- Papal infallibility
Papal infallibility is the
dogmain Catholic theology that, by action of the Holy Spirit, the Popeis preserved from even the possibility of error ["infallibility means more than exemption from actual error; it means exemption from the possibility of error," P. J. Toner, [http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07790a.htm Infallibility] , [http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/index.html Catholic Encyclopedia] , 1910] when he solemnly declares or promulgates to the Church a dogmatic teaching on faith or morals as being contained in divine revelation, or at least being intimately connected to divine revelation. It is also taught that the Holy Spirit works in the body of the Church to ensure that dogmatic teachings proclaimed to be infallible will be received by all Catholics.
This doctrine was defined dogmatically in the
First Vatican Councilof 1870. According to Catholic theology, there are several concepts important to the understanding of infallible, divine revelation: Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and the Sacred Magisterium. The infallible teachings of the pope are part of the Sacred Magisterium, which also consists of ecumenical councilsand the "ordinary and universal magisterium". In Catholic theology, papal infallibility is one of the channels of the infallibility of the Church. The infallible teachings of the pope must be based on, or at least not contradict, Sacred Tradition or Sacred Scripture. Papal infallibility "does not" signify that the pope is impeccable, i.e., that he is specially exempt from liability to sin.
In practice, popes seldom use their power of infallibility, but rely on the notion that the Church allows the office of the pope to be the ruling agent in deciding what will be accepted as formal beliefs in the church." [Erwin Fahlbusch et al. "The encyclopedia of Christianity" Eradman Books ISBN 0802824161] Since the solemn declaration of Papal Infallibility by
Vatican Ion July 18, 1870, this power has been used only once ex cathedra: in 1950 when Pope Pius XIIdefined the Assumption of Maryas being an article of faith for Roman Catholics.
Conditions for papal infallibility
Statements by a pope that exercise papal infallibility are referred to as "solemn papal definitions" or "ex cathedra" teachings. These should not be confused with teachings that are infallible because of a solemn definition by an ecumenical council, or with teachings that are infallible in virtue of being taught by the ordinary and universal
magisterium. For details on these other kinds of infallible teachings, see Infallibility of the Church.
According to the teaching of the
First Vatican Counciland Catholic tradition, the conditions required for "ex cathedra" teaching are as follows:
:1. "the Roman Pontiff":2. "speaks ex cathedra" ("that is, when in the discharge of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, and by virtue of his supreme apostolic authority…."):3. "he defines":4. "that a doctrine concerning faith or morals":5. "must be held by the whole Church" ("Pastor Aeternus", chap. 4)
For a teaching by a pope or ecumenical council to be recognized as infallible, the teaching must make it clear that the Church is to consider it "definitive" and "binding". There is not any specific phrasing required for this, but it is usually indicated by one or both of the following: (1) a verbal formula indicating that this teaching is definitive (such as "We declare, decree and define..."), or (2) an accompanying
anathemastating that anyone who deliberately dissents is outside the Catholic Church. For example, in 1950, with " Munificentissimus Deus", Pope Pius XII's infallible definition regarding the Assumption of Mary, there are attached these words: "Hence if anyone, which God forbid, should dare willfully to deny or to call into doubt that which We have defined, let him know that he has fallen away completely from the divine and Catholic Faith."
An infallible teaching by a pope or ecumenical council can contradict previous Church teachings, as long as they were not themselves taught infallibly. In this case, the previous fallible teachings are immediately made void. Of course, an infallible teaching cannot contradict a previous infallible teaching, including the infallible teachings of the
Holy Bibleor Holy Tradition. Also, due to the "sensus fidelium", an infallible teaching cannot be subsequently contradicted by the Catholic Church, even if that subsequent teaching is in itself fallible.
