On Papal Infallibility

I have read that since papal infallibility was dogmatically defined in Vatican I, it has only been used twice (i.e. explicitly invoked or ex cathedra) in Munificentissimus Deus and in Ineffabilis Deus or in the dogmatic definiton of the Assumption of Mary and her Immaculate Conception, respectively.

But why only on these two? For example why was papal infallibility not invoked (if I’m not mistaken) in Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae? Does this mean that Catholics themselves could question teachings like this?

Papal Infallibility it’s a recent dogma. I never researched why is it that it was only defined so recently for there are 2000 years of dogmas. God had a reason for it, surely.

But you do not need to distinguish black and white what is dogma and what is not, as if dogmas may not be questioned an non-dogmas may be questioned. Holy Trinity is a dogma and nevertheless what we mean by Person and what we mean by Nature is something very difficult to define.

As for Humanae Vitae it was reiterated by several Popes. I mean, those are strong voices. Do you need something as solemn as a dogma? Maybe not.

To have a dogma for every little bit and piece of the Pope’s enunciation would be confusing: distribution of riches, divorce, abortion, human rights, war, and so on. Those 2 last dogmas were beautiful and came at a time of Darwin discoveries which put in questions the description of the Original Sin as pictured with Adam and Eve. So, it is both a proclamation of the central role of the Virgin Mary in the History of Salvation and at the same time, the existence of Original Sin.

Where is the Pope, there is Christ. My Father, who was a doctor for 30 years in Africa and a devout Catholic, told me: “I don’t prescribe contraceptives, not because of the Pope but for medical reasons”.

So, there are shades on every question. Cheers. :slight_smile:

Well, first, papal infallibility was defined at Vatican I in 1871. The Immaculate Conception was dogmatically defined in 1854. :slight_smile:

There is much, much more to our faith than what is explicitly dogmatically declared to be infallible by the Pope ex cathedra. Surely, it would be ridiculous to purport that the only things Catholics have to believe are the dogmas of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption and everything else is up for grabs. That is not the Catholic understanding of dogma and doctrine, nor an accurate view of infallibility.

Take a look at the Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, 25Lumen Gentium:

In matters of faith and morals, the bishops speak in the name of Christ and the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent. This religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra; that is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will. His mind and will in the matter may be known either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking.

The rest of paragraph 25 is also extremely important in understanding infallibility, so I would encourage you to follow the link and read it for yourself.

That’s not entirely true.

Papal Infallibility has always been a doctrine. It was “formalized” in Vatican I. The same holds true for other doctrines of the Church which were “declared” at certain points. These were not brand new doctrines, but doctrines the Church has always held, but because of confusion or problems, needed to be declared formally to settle any doubt.

Furthermore, the Pope does not have to declare something “ex cathedra” for it to be an infallible statement. The Pope has what’s called normal infallibility, also, which must meet specific criteria. These criteria have been met with regard to Humanae Vitae, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, and other similar declarations.

See Lumen Gentium 25, which you can read here:


Hey, Scooby, you and I are on the same wavelength. I guess it’s good confirmation for me that I’m not just pulling stuff out of thin air. :wink:

Way to go, Joe! We have each other’s back. You’re a little quicker on the draw than me, but that’s okay. I’m getting long in the tooth and am not as quick as I used to be. :slight_smile:

Pope John Paul II explicitly invoked this authority in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis:

Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church’s divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.

But some people *STILL *didn’t get the message, so Josef Card. Ratzinger (then prefect of CCD, now Pope Benedict XVI) removed any possible doubt about the infallible nature of this teaching in his Responsum ad Dubium of Oct. 28, 1995.

So there have been (at least) three *ex Cathedra *proclamations which have been formally recognized as such by the Church. There have surely been others, but the Church did not employ this particular terminology prior to Vatican I.

Dear brother David,

Actually, the Official Relatio of Vatican 1 explains that one of the recognizable features of an ex cathedra decree is that the Pope intends to define a matter. Vatican 1 defined the Pope’s use of the infallibility of the EXTRAordinary Magisterium. It is plain from the text you gave that HH JP2 of thrice-blessed memory did not intend to define anything. He was merely declaring the constant teaching of the Church. As such, he was not exercising the infallibility of the EXTRAordinary Magisterium, but rather the infallibility of the ORDINARY Magisterium.

So there have been (at least) three *ex Cathedra *proclamations which have been formally recognized as such by the Church. There have surely been others, but the Church did not employ this particular terminology prior to Vatican I.

Actually, the language was utilized in past decrees such as Unam Sanctam, and others.


Just a bit of history for the discussion.

Pastor Aeternus relies sparingly on the testimony of the Church Fathers to uphold its definition of the extraordinary papal magisterium. Gasser nonetheless referred to the support they provided for the council’s teaching on papal infallibility. They are, so to speak, in the background of the definiton. From the council Father’s interventions in this regard, it seems that they believed that the pope’s primacy of teaching had been accepted without contestation until the appearance of conciliarism in the fourteenth century. The Majority held that the collective testimony of the Church Fathers confirmed not only the pope’s primacy of jurisdiction but also his primacy of teaching. While contemporary scholars are more cautious about detecting irrefutable proofs in the patristic sources, these venerable texts still provide valuable testimony about Rome’s early teaching authority. The writers of the ancient Church regarded communion with the see of Peter as a reliable guarantee for knowing the truth of the apostolic faith.

