Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Rarely Infallible

"The world sees the public side of Pope Benedict XVI generally at big ceremonial events in Rome or on foreign travels, when he's under the glare of the media.

But over the last three years, the "real Benedict" has emerged most fully in a series of semiprivate encounters with an audience he feels at home with -- groups of priests.

...What distinguishes these encounters is that the pope obviously feels he is speaking as a priest among priests, not an authority figure doing an obligatory drop-by.

During his first summer meeting with priests in 2005, he told his audience: "I also want to say that the pope is not an oracle, that he is infallible in only the rarest of situations, as we know." That's a point the pope has made more than once as a preface to his responses; he's there to provide reflection and some guidance, not prefabricated answers to pastoral dilemmas." Catholic News

34 comments:

Ferris E. Plankeye said...

"to provide reflection and some guidance"

Gee, I'm feeling all warm and fuzzy about the certitude that comes with submission to the Magisterium right about now.

Kevin Davis said...

Yes, as any Protestant or Catholic reading the first Vatican Council can tell you...or the catechism...or, hell, any Catholic internet website. So, is Beggars All starting a series on The Most Basic Points of Catholic Dogma?

James Swan said...

I also want to say that the pope is not an oracle, that he is infallible in only the rarest of situations, as we know

I've always appreciated a humble superhero.

James Swan said...

Kevin,

Who decided that "the pope...is infallible in only the rarest of situations..."?

"as we know"? How do we know this? Is it because Rome makes up here own rules?

Why is it only "the rarest of situations"?

You can help me out with these "Basic Points of Catholic Dogma." I don't claim to be an expert on Romanism, but I can spot smoke and mirrors.

Ferris E. Plankeye said...

Okay, where is the infallible Magisterium centered if the guy at the top is only rarely infallible? Where exactly is the Magisterium, so that I can go and read its words or listen at its feet?

Alexander Greco said...

How do I know that my translation of Scripture is correct?

How do I know that the manuscripts used to translate my copy of the Scriptures was correct?

How do I know that historians are correct?

How do I know that there really isn't some evil genius who has scrambled our (all of humanity) minds?

How do I know that you, James, are not the anti-Christ?

Seriously, are you looking for answers, or are you just trying to engage in needless polemics? As Kevin stated, this is a basic point. After devoting so much attention to Catholicism, I would have thought that you would have moved beyond this by now. I can see how this topic could be useful for your red herrings.

Matthew Bellisario said...

Ok, and what is this blog topic here supposed to point out?

Carrie said...

Alexander & Matthew,

Please read Rhology's lastest post and please, please read the Triablogue linked to.

If you can understand the method of answering people by their own standards, your confusion over many of the posts and comments may be cleared up a bit.

Carrie said...

Yes, as any Protestant or Catholic reading the first Vatican Council can tell you...or the catechism...or, hell, any Catholic internet website.

Ah, but how about if I went back to documents of the ancient church - where can I find this dogma of part-time papal infallibility?

Unfortunately many of our non-Protestant commenters fail to understand why I point out some of these things. As I said to Greco & Bellisario, please read the Triablogue post on answering RCs on their own grounds.

See, I am trying to figure out why I need a Vicar of Christ in earth, someone who I must submit to as I would submit to Christ, simply for rare instances of infallibility, reflection and guidance?

I can get guidance and reflection from my own Pastor, and I can do that face-to-face at almost anytime I am in need. How many people actually get one-on-one guidance from the Pope? Of course, I don't claim my Pastor is even "rarely infallible", but then, when is the last time that a Pope has made an ex-cathedra proclamation? 1950?

Which brings us back to James' point, how do I know when the Pope is actually speaking infallibly? B/c I'm pretty sure Catholic theologians cannot all agree on whether the Assumption was the last ex cathedra statement or not. So not only is the RC "Christ on Earth" only rarely infallible, but no one can even be sure as to when.

Sorry, that does not jive with the certainty that RC apologist's claim that Rome offers and that Protestants are lacking. And that is the point as usual around here - what Rome claims is alot of smoke and mirrors, you just have to pay attention.

Tim MD said...

Hi All,

James said:"I've always appreciated a humble superhero."

I guess he means his hero, Martinus Lutheretic, who by the way demonstated in quote after quote that He considered HIMSELF to be infallible.

Now.................of course, he denied that and of course, no Protestant will admit to it either but his VERY quotes reveal his "understanding" about his certainty of the "correctness" of his opinions.

