Since the time of Christ, from the first council of the Apostles in Jerusalem in the year 50, to the last Vatican Council in 1870, there have been held in all twenty-one general or ecumenical councils. The Vatican Council, shown above, declared the dogma of the infallibility of the Pope.
When does the Church teach infallibly? –The Church teaches infallibly when it defines, through the Pope alone, as the teacher of all Christians, or through the Pope and the bishops, a doctrine of faith or morals to be held by all the faithful.The Church, as the representative or substitute of Jesus Christ on earth, is infallible, and speaks with His own words: “This is why I was born, and why I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth” (John 18:37).
- When the Church makes an infallible pronouncement, we are not to suppose that a new doctrine is being introduced. For instance, when the Holy Father in 1854 defined the Blessed Virgin’s Immaculate Conception as an article of faith, the infallible definition was not a proclamation of a new doctrine, but was merely an announcement of an article of faith true from the very beginning, and publicly defined only in order to make the dogma clear to all and to be believed as part of the deposit of faith left to the Church.Another example is the definition of the Holy Father’s infallibility, made in 1870 by the Vatican Council. The dogma was true from the very beginning, and had been universally held. But as in recent times many objections were being made against it, the Bishops in the Vatican Council thought it best, in order to make clear the stand of the Church, to make an infallible definition.
- The Church makes infallible pronouncements on doctrines of faith and morals, on their interpretation, on the Bible and Tradition, and the interpretation of any part or parts of these. The dogma of the Inmaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin was an interpretation of a long-standing Tradition in the Church.The Church also pronounces on the truth or falsity of opinions, teachings, customs, etc., with relation to fundamental doctrines. Another subject on which the Church makes infallible declarations is in the canonization of Saints. All whom the Church has raised to the glory of the altar by a solemn canonization are undoubtedly now in heaven, enjoying eternal bliss in the presence of God.
When does the Church teach infallibly through the Pope alone? –The Church teaches infallibly through the Pope alone, when he speaks officially (ex cathedra) as the Supreme Head, for the entire universal Church.As the Pope has authority over the Church, he could not err in his official teaching without leading the Church into error. As Our Lord said to Peter, the first Pope: “I have prayed for thee, that thy faith may not fail; and do thou, when once thou hast turned again, strengthen thy brethren” (Luke 22:31-32).In order to speak infallibly, the Pope must speak ex-cathedra, or officially, under the following conditions:
- He must pronounce himself on a subject of faith or morals. Infallibility is restricted to questions regarding faith and morals. The Church pronounces on natural sciences and on legislation only when the perversity of men makes of them instruments for opposing revealed truths.If the Pope should make judgments on mathematics or civil governments, he is as liable to error as any other man with the same experience. Letters to kings and other rulers are not infallible pronouncements. However, we should hold the Pope’s opinions on any subject with great respect, on account of his position and experience.
- He must speak as the Vicar of Christ, in his office as Pope, and to the whole Church, to all the faithful throughout the world. In his capacity as private teacher, for example, in his encyclical letters, he is as any other teacher of the Church.Should the Pope, like Benedict XIV, write a treatise on Canon Law, his book would be written in a private capacity, and liable to error, just as the books of other theologians. We accept, not on faith, but in obedience to his authority, out of respect for his experience and wisdom.
- He must make clear by certain words his intention to speak ex-cathedra. These words are most often used: “We proclaim,” “we define,” etc.The Pope’s infallible decrees are termed “doctrinal,” since they involve doctrine. From the earliest days of the Church, the infallibility of the Pope has been acknowledged. In the year 417 the Holy See condemned the Pelagian errors; St. Augustine cried out the famous words, “Rome has spoken; the cause is ended!” The Council of Florence in 1439 called the Pope “the Father and Teacher of Christians.”
When does the Church teach infallibly through the Pope and the bishops? –The Church teaches infallibly through the Pope and the bishops when convened in a general (or ecumenical) council. [when they INTEND to teach infallibly(RMO)]
- A General Council is an assembly convened by the Holy See, of all the bishops of the world, and others entitled to vote. It represents the teaching body of the Church, and must be infallible.In the year 50 the Apostles held the first General Council in Jerusalem. Its decisions were proclaimed as coming from God, the final decree beginning with these words: “For the Holy Spirit and we have decided to lay no further burden upon you” (Acts 15:28)
- Over a General Council, the Pope or his legate presides; a representative number of bishops and others entitled to vote, such as cardinals, abbots, and generals of certain religious orders, must be present. Upon confirmation by the Pope, a General Council’s decrees are binding on all Christians.It must be understood that the decrees of a General Council have no binding authority until confirmed by the Pope. There is no appeal from the Pope to a General Council.
- A unanimous vote is not necessary for an infallible decision of a general council; a great majority is sufficient.The most notable of the General Councils so far held following the Council of Jerusalem have been: (1) the Council of Nicea, in the year 325, which pronounced against the heresy of Arius; (2) the Council of Ephesus, in the year 425, which declared Mary the Mother of God; (3) the Council of Nicea. in 787, which declared the veneration of images as lawful and profitable; (4) the Council of Trent, 1545-1563, which declared against the heresies of Luther; (5) the Council of the Vatican, 1870, which defined as an article of faith the doctrine of the infallibility of the Pope.
- Even when the bishops are not gathercd together in one place, they form the teaching body of the Church, united with the Pope. Therefore their voice must be infallible, otherwise the universal Church would be led into error. For the same reason as above, the daily ordinary uniform teaching of the Church in every place in the whole World is infallibly true.“Go into the whole world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15).
This article has been taken from “My Catholic Faith” I am not the author merely the distributor.God Bless BJS!!
