XVI - Infallibility Part IV (Papal Infallibility Explained):

A declaration of doctrine by the Catholic Church is not an invention of a belief as noted earlier in this essay - a point that will be dealt with later in an Appendix to this work. Instead what is being dealt with in regards to a declaration of doctrine is nothing other than the maturation of an initial truth from an earlier less understood (or implicit understanding) through stages where it reaches a more definite shape. As Newman noted earlier, "this process will not be a development, unless the assemblage of aspects, which constitute its ultimate shape, really belongs to the idea from which they start" (Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine). The last section traced out the development of what is sometimes referred to as "papal supremacy". It was demonstrated that from the earliest points of Church history where we have written records (late first century) that it was the function of the Roman Church and its bishop "to determine the conditions of the common unity" (Harnack). From the start of the fourth century, the Church emerged from underground. She was granted not only toleration by the Emperor but the Emperor himself (Constantine the Great) took an active interest in the promotion of the Christian religion as a stabilizing element throughout the Empire.

Both Catholics and the Orthodox recognize the first seven Ecumenical Councils as infallible concerning their doctrinal judgments. The Orthodox would claim that the reason was that infallibility resides in the consent of the universal church on doctrine. The Catholic would claim that the infallibility of the Council is contingent upon the ratification of the decrees by the Bishop of Rome as Ecumenical (or binding on the entire church). The Catholic Church as it pertains to the Church and its judgments on doctrine defined infallibility in the nineteenth century at the First Vatican Council. As the Orthodox do not accept any Councils after Nicaea II (787), it should be understood that they do not accept the judgments of Vatican I as authoritative. However, as infallibility is an agreed upon property of the universal church, it is necessary to take into account the precise claims made by the Catholic Church with regards to the infallibility of the pope. The purpose of looking at the Catholic teaching on this subject is to separate the often-utilized exaggerations (or omissions) from the claims which the Catholic Church actually makes.

Orthodox scholar Fr. Nicholas Afanassieff candidly admitted that "Orthodox theology has not yet built up any systematic doctrine on Church government". He also noted that "although we [the Orthodox] have a doctrine concerning Ecumenical Councils as organs of government in the Church, we shall see presently that our doctrine is not enough to refute the Catholic doctrine of primacy". The Catholic doctrine of primacy indirectly includes the infallibility of the pope. While Orthodox and Protestants tend to grossly misunderstand the true parameters of this charism, unfortunately this also applies to most Catholics as well. The intention of the following section is to set the record straight once and for all what Vatican I taught and what the Catholic Church claims. Hopefully then it will be possible from such dialogue to point out "still more clearly what the situation of the Catholic Church really is" so that "in this way… our own belief [is] more aptly explained" (Vatican II:Unitatis Redintegratio §9).

In the wake of the definition of Vatican I, many Catholic theologians seemed to backtrack and oversimplify the teaching in the face of both Protestant (especially Anglican) and Eastern Church objections. It is unfortunate, because this tendency has given rise to a flawed understanding of the intention of the First Vatican Council with regards to what they were teaching about the Bishop of Rome and how he is endowed with infallibility. It is profoundly erroneous to make infallibility out to be a formula because to do this is to misunderstand the teachings of Vatican I (VC I). It also introduces a novelty into the mix that does not have historical perspective. Brother Alexis Bugnolo in response to simplistic 'traditionalist' notions about papal infallibility made the following notations, which are essential in understanding the extent to which infallibility applies:

Regarding the Definition of Papal Infallibility it should noted that often it is misunderstood as requiring the Pope to be either seated on the Papal Throne when teaching or that the Pope explicitly cite the fact that he is invoking infallibility or further that the Pope has to be issuing a dogmatic or doctrinal definition. Those who hold this view of Papal Infallibility go on to say that in no other circumstance is the Pope Infallible. But a closer look at the definition taught by Vatican I, shows that these are misunderstandings. All that is required is that the Pope be teaching in matters of faith or morals in such a manner that he intended to teach a dogma or doctrine which is to be believed by the faithful as pertaining to Catholic Teaching, in that he do this in his capacity as Roman Pontiff, Shepherd of the entire Church. Thus even the homilies of the Pope, if they meet this criterion, are infallible teachings; and not just solemn dogmatic definitions. [1]
This position is the correct but often misunderstood one. Nevertheless, it was the intention of the Council Fathers because they were not adding anything new into the mix at VC I. They were only defining as dogma a doctrine that was previously accepted. However, it had a variety of different opinions as to how it was precisely constituted. The source of the so-called "dispute" at VC I was whether or not the doctrine was capable of being defined or not and the timing of the decision. This was the big controversy at Vatican I so often misrepresented by Protestant controversialists because no one disagreed that papal infallibility was a doctrine of the faith, only whether denying it was heretical or merely schismatic and proximately heretical. Taking a brief look at this phenomenon is important for (as Soloviev and the other cited authors have noted) it is the locus of unity.

