What if the Catholic Church isn't "infallible," but is still the one true Church?

[INDENT]Either the Catholic Church is infallible, or it isn’t. And by my saying the Church is infallible, I mean that its teachings are protected from error.

But if the Church is not infallible, then that means the Church’s own definition of infallibility could be… fallible.

Nevertheless, the Catholic Church could still be Christ’s original church. The Pope could still be the successor of Peter. The Church could still be guided by the Holy Spirit.

But maybe our understanding of infallibility has been too exaggerated over the years. We have very specific guidelines for how we are to know some teaching is actually, truly infallible. Sometimes, though, these guides have seemed to legalistic or too specific. How do we know the Pope will be protected from error when he addresses the entire Church in faith or morals, ex cathedra? How do we know a teaching is guaranteed true just because all or most of the bishops happen to be in agreement? Etc

Any serious thoughts?

EDIT: Sometimes I have been “tempted” :wink: to think like some Christians do: They may acknowledge that the Holy Spirit has guided the church through the ages; they may say God has had a role in the office of the papacy, in the great councils of the church, in the formation of the scriptures, etc. But sometimes I think, like they do, that there is no strict guarantee of absolute certainty on a matter of teaching.
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[INDENT]How has it been exaggerated?

Any serious thoughts?

[/INDENT]If the Church is not infallible, it is not Christ’s original Church.

Explain. Because many Christians would not take that statement as necessarily true.

If the Catholic Church is not able to practice infallibility, then Jesus Christ lied to Peter…

…or the Jewish understanding of infallibility has been flawed and the laws of the OT are wrong.

It’s a strong claim that you are making.

I think the importance of infallibility has been exaggerated. There’s really no reason why the guy in the pew should care. We are expected to follow ALL Church teaching.

We have very specific guidelines for how we are to know some teaching is actually, truly infallible.

What guidelines we have are fairly recent (Vatican-1, 1869) and actually only apply to Papal teachings. Some people extrapolate these guidelines to Ecumenical Councils, and they’re probably correct, but it’s speculation.

How do we know the Pope will be protected from error when he addresses the entire Church in faith or morals, ex cathedra?

Well, the Pope has only ever done that twice, so it doesn’t really come up very often. (some people speculate that Humanae Vitae (Pope Paul-6, 1968) is infallible, and it probably is, but the Church has not confirmed this, and we can’t just get our Kaptian Katholik VatiKan 1 ChecKlist and decide for ourselves)

How do we know a teaching is guaranteed true just because all or most of the bishops happen to be in agreement?

We don’t. No Ecumenical Council is recognized by the Church as infallible. Probably all of them are, but the Magesterium has not confirmed this. And our Vatikan-1 Checklist would not even apply, since it is specific to the Pope. We don’t know the criteria for infallibility of an Ecumenical Council. Nobody knows. It doesn’t matter.

FWIW, there’s no rule about a “majority” of Bishops being present at an Ecumenical Council. Some Councils have had only a handful of Bishops. The Ecumenical Council of Florence (Basil) had only a few Bishops (and some sources claim that no Bishops were present when the Council was opened). At best, 10% of Bishops attended.

I think, like they do, that there is no strict guarantee of absolute certainty on a matter of teaching.

For the most part, there is no such certainty. But there’s no reason why the guy in the pew should care. Who really cares (outside of a few theologians) whether Humanae Vitae is infallible or not? It’s no more or less binding on the Faithful. If the Church defined it as infallible, the ONLY effect would be to shut the door on any speculation that parts of it will be rescinded.

Thought exercise - substitute the above sentence: If God is not infallible, then that means God’s own definition of infallibility could be fallible.

So, how would you go about accepting whether God is infallible?

Either it is the True Church and is infallible, Or it isn’t the true church

The word True and not fallible are opposites.

Either it is the True Church.guided by Jesus infallibly or it isn’t.

