Catholics, Where is the Papal infallibilty line drawn?

I was recently in a discussion regarding this with another Catholic and I thought I had the definition clear. I understand that the doctrine itself was a post reformation development declared of necessity, but that the supremacy of Rome in doctrinal matters was always accepted historically by the "Sensus Fidelum". Obviously I understand that the Pope is a man, not a God. A sinner who can make mistakes about the weather or double-book appointments. I also understand that an "Ex-Cathedra" pronouncement from the chair of the Bishop of Rome in communion with the council of Bishops regarding faith and Morals is infallible. But is every comment in every Papal Bull regarding faith and morals infallible? Does the power of infallibility extend to the teaching authority of the Magisterium? Is the Catechism for example infallible?

Here is the meat and potato[e]s of the the discussion we had;

At one time a teaching of the Magisterium was that outside of the Church there was no salvation. Which certainly appears to be a pronouncement regarding faith (infallible?). Post VII however this has been changed and it has been made clear that while the Church does possess the fullness of the truth, there is salvation for our separated brethren outside of it.

How do we as Catholics reconcile this?


@ sr.hola; Catholics edited and canonized the Bible. Now your using their book as authority against them?

Update 2:

@John S. Thanks for providing the links and creating a well thought out Catholic response...much better than the pasted spam the "Catholic David" provided

11 Answers

  • 1 decade ago
    Favorite Answer

    The source of truth is Revelation, that is Scriptures and Tradition. The Catholic Magisterium gives us the correct interpretation of Revelation. The Popes are infallible only when they teach a doctrine ex cathedra, when they officially invoke their prerogative of infallibility over that doctrine. In such a case, one cannot disagree with it.

    The same happens with regard to Councils. Vatican II, for example, explicitly declared that it is not infallible. John XXIII also stated the same about this council. He specifically said that Vatican II would be a pastoral council, and not a doctrinal council. Therefore, it did not intend to teach any doctrine as infallible; its aim was only to give orientation.

    There are Councils that taught dogmas, Vatican Council I, for instance, which promulgated the dogma of Papal Infallibility. In such case, we have the obligation to accept this truth without discussion because of the infallible power Jesus Christ gave to the Sovereign Pontiff to teach and guide the Church.

    In the pontificate of Pope Pius IX, two dogmas were proclaimed in different ways. The first was the dogma of the Immaculate Conception that the Pope proclaimed ex authoritate propria – by his own authority – without the support of any council. The second was the dogma of the Papal Infallibility that he defined with the support of Vatican Council I in 1870. These solemn proclamations of dogmas are part of the extraordinary papal magisterium.

    Another way to exert the privilege of infallibility is when many Popes teach the same doctrine in documents of their ordinary magisterium. Each document is not infallible per se, but when a long series of documents teach the same thing, that doctrine becomes infallible since it is not possible for Divine Providence to allow the Church to embrace an error for a long period of time. It would be absurd. Therefore, a long series of encyclicals teaching the same doctrine also are infallible. This is called the infallibility of the ordinary papal magisterium.

    The faithful used to be quite secure about what doctrine to follow. Until Vatican II, the Popes consistently and continuously taught the same doctrine. Through the centuries many pontifical documents confirmed one another and repeated the same points of doctrine. For this reason, the faithful had a complete tranquility of mind about what is right and wrong and what should be accepted or rejected.


    This information has been obtained from :


    I hope this helps.

    Take Care & God Bless

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  • 1 decade ago

    The doctrine of Papal Infallibility came about as a manner of Rome exerting influence over the Ecumenical Patriarchate of what was then several Eastern Catholic Churches (now Orthodox, though still Catholic) because of certain doctrinal issues (Filioque, for example), as well as political intrigue given Islam's rapid rise in those areas. In short, it was an attempt force Byzantine Church's to accept Roman Authority or suffer the consequences.

    Most Orthodox Christians do not consider the Pope infallible; they may consider Rome as an equal at the Council's but they do not swear allegiance to him. Those identify with the Roman Catholic church are indeed expected to accept the Papal Infallibility on issues of morality and faith. As an Orthodox convert from Roman authority, I feel that part of the issue is that Rome has indeed put political will on Earth above certain matters of faith, including Filioque and Celibacy. A more open dialogue on such issues will go a long way; however, as long as papal infallibility is non-negotiable in Rome, then there most likely never be a full reconcilliation.

