Infallibility of the Church

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The infallibility of the Church is the belief that the Holy Spirit preserves the Christian Church from errors that would contradict its essential doctrines. It is related to, but not the same as, indefectible, that is, "she remains and will remain the Institution of Salvation, founded by Christ, until the end of the world." [1] The doctrine of infallibility is premised on the authority Jesus granted to the apostles to "bind and loose" (Mat 18:18; John 20:23) and particularly the promises to Peter (Mat 16:16–20; Luke 22:32) in regard to papal infallibility.

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Infallibility of the ecumenical councils

The doctrine of the infallibility of ecumenical councils states that solemn definitions of ecumenical councils, approved by the Pope, which concern faith or morals, and to which the whole Church must adhere, are infallible. Such decrees are often labeled as canons, and they often have an attached anathema, a penalty of excommunication, against those who refuse to believe the teaching. The doctrine does not claim that every aspect of every ecumenical council is infallible.

The Roman Catholic Church holds this doctrine, [2] as do most or all Eastern Orthodox theologians. However, the Orthodox churches accept only the Seven Ecumenical Councils from Nicaea I to Nicaea II as genuinely ecumenical, while Roman Catholics accept twenty-one. Only a very few Protestants believe in the infallibility of ecumenical councils, and these usually restrict infallibility to the Christological statements of the first seven councils. Lutheran Christians recognize the first four councils, [3] whereas most High Church Anglicans accept all seven as persuasive but not infallible. [4]

A popular view among Orthodox Christians, especially Greek Orthodox and Churches that fall within the Ecumenical Patriarchate, is that an ecumenical council is itself infallible when pronouncing on a specific matter such as Christology, [5] whereas others hold that a council can be considered of full ecumenical authority only once its declarations have been embraced by the faithful, an opinion more common among the Slavic Churches, such as the Russian Orthodox.

Catholic Church

Catholicism teaches that Jesus Christ, "the Word made Flesh" (John 1:14), is the source of divine revelation. The Second Vatican Council states, "For this reason Jesus perfected revelation by fulfilling it through His whole work of making Himself present and manifesting Himself: through His words and deeds, His signs and wonders, but especially through His death and glorious resurrection from the dead and final sending of the Spirit of truth." ( Dei verbum , 4). The content of Christ's divine revelation is called the deposit of faith, and is contained in both sacred scripture and sacred tradition, not as two sources but as a single source. [6]

The magisterium (Latin: magister, "teacher") is the teaching office of the Catholic Church. Catholic theology divides the functions of the teaching office into two categories: the infallible sacred magisterium and the fallible ordinary magisterium. The infallible sacred magisterium includes the extraordinary declarations of the pope speaking ex cathedra and of ecumenical councils (traditionally expressed in conciliar creeds, canons, and decrees). Examples of infallible extraordinary papal definitions (and, hence, of teachings of the sacred magisterium) are Pope Pius IX's definition of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, and Pope Pius XII's definition of the Assumption of Mary. Before these definitions both sovereign pontiffs asked the bishops throughout the world whether these truths were indeed held by the faithful. Nowhere is it said that the Pope's charism involves special revelations, and the Pope must ascertain whether a belief is universally maintained before speaking ex cathedra on it. The above two instances of infallible definition outside an ecumenical council are the only two that can be cited in the history of the Catholic church.

A document signed by then-Cardinal Ratzinger and Cardinal Bertone speaks of

... the more recent teaching regarding the doctrine that priestly ordination is reserved only to men. The Supreme Pontiff, while not wishing to proceed to a dogmatic definition, intended to reaffirm that this doctrine is to be held definitively, since, founded on the written Word of God, constantly preserved and applied in the Tradition of the Church, it has been set forth infallibly by the ordinary and universal Magisterium. As the prior example illustrates, this does not foreclose the possibility that, in the future, the consciousness of the Church might progress to the point where this teaching could be defined as a doctrine to be believed as divinely revealed. [7]

Notable here is the confirmation that the sensus fidelium is critical in determining whether a doctrine can be called infallible teaching.

