XIII — Infallibility Part II (The Pope and Common Caricature):

The Eastern Churches have no problems with infallibility as a concept except when the subject of the locus of infallibility in the Church is brought up. To the Eastern Church the locus of infallibility is "An Ecumenical (General) Council". Catholics do not disagree that this is certainly a crucial element of the united Magsterium which is protected from doctrinal error. However, they also assert that in certain parameters the Bishop of Rome possesses this particular charism himself by virtue of his office as the leader of the Church. So while the Eastern Churches do not have a problem with infallibility pertaining to the Church, when it is brought up in relation to the Pope of Rome then the topic becomes problematic. A recent correspondence this author had with an Eastern apologist had the topic proposed in the following manner:

Frankly do you know of a single dictatorial system in the whole of human history that has had such authority over really every human person.
A system that believes that the Pope:
  • Is the representative (vicar) of God on earth.
  • Has "universal jurisdiction" not just over the whole Church but over every baptized Christian individually irrespectively whether the said Christian adheres to that belief or not.
  • Cannot be judged by anybody.
  • Is "infallible" by himself (ex sese) and not through and by the consensus of the Church (ex consensu Ecclesiae) and…
  • These "attributes" were not given to him by his fellow men but by God Himself!
  • Well there you are, these are the trappings for making a dictator even for the meekest among men. [1] 
    Of course this view is exactly the same as what Protestants have of the idea of "infallible" Church authority to begin with so in this light the Eastern Church Christian is fundamentally in the same boat as the objecting Protestant. We could don the mantle of the skeptic and note that Christianity is a system that believes that Jesus Christ is the "Son of God" and "God Incarnate". Therefore, as "God the Son" He has jurisdiction over the Universe. He cannot be judged by anybody. He is infallible by himself (ex sese) and not through and by the consensus of the Church (ex consensu Ecclesiae) and these "attributes" were given to him by God whom He calls His Father!!! Well there you are, "these are the trappings for making a dictator even for the meekest among men". Is God a dictator to men or does He seek to govern as a Father who both knows what is best for His children and also who at times must chastise His children for their own good??? Obviously the latter is the case but in returning briefly to the Covenantal and Incarnational themes, Christianity is a faith that manifests itself in many forms. Consider these themes touched on earlier to aid in seeing an organic connection between the following points.

    Our Lord went out of his way when He walked the earth to use the created order to aid in healing, feeding, and strengthening people. Apostolic Christians believe that the sacraments are precisely these channels of grace that the Lord intimately touches His children with today. But some Apostolic Christians seem to have a problem with the notion of Our Lord working through the instrument of a man. If that man wears the robes and mitre of a Bishop and claims to govern in the name of Christ and with His authority there are problems. There are no problems with imperfect or sinful bishops and priests administering valid sacraments. (One of the problems that caused the Donatist schism mentioned earlier revolved around this very concept.) Yet there is a problem that somehow God cannot work through a sinful man in not allowing him to err in a position of teaching in certain circumstances. Or at least this is what is implicitly claimed when our Orthodox brethren - who normally are very good at avoiding the either/or dichotomy - appropriate it in this one instance. Again consistency should be in order here along with considering the exegestical basis for a position of authority in the Church that surpasses a mere "primacy of honour".

    The development of the papal primacy will be covered later on but first a bit of Scriptural foreshadowing along with some knowledge about Caesaria Phillippi to help put these points into proper context. There is a clear OT parallel in Isaiah 22 with regards to the duties of the "Major Domo" as the office of authority under the king and what the Pope fulfills in the Church as Christ's Vicar. The office in the Davidic Kingdom was the same office held by other OT notables such as Joseph under Pharaoh and Daniel under Nebuchadnezzar. It was a position of second to the king. When the king was physically absent, the Major Domo ruled in the position of the King as his representative. F.F. Bruce (perhaps the greatest Evangelical Scripture scholar of the twentieth century) has dealt with the passage of Matt 16:19 which reflects the ancient understanding of binding and loosing (also mentioned in Matt 18:17). In speaking of the unique promise of the "keys", Bruce noted that "the keys of a royal or noble establishment were entrusted to the chief steward or major domo" (The Hard Sayings of Jesus). Likewise, "he carried them on his shoulder in earlier times, and there they served as a badge of the authority entrusted to him" (ibid).

