The Impractical Catholic’s Guide to Infallibility

college, university, catholic education

doctrine, church history, saints

There are two common and distinct approaches to the question of the infallibility of the Church’s teaching authority. Non-Catholics deny that any human person or institution can be infallible in any meaningful way. Many Catholics, by contrast, hold that the Church can and does teach infallibly on matters pertaining to faith and morals — except when she teaches something they don’t want to believe.

Infallibility is at the same time one of the most controversial and least understood dogmas of the Catholic Church. Even people who do understand infallibility argue over what teachings it covers and doesn’t cover, while others make errors of distinction between dogma, to which infallibility does apply, and discipline, to which it does not. (Discipline refers to the liturgical and ecclesiastical practices of the Church; e.g., clerical celibacy and meatless Fridays.) Moreover, many Catholics themselves are confused as to the extent of the Church’s teaching authority; they understand there are issues to which the Church can’t speak … but not that the Church isn’t strictly limited by its nature to commenting only on religious issues.

The What and Why of Infallibility

Let’s start off simply: What do we mean by infallibility? To say that the Church teaches infallibly is simply to say that the Church can’t teach errors; put differently, you can safely trust what she teaches. That, however, doesn’t mean that any given teaching is necessarily perfect. Let me draw an analogy: If I were to ask a class of math students, “What is the sum of two plus two?”, they could answer “an even number”, “an integer”, or “a real number”; these answers are all correct, even though none of them is necessarily the best answer to the question.

Why would the Church need infallibility? Jesus’ mandate to the apostles was to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). The Church exists to teach what Jesus and the apostles taught — not what they should have taught, not what they would have taught “had they known what we know now.” The doctrine of infallibility asserts that Christ himself guarantees the integrity of the gospel message through the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

What Scriptural basis do we have for asserting the Church’s infallibility? First, at the Last Supper, Jesus promised the apostles, the leaders of his Church, that the Father would send them the Holy Spirit to “teach [them] all things, and bring to [their] remembrance all that I have said to [them]” (John 14:26), and that the “Spirit of truth” would “guide [them] into all the truth” (John 16:13). Moreover, Jesus promised to be with his Church “always, to the close of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Also, St. Peter reminds his audience that the apostles have “the prophetic word made more sure,” and that prophecy, such as those recorded in the Old Testament, doesn’t come “by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit [speak] from God” (2 Peter 1:19-21). And St. Paul called the Church “the pillar and bulwark [or foundation] of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).

The quality of infallibility, then, isn’t a function of the holiness, the wisdom, or the zeal of the Church’s leadership. Indeed, Hilaire Belloc once quipped that “no merely human institution conducted with such knavish imbecility would have lasted a fortnight.” Rather, it’s lent to the Church, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the presence of Christ with his Church; ironically, Protestant preachers, especially Evangelicals, assert this same guidance even as they deny infallibility to anything but Scripture.

The Infallible Magisterium

Most of the Church’s infallible teachings, or dogmas (also called dogmata), have been explicitly declared in the canons and decrees of various ecumenical councils. (Key distinction: dogmas are irreformable; doctrines can be modified.) Infallibility assumes that the ecumenical council is not only “in communion with the pope” (i.e., having papal approval) but has gone to great lengths to declare their permanence, very often anathematizing those people who would contradict them.

Other infallible dogmas are stated in the creeds, particularly the Apostles’ Creed and the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed. Anything that’s part of the deposit of divine revelation is considered infallible; in fact, infallibility assumes that the doctrine is either directly revealed or closely connected to the revelation.

The First Vatican Council in its fourth session on July 18, 1870, formally defined and declared the infallibility of the pope. I refer you to an online copy of the Council’s First Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of Christ, which set out their historical and theological rationale; for our purposes, we need only discuss its limits. Strictly speaking, infallibility is only granted to the pope “when [he] speaks ex cathedra, that is, when, [1] in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, [2] in virtue of his apostolic authority, [3] he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole Church” (First Dogmatic Constitution, 9).

As defined by the Council, this is such an extraordinary exercise of the papal teaching office that only two pontifically-declared dogmas are universally agreed to fit the criteria: the Assumption and the Immaculate Conception. The point is, not everything that falls out of the pope’s mouth or comes out of his pen is indisputably infallible; in fact, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI wrote his series on Jesus under his baptismal name, Joseph Ratzinger, specifically to avoid any claim of infallibility. Certainly Pope Francis’ off-the-cuff remarks and media interviews aren’t covered!

The Fallible Magisterium

The extraordinary measures of councils and popes are referred to collectively as the sacred magisterium. By contrast, the ordinary magisterium of the Church is the everyday exercise of her teaching authority, in which neither the pope nor any council of bishops goes so far to cast doctrine in concrete (but see below). Doctrines can and do develop, especially as time, technological development, and the ever-inquisitive nature of Man create questions and issues that require the Church’s attention; e.g., Catholic social teaching.