According to the council Fathers, the weightiest argument for their teaching on papal infallibility was the witness provided by ecumenical councils. As proofs for the Church’s long-standing teaching on papal infallibility, Pastor aeternus selected statements from three councils: Constantinople IV (869-870), Lyons II (1274), and Florence (1439). Although the Orthodox no longer recognized them as truly ecumenical, churches from the East had participated in all three councils. For the drafters of Pastor aeternus, each one attests to the pope’s infallibility teaching authority.

As requested by the Roman delegates, the Fathers at Constantinople IV all signed the profession of faith drawn up by Pope Hormisdas (514-523). The Pope had sent the text to Constantinople in 515 in order to end the Acacian schism. This statement affirmed that “in the apostolic See the Catholic religion has been kept unsullied, and its teaching kept holy.” The First Vatican Council also invoked the confession of faith professed at the Second Council of Lyons, which attributed a primacy in teaching to the Roman Church. Disputes about faith, Lyons II aserted, had to be judged by Rome: “And, as she is bound above all to defend the truth of faith, they must be decided by her judgment.” The Fathers at Vatican I interpreted this right of the pope to resolve disputes in such a way that it involved the irrevocability of his judgment. Lastly, they invoked evidence from the Council of Florence. Its statement that “the Roman Pontiff is the true vicar of Christ, the head of the whole Church, father and teacher of all Christians” implicitly defined, they believed, the doctrine of papal infallibility. According to Vatican I, therefore, the teaching of these three ecumenical councils warrented the council’s conviction that Rome has assumed and been granted a supreme magisterium in the Church.

That’s what I said. Ex Cahtedra IS the ordinary Magesterium (it is the ordinary manner in which the Church proclaims infallible doctrine). An Ecumenical Council is the (only) EXTRAordinary way that the Church does this (though the Pope must still ratify).

This is why Ratzinger affirmed:

This teaching requires definitive assent, since, founded on the written Word of God, and from the beginning constantly preserved and applied in the Tradition of the Church, it has been set forth infallibly by the ordinary and universal Magisterium (cf. Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium 25, 2). Thus, in the present circumstances, the Roman Pontiff, exercising his proper office of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32), has handed on this same teaching by a formal declaration, explicitly stating what is to be held always, everywhere, and by all, as belonging to the deposit of the faith.

There is no theological difference between “declare” and “define.” JP2 taught infallibly in this document, as Ratzinger made absolutely clear.

Both ecumenical councils and ex cathedra statements by the Pope are exercises of the Extraordinary Magisterium. The Ordinary and Universal Magisterium involves teachings that have always been held, even if they have never been formally defined. Humanae Vitae and Ordinatio Sacerdotalis did not require the exercise of the Extraordinary Magisterium because in them the Popes were merely reaffirming the constant teaching of the Ordinary and Universal Magisterium.

Note that the Ordinary and Universal Magisterium (that which has always been understood and taught, even if not formally) differs from the Ordinary Magisterium, which includes all the non-infallible exercises of magisterial authority. Teachings of the O&UM are irreformable even without an exercise of the Extraordinary Magisterium, while teachings of the OM are changeable by future popes and bishops. They really need to have more distinct names, I think :slight_smile:


Perhaps, but there is no question that *Ordinatio Sacerdotalis *is taught ex Cathedra, which was really the question that was asked. How the “Ordinary and Universal Magesterium” is categorized doesn’t affect the fact that JP2 taught infallibly, and the infallible nature of this teaching has been formally recognized by the Church in order to remove any and all doubt.

Ordinatio Sacerdotalis (and specifically, the declaration that the Church has no power to ordain women) was not taught ex cathedra, because it did not need to be. The teaching was already infallibly true by virtue of the Ordinary and Universal Magisterium.

That is, in fact, what Cardinal Ratzinger’s responsum was all about. It explained a) that Pope John Paul II had not taught ex cathedra in the document, but b) that nevertheless the teaching was infallible and thus he did not need to invoke the charism of infallibility specific to the papal office.


the pope is fallible because he won’t sell me his popemobile.

That could be said of anything! Popes don’t teach anything that is not part of the Deposit of Faith. Of course the teaching has always been infallible! ALL Church teaching has always been infallible. But we don’t get to call it “infallible” until the Church actually teaches it as such - and She does so in only two ways.

Thus, Ratzinger says,

the Roman Pontiff, exercising his proper office of confirming the brethren, has handed on this same teaching by a formal declaration

On May 21, 1994, you could have not said that this teaching was infallible. On May 23, you could. What happened on May 22? The Pope taught that this doctrine is infallible. That’s what ex Cathedra is - he “proclaims by a definitive act a doctrine pertaining to faith or morals.” It’s not a NEW doctrine - there’s no such thing.

Had the Pope never done this, we STILL could not call it an infallible doctrine (de fide). It would remain sent. certa.

Dear brother David,

The issue here is that someone asked about the “papal infallibility” that was invoked for the Marian dogmas.

You stated that this same type of authority was invoked for Ordinatio Sacerdatolis. But that is not true. The authority that was invoked for Ordinatio Sacerdatolis was not the personal infallibility that was defined by Vatican 1 (i.e., an exercise of the EXTRAordinary Magisterium), but the COLLEGIAL infallibility of the ORDINARY Magisterium.

We’re all agreed that infallibility was exercised when Ordinatio Sacerdatolis was promulgated.