This is also to some degree a case of properly understanding the principle of development of doctrine. A few Scriptural examples were listed earlier including the parable of the sower (Matt. 13:3-33; Mark 4:3-20; Luke 8:4-18). In addition, the depictions of the mustard seed was mentioned (Matt. 13:31-32; Mark 4:26-32; Luke 13:18-19). The parable of the leaven was also brought forth (Matt. 13:33-34; Luke 13:20-21). This is the principle that is at work in understanding papal infallibility or indeed any Catholic doctrine. To clear up a few of the misconceptions on this subject, some of the work of Msr. Philip Hughes will be brought forward for examination. Msr. Hughes' scholarly work A History of the General Councils is an excellent compendium for a background understanding of the 20 Councils preceding Vatican II that the Catholic Church recognizes as Ecumenical. When discussing Vatican I and the decree on papal infallibility itself, Msr. Hughes pointed out the following background information, which is helpful in understanding the context of the council's decree:

Before the deputation De Fide, however, there still remained many laborious hours, studying the ninety-six amendments proposed by the speakers, and another forty-eight sent in in writing. With the aid of their theologians they had sorted it out, and were ready with their recommendations to the council, by July 11. They then proposed, following Guidi, to change the title and, following Martin, to put in the historical section. They accepted the new--Cullen--wording of the definition, and so were able to refuse the hundred proposed amendments of the old formula. The explanation and justification of all this was left to the bishop of Brixen, Vincent Gasser, "the most prominent theologian in the council," to whose great speech Butler gives a whole chapter of his book. The Council, without more ado, voted as the deputation proposed. [2] 
The key word "defines" is what is confusing to most people about the decree because often what is imagined is that it is a solemn pronouncement when this is almost never the case at all. Catholic apologists are often at fault here for propagating the particularly noxious error that papal infallibility is a charism that is exercised "rarly". (Some go so far as to propagate the profound absurdity that the Immaculate Conception in 1854 and the Assumption in 1950 were the last two "exercises of papal infallibility".) If Catholic apologists cannot understand the extent of papal infallibility, then they cannot properly explain it to Protestants, the Orthodox, or even to inquiring Catholics seeking answers with which to defend challenges to the Church's claims. At the time of the Deputation, there were three different schemas being discussed on the topic of infallibility of the Pope. The first two rejected positions will be discussed briefly starting with a very dangerous and growing movement at the time called Neo-Ultramontanism. It was the extreme claims of this movement (an entrenched reaction to the rationalism of the time) which was part of the reason that VC I addressed papal infallibility among its topics on the agenda in the first place. B.C. Butler noted this in the chapter of his book discussing the First Vatican Council when speaking of W. G. Ward, who was an endorser of the Neo-Ultramontaine position on papal infallibility:  
He held that the infallible element of bulls, encyclicals, etc., should not be restricted to their formal definitions but ran through the entire doctrinal instructions; the decrees of the Roman Congregation, if adopted by the Pope and published with his authority, thereby were stamped with the mark of infallibility, in short ‘his every doctrinal pronouncement is infallibly rendered by the Holy Ghost’…Ward’s attitude to encyclicals and allocutions was much like the Protestant attitude to the Bible…He insisted…that his view was the only Catholic one…only invincible ignorance excusing [those who rejected it] from mortal sin. [3]
The Council rejected this view yet many Protestants and Orthodox believe that this is what the Church officially teaches. The danger of this position is not only the dictatorial overtones that it entails but also the historical problems that pop up immediately to the forefront about past popes. If this full scale assertion of infallibility is correct, than the astute historian can point to many popes who have "erred". (Some of the most notable examples include Pope St. Liberius, Pope Vigilius, Pope Honorius I, Pope John XXII, Pope Sixtus V, Pope Paul V, Pope Clement XIII, and Pope Pius VIII.) The proper understanding of papal infallibility withstands all of these challenges without difficulty. This is important because it is frankly embarrassing the extent to which this teaching is over-simplified by most Catholic apologists into a form of "solemnity equals infallibility". This is the second erroneous position and (unfortunately) the one most prevalently professed in the Catholic Church today.