    In pointing to the parallel between Isaiah 22 and Matthew 16, Bruce noted that an oracle from God announced that this authority in the royal palace in Jerusalem was to be conferred on a man called Eliakim. "I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open" (Isa. 22:22). Bruce tied Isaiah 22:22 to Matthew 16:19 (which likewise uses the same language) noting that "in the new community which Jesus was about to build, Peter would be, so to speak, chief steward. In the early chapters of Acts Peter is seen exercising this responsibility in the primitive church" (The Hard Sayings of Jesus). Fortunately many eminent Protestant historians and scholars today are admitting that the Catholic interpretation of this passage is the correct one even if they arbitrarily stop short of carrying the implications of this admission out to its logical conclusion. Just as the Major Domo of the Davidic Kingdom held a position that was passed on in dynastic succession (as Eliakim received the position of Shebna), so too logically would the Apostle Peter have successors in his stead. Why would the Apostolic Christian believe in succession of the episcopate without succession of the Major Domo???

    Caesaria Philippi as the setting would make an immediate impression on the Jews whom Matthew wrote his Gospel to but to modern readers the significance of this place has no meaning. Because it is crucial to properly understanding the passage, a bare-bones outline of the setting to place the discussion between Our Lord and Simon Peter in the proper context as it would have been understood by a first century Jew. (Or indeed anyone from the first century living in that part of the world.) At the top of Caesaria Philippi was an altar where human sacrifices were made to the pagan god Pan. Caesaria Philippi itself was recognized in apostolic times as "the Rock of Pan". The aforementioned human sacrifices were thrown into (what was believed to be) a bottomless pit beneath the rock cliff referred to as "the gates of sheol". Caesaria Philippi was recognized as home of the darkest powers of evil. It was in this setting and location where Rabbi Yeshua's identity was revealed (via Divine Revelation of the Father) to Shimon Keepa (Simon Peter in Aramaic — the language of the Jews of the first century and which Matthew's Gospel was written in.) It was at Caesaria Phillippi where Rabbi Yeshua's words in Matt. 16:18-19 were spoken. This passage has been recognized by Apostolic Christians to be a declaration of the Church's infallibility from the lips of Our Lord Himself.

    In the presence of Caesaria Philippi and the Rock of Pan (and the pit known as "the gates of sheol"), Our Lord promised that the Church would never be overcome by the blackest of evil. Evil permeated Caesaria Phillippi: a clear Judaic metaphor for "the way of death" (cf. Didache) in the eyes of a first century Jew. Apostolic Christians take Our Lord at His word and place no faith in the words of mere men who found new movements or new religions to suit their own personal preferences. The question of course is this: why would this promise apply to the whole Church but at the same time not apply to Simon individually exercising his function as the foundation of the Church??? After all, this promise was made to Simon individually and the keys to the kingdom were not promised to the Apostles as a group in Matt 18:17. Why is it unreasonable to postulate that these promises and the prophecy of Our Lord (which is foreshadowed in Isaiah 22:22 and in the positions held by Daniel under Nebuchadnezzar and Joseph under Pharaoh), would not likewise be manifested in a Vicar of the Son of David (Rabbi Yeshua) over the Church of the New Covenant of God???

    And (presuming for a moment that such a Vicar or Major Domo was established), the question arises as to why the Lord would not protect His Vicar in situations when the Vicar was binding and loosing (independently of the Church's other ministers as the Major Domo could do) from erring when he bound a teaching or discipline on the entire Kingdom (the Church). King David had a Major Domo as did his successors in the Davidic line of kings. Why not King David's even greater Son who built up an even greater Kingdom than his predecessor??? Was Our Lord less wise than his ancestor David??? Or was He instead infinitely wiser and realize the import of his own preaching??? Was there not possibly a meaning to the statements about the wise man [Jesus Christ] who built his house [the Church] on a rock [Peter] (Matt. 7:24-25; Luke 6:47-48) and not on the mere sand [Simon in Aramaic means "sand"] as an unwise (or carnal) man would do (Matt 7:27-28; Luke 6:49). There been times when the Popes have literally been dictatorial in their actions but we are not speaking of omniscence here, merely an inability to lead the entire Kingdom astray on matters impacting salvation. As the Lord proved with Balaam and others, He can convey the truth through a tainted instrument. Balaam was unable to curse Israel but instead could only bless Israel (Numbers 22-24). Is God incapable of doing this with a man today (binding error being akin to placing a curse on the Kingdom)??? It is undeniable that there have been times in administrative decisions (i.e. not impacting doctrine or morals) that the popes have governed terribly. But it seems that the Eastern Church Christian (much like our Protestant brethren) in criticizing this shortcoming historically are too quick to fall into the habit of "criticizing the cops without ever having heard of burglers" (as Chesterton noted earlier). In this case the "burgler" would be the Christian Emperors and the concept of Caesaro-Papism:

