Ecclesiology

The Infallibility of the Pope and the Magisterium

In discourse in the Catholic blogosphere in the last two years, it has become increasingly evident that Catholics grossly misunderstand the infallibility of our holy ecumenical Pontiff, presently, Benedict XVI, pope of Rome, and the universal Magisterium. This point of clarification is, to be honest, in response to a dispute on another column that began with the claim that “an encyclical is not dogma.”

Following the First Vatican Council, a number of Catholic theologians oversimplified the dogma of papal infallibility due to Orthodox and Protestant criticisms. The unfortunate result is that it has given rise to a flawed understanding of the dogma promulgated by the Council. The most prevalent, profoundly erroneous practice has been to view the dogma of papal infallibility as a formula, which severely misunderstands the teaching of Vatican I.

This is most obvious in a number of myths surrounding the dogma that are unfortunately still taught to some Catholics. For example, to exercise papal infallibility, the Holy Father does not have to be actually seated on the Papal Throne, nor does the ecumenical Pontiff have to explicitly cite the fact that he is invoking infallibility, and neither does the Bishop of Rome have to be issuing a dogma or doctrinal definition for his words to be infallible and therefore binding on all the faithful.

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