It is the opinion of the majority of Catholic theologians that the canonizations of a pope enter within the limits of infallible teaching. Therefore, it is considered certain by this majority of theologians, that such persons canonized are definitely in heaven with God. However, this opinion of infallibility of canonizations has never been definitively taught by the Magisterium. Other theologians, even those of earlier times, refer to this majority opinion, as a "pious opinion, but merely an opinion".Fact|date=February 2007 Before the height of Middle Ages, saints were created not by the
Bishop of Rome, but by the bishops of the local dioceses, confirming or rejecting the acclamation of the people calling for declaration of sanctity of a particular Christian person who passed away "in the odour of sanctity". In Catholic teaching, diocesan bishops do not in themselves possess the charism of infallibility (but do so when gathered in ecumenical council), leaving these early Church canonizations without certainty of infallibility.
In Catholic theology, the Latin phrase "ex cathedra", literally meaning "from the chair", refers to a teaching by the pope that is considered to be made with the intention of invoking infallibility.
The "chair" referred to is not a literal chair, but refers metaphorically to the pope's position, or office, as the official teacher of Catholic doctrine: the chair was the symbol of the teacher in the ancient world, and bishops to this day have a "cathedra", a seat or throne, as a symbol of their teaching and governing authority. The pope is said to occupy the "chair of Peter," as Catholics hold that among the apostles Peter had a special role as the preserver of unity, so the pope as successor of Peter holds the role of spokesman for the whole church among the bishops, the successors as a group of the apostles. (Also see
Holy Seeand sede vacante: both terms evoke this seat or throne.)
upport for infallibility in Scripture
The church doctrine is traced back historically to Scripture.Within Scriptural passages, the doctrine supports the Pope's infallibility, including:
*, ("And to Simon he gave the name "Peter", "Cephas", or "Rock")
* ("thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it"; cf. , (the house built on rock)
* ("Feed my lambs."/"Feed my sheep.") (stated three times)
* ("He that heareth you, heareth me; and he that despiseth you, despiseth me; and he that despiseth me, despiseth him that sent me.")
* ("confirm thy brethren")
* ("For it hath seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us, ...") ("the Apostles speak with voice of Holy Ghost")
* ("And the names of the twelve apostles are these: The first, Simon who is called Peter,...") (Peter is first.)
* ("whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven") (Also used to defend the sacrament of
*Ludwig Ott points out the many indications in Scripture that Peter was given a primary role with respect to the other Apostles: , , , , , , , and (Fund., Bk. IV, Pt. 2, Ch. 2, §5).
The Primacy of the Roman Pontiff
Doctrine-based religions evolve their theologies over time, and Catholicism is no exception: its theology did not spring instantly and fully formed within the bosom of the earliest Church. "The doctrine of the Primacy of the Roman Bishops, like other Church teachings and institutions, has gone through a development. Thus the establishment of the Primacy recorded in the Gospels has gradually been more clearly recognised and its implications developed. Clear indications 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" (Ott, "Fund.", Bk. IV, Pt. 2, Ch. 2, §6).
St. Clement of Rome, c. 99, stated in a letter to the
Corinthians: "Indeed you will give joy and gladness to us, if having become obedient to what we have written through the Holy Spirit, you will "cut out the unlawful application of your zeal" according to the exhortation which we have made in this epistle concerning peace and union" (Denziger §41, emphasis added).
St. Clement of Alexandria wrote on the primacy of Peter c. 200: "...the blessed Peter, the chosen, the pre-eminent, the first among the disciples, for whom alone with Himself the Savior paid the tribute..." (Jurgens §436).
The existence of an ecclesiastical hierarchy is emphazised by St. Stephan I, 251, in a letter to the bishop of Antioch: "Therefore did not that famous defender of the Gospel [Novatian] know that there ought to be one bishop in the Catholic Church [of the city of Rome] ? It did not lie hidden from him..." (Denziger §45).
St. Julius I, in 341 wrote to the
Antiochenes: "Or do you not know that it is the custom to write to us first, and "that here what is just is decided"?" (Denziger §57a, emphasis added).
It is apparent, then, that an understanding among the Apostles was written down in what became the Scriptures, and rapidly became the living custom of the Church. From there, a clearer theology could unfold.