Bishop Vincent Gasser refuted this egregious misrepresentation at the Deputation de fide where he addressed the approach of emphasizing solemnity of form as the innovation that it is. He specifically told the Council fathers "most eminent and reverent Fathers this simply will not do because we are not dealing with anything new here. Already thousands and thousands of dogmatic judgments have gone forth from the Apostolic See and where was the form that was attached to these judgments???" (Relatio: July 11, 1870). Granted this was a bit of hyperbole being used by the bishop but it was to make a point that needs to be made: definitive papal judgments are not a new concept. They are not something that the Church just pulled from thin air but to some extent the range of this charism was not known from the very beginning. It was acted on in the early and later Medieval Church with an uncertainty as to how far it really went. There was seldom ever a time when the Pope used any formula that would be discernable to those who promote the "solemnity of form equals infallibility" position. Therefore, the form or relative level of solemnity employed cannot be germane to the infallibility of a given judgment. Solemnity certainly has its place concerning outlining the types of truths being discussed but it has nothing to do with being some "requirement" for whether or not a given teaching is or is not infallible.

The linchpin of the entire decree of VC I is the key word defines. For infallibility to be a factor concerning teaching doctrine (excluding the areas of dogmatic facts and secondary truths of a universal scope), the teaching must be addressed either explicitly or by implication to the Universal Church. This is what Vatican I meant about the Pope "exercising his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians". Furthermore, the Pope must be intending to make the teaching definitive in a manner that makes this intention known. If this criterion is met then the teaching is infallibly rendered. The sense that the word defines was to specify -- and the sense that the Council Fathers voted on -- is explained in the following words of Bishop Gasser from the Deputation on the matter:

Now I shall explain in a very few words how this word ‘defines’ is to be understood according to the deputation De Fide. Indeed, the deputation de fide IS NOT OF THE MIND THAT THIS WORD SHOULD BE UNDERSTOOD IN A JURIDICAL SENSE (lat. In sensu forensi) so that it only signifies putting an end to controversy that has arisen in respect to heresy or doctrine which is properly speaking de fide. Rather, the word ‘defines’ signifies that the pope directly and conclusively pronounces his sentence about a doctrine which concerns matters of faith or morals and does so in such a way that each one of the faithful can be certain of the mind of the Apostolic See, of the mind of the Roman Pontiff; in such a way, indeed, that he or she knows for certain that such and such a doctrine is held to be heretical, proximate to heresy, certain or erroneous, etc., by the Roman Pontiff. Such is the meaning of the word ‘defines’. [4]
As Bishop Gasser noted earlier, this was by no means a new teaching and what is outlined in fact perfectly corresponds to the function of the Apostolic See historically with regards to conclusive judgments on doctrines concerning faith and morals. In fact, in the words set in bold print Bishop Gasser specifically refutes the common notion espoused by many Catholics (including many apologists and even some theologians) with regards to papal infallibility. The pope in "defining" a doctrine is not only declaring a doctrine as an article of faith (de fide). This was the second position rejected by the Council but by a strange twist of irony, most lay Catholics believe this is what the Council taught. Even the authors of the generally very-reliable Catholic Encyclopedia of 1913 make this error in a few spots. The problem was addressed by Pope Pius XII in 1950 when (because of the Modernist movement's influence) there were many people (particularly Modernist theologians) trying to dismiss the Ordinary Universal Magisterium and claim that only ex cathedra teachings understood in the sense of solemn definitions were infallible or irreformable. This was coupled with the claim that a teaching that was not infallible could be dissented from in good conscience. As Bishop Gasser noted, the word "defines" encompasses not only positive teachings but also doctrinal/theological condemnations involving secondary truths connected with Revelation. (Hence the term "defines a teaching to be held". faith are not merely to be "held" but are also to be "believed".) However, infallibility also covers dogmatic facts — an area not addressed in the dogmatic decree. The decree itself addresses only what is to be believed de fide with regards to infallibility. It did not address other areas where the pope is infallible that are not divinely revealed but still areas where infallibility is necessary by implication if the Deposit of Faith is to be effectively safeguarded. In speaking of the degree of assent owed to the Magisterium of the Church, Pope Pius XII made the following clarifications on the matter:
[It must not] be thought that what is expounded in Encyclical Letters does not of itself demand consent, since in writing such Letters the Popes do not exercise the supreme power of their Teaching Authority. For these matters are taught with the ordinary teaching authority, of which it is true to say: ‘He who hears you, hears me’; [Luke 10:16] and generally what is expounded and inculcated in Encyclical Letters already for other reasons appertains to Catholic doctrine. But if the Supreme Pontiffs in their official documents purposely pass judgment on a matter up to that time under dispute, it is obvious that that matter, according to the mind and will of the Pontiffs, cannot be any longer considered a question open to discussion among theologians. [5]  
Pope Pius XII noted that the Pope passing judgment on a previously disputed matter in his official documents (such as in an Encyclical) is enough to remove that issue from being one open to debate. This is infallibility in short: the Pope declaring a position to be either certain or in error (in varying degrees). The same principle by extension applies to a General Council ratified by the Pope. Much as with the Pope a General Council passing judgment on disputed issues in its official documents settles them definitively without resorting to the solemn language that generally accompanies a definition of dogma. It is not possible for a doctrinal error to one day be not in error or for a teaching that is "certain" today to be in error tomorrow. Therefore, in Humani Generis §20, Pope Pius XII had to be referring to the Pope making a final decision that is not ex cathedra. The reason is that the context of the paragraph is the authority of the Ordinary Magisterium and the Pope passing judgment on a controverted point. Therefore, this cannot be a reference to the solemn (or Extraordinary) Magisterium but instead would be a reference to the Supreme Ordinary Magisterium - which is just as infallible but not as solemn or precise in form. The Supreme Ordinary Magisterium (also known as the Ordinary Universal Magisterium) is a theological convention used to emphasize truths of Catholic doctrine, which are definitive (infallible) but are not de fide. The degree of assent owed is the same but the canonical penalty for willful rejection differs between the two for they highlight different levels of truths. (Credenda in the case of dogma and tenenda in the case of doctrine.)

