Wednesday, June 11, 2014

What Constitutes an Infallible Definition or Dogma

When is a Catholic teaching MORE than just a teaching and considered an "infallible" teaching or definition?  In a recent discussion here on CathApol with "John" (which comments had to be ended after responses became repetitious) the matter of "dogma" v. "dogmatic" came up - and is there a difference when the word "dogmatic" is used by an ecumenical council?  Well yes!  Just because the word "dogmatic" is used does not mean that new dogma is being defined.  The issue came up because "John" challenged that the Second Vatican Council (VCII), in his interpretation, has contradicted the Council of Florence on the necessity of Baptism for salvation.  (I do not wish to, and will not, rehash that entire discussion - feel free to go to the archives here to read the exchange - there's really nothing more to say there).  The purpose of this posting is to explain and discuss the matter of truly when dogma is being defined by a council or pope.  This charism of infallibility is really rarely used.

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 that
  • when the Roman pontiff speaks EX CATHEDRA,
  • that is, when,
  1. in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians,
  2. in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority,
  3. 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.
      Keep 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.

      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


      4 comments:

      1. Oh yes, and what is a definition? How will you know when you stumble across one?

        Let's compare some statements from some ecumenical councils, and you tell me which ones are definitions AND WHY...

        "We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, 
        the only Son of God, 
        eternally begotten of the Father, 
        God from God, light from light, 
        true God from true God, 
        begotten, not made, 
        of one Being with the Father; 
        through him all things were made. 
        For us and for our salvation 
        he came down from heaven, 
        was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary 
        and became truly human. "... Constantinople I

        "We believe that this one true religion subsists in the Catholic and Apostolic Church, to which the Lord Jesus committed the duty of spreading it abroad among all men. Thus He spoke to the Apostles: "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have enjoined upon you" (Matt. 28: 19-20). On their part, all men are bound to seek the truth, especially in what concerns God and His Church, and to embrace the truth they come to know, and to hold fast to it. This Vatican Council likewise professes its belief that it is upon the human conscience that these obligations fall and exert their binding force. The truth cannot impose itself except by virtue of its own truth, as it makes its entrance into the mind at once quietly and with power." Vatican II

        How am I supposed to know which one is a definition? If anything, Vatican II looks _more_ like a definition. It uses language like "we believe" and "this council declares"...

        "2. This Vatican Council declares that the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits."

        What does "declare" mean?

        "to make known or state clearly, especially in explicit or formal terms" and " Pronounce or assert (a person or thing) to be something specified"

        That's interesting. What does "define" mean?

        "State or describe the nature, scope, or meaning of" and "to state or set forth the meaning of ", "to explain or identify the nature or essential qualities of"

        Sounds the same to me, and it sounds like exactly what a lot of Vatican II was doing.

        But here's the other problem. Your formal definition of papal infallibility only applies to the pope speaking ex-cathedra. What has that got to do with the pronouncements of ecumenical councils? Not a lot as far as I see. Do you wish to claim Constantinope I was an exercise in papal infallibility?

        BTW, will you say conclusively that Unum Sanctum is infallible?

        We can accept the lack of a golden index of infallible statements as long as anyone can come along with vague hope of being able to see for themselves what is infallible and what isn't. But there isn't even vague hope here. Two statements can look very much the same in language and structure, both be part of ecumenical councils, both be promulgated by the pope, yet you'll tell me only one is infallible.

        Why did the bishops of Vatican II totally and utterly waste their time? If they wanted to gather together and discuss things clearly not theological in nature, then fine, but they gathered together to make theological statements. Must have taken a lot of time and money and effort, done with all the seriousness of the knowledge it was an ecumenical council and worded and thrashed out with care. But you're telling me it is not binding. Worse, you've admitted that in substance it is heretical (even though you can't bring yourself to use that word). Why did they waste their time?

        ReplyDelete
        Replies
        1. > J: Oh yes, and what is a definition? How will you know
          > when you stumble across one?

          sw: John, I asked for respectful and sincere questions - not vague open-ended questions.

          > J: Let's compare some statements from some ecumenical
          > councils, and you tell me which ones are definitions
          > AND WHY...
          >
          >> "We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
          >> the only Son of God,
          >> eternally begotten of the Father,
          >> ... Constantinople I

          sw: (stopping there, the reader can go back and read your context). This is really a restatement of the creed from Nicea. It is a CREDO an "I believe" statement (literally, not a "we believe" statement). It is a statement of the Catholic Faith. One council's credo may differ from another's, this does not make one fallible and the other not - it is simply a statement of beliefs. The same can be said for the statement from VCII - it's a statement of faith, not a definition of dogma.

          > J: How am I supposed to know which one is a definition?
          > If anything, Vatican II looks _more_ like a definition.
          > It uses language like "we believe" and "this council
          > declares"...

          sw: Whether it is "I believe" or "we believe" that would not change the meaning, it's a statement of belief.

