Under what circumstances is the Pope/are the considered Bishops Infallible?

Sorry I know this has probably been addressed before… I have done a fair share of digging and have some specific questions… you are welcome to refer me to previous threads if you know of them.

Basically, I understand these concepts:

**Clarifying terms

Now to clarify some terms. Extraordinary Magisterium refers to a special exercise of their teaching office by either the Pope and bishops together, or the Pope alone, in which a definitive judgment is given. When a General Council pronounces a solemn definition, this is an exercise of the extraordinary Magisterium. So is an ex cathedra definition by the Pope: a decision definitively settling the question.

By contrast ordinary Magisterium refers to the exercise of the teaching office without a solemn definition being given. This is the case with the day-today teaching of bishops in their dioceses, or the greater part-almost the entire part-of the Popes teaching. (Much in these categories, however, has already been defined infallibly.)

The term ordinary universal Magisterium means an exercise of the Church’s teaching office where there is complete agreement, or fairly close to complete agreement, among the Catholic Bishops of the world that a particular doctrine is certainly true, but without a solemn definition.

The extraordinary Magisterium is infallible. A definition given by a General Council or an ex cathedra definition by a Pope cannot be erroneous. Likewise, the ordinary universal Magisterium is infallible. The fact that the bishops are dispersed throughout the world’ (in the words of Vatican II quoted above) does not make any difference.

What of the ordinary (but not universal) Magisterium? Is it infallible? No, as Vatican II indicates in the quotation above concerning statements that are not ex cathedra.**

Should anything be added?

Also, I am looking for some concrete examples to help me differentiate between them all.

I think I have a decent understanding of the concept, but its difficult for me to apply it.

There is a little more, but I don’t want this to be too long intially.

Thanks in advance.


You are WAAAYYY overthinking this question. It’s actually quite simple. No teaching (no matter where it comes from) can be considered infallible unless the Church tells us it is infallible:

No doctrine is understood to be infallibly defined unless it is clearly established as such (Canon 749p3, see also Canon 1323p3 of the 1917 Code of Canon Law).

There is a “checklist” defining the conditions that a Papal teaching must meet to be ex cathedra, but we must not assume that any teaching that we personally believe meets these criteria is infallible.

By way of illustration, consider the case of John Paul II’s teaching, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis (which defined that the Church has no authority to ordain women). It was an infallible teaching from the moment it was taught. But, apparently, it was not “clearly established” as such (even though it clearly satisfied the checklist). It was “clearly established” as such by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger.

So we can’t grab a checklist and decide for ourselves which teachings are infallible. Any such doctrines must be clearly established by the Church. Don’t worry - the Church will tell us what She wants us to believe. We don’t need to try to figure it out for ourselves.

That helps a little I guess. Although this does not:

Or this:

I appreciate you taking an interest in my posts. And I appreciate your willingness to respond. Just try and tone it down a little, please. It just doesn’t seem necessary or helpful.

Moving on… I could be a little clearer with my question. I am trying to understand the means by which infallibility is manifested in the Church. Once established I was hoping to move on toward understanding which particular teachings on any given day from the Pope require adherence.

I am trying, in light of what I posted in blue at the beginning, to understand this excerpt from Lumen Gentium:

This religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra; that is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will. His mind and will in the matter may be known either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking.

Since it, in this context, speaks of “submission of mind and will… even when he is not speaking ex cathedra”

Maybe that clears the path a little.

This doesn’t ring true to me. I understand that you are saying I don’t have to worry about reading everything the Church produces and trying to figure out on my own which things are necessary parts of the faith. Fear not… I am not worried, I trust the Church… this is purely a query to further my knowledge of Truth or at least how it is established as such. In a way, I like to try and figure it out for myself… to the point where that is possible.

So in reference to your quote above… I’m pretty sure I don’t agree… although maybe I am taking your words out of context?


Yes, it does. It is not necessary for a teaching to be held infallible to require assent. The Church has authority to teach in Jesus’ name (“He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects the one who sent me” - Luke 10:16).

So, when the Church teaches, we should listen, even if the teaching has not been put forth as infallible.

Also, when participating in online forums, we should respect the rules, which are there for good reason. When an old post is reopened, subsequent responders may not notice that it is very old, and they may participate in discussions (or challenge the positions) with people who may not even be around anymore, which is futile and perhaps unjust. A moderator will typically lock such a thread if s/he finds it first. I’m not a mod, but I do my best to warn people when a thread is very old to discourage further participation. I was warning potential participants (as an act of charity), not admonishing you. I’m sorry if you were offended - no offense was meant. I assumed that you were also unaware of the age of the thread, so I was alerting you as well.

Understood, thank you.

Thank you. One of the reasons I posted this was in light of some comments from a thread in the Eastern Catholicism area that make it sound like… to me… that the role of the Pope as it relates to adherence to teachings applies somewhat differently to the Latin Rite since he is also the Bishop of Rome. I may just have to jump over to that thread now to ask for clarification.


if you are interested in commenting I’d like to hear what you think… but the one I am referring to is on the first page by JohnVIII


see the Catechism of the Catholic Church para 871-892.

This needs to be understood properly according to Church teaching. When the Pope teaches “ex cathedra” he does not do so, simply, “alone”. He does so in communion with the Church, with all bishops.

See the Catechism para 871-892, and Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, “Lumen Gentium.”

Infallibility is an act of God, when he prevents someone from making a mistake. When the sacred authors of the Bible wrote the scriptures, God prevented them from making mistakes. So when God needs the Pope to speak a truth, he prevents him from making a mistake at that particular point in time. Same goes for an Ecumenical Council

Hmm. The first Ecumenical Council, Nicaea, taught that

Since there are some who kneel on Sunday and during the season of Pentecost, this holy synod decrees that, so that the same observances may be maintained in every diocese, one should offer one’s prayers to the Lord standing.

Catholics in the U.S., for the most part, kneel during the Eucharistic Prayer, as the Church teaches. Doesn’t that contradict the teaching of the first Ecumenical Council?

Nicaea also taught:

On account of the great disturbance and the factions which are caused, it is decreed that the custom, if it is found to exist in some parts contrary to the canon, shall be totally suppressed, so that neither bishops nor presbyters nor deacons shall transfer from city to city. If after this decision of this holy and great synod anyone shall attempt such a thing, or shall lend himself to such a proceeding, the arrangement shall be totally annulled, and he shall be restored to the church of which he was ordained bishop or presbyter or deacon.

Yet, today, obviously Bishops are routinely transferred “from city to city.”

Can you give a Catholic teaching to support or clarify your claim? Thanks.

Do I need to support the fact that God prevented the Biblical authors from making mistakes?

Anyhoo, have you read this?: catholic.com/library/Papal_Infallibility.asp

Yes. The Catholic Church does not teach that Biblical authors were, simply, prevented from making mistakes.

Yes. So?

So you are saying tha God let them make mistakes when they were writing?

Sure. Not only in writing, but in copying and handing on as well.

God did not let them make mistakes regarding the truths necessary for our salvation that God wishes preserved in the Scripture, though (see the Catechism para 106-107).

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