St. Siricius wrote to
Himeriusin 385: "To your inquiry we do not deny a legal reply, because we, upon whom greater zeal for the Christian religion is incumbent than upon the whole body, out of consideration for our office do not have the liberty to dissimulate, nor to remain silent. We carry the weight of all who are burdened; nay rather the blessed apostle PETER bears these in us, who, as we trust, protects us in all matters of his administration, and guards his heirs" (Denziger §87, emphasis in original).
Many of the
Church Fathersspoke of ecumenical councils and the Bishop of Rome as possessing a reliable authority to teach the content of Scripture and tradition.
The Middle Ages
Middle Agesand the Renaissancethe doctrine of papal infallibility first developed.
The first theologian to systematically discuss the infallibility of ecumenical councils was
Theodore Abu-Qurrahin the 9th century.
Several medieval theologians discussed the infallibility of the pope when defining matters of faith and morals, including
Thomas Aquinasand John Peter Olivi. In 1330, the Carmelite bishop Guido Terrenidescribed the pope’s use of the charism of infallibility in terms very similar to those that would be used at Vatican I.
Dogmatic definition of 1870
In the conclusion of the fourth chapter of its Dogmatic Constitution on the Church "Pastor Aeternus", solemnly promulgated by Pope Pius IX, the
First Vatican Councilin 1870 declared the following, with bishops Aloisio Riccioand Edward Fitzgeralddissenting: [ [http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15303a.htm CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: Vatican Council ] ]
cquote|We teach and define that it is a dogma Divinely revealed that the Roman pontiff when he speaks "ex cathedra", that is when in discharge of the office of pastor and doctor of all Christians, by virtue of his supreme Apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine regarding
faithor morals to be held by the universal Church, by the Divine assistance promised to him in Blessed Peter, is possessed of that infallibility with which the Divine Redeemer willed that his Church should be endowed in defining doctrine regarding faith or morals, and that therefore such definitions of the Roman pontiff are of themselves and not from the consent of the Church irreformable.
So then, should anyone, which God forbid, have the temerity to reject this definition of ours: let him be
anathema. (see Denziger §1839). | 20px | 20px | Vatican Council, Sess. IV | Const. de Ecclesiâ Christi, Chapter iv
According to Catholic theology, this is an infallible
dogmatic definitionby an ecumenical council. The infallibility of the pope was thus formally defined in 1870, although the tradition behind this view goes back much further, as described above.
The Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, which was also a document on the Church itself, explicitly reaffirmed the definition of papal infallibility, so as to avoid any doubts, expressing this in the following words:
Because the 1870 definition is not seen by Catholics as a creation of the Church, but as the dogmatic revelation of a Truth about the Papal Magisterium, Papal teachings made prior to the 1870 proclamation can, if they meet the criteria set out in the dogmatic definition, be considered infallible. "
Ineffabilis Deus" is an example of this.
Instances of papal infallibility
Many non-Catholics wrongly believe that the doctrine teaches that the Pope is infallible in everything he says, when, in reality, the invocation of papal infallibility is extremely rare.
Catholic theologians agree that both
Pope Pius IX's 1854 definition of the dogma of the Immaculate Conceptionof Mary, and Pope Pius XII's 1950 definition of the dogma of the Assumption of Maryare instances of papal infallibility, a fact which has been confirmed by the Church's magisterium [http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/audiences/alpha/data/aud19930324en.html] . However, theologians disagree about what other documents qualify.
Regarding historical papal documents, Catholic theologian and church historian Klaus Schatz made a thorough study, published in 1985, that identified the following list of "ex cathedra" documents (see "Creative Fidelity: Weighing and Interpreting Documents of the Magisterium", by
Francis A. Sullivan, chapter 6):
* "Tome to Flavian",
Pope Leo I, 449, on the two natures in Christ, received by the Council of Chalcedon;
* Letter of
Pope Agatho, 680, on the two wills of Christ, received by the Third Council of Constantinople;
* "Benedictus Deus",
Pope Benedict XII, 1336, on the beatific vision of the just prior to final judgment;
* "Cum occasione",
Pope Innocent X, 1653, condemning five propositions of Jansen as heretical;
* "Auctorem fidei",
Pope Pius VI, 1794, condemning seven Jansenist propositions of the Synod of Pistoiaas heretical;
* " Ineffabilis Deus",
Pope Pius IX, 1854, defining the immaculate conception; and
* "Munificentissimus Deus",
Pope Pius XII, 1950, defining the assumption of Mary.