What I think it humorous is that Protestants will criticize the whole concept of Catholic Infallibility and yet will either attribute it to themselves or to some historic figure. Somehow it is simply NOT acceptable to even CONSIDER that Luther may have been an ACTUAL heretic or that he, in opposition to ALL of Church History, may actually have been wrong on those issues upon which he separated himself from the Church.

God Bless, Tim

Reginald de Piperno said...

If you can understand the method of answering people by their own standards, your confusion over many of the posts and comments may be cleared up a bit.

I think that Matthew and Alexander probably understand the method perfectly well. The problem is that this post (and many others around here) are not examples of the exercise of this method. You haven't demonstrated any contradiction in the dogma of papal infallibility; the most that could be said is that you seem to think you've demonstrated a contradiction in a straw man caricature of papal infallibility. Alternatively perhaps you think you've identified a disconnect between Catholic apologetics and Catholic dogma - but that is a far cry from having said anything interesting or challenging about Catholic dogma (as ought to be obvious from the fact that the Catholics reading this post are mystified by how it is supposed to be a "criticism" of the Church).

See, I am trying to figure out why I need a Vicar of Christ in earth, someone who I must submit to as I would submit to Christ, simply for rare instances of infallibility, reflection and guidance?

Suggestion #1 - because without a living voice of authority, you are left with no sufficient authority by which to discern truth. The Bible can't and doesn't "answer" questions per se. It's a book, and has all the limits of one, notwithstanding that it is divine revelation. I certainly agree that truth is in it, but it can't "tell" you anything. It's a standard, or if you will a law book; but you still need a judge to do the adjudicating according to the standard of divine revelation.

You read a translation of Scripture, or (better, if you're adequately educated for it) you read the Greek and Hebrew and Aramaic, and you make judgments about what is written in it. That is simply not the same as God telling you something, no matter what you think. Getting back to my law book analogy: my opinion about US Law might be interesting to me, but it has no legal weight whatsoever. And it's the same with God's standards. We need an authority, and the authority that we have been given is the Catholic Church with the Pope as Christ's Vicar. And thank God for it.

But this doesn't mean that every word uttered by the Pope has to be infallible. The Church's mission isn't to give us certain knowledge about every little thing; the Church's mission is to save souls. Through the Church's teaching we can have certainty about those things we need to know in order to be saved.

Besides, I think that we both know that even if every papal breath was infallible, it wouldn't have any bearing on your willingness to consider the Church's claims. So your criticism of the fact that infallibility is infrequently exercised is really a non-starter anyway: you don't object to the dogma as it is because you might become a Catholic if it were different; you just object to it.

The fact that Protestants don't agree even about non-negotiables makes it blindingly obvious that Protestant approaches to discovering truth are inadequate for the weight that is placed upon them. They all boil down to subjectivism.

I know, I know - you've heard all that before. Blah blah blah go Reginald and the Catholics. But we've heard your question before too. We can't help it if you don't like the answer. :-)

Peace,

RdP

Augustinian Successor said...

"But this doesn't mean that every word uttered by the Pope has to be infallible. The Church's mission isn't to give us certain knowledge about every little thing; the Church's mission is to save souls. Through the Church's teaching we can have certainty about those things we need to know in order to be saved."

Then by default, the sola Scriptura position is correct. Scripture claims to be infallible totally and absolutely (based on plenary inspiration). Its infallibility is not limited to Law and Gospel only, faith and morals only but to extend to history, geography, science, mathematics, etc. That being the case, who is the pope that he should sit in judgment over Scripture by dogmatising e.g. the Immaculate Conception?

Dozie said...

"Its infallibility is not limited to Law and Gospel only, faith and morals only but to extend to history, geography, science, mathematics, etc."

This is what happens when people do not allow themselves to be taught - they spew out rubbish and remain confident they cannot be corrected.

EA said...

....without a living voice of authority, you are left with no sufficient authority by which to discern truth. The Bible can't and doesn't "answer" questions per se.

Reginald, have you received a direct answer to a direct question to posed to the Magesterium?
I'm sure you have, otherwise the limitation that you attribute to the Bible (being non-responsive to questions) could be attributed to the Magesterium as well.

Please adivse me as to how I can receive answers from the Magesterium as well.