Confusingly, there is also a class of teachings that belong to the ordinary and universal magisterium, which despite the name are actually part of the sacred magisterium, and are also considered infallible even though not defined and decreed as are other dogmas. One particularly controversial example is the restriction of ordination to men alone, as reaffirmed by Pope St. John Paul II in his apostolic letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis in 1994 (see the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s ad dubitum response issued 28 October 1995).

Take note that the Church’s magisterium applies to matters of both faith and morals. While not every field of human endeavor has an application pertaining to matters of faith, most if not all have a moral dimension. Thus, for instance, the pope couldn’t tell economists how to properly discern the gross domestic product of a nation, or how to correctly define the marginal propensity to consume; he can, however, properly talk about the right to fair wages and the universal destination of goods. It’s nigh on impossible, then, to draw bright lines that set off whole subjects as “outside the Church’s competence”, subjects about which the pope and the Church can only say things we can safely, blissfully ignore.

What Do I Not Have to Believe?

Okay, so let’s say you find a way to list every dogma the Catholic Church has concretized by formal declaration. You could even go to a source, like Dr. Ludwig Ott’s seminal work Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, and obtain from it the theological weight of every teaching (at least up to 1954), from the highest (de fide, “of the faith”) to the lowest (opinio tolerata, “tolerated opinion”). Could you then openly dissent anything that isn’t at least “theologically certain”?

That in itself is debatable. While anything that’s been proposed “for belief as divinely revealed” must be “adhered to with the obedience of faith” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 891; cf. Dei Verbum 10.2, Lumen Gentium 25), there’s also this little catch-all:

Divine assistance is also given to the successors of the apostles, teaching in communion with the successor of Peter, and, in a particular way, to the bishop of Rome, pastor of the whole Church, when, without arriving at an infallible definition and without pronouncing in a “definitive manner,” they propose in the exercise of the ordinary Magisterium a teaching that leads to better understanding of Revelation in matters of faith and morals. To this ordinary teaching the faithful “are to adhere to it with religious assent” which, though distinct from the assent of faith, is nonetheless an extension of it. (CCC 892; cf. Lumen Gentium 25; italics mine)

“Divine assistance” can be considered a kind of lower-case infallibility. While not directly asserting that the teaching proposed is error-free, it implies that most if not all reasonable objections have already been raised and answered at least once, and that the doctrine is the best that can be offered at this time. As such, it’s theologically certain enough that the protection of the Holy Spirit can be reasonably presumed albeit not explicitly asserted. In any event, unless you’re a priest or degreed theologian with a mandatum from your local bishop, you’re on safer grounds not disputing even low-weight doctrines.

Critics may argue that the presumption of infallibility imposes a kind of “groupthink”, making doctrinal advance impossible. However, we must be careful to distinguish authentic reform from corrupting innovation. As I’ve said at immoderate length elsewhere, “The gospel message the Church exists to preach is not her own — it belongs to Christ.” This “groupthink” is the Church’s best protection, the best means we have to insure the integrity of the gospel message and of that continuity between us and the first generation of Christians we call the apostolic tradition. The evangelium is not a suit of clothes to be replaced with every change of cultural fashion; to paraphrase Cdl. Timothy Dolan, we can in a sense “re-wrap” the Faith for better understanding, but we can’t change what that wrapping packs.

Avoiding the Cafeteria Line

Catholic teaching is broad and deep; it’s difficult to know every dogma or doctrine, even if you went to good Catholic schools from kindergarten to college. As well, it’s safe to assert that Catholic religious formation has been suffering in the US for many decades, arguably even before Vatican II. The pejorative label “cafeteria Catholicism” isn’t meant to apply to defects of understanding and education, but rather to deliberate, conscious heterodoxy.

There are plenty of resources available, both online and at your local Catholic bookstore, to help you learn exactly what the Church believes, some of which I’ve linked to in this post. At the end of the day, though, no one can make you believe what the Church believes … except you yourself. As Fr. Dwight Longenecker recently wrote:

The Catholic Church needs diversity of opinion. It’s healthy for family members to disagree, and debate is one of the ways the Holy Spirit leads the Church. But both progressives and traditionalists must constantly measure their personal opinions and preferences against the magisterium of the Church and her authority.

Faith is ultimately an act of trust — trust in the truth of God, trust in the reliability of His Word, trust in the action of the Holy Spirit. The Church doesn’t ask you to trust the pope or the bishops; she asks you to trust in Christ’s promise that “the gate of Hades shall not prevail against” his Church (Matthew 16:18).


The author gratefully acknowledges the advice of John Médaille.

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34 thoughts on “The Impractical Catholic’s Guide to Infallibility”

  1. IMO, Jesus, God Almighty is infallible. If He were to universally appear on every TV in the world, speaking so that everyone could understand Him, and He said that the Muslims are dead wrong in their beliefs and way of life, well, who in the world would say He was wrong? Same for homosexual marriage. In the Roman Catholic Church, “Infallibility” declarations don’t refer to stuff like that. “The Blessed Mother is in Heaven-body and soul” is the type of statement that is Roman Catholic Infallibility agenda. If the Holy Father would preach against Totalitarianism and other social evils, he wouldn’t punctuate his statements with “And I’m infallible-Jesus told me-so you’ve got to believe me.” Just not done, or expected. Again, IMO, all the respect and reverence that Roman Catholics have developed for the Vicar of Jesus over the centuries, have made-in certain quarters-the Pope into some kind of God, infallible in everything he says or does. For those of us in other quarters, this “modus credendi” is just not so.

