Infallibility vs Impeccability

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Adam_D

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I was recently in dialogue with a protestant friend and co-worker. We had decided to debate the justification for (or in his view, lack thereof and evidence against) the papacy. I presented a case that was solidly biblical and historical. I was happy with it and he seemed impressed too. I had also anticipated a good number of rejoinders. Did he want to discuss the so-called heresy of Honorius? I had that covered. Does he think the Eastern Orthodox have as much validity to their collegiality claims? I’d discuss that. Was there some novel teaching he wanted to spring on me? I’m pretty good on my toes if need be. What I wasn’t prepared for was that he would have no respect for a differentiation between infallibility and impeccability.

The horrendous sins of some popes invalidated their teaching (and thus the infallibility of the office) in his eyes. My only response was to refer to Matt. 23:1-4 which I think makes a clear distinction, by Jesus Himself, between one’s teaching authority and his personal behavior. One bible quote wasn’t enough for him though. I had nothing else and so our discussion had to end there. He never even brought Pope Honorius up .

So my question to all you apologists here: what further rational do we have for saying that our distinction between infallibility and impeccability is a useful one? It just seems like such simple sense to me that I never developed many thoughts on the matter, but saying “Hey, it’s just good sense” is not good apologetics.
 
Adam D:
What I wasn’t prepared for was that he would have no respect for a differentiation between infallibility and impeccability.
You may be dealing with what Belloc termed a “stupid skeptic.”

“The man who confuses infallibility with impeccability is less intelligent than a man who does not”
– Hilaire Belloc, Essays of a Catholic, 1931

“Likewise, a man who distinguishes between infallibility exercised upon a positive affirmation and infallibility exercised in advising discretion is more intelligent than a man who cannot so distinguish”
– the next sentence 😃

Good luck.
 
Does he understand the differnece between the two? There are some people who confuse them and then don’t accept infallibility because of the Pope’s sinfulness. It’s always a help to define your terms because often, different groups use the same term but define it differently.

Peace,
Linda
 
Hi guys.

To answer your question: yes he understands the distinction between infallibility and impeccability. But he rejects it as hair splitting or improbable. His thinking goes something like this …

A person’s role as the spiritual shepherd of a flock includes demands by God, not just on what doctrines he issues, but it includes also demands on his personal behavior (which isn’t untrue). He then says that a shepherd can lead his flock astray by his teaching, but also by his practical example and that St. Peter (when he was rebuked by St. Paul) was leading people astray by his misdeeds, even if not by pronouncing a new teaching. And thus, God obviously does not protect him with the charism of infallibility since teaching and leading into truth by one’s actions are so intimately interrelated. Likewise, while Church documents may not say that indulgences can be sold (which is his greatest hang-up alongside the Inquisition) the people were led to believe it even by the popes by their wicked behavior and abuse of whatever the strict proclamations of indulgences was. Clearly, the papacy is not infallible.

I am ready to agree with him that one’s behavior and one’s personal beliefs are quite interrelated. I know that in my own life attachment to sin can blind me to the truth and thus to lead me, in whatever capacity that I might be a shepherd to someone (my ccd students for instance) to teach errors. So his observation has merit. There isn’t a huge gulf between what the average person teaches and how he behaves. We believe though that God decided to protect the popes from teaching error, without protecting them from sinning. What he needs, and what I was unable to provide, is a thorough rationale for why this is a useful or good or necessary distinction in the case of the pope whereas in the case of most mere people there exists no such division.
 
We know that we are all sinners, even popes. To that end, Christ had to insure that the Church would be preserved from sinful teachings. Perhaps a better approach would be this one: ask if he attends a church with a minister/preacher. If so, then he is following a sinner (see St. Paul), and needs to find a church that is not led by a sinner. Otherwise, how do you know that the teachings are correct. There in lies the problem. Even if you started your own church, the minister is still a human and is therefore a sinner. We hold that the Pope, when speaking on matters of faith and morlas (very important for a Church), is protected so that the Church may have teachings that are beyond reproach. In 1 Timothy 3:15, we see that the Curch is the pillar and foundation of truth. If not protected, then how can that be maintained? And if we all followed our own thing, how can we be one as Jesus wanted?
 
All of us are hypocrites at times. Few of us practice what we preach 24/7.

Bad examples can lead people astray, but people are not sheep and bear some responsiblity for heading off in the wrong direction.
We know the differnece between bad and good.
Everybody knows the saying “do as I say, not as I do”. Even the Saints were not perfect, they were just people who tried to follow God to the best of their ability, fell, got up and tried again.

Papal infallibility means that when the chips are down, the Pope will do the right thing, he will rise to the occasion, God will not let him promote error. It does not guarentee great behavior the rest of the time.

