wish to reunite. Could the church acknowledge that something is true, but not require the members of the Church to believe it? In other words, could the Church say that the infallible statements made by Pius IX and Pius XII should have occured after the Eastern and Western Churches were united and not deny Immaculate Conception or the Assumption of Mary.

I see no problems with the Marian dogmas, they are sound and they speak more to Glory of God, than they do about Mary. However, my post Vatican II perspectives whinces at the language used to describe those who do not believe in the dogmas. To converts, teachings about Mary are a hard pill to swallow, especially those who are from the protestant denominations. To those of the Eastern Orthodox Churches, the Marian teachings aren’t so much an obstacle as the language used in the making the infallible statements.

Please don’t think that I condone cafeteria catholicism. I don’t, I do condone clarity though.


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