On the Indefectibility and Infallibility of the Church – As Seen on T.V.

There are very few certainties in this world about anything. But one thing is for sure: The Church will prevail, the Church will be here to infallibly lead us to the end of days.

“How arrogant!” you might say. And yet, say it I did! Why? Not because of any human guarantee, but based rather on the firm promise of Jesus himself.

The place is Ceasarea Phillipi, and Jesus is speaking to Simon Peter who had just confessed him to be the Christ and the Son of the Living God. Now Jesus speaks and says, You are Peter (Rock), and upon this rock I will build my church,and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Matt 16:18) The Church will surely be hated, attacked and persecuted, but Hell will never prevail, never defeat the Church Jesus founded.

No Human Power – Now I want to emphasize that this power of the Church to endure to the end is no human power. It is not based on brilliant or perfect human leaders. It is based solely on Jesus’ promise. So it is not arrogant to make this claim, it is simply Biblical and a matter of faith in Jesus.

This prevailing power of the Church can be understood in a couple of ways.

First it means that the Church will be here to the end. Count on it since Jesus promised it. This is what is meant by the “indefectibility” of Church.

Second, this promise means that the Church cannot mislead us or teach falsely in a matter of faith and morals. Herein lies the infallibility of the Church. Of this the Catechism teaches:

In order to preserve the Church in the purity of the faith handed on by the Apostles, Christ who is the Truth, willed to confer on her a share in his own infallibility…The mission of the Magisterium is linked to the definitive nature of the covenant established by God with his people in Christ. It is this Magisterium’s task to preserve God’s people from deviations and defections and to guarantee them the objective possibility of professing the true faith without error. Thus, the pastoral duty of the Magisterium is aimed at seeing to it that the People of God abides in the truth that liberates. To fulfill this service, Christ endowed the Church’s shepherds with the charism of infallibility in matters of faith and morals. The exercise of this charism takes several forms: “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 he proclaims by a definitive act a doctrine pertaining to faith or morals. The infallibility promised to the Church is also present in the body of bishops when, together with Peter’s successor, they exercise the supreme Magisterium, above all in an Ecumenical Council. (Catechism of the Catholic Church 889-891)

Therefore note that the teaching is not simplistically applied. There are rather specific conditions set forth for the invocation of infallibility. But the bottom line is that when the Church formally teaches on matters of faith and morals (as described above), the promise of Christ and the guidance of the Holy Spirit save us from doubt and error.

Now some object to claim. But reason with me for a minute. Jesus promised that the gates of Hell could not prevail against the Church. But if the Church could formally teach error about faith and morals, if the Church could mislead people about what was necessary for their eternal salvation, then it would be a fact that the gates of Hell HAD prevailed. But since Jesus promised it could never happen, then, by God’s grace, the Church is protected from formally teaching falsely on matters of faith and morals.

Do you trust Jesus and believe his word? Then the Church is unsinkable and infallible regarding faith and morals.

Here is a video that humorously depicts the indefectibility of the Church. Though sabotaged by this world, cast down, stoned, struck and hit by this world from all sides, though the world unleash all its power against us, the Church remains ever the same, and to every blow replies, “Still I rise!” Death is detained by the “Spirit.”

33 Replies to “On the Indefectibility and Infallibility of the Church – As Seen on T.V.”

  1. Do you mean the world is not flat? What is infallability? MAN OR GOD. How is infallability corrected and then explained that at one time the teaching was infallable. Please explain.

      1. Monsignor, I believe jj is trying to use the incorrect thought that many use which is that if the Church is infallible then why did the Church once say the earth was flat. What jj does not understand is that infallibility applies to matters of faith, not matters of the world. As an example, if Pope Benedict came out today and declared that grass was not green but instead it was pink we would not have to agree with him because of the notion of infallibility only applies to matters of faith, not of the world.

        1. It also only applies when invoked, that is when a Dogma is “proclaim(ed) by a definitive act” or ‘Defined’. Other (almost all) statements on faith and morals are authoritative not infallible.

