TS 1: Infallibility
The Magisterium teaches infallibly in only three ways:
Sacred infallible Magisterium
1. Papal infallibility
The teaching of the First Vatican Council on Papal Infallibility can be conveniently summed up with a list of criteria that a teaching must meet in order to obtain "that infallibility with which the divine Redeemer willed His Church to be endowed…."
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"
Whenever a teaching of the Pope by himself does not meet all of the above criteria, his teaching is not infallible. If anyone claims that the teaching of the Pope is always infallible, regardless of the above definition from the First Vatican Council, such a person has fallen into heresy.
2. The infallible definitions of the body of Bishops led by the Pope, which typically occurs in Ecumenical Councils
An Ecumenical Council occurs when the body of Bishops gather under the authority and leadership of the Pope, to exercise the spiritual and temporal authority of the Church. The group of Bishops must be representative of the universal Church, not merely the Bishops from one or a few nations. The Pope need not be personally present; he may send a representative. Only the teachings decisions of the Council approved by the Pope are valid and in force. Apart from the Pope, the Council has no authority. A Council cannot over-rule the current Pope, nor contradict past infallible teachings, nor teach with authority apart from the Pope. A Council cannot remove a Pope from office, nor take any action with the authority of the universal Church apart from the Pope. If a Pope dies during a Council, that Council ceases to be a Council; for Ecumenical Councils by definition must have the Pope as their head. A body without a head cannot continue.
Ecumenical Councils can teach infallibly, typically through Canons or Dogmatic Definitions. But a Council can also teach under the non-infallible Ordinary Magisterium. And a Council can exercise the temporal authority of the Church, as opposed to the teaching authority.
Sometimes the Pope may consult with the Bishops of the world by various means of communication, and then they may arrive at a definition of doctrine, which will have the authority of the definition of a Council, because it is the body of Bishops led by the Pope teaching definitively. Such definitive doctrinal decisions of the body of Bishops led by the Pope are infallible. (Three examples of this type of infallible definition of doctrine are found in the encyclical of Pope John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae.)
3. the Ordinary Universal Magisterium
"Although the individual bishops do not enjoy the prerogative of infallibility, they nevertheless proclaim Christ's doctrine infallibly whenever, even though dispersed through the world, but still maintaining the bond of communion among themselves and with the Successor of Peter, and authentically teaching matters of faith and morals, they are in agreement on one position as definitively to be held." Lumen Gentium, n. 25.
This is the most common way that the Church teaches infallibly. This type of infallible teaching has no one particular written definition. It occurs when successive Bishops and Popes, over the course of time, definitively teach one and the same doctrine on a question of faith or morals whose answer is found in Sacred Tradition or Sacred Scripture, while dispersed throughout the world. An example of such an infallible teaching would perhaps be the teaching of the Church against artificial birth control. Another example would perhaps be the teaching that Mary died and was raised from the dead prior to her Assumption.
It is sometimes difficult to discern which teachings fall under the Ordinary Universal Magisterium, since the Magisterium has not defined exact criteria for this type of teaching, and since there is no one written statement which constitutes the infallible teaching.
All other teachings fall under the Ordinary Magisterium, which is non-infallible. The teachings of the Ordinary Magisterium may contain errors on particular points, but never to such an extent as to lead the faithful away from the path of salvation.
The Difference between the Ordinary Magisterium and the Ordinary Universal Magisterium
The Ordinary Universal Magisterium is called 'ordinary' because such teachings generally begin under the non-infallible Ordinary Magisterium. And then, when the teaching has developed to the point that the Bishops and the Pope are in agreement on one position definitively to be taught, based on Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture, the teaching then falls under the Universal Magisterium and becomes an infallible teaching. Along the way from non-infallible to infallible, the teaching may undergo a development of doctrine, which prunes the teaching of any false or inaccurate ideas, adds all that is essential to a proper understanding of that particular point, and brings the teaching into full accord with the other teachings of the Church.
Although the individual bishops do not enjoy the prerogative of infallibility, they nevertheless proclaim Christ's doctrine infallibly whenever, even though dispersed through the world, but still maintaining the bond of communion among themselves and with the successor of Peter, and authentically teaching matters of faith and morals, they are in agreement on one position as definitively to be held.
