The Holy Spirit will teach you everything
and remind you of all I told you.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Copied from his latest newsletter:
Q: Why do Catholics believe the Pope is infallible?
A: The answer to that, in a nutshell, is: Catholics believe it because the Church teaches it. I know...I know...I've heard the objections to that answer many times, and you may be thinking one or more of them right now. "The Church?! Why do you let the Church tell you what to believe? Why don't you read the Bible and decide for yourself?" Or, "I don't care what your church says, the Bible says that all men are sinners (Rom 3:23), so the Pope can't be infallible." Or, "No man, other than Jesus Christ, can claim to be infallible, regardless of what your church says."
Okay, first, I want to define exactly what a Catholic means when they say the Pope is infallible, and then I want to look at this issue of infallibility using both the Bible and some good ol' common sense.
In Catholic teaching, when we say that the Pope is infallible, we do not mean, as some assume, that we are saying the Pope can never make a mistake, or that he can never commit a sin, or anything else like that. Infallibility has a very specific meaning in Catholic theology, and that meaning is this: The Pope, when he is teaching on a matter of faith and morals, to the entire Church, is prevented, by the Holy Spirit, from teaching error.
What exactly does that mean? It means that the Pope can indeed teach error - on matters pertaining to history, economics, science, sports, global warming, politics, and a whole host of other topics. Why? Because those things are not matters of faith and morals. It also means the Pope can indeed sin. Every Pope has. Being prevented from teaching error is completely different than being prevented from committing error, as when you sin. Not committing sin is known as impeccability, not infallibility.
It also means that the Pope cannot, one day, decide to write a papal encyclical saying that, as a doctrinal teaching, Catholics are no longer required to believe in the Trinity. Or send out a teaching that abortion is no longer a sin. Or that Jesus didn't really die on the Cross. Or that two men can indeed get "married." Or anything else along those lines. The Holy Spirit will prevent him from doing so.
Now, let's look at all of that. Does it make sense? Does it make biblical sense? Does it make common sense? A lot of people believe, as I mentioned above, that no man, except Jesus, could ever be said to be infallible. Yet, when I ask these very same people about the infallibility of the Bible, something a bit odd happens. They all state, without any hesitation, that the Bible is indeed infallible. It is without error. Well, let's think about that. For the Bible to be infallible (or inerrant), that means the folks who wrote the various books of the Bible had to be...infallible...at least when they were writing their particular part of Scripture. They had to be prevented from writing error. Think about that. Can an infallible book be written by a fallible man? The answer is, no. When they were writing their particular books of the Bible, each writer, inspired by the Holy Spirit, could commit no error. They were - while writing - infallible.
So, we have instances of a number of men, other than Jesus Christ, who were infallible - at least for some specific period of time. Anyone who claims the Bible is the Word of God should admit to this. Because, again, if Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, Isaiah, Ezekiel, and so on were not infallible - were not prevented by the Holy Spirit from making errors - when they were writing their respective books and letters that ended up in Scripture, then there is the possibility that they may have made a mistake in what they wrote. So, if you believe the Bible is free from error, and inspired by the Holy Spirit, then you have to believe that the writers were infallible in what they wrote. This kinda shoots a pretty big hole in the argument that only Jesus Christ was infallible.
Now, you might be asking, "So what does all this have to do with the Pope?" Well, here's the thing: the existence of the Bible as the inspired, infallible, inerrant Word of God, is evidence that God can, and has, bestowed the gift of infallibility on various men in the past. So, one cannot argue that the gift of infallibility has been reserved to Jesus and Jesus alone. Mere mortals have, at one time or another, been infallible. In other words, we have precedent for the Catholic teaching on infallibility.
So, we've eliminated the objection that infallibility can only apply to Jesus, and we've eliminated the objection that, since the Pope sins, he can't be infallible. The question is, though, so what? "You've cleared up this misunderstanding about infallibility not meaning the Pope can't sin. And, yeah, okay, the writers of the Bible were inspired by the Holy Spirit and, therefore, had to be endowed with the gift of infallibility, since the Holy Spirit doesn't make mistakes. But, how does that apply to the Pope? After all, Catholics don't claim that he's writing Holy Spirit-inspired Scripture, do they?" Well, no, we don't. I'm just trying to show, as a first step in my argument, that infallibility is not exclusive to Jesus and has nothing to do with sinning.
