Turning Infallibility Upside-down

The Magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church teaches infallibly in any of three ways:
1. Papal Infallibility
2. Conciliar Infallibility
3. the ordinary and universal Magisterium

The advantage of infallible teachings is that we can know the truth on important matters of faith, morals, and salvation without having to make a correct judgment based on our own reason. We are fallen sinners living in a fallen sinful world. The Christian faithful often misunderstand the teachings of Tradition and Scripture on certain points. When a teaching is infallible, we can rely on that teaching of the Magisterium to guide us to salvation.

A teaching falls under Papal Infallibility if it meets certain conditions, as taught by the First Vatican Council and reiterated by the Second Vatican Council.

First Vatican Council:

1. “the Roman Pontiff”
2. “speaks ex cathedra” (“that is, when in the discharge of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, and by virtue of his supreme apostolic authority….”)
3. “he defines”
4. “that a doctrine concerning faith or morals”
5. “must be held by the whole Church” [Pastor Aeternus, chapter 4.]

No other criteria are necessary or sufficient. If a teachings meets the above conditions, it is a true teaching of Jesus Christ and a required belief.

We do not need to judge the teaching, to see if it agrees with our own understanding of Sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture, and past magisterial teachings. And that is the advantage of having a Magisterium that is able to teach infallibly. If each Catholic judges each teaching, and only accepts those teachings deemed to be true, the unity of the Church would be shattered. For fallen sinners often misunderstand, each in his or her own way.


But now, today, some Catholics have turned infallibility on its head. Instead of submitting themselves to the teachings of the Magisterium, they exalt themselves above the Pope and the Magisterium, to judge in each case whether a teaching is true or false. Only if they think a teaching is true will they admit that it is of the Magisterium or that it falls under some form of infallibility.

Suppose that Pope Francis, hypothetically, were to teach some doctrine that clearly meets the conditions for Papal Infallibility. The faithful response is to believe that teaching, since it must be entirely true and without error.

But I can tell by the way that some Catholics speak about Pope Francis, that they will judge each of his teachings, to see if it agrees with their own understanding. And if it does not, they will reject that teaching. Concerning a non-infallible teaching of the Pope, they might say that the Pope erred, since non-infallible teachings are not entirely error free. Or they might say that any error taught by the Pope is, by that very fact, not a teaching of the Magisterium.

For an infallible teaching of the Pope, they might say that no error can fall under the infallible Magisterium. This is true in the sense that all teachings that meet the conditions for infallibility are without any error. But some foolish persons, filled with pride in their own ability to understand the Faith, seem to think that if a Pope teaches an error, which meets all the conditions of infallibility, it is nevertheless not of the infallible Magisterium. It is as if they are adding to the criteria for infallibility the condition that the teaching agree with their own understanding.

In effect, these persons make themselves out to be infallible. For they only accept a teaching of the Magisterium to be infallible when it agrees with their own mind. They do not submit their will and intellect to the teaching of the Magisterium. Instead, they expect the Magisterium and the whole Church to bend to their understanding of the Faith. And when pride increases, understanding decreases. Such persons always badly misunderstand numerous points of doctrine on faith and morals.

Soon, the great apostasy will begin. Pope Francis will teach some truths of the Faith that contradict the misunderstandings and false assumptions of conservative and traditionalist Catholics, and many of them will depart from the Church. They will falsely accuse Pope Francis of heresy, because his teaching does not agree with the errors in their own minds.

But I want my readers to understand that the non-infallible teachings of the Magisterium can never lead you away from the path of salvation, and the infallible teachings of the Magisterium can never err in any way. If there is a disagreement between your understanding and an infallible teaching, you are wrong. Humble yourself to accept the teaching of Christ. Do not follow after the pride-filled Pharisees. And if it seems to you that any Pope has taught heresy, whether under the non-infallible or infallible Magisterium, you are certainly mistaken. For no Pope can ever fall into heresy.

The Church is able to teach infallibly, and none of the faithful, not Saints and Doctors of the Church, not individual Bishops or local groups of Bishops, can infallibly contradict Her.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and
translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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