    The dominion of the Church by the Prince, brought about by dependence of the Church on the State and too great a readiness to accept State assistance, whence follows State control, so that ‘Caesar’ takes the place of ‘Pope’. It was endemic in the Orthodox church of the later Roman empire, and a characteristic of the Orthodox national churches to this day; cf., the Russian church and the Tsar before the revolution. See also Erastianism. [2]
    Erastianism is defined by the same dictionary in the following manner:
    The subordination of Church to state, so called from Erastus (Thomas Leiber, 1524-83). A Protestant theologian who taught that the Christian prince had received from God the same power as the magistrate of the Jewish dispensation. Erastianism is entirely opposed to Catholic teaching (see Church and State) but has always afflicted the Byzantine (Orthodox) Church, formerly in its head and now particularly in its members, and also the Protestant Church of England from time to time. [3]
    The concerns of the Eastern Church Christians seem to be rather absurd to put it frankly. Perhaps if the Orthodox churches had not been so suseptable to Caesaro-Papism as they historically have been this would not be the case. In this light, the concerns about the Pope being a "dictator" are frankly laughable. That is precisely what the Emperors often were in their intent on encroaching upon the jurisdiction of the Church in matters spiritual or likewise related (such as ecclesiastical government, etc). Or as B.C. Butler has noted on the matter. (The relevant footnotes will be in brackets with references to Salmon's book in between):
    [With the conversion of the Roman government to Christianity in the fourth century] the fourth and fifth centuries had seen the first great strides taken towards what has not been unaptly called ‘Caesaropapism’ - a system by which the ultimate authority in ecclesiastical affairs was in fact, if not in theory, the (ex hypothesi Christian) Emperor. And the capital and royal city of the Empire was by this time in Constantinople. It was natural that the Bishop of Constantinople should be, and should feel himself to be, of great importance in these circumstances, and the rise of his See from an insignificant status before AD 325 to the second rank in Christendom - practically achieved, despite papal protest, from AD 451 onward - is one of the spectacular phenomena of ecclesiastical history. Along with the Bishop of Constantinople, great influence was exercised by the bishops, varying no doubt in number and personnel, who at the time were found in residence in the capital, and who constituted what came to be known as the ‘resident’, or even ‘universal’ Council.
    The extreme danger of this state of things is obvious. Once Christianity, the Church, had become identified completely (could God have allowed such a thing) with the Roman Empire, or with Graeco-Roman culture, it would have apostasized from its universal mission to all peoples of all ages. It is also obvious that Caesaropapism is entirely alien to the original nature of Christianity. A weakness...is that it fails to take adequate account of the nature and power and noxiousness of this threat to the independence and sovereignty of the ‘spiritual factor’, or at least it does not give the Roman See sufficient credit for being the one great bulwark in antiquity against it. He seems to view the Roman ‘desire to keep down Constantinople and prevent her from coming into rivalry with her’ [S, p. 160] as just human ambition, the antithesis of Christ’s teaching that he who is first should be servant of all; and to suppose that, in the service of ambition, Rome ‘tried to alter the ground of her priority…and to claim precedence not because of her political greatness, but because of historical connexion with the Apostles’ [ibid]. But when had Rome ever based her claim on anything else? In Julius’ time? In Stephen’s? In Callistus’? In Victor’s? The value of this apostolic base of Roman priority was not simply that Constantinople could only reply with a rather belated claim to have been founded on St. Peter’s brother the Apostle Andrew; but that it gave to the supreme spiritual authority a foundation not in the precarious sands of civil domination (the real basis for the Constantinopolitan ’primacy’ in the East) but upon the rock of a Gospel promise. [4]
    Rome's policies towards the Emperors trying to run the Church were at times to fight them on their own turf and in the process "Empire trappings" were acquired for this purpose. This did occasionally result in incidents that are unfortunate (and a few that are indefensible on a personal level). However, it is nonetheless strange that the Eastern Churches would object so strongly to the See of Rome seeking to keep the Church from being run by the state. The East-West split resulted in part from a growing misunderstanding between east and west in a span of a few centuries. However, the  Caesaro-papist system, which sought to make the Church (and the Pope) subject to the Emperor in spiritual matters as well as temporal also was a factor in the equation. How can one render to God what is God's if Caesar claims to have jurisdiction over that which is God's (the Church)??? It is simple, one cannot. Moreover, in demonizing the Emperor-trappings of the later popes, the modern Eastern Church apologists have found themselves compromised. An example is the inconsistent logic that many of them seek to employ in discussing these matters.

