Understanding infallibility

  1. Is the doctrine limited to only the Pope?
  2. Is it constant and perpetual and applicable to all aspects and actions of the pope? For example if the Pope is merely walking down the street is he infallible at remembering my name if I told it to him 18 years ago? Or is the infallibility linked to specific decisions and actions from the chair of St Peter?
  3. Which elements of the church are subject to infallibility?
  4. How is infallibility invoked?

This video does a better job of talking about it than I can.

Father Barron on Papal Infallibility

  1. Is the doctrine limited to only the Pope?

No, it applies to the Councils as well and also to the ordinary magesterium which means when there is an agreement on faith and morals worldwide amongst the bishops, then that doctrine is infallible.

  1. Is it constant and perpetual and applicable to all aspects and actions of the pope? For example if the Pope is merely walking down the street is he infallible at remembering my name if I told it to him 18 years ago? Or is the infallibility linked to specific decisions and actions from the chair of St Peter?

It is linked to specific decisions when the Pope is speaking with his authority from the seat of Peter, intends for the teaching to be for the whole Church, and is speaking on matters of faith and morals. I.e. his opinion about which way the stock market is going to go is not infallible.

  1. Which elements of the church are subject to infallibility?

Faith and morals.

  1. How is infallibility invoked?

Statements such as we declare and define… If you want a deep understanding of infallibility Ludwig Ott’s “Dogma of Catholicism” is the best source for all of what is considered the Churches infallible teachings. There are about 20 by Popes and as I recall about 300 by councils.

By the way protestants should have no problem with a doctrine of limited infallibility since clearly the writers of scripture were infallible when they wrote scripture.

The pertinent Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraphs might help.

*** The teaching office **
888 Bishops, with priests as co-workers, have as their first task “to preach the Gospel of God to all men,” in keeping with the Lord’s command.415 They are “heralds of faith, who draw new disciples to Christ; they are authentic teachers” of the apostolic faith "endowed with the authority of Christ."416
889 In order to preserve the Church in the purity of the faith handed on by the apostles, Christ who is the Truth willed to confer on her a share in his own infallibility. By a “supernatural sense of faith” the People of God, under the guidance of the Church’s living Magisterium, "unfailingly adheres to this faith."417
890 The mission of the Magisterium is linked to the definitive nature of the covenant established by God with his people in Christ. It is this Magisterium’s task to preserve God’s people from deviations and defections and to guarantee them the objective possibility of professing the true faith without error. Thus, the pastoral duty of the Magisterium is aimed at seeing to it that the People of God abides in the truth that liberates. To fulfill this service, Christ endowed the Church’s shepherds with the charism of infallibility in matters of faith and morals. The exercise of this charism takes several forms:
891 “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 he proclaims by a definitive act a doctrine pertaining to faith or morals. . . . The infallibility promised to the Church is also present in the body of bishops when, together with Peter’s successor, they exercise the supreme Magisterium,” above all in an Ecumenical Council.418 When the Church through its supreme Magisterium proposes a doctrine "for belief as being divinely revealed,"419 and as the teaching of Christ, the definitions "must be adhered to with the obedience of faith."420 This infallibility extends as far as the deposit of divine Revelation itself.421 892 Divine assistance is also given to the successors of the apostles, teaching in communion with the successor of Peter, and, in a particular way, to the bishop of Rome, pastor of the whole Church, when, without arriving at an infallible definition and without pronouncing in a “definitive manner,” they propose in the exercise of the ordinary Magisterium a teaching that leads to better understanding of Revelation in matters of faith and morals. To this ordinary teaching the faithful "are to adhere to it with religious assent"422 which, though distinct from the assent of faith, is nonetheless an extension of it.

Its not unusual for Protestants to confuse infallibility with being sinless.

Just sayin,

Peace
David

PLEASE! Get a copy of Catholicism for Dummies. Great book. Will answer most all questions about the faith.

I know a number who have exercised infallibility when they tell me they are without error that they are going to heaven. :slight_smile:

Read the First Vatican Council…it answers your questions in an authoritative way.

– Nicole

Thank you!

In Vatican ii infallible? If not why?

