What's the point of Papal Infallibility?

  1. Rome has not written a list of documents to be considered infallible
  2. So, using the criteria written in the first Vatican council (Pastor Aeternus), we must make our own (fallible) judgements as to which documents are infallible
  3. So, any conclusions we reach from those documents are fallible

If so, then what is the reason for Papal Infallibility? If we can’t definitively tell when infallibility was exercised, then why does the it matter?

Wouldn’t that be great! It would make this forum a very different place.

Unfortunately, the list would be nearly impossible to compile due to its potential size.

  1. So, using the criteria written in the first Vatican council (Pastor Aeternus), we must make our own (fallible) judgements as to which documents are infallible

In the short run, yes. In the long run, no. If a matter reaches the point at which the Vatican needs to intervene in a debate to clarify a point of doctrine for the sake of the universal Church, it will.

  1. So, any conclusions we reach from those documents are fallible

If so, then what is the reason for Papal Infallibility? If we can’t definitively tell when infallibility was exercised, then why does the it matter?

See point #2 above.

Oh, and a few things have been defined so clearly as to defy any attempt at “being confused” on the part of those who want to object.

Hope this helps. :tiphat:

Just because they’re not compiled into a single listing doesn’t mean there is no way to check on whether a particular Church teaching is infallible — especially today with internet access to Church documents.

You missed the point of my question. Who would be telling me the document is infallible?

If that person’s recommendation of the document is fallible, then any conclusion I reach from reading the documents is fallible. If so, what’s the point of infallibility?

I’ve seen Catholic theologians estimate the number of infallible documents issued by the pope. Most of the estimates are between 2 and 9.

Aside for the ecumenical councils, what other source of infallibility is there?

From Wikipedia: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infallibility_of_the_Church#Ordinary_and_universal_magisterium:

Ordinary and universal magisterium

The ordinary and universal episcopal magisterium is considered infallible as it relates to a teaching concerning a matter of faith and morals that all the bishops of the Church (including the pope) universally hold as Definitively & only as such therefore needing to be accepted by all the faithful. This aspect of infallibility only applies to teachings about faith and morals as opposed to customs and prudential practices. Additionally, the ordinary and universal episcopal magisterium applies to a teaching to be held definitively by all the bishops at any given moment in history. Such teachings are extremely hard to prove. Thus, even if a teaching on a matter of faith and morals is out of favor among the bishops of a later date, once it has been held definitively by all bishops to be accepted by the faithful as infallible, then it is considered infallible and unchangeably true. However Bishops all agreeing to a teaching to be held inconclusively are not teaching it to be definitive. It must be clearly established to be definitive for all time.


This article might help: ewtn.com/library/doctrine/TRIGINFL.HTM

Simply put, anything that is taught via the *ordinary Magisterium * of the Church, i.e. the catechism, my be considered infallible.

There is only one Church on earth that dares to claim the charism of infallibility. For nearing 2,000 years, it has yet to be disproven.

By denying that it possesses the charism of infallibility, your denomination admits that it can teach you, or lead you into error. Why would you choose that?

Have you read Pator Aeternus? I have, and there is no criteria you mention, nor do any of its articles refer to documents as the object of papal infallibility. The doctrines are what are deemed infallible when the pope exercises this extraordinary charism (and he has only done it two or three times in history).

Which post are you addressing? If mine, I get my info regarding infallible teaching from Fr. John Trigilio and Fr. Kenneth Brighenti, co-authors of Catholicism for Dummies, regarding the “Ordinary Magisterium”, page 80.

Pator AeternusChapter 4, point 9

If you don’t trust the reliability of the person recommending the document because you consider their recommendation fallible, then read the document itself. The language of the document (promulgated by the Pope/Magisterium) lets you know whether or not it is definitive. It will clearly state if it is what the Church teaches. Then you will be placing your trust on what the author/s of the document say – not the words of the fallible one who recommended the document.

As an example, you cited *Pastor Aeternus. * Now, it is very clear! Only someone who has “eyes but do not see” or “ears but do not hear” (cf. Mk 8:18) would say the language is ambiguous.

Most people do not want to take the time and energy to search out the original documents that first defined specific doctrines. And that certainly isn’t necessary. The Church has promulgated Catechisms throughout the years that contain the binding teachings of the Church on faith and morals. Catechisms encyclicals, etc. usually contain footnotes referencing the original texts where the teachings were defined. Those who want to dig deeper – “show me” :slight_smile: – can check out those references.

God is the source of all infallibility. All denials of the infallibility of Scripture or the teaching of the Church is, in Catholic understanding, a denial of God’s infallibility. For an article containing several links to other articles on the subject and the questions you raise, see Fallacies on Infallibility. :wink:

This is a case of infallibility versus liability. Although it is not mentioned today as much as in former ages, the Church teaches and firmly holds that all forms of protestantism are (to a greater or lesser extent) error. Since error is endemic, the very concept of infallibility seems very foreign, almost surreal to those who freely choose beliefs and are known to swap denominations. What is not talked about in protestnatism is the uncomfortable concept of liability - that of being, by definition, subject to falsehood. It seems to be tolerated in bible Christianity, if not accepted or approved of.

James Cardinal Gibbons in his classic 1876 work Faith of our Fathers, raises the often unmentioned, but very salient point:

"If your church is not infallible, it is liable to err, for there is no medium between infallibility and liability to error. If your church and her ministers are fallible in their doctrinal teachings, as they admit, they may be preaching falsehood to you, instead of truth.