I think many misread this as Bishop’s always proclaiming authentically correct teachings. However, they must teach doctrine concerning faith and morals that are definitively true; one must remain vigilant.
the passage that you cite refers to the Ordinary Universal Magisterium, i.e. to the body of Bishops teaching in union with the Pope over the course of time. Individual Bishops never teach infallibly. They participate in the infallible Magisterium as a body united with the Pope.
This is exactly the sort of information I needed when I first converted (reverted? I was baptized Catholic, but not raised that way). Thank you!
any questions on infallibility versus non-infallibility?
any questions on the Magisterium?
Yes, I have a million questions, but I am not sure where to start. :-? Is there a source, as in a listing, of which teachings are infallible vs. non-infallible amongst the many Catholic source books available? I understand your Catechism answer in another thread, but I am not sure where to look to see if something is fallible/infallible. i.e. a list that says, Teaching on Abortion - infallible (or non-infallible)
I may have missed this in the threads, but have there been any or many cases in which previously infallible teachings were found to be non-infallible? Is this a possibility, and how is it rectified?
Question RE Papal Infallibility and Ecumenical Reception
Question that relates again to the concept of reception.
Vatican I is often perceived in the East as the greatest obstacle to reunion. The Pope being infallible in his office "ex cathedra" seems to imply that he functions as the mouthpiece and representitive of the entire Church. Orthodox have explained papal infallibility positively as the pope speaking on behalf of the ecumenical consensus beforehand in his special divinely given charisma and office. After all, the ecumenical consensus is often unclear for quite some time (as it was for centuries with the Arian and iconoclastic heresies), and papal infallibility here serves as an efficient way of expressing the ecumenical consensus beforehand.
But Vatican I also says that the pope speaks infallibly, "independantly of the consensus of the Church." This seems problematic to the EAstern mind, because it seems to reduce the Church to the Pope, since it seems to imply that the Pope bears Tradition on his shoulders entirely without reference to the Mind of the Church corporately. It also implies to many in the East that his charisma bears no relationship to the Conciliar nature of the Church as the East understands it.
Thus, that statement gives birth in the Eastern mind to the intense fear, rational or otherwise, that the Pope now cuts himself off, post Vatican I, from the Church to stand above it as a tyrant. This is re-inforced by episodes such as at the Vatican council itself, when the Chaldean Catholic patriarch expressed reservations to the Pope about the way that he phrased infallibility, and how this would be misunderstood in the East. The pope locked him in the Vatican palace until the patriarch expressed his submission by allowing the pope to place his foot on the patriarch's neck. For the East, which also maintains apostolic sees from Peter, Paul, Andrew, Mark, Thomas, and so forth, this was a horrifying gesture that seemed to vindicate existing fears about how the Pope perceived the other apostolic sees.
I was wondering how you would, in charity, address these concerns. For the sake of Unity.
There is an error among some Catholics (which I call Magisteriumism) which tends to see the Pope as the only source of truth in the Church. This view is heretical.
The sources of truth in the Catholic Faith are: Tradition, Scripture, Magisterium. The Magisterium is not above Tradition and Scripture, but instead serves Tradition and Scripture. The Pope can only exercise papal infallibility when teaching from Tradition and Scripture. Since he is teaching from Tradition, which is transmitted as a living Tradition in the lives of all faithful Christians, he is not above as a tyrant, but below as a servant.
However, it is a required belief in the Catholic faith, and one which the Orthodox must accept for the sake of unity, that the Pope by himself can infallibly define any truth of faith, morals, or salvation found in Tradition and Scripture.
There is no list of infallible teachings.
Theologians cannot agree, and the Magisterium has not defined, which teaching fall under papal infallibility, which under the infallibility of Councils (although this point is more clear than the others), and which under the infallibility of the universal Magisterium.
It is not always clear if a teaching is infallible or non-infallible.
It is not always clear if a teaching is a teaching, or merely a theological opinion.
Church teaching against abortion is infallible.
It is not possible for an infallible teaching to become or to be found to be non-infallible. The teachings of the Church are not fallible, they are non-infallible, in other words, they still have a degree of protection from certain kinds of errors, namely, errors which would lead the faithful away from the path of salvation.
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