Bishop is, there let the multitude of believers be;
| Christ gave to
Simon Peter and his successors, the Keys to the Kingdom and the power
of binding and loosing. To the Popes was given the authority to teach.
To them, in this regard, was given the charism of infallibility.
"Infallibility" is not "impeccability" -- the inability to sin.
Catholics do not believe that Popes are sinless and never err.
Infallibility is simply a gift that is expressed in very specific ways,
limited by Sacred Deposit of Faith -- Tradition, Scripture, and the
unanimous writings of the early Fathers. As put by Vatican I:
Or, as put even more bluntly by Pope Pius XII in Mystici Coporis Christi:
The Pope may explain doctrines more fully, he may go more deeply into them, he can extrapolate from moral principles to shed light on new situations that arise, but he cannot contradict what has been handed down by Christ and the Apostles and still claim infallibility for that teaching.
believe the first Pope possessed the charism of infallibility.
earthly authorty pass away? If not, where did that authority
pass on to?
The authority passed to Peter and to the priests of the New Covenant.
"But we don't believe that Moses and Jacob and David were perfect! Look at David -- he committed adultery! Just because they wrote infallible books doesn't mean they were perfect!"
Precisely. And Catholics don't believe that Popes are perfect and can't sin or that every word a Pope mutters is infallible. When David whored around, he sinned. When Solomon prayed to pagan gods, he sinned. When Peter denied Christ three times, he sinned. When Pope John Paul II kissed the Koran or failed to deal with heretic, Modernist Bishops and homosexualist priests, he sinned. Impeccability is not a part of the deal -- but all of these sinners had/have the charism of infallibility.
How Infallibility Works
(i.e. "authoritative") Magisterium of the Church -- i.e., the teaching
office of the Church exercised by proper authority -- has different
levels of infallibility:
Now, some Catholics forget the second level of the Magisterium, the "Ordinary Infallible Magisterium." They forget the Sacred Deposit of Faith, the unanimous agreement of the early Christian Fathers, and Sacred Tradition. These "Catholics" are the "liberal Catholics" or "modernist Catholics" you hear so much from in the media. They are the ones who root for the ordination of women, the eradication of the Christian view of homosexuality, etc. These are the well-organized, well-funded loudmouth "Catholics" who eat away at the Church's teachings and have become well-entrenched in various dioceses.
Another type of Catholic forgets about that third level of teaching that is not infallible at all. Any time the Pope teaches, he must be heard, his authority given respect, and the teaching given the benefit of the doubt because it comes from the Vicar of Christ. But if it contradicts prior infallible Magisterium, it is not infallible -- and it must not be obeyed if it proves harmful to the faith. Catholics who forget this level of Magisterium try very hard to be "orthodox" by being obedient, but they often have a false sense of obedience -- an obedience that sometimes borders on a pre-conscious papolatry ("pope worship"), though, of course, they know better and know that "worshiping the Pope" would be a terrible sin. They usually have a very healthy sensus catholicus, a desire for traditional Catholicism, and a virtuous patience, but they simply attribute to the Pope authority he does not have and they truly need to come to a better understanding of what the Magisterium is. These Catholics are often called "neo-conservatives," "conservatives," or "neo-Catholics" (they often think of and refer to themselves as "traditional Catholics" though they are not). You will see these otherwise wonderful Catholics tying themselves into knots trying to defend some of the novelties that followed Vatican II, or sweating bullets making excuses for some of the Holy Father's more scandalous actions (e.g., "ecumenical" services that include praying with Animists, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, Protestants; allowing altar girls and "Extraordinary Eucharistic Ministers", etc.), failures to act (e.g., lack of discipline given to Bishops), and opinions (e.g., support for the anti-subsidiarity, anti-life, anti-Christ United Nations).
Their desire to protect the Holy Father is understandable -- and laudable! -- especially since the papacy has been attacked so unfairly since the Protestant Rebellion and the ensuing secular revolution, most often with outrageous lies. But these Catholics have to wake up, study a bit, and defend true Catholic teaching as it has been known for 2,000 years. Even St. Peter himself -- the first Pope -- was "wtihstood" "to the] face" by St. Paul when he erred (Galatians 2:11-21).
How to recognize what is and isn't infallible
it has always been taught by the Church as a matter of faith or morals
to be held by all Catholics everywhere (both Eastern and Roman
Catholics), it is infallible. If it is a solemn definition, it is
document, the only parts which would be infallible would be the lines
"Jesus Christ is God" and "women may not be ordained to the priesthood"
because these have always been taught. This is teaching at the level of
the Universal Magisterium, which is infallible.
explicit "we define" here? Notice that it is addressed to "anyone,"
not just to members of the Latin Church or of the Eastern Churches,
etc.? Notice the penalty in place for non-acceptance of what is being
said (if you don't believe this, you have fallen away from the Catholic
Faith)? By these marks, you can know that infallible teaching is being
How the teachings are passed down
In addition to the above authoritative excercises of the Magisterium is "ecclesiastical tradition." Ecclesiastical tradition is the body of disciplines and practices which Christ's Church has ordained to be the manner in which our Faith is lived out and expressed. To quote Brother Alexis Bugnolo, writing in Seattle Catholic:
The details of ecclesiastical tradition (small "T") are not a matter of dogma per se, but they are the inerrant manner in which dogma and doctrine are taught, learned, expressed, and lived. The details of ecclesiastical tradition may develop; they are not written in stone. But they may develop only slowly, "organically," in terms of quantity or quality and not of substance, and in such a manner that is consistent with Natural Law and which better expresses the Faith or at least doesn't harm the Faith, such as the novel practices since Vatican II do. Many of the problems in the Church since the Second Vatican Council stem from the almost complete eradication or revolutionizing of ecclesiastical tradition, in spite of the Second Council of Nicaea's anathema against such things and in spite of the fact that they have proven dangerous to the Faith.
Finally...Infallibility refers to the Holy Spirit protecting Church teaching in very specific ways; it in no way refers to "impeccability" or sinlessness. The Pope is a sinner, as we all are. Given that Jorge Bergoglio holds the Petrine office today, and Borgia Popes held the office during the Renaissance, this should be obvious. Popes can -- and do -- sin. They have to repent and go to Confession, too, just like every other Catholic in the world.
That the Pope is a sinner is a very important truth to keep hold of these days. Since Vatican II, the Church has had a run of weak or outright bad Popes. Pope Francis is as bad as they come -- a political leftist who kowtows to the United Nations, a man who literally bowed down to idols he placed inside a Catholic church, a man who waters down and twists Church teaching seemingly at every chance he gets, confusing badly catechized Catholics about everything from the morality of capital punishment, to divorce and remarriage -- and lots and lots in between. It's excruciating for faithful Catholics to endure. But he's done nothing to present his insanity in any way that hints at infallible teaching, and no Catholic is ever bound to follow him in his errors.
To not be confused, Catholics simply must come to understand what has happened to the Church since Vatican II.