Saturday, August 13, 2011


The definition of Papal Infallibility reads thus:
We teach and define that it is a dogma Divinely revealed that the Roman pontiff when he speaks ex cathedra, that is when in discharge of the office of pastor and doctor of all Christians, by virtue of his supreme Apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine regarding faith or morals to be held by the universal Church, by the Divine assistance promised to him in Blessed Peter, is possessed of that infallibility with which the Divine Redeemer willed that his Church should be endowed in defining doctrine regarding faith or morals, and that therefore such definitions of the Roman pontiff are of themselves and not from the consent of the Church irreformable.

So then, should anyone, which God forbid, have the temerity to reject this definition of ours: let him be anathema. (see Denziger §1839).

Vatican Council, Sess. IV , Const. de Ecclesiâ Christi, Chapter iv

This seems to fit St Peter's declaration, "You are the Christ, the Son of Living God", at Caeserea Philippi which was said "not from the consent of the Church", the other Bishops (or Apostles) put forward other answers to the Lord's question about his identity but Peter speaks for himself, prompted by God, and consequently he defines the fundamental belief of the Church.

This is quite different from the process that preceded the declarations of both the Immaculate Conception and even more so the Assumption, which where believed "always and everywhere" - even if in a slightly looser form than the formal 19th and 20th definitions. (The earlier disputes about the Immaculate Conception were more about "conception" and ensoulment than Mary's "Immaculateness", even when that was touched on it tended to dispute how it was achieved rather than the fact of it.)

Considering the degree of consultation with the bishops of the world that preceded both of these dogmatic definitions, even if no council was called, they seem really to be "concilliar" definitions, in the sense of being made not by the Roman Pontiff on his own but "with consent" of all the bishops of the world.

Some suggest that the Immaculate Conception and Assumption were used as ways of "demonstrating" Papal power or demonstrating Papal triumphalism, which may or may not have been their purpose but the effect was to introduce a degree of Concilliarism which reached its zenith in Vatican II.

Papal Infallibility seems more about defining disputed doctines which could divide the Church, than defining those on which everyone already agrees.  The theological situation of the twentieth/ twenty-first century might suggest that Papal Infallibility is more concerned with holding Christians in unity, identifying where the Church is, over issues like sexuality - which includes women's ordination, which in the future will be the great divide amongst Christians.

For where Peter is, there is the Church and where is the Church there is Eternal Life.

Idle Speculations put up this video of the Declaration of the Assumption.


Pete said...

Excuse me for being thick but I'm not sure what issue you are raising. Sorry.
Is it something subtle I haven't followed about papal authority?

Is somebody questioning the Assumption?

jangojingo said...

The link between "Infallibility dogma" and Peter's expression of faith is a challenge for some!
I do not think Jesus said, "You are wrong Peter" but Jesus did add (or some may say "adjust") a few things to what Peter proclaimed.

Pablo the Mexican said...

Papal Infallibility.

That’s not the problem these days.
We should consider the Catholicism of the Holy Father; we have been set on a dangerous course by the Holy See.

For your consideration:

Psalm 105 34:43

[34] They did not destroy the nations of which the Lord spoke unto them.

[35] And they were mingled among the heathens, and learned their works:

[36] And served their idols, and it became a stumblingblock to them.

[37] And they sacrificed their sons, and their daughters to devils.

[38] And they shed innocent blood: the blood of their sons and of their daughters which they sacrificed to the idols of Chanaan. And the land was polluted with blood,

[39] And was defiled with their works: and they went aside after their own inventions.

[40] And the Lord was exceedingly angry with his people: and he abhorred his inheritance.

[41] And he delivered them into the hands of the nations: and they that hated them had dominion over them.

[42] And their enemies afflicted them: and they were humbled under their hands:

[43] Many times did he deliver them. But they provoked him with their counsel: and they were brought low by their iniquities.

Evolutionary conciliar thinking by the Holy See is killing us.


Fr Ray Blake said...

What I was trying to say was VI's understanding of Infallibility was more like Peter's Profession of Faith, and, possibly, hasn't yet be used.

Anonymous said...

Every DOGMA has, historically been used to set limits on certain elements of wild creativity within the Christian Church. DOGMA has a distinctly negative element. It devines truth against a distinctively harmful element and places boundry lines about truth. This was true of Infallity which placed certain bounds on a kind of Conciliarism, eg Josephism.
With the exception of the Dogma of Theotokos, the Marian teachings of the Church do not share these qualities. These are affirmations of widely or universally held opinions of a pius kind. There is no negative dogmatic element.

I am, at present, an Anglican and I find no problem with any of these. I do find Semper Virgo problematic in the light of one line in Matthews Nativity narative (everyone search) but hold the doctrine in the sense that our honor of Mary is in the birth and work of her Divine Son, otherwise she has no importance. In that birth and work she will always be semper Virgo.