          > J: "2. This Vatican Council declares that the human
          > person has a right to religious freedom. This
          > freedom means that all men are to be immune from
          > coercion on the part of individuals or of social
          > groups and of any human power, in such wise that no
          > one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to
          > his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly,
          > whether alone or in association with others, within
          > due limits."

          sw: Actually, what you're quoting from there is a statement of discipline, as in what we can DO or what other should DO and that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs. It's a very vague statement of how people should ACT.

          sw: I realize you're trying to use a "gotcha" tactic/argument - but all you've "got" is a misunderstanding of Catholic teaching, and as I have said before, I would be quite willing to help you attain a better understanding - but first you'll need to be humble enough to admit you've got this all wrong and your conclusions are based in false premises which is resulting in false conclusions and false accusations.

          > J: What does "declare" mean?
          > "to make known or state clearly, especially in explicit
          > or formal terms" and " Pronounce or assert (a person or
          > thing) to be something specified"
          >
          > J: That's interesting. What does "define" mean?
          > "State or describe the nature, scope, or meaning of"
          > and "to state or set forth the meaning of ", "to
          > explain or identify the nature or essential qualities of"
          >
          > J: Sounds the same to me,

          sw: And that is where you are wrong. The are NOT the same! Put it in simpler terms, "I declare this is a rock." That is a declaration of what something IS, it is not a definition. A definition would be, "Relatively hard, naturally formed mineral or petrified matter; stone." (http://www.thefreedictionary.com/rock) The declaration does not really tell us what the definition does.

          > J: and it sounds like exactly what a lot of Vatican II
          > was doing.

          sw: And this is precisely what I am referring to when you begin from a false premise, you conclude with a false conclusion.

          sw: More in next comment...

          Delete
        2. > J: But here's the other problem. Your formal
          > definition of papal infallibility only applies to
          > the pope speaking ex-cathedra. What has that got
          > to do with the pronouncements of ecumenical
          > councils? Not a lot as far as I see.

          sw: As you so accurately stated, the definition of papal infallibility has little to do with the potential infalliblity of statements from ecumenical councils. Did you have a point here?

          > J: Do you wish to claim Constantinope I was an
          > exercise in papal infallibility?

          sw: No.

          > J: BTW, will you say conclusively that Unum Sanctum
          > is infallible?

          sw: Which part of it? The whole document? I would say "no."

          > J: We can accept the lack of a golden index of
          > infallible statements as long as anyone can come
          > along with vague hope of being able to see for
          > themselves what is infallible and what isn't.

          sw: It's more than "vague hope." I've asked you to be precise, and where you have been, I have explained to you what is and isn't infallible. If you do not wish to learn, but only preach your false gospel... go away.

          > J: But there isn't even vague hope here. Two
          > statements can look very much the same in language
          > and structure, both be part of ecumenical councils,
          > both be promulgated by the pope, yet you'll tell me
          > only one is infallible.

          sw: And you've already demonstrated your ignorance between a "declaration" and a "definition." I hope you've learned something.

          sw: Next comment is pretty much unrelated, so will answer in a separate comment myself.

          Delete
        3. > J: Why did the bishops of Vatican II totally and
          > utterly waste their time? If they wanted to gather
          > together and discuss things clearly not theological
          > in nature, then fine, but they gathered together to
          > make theological statements. Must have taken a lot
          > of time and money and effort, done with all the
          > seriousness of the knowledge it was an ecumenical
          > council and worded and thrashed out with care.

          sw: The purpose of VCII was to bring the Church into the 20th century. One of the chief purposes was to make the liturgy more relevant to the modern world. Some will argue that they went too far with this and were even attempting to appease Protestants with the changes (and a panel of Protestant clergy were present for the reformation of the Mass). Regardless, do you see the point here? It's not at all "dogmatic" - but "pastoral" in that they were trying to reach the people with "relevancy." Then, the fact is that the Traditional Latin Mass was never abrogated - thus - even with the promulgatio of the New Order of the Mass (Novus Ordo Missae) there was nothing "binding" upon the whole Church here - in fact, when Pope Paul VI promulgated it, he "hoped" it would be widely embraced and used - no declaration that it "must" be used.

          > J: But you're telling me it is not binding.

          sw: Exactly, and you have yet to produce ANYTHING which came out of VCII that is binding which was not already binding by an earlier council or pope. I still confidently state that there was no new definition of dogma at VCII.

          > J: Worse, you've admitted that in substance it is
          > heretical (even though you can't bring yourself to
          > use that word).

          sw: You must have me confused with someone else. I've never stated the substance is heretical nor even hinted so.

          > J: Why did they waste their time?

          sw: "They" felt there was a need to bring more relevance to the people. That was what was behind "their" motives, as best as I can tell.

          Delete

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