  2. Vatican I could probably have handled the issue of infallibility a bit better but given the temperament of Pius IX, I suppose we should be thankful it did not turn out any worse. The sainted Pope was not known for his delicacy or diplomacy. Some of this was natural considering the tumultuous times the papal states was going through but the effects are felt today and were responsible for the schism of the Old Catholics. While the doctrine is quite real, its manner of presentation has not always gone over well and still does not in many quarters.

  3. Where does it end. I am poor and the rich give everything to me. I am no longer poor so I in turn have to give everything back to the formerly rich guy who is now poor.

    1. ??? I know of no Catholic teaching that requires the rich to impoverish themselves in order to support the poor. In fact, you have to be a “have” to some exent in order to take care of the “have-nots”. And, if you keep in mind the example of the Widow’s Mite (Mark 12:41-44), even the working poor can contribute to the support of the destitute. So what brings this hyperbole here?

  4. I disagree but it was a terrific attempt and a lot of work. Home mortgage people have brains….so does Anthony. Catholic writers though are minimising the problems. Torture is now an intrinsic evil in section 80 of Splendor of the Truth by St. JPII despite the Church having used it for centuries and it is so by a catechism definition of torture that unwittingly condemns Christ’s whipping the money changers out of the temple. Slavery in the same encyclical is called an intrinsic evil too in ignorance of God giving perpetual chattel slavery over foreigners to the Jews in Leviticus 25:44-46. Popes can’t contradict Scripture but they have to know it in order to avoid that. I’m no slavery fan but it is contextual not intrinsic as a moral value. Nomadic cultures ( deep in the Amazon right now as in ancient Israel) need slavery to handle criminals, debtors, and enemies captured in war…because they don’t have prisons deep in the Amazon ergo if they catch a burglar, he must pay by work not by prison which they don’t have.

    Ccc 892 is itself non infallible. Lumen Gentium 25’s religious submission of mind and will to the non infallible is itself non infallible. Non infallible sources are cited by all Catholic writers to lead people to obedience in morals. But now that bad habit is getting people killed in the death penalty innovation of St. John Paul II which the IQ bandwidth of Catholicism solidifies as moral teaching which must be good….which must be then true. China, bad in many respects but better than westerners think ( they’ve coerced lower drug prices over two hundred times…we should be so lucky) and (they have curtailed 15% of executions in recent years).. China is far more pro life as to murder victims than the Catholic Church. Middle class dominant nations or states have low murder rates with or without the death penalty…Sweden, Austria,
    Maine, New Hamshire, luxembourg, Monaco. They are the only areas St. JPII possibly looked at if any when he came up with his death penalty reversal which Catholic spin control then called a development. Lol. Let’s forget middle class dominant countries though…Europe and Canada. Let’s look at the rest of the world in such countries which have large poor populations. Guess what? The death penalty is a factor in reducing murder…saving lives. East Asia has a murder rate of 1 per 100,000 with a billion poor people and largely death penalty. The two largest Catholic countries, Brazil and Mexico, no death penalty for acatholic reasons have 24/20 per 100,000 respectively. Thousands are being murdered per year in the two largest Catholic countries unnecessarily in the abscence of obeying Gen.9:5-6 and ccc 2260 which no one quotes in the Catholic media…no one. St. JPII did zip in world research on murder deterrence…zip. And Popes do that because they are surrounded by posterior osculators or courtiers as Pope Francis calls them. Instead he and the catechism changed the meaning of deterrence to mean…deterring not many murderers but only the one you caught so that if you kept him in solitary, you were deterring murder..lbut only by him. Brazil only captures 8% of their murderers…Quaremala catches 5%. Yet group think has an entire Church accepting one Pope’s bizarre innovation and he obviously left a papal memo for his successors to market it as Pope Francis did before Congress after a fast reference to the unborn.
    Moral teaching in Catholicism is often fallible and no paid writer is about to say that because many of them don’t have other jobs as Anthony does which is why his piece even dared mention innovation and lower caee doctrine at all.

    1. While not agreeing or disagreeing with your conclusions you cant say china has fewer murders than Brazil so it must be because of the death penalty. That is very poor reasoning.

    2. You skipped one of my sentences:
      “The death penalty is A FACTOR in reducing murder…saving lives.”

      If you think it’s not, you must feel God was remiss in giving the Jews over 33 death penalties for sins like sodomy in the law. Did God say to Himself…. ” I know it does not deter…but I’ll mandate them anyway?”. God ended them only when Christ did several things: brought sanctifying grace Jn.1:17; reduced satan’s power Luke 10:18; and began to draw all men to Himself Jn.12:32. God did not end the separate dp for murder…Gen.9:5-6 echoed post Christ in Rom.13:4…and ccc 2260.