If so, you are in doubt whether you are listening to truth or falsehood. If you are in doubt you can have no faith, for faith excludes doubt, and in that state you displease God, for ‘without faith it is impossible to please God’ "

Canon Law teaches that nothing is to be considered infallible unless it is manifestly demonstrated. Considering what Vatican II said about religious submission (“authentic ordinary Magisterium in a non-definitive way, which require degrees of adherence differentiated according to the mind and the will manifested; this is shown especially by the nature of the documents, by the frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or by the tenor of the verbal expression” *Lumen gentium *25), how can one tell the difference between Ordinary Universal acts of the Pope and Authentic acts, since the Popes NEVER say “this is non-infallible, but I’m teaching it anyway”. The distinguishing between extraordinary and simply definite teaching must have happened after Vatican I. It use to be simply called ex cathedra

The criterion for infallibility are laid out in the documents of Vatican I and II, and in explanatory documents by the CDF and other authoritative sources. If the teaching is infallible, it is infallible whether or not we correctly perceive it to be infallible. Our understanding of the Faith is always imperfect, so our understanding of infallible teaching, Scriptures, and tradition may also contain errors. This means we must diligently pursue our study of the Faith, growing in understanding during our lives.

If so, then what is the reason for Papal Infallibility? If we can’t definitively tell when infallibility was exercised, then why does the it matter?

We can dispense with “can’t definitively tell when infallibility was exercised” - we can if we apply ourselves and use the resources available to us.

The reason for infallibility is tied with Jesus’ founding of the Church when He said “Who hears you, hears Me”, promised to send the Holy Spirit to the Church to “be with you until the end of time”, and told his apostles to “go forth and teach all nations”.


Catholics are intended to live by the catechism, the contents of which should be viewed as infallible.

Again, Catholics are little about this, as we are expected to grant assent to the entirety of the teachings of the Church. some areas cannot be infallibly defined, as they call for prudential judgment, i.e. how to serve the poor.

Read Acts 15. “It seemed good to us and to the Holy Spirit” That, my friend, is a scriptural exercise, and scriptural proof of infallibility.

The Catechism is a compendium of teachings and disciplines, ranging from prudential judgments to infallible teachings.

The footnotes for each entry provide the sources, and those sources determine the level of authority which should be attributed to that entry in the Catechism.


To act as a guiding light when antichrist comes.

So when the worst days for us happen the Pope is still infallible.

Matthew 24:23-24 'If anyone says to you then, “Look, here is the Christ,” or “Over here,” do not believe it; for false Christs and false prophets will arise and provide great signs and portents, enough to deceive even the elect, if that were possible.

Here’s the point of papal infallibility and why there doesn’t need to be a list:

Books and copies of papal decrees may be lost and destroyed, etc., etc. We rely on the ordinary and universal Magisterium ordinarily–the constant teaching of the true faith by Popes and bishops in their words, letters, catechisms; the belief and handing on of the faith by the faithful in all times and places; in the Church’s worship and traditions, etc. Our faith is not just a list of papal and concilliar definitions–the Pope’s or a Council’s ability to define the faith is called an extraordinary exercise of the Magisterium for this reason. When the clarity of a truth is cast into doubt (not in the sense that people know what the Church teaches but don’t believe it, but rather in the sense that what the Church actually teaches becomes uncertain) and the ordinary means fail to bring this clarity and unity of faith, it is the duty of the Pope to definitively settle the matter and call all to the unity and clarity of faith, so these truths once again can be handed on by the ordinary means throughout the world for ever and ever. It falls ultimately to one man in order to remove the case of schism–if it fell to many, they could be divided against themselves and it would be impossible to settle which side was on the side of truth unless you knew the truth ahead of time (but the reason appeal is made to a definitive judgment is because the truth is not settled ahead of time).

This is why in his book, the Temporal Mission of the Holy Ghost, Cardinal Manning enunciated this principle:

It should also be noted that there are not just a few papal definitions. At the First Vatican Council, when some bishops wanted to condition papal infallibility on the Pope following some procedure, the relator (charged with providing official explanations of Council documents to the bishops at the Council) said this could not be done, because there were already so many instances with various procedures or even none at all:

But, most eminent and reverend fathers, this proposal simply cannot be accepted because we are not dealing with something new here. Already thousands and thousands of dogmatic judgments have gone forth from the Apostolic See; where is the law which prescribed the form to be observed in such judgments?

Throughout history Popes have often intervened to provide definitive judgments in the areas of faith and morals, sometimes definitively condemning long lists of propositions (e.g. Coelestis Pastor of Bl. Innocent XI, Ex Omnibus Afflictionibus of St. Pius V, Unigenitus of Clement VI, Auctorem Fidei of Pius VI, etc., etc.; each condemned proposition is probably considered an individual judgment by Gasser above accounting for the high number he gives) and sometimes definitively asserting a truth (e.g. like those definitions in Benedictus Deus of Benedict XII, Unam Sanctam of Boniface VIII, the dogmatic letter of St. Agatho, the Tome of St. Leo, etc.).

But again, we don’t need to find a list because the ordinary magisterium of the Church ordinarily suffices.

But if the Pope needs to intervene definitively to bring needed certainty and clarity at that time (either alone or together with his brother bishops), such a judgment can be known by language stating the judgment is definitive and binding on the whole Church. That’s it–it’s very simple. And as Bishop Gasser, noted, it has been done countless times.

Incorrect, The original declaration of infallible documents was declared by Pope Damasis I in A.D. 382. This was the declaration of which books constitute the New Testament.

It matters because, if we are going to rely on The Bible, we have to know infallibly which books are in the bible and this is what was declared infallibly.

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