Of the ordinary magisterium, the Second Vatican Council said: "Bishops, teaching in communion with the Roman Pontiff, are to be respected by all as witnesses to divine and Catholic truth. In matters of faith and morals, the bishops speak in the name of Christ and the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent." [8] The ordinary magisterium includes the potentially fallible teachings of the pope and ecumenical Councils (i.e., not given ex cathedra) and, more commonly, of individual Bishops or groups of Bishops as taken separately from the whole College of Bishops. Such teachings are fallible and could possibly contain errors; they are subject to revisions or revocation. In the case of the teachings of individual bishops to their diocese, there can of course even be disagreement among the individual bishops on such issues. However, these potentially fallible teachings are necessary to contribute to the development of doctrine.

Example of ordinary magisterium includes the social teachings of recent popes or theological opinions that the Popes or bishops make public. Catholics are not free to merely dismiss such teachings. The Church demands a "submission of the intellect and will" to them, even if not supernatural faith. However, this is to varying degrees depending on a variety of things, especially when teachers disagree. Catholics must respectfully hear all opinions from equal authorities and judge which is best, makes more sense, and is more consonant with the tradition of the whole history of the Church. However, the use of a higher level of authority trumps past disagreement—for example, if a pope condemns the teaching of a bishop (even if both the condemnation and the teaching are fallible), or if an infallible teaching disagrees with a past fallible teaching. Catholics are free to weigh a variety of factors, however, in judging divergent opinions. In the end all must follow their own, well-formed conscience.

Infallible teachings can be divided into two categories of precedence. The highest are called de fide credenda teachings, that is to say teachings defined as explicitly and specifically revealed in the deposit of faith: "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." (First Vatican Council, Dei Filius 8.) The other category are called de fide tenenda teachings. These are equally infallible but are proposed not as being explicitly in the deposit of faith, but nevertheless implied by it or intrinsically connected to it logically or historically. These too demand supernatural faith, but not specifically in themselves on the authority of the Word of God. Further discernment may lead to the conclusion that a de fide tenenda teaching is not merely implied by the deposit of faith, but explicitly contained and thus it may advance to de fide credenda status.

Both extraordinary definitions and the universal magisterium may teach de fide credenda or de fide tenenda teachings. An example of de fide credenda teachings taught by extraordinary definition are the Christological teachings of the early ecumenical councils or the Marian dogmas of the Immaculate Conception and Assumption taught by the popes.

An example of de fide credenda teachings taught by infallible ordinary and universal magisterium include the immorality of directly taking an innocent human life.

Examples of de fide tenenda teachings taught by extraordinary definition include the canonizations of saints and Pope Leo XIII's declaration of Anglican orders as null and void (so-called "dogmatic facts"). Neither of these could advance to de fide credenda status as they are contingent on historical facts. However, certain teachings on grace and justification from the Council of Trent, currently regarded as infallible but only de fide tenenda due to disagreement about whether they are explicitly contained in the deposit of faith or merely logically implied, could someday advance to de fide credenda status either through extraordinary definition or through the consensus of the universal magisterium.

An opinion from a former member of the Congregation For the Doctrine of the Faith, Ratzinger holds Examples of de fide tenenda teachings taught by infallible ordinary and universal magisterium include the validity of papal elections, earlier non-papal canonizations now universally accepted (of St. Agnes, for example), or the immorality of pornography. However, none of these could advance to de fide credenda status as they are contingent on historical facts or developments, as for example pornography is condemned, and infallibly so, but is likely not included specifically in the deposit of faith (there was no such concept at the time), but is nevertheless an infallibly discerned implication of the more general revealed teachings on human sexuality and chastity. However, certain teachings taught in such a manner may someday advance to de fide credenda status, either through extraordinary definition or the consensus of the ordinary universal magisterium. As, for example, the teaching on papal infallibility was infallibly taught for a long time de fide tenenda by the universal magisterium, but not de fide credenda until the extraordinary definition at Vatican I, because there was disagreement on whether it was a specifically revealed truth from the deposit of faith or merely the logical implication of other things in the deposit of faith (as, for example, the authority of Saint Peter in the college of apostles, the constitution of the Church, her unity, her episcopal structure, etc.)