For modern-day Church documents, there is no need for speculation as to which are officially "ex cathedra", because the Vatican's
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faithcan be consulted directly on this question. For example, after Pope John Paul II's apostolic letter" Ordinatio Sacerdotalis" (On Reserving Priestly Ordination to Men Alone) was released in 1994, a few commentators speculated that this might be an exercise of papal infallibility (for an example, see [http://www.ewtn.com/library/ISSUES/ORDIN.TXT] ). In response to this confusion, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has unambiguously stated, on at least three separate occasions [http://www.catholicculture.org/library/view.cfm?recnum=5189] [http://www.catholicculture.org/library/view.cfm?recnum=7029] [http://www.ewtn.com/library/CURIA/CDFADTU.HTM] , that " Ordinatio Sacerdotalis" was not an "ex cathedra" teaching, saying that the content of this letter has been taught infallibly by the ordinary and universal magisterium.
The Vatican itself has given no complete list of papal statements considered to be infallible. A 1998 commentary on "Ad Tuendam Fidem", written by Cardinals Ratzinger (the later
Pope Benedict XVI) and Bertone, the prefect and secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, listed a number of instances of infallible pronouncements by popes and by ecumenical councils, but explicitly stated that this was not meant to be a complete list.
The number of infallible pronouncements by ecumenical councils is significantly greater than the number of infallible pronouncements by popes.
Disagreement with this doctrine
Dissent within, and schisms that break away from the Catholic Church
Following the first Vatican Council, 1870, dissent, mostly among German,
Austrian, and Swiss Catholics, arose over the definition of Papal Infallibility. The dissenters, holding the General Councils of the Church infallible, were unwilling to accept the dogma of Papal Infallibility, and thus a schismarose between them and the Church. Many of these Catholics formed independent communities in schism with Rome, which became known as the Old Catholic Churches.
A few present-day Catholics, including priests and bishops, refuse to accept papal infallibility as a matter of faith, such as the theologian
Hans Küng, author of "Infallible? An Inquiry," and historian Garry Wills, author of "Papal Sin". A recent (1989–1992) survey of Catholics from multiple countries (the USA, Austria, Canada, Ecuador, France, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Korea, Peru, Spainand Switzerland), aged 15 to 25 who may not yet fully understand the theology of infallibility, showed that 36.9% accepted the teaching on papal infallibility, 36.9% denied it, and 26.2% said they didn't know of it. (Source: "Report on surveys of the International Marian Research Institute", by Johann G. Roten, S.M.)