Vatican II (VC II) reaffirmed the dogma of papal infallibility and properly nuanced it. However there was still the problem of the 1917 Code of Canon Law being in place the wording of which was probably a major reason for the mistaken notion that infallibility was contingent on solemnity. It also did not help that there were a slew of theology sources such as the following one written for parents and teachers (and an otherwise excellent little booklet) making errors such as the following one:

The pope must fulfill exacting conditions in order to make an infallible pronouncement. He must speak on a matter which, of its very nature, vitally affects the life and faith of the Church. He must address his statement to all members of the Church. Finally, he must openly declare that he is teaching infallibly. These conditions must all be taken seriously. Unless all are met the pope is not teaching infallibly. In the past hundred years there were but two instances where infallibly was exercised. [6]
As has already been noted in detail, most of this statement is nowhere near accurate as the word "defines" encompasses not only positive teachings but also doctrinal/theological condemnations involving secondary truths connected with Revelation. It is true that the Pope must speak on a matter of faith and morals but the matter does not have to affect the "vital life of the Church". (After all, the Assumption hardly qualifies as "vital".) It is true that the Pope must be addressing the whole Church but he need not explicitly state this. However, it must be implied in some manner either by the formulation of the words used or another means — such as in a document addressed to the whole Church — where this intention is manifested. The condemnation of a doctrinal error as heretical, proximate to heresy, or erroneous applies to the entire Church by implication. When teaching a given doctrine as "certain", the intention to bind the faithful is usually more explicit - either in the form used or the reiteration of a teaching in a given circumstance where it is clear that the pope intends to settle an issue. However, if the pope has to openly declare that he is teaching infallibly then there are almost no examples which would qualify historically. Therefore, unless VC I was proposing a new concept, this commonly espoused interpretation of the decree is clearly in error and the words of Bishop Gasser to the Council Fathers before they voted on the decree specifically refuted this erroneous conception. VC II in the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium reaffirmed the dogma of VC I properly nuancing it (in the manner as espoused earlier by Bishop Gasser and Pope Pius XII) as well as relaying the full scope of infallibility as it is properly understood:
This infallibility, however, with which the divine redeemer wished to endow his Church in defining doctrine pertaining to faith and morals, is co-extensive with the deposit of revelation, which must be religiously guarded and loyally and courageously expounded. 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 (cf. Lk. 22:32)--he proclaims in an absolute decision a doctrine pertaining to faith or morals. [7]