Jesus told St Peter the first Pope “I will bind what you bind, and loose what you loose.”
St Paul one.of the first Bishops said, “The Spirit speaketh on our behalf.”

This is one of the most enlightening articles I’ve ever read on Papal infallibility. catholic.com/tracts/papal-infallibility

Hmmm… I must admit I don’t understand why Catholics teach that their church is always infallible. I can understand teaching that its TRUE, but I just can’t comprehend a belief that it was always true, on every minor and major doctrinal point, throughout all history. It would seem improbable, even for a church guided by the Holy Spirit, for even Godly men are fallible, and liable to err in one way or another. Most of the churches I know believe they are correct, but embrace at least the hypothetical possibility that they could be wrong about, say, their interpretation of Genesis and that if the Holy Spirit corrects them, they will change their doctrine. So possibly my viewpoint won’t be of help to you, but I will give it anyway.

I think there are two questions here, really:

One is “can it be fallible and still always be in alignment with a hypothetical ‘True Church’ that has no doctrinal error at all”? The other is “can it be infallible and still Christian, that is, in a state of grace, salvation, and unity with God”?

In the first case, the answers you have thus received are obviously correct. You cannot be both fallible and always true, just as you cannot be false and infallible. The one precludes the other. A church that is wrong in one doctrinal point is fallible and thus not in alignment with the actual truth on the matter.

That being said, your real question seems to be about whether it can be the “true church.” If I understand correctly, what you meant when you said “true church” was something like what C. S. Lewis meant when he referred to “the Church…spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners.” That is, you appear to be wondering whether it is still the Church Christ calls His own – the True Church, not those temporal and spacial constructs we spend our time praying and worshiping in, but the true, timeless Bride itself, the sum of all those who are truly “in Christ”. Am I correct in this assessment?

Then, your question seems to become – supposing a) that this particular church is fallible on some point, and b) that we look at the Christians who are in unity with this church, would these believers, who are in unity with this fallible church, really be in unity with God? That depends on the doctrinal error, obviously. An error about God and Jesus and salvation is of a higher nature, an error about baptism and so forth of a lower nature, an error about what is sin somewhat lower, and error about some interpretation of what prophecy means lower still, etc. (I give these only as very rough examples.) Those of the higher error are deadly or dangerous, those of the medium pressing, but unlikely to kill, and those of the least of minor of little consequence.

I think it probable that God does not expect his followers to be infallible on all points of teaching, such as what exactly happens when we baptize, or what exactly he meant we should do in this particular situation, or whether or not a particular act is sinful, so long as they put their faith and trust in him and follow his commandments. No one is perfect, neither in good deed nor in knowledge of what it truly means to be good. Thus, I hold that one can be in union with a potentially fallible church, but still part of the “True Church” of the saved, so long as the error is not a deadly one that prevents them from coming to a true understanding of God. [Interestingly, if I am not mistaken, this is also the teaching of the Catholic church, correct?]

Thus, even if the Catholic church is wrong on some matter (which you haven’t actually argued), assuming that they make no deadly error in doctrine, any Christian truly aligned with their teaching (and hence, with God) is part of the True Church.

Does this answer your question?

P.S. Looking back at your definition of Infallible, I see that you said it means “protection from error.” I’m assuming that you meant absolute protection, such that no error can be made, rather than protection from serious error, or merely guidance that keeps the church from straying too far from the True path.

If infallibility is the guarantee of the Holy Spirit, what difference does all of history or the fallibility of men have to do with it? Right? The Spirit isn’t going to run out of steam if some amount of “too much” time elapses. Nor if the Spirit must protect one man or ten thousand. Right?

So, you suspect that the Holy Spirit is fallible?

Fair point. But if the Spirit could compel Christians to do *whatever *God willed, would there be any sin?.

God can force someone to believe something, true, but I don’t think he ultimately does. Nor is the force of the Holy Spirit always obvious; even in the very holy, it does not always bring about the fullness of truth. Similarly, God does not compel us through the Holy Spirit to not sin, though he obviously could. Does that make sense?