    3. I like it when people who don’t really know what they are talking about write very long, detailed comments showing they have a finely developed art of avoiding whole arenas of thought.

    4. Trolls are most often brief….as in your above barb….and as in your comment history at disque. Prove me wrong. Refute my post datum for datum.

    5. Actually, Elijah fan, paid writers are just as apt to spout fountains of half-truths, factoids, and other sorts of mishegoss as unpaid writers who have other jobs to fall back on. If you really think Catholics who are paid to write won’t dispute infallibility, you really need to climb out of your cynical box and start reading around more.

      1) I don’t propose to debate capital punishment here, as it’s a distraction from the main topic. I do note, however, that the main focus of your diatribe is Veritatis Splendor. No one, so far as I know, claims infallibility for that encyclical, nor does it qualify under the terms of Vatican I. In fact, if you didn’t restrict your reading of the Catechism to what you could cherry-pick, you’ll know the Church still holds capital punishment to be a legitimate recourse of the State (CCC 2267); the Catechism postdates VS.

      2) Your claim that the Catechism implicitly condemns Jesus for whipping the merchants out of the Temple depends on using a single word to expand the concept of torture beyond the Catechism’s intent. Is it a fallacy of scope, a straw man, or an equivocation? You decide; in any event, you should restrict your cherry-picking to an orchard.

      3) The fact that the Law of Moses — which Christians are no longer bound to observe, as even the vast majority of Evangelicals will argue — permitted chattel slavery is no indication that it could not be restricted or forbidden at a later date. Jesus himself isn’t recorded to have spoken one way or another on slavery; however, he did give his Church the power to speak with his voice (Luke 10:16), and promised that what his Church bound on earth would be bound in heaven (Matthew 16:19, 18:18).

      4) Almost all your argument depends on a failure (if not outright refusal) to distinguish what is doctrinal, for which neither infallibility nor irreformability is claimed, from what is dogmatic, which is concretized. Doctrine can, does, and has developed, especially the Church’s moral doctrines. Even James R. White, no fan of the Catholic Church, admitted that sola scriptura doesn’t rule out the development of doctrine over time; Jesus himself compared the kingdom of God to a mustard seed (Luke 13:18-19), something that grows and ramifies over time.

      I don’t propose to defend any of the Church’s moral teachings here; that goes well beyond the scope of the post and would dig far too many rabbit holes in this combox. I’ll simply sign off by saying that you haven’t refuted anything I’ve said, and you’ve “disproven” quite a few things I didn’t say.

    6. Show me Mark Shea or Jimmy Akin challenging a sitting Pope on an issue. I suspect Hahn and Madrid would not also. Ed Peters just did on the 45 day annullment when both wife and husband agree to breakup. Peters pointed out that their agreement had zero to do with the truth of their readiness for the sacrament moment back when they made their vows. Why expedite two people who want freedom from each other when that desire is not germane to the validity.
      As a person at 1 Peter V pointed out, the catechism in ccc 2267 states technical belief in the death penalty and then guts it by saying that modern penology makes it rarely necessary. Then the Popes proceeded to dissent from even that ccc 2267 ( JPII calling the dp cruel in 1999 to the world press…something God mandated repeatedly to the Jews and once to us) and three Popes have sought abolition which guts even the technical acceptance of the death penalty. Weirdly ccc 2267 was delusional as to actual Catholic countries in northern Latin America having anything close to secure prisons…Pablo Guzman just escaped maximum for a second time in the second largest Catholic country. A justice official of Mexico said 60% of their prisons are controlled by cartels and if you put ” Mexican prison murder” in youtube search, you’ll see cartel men walk into a prison, scare the guards into giving them keys, then machine gun rival cartel people in their cell…..but ccc 2267 says modern penology has made the dp of ccc 2260 rarely necessary. Thousands of murder victims are being killed in northern Latin America for want of a death penalty partly. China has millions of poor and has 1/20 the murders of Mexico and 1/24 the murders of Brazil…the two largest Catholic countries. You are not being honest about the gestalt of what the Magisterium has done on the death penalty since the first edition of the catechism…..permission…then technical permission but rarely necessary 1997… but “cruel” in 1999 by a Pope to the world press. Be honest if not herein on this topic then at least for your salvation in the mortgage business with those variable rates…I left that field because I was finding customers too hopeful about balooning rates…and no other person that office had a problem with naive customers.
      Jesus as Word actually gave the Jews chattel slavery over foreigners since Moses did not make up the Law…it came from the Trinity. Slavery is awful but had a place in nomadic culture and has a place deep in the Amazon or..or…Amazonians are executing for trivial crimes out of anger. Take your pick. No where did I say it has a place outside of the nomadic/ no prison situation.

