Church of Rome's doctrine of infallibility
Church says that the Earth is flat, but I know that it is round. For I
have seen the shadow on the moon and I have more faith in the Shadow than
in the Church."
What is the Church of Rome's doctrine of infallibility?
Church of Rome's doctrine of infallibility has nothing to do with an overall
state of sinlessness. This is often misunderstand by non-Catholics. Infallibility
is what Rome defines as the prevention from teaching error in the areas
of faith and morals. The Roman Catholics' doctrinal Vatican Council II
affirms this. 9
quality of infallibility is said to be conditional, however. It is conditional
upon whether or not the Pope has chosen to speak ex cathedra
(with the teaching authority of God). Rome holds that God's Spirit guides
the Pope in speaking unerringly on faith and morals only if it is qualified
that he is speaking in that capacity. Otherwise, if he is not speaking ex
cathedra, then it holds that he could be conveying errant information.
Noted Roman Catholic apologist Karl Keating confirms,
Through the guardianship
of the Holy Spirit, the Pope is guaranteed not to teach error regarding
faith or morals (presuming, of course, he intends to make an ex cathedra
statement and is not speaking as a private scholar). 8
How does infallibility relate to biblical interpretation?
it comes to interpretation, the Church of Rome maintained, and still maintains,
that its own interpretations of the Bible are uniquely and unerringly perfect.
Again, apologist Karl Keating relates why:
One thing he [Christ]
said he would do was found a Church, and from both the Bible ... and other
ancient works, we see that Christ established a Church with the rudiments
of all we see in the Catholic Church today ... sacraments, teaching authority,
and, as a consequence of the last, infallibility. Christ's Church, to
do what he said it would do, had to have the note of infallibility.
We thus have taken
purely historical material and concluded that there exists a Church, which
is the Catholic Church, divinely protected against teaching error. Now
we are at the last part of the argument. That Church tells us the Bible
is inspired, and we can take the Church's word for it precisely because
the Church is infallible. 3
appearance of this as being circular reasoning does not evade Keating as
he attempts to assure the reader,
What we have is really
a spiral argument. 4
The appeal to "spiral reasoning".
Church of Rome infers from historical observations, and its private biblical
interpretations, that it alone has the note of infallibility. Using so-called
spiral reasoning, it is then a simple matter to conclude that whatever an
infallible church infers, its inference must be more than just that - it
must be infallible fact.
addition, outside opinions which state that the Church of Rome is not infallible
are held up as the erroneous conclusions that are inevitable without the
divine insight that Rome alone enjoys. This is the groundwork by which the
Church of Rome genuinely perceives its obligation to control all biblical
translation and interpretation. As the Vatican II states,
When a vernacular
translation of a sacramental formula is submitted to the Holy See for
approval, it examines it carefully. When it is satisfied that it expresses
the meaning intended by the Church, it approves and confirms it...
[emphasis mine] 5
is quoted as having agreed with the Church of Rome's infallibility;
I would not believe
in the Gospel if the authority of the Catholic Church did not move me
to do so. 6
of St. Victor also agreed with Rome as he more directly expressed,
Learn first what you
should believe, and then go to the Bible to find it there. 7
Infallible but unaware
infallibility is a belief that the Church of Rome is said to have always
acted under but, albeit, unknowingly. Keating quotes:
Before the definition
of infallibility in 1870, the Popes did not know they were infallible
with the same full certainty of faith as that possessed by later Popes.
But they were infallible in fact. 10
infallibility applies not only to the reigning Pope but, inasmuch as his
pronouncements are perfectly reiterated by the church hierarchy, and in
certain cases the laity, infallibility applies to them as well.
Catholicism's elementary doctrine of infallibility follows its belief that
it alone holds the unique authority to direct whom will or will not receive
God's forgiveness for sins. Although the complete argument is complicated
by other uniquely Catholic beliefs such as the cooperation of Mary, this
essentially translates into saying the earthly Church of Rome is highly
influential in directing eternal destinies.
the spiral argument for infallibility, there is no reason to explore further
the basis for this or any other declarations by the Roman church. Yet there
is one particular application of this belief in Rome's authority to direct
personal destinies that contributed significantly to participation in the
Crusades and Inquisitions. That application is the Church of Rome's unique
doctrine of absolution.
NEXT: The Church of Rome's doctrine of absolution
Catholicism vs. Protestantism