Next, I want to show how the Scriptures support the Catholic belief in the infallibility of the Pope. For example, do not the Scriptures say, in Luke 10:16, "He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects Him who sent me?" That's pretty powerful! The Apostles were speaking with, and by, the authority of Jesus Himself. So much so that Jesus tells them, "He who hears you, hears Me, and he who rejects you rejects Me." If they were speaking with Jesus' own authority, would you say that there was the possibility they were teaching error? Of course not. If they could teach error, then that means there was the possibility of Jesus being identified with error. Which means these disciples that Jesus is referring to were speaking infallibly on His behalf.
"But," someone might say, "that was when Jesus was alive and still with the Apostles. What assurance do we have that that was still true after Jesus ascended into Heaven?" Well, in John 14:16-17, we have our answer. It says, "And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Paraclete, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of Truth...you know Him, for He dwells with you, and will be in you." The Apostles received the Spirit of Truth - the Holy Spirit. And then in verse 26 of John 14, "But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you." And in John 16:13, "When the Spirit of Truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth..." Jesus ascends into Heaven and then the Father sends the Holy Spirit in Jesus' name to be with the Apostles and to guide them unto all truth as they go out to teach all nations.
So, the Apostles were able to teach on faith and morals without error - because they were guided by the Holy Spirit. In other words, they had the charism, or gift, of infallibility, because the Holy Spirit doesn’t make mistakes. In the Acts of the Apostles, ch. 8, there is the story about an Ethiopian eunuch who was reading from the Book of Isaiah. In Acts 8, verses 30-31 it says, "So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and asked, 'Do you understand what you are reading?' And he said, 'How can I, unless...[unless!] someone guides me?' And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him."
Scripture is plainly telling us that we need a guide to understand Scripture, and which would God give us - an infallible guide who could not lead us astray, or a fallible guide who could, possibly, every now and then, teach error? And listen to what the Bible says about those guides who preached the gospel: 1 Ptr 1:12, these men are those who "preached the good news to you through the Holy Spirit sent from Heaven". They preached through the Holy Spirit! There were men who preached with the authority of God the Father as given to them by Jesus Christ, Himself, and they were aided in using this authority by the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. In other words, they taught infallibly!
Think about this: Jesus founded a church. He sent the Holy Spirit to guide that church. That church, as the Bible clearly shows, was led by men who were infallible in their teaching. That's why the Bible could say that the church is the "pillar and bulwark of the truth," (1 Tim 3:15). So, you need to think about this question: Could a church founded by Jesus Christ and guided by the Holy Spirit ever teach error in matters of faith and morals? If you say, "Yes, it could," then you are left with the prospect of never being able to really know the truth. And if you can't know the truth, then you can never be set free (John 8:32). A church that can teach error in its doctrinal and moral teaching is a church that is not guided by the Holy Spirit.
But, if you say, "No, a church founded by Jesus and guided by the Holy Spirit cannot teach doctrinal or moral error," then you have just admitted that there is a church out there that has to have at least one person, or a group of persons, who are infallible - who cannot teach error in matters of faith and morals. Because you cannot have a church that teaches infallibly if all the teachers in it are fallible. It just doesn't work that way.
So, given that we Catholics believe our church was founded by Jesus, and that it is guided along its path by the Holy Spirit, that is why we accept the doctrinal teaching of the Church on this matter, and on all matters. It doesn't make sense not to. Either Jesus left us with an infallible guide, or He left us, each one, to our own devices, with no assurance of what is or is not the truth. The former makes a lot of sense, the latter does not.
One last point I want to make on this - I have heard, hundreds of times over, individuals claim that when they read the Bible, they are guided by the Holy Spirit in their interpretation and understanding of the Bible. Yet, they claim that they are not infallible, because no man is infallible. I have always wondered about that. If a person is guided by the Holy Spirit in their interpretation of the Bible, then that interpretation has to be infallible...because the Holy Spirit is infallible. If a person claims to be guided by the Holy Spirit, yet also claims to be fallible in their interpretations of the Bible, then they are essentially claiming that the Holy Spirit is fallible in His interpretations of Scripture. If you're guided by the Holy Spirit, you are infallible in your interpretations. If you are fallible in your interpretations, then you are not guided by the Holy Spirit. It has to be one or the other.Infallibility makes good biblical sense and good common sense. Without the gift of infallibility, we are simply left to hope and pray that we've gotten things right when it comes to faith and morals, because we can never really be sure.