Is the Pope Infallible?

No.

Not even a little bit.

And I’m not saying anything against Catholic theology.

You see, whenever we get into important theological definitions, the language we use is incredibly important. Precision matters, and while it may sound like two explanations are saying the same thing, they might be actually quite different.

Take, for instance, the Catholic stance on justification. For many, the difference between us and Lutherans is that they believe in “faith alone” while Catholics believe in “faith plus works.” You’ve probably heard this before. And it’s… sort of true. More precisely, Catholics believe that justification is through faith, something that issues forth in works. We could simplify it to say that Catholics believe in “faith plus works,” but it might imply that what we are saying is that we can do good works to achieve our own salvation, something that is actually heretical. Rather, salvation is through faith, and if it is a true faith, it will manifest itself in the form of good works. Similar to “faith plus works”? Yes. A bit wordier? Absolutely. Theologically different? You betcha.

Whew. That was a long example to make a point. I hope I didn’t lose you.

The reason I say this is because Catholics do not believe that the pope is infallible. Rather, Catholics believe that the teaching authority of the papacy enjoys infallibility. It may sound like the exact same thing and that we are needlessly splitting hairs, but it’s actually quite significant. In the latter, what we are saying is that the office of the papacy, regardless of who holds it, may speak without error under specific circumstances; in the former, what we are saying is that the human person who is the pope cannot be wrong. This is a major difference, and why I believe that so many people scoff at the idea of papal infallibility. Frankly, they just don’t understand it.

But this is not the case for you! At least, it won’t be the case after you watch this week’s Catholicism in Focus. More than anything, I hope that it will serve as another example of how important it is that we get our language right and are attentive to the words we are saying. Too often we get trapped standing by things that are false, rightfully attacked by non-Catholics for our beliefs, simply because we have used sloppy language. These things are important, and we must take them seriously!

2 Comments on “Is the Pope Infallible?

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