Although infallibility no longer is a much-debated topic in the secularized countries, because the majority is indifferent and doesn’t even know what infallibility means, it is still a means of attacking the Church in countries subject to a constant and intense aggression on the part of the sects. These make this matter and that of the virginity of Mary almost their only arguments to criticize the church. Unfortunately, however, the more frequent and intensive attacks come from the interior of the Church itself, of theologians and priests who have lost the faith of the Church, at least on this point. It is important, therefore, to have a clear idea of where this dogma comes from and what its implications are.
|Teaching of the Catechism:
“The mission of the Magisterium is linked to the definitive nature of the covenant established by God with his people in Christ. It is this Magisterium’s task to preserve God’s people from deviations and defections and to guarantee them the objective possibility of professing the true faith without error. Thus, the pastoral duty of the Magisterium is aimed at seeing to it that the People of God abides in the truth that liberates. To fulfill this service, Christ endowed the Church’s shepherds with the charism of infallibility in matters of faith and morals. the exercise of this charism takes several forms” (CCC no. 890).
“The Roman Pontiff, head of the college of bishops, enjoys this infallibility in virtue of his office, when, as supreme pastor and teacher of all the faithful – who confirms his brethren in the faith he proclaims by a definitive act a doctrine pertaining to faith or morals…. the infallibility promised to the Church is also present in the body of bishops when, together with Peter’s successor, they exercise the supreme Magisterium,” above all in an Ecumenical Council (LG 25; cf Vatican I: DS 3074). When the Church through its supreme Magisterium proposes a doctrine “for belief as being divinely revealed,” (DV 10) and as the teaching of Christ, the definitions “must be adhered to with the obedience of faith.” (LG 25) This infallibility extends as far as the deposit of divine Revelation itself” (CCC no. 891)
“Divine assistance is also given to the successors of the apostles, teaching in communion with the successor of Peter, and, in a particular way, to the bishop of Rome, pastor of the whole Church, when, without arriving at an infallible definition and without pronouncing in a “definitive manner,” they propose in the exercise of the ordinary Magisterium a teaching that leads to better understanding of Revelation in matters of faith and morals. To this ordinary teaching the faithful “are to adhere to it with religious assent”(LG 25) which, though distinct from the assent of faith, is nonetheless an extension of it” (CCC no. 892)
“The supreme degree of participation in the authority of Christ is ensured by the charism of infallibility. This infallibility extends as far as does the deposit of divine Revelation; it also extends to all those elements of doctrine, including morals, without which the saving truths of the faith cannot be preserved, explained, or observed” (CCC no. 2035)
“Some think that by eliminating the primate the unity would be reconstituted. This is not the case; the unity would cease to exist” (Pope Paul VI).
“When I asked the Anglican Church my questions about the life I lived under its tutelage, it gave me no answers. It just told me to stay quiet, but that wasn´t enough; a soul is not satisfied eternally with sweetness, soft murmurs and hymns; and the freedom that we enjoy turns out to be a slavery more intolerable than the heaviest chains. I didn’t want to go down a path after another, according to my desires: I wanted to know which was the way that God wanted me to walk. I didn’t want to be free to turn my back to the truth; I wanted a truth that would make me free. I didn´t long for the spacious, pleasant roads, but the narrow path that is Truth and Life. And for all of those things my old church didn´t support me” (Robert Hugh Benson. “Confessions of a convert”).
First of all, it should be clear what the infallibility of the Pope is, what is its origin and why it is instituted by Christ.
The Pope is infallible – or, similarly, you cannot go wrong- when solemnly and under certain conditions he promulgates and declares a teaching in matters of faith and morals. Therefore, the papal infallibility does not mean that the Pope cannot sin, because it is related to his teaching (a professor may be teaching the truth, in mathematics for example, and be an evil person). Nor does it imply that the Pope is always right (on political issues, for example), even in strictly religious topics. He only is infallible, as stated in the Catechism, when in an explicit way, speaking as Supreme Pastor of the Church, says that the teaching in particular is something “revealed by God to be believed”. In such cases, it is said that the Pope speaks “ex cathedra”. There are very few occasions when this has occurred. In the last few centuries only three dogmas of faith have been proclaimed: one precisely on infallibility (Vatican I, 18 July 1870), the other on the Immaculate Conception of Mary (8 December 1854) and the third on the Assumption of Mary into Heaven (1 November 1950). Therefore, contrary to what many claim, recourse to the infallibility has been used on very few occasions by the Pontiffs.
The papal infallibility – and of the bishops united with him – was something loved by Christ Himself, when he charged San Peter to govern the Church and to confirm his brothers in the faith, and the other apostles (cf. Jn 1: 3; Mk 42, 16; Mt 16:18-19; Jn 21:15-17; Lk 10, 16; Lk 22:31-32). Infallibility is attached to a special assistance by the Holy Spirit. Although it was proclaimed in the 19th century, it does not mean that it existed only since then; it means that only then was the need to believe in it formally proclaimed, but from the beginning was assumed as a truth of faith, though not without controversy.
The reason is obvious: in any company or institution, there is a need for someone to have the last word when the discussion and the different views do not allow one behavior to be adopted unanimously. Also in the Church, this has happened and continues to happen. From its inception, because it is formed by men, there have been various interpretations and sometimes radically opposed to critical issues (the nature of Christ, for example: if He was true God and true man). Again, and again there were divisions within the Community and each of the parties argued with interpretations of Scripture that seemed to have the whole truth. It was necessary to go to arbitration, to someone who had the last word. That someone, loved by Christ, is the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome, the Pope. Those who reject the papal infallibility seem to forget that if it hadn’t been for it, we would not have the faith that we have, we would not believe that Christ is true God and true Man, by talking about something that the majority of the churches share. In fact, when you see the drift that is occurring in most of the non-catholic Churches, swept away by the hurricane of relativism and hedonism, the great gift, which is the figure of the Pope, is appreciated much more with his ability to put light in the midst of the confusion through this extraordinary dogma. Some even, as Robert Hugh Benson or like Chesterton, were attracted by Catholicism precisely for this reason.
Finally, there is a need to clarify, as the Catechism (no. 892), which, although not all the teachings of the Pope and the bishops in communion with him enjoy the nature of the “infallible”, these teachings must be observed “in a spirit of religious obedience”, because they are teachings of the Magisterium of the Church, and without being dogmas of faith, come backed by the words of Christ: “He who hears you hears me” (Lk 10: 16).