    Catholic writer Greg Krehbiel, noted the following which any Catholic who engages in dialogues with Eastern apologists will find happens quite frequently when it comes to discussing infallibility and General Councils:

    The eastern churches seem to have ended up with a very squishy view of the infallibility of the church. They say that you can't tell ahead of time whether a council will be infallible -- there's no distinguishing mark. Some councils have been overturned by other councils, and even by the laity. That’s the work of the Holy Spirit in the church, and it's only by reflection, after the fact, that the church recognizes what the Holy Spirit has done and accepts one given council as infallible, rejects another as erroneous and regards another as a bit of a mixed bag.
    I simply couldn't get my hands around that. Whose after-the-fact-reflection decides the issue? If we adopt that standard, haven't we just moved the whole issue somewhere else? Under the eastern scheme it seems that we're not asking which councils are infallible, but which council critics are infallible. [5]
    Interestingly enough, the same Eastern apologist who presented the above "grid" with the caricature of the papacy as tyrannical had the following to say about Ecumenical (General) Councils and how they are determined: I don’t think that papal ratification is a ‘sine qua non’ condition for the Ecumenicity of a council. I think that the Ecumenicity of a council is proven by its acceptance as such by the Catholic Church. [6] The problem with this criterion is that the Easterns have very vague notions of what does and does not constitute the "acceptance of the Catholic Church". By this principle the Orthodox apologist should have no problem accepting Constantinople IV but the Easterns reject this council despite it being recognized afterwards by the entire Catholic Church as Ecumenical. It was specifically called as such, recognized by all the Eastern Patriarchs as such (as well as the Emperor), and ratified by the Pope of Rome as such. Thus, they should recognize it as such according to their own specifications. Likewise, the Orthodox apologist should recognize that Chalcedon having been rejected by the bulk of the East for over 75 years after its ratification and resulting in a schism of the Monophysites should clearly not qualify as Ecumenical. After all, the Monophysites rejected Chalcedon. To claim that they were not part of the Church is begging the question since the Eastern Patriarches after Chalcedon were Monophysites for the most part. For practically 80 years they sided with the Emperors in rejecting Chalcedon by implication through either being heretics themselves or by compromising the Councils decrees. Chalcedon was compromised in the Henotikon decree. It was issued by the Emperor and accepted by the Eastern Patriarches. Only the popes opposed it as heretical.

    Sir Nicholas Cheetham (whose volume A History of the Popes is a fair and balanced treatment on the papacy) spoke of Acacian schism as "provoked by a revival of Monophysitism in the East" (pg. 29). With regards to the Henotikon, Cheetham spoke of it as "while ostensibly basing its doctrine on the first three General Councils of the Church, [the decree] said nothing about Chalcedon…it encountered the most strenuous opposition in Rome" (pg. 29). In rejecting the Henotikon decree, the popes excluded from their communion those who accepted it thus starting the Acacian schism of 482. After nearly 40 years (482-519), the Church reunited with a formulary, which rejected the compromise. In no uncertain terms emphasized the Primacy of the See of Rome and that communion with the Apostolic See was what determined communion with the Catholic Church.