No mention of the word "defines" here but instead the words "proclaims in an absolute decision", which is precisely what Pope Pius XII and Bishop Gasser noted on the matter (as did Bro. Alexis Bugnolo earlier). Vatican II's Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium §25 in emphasizing the extent of the deposit of revelation as the criteria of infallibility settled the question with regards to dogmatic facts and secondary truths which are not de fide but still requiring of the same degree of full assent as they are areas of ecclesiastical faith (fides ecclesiastica or faith in God's protection of the Church). The degree of assent owed in these areas is equal to that of a solemn definition differing only in the type of truth outlined. Solemn definitions (or properly called dogmas) fall under the censure of heresy for disbelief (as being divinely revealed). Truths of doctrine (definitive non-solemn teachings) or secondary truths do not incur the censure of heresy for dissent but instead they vary in their theological qualification from rash or dangerous to erroneous (and in some cases proximate to heresy) depending on how close of a connection they have with Divine Revelation. As Fr. Brian W. Harrison has noted on this issue:

The Vatican I definition has to do only with ‘doctrine concerning faith and morals’, whether this doctrine be promulgated by the Pope alone or by the Church as a whole. In other words, the traditional teaching that the pope also speaks infallibly in canonizing saints, approving religious orders, and in defining dogmatic facts, is simply left untouched by the 1870 decree...Before Vatican I the great majority of Catholic bishops and theologians who already believed that the Pope is infallible in defining ‘doctrine’ seem to have believed that he is infallible in these other areas as well[All Catholics] were obliged by [the definition] to believe that the Pope is infallible in defining not only dogmas of faith, but also the secondary truths, denial of which would be ‘proximate to heresy’ or ‘erroneous, etc.,’ as Bishop Gasser explained. [8]
The traditional teachings spoken of by Fr. Harrison were affirmed as "certain" by Vatican II by their inclusion in a Dogmatic Constitution (Lumen Gentium). Since the Council expressly passed judgment on these matters previously controverted, they are no longer areas open to speculation by theologians or laity. In layman's terms the Church is protected from error in all areas relating to the central mysteries of the faith. However, obedience is not contingent upon infallibility. Even teachings of the ordinary level of teaching authority require some measure of assent and the reason for this is obvious: authority above the individual is needed for there to be unity. Preservation of unity in the Church depends upon God's guidance within certain parameters or else the inevitable result is failure of the mission of the Church. When it comes to the issue of infallibility, it is important to point out that there is no Divine inspiration involved only Divine Providence if you will. Protection from erring on matters where erring would be disastrous either explicitly or by implication. Situations where if there was not protection from erring, then God would be unjust for He knows full well that even the most well-intentioned of people can be led astray. In addition, this leads to another important consideration worth noting.

Environment, culture and other factors shape us all and mould our thinking in different ways. Because of the necessity of unity as an identifiable trait of truth, religious convictions in a large part depend on the social influences that shape us from the time we are born and throughout our lifetimes. It is foolish to claim that we are in any way free from these and other influences impacting our paradigms of thought, yet Protestantism in its individualistic approach seems to deny this claim (and often explicitly at that). If our environment plays a large role in our formation and that if truth must logically lead to unity that the individualistic "personal salvation" mould that Protestantism preaches cannot be true because truth is not relative. Different people in different cultures and environments have different concepts of what is and is not truth. Therefore, unless truth is relative they cannot all be right when there are contradictory views being promoted (for this violates the Law of Non-Contradiction spoken of earlier). Christianity by its very nature has to be a social and corporate faith in order to maintain any semblance of unity of belief. Therefore is it not reasonable that God — knowing about our nature as He does — provided for this in building His Church and promulgating a corporate faith that is based on the social elements that make up the nature of mankind??? It makes perfect sense and this is the very foundation of a soteriology of salvation by covenant. Or more aptly put, salvation by a family covenant between God the Heavenly Father and those who receive the adoptions of sons:

