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The Roman Catholic Church holds that the Pope is infallible and incapable of making mistakes in regards to matters of faith and morals. This belief stems from the declaration made by Pope Pius XII on November 1, 1950, that the body of Mary, the mother of Jesus, was assumed into heaven. The notion of papal infallibility was officially adopted by the Vatican Council in 1870, which stated that when the Pope speaks ex cathedra, or with supreme authority as the shepherd and teacher of all Christians, his decisions on faith and morals are to be held by the entire Church as divinely revealed and are therefore infallible.
According to Catholic authorities, these papal decrees are to be accepted with absolute and irreversible certainty and their interpretations cannot be altered in the future. The Pope’s power of infallibility is not limited to specific subjects and extends to indirect and secondary matters as well. The Vatican Council also made it clear that the Pope has complete and highest power of jurisdiction over the entire Church, not just in matters of faith and morals, but also in matters of discipline and administration, and that this power is immediate and actual over all clergy and faithful.
The Catholic Church’s belief in papal infallibility is based on the idea that Christ founded his Church on Peter, who was the first Pope of the Catholic Church, and that authority and infallibility passed from Peter to his successors. This claim is supported by early tradition and Church history and is further confirmed by the Church’s threat of eternal damnation for those who refuse to accept its teachings.
The Validity of the Claim Judged
The proclamation of the dogma of papal infallibility by the Vatican Council in 1870 was a highly controversial event. Before the council, 162 bishops had expressed their opposition to the idea, and during the assembly, there were intense debates over the issue. One of the main opponents was a Croatian bishop named Joseph Georg Strossmayer, who was a highly educated and well-respected figure.
In a speech before the council, Strossmayer expressed his concerns about the idea of papal infallibility and its lack of scriptural support. He pointed out that the Bible does not mention a pope as the successor of St. Peter or the vicar of Jesus Christ. He also pointed out that the apostles, including St. Peter, were forbidden by Jesus to exercise lordship and that the church was built on Christ, not on Peter. Strossmayer argued that there is no mention of papal power in the writings of Paul, John, James, or Luke and that the silence of Peter on the matter is particularly surprising.
Strossmayer’s speech highlights the opposition to the idea of papal infallibility and raises important questions about its basis in scripture. Despite these objections, the Vatican Council went on to proclaim the dogma of papal infallibility, which remains a key tenet of the Roman Catholic Church to this day.
Reexamining the History
Bishop Strossmayer was a critical scholar of both the Bible and history, and he was one of the main opponents of the dogma of infallibility during the Vatican Council in 1870. He was well-known for his extensive knowledge of the Old and New Testament, as well as ancient authorities. In his speech before the Council, Strossmayer argued that the papacy as it was known at the time was not supported by the Bible or early Christian history. He pointed out that there was no mention of a pope in the New Testament, and that the early Christian bishops of Africa and Asia were recognized as holding the first place in their respective sees, not the bishop of Rome.
Strossmayer also cited the works of ancient Church fathers, including St. Gregory I, to support his argument. St. Gregory I believed that the title of “universal bishop” should not be taken by any bishop, including the Pope, as it would discredit the title of patriarch. Strossmayer’s historical review of the role of the Pope and the early Christian Church aimed to settle the argument about whether Peter was the “rock” on which Christ’s Church was built.
“Infallible” Popes Proved Fallible
Bishop Strossmayer argued that the idea of papal infallibility creates a paradox. He pointed out that history is impartial and does not adhere to any particular religious doctrine. He also cites Bishop Dupanloup’s observation that if Pope Pius IX is declared infallible, then all previous popes must also be considered infallible, which is a logical conclusion. However, this raises the question of how one can reconcile the idea of infallibility with the historical record, which shows that many popes have erred in their teachings or actions. The bishop went on to list examples of popes who have made contradictory decisions, engaged in immoral behavior, or made false statements. He concluded that to maintain the notion of papal infallibility in the face of such historical evidence would be a betrayal of Christ.
“Well, then, venerable brethren, here history raises its voice with authority to assure us that some popes have erred. You may protest against it or deny it as you please, but I will prove it! Pope Victor (192) first approved of Montanism, and then condemned it. Marcellinus (296-303) was an idolater. He entered into the temple of Vesta, and offered incense to the goddess [her temple was the oldest pagan temple in Rome]. You will say that it was an act of weakness; but I answer, a vicar of Jesus Christ dies rather than become an apostate. Liberius (358) consented to the condemnation of Athanasius, and made a profession of Arianism, that he might be recalled from his exile and reinstated in his see. Honorius (625) adhered to Monothelitism: Father Gratry has proved it to demonstration. Gregory I (785-90) calls anyone Antichrist who takes the name of universal bishop, and contrariwise Boniface III (607-8) made the parricide Emperor Phocas confer that title upon him. Paschal II (1088-99) and Eugenius III (1145-53) authorized duelling; Julius II (1509) and Pius IV (1560) forbade it. Eugenius IV (1431-39) approved of the Council of Basle and the restitution of the chalice to the church of Bohemia; Pius II (1458) revoked the concession. Hadrian II (867-872) declared civil marriages to be valid; Pius VII (1800-23) condemned them. Sixtus V (1585-90) published an edition of the Bible, and by a bull recommended it to be read; Pius VII condemned the reading of it. Clement XIV (1700-21) abolished the order of the Jesuits, permitted by Paul III, and Pius VII re-established it.”—Another papal bull was the one Pope Urban VIII made when excommunicating the great scientist Galileo for teaching the truth that the earth revolves around the sun and not vice versa. Other glaring contradictions appear in the edicts of Innocent I, Gelasius I, Pelagius I, Nicholas I, Stephen II (III), Celestine II, Innocent III, Nicholas II, etc.—McClintock & Strong’s Cyclopædia, vol. 4, pp. 571, 572; vol. 10, p. 673.
Strossmayer briefly mentions the corrupt history of several popes, including Vigilius, Eugenius III, Stephen VI, John XI, XII, XXII, and Alexander VI. He could have further discussed the immoral behavior of popes such as Benedict IX, Gregory VI, Sylvester III, Julius II, Innocent VIII, Paul III, and others, all of whom are officially recognized by the Annuario Pontificio (1947) as legitimate popes.
In conclusion, Strossmayer argues that if the idea of papal infallibility is to be upheld, it must also be applied to all previous popes, including those with a history of wrongdoing. But if this were the case, it would mean acknowledging that popes who were greedy, engaged in incest, committed murder, and sold church positions, were also representatives of Jesus Christ. Strossmayer argues that accepting this idea would be an even greater betrayal of Christ than what Judas Iscariot committed.
The fact that some people say that the speech was written by an Augustinian monk instead of by Strossmayer does not change the truth of its content. Regardless of who wrote it, the historical facts presented remain accurate. The speech raises the question of whether Pius XII was infallible when he claimed that Mary’s physical body went to heaven, as this statement contradicts the Catholic Douay Bible, which states that flesh and blood cannot enter the kingdom of God. This highlights the issue of the reliability of the claims of papal infallibility in light of historical evidence and biblical teachings. (1 Cor. 15:50)