Thursday, March 10, 2005

Infallible, not inspired

On the blog "Does the Bible have errors in it? " Wray Davis said in a comment to me...

"To me, however, relying on single source of inspiration (the papal seat) as the authority on orthodoxy seems worrisome"
Firstly, the pope is not a source of Divine inspiration, only the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are. Nor is the pope's teachings understood to be inspired or revealed by God. That's a Mormon thing, not a Catholic thing.

The pope is simply our pastor. By virtue of the office he holds, an office that has existed since St. Peter, he speaks with the highest level of authority on doctrinal matters apart from a direct revelation of our Lord Christ Jesus Himself. The successor of Peter has no superior in matters religious, according to Catholic ecclesiology. But he is simply a man, as sinful and error-prone as other men. Yet, in accord with Heb 13:17, by virture of the office he holds, all Catholics are obliged to submit to him in matters within his scope of authority, that is, matters religious to include faith, morals, and ecclesiastical discipline.

As a member of the military, I know this principle as "unity of command." In the Catholic Church, it's more appropriately called "pastoral" or "sacerdotal unity." There's "sacerdotal unity" in the Catholic Church because this is how Christ built his Church. Unity of command is not just a good idea, but it's the Biblical governance of the Church.

Accurding to Heb 13:17 (New American Bible, states, "Obey your leaders and defer to them, for they keep watch over you and will have to give an account, that they may fulfill their task with joy and not with sorrow, for that would be of no advantage to you."

The popes will certainly have to give an account for their leadership, and some may even find themselves damned to hell, but my role seems clear from Scripture: obey in such a way that my lawful pastors may lead with joy and not with sorrow.

Now, Catholicism does indeed teach that Christ will always keep the Church from teaching erroneous doctrines as formal dogma which all the faithful infallibly and immutably owe their assent of faith. The Catholic Church is likened to an ark and the pope is the captain of the ark. Both the captain and crew are sinful and error prone, but nothing is impossible with the grace of God. Although the ark is navigating through rough waters, being tossed here and there by the human sinfulness of the captain and crew, no matter how much the captain and crew might attempt to take the ark permanently off course by their sinfulness, we believe Jesus Christ will never allow the captain and crew of the ark to defectably and immutably diverge the ark from its true Divinely intended destination. In other words, the Church may stumble, but Christ is always holding her hand such that she will never fall.


Blogger Wray Davis said...


You said:
"Yet, in accord with Heb 13:17, by virture of the office he holds, all Catholics are obliged to submit to him in matters within his scope of authority, that is, matters religious to include faith, morals, and ecclesiastical discipline."

Using Heb 13:17 as the sole or primary command by which the Pope becomes infallible is no less worriome to me.

By that logic, we should defer to our individual pastors in the same way, regardless of our perception of their orthodoxy. Thus the followers of Arius, Marcion, Pelagius, or any other number of heretics were biblically required to follow him, as these heretics were their leaders.

Rather, I think this passage is meant to imply that the laypeople were to cede some (not ultimate) authority to the clergy - a common concept in much of the classical world, but a novel idea for the Jews, who typically took the priest's words as good advice and went about doing whatever they thought best. Authority need not be digital - only there or not. There are degrees of authority, just as I obey my boss, my president, a policeman, and my father in different ways, to different degrees, and under different circumstances.

7:56 PM  
Blogger Wray Davis said...

On another note, I have a difficult time seperating the idea of infallibilty and inspiration.

We can both agree that the Pope, as a man, is capable of error, therefore, if his decrees are infallible, they must not be of him but of a perfect source (God), thus he is inspired. To hold that he is infallible in the sense that you must defer to him in spite of a lack of divine inspiration is to accept that his decrees are flawed and that you are working withing a broken paradigm. If that were the case, I would suggest that you have no alternative but to stick to the last known infallible source (in this case assumed to be the scriptures).

If you are to accept the infallibility of the pope, you must accept his divine inspiration on ecclesiastical matters.

8:04 PM  
Blogger itsjustdave1988 said...


You said:
"By that logic, we should defer to our individual pastors in the same way"

We are indeed bound to submit to our individual pastors, within their scope of authority. However, they go beyond their scope when they begin to teach contrary to higher authority. So, I must submit to my pastor Fr. Brad insofar as he submits to the bishop, Michael Sheridan, and only insofar as he submits to the pope.

Even St. Athanasius asserted that if the Arians were teaching that which the pope and other apostolical men taught, they would never have been charged with heresy.

Those that depart from unity with the chair of Peter, are no longer in communion with the Church that Christ established upon the rock of Peter. If that is their goal, then so be it. But they create their own religion by doing so, not the religion that Christ established.

3:42 PM  
Blogger itsjustdave1988 said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

5:00 PM  
Blogger itsjustdave1988 said...


On inspiration versus infallibility...

Inspiration is the positive use of man as an instrument of revelation by God. That which is asserted by the inspired writer is to be understood as asserted by God.

Infallibility is negative approbation. Under very specific circumstances, the pope and the church are infallible. Not always, but sometimes, as when dogma is formally defined as an article of faith to be held by all the faithful.

Let's say the pope was infallible in trigonometry. If he took a ten-question quiz in trigonometry, what is the MINIMUM number of answers he would get correct? Some would erroneously say ten. Yet, the correct answer is zero. Why? If the pope did not study trigonometry, he would not know trigonometry. Negative approbation means God would keep him from asserting an answer that was erroneous. So, an infallible pope that didn't study trigonometry would be prevented from answering any incorrect trigonometry questions as if they were definitively correct.

Yet an inspired pope would be an instrument of revelation and would know the answers, even if he were nothing but a simple fisherman.

5:03 PM  

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