Everything You wanted to know the Infallibility of the Catholic Church but were afraid to ask about - Part 1


The Infallibility of the Church is a topic upon which extreme perspectives exist in a number of groups.

Before delving into the current issues, it is best to establish a foundation of what the Church teaches about this gift and dogma.

What Is Infallibility?

Infallibility is the impossibility of falling into error. The Catholic Church is infallible in her objective definitive teaching on faith and morals (Toner, 1910).

The primary or direct object of infallibility are the formally revealed truths are the Catholic Church on faith and morals. The secondary or indirect object are truths of the Church on faith and morals that, although not formally revealed, are closely linked with the teaching of Revelation.
(Ott, 1954)

Infallibility can be exercised in a positive way by the definition of what to believe (determination of truth), and in a negative way by the condemnation of error. (Ott, 1954)

Why is Infallibility necessary?

Infallibility is necessary because if the Church could err in faith and morals, then it would have undermine on the sanctity of the Church and Her mission to save souls (Ott, 1954).

Who is Infallible?

The bearers of the gift of infallibility are the Pope and the whole Episcopate in union with their Sovereign Pontiff.

The Pope is infallible when he speaks ex cathedra. (De fide.) (Ott, 1954)

The totality of the Bishops is infallible, when they, either assembled in general council or scattered over the earth, propose a teaching of faith or morals as one to be held by all the faithful. (De fide.) (Ott, 1954)

Where are the extents of Infallibility?

While the bounds of the primary object of infallibility is intuitively easy to grasp, the implications of the secondary object(s) reach must further that I had originally anticipated.

The Church is indefectible in that:

... we assert both her imperishableness, that is, her constant duration to the end of the world, and the essential immutability of her teaching, her constitution and her liturgy. This does not exclude the decay of individual "churches" (i.e., parts of the Church) and accidental changes.
 The Church is indefectible, that is, she remains and will remain the Institution of Salvation, founded by Christ, until the end of the world. (Sent. certa.) (Ott, 1954)

Because of this indefectibility, that are boundaries that the Church cannot cross in its teaching, constitution and liturgy.  There are areas where, due to the foundation of the Dogmas of the Church, certain dogmatic facts are also unanimously held by the theologians as being protected by the Infallibility of the Church either, positively or negatively.

Firstly, as noted earlier the Church is infallible in defining truths of faith or morals. Revealed doctrine is the primary object and can be defined either positively or negatively.

Secondly, the infallibility extends to truths that without the protection of the gift of infallibility the deposit of faith would be exposed to corruption.

Thirdly, the infallibility of the Church extends to truths labelled as Dogmatic Facts.  Among these facts are included declarations:

1. That a person holds the office of Pope for,

... if the person of the Pope were uncertain, it would be uncertain what Bishops were in communion with the Pope; but according to the Catholic faith, as will be proved hereafter, communion with the Pope is a condition for the exercise of the function of teaching by the body of Bishops (n. 208) ; if then the uncertainty could not be cleared up, the power of teaching could not be exercised, and Christ's promise (St. Matt, xxviii. 20; and n. 199, II.) would be falsified, which is impossible. ... it is enough to say that if the Bishops agree in recognizing a certain man as Pope, they are certainly right, for otherwise the body of the Bishops would be separated from their head, and the Divine constitution of the Church would be ruined. (Hunter, 1894)

2. That a certain Council is or is not ecumenical.
3. That certain educational systems are or are not injurious to faith and morals.
4. That the principles of certain societies are immoral
5. That certain ways of life, eg Religious Orders are not only free from moral evil but are 'laudable'.
6. Of Canonizations of Sainthood.
7. Of the true sense conveyed by forms of speech, whether solitary words, propositions, and books
(Hunter, 1894)

Having reviewed the above, particularly Dr. Ott's statement on the essential immutability of the liturgy, the logical conclusion is that the Infallibility of the Church extends to the liturgy.

This would be a correct conclusion and is the consensus amongst theologians.  However, it would be a mistake to assumed a positive infallible action within the discipline of the liturgy as firstly there are multiple liturgies (rites) within the Church. Secondly because the liturgies have experienced development.
As to moral precepts or laws as distinct from moral doctrine, infallibility goes no farther than to protect the Church against passing universal laws which in principle would be immoral. It would be out of place to speak of infallibility in connection with the opportuneness or the administration of necessarily changing disciplinary laws although, of course, Catholics believe that the Church receives appropriate Divine guidance in this and in similar matters where practical spiritual wisdom is required. (Toner, 1910)
This provides the boundary, in that the Church cannot legislate something that 'in principle' contravenes faith or morals. This protection does not prevent it from passing laws that are neutral.