    7. “Show me Mark Shea or Jimmy Akin challenging a sitting Pope on a deep issue.” If this is about your claim that said writers wouldn’t defend the pope if their paychecks weren’t dependent on toeing the line, I ask you to please consider the possibility that they think what they say they think. Oddly enough, people can be wrong when they do that. I do remember that Mark Shea criticized HH’s appointment of Cdl. Danneels to the Synod on the Family, and well he should have … that was a remarkably insensitive appointment. Strangely enough, the Register didn’t fire him for it. Sorry, cynicism isn’t self-justifying.

      Again, you’re wrong on chattel slavery. Try reading Genesis. All of it. Chattel slavery existed among the Hebrews prior to their bondage in Egypt. When God gave Moses the regulations on slavery, He put restrictions upon their treatment that didn’t obtain elsewhere, reminding the Hebrews, “for you were slaves unto Pharaoh in Egypt,” as grounds for their more compassionate treatment. God didn’t give the Hebrews slavery; rather, He regulated its (prior) existence. Nor did that regulation preclude its eventual proscription by the Church; indeed, CCC 2414 cites Philemon 16 as a precedent. Nor was St. JP2 the first pope to attack slavery. Eugene IV, in 1435 (Sicut Dudum), preceded him by over 500 years. Other popes include Paul III (Sublimis Deus, 1537), Benedict XIV (Immensa Pastorum, 1741; Vix Prevenit, 1758), Gregory XVI (In Supremo Apostolatus, 1839), and Leo XIII (Catholicae Ecclesiae, 1890). In fact, Leo cites other popes further back than Eugene IV, all the way back to St. Gregory the Great. Most if not all of these bulls included the threat of excommunication for those who purchased or did not free slaves. The Church’s opposition to slavery is no innovation of St. John Paul. As a follower of 1Peter5, I presume you’re Catholic; so don’t “proof-text” like a Protestant.

    8. ” Try reading Genesis”. I read the entire Bible. Try giving up on establishing wider reading history credentials than the people you are talking to.. I’m very familiar with washing God’s hands of things like slavery and massacres since I had Jesuit teachers for eight years and was Dean’s list. Slavery was given by God in the moment He effectively agreed with it as a solution to no large prisons existing for enemy captures, criminals and debtors and unemployed. I’m also acquainted with the distinction of treatment between foreign slaves and Jewish slaves…Leviticus 25:39 is about treating the Jewish slave better than the oppressive condition of the foreigner. Take Proverbs 20:30: ” Evil is driven out by bloody lashes and a scourging to the inmost being” or Proverbs 26:3 ” A whip for the horse, a bridle for the donkey, a rod for the back of fools”. If slavery is fulfilling often the role of a prison then you are going to have some ornery or very lazy slaves and these Proverbs which refute the ccc on torture were also from God and applicable to ornery slaves.

      Your list of anti slavery bulls is stock Catholic internet answer but began in two 19th century Popes who read papal history too quick and the list met its demise only recently in the world of actual books. Sicut Dudum is not against all slavery and it tells you that. It was against slavery of the baptized and of those moving toward baptism…see section 4 last sentence. John Noonan Jr., a Federal judge went through that whole Catholic apologetics list of bulls and showed how none were against all slavery without exception because the Catholic universities all during that time had approved Catholic intellectual exceptions like “captured in a just war” or ” born to a slave mother”. Portugal was the worse of the slavers in duration and could argue that it’s slave trade was based on just wars within Africa between Africans and purchasing said captives. Portugal thus escaped the intent of Sublimis Deus which was actually against four previous Popes who gave Iberia permission to enslave “new natives”..not just war captives….see Romanus Pontifex by Pope Nicholas V, mid fourth large paragraph….here…” We [therefore] weighing all and singular the premises with due meditation, and noting that since we had formerly by other letters of ours granted among other things free and ample faculty to the aforesaid King Alfonso — to invade, search out, capture, vanquish, and subdue all Saracens and pagans whatsoever, and other enemies of Christ wheresoever placed, and the kingdoms, dukedoms, principalities, dominions, possessions, and all movable and immovable goods whatsoever held and possessed by them and to reduce their persons to perpetual slavery”. That fatal paragraph of Pope Nicholas V was affirmed in writing by three Popes after him…all of which Pope Leo XIII left out of his glowing apologetics…which discipline is often like used car sales. It’s simple. Religious orders including the Jesuits had slaves into the 19th century with no Pope stopping them because of the exceptions in the universities one of which is ” born to a slave mother”….which had Aquinas’ affirmation…Supplement of the SummaT/ on the marriage of a slave. That meant Catholics could have slaves all during those bulls because they merely had to purchase the children of slave mothers. Interested readers…purchase ” The Church That Can and Cannot Change” by John Noonan Jr.
      In short Pope Leo’s list of anti slavery bulls was flattery…the sin if he knew the permitted university exceptions or knew of Romanus Pontifex and its four popes who effectively help destroy many indigenous Indian lives for 80 years until Pope Paul III and beyond if Iberia ignored Sublimis Deus. Again slavery is wrong by context not intrinsically. It is wrong now because we have prisons for criminals; bankruptcy for extreme debtors; and employment offices for the very unemployed. We as a Church perceived this transition later than the Quakers when all the pieces are known.