Like Luther I accept Immaculate conception although I dislike the word macula and labe. It makes it sound like all other infants have birth guilt rather than birth defect.

Assumption is a wonderful idea and fits with St. Paul's teaching about the resurrection life. I have never heard any preacher on this matter ever deal with this.

The proposed Marian Dogmas really predicate nothing that does not belong to every Christian. It merely magnifies the functtions of co- Redemption ( fislling up in our bodies what is lacking to the sufferings of Christ) and Mediation, something to which we are called in Baptism. These magnify the functions to the dignity of the one holding the functions.

A blessed festival of the proomises given to us an portrayed in Blessed Mary.

The Rev. Michael P. Forbes
Rochester, Minnesota USA

Pablo the Mexican said...

"...The proposed Marian Dogmas really predicate nothing that does not belong to every Christian...."

Every 'Christian?'

It is a dogmatic fact that the Church, while subject in her human members to all the forces of disintegration, remains, in and from the beginning, the Mystical Body of Christ whose animating soul is the Holy Spirit and who is and ever will be the one, real true and holy source of all truth.

This Truth has never disintegrated or declined.

What has and does decline is the Faith, Hope, and Charity of Her members and their ways of witnessing and teaching the Truth of Divine Revelation, ever present in the Apostolic Tradition within the Church and in Her alone.

What other ‘religions’ may have of the total Truth is either taken or stolen from the one True Church or is merely natural truth available to the unaided reason of all men.

All Truth has been deposited in the Church for She is the teacher of all mankind.

The word of God assures us “When the spirit of Truth is come, He will teach you all Truth.” John 16:13

Outside of Holy Mother Church there is no salvation.

“…Like Luther I accept…”

I don’t believe Luther is considered a Doctor or Prince of Holy Mother Church; I myself would never invoke his name.

He is only a hero of Proteastants and other heretics.


Anagnostis said...

Congratulations, Father! Asking five educated Catholics which statements carry the note of Papal Infallibity gets you six different answers, traditionally. So now it's seven (and counting...)!

Fr Ray Blake said...

Yes, the Spirit of Vat I! As dangerous, in its own way, as the Spirit of Vatican II. It sees everything as Papal Infallibility, whereas so much, like the Dormition/Assumption is simply the belief of "Christians".

There is a need to apply the "hermeneutic of continuity", which some might call "Tradition" to all the Concils, especially those which met to deal with specifically Western heresies.

The East tends to search for rupture in the West, when actually it doesn't exist (I hope), we just have more heresies to deal with.

. said...

I should preface this comment by saying that I accept and affirm all that the Church teaches. With that said...

I have a problem with the use of Papal Infallibility: what use?

It clearly does not exist to ride over the Pope's 'Ordinary Magisterium' as a patriarch, a bishop, and a priest. Thus Humanae Vitae is not an exercise of Papal Infallibility, since it teaches what has been held always, everywhere and by everyone.

But surely, if something has not been held always, everywhere, and by everyone (in the understanding "... within the [small-o] orthodox Church", it cannot be necessary for salvation, and thus defining it as dogma or doctrine is pointless?

And further, the Pope is not allowed to teach anything which is outside the Deposit of the Faith - any novelty. But anything inside the Deposit of the Faith is surely covered by the Pope's Ordinary Magisterium.

So I'm left wondering... what is the point of the Pope's infallibility?

I don't raise this for the sake of controversialism, or to rabble-rouse for some heretical or untraditional proposal, or to demand that all modern popes are heretics or any of that claptrap. I'm just genuinely uncertain on this.

Fr Ray Blake said...

Evagrius P,

Infallibity is at the service of Unity.

A bit of broad brush I know but when in the East, all but Athanasius had become Arian, in the West the Popes identified where the Truth was. Athanasius with Rome remained true!
Again a broad brush but in the first millenium those Council ratified by Rome were true the rest not so.

In a world where so much is likely to be increasingly questioned, where Liberalism has touched every Church and denomination, where the very essentials of Christianity, even humanity, are overthrown -Hegelianism is present even in the East- communion with Rome and Peter guarantees freedom from error.

I suspect "Infallibility" will prove to be a providential doctrine which was a rather triumphalistic 19th cent attempt to codify the role of Peter in its absloute extreme. I am not sure it was necessary at the time but in the future, I am certain it will be, not to introduce something new but to identify Tradition.

Anonymous said...

I use my Han Solo instincts when infallibility is mentioned. That is, when infallibility is set forth and defended and a chorus of gainsayers pipe up I think, "Must have hit it pretty close to the mark to get her all riled up like that." :)

Pablo the Mexican said...

