Here is a talk I did on Papal Infallibility on the last Men's Retreat I went on. It was a 20 minute speach and only begins to scratch the surface of infallibility. The Reader's Digest version is we don't believe in the infallibility of men. Rather, we believe in the supernatural infallibility of Jesus Christ who founded the Catholic Church and promised to guide the Church into all truth.
Narrator: These following words are direct quotations from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. When Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples.
Jesus: Who do people say the Son of Man is?
Narrator: They replied, Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets. He said to them,
Jesus: But who do you say that I am?
Narrator: Simon Peter said in reply, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus said to him in reply,
Jesus: “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter. And upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
Narrator: On the night before he died, Jesus during the Last Supper said.
Jesus: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always. I have told you this while I am with you. The Advocate, the holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name- he will teach you everything and remind you of all that [I] told you. I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth. Father, the hour has come. Consecrate them in the truth. Your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I sent them into the world. And I consecrate myself for them, so that they also may be consecrated in truth.
Narrator: After the resurrection, Jesus had breakfast with the disciples and said to Simon Peter.
Jesus: “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”
Narrator: He said to him, “Yes Lord, you know that I love you.” He said to him:
Jesus: “Feed my lambs.”
Narrator: He then said to him a second time.
Jesus: “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
Narrator: He said to him, “Yes Lord, you know that I love you”
Jesus: “Tend my sheep”
Narrator: He said to him the third time,
Jesus: “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
Narrator: Peter was distressed that he had said to him a third time,
Jesus: “Do you love me?”
Narrator: And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything: you know that I love you.” [Jesus] said to him.
Jesus: “Feed my sheep”; “Follow Me”
I am starting out this talk with Jesus because people often wonder where the notion of Papal infallibility came from. Some people think it was a dogma that was first defined in 1870 during the First Vatican Council. Others think it was something made up in the middle ages to help the Church maintain control of doctrine. It was neither of these. Papal Infallibility came directly from Jesus Christ. He has sent the Holy Spirit to help Peter and his successors ensure that the Catholic Church that Jesus Christ founded would never teach error.
During this talk, we are going to discuss what Infallibility means, the history of Papal Infallibility, and how it is revealed in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. But, at the end of the talk, we are going to come back to the beginning and ask a very simple question, “Do you trust everything Jesus Christ said?” Do you trust him when he says he is going to build his Church on the rock Peter and the gates of hell will never prevail against it?
Infallibility is defined in paragraph 891 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church as follows: "The Roman Pontiff, head of the college of bishops, enjoys this infallibility in virtue of his office, when, as supreme pastor and teacher of all the faithful - who confirms his brethren in the faith he proclaims by a definitive act a doctrine pertaining to faith or morals. . . . The infallibility promised to the Church is also present in the body of bishops when, together with Peter's successor, they exercise the supreme Magisterium," above all in an Ecumenical Council.418 When the Church through its supreme Magisterium proposes a doctrine "for belief as being divinely revealed,"419 and as the teaching of Christ, the definitions "must be adhered to with the obedience of faith."420 This infallibility extends as far as the deposit of divine Revelation itself. That sounds very grandiose. The truth is it is laser focused. Let’s re-read the first section. The Pope is only infallible when he ‘proclaims by a definitive act a doctrine pertaining to faith or morals. That’s it. It doesn’t say he’s not a sinner or makes mistakes. It doesn’t say that his private theological opinions are infallible. It only applies when the Pope in an “Official Capacity”, defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole Church. The second section of the definition states that infallibility extends to the Church when the bishops, in union with the Pope, propose a doctrine ‘for belief as being divinely revealed”, as often happens in Ecumenical Councils. Again this, infallibility of the Church’s teaching arm, “the Magisterium”, comes directly from the lips of Jesus. In Luke, Chapter 10 verse 16, Jesus speaking to the 72 he appointed said “Whoever listens to you, listens to me.” And in Matthew 28, speaking to the disciples after his resurrection said, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, TEACHING them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” A practical application of this is that when the Church in the 4th century held a council to define the Canon of the Bible, we can trust that all 73 of the books selected are indeed inspired by God and inerrant. And a good example of when the doctrine of infallibility doesn’t apply is Pope John Paul II’s personal opinion of the Shroud of Turin. JP2 stated that he absolutely believes that the Shroud of Turin is the burial cloth of Christ. But, he also stated that if at a later date, science conclusively proves that it isn’t, he will respect the scientific data and change his position. So, John Paul II can be wrong about the Shroud of Turin. But, we can trust him and the Church when JP2 said that the recently published Catechism of the Church is a “sure norm for teaching.”