Is there a Magesterial "hotline number" that I can call to have my questions answered? Or do you send an email? What is the email address of the Magesterium? Can you forward it to me so I can put it in My Yahoo! email address book?

What about by mail instead, what is the address of the Magesterium?
How long does is it usually take for a Magesterial response to be infallibly mailed to my home? Does the postman need to be ordained to deliver the letter? Do I need a special Vatican approved mailbox to receive such an important reply to my question? Is there a typical time frame (6-8 weeks, for example) for delivery?

Which method of communication works best for you? I want to start taking advantage of this great feature as soon possible!

Many thanks!

Reginald de Piperno said...

A.S. and EA:

Like I said:

We've heard your question (questions, in this case) before. We've heard your objections. We've answered them. We can't help it if you don't like the answers, but I doubt that's the real problem. I don't think it's possible for us to offer answers that you would accept.

Isn't that right? Sure it is.

Peace,

RdP

Carrie said...

Alternatively perhaps you think you've identified a disconnect between Catholic apologetics and Catholic dogma

Yes, b/c after you say this you then say:

but you still need a judge to do the adjudicating according to the standard of divine revelation.

But the judge you offer cannot be fully trusted as he is only "rarely infallible" and for most people, he is never accessible to answer their questions.

because without a living voice of authority, you are left with no sufficient authority by which to discern truth.

So the bible is dead and so is the Holy Spirit?

Where is the scriptural support for that argument?

Reginald de Piperno said...

So the bible is dead and so is the Holy Spirit?

Where is the scriptural support for that argument?


Search me. Ask someone who thinks that way. I sure don't.

There's a difference between saying "the Bible is dead" (which I have never said) and saying that Protestants make claims about the Bible that are unjustifiable and irrational (which is what I have been saying).

As to the Holy Spirit - Why don't you clarify what you're asking so that you don't have to tell me that I missed the point. I didn't mention the Holy Spirit in my previous comments, so I don't know what you're talking about.

RdP

Carrie said...

There's a difference between saying "the Bible is dead" (which I have never said) and saying that Protestants make claims about the Bible that are unjustifiable and irrational (which is what I have been saying).

You said we need a "living voice" which I assume you assert b/c Protestants do not have a living voice in their own standard (the bible). I said dead, what would you prefer to say?

As to the Holy Spirit - Why don't you clarify what you're asking so that you don't have to tell me that I missed the point. I didn't mention the Holy Spirit in my previous comments, so I don't know what you're talking about.

Sorry Reg, I thought as a former Protestant you would understand the Protestant position here (not meant as a slight, just telling you my assumption).

The Protestant has the bible and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to guide them in their understanding. Not in an infallible way like you think we need, but that is how God decided to do things.

So when you say we need a "living voice" and assuming you believe that I as a Protestant do not have a "living voice", then I take that to mean that the bible and the Holy Spirit are not a "living voice" in your mind.

There's a difference between saying "the Bible is dead" (which I have never said) and saying that Protestants make claims about the Bible that are unjustifiable and irrational (which is what I have been saying).

BTW, when I said "dead" I had this paragraph from your catechism in mind:

CCC 108 "Still, the Christian faith is not a "religion of the book." Christianity is the religion of the "Word" of God, a word which is "not a written and mute word, but the Word is incarnate and living". If the Scriptures are not to remain a dead letter, Christ, the eternal Word of the living God, must, through the Holy Spirit, "open [our] minds to understand the Scriptures."

Is the Bible a "dead letter" for the Protestant? Why or why not?

Reginald de Piperno said...
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Reginald de Piperno said...

I wish there was a way to edit a comment rather than having to delete it in order to make small changes :-(

Reginald de Piperno said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Reginald de Piperno said...

Arrrrggh!

I can't get this post right!!! I have got to quit for the day. Really. :-(

Trying again for the third and hopefully last time...

Carrie,

I wanted an explicit statement from you because Protestants differ to some degree in their views concerning the Holy Spirit and Scripture. I did not wish to suppose that your views were consistent with what mine were. Additionally, experience shows that it is unwise to address anything other than explicit statements in blog comments; misunderstandings are bred by doing otherwise. :-)

The Protestant has the bible and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to guide them in their understanding. Not in an infallible way like you think we need, but that is how God decided to do things.

So what does it say about this model that Protestants disagree about things that are not adiophora? It's one thing to disagree about foods (Romans 14); it's another thing to disagree about baptism and the Lord's supper. Protestants do not even agree about what constitutes adiophora.