In his Infallible Magisterium, the pope enjoys:

the positive assistance of the Holy Spirit so that he can attain the truth, and the negative assistance which preserves him from error.

Ultimately, in a case where a pope, by negligence or ill will, were to fail in his duty of seeking out the truth by the appropriate means, infallibility guarantees that God, through a purely negative assistance, would prevent the proclamation ex cathedra of an error.

To comment on Papal infallibility takes an essay; a little too long for this blog.


Anagnostis said...

romishgraffiti: Re-read your post, and replace "infallibility" with "the power of crystals" or "the intrinsically political character of the riots". ;o)

Father - it's continuity itself which is Tradition, not the "hermeneutic of continuity" which is an apparatus required to preserve the appearance of continuity. If continuity is what you have, you don't need a "hermeneutic of continuity" at all. It isn't a question of "looking for" rupture in the west but of being starkly confronted with it, repeatedly and over several centuries.

Evagrius astutely raises the paradox of the doctrine's genuine usefulness. Unconstrained by any requirement to defer to its authority, I'd go much further, observing that it fails spectacularly to deliver in particular the very things of which it claims to be the indispensible guarantee. We are absolutely obliged to point out to you (in love), observing the course of Western Christianity throughout the centuries since the "Roman Ratchet" began to be cranked in earnest and the condition of Roman Catholicism as it actually exists today, that empirically, it's a total failure: it doesn't gather, it scatters; it doesn't focus, it blurs. One cannot (from the perspective of the Incarnation) argue with a fact, and the facts present, from our perspective, a dramatic vindication of the view of Papal "development" consistently maintained by the Orthodox.

(PS: On Saturday we commmemorated St Maximos the Confessor, who, like St. Athanasius the Great, stood with the Pope when the Pope(Martin)was right, not when he was wrong (Honorius)!)

Anonymous said...

Come off of it, stop being so pompous. I hope you are not suggesting that diverse, hydra- headed "Orthodoxy" is really an answer.
Constantinople has fallen! Moscow too?
For its first thousand years the East limped from one heresy to another, for the last thousand years it has been marked by ignorance, superstition and squabbling, whilst grovelling at the feet of Sultan or Czar or the Communists.
Where are we to find Orthodoxy? Should we look to the killing camps of Serbia or at the triumphant nationalism or anti-Semitism of Russia? If the true nature of Orthodoxy is seen in the living out of the faith, the sex scandals of Ireland have nothing on the corruption involved in the election of the Greek Patriarch of Jerusalem or the sodomy of Athos.

Try googling: Bishop Theoklitos of Thessaliotis, Aghia Skepi Monastery, Panteleimon the Bishop of Corinth, or Archimandrite Iakovos Giosakis.

As for modern heresies, it is easily coped with if one fails to address it and the modern world, as you touch on it, Father, Hegelianism is prevalent amongst “thinking” Orthodox, so is neo-Liberalism, the only difference between West and East is the veneer of the Liturgy. The Iconostasis screens a multitude of heresies and corruption.

With respect, Father, I think that like many Westerners tend to see the East through a haze of incense, rather than for what is.

Ian Blanchet
p.s. appologies for not knowing how to comment properly.

santoeusebio said...

It seems to me (not being an expert) that infallibility guarantees that the Pope when speaking on faith and morals is not so much defining new ideas but merely confirming what has always been.

As for Vatican I being some kind of Papal triumphalism: in Portugal it was the laity who forced their bishops to ignore their instructions from their Government and to vote in favour of infallibility being defined. The laity was fed up with a century of loose morals as a result of liberalism in the Portuguese Church promulgated by the Marquis of Pombal who claimed that doctrine was only what the King said it was. There is a certain parallel with our situation in the UK to-day.

One hears priests preaching to the effect that there have been two or three infallible pronouncements in the last hundred and fifty years or so with the unspoken suggestion that we can happily ignore all the encyclicals such as Humanae Vitae.

The thought also occurs to me when reading the Catholic Herald why is it that reading journalists like Simon Caldwell I find statements of what Catholic teaching is which our priests are too fearful to announce from the pulpit?

Nicolas Bellord

Anagnostis said...


Should we perhaps apply romishgraffiti's "test" to your own contribution? I apologise for pomposity, but not for my essential point. Administratively, Orthodoxy is a shambles and it's as riven with revolting scandals in its human element as it was in the time of St Paul, but at the level that matters - the one under consideration here - that of faith, worship and untroubled possession of the Tradition - it's rock-solid. Like most Latins, you view us through the lens of Roman ecclesiology; but the fall of this Patriarchate or that one - Constantinople, Moscow or Rome - does not touch the Christ-given constitution of the Church. These things are all of human institution, and they last as long as they last.

