Sunday, March 17, 2013

Is the Pope "Infallible"? - a response to Moises Pinedo

An old school friend, who still attends the Baptist church that we attended as teenagers, recently asked me, as a Catholic, to explain Papal Infallibility. As part of his question, he linked the following article providing a not unusual apologetic against the Catholic Church’s teaching on this topic:
I responded in two parts to my friend – the first part explaining what the Catholic Church actually teaches about Papal Infallibility (see here); and the second part was my response to Moises Pinedo’s article, which I have included below.

Pinedo’s article is basically a misrepresentation of what the Catholic Church truly teaches. Sadly, this is a common flaw in anti-Catholic apologetics. I have nothing against people who make solid arguments against the Catholic faith; but more often than not the Church’s teachings are taken out of context and/or misrepresented…and the large majority of anti-Catholic Protestants unquestioningly and unwaveringly adopt these weak arguments against the Catholic Church and because of them will refuse to hear anything that tries to correct them.
Pinedo starts by given a statement from the First Dogmatic Constitution (Vatican I) stating that when the Pope speaks “Ex Cathedra” he possesses infallibility. That’s a great start…but that’s unfortunately where it ends for Pinedo. His whole article basically falls flat because he misunderstands and misrepresents what it means for the Pope to speak “Ex Cathedra”.

Pinedo says that “papal infallibility means that the pope makes, or should make, no mistakes in matters concerning the doctrine of the Catholic Church”. This is not what the First Dogmatic Constitution was saying. What it DID say was WHEN the Pope speaks “Ex Cathedra”...
In other words, Pinedo incorrectly equates EVERYTHING the Pope says with “Ex Cathedra” – but as I pointed out in the first part of my response to you, what Pinedo equates with “Ex Cathedra” is NOT what the Catholic Church understands as “Ex Cathedra”. 

Thus, the Pope’s own private opinions are NOT “Ex Cathedra” statements; and even if he puts pen to paper (e.g. in a book) this is still not “Ex Cathedra”. So, a Pope can make mistakes regarding doctrine. But what he cannot do…rather, what the Holy Spirit will preserve him from doing (“sola gratia”), is make a definitive declaration on faith or morals which is heretical. Like Cardinal Cajetan correctly said (as quoted by Pinedo), the Pope, as a private individual, is as fallible as any other person.
When Pinedo makes the accusation that this is all “very convenient, since Catholicism itself defines what is ‘official’”, he really isn’t being fair. The Church has already defined what is necessary for a statement to be “Ex Cathedra” – it’s not like the Church is retrospectively amending this definition to make it fit the mould depending on what definitive statements Pope’s might make. 

Pinedo says that “Innumerable ‘clarifications’ have been offered to calm Catholics” and to “satisfy the demands of infallibility”. This is far from true. Pinedo seems to think that because he is unnerved by Papal Infallibility (in his own misunderstanding of what it really is) Catholics, who actually understand what it REALLY is, must also be just as unnerved. On the contrary, Catholics are quite comfortable with the doctrine of Papal Infallibility and do not require to “be calmed” due to something any particular Pope may have said outside of the realms of “Ex Cathedra”. In fact, it should be remembered that instances of these infallible declarations by Popes are extremely rare; and there have been only TWO such declarations in the last 150 years i.e.:
1)      The Immaculate Conception (1854); and
2)      The Assumption of Mary (1950).

Be that as it may, Pinedo gives a few examples of what he deems to be contradictions in “infallible” statements made by various Popes and Councils of the Church. Even if we granted that the Papal statements were doctrinally incorrect, this wouldn’t necessarily pose a problem, given that they were not made “Ex Cathedra”. But this is irrelevant, because I think that when the statements are understood in context, the apparent contradictions disappear.
I will deal with these briefly and hopefully show that these are not actually contradictions, as Pinedo presumes.

1)      Pinedo says that the “recognition of the theory of evolution as more than a hypothesis” destroys the reality of Adam and that “humanity carries the sin of the first man”. But this is a straw-man argument. The theory of evolution can be reconciled with the historicity of Adam and Eve as our first parents. For example, God could have used the process of evolution to create Adam and Eve as the first human beings. The Bible doesn’t provide a scientific description of HOW God created Adam and Eve. So to acknowledge evolution, doesn’t necessarily mean a denial of Adam and Eve as the first parents of the entire human race.
2)      Pinedo sees Vatican II’s high esteem of Muslims as contradictory to what Vatican I had to say about “the abandonment and rejection of the Christian religion”.

In a similar vein, he regards that when Vatican II said that it rejects nothing that is true and holy in other religions (e.g. Hinduism, Buddhism, etc.) this was a contradiction of Vatican I which said that anyone who didn’t receive the Canonical Scriptures as declared by Trent was anathema.