Pope

The doctrine of papal infallibility states that when the pope teaches ex cathedra his teachings are infallible and irreformable. Such infallible papal decrees must be made by the pope, in his role as leader of the whole Church, and they must be definitive decisions on matters of faith and morals which are binding on the whole Church. An infallible decree by a pope is often referred to as an ex cathedra statement. This type of infallibility falls under the authority of the sacred magisterium.

The doctrine of papal infallibility was formally defined at the First Vatican Council in 1870, although belief in this doctrine long predated this council and was premised on the promises of Jesus to Peter, promises to Peter (Mat 16:16-20; Luke 22:32). [9] The encyclicals of the First Vatican Council, however were rejected by a small minority of bishops who separated themselves from union with the Bishop or Rome to form, or preserve, the Old Catholic Church.

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 definitive and 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 was attempted to be thoroughly done and documented in the case of several statements contained in Evangelium vitae.

Eastern Orthodox Church

The Eastern Orthodox Churches also believe in apostolic succession through which Christ promised to preserve the Church from teaching error. This grace and authority, however, does not make any of the bishops being individually infallible, however, but rather means that, in consensus, in combined agreement, they are charged with preserving the universal faith from error. Thus the Orthodox Church does not use the term "infallible" to discuss the works of any bishop or council. Orthodox Christians regard the concept of infallibility to be uniquely Western and therefore avoid the use of defining or terming even Ecumenical Councils as infallible. Ecumenical Councils are felt, in the East, to be a continuation of the apostolic faith, and that the apostolic faith does not change. However, it also believes that not every council that proclaims itself ecumenical is so in fact. The Orthodox would also not accept the infallibility of the ordinary and universal magisterium.[ citation needed ]

Anglicanism

The Church of England claimed this type of authority over the people of England, but the idea is no longer popular within the church, owing to a lack of commonly-accepted traditions and to disputes as to some peripheral doctrines. However, Anglicanism holds to a unique ecclesiology: in the Anglican view, the ancient and historic churches (such as the Anglican, Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Oriental churches) that maintained apostolic succession, belief, and practice are all branches of the Universal Church and there will always be a section of this tripartite church which will not fall into major heresy. [10]

Protestant Denominations

A common defining belief of Protestant denominations is a rejection of the idea that any church leaders (popes, bishops, priests, or elders) are preserved from teaching error, or conversely are infallible in their interpretations of Scripture, and that believers are not therefore obligated to accept "infallible" doctrines which they, in good conscience, do not believe are supported by Scripture.

Tradition and scripture

Catholics, Orthodox, and some Anglicans believe that divine revelation (the one "Word of God") is contained both in the words of God in sacred scripture and in the deeds of God in sacred tradition. Everything asserted as true by either scripture or tradition is true and infallible.

This plan of revelation is realized by deeds and words having an inner unity: the deeds wrought by God in the history of salvation manifest and confirm the teaching and realities signified by the words, while the words proclaim the deeds and clarify the mystery contained in them. By this revelation then, the deepest truth about God and the salvation of man shines out for our sake in Christ, who is both the mediator and the fullness of all revelation.

