The infallibility of the Pope

Pope FrancisThe Catholic teaching about the infallibility of the Pope sounds so strange and unacceptable to so many none Catholics, they can’t even imagine it to be true, yet the Church teaches it with so much confidence with her teaching authority which is from Christ himself. The Catholic Church is so proud of her priceless faith and teaches it with great joy, not minding the efforts by some few to discredit it. The gates of hell shall not indeed prevail against the Church.

The Pope’s infallibility is a dogmatic teaching in the Catholic Church that states that the Pope is infallible in his teaching, but before I go further I wish to explain a very important point. Please, do note that this infallibility was defined in the first Vatican Council (1869-1870), and that is not to say that the truthfulness of the infallibility came into existence during this period, no. It has always existed but was only revealed and defined by the Church during this period with the help of the Holy Spirit. For instance, in 1950, Pope Pius XII defined the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary as a dogma in the Church. It is not another way of saying that Mary was Assumed into heaven in 1950, the Church only defined that which already existed as dogma. In the same way, the Holy Spirit did not begin to exist on Pentecost day but was only revealed specially on Pentecost day. The declaration of dogma in the Church is not just a show of authority but a corrective and preservative response to erroneous teachings capable of distorting the truth.

Now, coming back to the explanation of the infallibility of the Pope, so many none Catholics and even some few Catholics confuse it for what it is not, while some others are simply indifferent. When it comes to the matter of faith, we do not seat on the fence, we know what we teach and we teach what we believe. pope-benedict “The infallibility of the Pope is not the same thing as ‘impeccability'”, not at all. The Pope is a human being like everyone else, and like us he too has some shortcomings. We struggle against sin and temptations together, we both fall sometimes and approach God in the Sacrament of reconciliation for mercy and forgiveness. Not every pronouncement the Pope makes is dogma; disciplinary actions and decisions taken by the Pope are not dogma. The Pope speaks ex-Cathedra or infallibly when he speaks in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority to define a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held as truth by the whole Church. The Pope does not just wake up from sleep to pronounce a dogma, a dogma is a product of the Magisterium or the teaching authority of the Church, guided and inspired by the Holy Spirit. The teaching authority of the Church is from God, and so cannot deceive or mislead. God is not man, that he should lie, or a Son of man, that he should repent(Num. 23:19). Christ himself gave the Church the authority to teach and promised to remain with the Church till the end of time. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority 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 lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age. (Matt. 28:18-20). He sent the Holy Spirit who is always influencing and inspiring the Church in her dogmatic pronouncements.

bibleThe infallibility of the Pope is an expression of faith in the word of God, he promised to remain with the Church till the end of time and he would not lie. The Church teaches the infallibility of the Pope with great confidence because the Lord is with the Church; we hold firm to his presence and depend on the Holy Spirit for inspiration and direction. The infallibility is not in the person of the Pope as such but in the virtue of his office as the Vicar of Christ. The Pope seats on the Chair of Peter, the rock upon which Christ built his Church. Jesus said to Peter, and I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Matt. 16:18-19. The Catholic Church is therefore built on a rock that cannot be shaken, not even the waves of criticism can shake this faith because Jesus has prayed that the faith upon which this Church is built may never fail. He said to Peter, >…I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren. Lk. 22:32. The Catholic Church is apostolic, it is built on the faith of the apostles. Through the apostolic succession and God’s faithfulness to his word, the Church continues to enjoy that Petrine authority.

Peter may have failed many times just as the Pope can fail as man, that makes some critics of the Church to question whether Peter was ever a Pope. Their arguments may be logical but a complete misunderstanding of the Church’s teaching of infallibility. Peter may have failed as man, the Pope can equally fail, but when it has to do with matters of faith and morals dogmatically proclaimed to correct, preserve and protect the faith of the people of God, the Pope is infallible with the help of God.

Rev. Fr. Joel Okojie OSA

Joel Okojie is an ordained Catholic Priest in the Order of St. Augustine. He has been a Priest for over a decade. He served as pastor in two different parishes, he was one time Novice Master and a member of the Provincial Council of the province of St. Augustine of Nigeria, and he is currently on a mission in response to the needs of the Church in Canada.

One comment on “The infallibility of the Pope
  1. Stephen says:

    I like the comment that the infallibility of the Pope is not the same thing as being “impeccable”

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