An Analysis of Fr. Cekada's Sedevacantist Thesis

I recently was presented with an article by Fr. Anthony Cekada, a sedevacantist priest, and it has caused me to reassess and deepen my understanding of the extent of the Infallibility of the Church as described above.

The argument put forward by Fr. Cekada is dividing into two main parts. The first part breaks down into the following basic elements:

  1. The Pope / Church is Infallible
  2. Because of this Infallibility the Church can’t pass evil laws etc
  3. The Novus Ordo, V2 are evil
  4. Then the people passing these laws can’t be Pope etc.

Before analyzing the apparent assumptions being made in support of Fr. Cekada's argument there are a couple of issues that demonstrate its errors.

The first reason that I have always intuitively held, is that if taken to its logical conclusion, the thesis leads to a contradiction of the indefectibility of the Church. As noted above this dogma states that the Church must maintain an essential immutability of her teaching, constitution and liturgy, thereby remaining the Institution of Salvation (Ott, 1954).  If a theory leads to a contradiction of dogma, then due to infallibility the theory is flawed either in its constructs or its assumptions.

Secondly, as I discovered the extents of the Infallibility of the Church, ironically due to Fr. Cekada, I found that the same gift that protects the Church from instituting universal laws that directly contravene Her doctrines of faith and morals, infallibly enables us to know who is the Pope.

As noted above:
the Church is infallible when she declares what person holds the office of Pope ; for if the person of the Pope were uncertain, it would be uncertain what Bishops were in communion with the Pope; but according to the Catholic faith, as will be proved hereafter, communion with the Pope is a condition for the exercise of the function of teaching by the body of Bishops; if then the uncertainty could not be cleared up, the power of teaching could not be exercised, and Christ's promise (St. Matt, xxviii. 20; and n. 199, II.) would be falsified, which is impossible. (Hunter, 1894)
Now addressing the fundamental four points of Fr. Cekada's thesis.  I have already addressed the first two points of the Church teaching on the infallibility of the Pope, Bishops and Church.  I have also reviewed the teaching on the infallibility of Dogmatic Facts such as the occupant of the See of Peter and the universal disciplinary laws.

Reviewing the central point of his thesis is that the Novus Ordo, as universal law is evil. My assumption is that by the use of this word Fr. Cekada implies that this law does more than just remove barriers to heresy setup by the Council of Trent  (Ottaviani, 1969) .  His implication is that that it actually, with no shred of ambiguity, contravenes Church Teaching on faith and morals.

Herein lies the problem with this aspect of Fr. Cekada's thesis, having reviewed some of his works (eg Ottaviani Intervention, ) he has not demonstrated that the laws passed by the Church since the council, most notably the Novus Ordo Missae, directly and objectively contravene the faith and morals of the Church. The boundary noted above was not crossed.

Therefore having established an unadulterated understanding of the infallibility of the Pope, Church, as well as the extent the protection that this infallibility affords to the disciplines and laws of the Church we can draw some conclusions. Based by the lack of evidence that the Novus Ordo Missae has contravened the teachings of faith and moral, the assertion that the occupant of the See of Peter is not truly the Vicar of Christ is unfounded.

Furthermore, this conclusion is consistent with the surety the members may have of the identity of the legitimate successor of the See of Peter as described above.  The entire Catholic hierarchy has successively recognized: John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I, John Paul II and Francis as the Vicar of Christ.  This recognition is infallible.

Having addressed the more serious aspects of Fr. Cekada's  arguments, I will research and address issues surrounding  'resistance to the Pope' and adherence 'to the teachings of the universal ordinary magisterium'  in part 2.


Ludwig Van Ott (1954). Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma. Fort Colling, CO: Roman Catholic Books. Retrieved 2012 from Internet Archive: http://archive.org/details/FundamentalsOfCatholicDogma

Toner, P. (1910). Infallibility. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved May 20, 2013 from New Advent: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07790a.htm

Sylvester J. Hunter, S.J. (1894). Outlines of Dogmatic Theology. New York and Bombay: Longmans, Green & Co.

Ottaviani, Cardinal Alfreo, (1969). Letter on the Novus Ordo Missae. Retrieve May 20, 2013 from EWTN: http://www.ewtn.com/library/curia/reformof.htm

The Church
Tradition and Living Magisterium
Theological Definition
Dogmatic Facts
Dogmatic Theology
Papal Infallibility and its limitations
The Infallibility of the Pope and the Magisterium
How Infallible is the Teaching Church?
Church Tradition Magisterium
Does the Church's Infallibility Extend to Disciplinary Laws?
Ecclesiastical Discipline


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