Now I say, as long as the heir is a child, he differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all; But is under tutors and governors until the time appointed by the father: So we also, when we were children, were serving under the elements of the world. But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent his Son, made of a woman, made under the law: that he might redeem them who were under the law: that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because you are sons, God hath sent the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying: Abba, Father. [9]
Historic Christianity as manifested by all the Apostolic Churches with ties to the Apostles (the Catholic Church and the sixteen Eastern Churches) is covenantal and corporate. This does not mean that there is no personal relationship with God of course, only that it is within the framework of a family. This is the very foundation of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church spoken of in the early Creeds such as the Nicene-Constantinopalian Creed. The kind of foundation that is necessary for substantial unity among believers of the sort Our Lord prayed for (John 17). A foundation that for the first 1500 years of Christian history was taken as a given. Therefore those who come on the scene later and culpably reject this understanding, this writer cannot see how they fail to be under the anathema of the Apostle Paul (Gal. 1:8-9).

Final Notes:

Our Lord referred to Himself as a shepherd, those of the Church as sheep and of belonging to one sheepfold (John 10:1-16). Likewise He spoke of Himself as real food and real drink (John 6:50-64), and as a vine and those of the church as branches (John 15:1-17); very literal organic understandings of the interrelation between Our Lord and the Church. St. Paul spoke of the members of the Church as members of a body. He even went as far as to speak of tendons, joints, hands, feet, eyes, and other parts of the body in speaking of the relationship between Christ and the members of the Church (1 Cor. 12:12ff; Eph. 4:1-16, Rom. 12:4-8). The Church is also called the Spouse of Christ and Paul spoke of the bond between Our Lord and the Church in marital terms (Eph. 5:21ff). The image of Our Lord as the Head and the members of the Church as the Body are very vivid pictures. They portray an organic unity, a unity that is only maintained through the assistance of the Holy Spirit that manifests itself both in doctrine as well as in a visible bond.

As the Orthodox churches will no doubt concur, the ancient understanding of the Fathers was that the Church at some level could not err. The Orthodox churches of course claim that this power resided in General Councils only which of course prompts a question that this author feels reveals the fatal flaw of Orthodox ecclesiology and it is this: What about before Nicaea, was the Church capable of erring in that time??? This is an important point to consider. Church infallibility, if it is not a novel innovation, must be a quality that existed in all ages. If Rome's decision on doctrine predetermined the actions of the other churches, it is obvious that the decisions made were not contingent upon the consent of the other churches. How could they be if the other churches were accepting the decision of Rome on doctrinal matters (and sometimes on disciplinary ones). To refer to the decisions of the Pre-Nicene Church or the appeals to Rome in that period as being ones that depended on the "consent of the Church" is ridiculous. Thus, the Orthodox claim that infallibility depends on the consent of the Church cannot be true at all. (Because before Nicaea there was no effective way of measuring this consensus.) Consider for a moment what this does to the logic of the Orthodox position on these issues.

Either the concept of Church infallibility is a false innovation arising in the fourth century or else it always existed in some form or another. If it did not always exist then it is an innovation of the fourth century. If it did exist, then the locus of Church infallibility had to reside in the Bishop of Rome independent of the consent of the Church. After all, the other churches adopted the position espoused by the Church of Rome in accepting or rejecting a doctrine according to Rome's judgment on its orthodoxy or heterodoxy. That is not consent at work; that is instead Primacy. In addition, as the Primacy of the Bishop of Rome directed the other churches as to their doctrinal positions, this would be an implicit form of universal jurisdiction. Because of this, there is no way that the doctrine of Church infallibility in the pre-Nicene Church could possibly be sustained unless the locus of that infallibility resides in the See of Rome.

It is true that most Catholic apologists take too much of a juridical view of the Primacy of Rome in the early Church. This is often perhaps in the face of the outright denial by most Orthodox of the Roman jurisdiction in the early Church that any objective reading of church history demonstrates unambiguously. Most Catholic apologists are probably as erroneous in their juridical outlook concerning jurisdiction of the Roman See in antiquity as they are to the definition of papal infallibility — a point amply demonstrated in this essay as problematic. At the same time however, our Orthodox brethren take far too much of a "Spiritualist" view of the ancient Faith that comes across as fideistic. There is also this mentality among the Orthodox churches that anything Western is somehow either inferior or of little worth compared to Eastern practices. This is not catholic but instead is monolithic (not to mention polemical). Catholicity does not mean uniformity but unity in diversity — especially liturgical and devotional diversity. Perhaps this is the core reason why the Eastern Catholic churches are thorns in the side of the Orthodox churches. They witness to the diversity of expression that Catholicism fosters. Catholicism has room for (and encourages) both the Scholastic and the Mystic (and all of us who fall somewhere in between) and does not have to play the either/or card. Catholicism can and has fostered a tremendous diversity of devotions and liturgical practices while maintaining core unity in the doctrines of faith. It is probably for this reason that the Eastern Catholics are considered so problematic for the Orthodox (along with the misconceptions that many Easterns have about the papacy of course). The words of Cardinal Gibbons bear reflecting for they help put this subject into proper context:

You will tell me that infallibility is too great a prerogative to be conferred on man. I answer: Has not God, in former times, clothed His Apostles with powers far more exalted? They were endowed with the gifts of working miracles, of prophecy and inspiration; they were the mouthpiece communicating God's revelation, of which the popes are merely the custodians. If God could make man the organ of His revealed Word, is it impossible for Him to make man its infallible guardian and interpreter? For surely, greater is the Apostle who gives us the inspired Word than the pope who preserves it from error.  [10]
Thousands of conflicting denominations within Protestantism (all claiming to speak for God by means of the Bible) can never give an orderly definition to truth. Instead, they make a laughing stock of the Christian faith to unbelievers. However, as true as this is, the Catholic and the Eastern Churches need to take a long hard look in the mirror. Thousands of denominations compromise truth indeed but so does any number of "true" churches more than one universal church. The Protestant model does not and cannot work in sustaining unity in faith. In addition, despite many fine features to the Eastern Church understanding of things, their system likewise fails to sustain unity in faith. However, the Catholic should not feel that this makes his system immediately free from any improvement. There is plenty of room for improvement.

The purpose of this essay is to propose a viable, historical, biblical, and logical solution to the problem of Christian disunity. It is the hope of the author that the West and the East may be reunited. That our Eastern brethren might again be one in communion with the Apostolic See as their ancestors affirmed was a necessity in signing the Formulary of Hormisdas in the sixth century. As their ancestors proclaimed, this writer desires that they be joined "in the one communion which the Apostolic See proclaims, in which the whole, true, and perfect security of the Christian religion resides" (Formula of Hormisdas). As their fathers proclaimed, those who are separated from the communion of the Catholic Church are those "who are not in agreement with the Apostolic See" (Formula of Hormisdas). There are many fears undoubtedly that you have based on some events of the unfortunate past where mutual misunderstandings created this breach that can only be healed with the assistance of the Holy Spirit. But perhaps one roadblock can be removed from your path by explaining that rejoining communion does not mean reintegration or the loss of your hallowed traditions and customs.

Rejoining the communion of churches within the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church does not mean structural reintegration by any stretch, something that the Eastern Catholic Churches to some extent can attest to. Yes it is true that the Uniate approach was novel and - based on what we understand now - an erroneous approach to be taking. But it is also true that the Eastern Catholic Churches retain the venerable Eastern traditions including a tremendous degree of internal governing autonomy. Certainly in a resumption of full communion, at a minimum the same degree of autonomy would accompany the Eastern Churches.

For we desire that you rejoin our communion not as satellites of the western patriarch, not as Latinized churches but instead as authentic Churches in your own right with your own rich spirituality and treasures of the Eastern traditions. Though there have been promising developments in the relationship between our churches, the unity sought has yet to materialize. And until it does, the Christian name will suffer from credibility problems to some extent in the eyes of the world. It does not need to be this way. Whatever each in the name of a misguided zeal has done to the other over the centuries, the world has reached a state where Christians need to be united.

Indeed it would not be an exaggeration to state that the hardening of relations between the west and the east starting around the seventeenth century - coupled with the polemics of the Counter-reformation in the west resulted in the world burning while Christians fiddled. The evils of today are formidable and the surest way for the Church to be able to withstand the evils of today with the greatest effectiveness is for her to once again (to paraphrase Pope John Paul II) "breathe with both lungs". The same wish for our Protestant brethren is extended, albeit to a slightly different degree. We Apostolic Christians have much in the way of truth to give to you, much in the way of spiritual treasures of grace from our Heavenly Father. However, the exchange is by no means one way. You have much in the way of expressing your uncompromising dedication to what you hold of the truth that puts many Apostolic Christians to shame. This is undeniable and in this sense we Apostolic Christians have arguably much to learn from you  - as well as much to share with you.

