BASIC R.C. BELIEF
A special gift whereby the Church is preserved free from teaching error in
matters of faith and morals. It is expressed by definitions of popes,
decrees of general councils, creeds and professions of faith. It is also
exercised when doctrines are unanimously taught by the bishops of the
Papal infallibility does not imply sinlessness, but means that the Pope,
when speaking ex cathedra on a matter of faith and morals, cannot err. This
was defined by the Vatican Council(I) as being retroactive to all preceding
He speaks ex cathedra when, in virtue of his office and apostolic
authority, he intentionally defines a doctrine which must then be held by
the whole church.
Papal encyclicals are not thought to be infallible. Since 1870, only one
teaching was given that is universally accepted as infallible: the
definition of the Assumption in 1950. The pope is believed to be infallible
when he canonizes a saint.
POST VATICAN II
From FALSE TRENDS IN MODERN TEACHING, page 20: "In writing (encyclicals),
it is true, the Popes do not exercise their teaching authority to the full.
But such statements come under the day-to-day teaching of the Church, which
is covered by the promise, `He who listens to you, listens to me.' Luke
The Lord Jesus recognized the need for an Infallible Teacher for His
Church, and authorized the Holy Spirit as the One Who would lead into all
truth (John 16:13). His ability to convey truth to Christians is taught in
I John 2:27.
From Dick Knolls' newsletter, August 1979. "The basic issue is this: how is
the guidance of the Church given to the faithful? If the Church claims to
be the final authority, where do I hear her voice? The answer to that
question has been formulated in many statements of Canon Law and in many
papal encyclicals, but the most detailed reply comes in the statements of
the First Vatican Council supplemented by the celebrated decree of Vatican
II on the constitution of the church, LUMEN GENTIUM.
"In Vatican I the emphasis had been firmly laid on the supreme authority
of the pope and on his infallibility in all matters of faith and morals.
Vatican I, however, ended prematurely in 1870 when the troops of the
victorious Italian nationalists entered Rome. The sudden termination of the
Council furnished an argument for the claim that the decree was an open-
ended one which needed supplementation by a further statement defining the
role of the bishops and their relation to the papacy. This further
statement came in Chapter III of LUMEN GENTIUUM, but far from finalizing
the issue, it led to further controversy with Rome.
"The decree claims for the bishops as a body what Vatican I had claimed
for the Pope, namely, the power to teach without error the doctrine of
Christ. Individual bishops do not enjoy the prerogative of infallibility,
Nevertheless, when in the course of their authentic teaching on faith and
morals they agree on a single opinion to be held as definite, they are
proclaiming infallibly the teaching of Christ.' This means that when they
act together and in agreement with the Pope, and when they define a
teaching on either faith or morals as obligatory for the faithful, they are
"There is, however, a problem even here for the R.C. who is much more
sympathetic to papal and episcopal claims that (Hans) Kung is. Seamus Ryan
presents in his commentary on the decree of Vatican II, THE CONSTITUTION OF
THE CHURCH. `It is difficcult to see how one can ever be quite sure that a
particular teaching of the dispersed episcopate is infallible.' For
justification of this difficulty, he points to the discussion on the
subject of birth control. Judging by the tests of Vatican II, the episcopal
agreement for years on this subject bears the clear stamp of infallibility.
But the present debate indicates that many would deny this teaching is
infallible. It is no wonder that this problem remains and Ryan adds rather
wryly, `A dispersed diaconate which is infallible, but never knows when, is
a puzzling paradox.'
"Hans Kung wrote, `We are nevertheless bound to point out that the
attribition of infallibility to the college of bishops, based on the
traditional unhistorical theory of the bishops' direct and exclusive
apostolic succession, stands exegetically, historically, and theologically,
on feet of clay.'"
Some historic notes re Infallibility.
1. In 590, St. Gregory I first used the term "ex cathedra."
2. Liberius, in 385, subscribed to the Arian heresy to gain the
bishopric of Rome.
3. Gregory I called anyone who would take the title Universal Bishop an
4 .Adrian II declared civil marriages valid; Pius VII condemned them.
5. Vigilinus, Innocent III, Clement IV, Gregory XI, Adrian VI and Paul
IV all disclaimed the attribute of infallibility.
6. The Donation of Constantine recorded the conferring of certain
privileges and honors to the Bishop of Rome. This became part of official
Canon Law and was used by the Popes to bolster their claims (Adrian I to
Charlemagne in 778; Leo XI in 1054; Urban II to support his claims to
Corsica in 1091; also Innocent III, Gregory IX and Innocent IV). Roman
Catholics today admit that it was a forgery.
7. From KEENAN'S CATECHISM, 1869 edition. "Q. Must not Catholics believe
the pope in himself to be infallible? A: This is a Protestant invention; it
is no article of Catholic faith." After 1870, the question was omitted, but
in 1896, the following was added:
"Q: Is the Pope infallible? A: Yes, the Pope is infallible. Q: But some
Catholics,. before the Vatican Council, denied the infallibility of the
Pope, which was impugned by this very Catechism. A: Yes, they did so under
the usual reservation, insofar as they then could grasp the mind of the
Church, and subject to her future definitions, thus implicitely accepting
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