Archive for the ‘Universal and Ordinary Infallibility’ Category

The Perspicuity of the Magisterium

June 14, 2011

Code of Canon Law 749

§1. By virtue of his office, the Supreme Pontiff possesses infallibility in teaching when as the supreme pastor and teacher of all the Christian faithful, who strengthens his brothers and sisters in the faith, he proclaims by definitive act that a doctrine of faith or morals is to be held.

§2. The college of bishops also possesses infallibility in teaching when the bishops gathered together in an ecumenical council exercise the magisterium as teachers and judges of faith and morals who declare for the universal Church that a doctrine of faith or morals is to be held definitively; or when dispersed throughout the world but preserving the bond of communion among themselves and with the successor of Peter and teaching authentically together with the Roman Pontiff matters of faith or morals, they agree that a particular proposition is to be held definitively.

§3. No doctrine is understood as defined infallibly unless this is manifestly evident.

This is the “death by a thousand qualifications” clause in terms of Roman dogma. Is there really anything that is so manifestly evidently defined infallibly that someone cannot come along later and question it?

Case in point: “Fr.” John Zuhlsdorf vs. “Fr.” Richard McBrien, Crowley-O’Brien Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame.

Zuhlsdorf seemingly claims that the ordination of women was infallibly defined as being contrary to the faith by John Paul in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis and then subsequently was reaffirmed by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (which, interestingly, indicated that Ordinatio Sacerdotalis did not define this as dogma: “In this case, an act of the ordinary Papal Magisterium, in itself not infallible, witnesses to the infallibility of the teaching of a doctrine already possessed by the Church”). In other words, per the CDF, O.S. did not define the dogma – the dogma is infallible via the mechanism of universal and ordinary magisterium.

Of course, Scripture makes it pretty clear that the eldership is for men only, but is it manifestly evident? I’m sure it is for the conservatives, and not for the liberals. Its lack of manifest evidence is not due to any deficiency in the text of Scripture, but simply in the sinful rebellion of mankind.



Bellisario Swings and Misses

September 24, 2010

Matthew Bellisario has a new post up (link to post). It purports to respond to an earlier post I provided (link to my post).

The title of the post is “Another “Expert” on Catholicism Misrepresents Church Teaching.” The person he’s referring to as “Expert” is me. I’m flattered! No, I jest. I’m not really flattered, because those little quotation marks are being used by Bellisario to indicate sarcasm.

But sarcasm is just the opening. The first sentence claims I’m someone “often misrepresents Catholic teaching” (no evidence provided). The second sentence calls my post my “latest rant.”

You might think he’d met his quota of negative assertions with those two sentences and the title, but you’d be wrong. He’s just getting started. In the third sentence, Bellisario says both that my argument “is based on pure fallacy” and then questions whether you can call my article an argument.

That third sentence is a set-up for the fourth sentence where Bellisario states: “Lets [sic] take a quick look at how this pretended “Reformer” misrepresents the Catholic Church here regarding infallibility.” This sentence combines the sarcasm quotation marks, with the negative adjective “pretended,” and a further negative assertion that I misrepresent “the Catholic Church” – a three-for-one special!

That concludes his opening paragraph. One might expect that he’s about to unleash some demonstration of how I misrepresent his church.

But his very next sentence acknowledges that I quoted two documents from Cardinal Ratzinger from when he was prefect of the CDF and that I characterized the situation as “pretty clear.” Bellisario’s next sentence, remarkably, agrees that it is pretty clear!

Bellisario writes:

Yes its [sic] pretty clear, and dissent has no bearing on whether it is infallible or not. In fact, the reason why they were restating the Ordinary infallible teaching is because idiots in the Church were not following it.

At least it is nice to know that Bellisario’s negative words are not reserved for us pretended reformers! And nothing that Bellisario has said here actually disagrees with what I wrote – in fact the one place it interacts, it explicitly agrees with me!

Bellisario then provides another block quote from and responds:

The document itself does not have to be “infallible” since the Church has long taught the doctrine as being infallible. In order for a doctrine to be considered infallible it does not have to be proclaimed formally by the Pope in any one given document. So a Catholic who understands how the Church defines doctrine does not care if the document itself is infallible, it merely becomes part of the same Ordinary and Universal Magisterial teaching that has always taught it as being infallible.

