October 22, 2007

Some Good Logic on Infallibility

I was recently looking through the various blogs I try to check up on at least weekly, when over at Arkanabar's Eclectic Rants (no longer really the blog nobody reads, although that still makes a funny subtitle) I discovered a wonderful bit of logic on infallibility and doctrine that (surprisingly) I'd never seen put so well. I don't know whether it just stood out more when arranged the way he arranged it, or if I just never read the right section of the Catechism to find it in there, or why else I haven't seen it put so clearly before; but I'm passing it on for anyone else whom it may help. It shows how, based on some simple and common Christian beliefs, it's perfectly natural (not intolerant) to expect there to be some infallibility involved.

1. God loves us all.
2. God gave us free will.
3. We are separated from God by sin.
4. God devised ONE means by which that separation could be repaired (His plan of salvation), which includes the things we must believe and how we must live.
5. God desires that all of us be saved.
6. God can do all things.

From 2 and 3, we can conclude that God expected some of us to corrupt the One plan of salvation mentioned in 4. But from 1, 5, and 6, we can conclude that God would also ensure that His plan of Salvation in 4 would be preserved from corruption, and furthermore, that it would be widely available and widely recognized. In other words, God would ensure there was an authority on earth that would preserve and promote His one plan of salvation.

Hopefully that makes it fairly clear why the Church and Catholics believe in the need for infallible authority. It has nothing to do with any contradictory preference "for certainty rather than truth", which is impossible anyway since certainty in itself implies truth. However, a lot of misconceptions float around as to what Catholics believe to be infallibly defined and what not. I'll try and clear that up here as well. From what I know, it pretty much goes as follows:

1: Only matters relevant to Salvation, namely those of faith and those of morals, are bothered with by the Church's Magisterium*.
-This means that if the Pope ever tells his favorite sports team you don't even have to check whether that's infallibly defined. On the other hand, if the Church defines morals as they apply to sports, that is still the Church's jurisdiction because it's morals. The same goes for many things where people mistakenly believe the Church is meddling in politics when she in fact is ruling morals that are more powerful than any political theory, body or practice. On the other hand, it is true that the Church can only give advice, not infallible doctrine, on the best applications of this morality in terms of prudence, as opposed to other applications that don't specifically go against the morals she teaches. For example, we should give the Pope's advice careful consideration when he speaks personally (see point 3) against a certain war, but keep in mind that he is not protected from error in dealing with such particular matters. If his objection is based on a defined moral principle and something it applies to that we know is true, we have to take it (not because it is infallibly defined itself but because it is a certain application of the infallibly defined). If there is uncertainty as to whether this thing it applies to actually is as he believes it is, or if in terms of the moral objection to it he is going out on a limb (in terms of definitiveness, not in terms of how crazy it may sound to unaccustomed ears), then in those cases we are of course allowed to be uncertain.

2: The matter must be declared by the authority in the Church. This means it is either -
a: defined by the Pope,
b: defined by a universal council convened by the Pope and the teaching of which is approved by the Pope, or
c: has been taught by virtually every Church teacher since virtually always and has not needed clarification.
(Sometimes it is said that if all the Bishops agree on something, then it is infallibly defined; however, the three above are more accurate and I'd be surprised to see all the bishops agree on anything unless it was already made clear by one of those means. Also, in the case where clarification of a -c- case is needed, then -a- or -b- must come into play.)

3: The matter must be declared officially.
-I could have summed the previous point and this one together by saying "declared authoritatively", which implies both authority and definitive use of the authority, but it's clearer for most to show the two separately. Basically, even the Pope, who has authority, doesn't always have to use it. This is why, in the first point, it is possible for him to give personal advice on whether he thinks a particular war is justified or whose team is the coolest (not that any good Pope would likely have time for that, but you never know *wink*) without running into a contradiction with point 2.

In practice, these mean that something is infallible when the Pope (or, similarly, a full council of the Church called under the Pope's authority) says he is teaching it as guardian of the Truth and Shepherd of the Church, or something to that effect (language of "looking on the world with Our paternal eye as from a watchtower" has been used, for example). He'll spell it out somehow that it's meant for the whole Church to hear as part of the Truth he is there to keep. (A council will usually declare its teaching definitive with the words "Whoever does not believe this, let him be anathema**.")

Incidentally, when the Church continues defining Dogmas***, it's not because people haven't had everything they needed for Salvation or because in principle people living later need more for Salvation. Whatever the Church defines today (or at any time since the Apostles, for that matter) has been implied by earlier doctrine. Generally the Church continues making these implicit things explicit for two reasons: either because there is confusion or dispute about these details, or to give us more knowledge of God and what He has done, so that we can love Him more deeply.

In closing I'd like to ask, in the event any Protestant should wander in here, if there is a system they have for satisfying the conditions set forth above by Ark, but without the Pope? I don't mean to be argumentive, I just want to be able to know where others are coming from (even if I disagree with it).


*The Magisterium is the teaching authority of the Church (the name comes from the Latin for teacher, in case anyone wonders).

**Anathema: cast out of the Church due to refusal to be within the Church doctrinally.

***Dogma: doctrine clarified to clear up confusion or dispute.

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Blogger Arkanabar T'verrick Ilarsadin said...

By the way, I worked this logic out myself. I once proclaimed the infallibility of Catholic Doctrine, and the first detraction essentially accused the Church of having only circular logic to support her position regarding infallibility. This reasoning was my response.

He continued his attacks, but I wasn't really able to see and point out that they were straw men, ad hominem, and emotional.

June 12, 2008 9:35 PM  

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