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Conditions for teachings being declared infallible
Statements by a pope that exercise papal infallibility are referred to as solemn papal definitions or ex cathedra teachings. Also considered infallible are the teachings of the whole body of bishops of the Church, especially but not only in an ecumenical council (see Infallibility of the Church).
According to the teaching of the First Vatican Council and Catholic tradition, the conditions required for ex cathedra papal teaching are as follows:
- "the Roman Pontiff"
- "speaks ex cathedra" ("that is, when in the discharge of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, and by virtue of his supreme apostolic authority....")
- "he defines"
- "that a doctrine concerning faith or morals"
- "must be held by the whole Church" (Pastor Aeternus, chap. 4)
For a teaching by a pope or ecumenical council to be recognized as infallible, the teaching must be:
- A decision of the supreme teaching authority of the Church (pope or College of Bishops)
- Concern a doctrine of faith or morals
- Bind the universal Church
- Be proposed as something to hold firmly and immutably
The terminology of a definitive decree usually makes clear that this last condition is fulfilled, as through a formula such as "By the authority of Our Lord Jesus Christ and of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by Our own authority, We declare, pronounce and define the doctrine . . . to be revealed by God and as such to be firmly and immutably held by all the faithful," or through an accompanying anathema stating that anyone who deliberately dissents is outside the Catholic Church.
For example, in 1950, with Munificentissimus Deus, Pope Pius XII's infallible definition regarding the Assumption of Mary, there are attached these words:
In July 2005 Pope Benedict XVI stated during an impromptu address to priests in Aosta that: "The Pope is not an oracle; he is infallible in very rare situations, as we know." His predecessor Pope John XXIII once remarked: "I am only infallible if I speak infallibly but I shall never do that, so I am not infallible." A doctrine proposed by a pope as his own opinion, not solemnly proclaimed as a doctrine of the Church, may be rejected as false, even if it is on a matter of faith and morals, and even more any view he expresses on other matters. A well-known example of a personal opinion on a matter of faith and morals that was taught by a pope but rejected by the Church is the view that Pope John XXII expressed on when the dead can reach the beatific vision. The limitation on the pope's infallibility "on other matters" is frequently illustrated by Cardinal James Gibbons's recounting how the pope mistakenly called him Jibbons.
Catholic theologians in general hold that the canonization of a saint by a pope is infallible teaching that the person canonized is definitely in heaven with God. A decree of canonization commands that the person be venerated by the whole Church as a saint, while beatification merely permits it.
See also: Roman Catholic dogma
"Cathedra" and "sedes" are Latin words for a chair, the symbol of the teacher in the ancient world: we still refer metaphorically to the "chair" as the office of a university professor, and to the "see" of a bishop (from "sedes"). The pope is said to occupy the "chair of Peter" or the "Holy See," since Catholics hold that, as among the apostles Peter had a special role as the preserver of unity, so the pope as successor of Peter holds the role of spokesman for the whole church among the bishops, the successors of the apostles.
In connection with papal infallibility, the Latin phrase ex cathedra (literally, "from the chair") has been defined as meaning "when, in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, (the Bishop of Rome) defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole Church."
The response demanded from believers has been characterized as "assent" in the case of ex cathedra declarations of the popes and "due respect" with regard to their other declarations.
Scripture and primacy of Peter
On the basis of Mark 3:16, 9:2, Luke 24:34 and 1 Corinthians 15:5, the Catechism of the Catholic Church describes Peter as holding first place among the apostles. It speaks of Peter as the rock on which, because of Peter's faith, Christ said in Matthew 16:18 he would build his Church, which he declared would be victorious over the powers of death. In Luke 22:32, Jesus gave Peter the mission to keep his faith after every lapse and to strengthen his brothers in it. The Catechism of the Catholic Church sees the power of the keys that Jesus promised to Peter alone in Matthew 16:19 as signifying authority to govern the house of God, that is, the Church, an authority that Jesus after his resurrection confirmed for Peter by instructing him in John 21:15–17 to feed Christ's sheep. The power to bind and loose, conferred on all the apostles jointly and to Peter in particular (Matthew 16:19) is seen in the Catechism of the Catholic Church as authority to absolve sins, to pronounce judgments on doctrine and to make decisions on Church discipline.
Primacy of the Roman pontiff
Main article: Primacy of the Bishop of Rome
Doctrine-based religions evolve their theologies over time, and Catholicism is no exception: its theology did not spring instantly and fully formed within the bosom of the earliest Church.
Pope St. Clement of Rome, c. 99, stated in a letter to the Corinthians: "Indeed you will give joy and gladness to us, if having become obedient to what we have written through the Holy Spirit, you will cut out the unlawful application of your zealaccording to the exhortation which we have made in this epistle concerning peace and union." (Denziger §41, emphasis added)
St. Clement of Alexandria wrote on the primacy of Peter c. 200: "...the blessed Peter, the chosen, the pre-eminent, the first among the disciples, for whom alone with Himself the Savior paid the tribute..." (Jurgens §436).
The existence of an ecclesiastical hierarchy is emphasized by St. Stephan I, 251, in a letter to the bishop of Antioch: "Therefore did not that famous defender of the Gospel [Novatian] know that there ought to be one bishop in the Catholic Church [of the city of Rome]? It did not lie hidden from him..." (Denziger §45).
St. Julius I, in 341 wrote to the Antiochenes: "Or do you not know that it is the custom to write to us first, and that here what is just is decided?" (Denziger §57a, emphasis added).
Catholicism holds that an understanding among the apostles was written down in what became the scriptures, and rapidly became the living custom of the Church, and that from there, a clearer theology could unfold.
St. Siricius wrote to Himerius in 385: "To your inquiry we do not deny a legal reply, because we, upon whom greater zeal for the Christian religion is incumbent than upon the whole body, out of consideration for our office do not have the liberty to dissimulate, nor to remain silent. We carry the weight of all who are burdened; nay rather the blessed apostle PETER bears these in us, who, as we trust, protects us in all matters of his administration, and guards his heirs" (Denziger §87, emphasis in original).
Many of the Church Fathers spoke of ecumenical councils and the Bishop of Rome as possessing a reliable authority to teach the content of scripture and tradition, albeit without a divine guarantee of protection from error.
Wikipedia source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Papal_infallibility#Ex_cathedra
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