    9. Laurence Charles Ringo

      Thank you,Elijah fan!( Sidebar: are you retired,unemployed,or what? I didn’t know that they would let you write a post THAT long,LOL!!)—Anyhoo,I just recently read Mr.Noonan’s book,and that book,along with the classic”The Slave Trade”(I don’t recall the author’s name at the moment), opened my eyes to the fact that it was the Roman Catholic Church,in the person of Pope Nicholas V,who practically instigated the European slave trade; the papal bull whose tenets you cited was called”Dum Diversas”,put out by Nicholas V in 1452,followed by the other bulls that affirmed it. (These various bulls were the catalyst for the so-called”Age of Discovery”,which as you well know ultimately led to the destruction of numerous cultures and countless indigenous lives,led by Spanish and Portuguese”explorers”,conquistadors,missionaries, given carte blanche by—you guessed it–Dum Diversas,among other papal bulls.Now,as the ancestor of enslaved Africans you can imagine how this recent historical discovery made me feel; as a 61 year old African American male born and raised in Mississippi,this info was certainly NOT part of my high school curriculum! At any rate…there it is.Speaking only for myself,while I am acquainted with many wonderful individual Catholics,I have little regard for the institution of Roman Catholicism itself. (And that was long before these recent historical discoveries; I have,and still am,been studying Catholicism for over 25 years,and frankly all the claims that is made about it simply don’t add up to someone who delves beneath the groupthink and whitewash. (Case in point:DUM DIVERSAS!!!)—So,again,thanks for your loong post;it’s going into my Bookmarks! Well done,and God bless,Elijah fan!!

    10. I believe in Catholicism though I know the historical periods of sins and the tendency to flatter itself constantly in many of its writers. Why do I believe? The scriptures involving Peter and I had wonderful ( mostly ) Catholic religious teachers for 16 years. There’s Catholicism core and there’s Catholicism periphery and that second one was very influenced by my white brethern after 1253. Catholicism periphery is the non infallible part. Periphery Catholicism furthered slavery with those four Popes just as these last three Popes will get many murder victims killed by their campaign against the death penalty. As a black, you may be instinctively against the death penalty but think about it.
      The black ghetto areas of the US ( Newark, Camden, Detroit, Chicago, etc.) have an internal murder rate of 32 per 100,000 while death penalty China with a billion poor people has a murder rate of 1 per 100,000. These last three Popes were trying to be the opposite of the Inquisition Popes but ironically will get more people killed by their anti death penalty campaign than those Popes did.
      Europe has low murder rates without the death penalty because it has few aggressive poor people. But worldwide, the two worst murder areas have many poor and have no or little death penalties…..northern Latin America and Africa. Asia with poor and largely with death penalties is over 20 times lower in murder victims which means thousands of human beings. It is the non infallible ideas of periphery Catholicism that cause all the trouble. The infallible ideas of core Catholicism are not a problem in themselves.

  5. “…he can, however, properly talk about the right to fair wages and the universal destination of goods.”

    Though it would seem we could talk about the principles of Catholic teaching such as the universal destination of goods, the Church also (infallibly?) teaches that the application of these principles is left to the prudence of the laity who have the vocation and charism (gift of the Holy Spirit) to order the world.

    As an act of the virtue of Prudence, the particular circumstances of each situation are to be taken into account by the lay person. Then, weighing them in light of all Catholic teaching, he makes a decision. Something a cleric who is not in that situation is capable of doing or one who is in that situation does not have the charism to address.

    For example, while a layman may look at the poor person and say the Universal Destination of Goods demands his poverty be relieved, he will also need to draw from other teachings of the Church. Is the poor man’s situation merely a matter of social status (i.e. he has all he needs to maintain a dignified life but does not have an equal outcome as others) then the Church would say with Leo XIII in Rerum Novarum that his difference in social status is not violating God’s order and redistributing goods is not required. (This is distinction with many today who wish equality of outcome – a distinctly non-Catholic teaching.)

    There might also be that many in a, let’s now say, in a lower social class are being made dependent upon the State through welfare. This would also be counter to Catholic Social Teaching and the layman would be obliged to reject redistribution.

    Then there may be taxes established to further the Universal Destination of Goods but which unjustly take from someone (i.e. reducing them to dependence on the State) or which try their efforts sufficiently so that they reduce their efforts and production. Both are also taught as wrong by Catholic Social Teaching.

    Now we get to Catholic teaching that says that people may licitly come to different solutions to the same problems which, if not explicitly contrary to moral truths such as aborting problem pregnancies or killing the homeless to end homelessness, then that would be infallibly taught also.

    1. The Catholic Teaching, despite the spinning of rhetoric, is quite simple and regardless of “the Destination of Goods” theory, is to the point and is understandable by all….Christian, Catholic, or none of the above …. doing good needs to be understandable by the mind of every person, not just a scholar.