It is not…because the Pope’s infallible magisterium was not invoked in the course of the Council. An Ecumenical Council is only considered infallible when it is invoked as such ex Cathedra. The Second Vatican Council is, however, still binding upon assent by virtue of religion (not by faith) where it conforms with the traditional teachings of the Church and where it does not contradict any as well.

– Nicole

Nicole, Thanks so much. Can you please explain a few things from that. How does an ecumenical council invoke the holy spirit? How does a catholic know which documents of faith are infallible (is there like a word next to the document)? Further, many catholics here on CAF refer to Vatican II doctrine as though it is not binding to them. They take great effort to ridicule, and reject the Charismatic Renewal and many other elements of Vatican II. Although I’m not really sure CAF was part of Vatican II, none the less, we have quite a bit written against it. How is it binding but not?

An Ecumenical Council is an extraordinary gathering of Bishops, also called a General Council or a Universal Council (if matters concerning faith or morals are settled), which is basically a tool used to combat grave error concerning faith and/or morals. At these Councils, people and their errors (sometimes at the same time, sometimes in a distinct way) are condemned and/or correction is also given. An Ecumenical Council properly speaking is a tool used by the Roman Pontiffs:

[quote="First Vatican Council]The Roman Pontiffs, too, as the circumstances of the time or the state of affairs suggested, sometimes by summoning Ecumenical Councils or consulting the opinion of the churches scattered throughout the world, sometimes by special Synods, sometimes by taking advantage of other useful means afforded by divine providence, defined as doctrines to be held those things which, by God’s help, they knew to be in keeping with Sacred Scripture and the Apostolic Traditions.
[/quote]

The Council does not “invoke” the Holy Spirit, it’s head does:

The Holy Roman Pontiff “invokes” the Holy Spirit when he convokes, celebrates and confirms (as stated in the Council of Florence) the works of these Ecumenical Councils in line with how his infallible magisterium is defined in the First Vatican Council:

[quote=First Vatican Council]We teach and define as a divinely revealed dogma that when the Roman Pontiff speaks EX CATHEDRA, that is, when, 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. So then, should anyone, which God forbid, have the temerity to reject this definition of ours: let him be anathema.

[/quote]

[quote="First Vatican Council]Wherefore, by divine and catholic faith all those things are to be believed which are contained in the Word of God as found in Scripture and Tradition, and which are proposed by the Church as matters to be believed as divinely revealed, whether by her solemn judgment or in her ordinary and universal Magisterium.
[/quote]

There is a hierarchy of truths most aptly laid out in the Second Vatican Council showing that while some pronouncements of the Roman Pontiffs are binding one’s assent of faith, others are only binding upon the religious submission of the intellect and will. What this means philosophically is that these articles to which we give assent by virtue of religion are not believed as if they could not be errant, revoked, or reformed at a later date. This does not mean that we do not form our minds and actions based upon these teachings, merely that we must be docile in this area when and if things change. This also does not give a person the liberty to reject these teaching upon the grounds that they can change in time. These teachings must be adhered to under the pain of mortal sin.

The Holy Father, Pope Paul VI, repeatedly informed the public that he had made no use of his infallible magisterium in defining anything at the Council, but also said that there were things set forth by the Council in “highly authoritative form,” (in Humanae Vitae). This shows conclusively that we are to assent to those teachings which the Second Vatican Council laid out (which do not contradict reason, are not self-contradictory or contradict higher authority; higher authority being those articles which are infallible) by virtue of religion, not by virtue of faith which we use to assent to the articles which are bound under infallible authority.

I have no knowledge of the Charismatic Renewal having anything to do with the Second Vatican Council in the least.

– Nicole

thank you and to all who answered

Whole councils or papal documents are not infallible. Only the parts that fit the criteria. I do not believe there were any statements in Vatican II that fit the criteria though I would have to check. However one must remember that though such statements may not have been made that does not make the council unathoritative or errant. It simply means that no dogmatic clarifications to doctrine were made.

couponfit #12
many catholics here on CAF refer to Vatican II doctrine as though it is not binding to them. They take great effort to ridicule, and reject the Charismatic Renewal and many other elements of Vatican II. Although I’m not really sure CAF was part of Vatican II, none the less, we have quite a bit written against it. How is it binding but not?

