Understanding Infallibility

There’s a delicious scene in Brideshead Re-visited where the spiritually illiterate Rex Mottram is being instructed in the Catholic faith and the priest asks, “If it were raining and the Holy Father said it was sunny, how would you then explain papal infallibility?” Rex ponders for a moment and says, “I suppose I would say that it must be spiritually sunny.”

Similar incomprehension and ignorance surround the subject of papal infallibility amongst our separated brethren. Their problem with understanding this relatively easy to understand belief is made worse by several foundational assumptions which they have picked up from their Protestant education. Read more.

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  • Rob B.

    It is also worth noting that papal infallibility has only been invoked a handful of times in the entire 2000 year history of the Church. With great power comes great responsibility…

  • Jerry Rhino

    Although the concept of papal infallibility is easy to understand, in reality it is hard to identify. Although I have spent years trying to obtain a list of them, my search has been fruitless. Even this simple question, are these infallible, receives contradictory answers:
    1 Auctorem fidei, Pope Pius VI, 1794, condemning seven Jansenist propositions of the Synod of Pistoia as heretical;
    2 Ineffabilis Deus, Pope Pius IX, 1854, defining the immaculate conception;
    3 Munificentissimus Deus, Pope Pius XII, 1950, defining the assumption of Mary?
    Where is the complete list?

  • Doug

    Jerry, anyone- Protestant, Rosicrucian, atheist, Jansenist- can accept 2 and 3 if we change “defining” to “creating”. :-)

  • flyingvic

    “. . . several foundational assumptions . . .” I am reminded of Churchill’s alleged retort in the House of Commons: “I have two things to say to the honourable gentleman and both of them are spherical.” My objections to the idea of Infallibility have nothing whatsoever to do with your list of assumptions; nevertheless I am most grateful to you for listing the reasons for your incomprehension and ignorance about this particular separated brother!

    Where is it – in scripture? in the Fathers? in the tradition of the Roman Church? – that Jesus “In order to preserve the Church in the purity of the faith handed on by the apostles, [Christ who is the Truth] willed to confer on her a share in his own infallibility”? I mean, it’s a lovely idea and all that; but where is the evidence for it? This is the Jesus who lived the Gospel that he preached, who told stories and asked questions. These are the apostles who preached Christ crucified, Christ risen from the dead – the purest preaching that there can be. These were the apostles who had to be persuaded that it was right to include the Gentiles in their mission. Where does the infallibility come from?

  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    Thank you for your question. You will understand that if my list of foundational negative assumptions do not apply to you they certainly do to many of your fellow Protestants. Yours are good questions which I am happy to answer in a separate post.

  • Father Canu

    If it were raining and the Holy Father said it was sunny, I would quote Genesis 9:11-17.

  • EPG

    The Orthodox Church also rejects papal infallibility, but, as I understand it, not for the reasons Fr. L. attributes to the Protestants. Then again, the East’s differences with Rome pre-date the Reformation by a fair amount. :)

  • Charles E. Mac Kay

    He’s never been wrong!