Many scholars within the church consider the
Cadaver Synodan anomaly, something that stands entirely outside church experience and which, therefore theologically speaking, never happened. However dissenters outside the church have argued compellingly that the 'nullification' of Formosus's ordinations has never been reversed and that raises momentous and troubling questions for the present-day papacy.In particular it challenges the whole doctrine of papal infallibility. Defined during the nineteenth-century reign of Pius IXbut held to apply to popes throughout history, this doctrine asserts that the pope, under the guidance and protection of the Holy Spirit is incapable of making an error when pronouncing on matters of faith and morals ex cathedra or 'from the chair'.This is a matter of vital importance to millions of Catholics who wait to hear what their leaders have to say on subjects such as birth control, women in the priesthood, homosexuality and the like.Popes selling indulgences or plotting with political conspirators are not generally held to have been speaking ex cathedra. But in the case of the Cadaver Synod, Pope Stephen VIcan be seen to have been acting in an official capacity. And Stephen not only declared the entire reign of his predecessor void, he even proclaimed every priest ordained by Pope Formosusto be invalid.As a result some commentators hold that Stephen's actions call into question the entire doctrine of infallibility, and thus the bedrock of the modern church. Some say that the Cadaver Synod casts doubt on the belief in apostolic succession.A line of 263 popes leads all the way back to St Peter, the first vicar of Christ. According to Catholic beliefs, the popes don't replace Peter the way a president or prime minister replaces another; they only succeed Peter. Each of them is to carry on the work of Peter to bring 'truth and unity' to their flocks.The nullification of Formosus's ordinations could be seen to break this apostolic succession since we can't be sure which Bishops, and consequently popes, were ordained by 'nullified' priests.If this is true the sanctity of Petrine succession, which reaches back all the way to Jesus Christ himself, has been broken...' - FROM National Geographics 'History's great untold stories' Page 18-19
Historical objections to the teachings on infallibility often appeal to the important work of Brian Tierney, "Origins of Papal Infallibility 1150-1350" (Leiden, 1972). Tierney comes to the conclusion, "There is no convincing evidence that papal infallibility formed any part of the theological or canonical tradition of the church before the thirteenth century; the doctrine was invented in the first place by a few dissident Franciscans because it suited their convenience to invent it; eventually, but only after much initial reluctance, it was accepted by the papacy because it suited the convenience of the popes to accept it". [p. 281, as cited in John E. Lynch's review of the work, in Church History, Vol. 42, No. 2. (Jun., 1973), pp. 279-280, at p. 279.] See also [http://www.humanities.mq.edu.au/Ockham/winf.html Ockham and Infallibility] . The Rome-based Jesuit Wittgenstein scholar Garth Hallett argued that the dogma of infallibility was neither true nor false but meaningless; see his "Darkness and Light: The Analysis of Doctrinal Statements" (Paulist Press, 1975). In practice, he claims, the dogma seems to have no practical use and to have succumbed to the sense that it is irrelevant.
It is also argued that since the apostle Peter himself was not regarded as infallible in the Bible, and was corrected--albeit in a matter regarding his personal behavior and failure to live by his own teachings--by the apostle Paul (referenced in
Galatians2:11), that it makes little sense to regard current popes as infallible.
The dogma of Papal Infallibility is rejected by Eastern Orthodoxy. Orthodox Christians hold that the
Holy Spiritwill not allow the whole Body of Orthodox Christians to fall into error [Encyclical of the Eastern Patriarchs of 1848] but leave open the question of how this will be ensured in any specific case. Eastern Orthodoxy considers that the first seven ecumenical councils were infallible as accurate witnesses to the truth of the gospel, not so much on account of their institutional structure as on account of their reception by the Christian faithful.
Furthermore, Orthodox Christians do not believe that any individual bishop is infallible or that the idea of Papal Infallibility was taught during the first centuries of Christianity. Orthodox historians often point to the condemnation of Pope Honorius as a heretic by the Sixth Ecumenical council as a significant indication. However, it is debated whether Honorius' letter to Sergius met (in retrospect) the criteria set forth at Vatican I. Other Orthodox scholars [Cleenewerck, Laurent. His Broken Body: Understanding and Healing the Schism between the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches. pp. 301-30] argue that past Papal statements that appear to meet the conditions set forth at Vatican I for infallible status presented teachings in faith and morals are now acknowledged as problematic (e.g.
Church of Englandand its sister churches in the Anglican Communion, having seceded from the Roman Church centuries ago, reject papal infallibility, a rejection given expression in the Thirty-Nine Articlesof Religion (1571):
:"XIX. Of the Church. The visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men, in which the pure Word of God is preached, and the Sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ's ordinance, in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same. As the Church of Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Antioch, have erred, so also the Church of Rome hath erred, not only in their living and manner of Ceremonies, but also in matters of Faith."
:"XXI. Of the Authority of General Councils. General Councils may not be gathered together without the commandment and will of Princes. And when they be gathered together, (forasmuch as they be an assembly of men, whereof all be not governed with the Spirit and Word of God,) they may err, and sometimes have erred, even in things pertaining unto God. Wherefore things ordained by them as necessary to salvation have neither strength nor authority, unless it may be declared that they be taken out of holy Scripture."
