(11-1-05; abridged and reformulated a bit on 2-14-17)
Critics of Catholic claimed infallibility and indefectibility, have to, it seems to me, contend for one of these two things:
1) God is unable to preserve Christian doctrine without error throughout history by means of (in and of themselves, without His aid) fallen, imperfect, fallible men and an imperfect Church run by such men (i.e., sinners).
2) God was, of course, able to do this if He chose to (being omnipotent), but He chose not to do so.
If #1 is chosen, why you believe that? Is it because of a denial of God’s omnipotence?
If #2 is selected, why think that God would not protect true theology from corruption, especially in light of the biblical teaching that the Holy Spirit will guide us into all truth?
Such protection of His Church is a function of God’s omnipotence, indicated in Scripture as harmonious with what we in fact see Him doing, and involves something of high importance to the well-being of souls.
Basically my argument here is a subtle variation of a reductio ad absurdum: an exercise in consistency of logic combined with data from revelation that Protestants and Catholics hold in common. And, as usual, I am probing premises, because I think they have been insufficiently scrutinized in this instance.
Anyway, if we grant that God allows error, how much error does He allow? Does God go a certain distance and then we are on our own? That wasn’t the view at the council of Jerusalem (nor St. Paul’s). Everything was quite certain then, and “seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us” [Acts 15:28]. But that is before the days that denominations and division had to be rationalized as somehow remotely sanctioned by Holy Scripture.
I often compare an infallible Church to the infallible, inspired Bible, because most orthodox Christians throughout history have held a very high view of Scripture. God did that via sinful men, so the question becomes: “why should doctrine or creeds be any different?” It’s a very serious (and I believe, important) question.
I don’t see this as mere epistemology; rather it is a matter of trust in God and acceptance of what seems fairly obvious (at least to me) in Scripture; i.e., a matter of revelation, which exists apart from a necessary epistemological rationale. We accept what it says in faith. One could say it comes down to hermeneutics, too, since what I see in the Bible seems perfectly harmonious with an authoritative Church, preserved from error.
Photo credit: Public Domain Files.com / uploaded on 11-10-12.