          1. Nope. Never. In fact, it was well known in the Middle Ages that the world was round (We have known that well since at least the ancient Greeks). The most obvious evidence is Dante’s Divine Comedy which is based entirely on a spherical earth (written in the 1300’s). See also Augustine’s City of God (420 A.D.) where he talks about people who live on the other side of the earth, and Aquinas’ Summa (late 1200’s) where he declares that the earth is round (I, 1, 1) while explaining that this particular piece of knowledge belongs to specific methods of science. For more evidence, see C.S. Lewis’ book “The Discarded Image.”

          2. You are absolutely right Matt.

            That’s part of the Black Legend against the Catholic Church–that the Church said the world was flat. Let’s put an end to this myth once and for all. As Matt said above, it was well known by the ancient Greeks the world is round.

    1. JJ, I’m not aware that the Church has ever taught that the world is flat — infallibly or otherwise. If you have contrary evidence, I’d like to know about it. Nor am I aware that the Church has ever “corrected” an infallibly proclaimed teaching.

      1. What JJ may be thinking of is the conflict between geocentric vs heliocentric cosmologies. Again, while the church may have maintained a position in the argument (and possibly excommunicated people over it, or is that also apocryphal?) the issue has nothing to do with faith or morals, and so the church is not infallible about it.

  2. Brian & Msgr:

    I’m with you as far as you go;
    The Msgr tells us that this is the union of the Pope’s declarations “ex cathedra”
    and the declaration of Councils. the Catechism says that it is a sin
    not to believe “what God has revealed and the Church proposes for belief”,
    and I take that to mean “the stuff the msgr cited”.

    It is a separate (and to me more challenging)
    question as to how we are to treat “the rest” of the Church’s teaching.
    I believe I recall that I am to treat it with respect, and charity if I
    happen to disagree with it…

    No screaming fits in comboxes when the hierarchy publishes
    prescriptions for global economics, and immigration policy.

    I think I’ll work on improving my charity by not going into further detail :-).

  3. Msgr you write “that the Church cannot mislead us or teach falsely in a matter of faith and morals. Herein lies the infallibility of the Church.”

    As the Church is the People of God what happens when the Church and the Magisterium are in opposition? During the Arian crisis the People of God supported the divinity of Christ while the Magisterium opposed it.

    Many Catholics equate the Church with the Magisterium. The Church is not the Magisterium.

    Of course we need the Magisterium and its guidance is informative and useful. It’s teaching should always be heeded and followed unless we are convinced by our informed conscience that to do so would be wrong.

    And as Newman pointed out an informed conscience and an infallible teaching will never be in conflict.

    1. I think you’re historical analysis is flawed. Please note that the Arian Crisis was resolved and your attempt to apply a modern term like magisterium to the early period is not without its own flaws. Further your notion of magisterium seems flawed. So, please answer, when did the Church formally declare that Jesus was just a holy man? What Council, what year, what pope? How did the magisterium formally adopt the Arian position, which you seem to presume?

  4. Msgr I may be wrong as I am relying on Blessed John Henry Newman’s Arians of the Fourth Century. This excerpt from the appendix “Orthodoxy of the faithful during Arianism” is informative:

    …that in that time of immense confusion the divine dogma of our Lord’s divinity was proclaimed, enforced, maintained, and (humanly speaking) preserved, far more by the “Ecclesia docta” than by the “Ecclesia docens;” that the body of the Episcopate was unfaithful to its commission, while the body of the laity was faithful to its baptism; that at one time the pope, at other times a patriarchal, metropolitan, or other great see, at {466} other times general councils, said what they should not have said, or did what obscured and compromised revealed truth; while, on the other hand, it was the Christian people, who, under Providence, were the ecclesiastical strength of Athanasius, Hilary, Eusebius of Vercellæ, and other great solitary confessors, who would have failed without them …

    The full text can be found at: http://www.newmanreader.org/works/arians/note5.html

      1. During the hieght of Arianism most of the Christians in the Western Empire were Arianist, outside of Orthodox strongholds like Rome, Milan, & Lyons. I believe In the City of Rome itself there was a period in which the clergy, under imperial influence, were largely Arianist, while the laity were mainly Orthodox. I assume that’s what you’re referring too. But the Arianist clergy never included the Pope himself. Because of this the Pope was exiled by the Western Emperor at least once.