Anyway, please don’t get hung up on that, as I said. I was not arguing for that position, simply stating my feelings.

What do you think of my final point? Ignoring the question of the Catholic Church’s fallibility, Can any particular church as an organization be fallible and still “the True Church” (or part of it) as I defined? :slight_smile:

From a Catholic perspective, infallibility is only a protection on matters of faith or morals, so it is not a protection from sin.

To your question, my first thought is that theoretically a Church could still be the true Church without infallibility. For instance, in OT law, a woman was considered ritually impure during menstruation, and needed sin offering (Lev 15:28-30). Or how Jesus admitted Moses allowed divorce because of hardened hearts (Matt 19:8). Despite this, the Rabbis and Jews truly constituted God’s chosen people, the precursor to the NT Church. (Let me also add: there were even signs of God’s protection of the teaching of the high priest at other times too, such as the high priest’s prophesy in John 11:51.)

But, I digress from it being a theoretical possibility, because the question is not “can” a true Church be fallible. The question is: “Does” divine revelation reveal that infallibility was given to the NT Church? I would submit, yes for a variety of reasons.

Would you say the early Church exercised infallibility when determining which books belonged to divinely inspired Scripture?

“can any particular church as an organization be fallible”??? That’s such a general statement, it’s almost leading in nature. Is there an answer you are just waiting to hear and no one has said it yet?

No… :blush:

I was just clarifying that the church as an organization is distinct from the church composed of believers, on the basis that not everyone in any one organization is saved, even if that organization is teaching the truth (I know that not all who call themselves “Catholic” or “Christian” really follow what the church says or understand it). Not meant to be leading, just being careful with definitions.

Also, that’s not the full question. It’s not asking IS the Catholic Church fallible, its asking, is it possible for any particular fallible church (even, say, my own church) to be in alignment with God despite fallibility?

So sorry about that… :frowning:

Ok.You would know far better than I.

Good Biblical references! I felt like my post needed more Biblical support, but I couldn’t remember any specific verses to turn to. Its good that some people know what they are talking about, at least! :slight_smile:

I was not trying to attack the Catholic Church doctrine on any point, just pointing out that even a flawed church can still be a true member of the body, thus answering the original question. Thus, the questioner need not be concerned on this account.

Yes, but I do not believe all further teachings have been so inspired, nor that all teachings of those times were necessarily inspired; indeed, I would argue that the farther we get from Christ, the more potential for error. I also hold that traditions, while in many ways useful, have a tendency to accumulate over time even when they are unnecessary. The Jews of Jesus’ time, for example, held to many beliefs that they tacked on in addition to the scripture. These traditions, while not bad, helped to dilute the message. Thus, I hold that tradition is corruptible and subject to error, while the word as canonized is not. If and when the two contradict, I will hold to the elder and more properly basic of the two. Also, I believe some tradition is not inspired, merely man made, if useful. As an example, Christmas trees are traditional, but should not be regarded as required. But enough of Protestant opinions; this is a Catholic site, I will let you have the last word. Sorry for making this about something other than the main question…

The Church is not infallible in everything She says and does. No magisterial document makes such a claim.

The Church has two types of authority:

  1. Spiritual – the teaching authority, also called the Magisterium, which issues doctrines
  2. Temporal – authority over discipline; judgments of the prudential order

The teaching authority issues doctrines, which are either infallible doctrines (also called dogmas) or non-infallible doctrines. Only infallible doctrines have the protection of the Holy Spirit from all error. The non-infallible doctrines allow for a limited possibility of error, though never to the extent of leading the faithful away from the path of salvation.

Infallible teachings require the full assent of faith, also called the assent of divine and catholic faith, or theological assent (because it is an exercise of the theological virtue of faith).

