Teaching New Doctrines

Dr. Ed Peters is teaching a new non-infallible doctrine, never before asserted by anyone, that Popes cannot teach new non-infallible doctrines, never before asserted by anyone. This implies that Peters has greater teaching authority than the See of Peter. Is this irony or insanity?

First, he acknowledges that a Pope can teach a new doctrine, never before taught by any Pope or Bishop, under Papal Infallibility. This doctrine would have to be implicit in Tradition or Scripture, as anything truly new would not be of the Deposit of Faith. Fine. There is nothing wrong with that assertion. Typically, a teaching under Papal Infallibility will have been taught non-infallibly first, but not necessarily. Each Pope has the full authority given to Peter by Christ, which is Christ’s own teaching authority.

Second, Dr. Peters claims that no Pope can do the same, teach a new doctrine never before taught by any Pope or Bishop, when the doctrine is non-infallible, rather than infallible. Infallible doctrines cannot err at all; non-infallible doctrines have a limited possibility of error. This claim deprives every Pope of his direct and immediate authority over each and all the faithful, to teach and to rule (doctrine and discipline) by primacy of jurisdiction.

Direct and immediate authority means that the Pope does not rule over the faithful by intermediaries, such that we would be taught by the Bishops and priests of our diocese, and the Pope would only teach us through them. When a Pope teaches, the faithful are required to believe him without the necessity for any intermediary authorities to agree. That is what makes his authority direct and immediate.

By saying that Popes cannot teach non-infallibly, except when other Bishops teach the same, Peters deprives every Pope of his authority over the faithful. It is as if Peter cannot teach the faithful, unless other Apostles are standing by his side, agreeing. Peter teaches. The faithful shrug their shoulders. “Should we believe that?” Then they only accept the teaching if other Apostles agree. This ridiculous claim subjugates the successors of Peter beneath the other Bishops, since he cannot teach under his most common teaching authority by himself. He has to go begging to the other Bishops, hoping they will deign to teach the same.

The irony here is that no one has ever taught this idea, that Dr. Peters asserts as a truth which restrains the teaching authority of every Pope. So Peters is doing what he claims the Pope cannot do, teach a new doctrine without any agreement from any Bishops. He even admits that Canon law disagrees with this idea, and does give the Pope the ability to teach any doctrine by his own authority. He is a canon lawyer, rejecting what canon law says, and doing what he claims not even the Pope can do, teach a novel doctrine, non-infallibly, without the agreement of others.

This is the arrogance of the present-day conservative Catholic subculture. Conservatives think they can assert any idea, even completely novel claims, and they think these ideas should be treated like doctrines — even doctrines that bind the Pope. But they will not submit to the authority of the Pope himself. As much as possible, they seek to contradict and undermine his teachings, decisions, and authority.

Pride goeth before a schism.

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

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