John Wesleyamended the Anglican Articles of Religion for use by Methodists, particularly those in America. The Methodist Articles omit the express provisions in the Anglican articles concerning the errors of the Church of Rome and the authority of councils, but retain Article V which implicitly pertains to the Roman Catholic idea of papal authority as capable of defining articles of faith:
:"V. Of the Sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for Salvation. The Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation; so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man that it should be believed as an article of faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation..."
Reformed churchesalso reject papal infallibility. The Westminster Confession of Faith[http://www.reformed.org/documents/westminster_conf_of_faith.html] which was intended in 1646 to replace the Thirty-Nine Articles, contains the following:
:"(Chapter one) IX. The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself: and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly."
:"(Chapter one) X. The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture."
:"(Chapter Twenty-Five) VI. There is no other head of the Church but the Lord Jesus Christ. Nor can the Pope of Rome, in any sense, be head thereof; but is that Antichrist, that man of sin, and son of perdition, that exalts himself, in the Church, against Christ and all that is called God."
First Vatican Council
Infallibility of the Church
Primacy of the Roman Pontiff
Sola scripturaand free interpretation of Sacred Scripture
last = Bermejo
first = Luis
others = "
imprimi potest" by Julian Fernandes, Provincial of India
title = Infallibility on Trial: Church, Conciliarity and Communion
year = 1990
isbn = 0-87061-190-9
last = Chirico
first = Peter
title = Infallibility: The Crossroads of Doctrine
isbn = 0-89453-296-0
last = Gaillardetz
first = Richard
title = By What Authority?: A Primer on Scripture, the Magisterium, and the Sense of the Faithful
isbn = 0-8146-2872-9
last = Hasler
first = Bernhard
title = HOW THE POPE BECAME INFALLIBLE: Pius IX and the Politics of Persuation
year = 1981 Translation of cite book
last = Hasler
first = Bernhard
title = WIE DER PAPST UNFEHLBAR WURDE: Macht und Ohnmacht eines Dogmas,
year = 1979
publisher = R. Piper & Co. Verlag
language = German
last = Küng
first = Hans
authorlink = Hans Küng
title = Infallible?: An inquiry
isbn = 0-385-18483-2
last = Lio
first = Ermenegildo
title = Humanae vitae e infallibilità: Paolo VI, il Concilio e Giovanni Paolo II (Teologia e filosofia)
language = Italian
isbn = 88-209-1528-6
last = McClory
first = Robert
title = Power and the Papacy: The People and Politics Behind the Doctrine of Infallibility
isbn = 0-7648-0141-4
last = O'Connor
first = James
title = The Gift of Infallibility: The Official Relatio on Infallibility of Bishop Vincent Gasser at Vatican Council I
isbn = 0-8198-3042-9 (cloth), ISBN 0-8198-3041-0 (paper)
last = Sullivan
first = Francis
authorlink = Francis A. Sullivan
title = Creative Fidelity: Weighing and Interpreting Documents of the Magisterium
isbn = 1-59244-208-0
last = Sullivan
first = Francis
authorlink = Francis A. Sullivan
title = The Magisterium: Teaching Authority in the Catholic Church
isbn = 1-59244-060-6
last = Tierney
first = Brian
title = Origins of Papal Infallibility, 1150-1350: A Study on the Concepts of Infallibility, Sovereignty and Tradition in the Middle Ages
isbn = 90-04-08884-9
* [http://www.olfatima.com/Fessler.doc Online Version of the book "THE TRUE AND THE FALSE INFALLIBILITY OF THE POPES" (1871)] by [http://www.catholic-hierarchy.org/bishop/bfebler.html Bishop Joseph Fessler (1813-1872)] , Secretary-General of the
First Vatican Council.
* [http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/__P2A.HTM "Universal Catechism of the Catholic Church" on Infallibility] (Holy See official website)
* [http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07790a.htm Infallibility] at the
Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.