As Edgar Davie argues in this commentary, the question of Papal Infallibility — long a stumbling block for people of other faiths, is being questioned in a variety of ways today within Catholicism. Certainly not by those who have elevated some sense of faithfulness to the magisterium to first commandment status but in wider Catholic circles there is increasing discussion with some prominent personalities receiving their marching orders for questioning the issue — such as Hans Küng and Paul Collins — and others, such as +Geoffrey Robinson challenging the concept of 'creeping infallibility'. In this lengthy argument, which we have split into three parts, US lay writer, Edgar Davie, looks at the history of the notion of infallibility and a couple of instances where the institution has seemingly broken the founding principle on which the entire notion is based.
On the History and Consequences of Papal Infallibility
A major question confronting the Church today...
Differing from all other Christian denominations the charisma of infallible Church teaching, not one's individual interpretation of Scripture, is at the heart of our Catholic faith. From childhood Catholics are taught of God's infinite love, a love revealed by His Son Jesus Christ who freely died for our sins and the sins of future generations. Assuring us we would not be left destitute Christ left to all Christians a visibly organized Church with instructions to His Apostles, "teach them to obey all the commands I have given you," assuring the apostles, "My Father will send to you the Holy Spirit, He will remind you of all I have said." [John 14:26] With this promise, faithful Catholics are assured Christ's unchangeable teaching remains secure within our Church and with our Pope who is the successor of the chief Apostle, St. Peter.
But troubling for many Catholics today, this ancient belief is now being challenged with a new understanding of Christ's promise. Does infallible papal teaching continue today, or could it have ended with St. Peter?
Affirming the Holy Spirit's Divine guidance, faithful Catholics are reassured by the Church that papal infallibility remains with us, stating,
"The Vatican Council has defined as a divinely revealed dogma that the Roman Pontiff, when he speaks ex cathedra 'From the chair of Peter' as pastor and teacher of all Christians he defines, by virtue of his supreme Apostolic authority, a doctrine of faith or morals to be held by the whole Church — is, by reason of the Divine assistance promised to him in blessed Peter, possessed of that infallibility in defining doctrines of faith and morals."
But today, the question of papal infallibility is no longer confined solely to non-Catholic Christians who for centuries have challenged this belief. Today the question of papal infallibility is rife within Catholicism. Does this divine gift continue to empower popes with the same inerrant authority bestowed upon St. Peter by Jesus in the book of Matthew 16:19? Unchallengeable by any human or Church Council, this doctrine remains the very foundation and final authority of Church teaching, and of our faith, requiring complete belief if we are to be faithful Catholics. But, while faith in papal infallibility cannot be proven empirically the question has arisen: can it be disproven? This is a major question confronting the Church today.
The Holy Father's divine ability to solemnly and infallibly explain Christ's unchangeable teachings is of utmost importance because the earthly record of these teachings exist today only in The Deposit Of Faith, which is described by the Church as:
"The doctrines of the Catholic Church are the deposit of faith revealed by Jesus Christ, taught by the apostles, and handed down in their entirety by the apostles to their successors. Since revealed truth cannot change, and since the deposit of faith is comprised of revealed truth, expressed in Scripture and Sacred Tradition, the deposit of faith cannot change."
Therefore, with the death of the Apostle St John (probably c.95AD), the Deposit of Faith was complete, and with this completeness no claim of new revelation from God is to be accepted. As we consider Christ's revealed Truth, we realize that truth does not later change or contradict itself; for this reason Catholic theologians acknowledge that should an infallible papal declaration change or nullify a Doctrine of Christ as recorded in the immutable Deposit Of Faith, belief in papal infallibility would be disproven.
This article will assert that two papal changes have occurred, the law of mandatory celibacy that brought about today's international scandal of sexually abusive celibate priests, and the condemnation of contraception as a mortal sin. These changes disprove the concept of papal infallibility. And today, a third infallible declaration is being challenged, the ordination of women.
The Law of Mandatory Celibacy...
