Everything You wanted to know the Infallibility of the Catholic Church but were afraid to ask about - Part 6

More on this theme is a review of Quanta Cura by Fr. Couture.

December 1998

When the Popes spoke infallibly…

By Father Daniel Couture

There is often much talk on papal infallibility:  the different degrees, the conditions, etc. Rarely though, a clear text is given as example.  Here is one from Pope Pius IX, of December 8th , 1864.  It is taken from his encyclical Quanta Cura which was accompanied by the Syllabus of Errors, a solemn condemnation of 80 modern errors.

 “…Amid so great a perversity of depraved opinions, We, remembering Our Apostolic duty, and solicitous before all things for Our most holy Religion, for sound doctrine, for the salvation of the souls confided to Us, and for the welfare of human Society itself, have considered the moment opportune to raise anew Our Apostolic voice.  Therefore do We, by our Apostolic authority, reprobate denounce and condemn, in general and in particular all the evil opinions and doctrines specially mentioned in this Letter, and We will and We command that they may be held as reprobated, denounced, and condemned by all the children of the Catholic Church…”

            The violence of such a condemnation may appear to some really astonishing.  But a closer look at this passage reveals the fulfillment of the four conditions of infallibility.  These are:

            1 – That the Pope speaks as Supreme Pastor of the Universal Church, engaging his full Apostolic Authority.  He does it here:

“…We, by our Apostolic authority…”

“…For the salvation of souls confided to Us”.

            Thus, he clearly refers to the mission entrusted to Peter and his successors by Our Blessed Lord.

2 – In matters of faith and/or morals.  It is obvious again:

“…Solicitous before all things for Our most holy Religion, for sound doctrine, for the salvation of souls…”

            3 – That the Pope must clarify, condemn or define, that is that he must say something clear, not optional, not hypothetical.  The least we can say here is that the Pope didn’t beat around the bush, but called a spade a spade!

 “…We, by our Apostolic authority, reprobate denounce and condemn, in general and in particular all the evil opinions and doctrines specially mentioned in this Letter, and We will and We command that…”

            4 – That the Pope expect and demand obedience, that he requests the submission of the faith from all faithful.

“…We will and We command that they may be held as reprobated, denounced, and condemned by all the children of the Catholic Church…”

            So, in this text, we find the four conditions of the most solemn papal infallibility clearly fulfilled.  Thus our position is crystal clear.  It is no longer up to any Catholic to decide which position take in the actual crisis.  The Holy Father commanded:  “…We will and We command…by all the children of the Catholic Church.”  He did not say ‘by those of the XIXth Century.  He said “by all”, of all times and places.

            A Catholic cannot be unfaithful to an infallible papal order.  There, in this text, lies one of the most important foundation of our position.

            Pius IX proscribed the errors “specially mentioned in this Letter”.  In order to make it easier and clearer, he himself composed the famous Syllabus (a Greek word meaning a summary) of the main errors of our modern times.  He gives eighty of them.  Here are just a few, perhaps the ones concerning us the most today.  It must be remembered that the sentences condemned are errors, therefore, each time, it is understood “It is false to say that…”  It is a little bit more complicated but much more precise theologically.

            A – Error on the nature of Revolution

            “No. 5.  Divine Revelation is imperfect, and therefore subject to a continual and indefinite progress, corresponding with the advancement of human reason”.

            The Pope aims here at those who pretend that the Church must continually adapt itself to a changing world, that she needs to change with the world.  This opinion is condemned because, contrary to all other societies, “the Church has been built by Jesus Christ and His Apostles, and is continually taught by the Holy Ghost who continually reminds her of all truth” (Pope Gregory XVI, Mirari vos, 1832).  Consequently, it would be totally absurd and mostly injurious for the Church to put forward a restoration as necessary.  What would happen then, is that the Church, which is God-made, would become all human.

            B – Error of indifferentism (religious freedom)

            “No. 15.  Every man is free to embrace and profess that religion which, guided by the light of reason, he shall consider true.

            “No. 16.  Man may, in the observance of any religion whatever, find the way of eternal salvation, and arrive at eternal salvation.

            “No. 17.  Good hope at least is to be entertained of the eternal salvation of all those who are not at all in the true Church of Christ.

            “No. 18.  Protestantism is nothing more than another form of the same true Christian religion, in which form it is given to please God equally as in the Catholic Church”.

            In other words, the Pope is saying that outside the Catholic Church, there is no salvation.  To enter heaven, one must have sanctifying grace.  Now, this grace comes from Our Lord, “full of grace and of truth”, and passes necessarily and solely through the Church founded by Him.  No other religion can give sanctifying grace.  If an individual, member of a false religion, dies in a state of grace, by a merciful disposition of God, he will not have been saved by his religion but in spite of it.  He unknowingly belonged to the soul of the Church.