Don't misunderstand me: I'm not saying that Protestants have to agree about everything. Rather, I'm saying that Protestants do not agree about things that cannot reasonably be taken as matters of indifference.

And that is the red flag. If you, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are sufficient, why are there disagreements among you about important things? I think this situation forces the conclusion that the Holy Spirit doesn't work in the way that you think that he does.

On the other hand, maybe you suppose that it's no big deal (or some variation on that theme) for Christians to disagree about non-adiophora. I don't know. But I would say (whether that is your view or not - I don't know) that such a view would demolish any reasonable claim by Protestants to be able to discern the truth in the Bible except by accident.

The CCC answers your question concerning the conditions under which the Bible is not a dead letter - whether for Protestants or Catholics. See 111-114, for example - especially, with regard to the present discussion, 113 (Scripture must be read "within 'the living Tradition of the whole Church'"). The Holy Spirit vouchsafes the truth of Scripture to Christians through the Church.

If you don't think that's a sufficient response, you're going to have to explain what you're asking. To the best of my recollection I've never said that "the Bible is a dead letter for Protestants." Consequently I feel no burden to defend the proposition, and without you explaining what you mean by the question I feel no burden to try and answer it (beyond what I have already done).

RdP, off for the day (and possibly the rest of the weekend) on real-world affairs :-)

James Swan said...

So what does it say about this model that Protestants disagree about things that are not adiophora? It's one thing to disagree about foods (Romans 14); it's another thing to disagree about baptism and the Lord's supper. Protestants do not even agree about what constitutes adiophora.

If you read this blog even remotely regularly, you should know to apply whatever argument your making to your own position before posting it.

for instance, even more important than "baptism and the Lord's Supper" is the vehicle by which we even come to know of these two sacraments: sacred Scripture. Let's look at Rome’s claim for absolute unity and certainty on something fundamental and non-adiophora. Let's look at the Vatican II document, Dei Verbum:

107. The inspired books teach the truth. "Since therefore ALL that the inspired authors or sacred writers affirm should be regarded as affirmed by the Holy Spirit, we must acknowledge that the books of Scripture firmly, faithfully, and without error teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the Sacred Scriptures." [Vatican II DV 11]

This statement itself is prone to multiple interpretations within the Roman community. Conservative Roman Catholic apologists see this as a clear statement that the entirety of Scripture is without error. Some Roman Catholic scholars though (like R.A.F. MacKenzie and Raymond Brown) see the phrase “for the sake of our salvation” as limiting inerrency to only those sections of Scripture that teach about salvation.

Before you talk about important disagreements within Protestant churches, you should at least write to Rome and ask them if they can work out this fundamental issue.

Carrie said...

And that is the red flag. If you, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are sufficient, why are there disagreements among you about important things? I think this situation forces the conclusion that the Holy Spirit doesn't work in the way that you think that he does.

First, I agree with James. There are just as many disagreements in your own community. So if that argument were to work, it would also work against your own position.

Of course, your presupposition is that in order for something to be true, there must be no disagreement. Perhaps if the Protestant belief were that the indwelling of the HS provided infallible knowledge you would have a case, but that is not what Prots believe. The HS guides the believer in understanding scripture, over time, with study. It is not a Matrix-type download at regeneration.

But I would also have to ask you what are "important things"? Who decides what is or isn't important?

This need for certainty among Catholics just doesn't make any sense to me. I think it must stem from the basic confusion over justification and that you must keeping jumping through certain hoops to keep yourself in God's grace.

Protestants agree that we are saved by grace through faith in Christ. That is saving knowledge that comes from above. Our trust is in Christ's work alone for the forgiveness of sins and the promise of eternal life to all who believe. There is no disqualification for those true believer's who are on the wrong side of a given disagreement.

I would recommend this post from Triablogue that deals with some of the misconceptions you have brought up.

Scripture must be read "within 'the living Tradition of the whole Church'"). The Holy Spirit vouchsafes the truth of Scripture to Christians through the Church...If you don't think that's a sufficient response, you're going to have to explain what you're asking. To the best of my recollection I've never said that "the Bible is a dead letter for Protestants."

I guess you will need to define "within the living Tradition of the whole Church". Is this something that Protestant's have or not? Do Protestants have the "living voice" that you claim is needed?

