The Church of Rome's doctrine of infallibility


"The 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."

- Ferdinand Magellan


4.1 What is the Church of Rome's doctrine of infallibility?

The 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

The 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

4.2 How does infallibility relate to biblical interpretation?

When 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

The 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

4.3 The appeal to "spiral reasoning".

The 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.

In 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

Augustine 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

Hugo 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

4.4 Infallible but unaware

Mysteriously, 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

Furthermore, 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.

Upon 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.

Given 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.



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This concerns the second of three contributions that persons within the ancient Roman Catholic Church made that unknowingly helped foster the Dark Ages.

These theological shortcomings are made extra disappointing by the fact that ancient Roman authorities had otherwise been so faithful for so long in preserving the ancient texts and major teachings of the Bible.

1. What is infallibility
2. Infallibility and interpretation
3. The appeal to spiral reasoning
4. Infallible but unaware


Catholicism vs. Protestantism disclaimer