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Novena Prayer to St Philomena

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Prayers & Litany to Our Guardian Angel

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Prayers for Priests & Vocations

Prayers, Novena & Litany to St Anne
Prayers, Novenas & Litany to St Jude Thaddeus
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Various Prayers
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Audio Files - SSPX
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Thoughts for the Week
 
 

 

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

Thoughts for the Week - Fr R Taouk 
24th July 2016

The Limits of Papal Infallibility by Rev. Charles Coupe S.J.

Suppose, during your summer holidays, you were to travel to Rome and were to ask the Pope's opinion, let us say, about South African politics, or Bimetallism, or Sunday Closing, or the Income Tax, or the Death Dues, or the relative merits of English and Australian mutton, or whether a certain well-advertised patent medicine really is "worth a guinea a box"; would not the Pope's answer (you ask) on these points, if he gave an answer, be regarded as infallible? Most assuredly not. The Pope knows less about many of these things than you do. The Pope is only infallible when, among other conditions, he treats of faith or morals; and the points you have touched on concern neither faith nor morals.

Suppose, during the same tour to Rome, you heard the Pope preach in St. Peter's on some question relating to faith or morals; and you did not agree with the preacher's view; and you wrote to him to say so; and the Holy Father condescended to reply to you in a private letter. You ask again: "Would not such sermon and such letter have to be considered infallible?" Not a bit of it. The Pope in his private capacity, even when treating of faith and morals, is no more infallible than you are. It is only when the Pope speaks as Pope, that is, "ex cathedra", officially, judicially, as interpreter of God's revelation, as Vicar of Christ, as addressing the Universal Church - it is only then that he speaks infallibly.

Non-Catholics ask how the Pope can be infallible since all men are liable to sin. The objection, of course, confuses infallibility with impeccability. Infallibility, that is, freedom from liability to teach error, is confounded with impeccability, that is, freedom from liability to practise error. John the Baptist, whom while yet unborn God confirmed in grace, was impeccable but not infallible. The Roman Pontiff is infallible but not impeccable. The two gifts are as different as water is different from wine, or as fire from snow, or as the North Pole from the South. The two gifts are different both in meaning and in purpose. Infallibility is for the benefit of the Church. Impeccability is for the benefit of the individual. Infallibility is an official gift. Impeccability is a private gift. Among the 258 Popes who have sat in Peter's chair, most have been holy men, many have been glorious saints; but a few - a very few - you can count them on the fingers of one hand - have been, alas, a scandal to the Church and a stumbling-block to the faithful. But how did their evil life touch the question of their "infallibility". Infallibility excludes error in the interpretation of the law. Impeccability excludes error in the observance of the law. You might as well argue that Judas the Apostle had no supernatural gifts because he sold his God. You might as well argue that David the Royal Psalmist had no supernatural gifts because he was an adulterer and assassin. You might as well argue that neither Balaam nor Caiaphas, neither Samson nor Solomon, had supernatural gifts because they all of them spurned the Commandments of God. Must a barrister be a bad interpreter of the law if he sometimes fails to observe the law?

Must a lawyer be a bad judge if he be guilty of assault and battery? The fact is that infallibility in no sense depends on the Pope's personal qualities, but on the promise and assistance of God who can choose the foolish things of the world to confound the wise and the weak things of the world to confound the strong. And thus Our Lord warned His followers to distinguish between the official acts and the personal unworthiness of His ministers when He said: "The Scribes and Pharisees sit in the chair of Moses. All things, therefore, whatsoever they shall say to you, observe and do; but according to their works do ye not". The wickedness of some of the Popes proves the divine character of the Church. A merely human institution must necessarily have perished with such men for its leaders.

Where is the Church? 1920, pp. 16-18.