How many times people criticize the Holy Father in Rome, saying he is just an ordinary man in his human nature who can sin like everyone else, and who someday must die like everyone else. They see no need to follow his directives, nor to take seriously what he says. In reply, I ask these people: “Do you believe in the Bible?” “Yes,” they say, “we do!” So I ask them: “Who wrote the Bible? Were they not just ordinary men like you and I who were in their human nature and who have died? Yet you call this 'God's Word'. Why do you follow what these men wrote?” And of course, they become stumped at this question.
It is common knowledge that when the apostles wrote the Bible, they were inspired and guided by the Holy Spirit, just like the Holy Father in Rome is guided by the same Holy Spirit today. So if one can follow the writings in the Bible, one should be able to also follow the official writings of the Holy Father.
And then there are others who pick and choose what they want to believe when it comes to the teachings of the Catholic Church. It is like a cafeteria-style religion where you believe only what suites your fancy. When I write this article, I am thinking in particular about the social doctrine of the Church.
There are some who are traditionalists, who want to remain with tradition, which is fine. But then they turn around and refuse to have anything to do with putting into application the social doctrine of the Church which deals with feeding the hungry, with correcting the financial systems of the world. They just want to pray and not get involved with apostolate work.
Then there are others who belong to the pious groups, which again are fine, but they also just want to pray, ignroing their responsibilities of working for social justice. Yet all of these people say they are in good standing with the Church, that they practice their Faith well.
Those who read the “Michael” Journal know that we promote all the doctrines of the Church. Our writers often quote parts of various papal encyclicals which refer to the official doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church on the subjects involved. We especially elaborate on the social doctrine of the Church, being we work as an organization for social justice.
Unfortunately, a vast majority of the people I come in contact with do not know what the social doctrine of the Church is, nor do they understand how this doctrine has come about. They believe in all kinds of heresies and half-truths, even though they still claim to be members of the Church. They seem to think they can just ignore some of the official teachings of the Church. Some have even accused us of not being members of the Church because we try to teach all of its doctrines.
I have therefore decided to make a catechism lesson about papal doctrine and its infallibility. My information is taken from a catechism entitled “My Catholic Faith” by Most Rev. Louis Laravoire Morrow, S.T.D. Hopefully this catechism lesson will help our reading audience to understand that the Work of “Michael” is based on Church doctrine, and therefore is not to be ignored!
|Jesus gives to Peter the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, by Pietro Perugino, Sistine Chapel.|
By the infallibility of the Catholic Church is meant that the Church, by the special assistance of the Holy Spirit, cannot err when it teaches or believes a doctrine of Faith or morals.
"Infallibility" is often distorted by enemies of the Church to mean "impeccability", and therefore is 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.
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. And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose upon earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven” (Matthew 16:18-19). If therefore the Church falls into error, the gates of hell certainly would prevail against it.
Even a Protestant authority, Martin Luther, five years after the Reformation, wrote: “So we stand here and with open mouth stare heavenward and invent still other keys. Yet Christ says very clearly in Matt 16:19 that He will give the keys to Peter. He does not say He has two kinds of keys, but He gives to Peter the keys He Himself has, and no others. It is as if He were saying: why are you staring heavenward in search of the keys? Do you not understand I gave them to Peter? They are indeed the keys of Heaven, but they are not found in Heaven. I left them on earth. Don't look for them in Heaven or anywhere else except in Peter's mouth where I have placed them. Peter's mouth is My mouth, and his tongue is My key case. His office is My office, his binding and loosing are My binding and loosing” (Martin Luther, The Keys, in Conrad Bergendoff, ed. trans. Earl Beyer and Conrad Bergendoff, Luthers Works, vol. 40, Philadelphia: Fortress, 1958, p. 365-366.)
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.
Jesus Christ commanded all men to listen to and obey the Church, under the pain of damnation. If His Church can teach error, then He is responsible for the error, by commanding all to obey.
The Church makes infallible pronouncements on doctrines of Faith and morals, on their interpretation, on the Bible and Tradition, and the interpretation of any part or parts of these. The Church also pronounces on the truth or falsity of opinions, teachings, customs, etc., with relation to fundamental doctrines.
The Church teaches infallibility when it defines, through the Pope alone, as the teacher of all Christians, a doctrine of Faith or morals to be held by all the faithful. The Pope then speaks officially (ex-cathedra) as the Supreme Head for the entire universal Church. As the Pope has authority over the Church, he could not err in his official teaching without leading the Church into error.
In order to speak infallibly, the Pope must speak ex-cathedra, or officially, under the following conditions:
(1) He must pronounce himself on a subject of Faith or morals. Infallibility is restricted to questions regarding Faith and morals. The Church pronounces on natural sciences and on legislation only when the perversity of men makes of them instruments for opposing revealed truths.
(2) If the Pope should make judgments on mathematics or civil governments, he is liable to error as any other man with the same experience. However, when the Pope does solemnly define a truth, for example in his Encyclical Letters, we are bound to listen attentively to his words since they are taught with the ordinary authority of the Roman Pontiff.
(3) He must speak as the Vicar of Christ, in his office as Pope, and to the whole Church, to all the faithful throughout the world.
(4) He must make clear by certain words his intention to speak ex-cathedra, that is, to make use of his supreme authority. These words are most often used: “We proclaim,” “We define,” etc.
When the Church makes an infallible pronouncement, we are not to suppose that a new doctrine is being introduced. One example of this is the definition of the Holy Father's infallibility, made in 1870 by the Vatican Council. The dogma was true from the very beginning, and had been universally held. But as in recent times many objections were being made against it, the Bishops in the Vatican Council thought it best, in order to make clear the stand of the Church, to make an infallible definition.
Heresy is the formal denial or doubt by a baptized person of any revealed truth of the Catholic Faith. Heretics assume the right, on their own independent authority, to choose their beliefs instead of accepting all, and only the truths revealed by God, and defined and taught by the infallible Church which Christ Himself established.
Formal heretics are those who knowingly and obstinately deny the truths of the Catholic Church. Material heretics are those who deny truths because of ignorance rather than formal obstinacy.
It is the duty of every member of the Church to learn the Faith and to teach it to others. So many fall into serious error because they simply do not know what the Church teaches on certain subjects.
We have been blessed with a Holy Father in Rome who is an expect on theology. Even though we might not understand everything he does because we are not theologians ourselves, we pray for the Holy Father and put our trust in him. Pope John Paul II is the current Vicar of Christ upon earth, and we follow him. Only he, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, can speak infallibly; all the rest of us can error when it comes to the dogmas of Faith and morals. Therefore, let us humbly submit ourselves to the Holy Father.