            Now, compare this infallible teaching to the following texts of Vatican II: “The Vatican Council declares that the human person has a right to religious freedom.  Freedom of this kind means that … nobody is forced to act against his convictions nor is anyone to be restrained from acting in accordance with his convictions in religious matters in private or in public, alone or in association with others”.  (Decree on religious freedom: Dignitatis Humanae, N.2.)

            “Let Christians, while witnessing to their own faith and way of life, acknowledge, preserve and encourage the spiritual and moral truths found among the non-Christians, also their social life and culture”.  (Decree on Non Christian Religions: Nosta Aetate, N.2)

            “It follows that the separated Churches and communities as such, though we believe they suffer from the defects already mentioned, have been by no means deprived of significance and importance in the mystery of salvation.  For the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as means of salvation  which derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Catholic Church”.  (Decree on  Ecumenism: Unitatis Redintegratio, N. 3)

        C – Error in natural and Christian ethics
            “No. 59.  Right consists in the material fact.  All human duties are an empty word, and all human facts have the force of right”.

            We are told today that morality must evolve with time.  The rights of people flow from what they do.  Popular referenda dictates what is right or wrong.  The proposition condemned here means that it is false to say that from the moment something is done, it becomes right.


         D – Errors having reference to modern liberalism
                  (Ecumenism, State Atheism)

            “No. 77.  In the present day it is no longer expedient that the Catholic religion should be held as the only religion of the State, to the exclusion of all other forms of worship.”

            In the name of Vatican II modern Rome has unfortunately demanded Catholic Countries to modify their constitution, which professed the Catholic Religion to be the official State Religion.  It is called the doctrine of separation of Church and State.  It has always been condemned by the Popes in the past.  But since the Council, it took place in 1973 in Columbia, 1974 in the canton of Valais in Switzerland, in 1975 in Portugal, in 1976 in Spain, in 1980 in Peru, in 1984 in Italy.

            “No. 78.  Hence it has been wisely decided by law, in some Catholic countries that persons coming to reside therein shall enjoy the public exercise of their own peculiar worship.”

            This has been enlarged today to anyone living in the country.  Worse still, when it is the Catholic hierarchy who issue such law!  In Germany, for instance, the Bishops have asked parish priests all over the country to let the Muslims use their parish hall for their heretical worship!

            “No. 79.  Moreover, it is false that the civil liberty of every form of worship, and the full power, given to all, of overtly and publicly manifesting any opinions whatsoever and thoughts, conduce more easily to corrupt the morals and minds of the people, and to propagate the pest indifferentism.”

            In other words the pope is saying that it is true that religious freedom  corrupts morals and leads people to believe that all religions are good, not one better than the other (that is the “pest of indifferentism”).

            Now the II Vatican Council professes clearly the opposite, i.e. that society will indeed benefit from an absolute religious freedom:

            “The common good of society consists in the sum total of those conditions of social life which enable men to achieve a fuller measure of perfection with greater ease.  It consists especially in safeguarding  the rights and duties of the human person.  For this reason the protection of the right to religious freedom is the common responsibilty of individual citizens, social groups, civil authorities, the Church and other religious communities.  Each of these has its own special responsibility in the matter according to its particular duty to promote the common good.

            The protection and promotion of the inviolable rights of man is an essential duty of every civil authority.  The civil authority therefore must undertake to safeguard the religious freedom of all the citizens in an effective manner by the legislation and other appropriate means.  It must help to create conditions favorable to the fostering of religious life so that the citizens will be really in the position to exercise their religious rights may enjoy  the benefits of justice and peace, which result from man’s faithfulness to God and His holy will.  (Dignitatis Humanae, N.6)

            Finally, the very last proposition of the Syllabus summarizes perfectly the whole list of condemnations.

            “No. 80.  The Roman Pontiff can, and ought to, reconcile himself, and come to terms with progress, liberalism and modern civilization.”

            In his book “The Principles of Catholic Theology”, Cardinal Ratzinger called the Degree Gaudium et Spes, on the Church in the modern world, an “anti-syllabus”, because that decree teaches what the Syllabus condemns here in its last proposition.  G.K. Chesterton summarised it all when he wrote: “When the world and Christianity comes to terms, it will be the end of Christianity.”

            To conclude:  we are not free to choose between an infallible teaching and a pastoral one when they are in contradiction.  Or else, Our Blessed Lady may not be the Immaculate Conception, and the Mass may as well be offered by a layman.

            No!  An infallible document is irreformable, it cannot be altered in any way or form, at any time.  Quanta Cura and the Syllabus are clearly infallible.  And since Vatican II “did not define any dogma and wanted deliberately to express itself on a more modest level, merely as a pastoral Council” (Ratzinger, 30 Days, Sept. 1988), one can’t be blamed for refusing to accept its teaching when it contradicts previous infallible ones.


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