And, of course, nothing of what Bellisario has said disagrees with what I wrote. In theory, as Bellisario has said, something can be “considered infallible,” even though no pope or council has defined it as dogma.

But, of course, the only way that these allegedly infallible teachings are known are through fallible means. In other words, someone could try to do personal research to see whether this teaching is really something that has been promulgated by the universal and ordinary magisterium, or one could rely on the CDF, but both of those techniques are fallible. One relies on private judgment, and one relies on a fallible authority. One could even rely on one’s own interpretation of Scripture to conclude that male-only ordination is an infallible teaching. But one could be wrong. Neither one’s private judgment nor the CDF has the charism of infallibility in Romanism.

Bellisario then provides another block quotation from me and comments:

No it is not even possible that a future Pope [sic] could change the doctrine, and only someone like Turretin Fan with limited knowledge about the Catholic Church would ever make such a statement like this. It is impossible for a Pope [sic] to come along and change Ordinary Infallible doctrines of the Church. It is not like Protestantism where teachings on contraception can change virtually overnight. The fact that there are dissidents in the Church who are active despite the Church’s infallible teaching, again has no bearing on the argument at hand. There have always been dissenters in the Church despite the fact that the doctrine they oppose has been defined infallibly. We see this fact clearly with the heretical theologians who call themselves Catholic, who still do not accept the infallible teaching on Transubstantiation. No one cares, and it has no bearing on the infallibility of the teaching.

Finally, Bellisario says he disagrees with something! But note how he goes about it. First, he states the fact that he thinks he disagrees. Then, he makes a negative comment about me. Neither of these sentences is actually an argument, so we’ll pass over them.

Getting to his argument, Bellisario alleges: “It is impossible for a Pope [sic] to come along and change Ordinary Infallible [sic] doctrines of the Church.” But here we see the problem – the reason why Bellisario has disagreed: he has not understood what I wrote! I didn’t say that it is possible for a pope to come along and change an infallible doctrine. I said it is possible that the pope could come along and define a doctrine that is contrary to what the CDF has claimed is an infallible doctrine. After all, the CDF is fallible. Consequently, the fact that the CDF claims that something is an infallible doctrine doesn’t make it an infallible doctrine, just like Bellisario asserting that something is infallible doctrine doesn’t make it so.

Bellisario’s next sentence is an irrelevant aside on his disturbingly favorite topic of contraception. I’ll leave it aside in the interest of time.

Bellisario’s next assertion is that “The fact that there are dissidents in the Church who are active despite the Church’s infallible teaching, again has no bearing on the argument at hand.” Part of the problem, as noted above, is that Bellisario hasn’t grasped the argument at hand. Another part of the problem is that “dissidents” are the way that something avoids being universal.

Let’s try to help out Bellisario with an example. If we look at the Western church from Augustine to Aquinas, excluding the heretics, one will find that almost everyone acknowledged the universality of original sin, with Christ being the one exception because of his virginal conception. Yet, nevertheless, at some point folks (you could refer to them as “dissidents” or simply as “a vocal minority” if you like) began to allege that Mary was an additional exception.

This is not something that “change[d] virtually overnight.” It is something that was very gradual. It took a long time from when Bridget of Sweden and Catherine of Sienna were having conflicting alleged private revelations to when Pius IX defined the dogma of the Immaculate Conception.

It happens in Romanism – sometimes what was the viewpoint of a tiny minority becomes an allegedly infallible dogma later. That’s why appeals to the “ordinary and universal magisterium” are illusory.

Bellisario provides a counter-example regarding theologians who deny transubstantiation. Suffice to say that this counter-example doesn’t undermine what I’ve said. The dogma of Transubstantiation was defined at Trent. It’s not something that’s defined by the “ordinary and universal magisterium.” So, even if Bellisario’s characterization of the situation with them is accurate, it’s not particularly relevant.

To put it another way: Bellisario has no consistent way to distinguish between a true dissident and a minority voice prior to an exercise of the extraordinary magisterium.