What Pinedo is doing here is making an issue appear bigger than it is. Just because a certain religion doesn’t accept Christ, does not mean that there isn’t some good in that religion. For example, Buddhists seek harmony and peace with everyone and everything. That is an attribute to be commended. Muslims worship one God and seek to live lives of high morals. Another attribute to be commended. So, these things that are good in other religions should be acknowledged as good, and often we can learn from others in this way too.

The other thing to bear in mind here is context. When Vatican I speaks about the “abandonment and rejection of the Christian religion”, it needs to be remembered that these other faiths never accepted Christianity in the first place – so they can’t be said to have “abandoned” it.

And when Vatican I speaks about receiving as “sacred and canonical the complete books of Sacred Scripture will all their parts, as the holy Council of Trent listed them”, the context is more specifically addressed towards the Protestant Reformation where certain books, which have always been received as Sacred Scripture, were rejected. Which brings me to the next point…

3)      Pinedo thinks that Vatican II’s acceptance of Christians who do not adhere to Catholic doctrine is contradictory to Vatican I. But again, the statements provided from Vatican I (i.e. those regarding the Canon of Scripture and Petrine primacy) were made in the context of the Protestant Reformation. And in this regard, the Church recognises the principles of ignorance and culpability. In other words, Protestants today cannot be held responsible for what happened in the revolt which brought schism and division to the Body of Christ in the Protestant Reformation. In fact, many Protestants are so badly misinformed about what the Catholic Church really teaches, that if they knew the truth of it, many of them would return to the fold. But the same cannot be said for the Protestants who were responsible for the Reformation – they knew better what they were rejecting, and for the Church rightly condemns them for the division that they have caused.
Pinedo concludes his article by claim that “the doctrine of papal infallibility has caused, and continues to cause, many people to accept false doctrines”, a few examples which he goes on to list.

His claim is that these “false doctrines” are unbiblical. But this isn’t true because a biblical basis can be made for each of those listed:
a)      Assumption of Mary (e.g. Rev 12:1ff)

b)      Canonisation of Saints (e.g. Heb 11 & Heb 12:1ff)

c)      Evolution – Gen 1 and Gen 2 contain certain discrepancies which can lean towards showing that Gen 1 is not necessarily an actual “blow-by-blow” literal and scientific account of the Creation. Interestingly, on this point, he exaggerates what Pope John Paul II said about evolution, and now claims that the Church teaches the “factuality” of evolution. Actually, the Church doesn’t have an official stance on evolution. Catholics are free to agree or disagree with the theory of evolution. The thing that we are required to believe is that God created all things from nothing. It is not the HOW that matters; it is the fact that He is the Author of Creation.
If you have read Pinedo's article, you may notice that there was one supposed “false doctrine” listed by Pinedo that I haven’t listed above, and for a good reason. He claims that people who follow the Bible alone will reject the false doctrine of original sin. Now, if Pinedo is correct, this immediately poses a problem for many Protestants who adhere to Sola Scriptura as well as the doctrine of original sin.

What this highlights is that the doctrine of Sola Scriptura is far more susceptible to giving rise to heresies than the doctrine of Papal Infallibility. This is because Sola Scriptura is a self-defeating principle which leaves the interpretation of Scripture open to the private individual. All of the Ancient heresies that the Church has condemned throughout the ages (and which many Protestants continue to condemn themselves) sprung up because someone decided to interpret the Bible in a way that runs contradictory to the way it had been received, and every single one of those heretics  used Scripture to back up their claims. Even in situations which don’t end up in full-blown heresy, the history of Protestant denominationalism is proof of what happens when the Reformers’ principle of “private interpretation” meets “Sola Scriptura”.
Furthermore, it needs to be pointed out that principle of Sola Scriptura is actually never taught in the Bible itself. And even if it was, it would be nothing more than a circular argument i.e.

I only believe what the Bible says because the Bible is true. How do I know the Bible is true? Because it says it is.
Beyond this circular argument is also the fact that the Bible never stands alone…it always stands upon someone’s interpretation of it. So, Sola Scriptura really is the wrong “catch-phrase”. It would be more correct to claim “Sola Mea” or “The Bible alone as I interpret it”.

As a far more reasonable alternative to Sola Scriptura is what St. Paul taught when he reminded St. Timothy that it is the Church (not the Bible) which is the pillar and foundation of truth (1 Tim 3:15). Not only does this make logical sense, but it also makes sense of the historical fact that the Church preceded the Bible i.e. the Church was preaching the Gospel and teaching doctrine long before the New Testament was even written. The Church gave us the Bible, and not vice versa. If the Bible is the Church’s book, then it is the Church’s privilege and responsibility to teach us how best to interpret it. And thanks be to God, when the Church does so in exercising her teaching office (Magisterium), the Holy Spirit guides her so that Christians can be assured that what the Church teaches is true.

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