    The Catholic states that Chalcedon is Ecumenical because the Pope recognized it as such and that is that. The same is the case for Constantinople IV. The Easterns cannot support Chalcedon and reject Constantinople IV and remain consistent in their rationale when the principle is the same (the East rejected the decisions of both councils after the Universal Church had recognized them as binding). Either the decisions of Chalcedon and their acceptance of the Pope were right or they were wrong. Moreover, to claim that one only knows "in retrospect" who was right or wrong does nothing to avoid sheep from being led astray after the decisions of Chalcedon were handed down. This is the very kind of problem that Protestantism has, only far less fragmentation in the case of the Orthodox churches. This view was also outlined by Greg Krehbiel who appears to get just as frustrated in speaking on these matters with Eastern apologists as this author does:

    I have tried to understand the Orthodox view on this, and I've had no success at all. When I ask Orthodox apologists why one council is infallible and another isn't, the reply is usually to the effect that it just turned out that way. When I follow up with the obvious question, "How do you know it just turned out that way?," they say that's the faith they've received from the church, and they trust the church. And then I ask, "What church? Who is it that you're trusting to tell you which councils turned out to be infallible?," and I hear the same circular stuff -- we trust the Orthodox Church. "But what is it that defines the Orthodox Church?" It's the Church that follows the apostolic tradition and the great councils, they say.
    Pardon me, but I can't do that too long or I feel as if I'm going to explode. Some people like circular reasoning, but it drives me mad… Rome, on the other hand, is conveniently western, and they have a western answer for all of us damned analytical heretics.
    First, let me re-state the question. My poor, battered imaginary pastor is trying to decide if it makes sense to submit to "the" church: which one, and why. As he reviews church history and sees the mess of councils and fathers and traditions and churches, he asks if there is a way to discern when, or in what circumstances, the church (which church?) is protected by God from error? Rome's answer is, yes, there is: the church is the one united to Peter’s successor…
    I have set up the issue of the papacy this way because this is how I approached it. There has to be a standard for Christian doctrine, and I'd long since recognized that "we just believe the Bible" wasn't very helpful. The church needs confessions and catechisms and doctrinal statements to be precise about what it believes, both to inform believers and to set up a standard to identify and condemn heresy. But who has the authority to make those statements? And why should we follow them?
    The Roman answer has two virtues, it seemed to me. First, consider the problem of councils. How do we know which one is right? "Where Peter is, there is the church," Rome says, which, even if it's not true, is at least something you can get your hands around. If there are two councils that disagree, you just appeal to the pope. Which one did the pope attend, or agree with? It's a neat solution.
    The second virtue of the Roman solution is that it has some exegetical basis. After all, Jesus did say, "You are Peter, and upon this rock and I will build my church; and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it. [7]
    Much more could be said on this matter then what was covered here but the point being made should be evident: the solution of the Orthodox is little better then that of the Sola Scriptura Protestant in the long run. Its only structural virtue is that there is a substantial foundation of unity between the Orthodox churches and the Catholic Church on most core doctrines. (Because of accepting the binding authority of Tradition as developed in the decisions of the first seven Ecumenical Councils and papal decisions up to 787.) The differences between the two systems of belief are generally on the precise scope of certain doctrines. The irony is that both the Orthodox and the Protestants reject the Papacy as an important element for determining the orthodox position and they both end up arguing in a circle in slightly different ways. The common Protestant circular rationale is expounded in the following passage from Institutes of the Christian Religion Book 1:
    [A]s God alone can properly bear witness to his own words, so these words will not obtain full credit in the hearts of men, until they are sealed by the inward testimony of the Spirit. The same Spirit, therefore, who spoke by the mouth of the prophets, must penetrate our hearts, in order to convince us that they faithfully delivered the message with which they were divinely entrusted… Let it therefore be held as fixed, that those who are inwardly taught by the Holy Spirit acquiesce implicitly in Scripture; that Scripture, carrying its own evidence along with it, deigns not to submit to proofs and arguments, but owes the full conviction with which we ought to receive it to the testimony of the Spirit. Enlightened by him, we no longer believe, either on our own Judgment or that of others, that the Scriptures are from God; but, in a way superior to human Judgment, feel perfectly assured--as much so as if we beheld the divine image visibly impressed on it—that it came to us, by the instrumentality of men, from the very mouth of God. We ask not for proofs or probabilities on which to rest our Judgment, but we subject our intellect and Judgment to it as too transcendent for us to estimate. This, however, we do, not in the manner in which some are wont to fasten on an unknown object, which, as soon as known, displeases, but because we have a thorough conviction that, in holding it, we hold unassailable truth; not like miserable men, whose minds are enslaved by superstition, but because we feel a divine energy living and breathing in it--an energy by which we are drawn and animated to obey it, willingly indeed, and knowingly, but more vividly and effectually than could be done by human will or knowledge. [8]
    A paradigm of theology that speaks of "internal witness" as the primary criteria for discerning God's Word (John Calvin) or which denigrates reason as "the devil's whore" (Martin Luther) proceeds from a foundation that is rife with problems. It is ultimately not a foundation grounded in reason (to the extent that faith can be) and therefore the one espousing this position is setting themselves up for a fall.