Second Vatican Council, Dei verbum, n. 2

Yves Congar, who thought Catholics could acknowledge a substantial element of truth in sola scriptura, wrote that "we can admit sola scriptura in the sense of a material sufficiency of canonical Scripture. This means that Scripture contains, in one way or another, all truths necessary for salvation." This has led to the tenable position of the "two modes" theory. [11]

In his book, James F. Keenan reports studies by some academics. A study by Bernard Hoose states that claims to a continuous teaching by the Church on matters of sexuality, life and death, and crime and punishment are "simply not true." After examining seven medieval texts about homosexuality, Mark Jordan argues that, "far from being consistent, any attempt to make a connection among the texts proved impossible." He calls the tradition's teaching of the Church "incoherent". Karl-Wilhelm Merks considers that tradition itself is "not the truth guarantor of any particular teaching." Keenan, however, says that studies of "manualists" such as John T. Noonan Jr. has demonstrated that, "despite claims to the contrary, manualists were co-operators in the necessary historical development of the moral tradition." Noonan, according to Keenan, has provided a new way of viewing at "areas where the Church not only changed, but shamefully did not." [12]

Consequences for ecumenism

The Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Oriental Orthodox Churches, and the various Protestant denominations are divided by their different views on infallibility. The ecumenical movement, which hopes to reunify all of Christianity, has found that the papacy is one of the most divisive of issues between churches. Infallibility has often been misunderstood by most Christian denominations. [13] Infallibility cannot be understood properly unless a sound comprehension of the administration and theology of each Christian group has first been understood. For example, many Protestants and Eastern Orthodox believers have the belief that papal infallibility refers to papal impeccability (meaning that the pope cannot sin). This, however, is not the teaching of papal infallibility. [14] [15]

See also

Related Research Articles

Ecumenical council conference of ecclesiastical dignitaries and theological experts convened to discuss and settle matters of Church doctrine and practice

An Ecumenical Council is a conference of ecclesiastical dignitaries and theological experts convened to discuss and settle matters of Church doctrine and practice in which those entitled to vote are convoked from the whole world (oikoumene) and which secures the approbation of the whole Church.

First Vatican Council synod

The First Vatican Council was convoked by Pope Pius IX on 29 June 1868, after a period of planning and preparation that began on 6 December 1864. This, the twentieth ecumenical council of the Catholic Church, held three centuries after the Council of Trent, opened on 8 December 1869 and adjourned on 20 October 1870. Unlike the five earlier general councils held in Rome, which met in the Lateran Basilica and are known as Lateran councils, it met in the Vatican Basilica, hence its name. Its best-known decision is its definition of papal infallibility.

Ultramontanism

Ultramontanism is a clerical political conception within the Catholic Church that places strong emphasis on the prerogatives and powers of the Pope.

Sola Scriptura is a theological doctrine held by some Christian denominations that the Christian scriptures are the sole source of authority for Christian faith and practice.

Infallibility is the inability to be wrong. Its importance and meaning is debated in epistemology and major religions.

Magisterium

The magisterium of the Catholic Church is the church's authority or office to give authentic interpretation of the Word of God, "whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition." According to the 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church, the task of interpretation is vested uniquely in the Pope and the bishops, though the concept has a complex history of development. Scripture and church tradition "make up a single sacred deposit of the Word of God, which is entrusted to the Church", and the magisterium is not independent of this, since "all that it proposes for belief as being divinely revealed is derived from this single deposit of faith."

Papal primacy, also known as the primacy of the Bishop of Rome, is an ecclesiastical doctrine concerning the respect and authority that is due to the Pope from other bishops and their Episcopal sees.

Evangelium vitae, translated in English to "The Gospel of Life", is a papal encyclical promulgated on 25 March 1995 by Pope John Paul II. It deals with issues pertaining to the sanctity of human life, including murder, abortion, euthanasia, and capital punishment, reaffirming the Church's stances on said issues in a way generally considered consistent with previous Church teachings.

Sacred tradition, or holy tradition, is a theological term used in the major Christian traditions, primarily those claiming apostolic succession, such as the Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Assyrian, and Anglican traditions, to refer to the foundation of the doctrinal and spiritual authority of Christianity and of the Bible.

Gymnobiblism is the opinion that the bare text of the Bible, without commentary, may be safely given to the unlearned as a sufficient guide to religious truth.

