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Thursday, March 26, 2015

How can a man be infallible

“Love the Lord with all your heart, and with all your soul,     
and with all your MIND”--Matt 22:37

 “Every Christian is a missionary to the extent that he or she has encountered the love of God in Christ Jesus” --Pope Francis  (Evangelii Gaudium, #120)

Question:  How can a man be infallible?  
And doesn't the Church profess herself to be infallible?  And yet, one has to simply read the newspapers to know that the Church is definitely NOT infallible!  Her leaders are clearly flawed and sinful.

Answer: Protestants often have grave reservations regarding the Church's claim of infallibility for herself, as well as for the pope.  The objection is presented as "No man can be infallible. That is something reserved for God alone!"

What is curious is that: 

1) the Bible never states that a man can't be infallible.  This then becomes a man-made tradition they have embraced.  

2) Protestants actually do believe that men can be infallible.  That is, if they believe that the inspired writers of Scripture never erred in their writings...then they believe these men were...infallible.  This means that Protestants believe Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Peter, Paul, the author of Hebrews, plus the Old Testament Prophets, Judges, Kings were all...infallible. 

When this is pointed out to them, the rejoinder is often, "Yes, they (the inspired writers of Scripture) did not err in their writings, but it's only because they had the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  They themselves were not perfect!"

And I like to respond:  Well, what you have professed above is nothing more than the Catholic understanding of infallibility.  

Protestants seem to think that "infallible" means "unable to sin".  

That is not the Catholic understanding of infallibility.  Infallibility is simply a charism given to the Church which prevents the magisterium (teaching office of the Church--that is, the pope and all the bishops in union him) from teaching error in areas of faith and morals.  And this is achieved not of their own power, but through the assistance of the Holy Spirit.  It is charism of the office (that is, the position), not of the man.  

What Protestants are actually objecting to is the concept of "impeccability", which is, indeed, the inability to sin.  

And here we Catholics are in agreement with Protestants:  no member of the magisterium is "impeccable."  All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).  The Church is made up of sinners--and on this point the Church makes evident the acknowledgement of her imperfection.  The Catechism states: "The Church on earth is endowed already with a sanctity that is real though imperfect." In her members perfect holiness is something yet to be acquired"--CCC 825

So we can agree with our Protestant brethren that the Church is flawed.  And Protestants can agree with Catholics that men can indeed be infallible.  If Peter was able to write 2 encyclicals that Protestants agree have no error, then it stands to reason that they agree that he, a man, was infallible.  

(Caveat 1:  the pope and the magisterium are given the charism of infallibility within a finite window of criteria.  Thus, if a pope declares, "I believe the stock market is going to fall today!" that is NOT to be interpreted as an infallible declaration.

Caveat 2:  That infallibility is invoked only within a finite, limited venue is NOT to be interpreted as "therefore Catholics are free to disagree with any Catholic teaching which hasn't been infallibly defined."  Catholics are bound to give their religious assent to ALL doctrines proclaimed by the Church.)

For more in-depth study visit these websites:

Papal Infallibility 

Catholic Bible online

Catechism of the Catholic Church online

Catholics Come Home

"Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect" - 1 Peter 3:15  

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