Those who do so are either uninformed, or misrepresenting the Council. Here are the facts.

Pastorally inclined like all Councils, Vatican II also developed doctrine profoundly, as the revered Fr John A Hardon, S.J., affirms. Vatican II confirmed that even non infallible doctrine must be received with assent: “This loyal submission of the will and intellect must be given, in a special way, to the authentic teaching authority of the Roman Pontiff, even when he does not speak ex cathedra”…when doctrine is proposed or formulated. Lumen Gentium (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church), 25].

Further, “collegial infallibility…marks a turning point in doctrinal history.” [See *The Catholic Catechism, 1975, Doubleday, p 232-233]. This refers to the bishops around the world when teaching in accord with the Pope; when reflecting historical continuity of teaching; and in an Ecumenical Council when approved by a Pope.

The *Dogmatic Constitution On The Church *#8 (Vatican II) teaches that “The one mediator, Christ, established and ever sustains here on earth His holy Church…(T)his is the sole Church of Christ which in the Creed we profess to be one, holy, catholic and apostolic.” Fr John Hardon, S.J., describes as “unequivocal” (= clearly defined), “for the first time in conciliar history — the Church is not one of many branches.” [See *The Catholic Catechism, 1975, Doubleday, p 213].

This is what Pope John XXIII declared in Opening Vatican II: “the greatest concern of the Ecumenical Council" was that “this certain and unchangeable doctrine, to which the obedience of Faith must be given, be studied thoroughly and explained in the way for which our times are calling…but nevertheless with the same meaning and the same sense.”

The present Pope places Vatican II in its rightful place:
"It must be stated that Vatican II is upheld by the same authority as Vatican I and the Council of Trent, namely, the Pope and the College of Bishops in communion with him, and that also with regard to its contents, Vatican II is in strictest continuity with both previous councils and incorporates their texts word for word in decisive points…

"I am convinced that the damage that we have incurred in these twenty years is due, not to the ‘true’ Council, but to the unleashing within the Church of latent polemical and centrifugal forces; and outside the Church it is due to the confrontation with a cultural revolution in the West: the success of the upper middle class, the new ‘tertiary bourgeoisie’, with its liberal-radical ideology of individualistic, rationalistic and hedonistic stamp. The cardinal exhorts all Catholics who wish to remain such "to return to the authentic texts of the original Vatican II.

“Whoever denies Vatican II denies the authority that upholds the other two Councils [Trent and Vatican I] and thereby detaches them from their foundation. To defend the true tradition of the Church today means to defend the Council. And this today of the Church is the documents of Vatican II, without reservations that amputate them and without arbitrariness that distorts them.” The Ratzinger Report, Ignatius, 1985, p 28-31].

Dear sister Nicole,

The Pope’s infallible Magisterium has nothing to do with the infallibility of an Ecumenical Council.

The definition of “papal infallibility” given by Vatican 1 is not applicable to the infallibility of an Ecumenical Council.

The infallibility of an Ecumenical Council is COLLEGIAL through and through. The Ecumenical Council is not infallible because the Pope is infallible. Rather, the WHOLE COUNCIL AS SUCH is infallible. The Pope can be in error in an Ecumenical Council and be corrected by his brother bishops. The Council AS A WHOLE will still teach correctly because the WHOLE COUNCIL is under the protection of the Holy Spirit.

Blessings,
Marduk

Dear sister Nicole,

Perhaps you are unaware that the charism of infallibility is not always used by the Church to DEFINE something. Infallibility is also utilized by the Church in her handing down of the day-to-day teaching of Sacred Tradition that is for the most part never challenged.

When the Church utilizes infallibility to DEFINE something (i,e, the bishops are JUDGES of the content of Sacred Tradition), it is known as an exercise of the EXTRAORDINARY Magisterium.

When the Church utilizes infallibility simply to faithfully hand down the Truth (i.e., the bishops are WITNESSES to the content of Sacred Tradition), it is known as an exercise of the ORDINARY (and universal) Magisterium.

