Papal Infallibility is something that is rarely discussed in its truest meaning but always assumed in its lesser more adopted meaning. In this posting I would with help of a few resources make some clarifications for Catholics and those who are in schism with the Holy See (aka: anyone of the 36,000 Christian denominations).
Let me be clear on two points: Firstly, the Holy Father can only speak infallibly when making a pronouncement of doctrine when in reference to faith and morals. Secondly, the bishops of the Church while either together in a single place or separately as long as they are in union with one another (and the Pope) may speak infallibly when teaching about doctrine.
Furthermore, there has only been two specific instances when the Holy Father has had to specifically speak ex cathedra: 1854 Pope Pius IX, and 1950 Pope Pius XII. The 21 ecumenical councils in the history of the Church are also considered infallible because the body of bishops in conjunction with the Holy Father come together and teach without error on faith and morals, this can be more clearly understood in one of the sections of the second Vatican council called Lumen Gentium.
“This authority is even more clearly verified when, gathered together in an ecumenical council, they are teachers and judges of faith and morals for the universal Church. Their definitions must then be adhered to with the submission of faith” (Lumen Gentium 25)
I would now like to delve into the two specific instances of papal infallibility that I mentioned in a previous comment. The first of which is the Immaculate Conception that was specifically brought up in the Papal Bull Ineffabilis. (A Bull is a Papal edict.) This Bull was written by Pope Pius IX in 1854 after he conferred with a commission of theologians on the matter and the 604 Bishops at the time. Once the special commission of theologians that Pius IX set up determined the relativity of the Immaculate Conception and its correlation to the laity’s practice of the faith they then influenced Pope Pius IX and he set about preparing the document Ineffabilis.
“We declare, pronounce and define that the doctrine which asserts that the Blessed Virgin Mary, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God, and in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, Saviour of the human race, was preserved free from every stain of original sin is a doctrine revealed by God and, for this reason, must be firmly and constantly believed by all the faithful.” (Pius IX)
If it was not already made clear any Catholic who is not in accordance with the infallible proclamation above is considered in schism with the Holy See. For the first 1,484 years of the Catholic Church all the way up until Martin Luther’s schismatic revolution in 1517 the Immaculate Conception was never at question. Also, to the astonishment of many modern day Lutherans and Protestants, Martin Luther believed in the Immaculate Conception and prayed the rosary up until his death. I bring this up so that we can ponder more deeply the reasons that people split from the Catholic Church. Do they claim to follow Luther and his beliefs or do they take it upon themselves to attempt and define the Bible on their own without help of the Holy Church?
Today is August 15th, which leads to the second infallible proclamation, the Assumption of Mary. “We pronounce, declare and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul to heavenly glory.” These words uttered by Pope Pius XII 96 years later marked the second time in which the Holy Father has exerted his highest authoritative power. To quickly clarify one point in regards to the word “assumed”, I would like to say that in using that word it is understood that Mary was either dead or alive but was brought up to Heaven not under her own power but under the power of the Father. Christ “ascended” into heaven under His own power due to the fact that He is God.
Sure I can give definitions, and read to you quotes of texts that are in many cases ancient in our modern minds, but the most important thing to explain is the Biblical teaching behind the infallible power of our Holy Father.
“18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.19 Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 18:18-19)
This quotation is Jesus promising the magisterium of the Church to the apostles. Giving the first bishops of the Church the teaching power (the infallible power) that we see all the way up into todays modern religious society. Besides Matthew 18 there is also Matthew 16:18 where Christ explicitly tells the apostles two things. Firstly that Peter is the foundation upon which the Church is built and secondly that not even the devil himself can change the will of that perfect institution.
Why is this important?
It is important because it proves that the Holy Catholic Church was instituted by God and therefore without error, and that any other church that is created by man and not God is with error and either in schism or completely heretical. By saying that the Church is without error I am not saying that either the Holy Father or bishops, and priests are perfect. In fact, far from it, I am merely acknowledging that because a perfect Being created the Church, the Church itself can not be ended by any human means.
This is merely a short blog to reteach essential and important doctrine, and hopefully enlighten you to things that you may not have already known. Please know that if anything is not clear, it will always remain my intention to make it so. If you are unclear about essential facts of the faith, do not hesitate to find answers before you form an opinion. An educated opinion is far more respectable than an ignorant one.