MY CATHOLIC FAITH
LXVII. Infallibility of the Church
The Church cannot teach error, because it was founded by Christ, God Himself. He sent forth His Apostles with full powers to preach His Gospel. He said. “As the Father has sent me, I also send you” (John 20:21). “I will ask the Father and he will give you another Advocate to dwell with you forever. . . . But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your mind whatever I have said to you” (John 14:16,26).
What is meant by the infallibility of the Catholic Church? –By the infallibility of the Catholic Church is meant that the Church, by the special assistance of the Holy Ghost, cannot err when it teaches or believes a doctrine of faith and morals.
Christ promised: “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and teach all nations … teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and behold, I am with you all days, even unto the consummation of the world” (Matt. 28:20). If Christ is with the Church all days, it cannot err in teaching; it cannot lead men away from God.
“Infallibility” is often distorted by enemies of the Church to mean “impeccability”, and therefore derided. Infallibility is freedom from error; impeccability is freedom from sin. In an institution established by God for the salvation of men, error in doctrine is unthinkable.
Every teacher in the Church, from the Pope down to the humblest priest, like all of the faithful, is capable of falling into sin. But in the Catholic Church, because of the promise of Infallibility, the Holy Ghost cannot permit the purity of a single doctrine to be stained.
Jesus Christ promised to preserve the Church from error. If His prediction and promises were false, then He would not be God, since God cannot lie. Christ said: “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” If therefore the Church falls into error, the gates of hell certainly would prevail against it.
Christ promised: “I will ask the Father, and he shall give you another Advocate to dwell with you forever … He will teach you all the truth” (John 14). If the Church can err, then the Holy Ghost cannot abide in it and Christ has failed to keep His promise-a thing absolutely impossible.
A doctrine of faith is something we must believe in order to be saved. A doctrine of morals is something we must do in order to be saved.
For example, we must believe the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity: that there are Three Divine Persons in One God. We must believe that Jesus Christ is God. We must believe in the Blessed Virgin Mary’s immaculate conception.
Of things we must do are these: we must go to Mass on Sundays and holydays of obligation; we must fast and abstain when our bishops so order; we must receive Holy Communion at least once a year. We must obey the Ten Commandments.
Jesus Christ commanded all men to listen to and obey the Church, under pain of damnation. If His Church can teach error, then He is responsible for the error, by commanding all to obey.
Jesus sent forth His Apostles with full powers to preach His Gospel: “As the Father hath sent Me, I also send you.” – “Make disciples of all nations teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” – “Preach the Gospel to every creature.”
Christ said: “He who believes and is baptized shall be saved; but he who does Hot believe shall be condemned” (Mark 16: 16). A just God could not command men under penalty of damnation to believe what is false. So the teaching of the Church must be infallibly true.
He said: “You shall be witnesses for me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and Samaria, and even to the very ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Since it was physically impossible for the Apostles to preach to the whole world, the mission must have been intended also for their successors to the end of time, our Catholic Bishops and priests.
Christ said: “If he refuse to hear even the Church, let him be to thee as the heathen and the publican” (Matt. 18:17) “He who hears you hears me; and he who rejects you rejects me; and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Luke 10:16) .
He said, “And whoever does not receive you, or listen to your words-go forth outside that house or town, and shake off the dust from your feet. Amen I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that town” (Matt. 10:14-16).
No Christian denies that the Apostles were infallible. In fact, in the first century, they were the only authority in the Church. The Bible was not completed till the end of that century, not within reach of all.
But God loves the Christians of today as much as He did the primitive Christians. We have as much need of unerring teachers as they. The Apostolic Church of the 20th century must therefore be as infallible as the Apostolic Church.
An infallible Bible is no use without an infallible interpreter. History has proved this, in the multiplication of the innumerable denominations that deny the infallibility of the Church. By infallibility, the faithful know exactly what to believe and what to do in order that they may be pleasing to God and save their souls. They have surety; they need suffer no doctrinal doubt.
It is a great blessing that, in the midst of the everchanging views of men and the conflict of human opinion, there is one voice crying out in unerring tones: “Thus saith the Lord.”
Has the Church in fact proved itself infallible? –It is a historical fact that the Catholic Church, from the twentieth century back to the first, has not once ceased to teach a doctrine on faith or morals previously held, and with the same interpretation; the Church has proved itself infallible.
It is a historical fact that not one Pope, whatever he was in his private life, has ever taught error.
“The Scribes and the Pharisees have sat on the chair of Moses. All things, therefore, that they command you, observe and do. But do not act according to their works.” By obeying the Pope, every Christian can live as Christ commanded, in any age.
True, some high rulers of the Church have gravely sinned. Nevertheless, enemies of the Church have exaggerated even the lack of impeccability. In the long line of Popes the vast majority led virtuous lives. Many of them are honored as Saints and martyrs. The enemies of the Church can bring charges against only five or six Popes: Most of the charges are calumnies or exaggerations. But even if the charges were true, they prove nothing against infallibility.
Of the Sovereign Pontiffs that have succeeded Peter, 84 are canonized Saints, of whom 32 were martyrs. However holy the Pope, he regularly goes to confession to a priest. No Pope ever considers himself above the laws of the Church and of God.
The Church cannot change its teachings on faith and morals. But it may restate the doctrines more clearly and completely. Year after year the Church proclaims the same unchanging doctrines. Her doctrines need no reform, for they are of Divine origin, the work of the Incarnate God.
No Pope or general Council in almost two thousand years has annulled or revoked a single decree of faith or morals enacted by a previous Pope or Council. This is history.