When Was The Charism Last Utilized?I will grant, there is some debate about this - but to go back to the last time where there is no doubt, we go back to 1950 when Pope Pius XII defined the doctrine on the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Munificentimus Deus. Before that we go back to the First Vatican Council (VCI) wherein papal infallibility is defined. Prior to that the next time is 1854 in Ineffabilis Deus in which the Immaculate Conception is defined. In the last two hundred years, the charism has only been utilized three times.
Is the Entire Document/Council Considered Infallible?Even within an entire document or council, the only part which can be considered infallible is the definition itself. There are explanations and theological opinions related to the dogma expressed, but those opinions, as respectful and true they might be, are not under the charism of infallibility - such as the definition itself is. So to re-emphasize, even in VCI, the last "dogmatic council," in all the documents from that council, the only part which is considered to be infallible is that one small section of the definition itself. Even though VCII has sections entitled "The Dogmatic Constitution on..." there is no new dogma defined at VCII - VCII is not even officially referred to as a "dogmatic council," rather it is (the first ecumenical council of its kind) a "pastoral council."
Does the Charism of Infallibility Validate the Papacy?No, the charism of infallibility was defined in Scripture (Matthew 16:18-19) by Jesus Christ Himself. Every pope has the charism, but the fact is relatively few have utilized it. So, the charism does not validate a papacy, but a pope (or council) may invoke it when there is a controversy large enough that it is splitting the Church. A papal or concilliar definition then ends the controversy for all faithful Catholics. From the point the infallible definition forward there can be no further public debate between faithful Catholics.
How About Those Who Denied a Dogma Prior to the Definition?Prior to the official promulgation of the infallible definition good and faithful Catholics may have stood on "the wrong side" of the definition, does this mean they are now under anathema? No! Prior to that defining moment they are not held accountable or culpable for standing in opposition to it. If they are still alive when the infallible definition is promulgated then they must conform to and accept the dogma. If they have died prior to the defining moment then they are not guilty of the anathema(s) which accompany the denial of such a definition.
If the Charism is Used So Infrequently, What Good is it?It is good for ending the debate over a subject which may be splitting the faithful. This level of debate does not happen very often, and thus the charism is not utilized very often. The important factor here is that the pope has been given this authority (Matthew 16:18-19) and so has the college of bishops (Matthew 18:18) and to deny the matter of infallibility is to deny the Scriptures which promise it. Whether or not it is ever used, the fact remains that it CAN be used for "whatsoever" they shall bind on Earth shall also be bound in Heaven. Unless one contends that error can be bound in Heaven, then we must conclude this binding is infallible.
Where is the Infallible List of Infallible Doctrines?The fact of the matter is no such "list" exists. Why? Such a "list" would be more of a disciplinary action, and disciplines can change - say a new dogmatic definition comes about - then "the list" would need to be amended. We do have reliable sources, like Dr. Ludwig Ott's "The Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma" as a good starting place. We tend to get this question from a challenger who is seeking a "gotcha" question, as if such a list is necessary - when in reality, it is not. If any Catholic has concerns about whether or not a specific teaching is dogma, it's not hard to find out. If such a challenger has a genuine question regarding a specific teaching, as to whether or not it is dogma, I would be happy to provide an answer - just use the "comments" section here.
When is a Papal Declaration Considered Infallible?As we've already discussed, the charism is scriptural, so there can be no doubt among Bible-believing Christians that it exists, so when does it exist? The formula presented at the First Vatican Council (VCI) spells it out quite clearly:
we teach and define as a divinely revealed dogma thatKeep in mind, this is coming from an ecumenical council as a defining statement (per Matthew 18:18). I must repeat, VCI while it is expressly defining dogma here - it is really only reaffirming what has already been defined by Scripture in Matthew 16:18-19. It does make this dogma unquestionable by faithful Christians - and there was a group called "The Old Catholics" which did not accept this definition and officially split with the Church shortly after VCI.
- when the Roman pontiff speaks EX CATHEDRA,
- that is, when,
- in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians,
- in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority,
- he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole church,
- he possesses,
- by the divine assistance promised to him in blessed Peter, (Matthew 16:18-19)
- that infallibility which the divine Redeemer willed his church to enjoy in defining doctrine concerning faith or morals.
- Therefore, such definitions of the Roman pontiff are of themselves, and not by the consent of the church, irreformable.
The bottom line is - when the bishops of the world are gathered in ecumenical council and they specifically define something - it is unchangeable, it is dogma. Likewise, when a pope uses the above formula then such a decree from him would be unchangeable, it is dogma.