The Catholic ideal is the complete person, with a cool head and a warm heart, a hard head and a soft heart. The mere intellectual has a cool heart; the anti-intellectual has a hot head. The intellectual has a hard heart, the anti-intellectual has a soft head. The Church puts the severed parts in the right order because the Church has the blueprint: Christ (Eph 4:13). The Church has always had a conservative head and a liberal heart, and the world has never understood her, just as it never understood Christ. Creeds are to the head what good works are to the heart: creeds express truth, the head's food, as good works express love, the heart's food. Both are sacred. [11]


[1] Br. Alexis Bugnolo: Response to Fr. James Wathen (c. 1995)

[2] Monsignor Phillip Hughes: "A History of the General Councils" Chapter 20 on Vatican I (c. 1960)

[3] E.C. Butler: "Life of Bishop Ullathorne" ii, 41-4 as quoted in E.C. Butler's The Vatican Council as cited in B.C. Butler's The Church and Infallibility pgs. 91-92 (c. 1954)

[4] Bishop Vincent Gasser: Speech to the Council Fathers at the Deputation de fide (circa 1870)

[5] Pope Pius XII: Encyclical Letter "Humani Generis" (On Evolution) §20, (August 12, 1950)

[6] Fr. Melvin Farrell: "Theology for Parents and Teachers" pg. 30 (c. 1972)

[7] Vatican II: Dogmatic Constitution "Lumen Gentium" §25 (November 21, 1964)

[8] Fr. Brian Harrison: "The Ex Cathedra Status of the Encyclical Humanae Vitae", from Faith and Reason Magazine (c. 1993)
[9] Galatians 4:1-6

[10] James Cardinal Gibbons: "Faith of Our Fathers" (c. 1917) cited in Dave Armstrong's essay The Papacy and Infallibility: Keys of the Kingdom (c. 1996)

[11] Dr. Peter Kreeft: Excerpt from "What's the Point of Creeds?" cited from Catholic Educators Resource Center (c. 1988)

Additional Notes:

The citation from Brother Alexis Bugnolo's response to Fr. James Wathen was taken from an essay by this present writer critiquing the credibility of Atila Sinke Guimaraes of Remnant Magazine located at the following link: http://matt1618.freeyellow.com/appendix1.html

The citation from Monsignor Phillip Hughes' scholarly study "A History of the General Councils" (Ch. 20: Vatican I) was obtained at the following link: http://www.ewtn.com/library/CHISTORY/HVATICA1.TXT

The citation from E.C. Butler was taken from  B.C. Butler's book "The Church and Infallibility: A Reply to the
Abridged Salmon" - Sheed and Ward, New York, 1954

The citation from Pope Pius XII's Encyclical Letter "Humani Generis" was obtained at the following link: http://www.newadvent.org/docs/pi12hg.htm

The citations from Vladimir Soloviev were taken from his book "Russia and the Universal Church" - a substantial portion of which is available at the following link: http://praiseofglory.com/solovievrock.htm

The citation from Fr. Melvin L. Farrell was taken from his booklet "Theology for Parents and Teachers" (c. 1972)

The citation from the Second Vatican Council's Dogmatic Constitution "Lumen Gentium" was obtained from the following link: http://www.rc.net/rcchurch/vatican2/lumen.gen

The citation from Cardinal Gibbons was taken from Dave Armstrong's essay "The Papacy and Infallibility: Keys of the Kingdom" located at the following link: http://ic.net/~erasmus/RAZ62.HTM

The citations from Fr. Brian Harrison were taken from his article "The Ex Cathedra Status of the Encyclical Humanae Vitae" which was obtained at the following link: http://www.rtforum.org/lt/lt43.html (The quote of Bishop Vincent Gasser was also obtained at this source.)

The biblical citations were originally taken from an online Douay-Rheims Bible no longer available on the Internet. However, the Douay Rheims Bible located at the following site is similar in many ways to the one originally used: http://www.scriptours.com/bible/

The citation from Peter Kreeft was taken from his article "What's the Point of Creeds?" located at the following link:

©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!

Page created by: Matt1618. Send email with questions to Shawn McElhinney at ismac@lycos.com


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