<i>Pastor aeternus</i>

Pastor aeternus, was issued by the First Vatican Council, July 18, 1870. The document defines four doctrines of the Catholic faith: the apostolic primacy conferred on Peter, the perpetuity of the Petrine Primacy in the Roman pontiffs, the meaning and power of the papal primacy, and Papal infallibility – infallible teaching authority (magisterium) of the Pope.

Truth is most often used to mean being in accord with fact or reality, or fidelity to an original or standard. Religious views on truth vary between religions.

Augustana Catholic Church church

The Augustana Catholic Church (ACC), formerly the Anglo-Lutheran Catholic Church (ALCC) and the Evangelical Community Church-Lutheran (ECCL), is an American church in the Lutheran Evangelical Catholic tradition. The ACC says it is unique among Lutheran churches in that it is of both Lutheran and Anglo-Catholic heritage and has also been significantly influenced by the Roman Catholic Church. The church was founded in 1997 by former members of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod. Its headquarters are in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The ACC has long had a policy of seeking union with the Roman Catholic Church and announced in 2011 that it would accept the conditions of Anglicanorum coetibus and join the personal ordinariates as they are established. Later developments on limitations of joining the ordinariate caused the ACC to hold their offer while they established intercommunion with groups such as the Old Roman Catholic Church of North America. The church claims a membership in excess of 60,000 in 12 countries.

Sensus fidei, also called sensus fidelium is, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, "the supernatural appreciation of faith on the part of the whole people, when, from the bishops to the last of the faithful, they manifest a universal consent in matters of faith and morals." Quoting the document Lumen gentium of the Second Vatican Council, the Catechism adds: "By this appreciation of the faith, aroused and sustained by the Spirit of truth, the People of God, guided by the sacred teaching authority,... receives... the faith, once for all delivered to the saints. ...The People unfailingly adheres to this faith, penetrates it more deeply with right judgment, and applies it more fully in daily life." The foundation of this can be found in Jesus' saying in Mt 16:18 that "the gates of Hell will not prevail against it," where "it" refers to the "Church", that is, the Lord's people that carries forward the living tradition of essential beliefs throughout history, with the Bishops overseeing that this tradition does not pursue the way of error.

Ecumenical meetings and documents on Mary

Ecumenical meetings and documents on Mary, involving ecumenical commissions and working groups, have reviewed the status of Mariology in the Orthodox, Lutheran, Anglican, and Roman Catholic Churches.

Dogma in the Catholic Church definitive articles of faith (de fide) according to the Roman Catholic Church

A dogma of the Catholic Church is defined as "a truth revealed by God, which the magisterium of the Church declared as binding." The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

The Church's Magisterium asserts that it exercises the authority it holds from Christ to the fullest extent when it defines dogmas, that is, when it proposes, in a form obliging Catholics to an irrevocable adherence of faith, truths contained in divine Revelation or also when it proposes, in a definitive way, truths having a necessary connection with these.

The term dogmatic fact is employed in the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, in a wide sense, to mean any fact connected with a dogma, and on which the application of the dogma to a particular case depends.

The doctrines of Petrine primacy and papal primacy are perhaps the most contentiously disputed in the history of Christianity. Theologians regard the doctrine of papal primacy as having developed gradually in the West due to the convergence of a number of factors, e.g., the dignity of Rome as the only apostolic see in the West; the tradition that both Peter and Paul had been martyred there; Rome's long history as a capital of the Roman Empire; and its continuing position as the chief center of commerce and communication.

The doctrine of the primacy of the Roman Bishops, like other Catholic Church teachings and instructions, has gone through a development. Thus the establishment of the Primacy recorded in the Gospels has been gradually more clearly recognized and its implications developed. Clear recognition of the consciousness of the Primacy of the Roman Bishops, and of the recognition of the Primacy by the other churches appear at the end of the 1st century…St. Ignatius elevated the Roman community over all the communities using in his epistle a solemn form of address. Twice he says of it that it is the presiding community, which expresses a relationship of superiority and inferiority.