The Church cannot teach error, because it was founded by Christ, God Himself. He sent forth His Apostles with full powers to preach His Gospel. He said. “As the Father has sent me, I also send you” (John 20:21). “I will ask the Father and he will give you another Advocate to dwell with you forever. . . . But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your mind whatever I have said to you” (John 14:16,26).
What is meant by the infallibility of the Catholic Church? –By the infallibility of the Catholic Church is meant that the Church, by the special assistance of the Holy Ghost, cannot err when it teaches or believes a doctrine of faith and morals.Christ promised: “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and teach all nations … teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and behold, I am with you all days, even unto the consummation of the world” (Matt. 28:20). If Christ is with the Church all days, it cannot err in teaching; it cannot lead men away from God.
- “Infallibility” is often distorted by enemies of the Church to mean “impeccability”, and therefore derided. Infallibility is freedom from error; impeccability is freedom from sin. In an institution established by God for the salvation of men, error in doctrine is unthinkable.Every teacher in the Church, from the Pope down to the humblest priest, like all of the faithful, is capable of falling into sin. But in the Catholic Church, because of the promise of Infallibility, the Holy Ghost cannot permit the purity of a single doctrine to be stained.
- Jesus Christ promised to preserve the Church from error. If His prediction and promises were false, then He would not be God, since God cannot lie. Christ said: “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” If therefore the Church falls into error, the gates of hell certainly would prevail against it.Christ promised: “I will ask the Father, and he shall give you another Advocate to dwell with you forever … He will teach you all the truth” (John 14). If the Church can err, then the Holy Ghost cannot abide in it and Christ has failed to keep His promise-a thing absolutely impossible.
- A doctrine of faith is something we must believe in order to be saved. A doctrine of morals is something we must do in order to be saved.For example, we must believe the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity: that there are Three Divine Persons in One God. We must believe that Jesus Christ is God. We must believe in the Blessed Virgin Mary’s immaculate conception.Of things we must do are these: we must go to Mass on Sundays and holydays of obligation; we must fast and abstain when our bishops so order; we must receive Holy Communion at least once a year. We must obey the Ten Commandments.
- Jesus Christ commanded all men to listen to and obey the Church, under pain of damnation. If His Church can teach error, then He is responsible for the error, by commanding all to obey.Jesus sent forth His Apostles with full powers to preach His Gospel: “As the Father hath sent Me, I also send you.” – “Make disciples of all nations teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” – “Preach the Gospel to every creature.”
- Christ said: “He who believes and is baptized shall be saved; but he who does Hot believe shall be condemned” (Mark 16: 16). A just God could not command men under penalty of damnation to believe what is false. So the teaching of the Church must be infallibly true.He said: “You shall be witnesses for me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and Samaria, and even to the very ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Since it was physically impossible for the Apostles to preach to the whole world, the mission must have been intended also for their successors to the end of time, our Catholic Bishops and priests.
- Christ said: “If he refuse to hear even the Church, let him be to thee as the heathen and the publican” (Matt. 18:17) “He who hears you hears me; and he who rejects you rejects me; and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Luke 10:16) .He said, “And whoever does not receive you, or listen to your words-go forth outside that house or town, and shake off the dust from your feet. Amen I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that town” (Matt. 10:14-16).
- No Christian denies that the Apostles were infallible. In fact, in the first century, they were the only authority in the Church. The Bible was not completed till the end of that century, not within reach of all.But God loves the Christians of today as much as He did the primitive Christians. We have as much need of unerring teachers as they. The Apostolic Church of the 20th century must therefore be as infallible as the Apostolic Church.
- An infallible Bible is no use without an infallible interpreter. History has proved this, in the multiplication of the innumerable denominations that deny the infallibility of the Church. By infallibility, the faithful know exactly what to believe and what to do in order that they may be pleasing to God and save their souls. They have surety; they need suffer no doctrinal doubt.It is a great blessing that, in the midst of the everchanging views of men and the conflict of human opinion, there is one voice crying out in unerring tones: “Thus saith the Lord.”
Has the Church in fact proved itself infallible? –It is a historical fact that the Catholic Church, from the twentieth century back to the first, has not once ceased to teach a doctrine on faith or morals previously held, and with the same interpretation; the Church has proved itself infallible.
- It is a historical fact that not one Pope, whatever he was in his private life, has ever taught error.“The Scribes and the Pharisees have sat on the chair of Moses. All things, therefore, that they command you, observe and do. But do not act according to their works.” By obeying the Pope, every Christian can live as Christ commanded, in any age.
- True, some high rulers of the Church have gravely sinned. Nevertheless, enemies of the Church have exaggerated even the lack of impeccability. In the long line of Popes the vast majority led virtuous lives. Many of them are honored as Saints and martyrs. The enemies of the Church can bring charges against only five or six Popes: Most of the charges are calumnies or exaggerations. But even if the charges were true, they prove nothing against infallibility.Of the Sovereign Pontiffs that have succeeded Peter, 84 are canonized Saints, of whom 32 were martyrs. However holy the Pope, he regularly goes to confession to a priest. No Pope ever considers himself above the laws of the Church and of God.
- The Church cannot change its teachings on faith and morals. But it may restate the doctrines more clearly and completely. Year after year the Church proclaims the same unchanging doctrines. Her doctrines need no reform, for they are of Divine origin, the work of the Incarnate God.No Pope or general Council in almost two thousand years has annulled or revoked a single decree of faith or morals enacted by a previous Pope or Council. This is history.
This article has been taken from “My Catholic Faith” I am not the author merely the distributor.God Bless BJS!!