    It is almost a case (seemingly) of "anything but Rome" and ultimately at bottom, both positions are ones that result in circular reasoning. After all, when different Protestant groups claim that they determine what is and is not doctrine "by comparing it with Scripture" the obvious question that should be asked is how they know their interpretation is correct. After all, those who read the same Scriptures are also claiming that they too make these kinds of comparisons. Different people who claim a spirit-led inner witness never disagree with one another right??? The Easterns claim the same with Tradition and Ecumenical Councils. The claim made is that they know which councils are Ecumenical and which are not because "we follow the Orthodox Church" and then when asked how one identifies this church, they claim "it is the one that follows holy tradition". In short, both positions are nothing but different means of begging the question and both ultimately degenerate into Fideism. Because Fideism owes its origin to distrust in human reason, logically a fideistic attitude (when its adherent is completely consistent) results in either illogic or skepticism. It seems that to escape from this conclusion, many Protestants (and most Orthodox) subconsciously accept as a principle the impotency of reason. This is at bottom perhaps why many Western saints (such as Augustine and especially the Scholastics - most notably St. Thomas Aquinas) are often disparaged among the hardcore Orthodox who froth at the mouth merely upon hearing the word "Scholasticism". It is much the same way the majority of Protestants react when the word "Tradition" is mentioned to them.

    The discussions this author has had with Orthodox apologists have at times caused him to literally pull hair out in frustration because this is practically their entire scope of defense. The claim is made that such and such a position is against "holy tradition" yet not only are they incapable of explaining how this is known (or indeed what "holy tradition" is) but the exchanges can often become downright nasty. Orthodox apologists in these situations at times break out the common denigrating comments about "Latins" or "Westerners" or other dismissive responses when they are challenged with the request to supply a non-arbitrary standard for their claims. The request is not for a list, only for some plausible rationale for how they know a given belief is part of Apostolic Tradition. When they refer to the faith of the Church, they need to explain in some non-arbitrary manner how they know what the Church is. This should not a difficult request here but far too often the excuse of being a "westerner" is whipped out, which is a cop out. In the true sense, it is God who selects; however, this does not mean that man is not capable of knowing who have and who have not been selected. Our Lord spoke of his disciples as being "the light of the world" (Matt. 5:14) and referred to "a city on a hill that cannot be hidden" (Matt. 5:14). He spoke of a lighted lamp placed not under a measure but upon a lamp stand to give light to the entire house (Matt. 5:15). Maybe the problem is that Our Lord was too much of a "westerner" in some aspects of His thinking because the light that the Orthodox churches speak of seems to be hidden under a measure rather than upon the lamp stand. The justifications used by many Orthodox apologists smack of the Gnostics and the "secret traditions" they espoused which the Fathers condemned time and again in no uncertain terms. When our Eastern brethren present such a "Spiritualist" standard, it is difficult to see how at bottom this criteria is any different than the "inner witness" teaching outlined by John Calvin.

