Friday, April 24, 2009

Infallibility and The Church

In reaction to a dubious declaration by a German archbishop, TF says:
Doesn't this event say something about the fallibility of your magisterium when an archbishop and top-ranking German bishop (no, not the one in the Vatican - yet) can say something like this?
No. But the question suggests that the questioner doesn't understand what the Church teaches about infallibility.

Let us grant for the sake of argument (but see here for a cautionary tale about that) that the story as reported is accurate and that the archbishop's views are contrary to the Church's teaching. If this is so, it implies nothing about the doctrine of infallibility. Because the archbishop's views as an individual aren't guaranteed to be infallible.

He would not be the first archbishop to fall into error, either. Various patriarchs of Constantinople and Alexandria beat him to that distinction centuries ago, just to name two historical examples. But the doctrine of infallibility didn't extend to their views, either.

What the doctrine says is this:
"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. When the Church through its supreme Magisterium proposes a doctrine "for belief as being divinely revealed," and as the teaching of Christ, the definitions "must be adhered to with the obedience of faith." This infallibility extends as far as the deposit of divine Revelation itself. [CCC §891]
It's pretty clear, I'd say, that the individual declarations of an archbishop aren't guaranteed to be infallible.

The same thing is said even more clearly in Lumen Gentium:
Although the individual bishops do not enjoy the prerogative of infallibility, they nevertheless proclaim Christ's doctrine infallibly whenever, even though dispersed through the world, but still maintaining the bond of communion among themselves and with the successor of Peter, and authentically teaching matters of faith and morals, they are in agreement on one position as definitively to be held. This is even more clearly verified when, gathered together in an ecumenical council, they are teachers and judges of faith and morals for the universal Church, whose definitions must be adhered to with the submission of faith. [LG 25; emphasis added]
TF continues:
I could ask: who are you going to believe, a high-ranking official in your church or your own private judgment, but I know that for a lot of my Roman Catholic readers they will exercise their private judgment and reject the public teaching of this important bishop within their church.
It's not a question of choosing between myself and the archbishop, even if he has publicly espoused error. He is not guaranteed to be speaking infallibly on his own. We confess not every word that he might say, but everything that is taught by the Church, and this man's opinions are not assumed to be coextensive with that teaching.

Certainly if the article is correct, the archbishop would seem to have caused scandal, and that would be a grave evil. But it would prove nothing about the doctrine of infallibility that the Church actually teaches. TF has apparently misunderstood us.

[Update] Some may have seen a followup post I briefly had up as a further interaction with additional comments by TF. I have removed it. I believe that this post is sufficiently clear as a brief presentation of the subject matter, and nothing I've seen him post up to now warrants further clarification.

[Update #2] Just so there is no confusion: TF has published a reply to the post that I removed this morning (within 45 minutes or so of having posted it). Sorry folks, nothing to see here. This post stands on its own.

[Update #3] After several days of consideration, I have changed my mind and published a new post (much different from the one I previously deleted) on this topic. My expectation is that it will be the last.

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