Papal infallibility Dogma of the Catholic Church

Papal infallibility is a dogma of the Catholic Church that states that, in virtue of the promise of Jesus to Peter, the Pope is preserved from the possibility of error "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." Infallibility is, according to the New Catholic Encyclopedia, "more than a simple, de facto absence of error. It is a positive perfection, ruling out the possibility of error".

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to the Catholic Church:

References

  1. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2015-02-16. Retrieved 2014-11-23.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  2. Vatican I, Dei Filius ch. 3 ¶ 1, available at http://www.ewtn.com/library/councils/v1.htm#4. Vatican II, Lumen gentium § 25 ¶ 2, available at http://www.ewtn.com/library/councils/v2church.htm. 1983 Code of Canon Law 749 § 2, available at http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG1104/__P2H.HTM.
  3. See, e.g. Lutheran-Orthodox Joint Commission, Seventh Meeting, The Ecumenical Councils, Common Statement, 1993, available at http://www.helsinki.fi/~risaarin/lutortjointtext.html#ecum ("We agree on the doctrine of God, the Holy Trinity, as formulated by the Ecumenical Councils of Nicaea and Constantinople and on the doctrine of the person of Christ as formulated by the first four Ecumenical Councils.").
  4. See The Conciliar Anglican, Ask An Anglican: The Ecumenical Councils, Aug. 3, 2011, available at http://conciliaranglican.com/2011/08/03/ask-an-anglican-the-ecumenical-councils/ ("While it is possible for a Council to err, it is so manifestly unlikely in the event of a truly Ecumenical Council that the conclusions of such a Council should be treated as final.").
  5. "The infallibility of the Church does not mean that the Church, in the assembly of the Church Fathers or in the expression of the Conscience of the Church, has already formally expressed all the truths of faith and norms. The infallibility of the Church is confined to the formulation of truths in question. This infallibility is not wholly a God-inspired energy which would affect the participants of the synod to such an extent that they would be inspired to pronounce all the truths at one time as a whole system of a Christian catechism. The Synod does not formulate a system of beliefs encompassing all Christian teachings and truths, but only endeavors to define the particular disputed truth which was misunderstood and misinterpreted. The Church of Christ and its divine nature, as set forth above, is the foundation upon which the Eastern Orthodox Church [sic.] continues to administer and nourish its faithful, thereby protecting its fundamental essentials." Rev. George Mastrantonis, of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America,
  6. "Dei Verbum – Forty Years Later – His Eminence Card. William Joseph Levada, 10 October 2005". www.vatican.va. Retrieved 2017-04-30.
  7. DOCTRINAL COMMENTARY ON THE CONCLUDING FORMULA OF THE PROFESSIO FIDEI. EWTN. Retrieved: 23 March 2013
  8. Lumen Gentium, 25
  9. Vatican I, Dei Filius ch. 3 ¶ 1 and Pastor Aeternus ch. 4 ¶ 5. Vatican II, Lumen gentium § 25 ¶ 3. 1983 Code of Canon Law 749 § 1.
  10. Mt 16:18
  11. "Library : The Complex Relationship between Scripture and Tradition". catholicculture.org. Retrieved 2017-04-30.
  12. James F. Keenan (17 January 2010). A History of Catholic Moral Theology in the Twentieth Century: From Confessing Sins to Liberating Consciences. A&C Black. pp. 45–46. ISBN   978-0-8264-2929-2.
  13. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 1998-12-06. Retrieved 2010-12-03.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  14. Yes, we know that popes are not perfect.. Answering Protestants. Published: 21 February 2013.
  15. Does papal infallibility mean the pope is perfect or inerrant? Archived 2013-03-17 at the Wayback Machine . Catholic Answers. Retrieved: 23 March 2013.

Further reading