MOSAIC Spring 2015 - Page 9

1. The pope possesses this gift not to “make 2. Papal infallibility is constrained to only a known some new doctrine, but that, by [the certain area: “The Roman Pontiff, head of Holy Spirit’s] assistance, [the successors of the college of bishops, enjoys this infallibility Peter] might religiously guard and faithfully in virtue of his office when . . . he proclaims expound the revelation or deposit of faith in an absolute decision a doctrine pertaintransmitted by the ing to faith and mor7 apostles.”3 “The pope is not infallible als.” The pope is not The charism is infallible if he speaks if he speaks about given to the pope in about chemistry or his teaching office so calculus. It is only in chemistry or calculus.” that the authentic the arena where our faith that was taught by Jesus can be passed salvation is played out—faith and morals. on faithfully. In the Church, we profess the This is, again, to preserve untarnished the same faith Peter and the apostles received knowledge of salvation (cf. 1 Tm 2:4). from Jesus and the same faith for which the martyrs in myriad times and places jus- 3. His exercise of this charism must be clear: tifiably laid down their lives. “By virtue of his office, the Supreme Pontiff possesses infallibility in teaching when . . . 2. The transmission of the faith has eter- he proclaims by definitive act that a docnal consequences. Therefore, the accurate trine of faith and morals must be upheld.”8 and complete knowledge of its content is Who Possesses Infallibility? vitally important. The charism of infallibility is given to The pope is not infallible for his own sake but rather “for the continual sal- the Holy Father as we’ve seen above, but vation and permanent benefit of the he is not the only possessor of this charism. Church.”4 Hearing the Gospel elicits in “The infallibility promised to the Church us the response: What must I do to be saved? is also present in the body of bishops (cf. Acts 16:30). Knowing that our faith when, together with Peter’s successor, they has been transmitted to us free from error exercise the supreme teaching office.”9 allows us with sure confidence to respond On analogy with the pope’s extraordito the evangelical call with all our heart, nary exercise of the charism of infallibilsoul, mind, and strength (cf. Mk 12:30). ity in his teaching ex cathedra is the case We do not have to second-guess ourselves of the bishops, in union with the pope, about something so important. speaking infallibly when they teach on faith and morals in a solemn way in an 3. “The Bishop of Rome must ensure the ecumenical council. Most of the solemnly communion of all the Churches. He is the defined truths of our faith have been exfirst servant of unity.”5 The pope’s charism pressed through this exercise of the infalof infallibility gives all local Churches con- lible universal magisterium. fidence that they remain in the One, Holy, While these are unusual events—ecuCatholic, and Apostolic faith. Peter’s pri- menical councils and infallible papal macy and infallibility provide a stable proclamations—the Church exercises foundation for Christ’s Church.6 her charism of infallibility through the “ordinary magisterium” as well. This occurs when the bishops throughout What Are the Conditions of the world and in union with the Holy Infallibility? This infallibility is not tied to every Father authoritatively present a teachstatement our Holy Father makes. There ing as part of God’s revelation. The are certain conditions outlined for us to consistent and clear teachings, for exknow when he is exercising this charism ample, on the perpetual virginity of the Blessed Virgin Mary have never in its fullest way: been definitively pronounced by an 1. The pope exercises the charism of infal- ecumenical council. Nevertheless, it is libility when he speaks ex cathedra (“from infallibly taught through the Church’s the chair”), that is, in his official capacity. ordinary magisterium. A Charism of Confidence Because the revelation of Jesus Christ is so precious—nothing less than the offer of eternal salvation—God knew that it must be protected from man’s weakness. This protection takes the shape of the gift of infallibility. Were the Church not able to identify definitively what is part of divine revelation about faith and morals, our confidence in Christ’s gift to us would be shaken. As Blessed John Henry Newman observed, “A revelation is not given, if there be no authority to decide what it is that is given.”10 The Church possesses this great charism for the building up of God’s people so that together we can proclaim our crucified and risen Lord. The infallibility of the Church and her magisterium gives all of us the confidence to share the Gospel without puzzling about what to say and the confidence to invite others to respond. Most Rev. Allen H. Vigneron is Archbishop of Detroit. In November, he was voted to a three-year term as chairman of the Committee on Doctrine of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. NOTES cf. Second Vatican Council: Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum) (1965), 11. 2 First Vatican Council: Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith (Dei Filius) (1870), 4. 3 Dei Filius, 4. 4 Dei Filius, 2. 5 John Paul II, UЁU