Who decides if a statement is one related to faith and morals?


I am debating the extent of the pope’s authority/ability to bind Catholics’ beliefs necessary for salvation with two anti-Catholics. We’ve agreed that the pope can only bind Catholics with regard to issues of faith and morals.

The current issue is who decides whether a statement is related to faith and morals? Their point is that the pope is the ultimate authority in theological disputes; therefore, he could decide what is and is not an issue of faith and morals. He could declare whatever he wanted to be an issue of faith and morals, make an infallible statement about that issue, and make Catholics believe something stupid/wrong.

Is there anything that I can use to refute this? Or does it come down to faith that it won’t happen (that argument won’t win me any points)?


I’m pretty sure your idea that the Pope can only bind us in matters of faith and morals. The Pope can also bind us in matters of discipline and government of the Church. Please see Pastor Aeternus:

  1. Wherefore we teach and declare that, by divine ordinance, the Roman Church possesses a pre-eminence of ordinary power over every other Church, and that this jurisdictional power of the Roman Pontiff is both episcopal and immediate. Both clergy and faithful, of whatever rite and dignity, both singly and collectively, are bound to submit to this power by the duty of hierarchical subordination and true obedience, and this not only in matters concerning faith and morals, but also in those which regard the discipline and government of the Church throughout the world



As far as the rest of the argument. The Pope is protected from error in ex cathedra pronouncements (as well as other issues which I won’t get into here). How else would anyone definitively know Truth. If he were not being protected from error than the True Faith would be in error and wouldn’t be the True Faith. Quite simply, it’s not what God promised nor would it be logical.

These might be of some help:


So, we are to take it on faith that the pope won’t sin in declaring a secular point to be one of faith and morals and then going hog wild. Well, I guess that’s not any different than if the pope decided to deliberately introduce error in a matter that is undeniably related to faith and morals.

The answer is “he just wouldn’t” because God protects the Church.



Indeed! Jesus gave Peter the power to bind and to loose. He gave him the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. He promised to be with him until the end of time. Peter and the other Apostles were specifically blessed with the guidance of the Holy Spirit when Jesus breathed on them and said,“Receive the Holy Spirit, whose sin you shall forgive they are forgiven…” Those powers and that authority have been passed down over the centuries to those who were the successors of Peter and the other Apostles. Are your friends ready to say that Jesus lied or that the Apostles were mistaken when they “passed the baton?” Are they ready to say that Jesus and the Holy Spirit would allow the successor of Peter to deceive us?


Well, if you fear the Pope’s infallibility, he has used it about three times over the past 2,000 years. Is that something to be concerned about on issues of faith and morals.

General Councils are another matter. They issue infallible decrees all the time. If you look at Trent, all those ‘anathemas’ had to deal with defined dogmas of the Church. (One of the reasons why modern day Lutherans wanted the anathemas on Justification and Grace against them lifted). Look at the Nicene Creed, and the Apostles Creed - all of what they say is dogma, and the Pope wasn’t the spokesman.

As for the Pope 'issuing defined statements on things not of faith and morals - there is not much chance of that. If he did, we wouldn’t have to follow him in those matters.



“As for the Pope 'issuing defined statements on things not of faith and morals - there is not much chance of that. If he did, we wouldn’t have to follow him in those matters.”

We all agree that if it’s not a matter of faith and morals, Catholics wouldn’t be bound. The question is who decides what is a matter of faith and morals? If it’s the pope, then he could declare that his opinion on astrophysics is matter of faith and morals, and then make up things for Catholics to believe related to astrophysics. Since the pope said it was faith and morals, we’d be bound. I thought there might be something other than “we have faith” that won’t happen that I could point to.

I’m not afraid of infallibility - just want to make sure I’ve got the Catholic position right so I don’t misrepresent it. These people think Catholics have it all wrong. Falling back on “faith” is difficult in such discussions, but if that’s the answer, that’s the answer. : )



We all agree that if it’s not a matter of faith and morals, Catholics wouldn’t be bound.

Again, where do you get this from? Did you read the passage I gave you from Pastor Aeternus? We are also bound to submission and obedience in matters of faith and morals AS WELL as disciplines and governance of the Church.


Please, pretty please- do not try to defend the Church at this point in your spiritual/intellectual walk.

Don’t speak if you dont know something, admit you dont know and move on.

You are clearly lacking a basic formation.

Get your abc’s in first.




And just a few more:

Also, according to P. Hermann, Institutiones Theologiae Dogmaticae (4th ed., Rome: Della Pace, 1908), vol. 1, p. 258:

“The Church is infallible in her general discipline. By the term general discipline is understood the laws and practices which belong to the external ordering of the whole Church. Such things would be those which concern either external worship, such as liturgy and rubrics, or the administration of the sacraments. . . .“If she [the Church] were able to prescribe or command or tolerate in her discipline something against faith and morals, or something which tended to the detriment of the Church or to the harm of the faithful, she would turn away from her divine mission, which would be impossible.”

And from the CE:

[Disciplinary Infallibility] has, however, found a place in all recent treatises on the Church (De Ecclesiâ}. The authors of these treatises decide unanimously in favour of a negative and indirect rather than a positive and direct infallibility, inasmuch as in her general discipline, i. e. the common laws imposed on all the faithful, the Church can prescribe nothing that would be contrary to the natural or the Divine law, nor prohibit anything that the natural or the Divine law would exact. If well understood this thesis is undeniable; it amounts to saying that the Church does not and cannot impose practical directions contradictory of her own teaching.

Thanks, Dave!

closed #13

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.