Vatican Corner 08-30-2020

In Roman Catholic theology, there is the doctrine of papal infallibility, when the pope cannot be wrong. It occurs when the pope is acting as the supreme teacher, and is instructing in matters of faith and morals, while doing so under certain conditions. This doctrine is based in the belief that through the assistance of the Holy Spirit, the Church is continuing the teaching mission of Jesus, as he had commanded. The term infallibility for the pope was rarely used during the early and medieval Church. The early Christians believed that even bishops were always right in their judgements until one bishop Paul Samosata was condemned at the Council of Antioch in 264 AD. Also In the period of 625-638 AD, Pope Honorius I was found to be wrong in his heretical teaching and condemned by the Third Council of Constantinople. During the medieval period, popes held great power both spiritually and politically commanding the Papal States. The popes of that period were not considered to be infallible, but that idea of their supreme position was taking hold. The concept really developed in the 13th century due to the Franciscans who were concerned that future popes might take away the rights they had gained. The word infallible was used to mean that a pope was bound by this predecessor’s statements. Also papal infallibility came to mean the way the pope’s sole decisions were used to decide who would be canonized as saints. The Franciscan and Dominican friars pushing for the canonization of their preferred people to be saints, and that brought about the idea that the popes could not err in such decisions. In the 14th and 15th centuries there was a movement away from papal infallibility and toward the supreme authority residing in the Church’s councils, who it was thought could not make a mistake, while a sovereign pope could. But at the same time other religious followers thought just the opposite regarding certain issues of faith and morals. In the 16th century at the time of the Protestant Reformation, those Catholics who were left in the countries that had become Protestant, looked to the pope once again as their powerful religious leader. In the 17th century, the scientific revolution created fear in the popes that their followers would be led astray by scientific ideas and not see them as supreme. In the 18th century the popes battled with the idea that monarchs in the world had the same level of authority as the pope. Then in the 19th century the idea of papal infallibility came to a head when Pope Pius IX decreed the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception to be infallible in his public decree Ineffabilis Deus. The First Vatican Council in 1869-70 in its Pastor Aeternus decree, declared that when the pope spoke “ex Cathedra” (from the papal throne) on the matters of faith and morals, he was infallible. So rather than just a teacher, a supreme judge and a unifier, the role of a pope had become also an oracle of God. But today the Catholic Church’s teaching on papal infallibility is generally misunderstood by those outside the Church. They imagine that the pope cannot sin or that when an infallible explanation is needed, the pope relies on some kind
of magic.