You said earlier: "because without a living voice of authority, you are left with no sufficient authority by which to discern truth." to my question of "why do I need a Pope". I am assuming since I do not have a Pope (as a Protestant) that I do not have a living voice and unable to discern truth. Correct?

And if I do not have a living voice, the bible is a dead letter for me, correct?

Dozie said...

"Is the Bible a "dead letter" for the Protestant? Why or why not?"

This is a simple one. It is dead because the bible cannot read itself, it can't turn a page, and it has no impact until an acting person opens and read it. Perhaps you can recount the last time your bible has moved on its own or talked to you. You may also tell how the texts of the scriptures are alive, in, and of, themselves.

Dozie said...

First, I agree with James. There are just as many disagreements in your own community.

No, not so. First of all, we are Catholics; could you identify what you refer to as your community? Second, no one disagrees over defined Catholic teachings and remains a Catholic. Third, name the disagreements you see in the Catholic Church. Four, Protestants disagree just about every article of Christian Faith - the Person of Jesus, the Trinity, Baptism, their brands of communion, who is saved or can be saved, the second coming, etc, etc.

"So if that argument were to work, it would also work against your own position."

No, it would not work against the Catholic Church because in the Catholic Church, there are canonical means for resolving disagreements. There are means of making a judgment about particular situations.

"Of course, your presupposition is that in order for something to be true, there must be no disagreement."

No, but there must be a sensible way of dealing with disagreements. Do you have any such mechanism in your system of religion?

"The HS guides the believer in understanding scripture, over time, with study."

No, not exactly so. Over time; how long? With study; what is study? Do you read the texts over and over again, hoping to get a different meaning than the one you already have, or do you bring in John Macarthur and RC Sproul help? What if can't read or can't find a bible or live in places where there are no bible, will the Holy Spirit still be of help to you?

Carrie said...

This is a simple one. It is dead because the bible cannot read itself, it can't turn a page, and it has no impact until an acting person opens and read it.

Sigh.

Dozie, seriously, you need to get a better grasp of the subject before commenting. I don't even think most Catholics would agree with your simplicity here.

It's amazing that you believe a little wafer can become the actual body & blood of Christ, and yet still look and taste like a wafer, yet you cannot tell the difference between the content of the bible (God's breathed out revelation) and the "dead" material it is written on.

The difference between Cats & Prots here is not whose bible can dance, but when we read or hear the written word of God, whether we can understand it to the saving of our souls, or do we need someone else to interpret it for us.

Dozie said...
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Dozie said...
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Dozie said...

"...yet you cannot tell the difference between the content of the bible (God's breathed out revelation) and the "dead" material it is written on."

If one had any wisdom, one would know or at least recognize that God's breathed out revelation is not equivalent to written material. God's primary revelation according Christian doctrine is Jesus Christ himself. Man, the imag dei, is also a revelation of God.

It is not ok to just throw words together.

Dozie said...

"It's amazing that you believe a little wafer can become the actual body & blood of Christ, and yet still look and taste like a wafer, yet you cannot tell the difference between the content of the bible (God's breathed out revelation) and the "dead" material it is written on."

Of course one has to be totally depraved to doubt what God can or cannot do.

"The difference between Cats & Prots here is not whose bible can dance, but when we read or hear the written word of God, whether we can understand it to the saving of our souls..."

The question here is not about being funny; it is whether your bible has any life in, and of, itself, apart from that supplied by an acting person?

"...or do we need someone else to interpret it for us."

I have in an earlier post indicated that having the written text by itself is of no profit, and just reading it will be of little profit, as in the case of the Ethiopian Eunuch, who the bible says was reading from the Prophets.

We need interpreters (as with Phillip and Ethiopian Eunuch) to help us understand a particular message in conformity with the totality of God’s entire revelation.

Of course Proverbs 13:18 says: "Poverty and shame shall be to him that refuseth instruction". Again, it is only a fool that will refuse instruction.

Carrie said...

If one had any wisdom, one would know or at least recognize that God's breathed out revelation is not equivalent to written material.

"All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness" 2Tim 3:16

Try again.

Dozie said...

"All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness" 2Tim 3:16"

Read again:

"If one had any wisdom, one would know or at least recognize that God's breathed out revelation is not equivalent to written material."

Matt said...

Happy reading!

http://www.amazon.com/Magisterium-Guardian-Avery-Cardinal-Dulles/dp/1932589384