Our relatively "weak" ecclesiology is, in fact our strength. That's how God always works. It's the ecclesiology of the Cross, not of human construction or calculation.

Anagnostis said...

I'll suggest in addition, that you leave considerations of grovelling at the feet of Sultan, Tsar or Commissar to those better acquainted with Orthodox martyrology.

Anagnostis said...

The liturgy is not a "veneer"! The liturgy is the "realisation" and the operative norm of the Faith! It's the liturgy, and the Eucharistic Liturgy in particular, that "makes" the church the Church (as even Vatican II acknowledges)! The progressive loss of this understanding and its replacement by an idea of "orthodoxy" reduced to extracting a document from a vast heap of documents and saying "yes" to it, is in itself sufficient demonstration of my point!

Anonymous said...

romishgraffiti: Re-read your post, and replace "infallibility" with "the power of crystals" or "the intrinsically political character of the riots".

Done, and passed with flying colors. Neither gets me riled up.

Pete said...

Left side pews, third row from the back.


Not praying, drowning!

Anagnostis said...

Good. Papal infallibility riles me up to precisely the same extent. On the other hand, getting riled up over something doesn't make it true.

Anonymous said...


What you are really saying is that the East "developed" and taught for the end of the first millenium and then had nothing to say.

What happened? It doesn't seem to have happened in the West.

Ian Blanchet

Anonymous said...

“it scatters; it doesn't focus, it blurs."

Really, that is just Orthodox propaganda.
Alright dissident Catholics might have become Protestant in the 16th century or a few become Old Catholics in the 19th Century. At least they remained in the shadow of the Cross.
Orthodox however historically just embraced paganism. How many of those under the crescent or the red star were once Orthodox? If I am to accept your premise: Catholicism tends to division, then accept mine: Orthodoxy tend to Paganism
In Athens or Thessalonica today I am shocked by the numbers of formerly “devout” Orthodox who are now into every excess of the New Age, that is of course unless they have embrace Penetecostalism.

Ian Blanchet

Anagnostis said...

What you are really saying is that the East "developed" and taught for the end of the first millenium and then had nothing to say.

This always makes me smile: "you have no story the instant you cease to be part of our story".

Again, this is to view "the East" through the lens of western categories ("doctrinal development"). The last century saw a renewal in Orthodox theology, liturgy and monasticism. A number of its prominent figures are modestly represented on my own bookshelves. What they teach is what Orthodox saints and scholars have always taught, informed no doubt, by the long martyrdom under Islam and Communism, just as the Nicene Fathers were informed by the experience of Nero and Diocletian, (or the Jews, of Nebuchadnezzar). The same Nicene Fathers would have recoiled on horror from the suggestion that what they were engaged in was "doctrinal development", an invention of John Henry Newman in his circle-squaring period.

As for the rest, it's just mudslinging, isn't it. Pots, kettles, stones, glasshouses. I've seen and heard things in RC cathedrals and parish churches that would get any Orthodox bishop or priest swiftly deposed.

Anagnostis said...

What do you need a hermeneutic of continuity for, if the Tradition isn't "blurred"? Who blurred it?

Anagnostis said...

In Athens or Thessalonica today I am shocked by the numbers of formerly “devout” Orthodox who are now into every excess of the New Age, that is of course unless they have embrace Penetecostalism.

I lived in Athens for several years in the 1980's. It was, then, the only genuinely Christian city I'd ever experienced. No doubt things have changed in twenty-five years. I doubt very much that, in terms of paganism, it has yet descended to the level of France (Eldest Daughter of the Church and cradle of the Revolution) or Italy. Western Europe is a post-Christian desert. You speak as though this (like the reformation before it) has nothing whatever to do with you.

Anna said...

Are you pro-life? Would you like the opportunity to help stop abortions taking place in London? Could you give up a few hours this Saturday to help spread awareness in East London?

Newham Borough in East London has the highest abortion rate in the U.K. (39.9 per 1000 women) and has the sixth highest number in Europe, with 2,341 abortions taking place every year. BPAS have recently opened a new abortion centre in the area, and so the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children will be doing a pro-life outreach there on Saturday 20th August. We aim to inform the local public about the positive pro-life services available, raise awareness about exactly what is happening in the area, and campaign against the new opening. Join SPUC this Saturday as help is needed to man the stall, distribute pro-life literature and engage with the public.

Meet outside Stratford Tube Station at 10.30am. We will finish no later than 2pm. Other details are on our facebook event:

Hope to see you there!

Any queries please contact: 0207 820 3140
Daniel Blackman –
Anna Gomes –
Frances Roxburgh –
Daniel Loughnane –
Paul Smeaton –

[Please could you post this on your blog so we can get the word out to as many as possible. Thank you!]

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