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Papal Infallibility
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"For, professing themselves to be wise, they became fools." (Romans 1:22)

 

Errors can be corrected and trends reversed if only our faith and determination does not fail us in our earnest quest for the truth.

The Mistake of Researching “Papal Infallibility” Wearing White Gloves


Let me start out with a warning. It is a colossal error on the part of any professed Roman Catholic, as I personally discovered, to earnestly set out to undertake “hands-on” research of Church History and the Papacy, and naively believe that one can mentally darn "white gloves" during the overall process without getting them soiled.

I wish to caution those ingenuous Roman Catholic “purists” who delve into Church history that they will undoubtedly find it, at times, to be a “painful” form of self-education.

It can be mentally taxing to come to grips with and accept the inconvenient truth that over the 2 millennia since Christ established his Church that its leaders were oftentimes brutish and barbarian; and that even the "good" ones sometimes managed to do far more harm than then those who were undeniably "wicked".

The Question of Papal Infallibility:

Vatican I (1869-1870) dogmatically declared that Papal Infallibility applies when the Pope:

  1. intends to teach,

  2. by virtue of his supreme authority,

  3. on a matter of faith and morals,

  4. to the whole Church,

that he is preserved by the Holy Spirit from error. His teaching act is therefore called "infallible" and the teaching which he articulates is termed "irreformable".

Pope Pius IX, born Giovanni Maria Mastai-Ferretti in 1792, was the longest reigning pope (1846-1878), possessing personal charm and enjoying great popularity. He was also considered highly impressionable, capricious, impulsive and unpredictable (attributed to the effects of his epilepsy).

It is said that, as pope, he demanded total submission to his view-point on any hotly contested issue brought before him, rarely granting any concessions. His 1864 Syllabus of Errors reflects well his staunch hardline attitude.

In section 5 "Errors Concerning the Church and Her Rights", item 23 it is written:

23. Roman pontiffs and ecumenical councils have wandered outside the limits of their powers, have usurped the rights of princes, and have even erred in defining matters of faith and morals. — Damnatio “Multiplices inter,” June 10, 1851.

In essence, Vatican I’s dogmatic decree of “papal infallibility” was a brilliant manipulative strategy, a ploy, devised and implemented by Pius IX in order to give himself “carte blanche” in dealing with each and every one of the “errors” listed in his Syllabus of Errors … if he, now being “infallible”, so desired.

For any Roman catholic, with an IQ higher than the number of beads in a Rosary, to believe and say, with a straight face, that the 1870 dogmatic decree of papal infallibility was a “Divinely inspired Revelation” from the Holy Ghost, 1,830+ years after Christ established His Church, is absolutely mind boggling.

It is a documented historical fact that Pius IX cleverly saw to it that a vast number of those European bishops who were opposed to the “idea” were excluded from attending the Council.

What Pius IX committed is tantamount to being fraud … pious fraud.

It is incontrovertible that before this 1870 declaration of papal Infallibility that there were no such public sanctimonious acclamations / dissertations espoused on this subject by any of the Church Fathers.

MhFM’s Robert (a.k.a. Brother Peter) Dimond disputes this premise in his text “Refuting the Eastern Orthodox” by citing St Luke 22: 31-32 as scriptural proof that St. Peter’s "Papal Infallibility" was promised / guaranteed by Christ. He states:

… It [Papal Infallibility] was defined as a dogma at Vatican I in 1870, but the truth of it was believed since the beginning. We find the promise of the unfailing faith for St. Peter and his successors referred to by Christ in Luke 22:

“And the Lord said: Simon, Simon, behold Satan hath desired to have all of you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and thou, being once converted, confirm thy brethren.” – St. Luke 22:31-32

What Dimond failed to include were the two verses that followed:

“Who said to him: Lord, I am ready to go with thee, both into prison, and to death. And he said: I say to thee, Peter, the cock shall not crow this day, till thou thrice deniest that thou knowest me.” - St Luke 22: 33-34

With the inclusion of those two verses, and the knowledge of what transpired with Peter after Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, one is left with but two options to consider. Either:

  • Christ’s prayer to God, that Peter’s faith not fail him, was not heard; or

  • • Peter, quite simply, was and always would remain, like all men, subject to error (Fallible).