The concept of an infallible Pope leading an infallible Church is steeped in Biblical History. It was in both the Old Testament and the New. There are two things we have to remember Jesus and the Bible. The first is that his life was a recapitulation of the life of Israel. Israel, the first born nation chosen by God to lead all the other nations into holiness, failed to obey God and instead was lead into sin by the other nations. So, God sent Jesus to into the world to save us from our sins. Jesus himself said in Matthew 5:17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” Let’s take a quick look at how Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament. Adam disobeyed God and did his own will in the Garden of Eden. Jesus obeyed God in the Garden of Gethsemane, praying not as I will, but as you will. Abraham went up to the Mount Moriah to sacrifice as a holocaust his only son Isaac. Jesus went up to Calvary to be sacrificed for our salvation. Moses, after fasting for 40 days, came down from Mount Sinai and gave the Israelites the law of the Old Testament. Jesus, after fasting for 40 days, gave the law of the New Testament in the Sermon on the Mount. God gave the Israelites “Manna” in the desert to eat. Jesus gave us his body to eat at the last supper and in the Eucharist. There were twelve tribes in Israel before they were conquered by Samaria and Persia and lost. Jesus appointed twelve disciples to reconstitute the twelve tribes. The Israelites established the Davidic Kingdom. Jesus established the Kingdom of God. The Queen of the Davidic Kingdom was the mother of the King. The Queen of the Kingdom of God is the mother of God, Mary our mother. The Davidic Kingdom had the office of Prime Minister or master of the palace, who was given the Keys to the Davidic kingdom and took care of the affairs of the Palace when the king was gone. Jesus gave the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven to Peter, who was the first prime minister or Pope of the Kingdom of God. Wait a minute. What’s do you mean the Pope is in the Bible? Well, let’s take a look. First let’s look at the Old Testament. 1st Kings Chapter 4 lists the officials that King Solomon had in his service. Verse 6 references Ahishar, who was the major domo or master of the palace. Now, I want everyone to open their Bibles to Isaiah 22 verse 19. Here, Isaiah is talking about Shebna, master of the palace, who the Lord was greatly displeased with. Let me know when you get there. The Lord says: “I will thrust you from your office and pull you down from your station. On that day I will summon my servant Eliakin, son of Hilkiah. I will clothe him with your robe and gird him with your sash and give over to him your authority. He shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah. I will place the key of the House of David on his shoulder, when he opens, no one shall shut. When he shuts, no one shall open.” Now the 2nd thing we have to remember about Jesus is that he is constantly quoting from the Old Testament. He doesn’t just go around making up new things. He’s always pulling from the Old Testament and the life of Israel. With that in mind let’s go back to Matthew Chapter 16 verse 18 when Jesus speaking of Peter says, And so I say to you, you are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Let’s compare the master of the palace in the Old Testament to Peter, the first Pope in the New Testament. Old Testament “I will place the Key to the House of David on his shoulder.” New Testament “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven” Old Testament “When he Opens, no one shall shut” New Testament “Whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven”. Old, “when he shuts, no one shall open.” New, “whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven.”
Now some people might say, that’s interesting Will, but how do I know that you didn’t just come up with all on your own. How do I know that God really intended that connection? Fair enough. Well let’s look at the what the Apostles thought and what the Bible says, keeping in mind that all Christians believe that the Bible is the “Infallible, inerrant word of God. Open your Bible to Acts 15. This recounts the Council of Jerusalem, which was convened to determine whether gentile Christians coming into the Church had to follow the Mosaic laws including diet and circumcision, ouch. The problem was that there were good Holy Spirit filled people who loved Jesus on both sides of the issue and they could not determine what the correct interpretation was. In verse 7 , the Bible says “After much debate had taken place, Peter got up and said to them, My brothers, you are well aware that from early days God made his choice among you that through my mouth the Gentiles would hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God who knows the heart, bore witness by granting them the Holy Spirit just as he did us. He made no distinction between us and them, for by faith he purified their hearts. Why then are you now putting God to the test by placing on the shoulders of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear? On the contrary, we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they. And note in verse 12 the Bible says that after Peter spoke “The whole assembly fell silent.” So, everyone expressed their opinion and the discussion went back and forth, but once Peter spoke, the whole assembly fell silent. Further on in the chapter, it discusses the “Letter of the Apostles, which was sent to the whole church announcing the results of the council. Verse 28 states “It is the decision of the holy Spirit and of us not to place on you any burden beyond these necessities. Note again that it is the Holy Spirit guiding the Church, not just “men” making up their own ideas. I love this theme, the Year of Faith. It fits directly into the topical of an infallible church and infallible Pope. Our faith in the Church and the Pope is not a natural faith in men, but a supernatural faith in the Holy Spirit. That’s what we have to ask ourselves, do we have faith in the Jesus and the Holy Spirit to make the truth of Christ absolutely clear with no doubt whatsoever. I do. Now some people will still argue that they are Bible based Christians and that the Bible not the church, is the sole source of Jesus’ truth. Fair enough. Well let’s look at what the Bible says about this. We’ll read one last Bible verse. Go to 1st Timothy chapter 3. In this chapter, Paul is writing to Timothy about the qualifications of various ministers. Starting in verse 14, Paul says “I am writing you about these matters, although I hope to visit you soon. But if I should be delayed, you should know how to behave in the household of God, which is the Church of the Living God, the pillar and foundation of truth. So the Bible says that Church, not the scriptures, is the pillar and foundation of truth. So, once again in this year of faith, we are confronted with the question, do we have faith in the supernatural inerrancy of the Bible, which says that the Church is supernaturally infallible. Some people will still say that they don’t have faith in men or a man made institution. But men, I have to tell you, I am all in with my faith in Jesus Christ, 100%. You see Jesus Christ was a man. Our faith says he is TRUE MAN and TRUE GOD. I have faith in the Man/God Jesus Christ. I have faith in the book this Man/God wrote with other men under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the Bible. And if I can have faith that the Holy Spirit can keep a book written by men from error, I must have that same faith that the Holy Spirit can keep an institution run by men and a man The Pope from teaching error. Jesus has promised this through the Holy Spirit and he has kept this promise for the last 2,000 years.
I’d like to close our eyes and end with a prayer to our Blessed Mother, asking for her protection of Mother Church, Hail Mary…