In support of these allegations we begin by noting that Christ changed the ancient Mosaic Law requiring marriage, considered by Jews to be the first Biblical command from God. All Jews, including men, women and priests were to marry and propagate by age 20 [Genesis 1:28]. By freeing His Jewish-Christian followers from this law Jesus permitted all Christians the freedom to choose either marriage or celibacy "for the kingdom of Heaven" [Matthew 19:12]. Realizing Catholics rarely understand scripture in context, this passage is often misused by celibacy apologists to insist only Christian priests must remain celibate but, generally unknown by the laity, Catholic theologians concede no Biblical passage requires either celibacy or sexual abstinence for priests or anyone else.
The Jewish-Christian commitment to marriage was exemplified by the Apostles, who were married family men when personally called by Jesus. Supporting their life-long marriage commitment, both history and scripture reveals the Apostles and their wives traveled together spreading the Gospel; for example, ancient records report that 37 years after Jesus' death St. Peter and his wife Perpetua were imprisoned and executed in Rome. Today, few Catholic realize scholars such as Christian Cochini S.J. acknowledge no impediment to priestly marriage existed during the life of Jesus and His apostles, stating,
"The early centuries of the Church had no law on celibacy as it is understood in modern times, i.e., a law stating as a primary condition for admission to the Orders the obligation of renouncing marriage…perpetual continence was not imposed by Christ or by His apostles"
Therefore, since Christ permitted priestly marriage and St. Paul warned "Hypocrites will come saying marriage is forbidden" [1Timothy 4:1] it is apparent that a later change occurred, an impediment to Christ's Sacramental Doctrine of priestly matrimony as it existed in the Deposit of Faith. But when and why did a change occur?
The Pagan Threat...
Ancient beliefs die slowly. Sixty years after Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity c.313 the Church continued to be challenged by powerful pagan religions governed by ascetic priests and philosophers; Stoicism, Mithraism, Vestal Virgins and priests of Goddess Cybele and her eunuch companion Attis, were all more highly venerated across the Empire than married Christian priests. Renouncing fleshly temptations — primarily sex — pagan priests and philosophers established a distinction between a lower and higher moralit. Pagan priests were a spiritual aristocracy above common man who must be content with a lower grade of virtue. How, pagans asked, can a Christian preacher who engages in the fleshly temptation of marital sex communicate directly with the divine? Although Constantine appointed many Church officials to important governmental positions of authority, fully two thirds of Rome's power brokers remained pagan leaders, and were viewed as a threat to the Church.
The feared pagan threat became a reality with an event in 385AD, 355 years after Christ but only 20 after Emperor Julian's failed attempt to vanquish Christianity and reestablish Rome's ancient pagan religions. Seizure of Church property and assassinations had failed, but following Julian's failure the lingering fear of another pagan revival and the desire to elevate Christian priests to the venerated level of rival pagan priests remained. Reacting to this threat the first papal attempt to impose celibacy on the priesthood was instituted by a Roman cleric, Siricius, who in conformance with clerical norms of the time was married. Siricius abandoned his wife in order to become pope and immediately imposed a new law upon the priesthood, a law requiring all clerics cease sexual intercourse with their wives. This was a revolutionary change because Siricius' predecessor, Pope Damasus I, was also the son of a Roman priest, Antonius.
Having forever been permitted to marry, one can only imagine the trauma experienced by priests and wives who were forced to abandon conjugal love with their life-long spouse in order to remain priests. Apparently no thought was given to the fact that such a demand violated the Sacrament of Matrimony established by Christ where each spouse is granted the right of marital intercourse. Only in later centuries do we find Church apologists claiming priests and their wives "freely chose" to forgo marital intercourse when in fact violation of this law meant expulsion from the priesthood. Still today this "freely chosen" vow of celibacy for priests (Canon Law 1037) continues to deny priests the individual freedom of choosing either marriage or celibacy as Christ permitted. In other words this law denies the sanctifying grace of matrimony granted to priests and raises the question we seek to answer: on what authority other than our first tradition of married priests did Siricius rely when he imposed this law?
What are your thoughts on this commentary?