        1. 13. A.D. 357-8. And Liberius. “The tragedy was not ended in the lapse of Hosius, but in the evil which befell Liberius, the Roman Pontiff, it became far more dreadful and mournful, considering that he was Bishop of so great a city, and of the whole Catholic Church, and that he had so bravely resisted Constantius two years previously. There is nothing, whether in the historians and holy fathers, or in his own letters, to prevent our coming to the conclusion, that Liberius communicated with the Arians, and confirmed the sentence passed by them against Athanasius; but he is not at all on that account to be called a heretic.” Baron. Ann. 357, 38-45. Athanasius says: “Liberius, after he had been {449} in banishment for two years, gave way, and from fear of threatened death was induced to subscribe. Arian. Hist. § 41. St. Jerome says: “Liberius, tædio victus exilii, et in hæreticam pravitatem subscribens, Romam quasi victor intraverat.” Chron. ed. Val. p. 797.
          18…”Liberius, returning to Rome, found the mind of the mass of men alienated from him, because he had so shamefully yielded to Constantius. And thus it came to pass, that those persons who had hitherto kept aloof from Felix [the rival Pope], and had avoided his communion in favour of Liberius, on hearing what had happened, left him for Felix, who raised the Catholic standard.” Baron. Ann. 357. 56. He tells us besides (57), that the people would not even go to the public baths, lest they should bathe with the party of Liberius.

          See: http://www.newmanreader.org/works/arians/note5.html

          Pope Liberius apparently did join the Arianists for a time, probably under strong pressure from the Emperor. Perhaps this is why he is the only early Pope who is not regarded as a saint.

  5. Msgr. Pope, perhaps the picture is not the best for this article about the infallibiliy of the Church. St. Malo’s retreat center burned down late last year.

  6. This is another place where the church and me part. The gates of hell may not prevail but that does not mean “to me” that it may not go wrong for some time. I disagree with the teaching of the church has concerning Mary as example. Instead of praying to God people pray to Mary. Instead of just asking Mary for her help or prayers, people pray to her. There is no need to pray to Mary, my wife prays for our family but no one prays to her. We ask others to pray for us or other family members but no one prays to them. This is wrong. I know the churches teaching concerning this, I also know the reality of what it has become. I will not pray to Mary or the rosary. It’s wrong teaching, wrong theology and wrong for the catholic faith. I will continue to pray to God, and him only.

    1. I think your stuck a little on what the word Prayer can mean. Pray can mean worship (latria) which clearly does not pertain to Mary. But can also mean to ask or petition. And while it is true as you say, no one needs to ask anyone else for anything, it is natural human tendendency to ask others such as You, or Mary, to pray for me.

      Your description of your family is a strangew one. I was forever asking my mother for things in hopes she would also persuade dad.

      1. I never said no one needs to ask anyone for anything. In fact I said we ask others to pray for us. another thing, the only description I gave of my family is that my wife prays for our family. If that is strange to you then your belief system is truly strange to me. Many people I know when they pray for others will reach for the rosary and pray to mary asking her help. Why not pray to God and ask for his help. It is the only right thing to do.

        1. As God gave us the greatest gift possible, his son Jesus, through Mary it is reasonable that he would like to give lesser gifts, as all other gifts are, through Mary as well.

          1. Compare that thought to the answer that christ gave the apostles when they asked him to teach us to pray. His words not mine “Our Father who art in heaven……….” Halowed be your name only” give us this day our daily bread. You are to give honor to god, ask him for his help. Build your relationship with god. Count the number of prayers on the rosary to mary and the number of prayers to god. Who are you building a relationship with. I see no problem with people asking mary and the saints for prayers, but mostly you should pray to god, talk with him. It is not a sin not to pray to mary. Focus on god and see what happens.

        2. Larry, your understanding of Catholic belief re Mary is fundamentally flawed. Precisely because you set up a false dichotomy. It is not a part of Catholic belief at all to pray to Mary while ignoring God. In fact, worship is meant for God alone, while great honor and love is indeed given to Mary, because she is God’s most beloved creation.