      Matthew 25 The Sheep and the Goats

      31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

      34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

      37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

      40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

      41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

      44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

      45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

      46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

    2. As the article notes, the Church interprets scripture and infallibly so. So when Leo XIII notes that a pursuit of radical equality is contrary to Truth, it is.

      This because we also have Jesus speak in Matthew who notes that poverty of spirit is called for and not an actual state of poverty. When Augustine comments on the meaning of this Beatitude as not endorsing a denial of the good of those who possess, he is speaking the truth. This from the Navarre Bible and the Beatitudes:

      “As early as St. Augustine’s time there were people who failed to understand poverty and riches properly: they reasoned as follows: The Kingdom of Heaven belongs to the poor, the Lazaruses of this world, the hungry; all the rich are bad, like this rich man here. This sort of thinking led St. Augustine to explain the deep meaning of wealth and poverty according to the spirit of the Gospel:
      ‘Listen, poor man, to my comments on your words. When you refer to yourself as Lazarus, that holy man covered with wounds, I am afraid your pride makes you describe yourself incorrectly. Do not despise rich men who are merciful, who are humble:
      or, to put it briefly, do not despise poor rich men. Oh, poor man, be poor yourself; poor, that is, humble […].

      Listen to me, then. Be truly poor, be devout, be humble; if you glory in your ragged and ulcerous poverty, if you glory in likening yourself to that beggar lying outside the rich man’s house, then you are only noticing his poverty, and nothing else. What should I notice you ask? Read the Scriptures and you will understand what I mean. Lazarus was poor, but he to whose bosom he was brought was rich.
      ‘It came to pass, it is written, that the poor man died and he was brought by the angels to Abraham’s bosom.’ To where? To Abraham’s bosom, or let us say, to that mysterious place where Abraham was resting. Read […] and remember that Abraham was a very wealthy man when he was on earth: he had abundance of
      money, a large family, flocks, land; yet that rich man was poor, because he was humble. ‘Abraham believed God and he was reckoned righteous.’ […] He was faithful, he did good, received the commandment to offer his son in sacrifice, and he did not refuse to offer what he had received to Him from whom he had received
      it. He was approved in God’s sight and set before us as an example of faith’
      (”Sermon”, 14).

      To sum up: poverty does not consist in something purely external, in having or not having material goods, but in something that goes far deeper, affecting a person’s heart and soul; it consists in having a humble attitude to God, in being devout, in having total faith. If a Christian has these virtues and also has an abundance of material possessions, he should be detached from his wealth and act charitably towards others and thus be pleasing to God. On the other hand, if someone is not well-off he is not justified in God’s sight on that account, if he fails to strive to acquire those virtues in which true poverty consists.”

      Let’s also not forget that Jesus refused to judge a case where justice was at issue. He was not a socialist. He was the redeemer of man – and that well transcends socialism. But this points out the error of cherry picking Scripture, looking at Catholic Social Teaching through the lens of ideology or failing to take into account the totality of CST.

    3. Thanks for your explanation, but it here that we so disagree. I see the words of Jesus in the New Testament as a mandate for societal change toward the peoples on the margins. I take the Parable of the Sheep and Goats literally. It is the way the common man would read scripture. The directives are straight forward. And one cannot have humility and poverty of spirit without divesting self of every materially unnecessary good and then you go deep. Yes, scripture is a mandate for equality especially for those left behind by social status. I do not believe that Christ would have wanted others interpreting his direct words to the masses of Jews. To clarify Jesus directives is to prostitute his message, He cane as an agent of change not a servant of the status quo. When humans base their beliefs on words other than straight forward Jesus talk…they modify his message to accommodate their own indifference…and so I end. We have no common ground….and that’s ok.

    4. I take the Parable of the Sheep and Goats literally also. Unfortunately I take Genesis 3, if not literally, at least as pointing to man’s fallen state. That means that helping others at times has its limits because it in the end subverts the dignity of the person one is seeking to help.
      Yes Jesus came to change society. But ultimately in a spiritual sense and not material one. This does not mean we do not seek to bring about change, though we will disagree on the means as the Church teaches is licit, but that in the end it is the eternal good we must foster.

    5. The church takes the WHOLE bible, in all its complexity, into account. You are doing the Protestant proof texting thing, which generally results in an incomplete understanding of the scriptures. That’s why you can come to such a silly result as believing Jesus was a socialist.

    6. Actually Catholic authors were very proof text oriented in the great past…Aquinas’ Summa Theologica which I read completely excepting objections and several posts. Aquinas knew hundreds of Bible passages by heart and cites them out of context repeatedly. Pius XI must have been very versed because he took literally ” wives obey your husbands” ( see section 74 of Casti Connubii, first sentence). Vatican II never mentions his point nor does the catechism now because JPII on that topic skips five Bible passages and talks mainly about one verse in Ephesians…” be subject to one another”. In other words, a recent Pope did not take the whole Bible…he took pieces both on wifely obedience and on the death penalty and he thus gave us error. JPII never mentions the death penalty part of Gen.9:5-6 nor Rom.13:4. You are right that all passages should be consulted but JPII did the very thing you denounce…he cited only what he liked…proof…go to section 39 of Evangelium Vitae and watch him cite the front and back of Gen.9:5-6 and edit out the middle.