Dimond goes on to add:

“And this truth has been held since the earliest times in the Catholic Church.

Pope St. Gelasius I, epistle 42, or ecretal de recipiendis et non recipiendis libris, 495: ‘Accordingly, the see of Peter the Apostle of the Church of Rome is first, having neither spot, nor wrinkle, nor anything of this kind (Eph. 5:27).’”

What Dimond fails to mention is that Gelasius I (pope from 492-496) also decreed that babies were obliged to receive communion; for if they died baptized but uncommunicated, they would go straight to Hell.

Fortunately, Gelasius I’s “infallible” decree was “condemned” by the Council of Trent.

It should also be noted that, 347 years before Vatican I, Pope Adrian VI in 1523 stated that numerous popes in the history of the Church had in fact been “heretics”; which therefore unequivocally negates the presumption that all popes have been or are “infallible”:

“If by the Roman church you mean its head or pontiff, it is beyond question that he can err even in matters touching the faith. He does this when he teaches heresy by his own judgement or decretal. In truth, many Roman Pontiffs were heretics …"

In 1869, J.H. Ignaz von Döllinger, a professor of Church History, the most famous of his day and a fine theologian, under the pseudonym Janus, published “The Pope and the Council”. He did so with the firm intention of persuading those who would be attending Vatican I not to support Pope Pius IX's position on “Papal Infallibility”.

With precision timing, Pope Pius IX, ten days before the opening of Vatican I, placed Döllinger’s book on the Church’s “Index Librorum Prohibitorum“ (Index of Forbidden Books); which was a list of publications deemed heretical, or contrary to morality by the Sacred Congregation of the Index and thus forbidden reading by Catholics. This strategic move on the part of Pius IX successfully stymied any possible resistance from being introduced at the Council because of it.

Döllinger wrote 20 years before Lord Acton concerning “Absolute Power” (Infallibility):

“All absolute power demoralizes the possessor. To that all history bears witness. And if it be spiritual power, which rules men’s consciences, the danger is only so much greater, for the possession of such a power exercises a special treacherous fascination, while it is peculiarly conducive to self-deceit, because the lust of dominion, when it has become a passion, is only to easily in this case excused under the plea of zeal for the salvation of others. And if the man into whose hands this absolute power has fallen cherishes the further opinion that he is infallible, and the an organ of the Holy Ghost, - if he knows that a decision of his in moral and religious questions will be received with the general, and what is more, ex animo [from the heart] submission of millions, - it seems almost impossible that his sobriety of mind should always be proof against so intoxicating a sense of power.

To this must be added the notion, sedulously fostered by Rome for centuries, that every conclave is the scene of the eventual triumph of the Holy Ghost, who guides the election in spite of the artifices of rival parties, and that the newly elected Pope is the special and chosen instrument of divine grace for carrying out the purposes of God towards the church and the world. The whole life of such a man, from the moment when he is placed on the altar to receive the first homage by the kissing of his feet, will be an unbroken chain of adulations. Everything is expressly calculated for strengthening him in the belief that between himself and other mortals there is an impassable gulf, and when involved in the cloud and fumes of perpetual incense, the firmest character must yield at last to a temptation beyond human strength to resist.”

In 1872, two years after Vatican I, Döllinger was excommunicated by his Archbishop for not accepting papal infallibility, and a year later he was sacked from his Chair of History. He died at aged 90, still unreconciled.

Peter De Rosa states in his book “Vicars of Christ: The Dark Side of the Papacy”:

To review briefly the evidence against papal infallibility: Peter was fallible, both before and after the crucifixion. Nor is there any hint in the New Testament that Peter had some kind of power that a successor would inherit. According to the Church Fathers, Peter as such had no successor. They see all bishops as succeeding to the apostles, not an individual bishop succeeding to an individual apostle, in the case of Peter. They, therefore, could not possibly have accepted the claim that “Peter’s successor” had to rule the See of Rome.