          To petition Mary in prayer in order for her to pray on our behalf does not in any way get in the way of our relationship with God the Father; rather, knowing that he gave us Mary, without whom there would not be Jesus and the Church, is to acknowledge how wondrous and magnificent he is and why he is worthy of all of our praise, worship, and love. In fact, it is Mary’s example that teaches us this, as we read in the Magnificat from the Gospel of Luke: remember “my soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior; for he has looked with favor upon his lowly servant, and all generations shall call me blessed. For he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. . . !”?

          Please focus on that last line. How does this contradict the “hallowed be thy name” that Christ gives us? In fact, the Magnificat foreshadows it. Furthermore, what makes you think that we don’t talk to God the Father? Anyone with a healthy prayer life does, actually, and it is the Rosary that helps us do it, if you stop and think about the prayers that comprise it.

          To acknowledge and love Mary as Catholics do IS to concentrate on God, Larry, for she always points back to him, and her example shows us what to do in order to be receptive to his voice, his Word, and his will. And also, to disregard Mary, the greatest of all the saints, to say nothing of any of the saints is profoundly uncharitable. It is also decidedly arrogant, because it denies God’s magnificence in having chosen to create and give us Mary, and in terms of the saints, it denies the wondrous and mysterious way in which his grace works. So if we want to “build our relationship with God,” basic charity and humility ain’t a bad place to start.

          1. WS: 1. Please state my false dichotomy. 2. If you wish to give more prayers to Mary than God that is alright to me. Like I said, I know the churches teaching and I know what it has become.

  7. As Msgr. mentions, it is necessary to understand infallibility in the context of and in the depth of the definitive charachter of the New Covenant.One should delve more on this point to make the truth of this teaching more intelligent.

  8. Funny thing- We’re discussing this very issue in diaconate formation this week. Simply put- infallibility is a negative protection. It doesn’t mean that the Pope “is always right”. It DOES mean that, on matters of faith and morals, he won’t teach anything wrong. Our instructor used a simple example: if the Pope were infallible in algebra, turned up for an exam without studying or preparing, would he ace it? No, he’d turn in a blank answer sheet and flunk. Because being preserved from error is not the same thing as “always being right”. It also doesn’t mean that popes can’t make bad decisions, be ineffective, or be, frankly, lousy human beings in their personal morality. Infallibility isn’t the same as impeccability. Alexander VI may’ve been a sleaze- but he wasn’t a heretic.

  9. Ok, so I riffed on PAPAL infallibility, rather then that of the Church. Mea culpa. The principles are the same. Only in the case of the Church, even more so.

  10. I believe that Jesus as God. I believe in His church as the one true church that has in it, the fullness of truth. I believe, St. Peter, who was told by God, Himself, that he (Peter) was the rock, the foundation of the churchj, and upon him (Peter) and him alone, would the church be built. The apostles of Christ entered the world and all of them taught the revelation of God from personal experience, and not one of them disagreed with another, no matter how far they traveled in different directions. They didn’t email each other to make sure they had their story straight.

    The church is not a club, ruled by its members, where votes on it’s teaching’s are taken in the spirit of compromise and concession. The church stands on the ONE gospel of Jesus Christ, our GOD, and on the one gospel only.

    Some mere mortals must accept that the world is not about them, and some requirement THEY have, that unless THEY accept the truth of the gospel, in a form acceptable to THEM, it isn’t the fullness of truth. The arrogance of trying to force God to make all things acceptable to THEM, in order for THEM to give God His due, will be attended to in the next life. May God have mercy on THEIR souls.

  11. Msgr. Charles Pope, has there ever been a case where a Pope has changed Church doctrine that was already in place? Infallibility implies consistency to me. I understand the concept of the development of doctrine– that’s not what i am asking. I need to know if there was ever a case of one Pope saying x is y, then another Pope comes along saying, x is z, and the 2 are incompatible. Has there ever been a case ( or cases) of this? And if so, how does that fit into consistency and infallibility? By the way, thank you for your blog. I’m learning lots!

    1. I am unaware of any. Certain non-Catholics like to try and present cases where we did so, but upon investigation they never pan out. At the heart of solemnly defined teaching is just what you say: consistency and the understanding that truth does not change.

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