Bellisario concludes his post with the same kind of non-argumentation that characterized his opening:

Ordinarily I would not waste my time with such things, but pointing out this post gives us an example of how little the opposition truly understands about Catholicism. Let the buyer beware before they believe anything they read on Turretin Fan’s website that pertains to Catholicism.

After seeing how Bellisario failed to rebut or refute anything that was said, spending his time arguing against a position not expressed in my article, perhaps a different moral emerges: understand what the critic of your church is saying, before you accuse the critic of not understanding your church’s teaching, particularly when the critic quotes at length from your church’s official documents.

Or you can just slap a lot of negative assertions together and call it a response!


Test Case of the Infallible Magisterium: Ordination of Women

September 23, 2010

Here’s the Official Roman Catholic position on the ordination of women:

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger

November 8, 1995

The publication in May 1994 of the apostolic letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis was followed by a number of problematic and negative statements by certain theologians, organizations of priests and religious, as well as some associations of lay people. These reactions attempted to cast doubt on the definitive character of the letter’s teaching on the inadmissibility of women to the ministerial priesthood and also questioned whether this teaching belonged to the deposit of the faith.

This congregation therefore has judged it necessary to dispel the doubts and reservations that have arisen by issuing a responsum ad dubium, which the Holy Father has approved and ordered to be published (cf. enclosure).

In asking you to bring this responsum to the attention of the bishops of your episcopal conference before its official publication, this dicastery is confident that the conference itself, as well as the individual bishops, will do everything possible to ensure its distribution and favorable reception, taking particular care that, above all on the part of theologians, pastors of souls and religious, ambiguous and contrary positions will not again be proposed.

The text of the responsum is to remain confidential until the date of its publication in L’Osservatore Romano, which is expected to be the 18th of November.

With gratitude for your assistance and with prayerful best wishes I remain,

Sincerely Yours in Christ,

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger


Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

October 28, 1995

Dubium: Whether the teaching that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women, which is presented in the Apostolic Letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis to be held definitively, is to be understood as belonging to the deposit of faith.

Responsum: In the affirmative.

This teaching requires definitive assent, since, founded on the written Word of God, and from the beginning constantly preserved and applied in the Tradition of the Church, it has been set forth infallibly by the ordinary and universal Magisterium (cf. Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium 25, 2). Thus, in the present circumstances, the Roman Pontiff, exercising his proper office of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32), has handed on this same teaching by a formal declaration, explicitly stating what is to be held always, everywhere, and by all, as belonging to the deposit of the faith.

The Sovereign Pontiff John Paul II, at the Audience granted to the undersigned Cardinal Prefect, approved this Reply, adopted in the ordinary session of this Congregation, and ordered it to be published.

Rome, from the offices of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, on the Feast of the Apostles SS. Simon and Jude, October 28, 1995.

Joseph Card. Ratzinger

Tarcisio Bertone
Archbishop Emeritus of Vercelli


It’s pretty clear. Ratzinger (then prefect/puppeteer of John Paul II) was alleging that the Roman Catholic Church’s position on the ordination of women is an infallible, irreformable teaching, despite the fact that there is presently (or at least certainly was) dissent within the heirarchy as to whether the failure to ordain women is proper.

Ratzinger, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (the group formerly known as the Inquisition), and Bertone (Emeritus Archbishop) clearly are teaching this doctrine. Ratzinger is now pope. Furthermore, Ratzinger alleges that John Paul II approved this document. So, it virtually has the approval of two consecutive popes.

But here’s the rub.

The document itself is not an exercise of papal infallibility. The document merely alleges that the teaching is something “set forth infallibly by the ordinary and universal Magisterium.” But this document itself is not the ordinary and universal Magisterium. This document is fallible.

So it is possible (whether or not it is likely), that some future pope’s prefect may decide that Ratzinger erred. The practice of non-ordination of women is just something culturally conditioned and a long-standing discipline … and hey-presto, this document ceases to have any authoritative weight against the new document.

Worse yet (for the traditionalists), some future pope may infallibly define that both women and men may be properly ordained. If he does, what will be the use of this document!

As many folks know, the women priests movement continues to be active despite the opposition of the current papacy (link to recent example article).


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