Every day we present a short point that helps bring into focus the treasures of the Roman Catholic Church that comprise the great Deposit of Faith.
It is no secret that over the past thirty years fewer and fewer know their Faith and it shows with the declining number of vocations, parish participation and attendance at Holy Mass. We have the new Catechism of the Catholic Church but for the common man, the one brought up on sound bites and instant gratification, it is more of a text book and that in itself prompts them to shy away from such a tome. So what's a loyal Catholic to do in evangelizing to fellow Catholics and understand their Faith? Our answer: go back to basics - to the great Deposit of Faith. We have the Baltimore Catechism which, for unknown and ridiculous reasons, was shelved after Vatican II. We have the Holy Bible but there are so many newer versions that the Douay-Rheims and Confraternity Latin Vulgate in English versions, the ones used for so long as the official Scriptural text authorized by the Church, seem lost in a maze of new interpretations that water down the Word. This is further complicated by the fact there are so few Douay-Rheims editions in circulation though it is available on the net at
DOUAY-RHEIMS BIBLE. We have so many Vatican documents available at the Vatican web site and other excellent Catholic resource sites that detail Doctrine, Dogma and Canon Law. We have the traditions, and the means of grace but how do we consolidate all these sources into one where it is succinct and easy to understand? We have the perfect vehicle. It is called "My Catholic Faith", now out of print, that was compiled by Bishop Louis Laravoire Morrow and published by My Mission House. This work ties in Scriptural references, the Sacraments, Dogmas, Doctrines, Traditions, Church documents, Encyclical and Papal decrees to clearly illustrate the Faith in simple, solid and concise terms that all can understand and put into practice. We will quote from this work while adding in more recent events and persons when applicable since the book was written in the late forties during the pontificate of Pope Pius XII. We also quote from the Catholic Almanac published by Our Sunday Visitor for the Roman Curial offices.
Nothing in Holy Mother Church's teaching has changed and therefore we feel confident that these daily "points of enlightenment" will help more Catholics better understand their faith, especially those who were not blessed with early formation of the faith in the home and their parish school. Regardless of where any Catholic is in his or her journey toward salvation, he or she has to recognize that the Faith they were initiated into at the Sacrament of Baptism is the most precious gift they have been given in life.
THE INFALLIBILITY OF THE CHURCH
The Church teaches infallibly when it defines, through the Pope alone, as the teacher of all Christians, or through the Pope and the bishops, a doctrine of faith or morals to be held by all the faithful.
The Church, as the representative or substitute of Jesus Christ on earth, is infallible, and speaks with His own words: “This is why I was born, and why I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth” (John 18:37).
When the Church makes an infallible pronouncement, we are not to suppose that a new doctrine is being introduced. For instance, when the Holy Father Pope Pius IX defined the Blessed Virgin’s Immaculate Conception and Pope Pius XII her Assumption as an article of faith, the infallible definition in each case was not a proclamation of a new doctrine, but was merely an announcement of an article of faith true from the very beginning, and publicly defined only in order to make the dogma clear to all and to be believed as part of the deposit of faith left to the Church.
Another example is the definition of the Holy Father’s infallibility, was made in 1870 by the First Vatican Council. The dogma was true from the very beginning, and had been universally held. But as in recent times many objections were being made against it, the Bishops in the Vatican Council thought it best, in order to make clear the stand of the Church, to make an infallible definition.
The Church makes infallible pronouncements on doctrines of faith and morals, on their interpretation, on the Bible and Tradition, and the interpretation of any part of parts of these.
The Church also pronounces on the truth or falsity of opinions, teachings, customs, etc., with relation to fundamental doctrines. Another subject on which the Church makers infallible declarations is the canonization of Saints. All whom the Church has raised to the glory of the altar by a solemn canonization are undoubtedly now in Heaven, enjoying eternal bliss in the presence of God.
The Church teaches infallibly through the Pope alone, when he speaks officially or from the "Chair of Peter" (ex cathedra) as the Supreme Head, for the entire universal Church. As the Pope has authority over the Church, he could not err in his official teaching without leading the Church into error. As Our Lord said to Peter, the first Pope: “I have prayed for thee, that thy faith may not fail; and do thou, when once thou has turned again, strengthen thy brethren” (Luke 22: 31-32).
In order to speak infallibly, the Pope must speak ex cathedra, or officially from the "Chair of Peter," under the following conditions: He must pronounce himself on a subject of faith or morals. Infallibility is restricted to questions regarding faith and morals. The Church pronounces on natural sciences and on legislation only when the perversity of men makes of them instruments for opposing revealed truths.
If the Pope should make judgments on mathematics or civil governments, he is as liable to error as any other man with the same experience. Letters to kings and other rulers are not infallible pronouncements. However, we should hold the Pope’s opinions on any subject with great respect, on account of his position and experience.
He must speak as the Vicar of Christ, in his office as Pope, and to the whole Church, to all the faithful throughout the world. In his capacity as private teacher, for example, in his encyclical letters, he is as any other teacher of the Church.
Should the Pope, like John Paul II, write a treatise on Canon Law or such as Ad Tuendam Fidem or "Crossing the Threshold of Hope" his book would be and was written in a private capacity, and liable to error, just as the books of other theologians. However we challenge anyone to find error in the Holy Father's works. We accept, not on faith, but in obedience to his authority, out of respect for his experience and wisdom.
He must make clear by certain words his intention to speak ex cathedra. These words are most often used: “We proclaim,” “We define,” etc. The Pope’s infallible decrees are termed “doctrinal,” since they involve doctrine. From the earliest days of the Church, the infallibility of the Pope has been acknowledged.
Tomorrow: The Infallibility of the Church part four