Normally, we say that we give the assent of faith to those things defined by the infallible EXTRAordinary Magisterium, while we give religious submission to those things handed down by the infallible ORDINARY (and universal) Magisterium. But make no mistake about it - infallibility is being utilized in both cases.

Blessings,
Marduk

mardukm #17
The infallibility of an Ecumenical Council is COLLEGIAL through and through. The Ecumenical Council is not infallible because the Pope is infallible. Rather, the WHOLE COUNCIL AS SUCH is infallible.

The supreme primacy of the Pope extends to Ecumenical Councils, and the Pope may refuse to confirm any statement of an Ecumenical Council.

ewtn.com/library/ISSUES/DISSIDEN.TXT
Dr. Warren Carroll of Christendom College explains: “The Church and popes, subsequent to the Council of Trent, have all upheld the doctrine that the pope is superior over councils, and must approve the decrees of a council to make them binding. This position is firmly maintained by the great nineteenth-century German historian of the councils, Karl Joseph Hefele, and the great Austrian historian of the papacy, Ludwig von Pastor. It is denied by many twentieth-century scholars. The general case for the supreme authority of the pope over the last two thousand years is exceedingly strong beginning all the way back with the letter of Pope St. Clement I to the Corinthians in approximately 95 A.D.”

ewtn.com/library/ISSUES/DISSIDEN.TXT
“The Council of Constance, 1415-18, followed a difficult time of schism. Fearing to reignite the schism, Martin V ratified the work of the council regarding heresy, but withheld approval of Frequens and Sacrosancta, which declared the Council superior to the Pope.”

#18
When the Church utilizes infallibility to DEFINE something (i,e, the bishops are JUDGES of the content of Sacred Tradition), it is known as an exercise of the EXTRAORDINARY Magisterium.

Incorrect.
Vatican Council II and the post-conciliar Magisterium have explicitly affirmed that both ecclesial and papal infallibility extend to the secondary doctrinal truths necessary for guarding and expounding revelation. Thus *Humanae Vitae *(Encyclical) against contraception, and *Ordinatio Sacerdotalis *(Apostolic Epistle) on male-only priests, contain infallible definitions of the ordinary Magisterium, to remove all doubt.

Normally, we say that we give the assent of faith to those things defined by the infallible EXTRAordinary Magisterium, while we give religious submission to those things handed down by the infallible ORDINARY (and universal) Magisterium. But make no mistake about it - infallibility is being utilized in both cases.

Incorrect.
The CCC #88 (1997) clearly combines exactly with Pope John Paul’s Motu Proprio (= on his own authority) Apostolic Letter Ad Tuendam Fidem, 1998, which requires the assent of divine and Catholic faith to believe (credenda sunt) dogmas (a category one truth) (Canon #750.1); and a category 2 truth requires the assent of ecclesial faith, as a secondary truth, “proposed definitively” (definitive proponuntur) to be “firmly embraced and held” (now Canon 750.2). In fact, the 1983 revision of Canon Law had replaced in #749.3 “dogmatically declared or defined” with “infallibly defined”, thus NOT expressing a limitation of infallibility to dogmas.

So both the dogmas and the infallible (definitive) doctrines that are secondary truths, require an assent of faith, though there is a distinction between theological faith and ecclesial faith. The category 3 truths are non-definitive (non-infallible) and require intellectual assent (“loyal submission of the will and intellect”, *Lumen Gentium 25), not an assent of faith. [See the Explanatory Note on ATF by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith]

From HOORGANVISOR

Was the Pope infalible when he declared earth was the center of the universe when he wasclearly wrong? Were the Popes that supported the Inquisition right to kill Christians even though they had more knowledge of the Bible than Catholics were allowed to know? Also, were the Popes that wanted to prevent Christians from having Bibles in their languages infalible when the Bible clearly instructs Christians to study God’s Word? And do you really think God approved of funding the church by having nuns being turned into prostitutes and “tickets out of Purgatory” being sold which turned Luther against the church? And what about the Pope’s approval of Nazis being sent to South America to escape justice?

The infalibility of the Pope throughout the ages doesn’t stand up to facts and history. If I were to tell people I were inflaible if I were the Pope and I believed God didn’t exist, would that mean God didn’t exist because I was believed to be infalible?

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.