Papal Infallibility refers to the fact that the Pope is divinely preserved from teaching error in his formal teaching on faith and morals. It flows from the divinity of Christ in the Church. God is infallible, and He has irrevocably entered the human realm by becoming man. The Church is the continuation of this Incarnation, continuing Jesus’s “But I say to you” in her teaching and continuing his healing and life-giving touch in her sacraments.
The Office of Peter (the ecclesial role assumed by the man who becomes head of the Church) involves the ability and responsibility to define truths concerning doctrines of faith and principles of morality, especially to “confirm the brethren” (Luke 22:32) when there is disagreement on important issues. The first exercise of formal papal infallibility was St Peter’s statement “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” which Jesus himself confirmed was uniquely inspired “not by flesh and blood but by my Father in Heaven.” (Mt 16:17)
Thus papal infallibility is effectively exercised when according to the “manifest meaning and intention” (Vatican II, Constitution on the Church, n.25) of the teaching, the Pope invokes the authority of Christ to confirm and define a traditional doctrine of faith or morals. It is an essential gift to the Church in order to maintain the impact of the Incarnation, and the consequent unity in truth and charity.
March/ April 2020
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