    Now obviously on one level, the deriding responses of some (but not all) Orthodox apologists indicates that they know they do not have an answer to the questions asked. But it does not hurt to admit this rather then take the approach of constantly deprecating ones critics. It gets really gets when Christians take that tack with one another. It is one thing to not have an answer and respond with insults. Likewise it is equally annoying to comment that (in essence) "it does not matter what you say" when a position set forth has glaring problems to it that are pointed out. There is nothing wrong with simply admitting to the difficulty and looking into the point further with a mind open to further illumination. (This would exclude dismissing the opposing claims outright simply because they are not comfortable with them.) God's Truth does not depend on individuals feeling comfortable with it. In addition, while no Christian has all the answers, you would think that Christians of all sides (Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant) almost look at evangelization as a game. Witnessing to others should never be looked at as a game because souls are at stake and they are not replaceable. Yet, it almost seems as if most Christians do not take evangelization seriously either enough or they do so to the point of seeking to "win" an argument. What gets overlooked in the process is that a change of heart is brought about by the working of the Holy Spirit, not by anything we do of ourselves or for others. It is important to be ready with an answer whenever possible - an answer that should be given in a charitable manner (cf. 1 Pet 3:15-16). In addition, being charitable means not only being polite but also admitting when a position you hold has difficulties and seeking to find answers to them rather than merely sweeping them under the rug.

    XIV - Infallibility Part III (Definition of Terms):

    The Catholic claim when it comes to the authority and "infallibility" of the Pope (and the teaching episcopate when united with the pope) is very simple and by no means elaborate. In the final judgment on doctrine or elements pertaining to faith or morals (i.e. that impact salvation), neither the pope nor the united episcopate are capable of binding the universal church to error. The reason is that God actively oversees the Magisterium and protects it from erring in its judgment. This extends further than most Catholics are aware of but in no way does it even remotely approach the perception that most Protestants (not to mention the Orthodox) have.

    To start with, a look at how the Catholic Church understands the teaching office of the Church is in order. The following definition is from the Catholic Encyclopaedic Dictionary on the subject of Magisterium:

    Magisterium (Lat. magister, a master):
    The Church's divinely appointed authority to teach the truths of religion, "Going therefore, teach ye all nations... teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you" (Matt. xxviii, 19-20). This teaching is infallible: "And behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world" (ibid.) The solemn magisterium is that which is exercised only rarely by formal and authentic definitions of councils or popes. Its matter comprises dogmatic definitions of ecumenical councils or of the popes teaching ex cathedra, or of particular councils, if their decrees are universally accepted or approved in solemn form by the pope; also creeds and professions of faith put forward or solemnly approved by pope or ecumenical council. The ordinary magisterium is continually exercised by the Church especially in her universal practices connected with faith and morals, in the unanimous consent of the Fathers (q.v.) and theologians, in the decisions of Roman Congregations concerning faith and morals, in the common sense (q.v.) of the faithful, and various historical documents in which the faith is declared. All these are founts of a teaching, which as a whole is infallible. They have to be studied separately to determine how far and in what conditions each of them is an infallible source of truth. [9]
    Corresponding to the understanding of the term Magisterium is the ancillary concept of Infallibility. The latter is accurately defined as follows:
    Incapability of teaching what is false. It has always been believed that the Catholic Church of Christ is divinely kept from the possibility of error in her definitive teachings on matters of faith or morals, and this was expressed by the Vatican Council (sess. iii, cap. 4), "the doctrine of faith which God has revealed has not been proposed as a philosophical discovery to be improved upon by human talent, but has been committed as a divine deposit to the Bride of Christ [the Church] to be faithfully guarded and infallibly interpreted by her." This infallibility resides (a) in the pope personally and alone (see below); (b) In an oecumenical council (q.v.) subject to papal confirmation (these infallibilities are distinct but correlative); (c) In the bishops of the Church dispersed throughout the world: this is the ordinary magisterium, is now in practice and confined to the maintenance of the definitive decisions of (a) and (b). INFALLIBILITY DOES NOT INVOLVE INSPIRATION (q.v.) OR A FRESH REVELATION; so the Church can teach no new dogma but only "religiously guard and faithfully expound" the original deposit of faith (q.v.) WITH ALL ITS TRUTHS, EXPLICIT AND IMPLICIT (q.v.); nevertheless, infallibity extends to secondary doctrines and facts whose connection with revealed truths is so intricate as to bring them within its scope. [10]
    These are the basic outlines of the concept but there is much more to this description than meets the eye. Most people mistaken the definition of papal infallibility at Vatican I as the Magisterium claiming that ex cathedra definitions are the only time that the pope utilizes the charism of infallibility. They fail to realize that infallibility is not an endowment that depends on any kind of solemn form to be effective. This will be dealt with in a later section. First though, the actual definition from Vatican I (VC I) needs to be posted so that it can be looked at with a degree of proper nuance that is needed to properly understand this meaning. Here to start things off is the definition from VC I (Dogmatic Constitution Pastor Aeternus, Chapter 4):
    This gift of truth and never-failing faith was therefore divinely conferred on Peter and his successors in this see so that they might discharge their exalted office for the salvation of all, and so that the whole flock of Christ might be kept away by them from the poisonous food of error and be nourished with the sustenance of heavenly doctrine. Thus the tendency to schism is removed and the whole church is preserved in unity, and, resting on its foundation, can stand firm against the gates of hell.
    But since in this very age when the salutary effectiveness of the apostolic office is most especially needed, not a few are to be found who disparage its authority, we judge it absolutely necessary to affirm solemnly the prerogative which the only-begotten Son of God was pleased to attach to the supreme pastoral office.
    Therefore, faithfully adhering to the tradition received from the beginning of the Christian faith, to the glory of God our saviour, for the exaltation of the catholic religion and for the salvation of the Christian people, with the approval of the sacred council, we teach and define as a divinely revealed dogma that when the Roman pontiff speaks ex cathedra, that is, when, in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole church,he possesses, by the divine assistance promised to him in blessed Peter, that infallibility which the divine Redeemer willed his church to enjoy in defining doctrine concerning faith or morals. Therefore, such definitions of the Roman pontiff are of themselves, and not by the consent of the church, irreformable. [11]
    This decree will be covered in greater detail in a subsequent section as there is more here then even most Catholics are aware of. But before getting to that, there is a need to sketch out how the primacy of Rome developed in the early Church - to show if you will the embryo of Papal Supremacy from the earliest of days and briefly chart out its development.