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  • Anonymous
    4 years ago

    incorrect. There has on no account been a heretical coaching by any Pope. The Holy Spirit won't enable it. otherwise no-one might have any way of understanding what's actual and what isn't. of course the "Bible on my own" attitude would not bring about any insurance of reality considering that there are 1000's of conflicting "Bible only" church homes that isn't be in a position to accept as true with one yet another on a unmarried doctrinal concern. Jesus meant it whilst He instructed the 1st Pope "in any appreciate you bind upon earth is for specific in heaven". and that's the rationalization His Church has remained united in coaching, united in perception and united in worship for 2,000 years. by the way maximum non-Catholics do no longer extremely understand what "infallibility" skill. It skill only what Jesus mentioned - that once the pope formally teaches a count of religion or morals as binding on the favourite Church, he can not err. It would not advise that he won't be in a position to make blunders on different forms of themes, and it would not advise he can not sin. he's a sinner like the the remainder of mankind, even however maximum popes have led very holy lives.

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  • Lv 5
    1 decade ago

    Vatican II maintains there is no salvation outside the Catholic Church. It's a tricky document because it is full of PC language, but once you figure out the meat of it, it does say what it always said "There is no salvation outside the Catholic Church." The only exception being, of course, if you're martyred while believing in the one true God, Jesus Christ. The baptism of your own blood while having faith in Jesus Christ as Lord is the only acceptable exception that proves the rule that there is no salvation outside the Catholic Church; Vatican II and pre-Vatican II are in agreement.

    The PC fluff in the document about special someones who aren't sinners and does God's will without the sacraments or without knowing Jesus Christ is just nonsense. No such person exists: everyone is evil by nature, everyone is fallen and in need of their redeemer. Which the documents also maintain. So these hypothetical non-existent persons just wasted space in the documents and were a contributing factor to the confusion surrounding this issue.

    What the document is really saying about other faiths, including protestantism, is that they contain truth(seeds of the Holy Spirit), but not the fullness, and therefore are mere stepping stones towards salvation: Which is found only in the Catholic Church or martyrdom for faith in Jesus Christ as Lord.

    I just read a fantastic speech by then Cardinal Ratzinger on this subject (I'll have to come back and edit my post to cite it because it's in a book that is not handy at the moment) and it's to address the problems that have arisen from people misinterpreting Vatican II on this. He stressed that nothing has changed, and says to interpret it other than it was intended to be interpreted will lead to relativism, and it undermines the sacraments and the message of Jesus Christ.

    Think about it, if it's not necessary for Joe Shmoe Anglican to eat the true body and drink the true blood of our Lord, why is it necessary for me?

    If it's not necessary for Dorothy Anne the Bible-only Protestant to be baptized, why is it necessary for me?

    If it's not necessary for Mary Jane Mormon to go to the confessional to confess and be absolved of her mortal sins by a priest and do penance, why is it necessary for me?

    If it's not necessary for Jim Bob Muslim to be in communion with the Catholic Church every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation, why is it necessary for me?

    From the Catechism:

    1129 The Church affirms that for believers the sacraments of the New Covenant ARE NECESSARY FOR SALVATION. "Sacramental grace" is the grace of the Holy Spirit, given by Christ and proper to each sacrament. the Spirit heals and transforms those who receive him by conforming them to the Son of God. the fruit of the sacramental life is that the Spirit of adoption makes the faithful partakers in the divine nature by uniting them in a living union with the only Son, the Savior.

    As far as Papal infallibility, this snippet from this article said it best:

    When the Pope (1) intends to teach (2) by virtue of his supreme authority (3) on a matter of faith and morals (4) to the whole Church, he is preserved by the Holy Spirit from error. His teaching act is therefore called "infallible" and the teaching which he articulates is termed "irreformable".

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  • John S
    Lv 7
    1 decade ago

    1) I don't see any contradiction in the Pre-Vatican II and Post VII statements concerning salvation outside the church. It all depends on how one DEFINES "outside the church" or more specifically defines "the church"

    Pope Pius IX - pre-Vatican II said this in "Quanto conficiamur moerore" on 8/10/1863:

    ["It is known to us and to you that those who are in invincible ignorance of our most holy religion, but who observe carefully the natural law, and the precepts graven by God upon the hearts of all men, and who being disposed to obey God lead an honest and upright life, may, aided by the light of divine grace, attain to eternal life; for God who sees clearly, searches and knows the heart, the disposition, the thoughts and intentions of each, in His supreme mercy and goodness by no means permits that anyone suffer eternal punishment, who has not of his own free will fallen into sin."]

    You see.. "outside the church" would be outside of God's teachings because by its very nature, the Church believes it teaches the "fullness" of the faith. However, it can not discount the possibility that someone may be technically outside the church, but still live by God's law.

    "Outside the Church" is misinterpreted by many to mean "won't submit to the Magisterium of the Church" -- which is not the correct interpretation in my opinion.

    To ME, outside the church means you are living a life which is the antithesis or complete rejection of ALL that God represents. So long as you are trying to live by God's laws, even if you are not in "full communion" as John Paul 2nd said, you are still in partial communion with the Catholic church and therefore not "outside the church"

    My wife is Baptist so in one regard she COULD be said to be "outside the church" but in belief, action, etc... she very much is trying to follow God's teachings. Therefore she is not completely outside but in "partial communion" with the Catholic church. I don't say it to her in that way as that would seem condescending (made THAT mistake before) but none the less.. that is how I understand it and believe. - She is in communion with God, not perfectly...but who is.. and therefore is IN the church... in a matter of speaking.


