Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Infallibility vs. Impeccability

I was talking to a good friend of mine about my thoughts about Rob Bell and the pope.  As we were talking about the papacy, she brought up some of the differences as to how she sees the papacy now, compared to how she saw it before she became Catholic.  And that brings us to this post today.

The papacy is something that people love to hate.  Or to distrust.  Who is the pope to decide what's right and what's wrong?  Why should he have definitive say over what teachings are true and which are false?  And where does that leave the poor Catholic in the pew?  All well and good when you have great popes like JPII and some of the recent popes, but what about Catholics in the Middle Ages?  Because there were some popes at that time that were seriously bad news.  These Catholic schmucks just have to follow along, like it or not.

First of all, I have to clear up a few things about infallibility.  I may have talked about it before, but it bears repeating.  Infallibility is not the same as inspiration.  If I was infallible in physics, and I took a 100 question test, how many answers would I get correct?

Wait for it...

And the answer is: depends on how many questions I answered.  If the Holy Spirit helped me to be infallible on that test, I would still have to study.  I might not understand all the concepts at the time of the test.  I might make some mis-steps in some of my calculations along the way.  It only means that when I eventually arrive at the answer, He would preserve that final answer from error.  Therefore, I could be infallible on the test, but only answer 22 questions.

Infallible teaching is not what the pope wakes up and decides to impose on Catholics that day.  It is a long process that involves careful study, prayer, many great minds, and often centuries of contemplation of a subject in all its subtle nuances.

Infallibility does not mean that the pope will always teach the right thing at the right time, only that when he does teach infallibly, those teachings will be free from error.  It doesn't mean that the pope himself will always hold infallible beliefs.  I will never forget one of my history books discussing a pope that had heretical views, but was so busy in his debauchery that he never got around to formally propagating those beliefs.  Or the pope that was going to place his stamp of approval on a Bible translation that was clearly full of error, but died before he could do it.  I am not claiming that the Holy Spirit was directly responsible for either one of those (especially not the debauchery!) but the point is that the pope is not personally infallible.

Finally, it decidedly is NOT the same thing as impeccability (sinlessness).  JPII went to confession weekly I believe.  Even those popes who set forth a truly holy example of how to live are still human and still fall short.  Also, plenty of popes were clearly a lot less holy than your average Joe.  Not the majority, but enough of them.  

Right, so here's another post about the pope, and it's not at all the post that I wanted to write at the end of my last post! I guess that means there's still another pope post to come.

1 comment:

  1. I can't wait! I've been meaning to write about this topic, but you do this stuff so well, I might just have to link to you!