    [1] Part of a Correspondence with an Eastern Church Christian (from November of 2000)

    [2] The Catholic Encyclopædic Dictionary: Definition of "Caesaro-Papism", pg. 70 (c. 1941)

    [3] The Catholic Encyclopædic Dictionary: Definition of "Erastianism", pg. 184 (c. 1941)

    [4] B.C. Butler: "The Church and Infallibility", pgs. 193-195 (c. 1954)

    [5] Greg Krehbiel: "The Cheshire Christ" pg. 255 (c. 1999; rev. 2000)

    [6] Part of a Correspondence with an Eastern Church Christian (from November of 2000)

    [7] Greg Krehbiel: "The Cheshire Christ" pgs. 255-259 (c. 1999; rev. 2000)

    [8] John Calvin: "Institutes of the Christian Religion", 4th ed., Book 1 Ch. VII (c. 1581)

    [9] The Catholic Encyclopædic Dictionary: Definition of "Magisterium", pg. 319 (c. 1941)

    [10] The Catholic Encyclopædic Dictionary: Definition of "Infallibility", pg. 267 (c. 1941)

    [11] Vatican I: Dogmatic Constitution "Dei Filius" Ch. 4 (c. 1870)
    Additional Notes:

    The citations from the Catholic Encyclopædic Dictionary are taken from the 1941 version (Donald Attwater — General Editor), New York, The Macmillan Company, (c. 1931)

    The citations of Sir Nicholas Cheetham were taken from his book "A History of the Popes" from Dorsett Press (c. 1992) 

    The citations from Greg Krehbiel's work "The Cheshire Christ" were obtained at the following link: http://home.maranatha.net/gkrehbiel/cc.rtf

    The citations from B.C. Butler were taken from his book "The Church and Infallibility: A Reply to the Abridged Salmon", Sheed and Ward New York, 1954

    The citation from John Calvin was taken from his "Institites of the Christian Religion" located at the following link: http://www.ccel.org/c/calvin/institutes/booki/booki14.htm

    The citations from Vatican I were obtained at the following link: http://www.ewtn.com/library/COUNCILS/V1.HTM 

    ©2001, "Christian Unity and the Role of Authority", written by I. Shawn McElhinney. This text may be downloaded or printed out for private reading, but it may not be uploaded to another Internet site or published, electronically or otherwise, without express written permission from the author.

    To all visitors Grace of Christ to you!

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