We have seen too, that all the great doctrinal statements, especially the creeds, came not from popes but from Councils; In the early centuries, it never occurred to the Bishops of Rome that they could define doctrines for the whole church. Vatican I really needed to explain why, if papal infallibility is crucial to the church, there is no mention of it in the creeds and Councils of the undivided church and why it was not imposed until 1870. Before then, papal infallibility was in no way demanded by Catholics. They could, and whole countries did, deny it without any suggestion that they were bad Catholics.

But if Catholics were not obliged to believe in papal infallibility before 1870 they were free to believe or not what any pope said. In the words of Cardinal Newman, it was a “theological opinion … a probability”. Until 1870, Catholics never could believe a doctrine on the basis of a pope’s definition; at best, they were free to hold it as probable. But, if this opinion existed, the pope cannot have regulated the faith of the church as a Council did. In a word, papal ex-cathedra statements throughout history – even presuming, for the sake of argument, that there were some – were only imposed on the church from 1870 on. There might, of course, be other grounds for the pope being infallible, and there were. He was a bishop teaching alongside other bishops in what is called the “ordinary magisterium”. But precisely in the terms set out in Vatican I the faithful could accept what he said or reject it. In other words, papal infallibility did not critically affect the church until 1870. The notion some Catholics have that they get their faith in God and Jesus and the Church from the pope as such is mistaken. The church never had and never required papal infallibility for its Christian faith.

According to Vatican I, the pope is only infallible when he speaks ex-cathedra. It would seem, then, more appropriate to say that the pope is fallible, except when, rarely, he makes ex-cathedra pronouncements. As pointed out by a bishop in the Council itself, to say “The pope is infallible” is rather like saying “Mr X is a drunkard because he got drunk once”; or, worse, “Mr X is a drunkard because his great-grandfather got drunk once,” for ex-cathedra statements are extremely rare. It would be hard to find one before the 1854 definition of the “Immaculate Conception”. And, as all agree, there has only been one since 1870. That was when Pius XII defined another Marian doctrine, the Assumption, in 1950.

The rarity of ex-cathedra statements makes John XXIII’s remark something more than a jest: “I am not infallible. I would only be infallible if I spoke ex-cathedra, which I do not intend to do.” Even Paul VI did not invoke infallibility when condemning birth control in 1968.

Catholic theologians are keen to point out that infallibility does not mean that the pope is inspired, can see into the future, can decide any issue as an when the whim takes him, necessarily expresses the truth perfectly so it never needs revision or expansion. What almost all of them fail to point out is that even on Catholic principles popes by and large are not infallible at all. They do not speak infallibly when the Church and the world are crying out for light in darkness.

Since 1870 everyone would like to know the answers to many stupendous questions:

  • Are there people on other planets and, if so, how does Christ’s Incarnation affect them?

  • Is nuclear war justified under any circumstances and can a Catholic engage in the research and development of such weapons?

Hundreds of similar questions have been raised by science and technology. Not one infallible answer has emerged from Rome. It would have helped if a pope had defined [as infallible], with the Bible’s backing, “Jesus, a poor Man is always on the side of the poor.” Or: “He who has it in his power to feed the hungry and does not do so is starving Christ Himself.” Pius IX and Pius XII chose to exercise their infallibility on Marian Doctrines without basis in the Bible or in tradition. The harvest of infallibility is meagre.

Papal infallibility has done nothing to enlighten the church. What, then, is its function? It would seem to have less to do with “truth” and everything to do with “control” (power).

Just as those who have suffered abuse from the hands of wretched parents cannot unwind the hands of time and somehow “change” their lineage; we as Roman Catholics cannot undo or ignore the documented abuse committed by certain priests, bishops and papal impersonators recorded in the pages of Church history.

Catholics must accept that the Church, for all its historical “good” and “bad” undertakings, is our Christian lineage and our professed responsibility to persevere in the faith and never to abandon it. Though at times it may be difficult to recognize that Christ is still in control of His church … no one should ever doubt that He is.

Errors can be corrected and trends reversed if only our faith and determination does not fail us in our earnest quest for the truth.

 


- Pax Tecum

 

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