    But.. to your question..

    I am not a Canon Lawyer, nor do I play one on TV, but my understanding as a Catholic is that the "infallibility" does NOT extend to encyclicals, Catechism, or Papal Bulletins, atuomatically or in every case. The statement MUST be made CLEAR that it is "ex-cathedra" and must be done to clarify an issue that is causing schism or conflict in the church. It can not contradict any previous infallible statements and must be logically backed up by Scripture, tradition.

    I've heard SOME people claim that every pronouncement of Sainthood is infallible, but I believe Canon Lawyers say NO.

    The primary job of the Pope is to "teach" as the Apostles did and thus to do so, things are stated in different ways for the current time and for a particular audience. A Papal encyclical is not infallible unless it is settling a major dispute AND is said specifically to be "ex-cathedra"

    I believe the Vatican, under John Paul 2nd set up a separate Council (I forget the Latin name for it) which SPECIFICALLY meets with the press to confirm that the statement issued by the Pope was in fact Ex-Cathedra and infallible for Catholics. - This separate council was set up specifically to settle confusion over what is and what isn't infallible.

    So far they have not met with the press to announce an infallible statement since they were instituted.

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  • 1 decade ago

    papal infallibility is only intact when the pope is speaking in regards to dogma of the church. usually his encyclical letters.

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  • David
    Lv 5
    1 decade ago

    I guess you were wrong...

    The doctrine of Papal Infallibility does not mean the Pope is always right in all his personal teachings. Catholics are quite aware that, despite his great learning, the Pope is very much a human being and therefore liable to commit human error. On some subjects, like sports and manufacturing, his judgment is liable to be very faulty. The doctrine simply means that the Pope is divinely protected from error when, acting in his official capacity as chief shepherd of the Catholic fold, he promulgates a decision which is binding on the conscience of all Catholics throughout the world. In other words, his infallibility is limited to his specialty--the Faith of Jesus Christ.

    In order for the Pope to be infallible on a particular statement, however, four conditions must apply: 1) he must be speaking ex cathedra . . . that is, ``from the Chair'' of Peter, or in other words, officially, as head of the entire Church; 2) the decision must be for the whole Church; 3) it must be on a matter of faith or morals; 4) the Pope must have the intention of making a final decision on a teaching of faith or morals, so that it is to be held by all the faithful. It must be interpretive, not originative; the Pope has no authority to originate new doctrine. He is not the author of revelation--only its guardian and expounder. He has no power to distort a single word of Scripture, or change one iota of divine tradition. His infallibility is limited strictly to the province of doctrinal interpretation, and it is used quite rarely. It is used in order to clarify, to ``define,'' some point of the ancient Christian tradition. It is the infallibility of which Christ spoke when He said to Peter, the first Pope: ``I will give (o thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven.'' (Matt. 16:19). Certainly Christ would not have admonished His followers to ``hear the church'' (Matt. 18:17) without somehow making certain that what they heard was the truth--without somehow making the teaching magisterium of His Church infallible.

    For a complete understanding of the Pope's infallibility, however, one more thing should be known: His ex cathedra decisions are not the result of his own private deliberations. They are the result of many years--sometimes hundreds of years--of consultation with the other bishops and theologians of the Church. He is, in effect, voicing the belief of the whole Church. His infallibility is not his own private endowment, but rather an endowment of the entire Mystical Body of Christ. Indeed, the Pope's hands are tied with regard to the changing of Christian doctrine. No Pope has ever used his infallibility to change, add, or subtract any Christian teaching; this is because Our Lord promised to be with His Church until the end of the world. (Matt. 28:20). Protestant denominations, on the other hand, feel free to change their doctrines. For example, all Protestant denominations once taught that contraception was gravely sinful; but since 1930, when the Church of England's Lambeth Conference decided contraception was no longer a sin, virtually all Protestant ministers in the world have accepted this human decision and changed their teaching.

    is not. Infallibility is not the absence of sin. Nor is it a charism that belongs only to the pope. Indeed, infallibility also belongs to the body of bishops as a whole, when, in doctrinal unity with the pope, they solemnly teach a doctrine as true. We have this from Jesus himself, who promised the apostles and their successors the bishops, the magisterium of the Church: "He who hears you hears me" (Luke 10:16), and "Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven" (Matt. 18:18).

    its time for you to reconcile this not the church

    Source(s): I'm not a "protestant". I'm a saved believer in Jesus
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  • 1 decade ago

    The Church went awry in 1969, and the first one is right.

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  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago

    Between Senility and Alzheimer's.

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  • 1 decade ago

    None of this crap is even in the Bible.

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