Papal infallibility was proclaimed by the First Vatican Council in 1870 as follows:
“We deem it most necessary to assert solemnly the prerogative which the Only-begotten Son of God deigned to enjoin with the highest pastoral office. And so We, adhering faithfully to the tradition received from the beginning of the Christian faith, to the glory of God, our Savior, the elevation of the Catholic religion and the salvation of Christian peoples, with the approbation of the sacred Council, teach and explain that the dogma has been divinely revealed: that the Roman Pontiff, when he speaks ex cathedra, that is, when carrying out the office of pastor and teacher of all Christians, by virtue of his supreme apostolic authority he defines a doctrine regarding faith or morals to be held by the universal Church, through the divine assistance promised him in blessed Peter, possesses that infallibility with which the divine Redeemer willed that His Church be endowed for defining doctrine regarding faith and morals; and so such definitions of the Roman Pontiff of themselves, and not from the consensus of the Church, are irreformable. But if anyone presumes to contradict this definition of ours, which may God forbid: let him be anathema.”
As Vicar of Christ, the pope has a special power called papal infallibility.
Many non-Catholics and some Catholics misunderstand the concept of papal infallibility. They think it means that whatever the pope says is always correct. Some understand it to mean that the pope cannot sin. These are very wrong notions.
Papal infallibility means that the pope is preserved from the possibility of error in virtue of Jesus’ promise to Peter and the other apostles of the protection of the Holy Spirit to guide them into all the truth. (John 16:13).
The infallibility of the pope happens only when the pope, speaking from the chair of St. Peter, defines a teaching on faith and morals as true. The pope usually does this when a doctrine has been called into question.
It does not apply to any of the pope’s comments in an interview. It does not apply to the way the pope conducts his daily duties. If you find something wrong in what the pope said in an interview, do not pass judgment right away. The media might have misinterpreted what he said. You might have misinterpreted it. Pray for enlightenment both for you and the pope. The pope needs our prayers at all times.
Papal infallibility was defined only in 1870 but this does not mean that it only became true in that year or as others say, was invented by the Catholic Church. It has always been true and was practiced from the earliest times.
Papal infallibility is implicitly taught in some Bible verses like Luke 22:32 ‘but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren.’ and John 16:13 When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth.
Because of papal infallibility we have the Holy Bible.
Without this dogma of papal infallibility, we would be like lost and scattered sheep not knowing where to go and who to follow. We would be trying to discern the right teaching relying only on our own limited understanding like many non-Catholics do today.
Because of papal infallibility dogma, we Catholics remain united in our beliefs that are based on the truth revealed by the Holy Spirit.
Take note that in times when the pope was known to be a bad pope, no defining of any controversial doctrine using papal infallibility was ever done. The Church is indeed guided by the Holy Spirit.
Whatever the pope declared as true through papal infallibility, we Catholics should believe as true.
As Catholics, we should give respect to the pope, the Vicar of Christ. He is the representative of Jesus who is the Head of our Church. We should always remember Luke 10:16, “He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me.”
And remember, we Catholics do not worship the pope as others say. We honor the pope because he is the Vicar of Christ.
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