    7. Fine…Just what in the whole New Testament would contradict what I asserted about giving away all that you have to help the poor and a heavy reliance on the corporal works of mercy. Give me some scriptural proof that The Christ’s philosophy and way of life did not reflect a belief in socialism … I challenge you! Show me that HE did not believe in a redistribution of wealth. That which is asserted without proof can be dismissed without proof. Show me how the New Testament in its entirety refutes my assertions!

    8. Phil, are you consistently a strict, biblical literalist? Did Jesus literally intend for everyone to give everything they owned away, or was the intent to provide a teaching point about putting material possessions in their proper place: Following Jesus is more important than any earthly, material possession. To make his point in strict terms: give all that you have to others and follow me.

      I also sense that everything that Jesus taught, first and foremost, called for an interior conversion of the self, absent any external coercion. The “redistribution of wealth” strongly implies an external force from a third party, to take from one to give to another. If I individually and voluntarily choose to give what I have to others, that is following Christ. If I coerce others to give what they have to others, it does not reflect the most important element of the teachings of Jesus, a profound, internal conversion of the self toward the love of others.

      Jesus call is a profoundly personal call and it requires a personal response.

    9. I am not a Catholic, but I am one of Jesus’ biggest fans. Yes, I believe that the words he spoke were words to the common man, the everyday Jew…and most Jews could not read nor write. He spoke directly, his words were written directly and no one needs to interpret them for the common man. We spend too much energy interpolating things which are in front of us. And yes, poverty and humility of spirit are important but they follow the directives in the Parable of the Sheep and Goats, they do not precede it. Once you have nothing…only then can you go deep.

    10. Mr. Dzialo,
      I have long admired both your strong intellect and your tenacity with respect to the defense of your positions. Wonderful. I also wish to extend to you the best regarding your son, and I pray for you, your family, and your boy. I am a father as well, and I cannot imagine your plight, but I can certainly appreciate your unwavering dedication to your progeny. God Bless You and Yours. You are a Seeker and a stalwart champion of your son and your family. I tip my hat to you. I pray that I might rise to your level of Grace if ever confronted with the same circumstance. You are an incredible example of Faith and Hope.
      While I may disagree with you on more than a few philosophical and theological points, I must admit that the core of your arguments, and the essence of your beliefs, are very much in line with my understanding of Catholic dogma. I believe that you are simply a fellow sinner and Seeker who finds himself clinging to a cliff above the raging sea: thrashing about and looking for the next hand-hold; believing that you can reach the cliff’s edge, regardless of what might lie beyond.
      You are a Seeker of the Truth. You ask the tough questions. You have found yourself participating in and defending yourself during conversations on Catholic websites. Something draws you toward Catholic spaces rather than spaces of other faiths. Something draws you to seek answers from Catholics alone. I believe I know at least an inkling of your motivation. I came upon the Catholic church in a similar fashion, and I would not recommend any other path toward the Truth than that which you are on. You are very near, and I encourage you to keep such proximity to Catholicism – even in the form of Catholic Stand.
      God Bless, and I look forward to future posts. Truly, you are entertaining and thought-provoking. Again, I wish you the absolute best.

    11. Strawman much? Would you care to cite the spot where I state, or even hint, that Jesus was a socialist?

      I fully realize that the Church takes the whole Bible, in all its complexity, into account. However, if you look at Church documents, you’ll find Scriptural citations that saints, popes, councils, scholars, even the Church Fathers, cite to back up their positions. Moreover, when squaring off against Protestants, especially Evangelicals, you have to have Scriptural citations handy; otherwise they won’t listen to you.

      By the way, a “socialist” doesn’t simply argue for government assistance to the poor. Rather, he advocates government ownership of industry — a position no pope has ever taken.

    12. Leaving the application of the Church’s social doctrine to prudential judgment isn’t an infallible dogma … rather, it’s a prudent, pragmatic decision of the Church in view of the doctrine of subsidiarity, which tends to discourage micromanagement from afar. :^)=) It should be noted, however, that the Church asserts a relative right of property rather than an absolute right: the “right of property” doesn’t morally excuse an employer from paying a just wage, or a wealthy person from contributing to the support of the poor. But, in essence, you are correct. Thank you for your addition.

    13. I suspect your response was to me. Deferring to the prudential judgment of the laity in ordering the world is part of Catholic Social Teaching that has been reiterated by JP II and B XVI.
      Prudence is not a decision of the Church as regards to subsidiarity but rather the Queen of Virtues in judging a particular situation and making an appropriate action in response. Prudence guides the other virtues in making the right decision. In regards to ordering the world this is left to the laity who are experts in the world as JP II described.
      Yes there is a relative (or as the Church says, not an absolute) right to property. But I would argue that the Universal destination of goods is also not absolute as there are limits on it also. See the arguments I made above

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