The Infallibility of the Pope

Let's get a few things straightened out right away.
  • Infallibility DOES NOT MEAN the inability to sin (that's "impeccability")
  • This topic does not discuss the authority of the Pope, which you should read before you read this topic. If you are looking for that, you can find it in "The Authority of the Pope."

Now let's get started. How can the Pope be infallible? After all, he is a human being and we know that human beings make mistakes. Let's look at the official teaching of the Church, then we'll look at the Biblical evidence for it.

Not every statement uttered by the Pope is infallible. For the Pope to declare a teaching to be infallible it must meet certain requirements:

  • The Pope must teach in his public and official capacity and he must make it known that the teaching is Divinely revealed (and is, therefore, binding on all Christians).
  • The teaching must involve matters of faith or morals...not some personal opinion in some other field (for example, science).
  • The proclamation of the infallible teaching is done ex cathedra (it appeals to the Pope's Apostolic authority). For more information on his authority, read "The Authority of the Pope."

Now we'll look at the Biblical evidence for the infallibility of the Pope:

  • In Matt 16:18-19, Jesus tells the Apostle Peter: "And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." How strong and stable would this "rock foundation" be if the person holding the office of Peter could make mistakes in essential matters of faith or morals? If Jesus was to respond to Peter's decisions with an identical "binding" and "loosing" in heaven, how could Christ fix Peter's errors?
  • In Luke 22:31-32, Jesus tells Peter: "I have prayed that your own faith may not fail; and once you have turned back, you must strengthen your brothers." Because Jesus told Peter to "strengthen his brothers" in their Christian faith, the Holy Spirit will not allow the person holding the office of Peter to err in matters of faith or morals.
  • In John 14:16-18, Jesus says: "And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth... you know it, because it remains in you, and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans..."
  • Jesus gives his disciples the "great commission" in Matt 28:19-20: "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them..., [and] teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age." In this extremely important passage, Jesus commissions his disciples to teach and gives that promise that He would be "with them always." The Church is infallible only because the Ones who promised they would guide it (Jesus and the Holy Spirit) are infallible.
  • In the Gospel of John, Jesus says. "I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth" (John 16:12-13). Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would keep constant watch over his Church and guide it "to all truth." This shows that "all truth" was not known to the disciples yet, but that the "new" truths would come from the Holy Spirit through the Church.
  • In Luke 10:16, Jesus tells his 72 disciples: "Whoever listens to you listens to me. Whoever rejects you rejects me. And whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me." If this is true of Jesus' 72 disciples, then it must also be true of his "prime minister" (Peter) who was appointed by Jesus himself (Matt 16:18-19).
  • St. Paul writes that the Church is "the pillar and foundation of truth" (1 Tim 3:15). Could the leader of the Church be capable of making errors in matters of faith or morals and still be the Church still be called "the pillar and foundation of truth"? Hardly.
  • St. Peter was certainly infallible on at least two occasions: when he wrote 1 Peter and when he wrote 2 Peter

In Surprised By Truth, Patrick Sungenis writes:

"I found an indisputable example of the infallibility of the Catholic Church when I began to reflect on the question of the canon of Scripture. -- how the books of the Bible were determined, and issue often ignored by Protestants. There is no 'inspired table of contents' anywhere in Scripture. The decision as to which books should be included in the Bible and which books should not, was made by the Catholic Church in the councils of Hippo (393 AD), and Carthage (397 AD, 419 AD). These decisions were later ratified and solemnly defined by the ecumenical councils of Second Nicea (787), Florence (1440), and Trent (1525-46)...

... Since the Bible does not indicate which books belong in it, and since Protestants do not believe the Church has any authority to infallibly determine which books belong and which books don't, Protestants are left with an epistemological dilemma. Hence they are forced to the logical but heretical conclusion that there may be inspired books that should be in the Bible but were left out in error, and that there may be uninspired books in the Bible that have no business being there, but were added in error..."

So, if Protestants cannot be infallibly sure that the Bible in their hands is in fact the real Bible, how can they presume to use it "alone" as a reliable guide to saving faith in God? The irony is that Protestants believe in sola scriptura while they have no way of knowing what Scripture comprises in the first place.

Some say that the Bible is "self-authenticating," meaning that the Bible (by its very nature) simply compels one to accept its books as inspired. This is no different from the Mormon's claim that the Book of Mormon is the inspired Word of God, because the Book of Mormon feels very true to them. Most books in the Bible don't even claim to be inspired. Others (such as Philemon and 3 John) don't jump out at the reader as being inspired. It was up to the Catholic Church to decide which books were inspired and which books weren't. If it made an infallible decision then, why can't it make one now?

To sum up:

  • Infallibility DOES NOT MEAN the inability to sin (that's "impeccability").
  • Peter had infallibility.
  • The current Pope is a direct successor of Peter (see "The Authority of the Pope" for more information).

Catholic Encyclopedia: Infallibility - true meaning of infallibility, Biblical and historical proof, answers to objections about certain Popes

Papal Infallibility - Written by James Akin and includes: How it is described, Christ's Mandate, Use (Rare), Peter, Common Objections, The Reason for the Gift

Faith of Our Fathers - what the early Church Fathers thought about the subject