Three types of magisterial teachings are infallible:

  1. solemn definitions of the Pope (Papal Infallibility)
  2. solemn definitions of an Ecumenical Council
  3. teachings of the ordinary and universal Magisterium

Ecumenical Councils are not per se infallible, but they can teach infallibly. The idea that the Popes have only used papal infallibility twice is a minority theological opinion. Most theologians who consider the matter (including Ratzinger) have listed many different teachings.

Vatican II, LG 25: “Although the individual bishops do not enjoy the prerogative of infallibility, they nevertheless proclaim Christ’s doctrine infallibly whenever, even though dispersed through the world, but still maintaining the bond of communion among themselves and with the successor of Peter, and authentically teaching matters of faith and morals, they are in agreement on one position as definitively to be held.(40*) This is even more clearly verified when, gathered together in an ecumenical council, they are teachers and judges of faith and morals for the universal Church, whose definitions must be adhered to with the submission of faith.(41*)”

Vatican I: “8. 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.”

Canon Law: “749 §2. The college of bishops also possesses infallibility in teaching when the bishops gathered together in an ecumenical council exercise the magisterium as teachers and judges of faith and morals who declare for the universal Church that a doctrine of faith or morals is to be held definitively; or when dispersed throughout the world but preserving the bond of communion among themselves and with the successor of Peter and teaching authentically together with the Roman Pontiff matters of faith or morals, they agree that a particular proposition is to be held definitively.”

There is no logical reason I can see why the Catholic Church cannot remain the true Church even if its teaching on infallibility cannot be infallibly demonstrated.
Obviously the Jewish Religion had pride of place in that regard for 2000 years (until Jesus was rejected) and they don’t seem to have had any strong teaching on Head Priest or Sanhedrinic Infallibility.

Personally I have never seen a good demonstration of how we would even know with certainty that this relatively recent explicit teaching is infallible.

To do that we would have to have certainty that the authority who proclaimed this infallible teaching was itself infallible and actually meant what we understand today by “infallible”.

There are Scriptural texts that certainly are consistent with this modern day teaching.
But extending that to say they clearly and objectively proclaim only the teaching we understand today is a whole different ball-game.

There are many ways of interpreting these texts and the way we Catholics interpret them does not seem to be the obvious literal meaning of them.

So then we get into the argument over who has infallible authority to interpret the Scriptural verses on infallibility…
On and on it goes as we fall down this rabbit hole … and it seems impossible to ever find solid bedrock on which we can confidently stand from what I can see.

Can one still be a Catholic and not agree with the Church’s alleged Infallibility?
I think so. Its logically consistent.
If we say the teaching itself is not certain it will therefore be a fallible teaching and disagreeing with it is not necessarily denying God Himself.
Of course one may face disciplinary action for publicly denying the party-line - but that is another matter.

Correct. Just like a Pope is not infallible per se, he MAY teach infallibly. But we know the criteria for any Papal teaching to be infallible. We do not know if this also applies to Ecumenical Councils. I think it does, but that’s just my opinion.

The idea that the Popes have only used papal infallibility twice is a minority theological opinion. Most theologians who consider the matter (including Ratzinger) have listed many different teachings.

Yes, but they do so in their capacity as private theologians. They do not claim to speak for the Magesterium.

Can. 749 §3. No doctrine is understood as defined infallibly unless this is manifestly evident.

Unfortunately, we have no criteria for “manifestly evident.” The only criteria by which everyone may agree is if the Magesterium TELLS US that a teaching is infallible in nature. And this has only happened twice.

It is the opinion of many theologians (and I happen to agree) that Humanae Vitae is infallible. I check five out of five boxes on my Vatikan-1 checklist. But I have no authority to say “Humanae Vitae is infallibly promulgated.” Ratzinger doesn’t have this authority either (unless he is acting as Benedict-16).

But it doesn’t matter whether or not Humanae Vitae is infallible. If Pope Francis told us tomorrow that it is, nothing would change. It doesn’t matter.

The Church does not have authority because She may teach infallibly. She may teach infallibly because She has authority.

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