We either believe God is protecting us this way from error, or we go off the deep end of every man for himself.
 
I’m still not sure if I can make the most compelling argument on this subject quite yet, but thank you very much for your thoughts guys.
 
You might want to ask about those mistakes that Peter made by not wanting to eat with certain people. Did that make his inspired writing wrong? nopey dopey, because God’s grace had the power of preventing mistakes in Scripture, same goes for preventing mistakes in statements ex-cathedra.
 
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MParedon:
You might want to ask about those mistakes that Peter made by not wanting to eat with certain people. Did that make his inspired writing wrong? nopey dopey, because God’s grace had the power of preventing mistakes in Scripture, same goes for preventing mistakes in statements ex-cathedra.
oooh good point. I think I even heard such things on Catholic Answers Live (but as I said above, it’s not a subject I thought needed defending anyhow … it should just make good sense) and forgot it. I’m thinking now of a line something like this:

“You and I both agree that Peter sinned in denying Christ and in refusing to eat with the Gentiles. But you agree with me that at least in one particular instance Peter was granted the charism of infallibility … when writing scripture. Thus, there can exist an infallibility of teaching without having to expect an impeccability of person. The popes have ever since been thus protected, even as some have caused great scandal.”

I can imagine how he may yet try to squirm out of this, but at least my thoughts are becomig clearer on the issue. Thanks a bunch!

Unfortunately, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to resume the debate with my Protestant friend … he’s recently graduated from college and won’t be round no mo 😦
 
It might help to list all the times Peter himself displayed “imperfect” behavior.
It would be silly of us Catholics to believe our popes were perfect when even our first pope was far from it!!

Usually when I want to give biblical evidence for infallibility I go to the Book of Acts when Peter has the vision, through the Holy Spirit, instructing him on the proper teaching regarding clean/unclean foods -but also as this related to new Gentile converts.
Peter was personally disposed to request that the Gentiles follow Jewish law when they converted. He was wrong.
But Jesus made good on His promise. The Holy Spirit intervened and did not allow Peter to rule in error.

Another good example would be the case of one of our popes (Sixtus??? the ??) who was ready to proclaim his new translation of scriptures as the new official church translation.
Everything was ready to go - all He had to do was make the announcement and stamp the documents.

Then he came down with a brief illness and died.

That’s infallibility! Infallibility protects the Church from fallible human beings.
 
So my question to all you apologists here: what further rational do we have for saying that our distinction between infallibility and impeccability is a useful one? It just seems like such simple sense to me that I never developed many thoughts on the matter, but saying “Hey, it’s just good sense” is not good apologetics.
Why don’t you point out the entire Old Testament line of Davidic kings?!

Were the people of Israel ever absolved from their allegeiance because of the evils of their king? Nope.

How about when David was being pursued by Saul, and one time wandered upon a cave where Saul was sleeping? David said that, although he had the opportunity to do so against a very evil king, he would not kill him, because he was still the Lord’s anointed.

Why don’t you ask your friend to provide Biblical evidence that sin negates authority? You’ve provided a very clear Biblical example. Why does he ned more? What is this, one of those bathroom contests where you measure each other’s members (ah, my high school days . . .)? The bigger, the better?!

Next, ask your friend how much sin exactly an authority has to commit before his authority is negated. And who gets to decide when too much sin* is * too much.

Good luck!
 
Does this “protestant” believe that Christ LIED when he told Peter that He is building His Church upon Peter’s leadership? Can the thrice-stated instruction directed to Peter to “…feed My lambs…feed My sheep…” mean anything other than to instruct mankind with the Truths revealed by God and preserved in the Sacred Scriptures and Sacred Traditions? Christ knew of Peter’e failings and weaknesses; He is God! Did Christ make a big mistake? Did Christ only mean His Church was valid for the duration of Peter’s and the original Apostle’s lifetime? If so, where does that leave us? Does this “protestant” believe in all of the Bible, or just the parts he has been instructed to quote? I believe Scott Hahn has testified eloquently on the firm protestant practice to ignore or to diminish the importance of many parts of Scripture which support the Catrholic Church.

Does this “protestant” believe in the correctness of the dogmas of all the popes he does not consider to be great sinners? Can he list any dogmas of the “good” popes which the “bad” popes have nullified? Can he name any dogmas declared by a “bad” pope which the “good” popes have had to nullify? We’re talking those doctrines with the seal of infallibility here!

That said we must always remember that Faith is a gift from God which is not forced upon any of us for reasons known only by God. When an overwhelming mountain of correct logic is applied and produces no result, there are obstacles hidden. They may be legitimate; they may be illegitimate. Prayer is the first and the final tool.
 
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