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THE Global Justice Movement Website
This is the "Global Justice Movement" (dot org) we refer to in the title of this blog.

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

The Wrong Idea of Infallibility

As we saw in the previous posting on this subject, Félicité de Lamennais dismissed individual reason and claimed that truth resides only in the general reason as the result of direct revelation from God.  Consequently, something is true because someone believes it; it is not believed because it is true.  This requires a central religious authority — the pope — to determine truth and communicate it to believers.

Understandings of infallibility are not infallible . . .


And that created a serious problem regarding the understanding of “papal infallibility.”

As (mis)understood by de Lamennais and others, Catholic (with triumphalism or sorrow) non-Catholic (with extreme uneasiness), and anti-Catholic (with malicious delight), papal infallibility took on weird and wonderful forms.  Accounting for both his exaggerated regard for the papacy, and his subsequent and extravagant disillusionment with individual popes, de Lamennais assumed that the pope, the chief human agent of the Catholic Church, and all human ordinances and temporal acts of the organizational Church, are as omniscient and as infallible as at that time he believed the religious and moral teachings of the Catholic Church to be.

Thus — to de Lamennais — the pope speaks infallibly not merely on faith and morals, but on reason and science.  This meant that the pope’s conclusions about, or statements on theological and philosophical matters (yes, theology and philosophy are sciences, as is economics and other fields of study) are not to be questioned . . . even (or especially) when they contradict reality.

"Be not afraid ... unless you're a socialist."


That sounds odd, but it makes perfect sense to de Lamennais and others down to the present day.  You see, there’s a reason why socialists and modernists tend to denigrate Aristotle and Aquinas; as Pope Pius XI declared, “It is therefore clear why Modernists are so amply justified in fearing no Doctor of the Church so much as Thomas Aquinas.” (Studiorum Ducem, § 27.)

According to Aristotle (and thus Aquinas), the way people think is to go from the particular and actual, to the general and the abstract.  We build our concepts of things from what we observe and experience.  A self-aware child (usually around age two) doesn’t classify Mommy and Daddy as parents.  They are Mommy and Daddy, period.  Later, the child realizes that other children have parents, too, and something clicks.  He or she “abstracts” from the “practical knowledge” that he or she and all (or most) of the other children also have parents, and develops from reason the “speculative knowledge” that children in general have parents.

"Ideas have independent existence."


Plato, followed by the socialists and modernists like de Lamennais, went the other way.  According to Plato, ideals exist independently of the minds that create them.  For a Christian these ideals exist in the mind of God, and our job is to listen to and obey those who have a special connection to, or revelation from God . . . until (of course) God tells us what He wants directly, or we go find ourselves another God more to our liking.  This allows us to conform to the ideal that Aristotle and Aquinas (and the Catholic Church) claim exists only in our own minds.

This is not the same as saying that abstractions do not exist.  Ideas are real.  The difference between an abstraction created by man, and an actuality created by God, however, is that abstractions have no independent existence.  Actualities are independent of their Creator; God does not abstract.

There is a long and complicated philosophical explanation why this is so, but we won’t get into it.  Suffice to say that the logical conclusion of Plato’s concept of independent ideals means that what is ideal can contradict what is actual and still be considered “true,” while the logical conclusion of Aristotle’s concept of dependent ideals means that if an abstraction contradicts actuality, the abstraction is necessarily wrong.

"Ideas DON'T have independent existence."


Aristotle (and Aquinas) built their entire philosophies on this principle, which is “the first principle of reason.”  It can be stated two ways, one “negative” (the law or principle of [non] contradiction), and one “positive” (the law or principle of identity).  The law of contradiction is that nothing can both “be” and “not be” at the same time under the same conditions . . . even (or especially) if you think God Said So.  The law of identity is, that which is true is as true, and is true in the same way, as everything else that is true.

But wait!  There’s more!

·      Nothing held by faith can contradict reason or there’s an error somewhere.

·      Nothing proved by reason can contradict faith, or ditto.

·      The existence of God and the content of the natural law can be proved by human reason alone (put another way, something is right because God IS so, not because God SAID so)

Now we can finally talk about the true concept of “infallibility.”

Infallibility does not mean that the pope can create truth.  Rather, infallibility refers to the belief that the pope has been granted special discernment in matters of faith and morals.  He can declare a teaching that has always been held by the Church as “infallibly true.”  Thus, something is not true because the pope says so.  Rather, the pope says so because it is true.


"Sorry...My bad."

There are a couple of caveats that go along with this correct understanding of infallibility.  First, it applies only to faith and morals, not science.  We said this above, but it needs to be repeated . . . especially since theology and philosophy are sciences.  Popes can make mistakes in theology and philosophy without calling infallibility into question.

For example, in A.D. 634 Pope Honorius I, acting in haste and without consulting anyone, approved “Monothelitism” that was later condemned as a heresy.  That, however, did not concern faith or morals directly, but was an imprudent declaration in a theological matter.

Now, do you really want to know what Monothelitism is?  No, you don’t.  Here’s why: Patriarch Sergius of Constantinople had proposed Monothelitism, the theory that Jesus has two natures but a single will or “energy” in an effort to unify the Nestorians (who held that Jesus is two persons, one human and one divine), the Monophysites (who held that Jesus has one, divine nature), and the Orthodox (who held the Catholic position that Jesus is a single Person with a divine and a human nature).  The theory failed to effect a reconciliation, and only succeeded in adding the element of separating the Will and the Intellect to an already confusing situation.

Contradictions are neither true nor false, but nonsense.


Aren’t you glad we told you?  And now, back to our regularly scheduled program.

Second, the pope can be absolutely correct in a matter of faith and morals . . . and completely wrong in how he applies it!

For example, a pope can declare that murder is wrong.  That is within his competence.  In the extremely unlikely event that a pope would declare that abortion is A-O.K., however, he would be wrong on two counts, neither of which would disprove papal infallibility or call it into question (just his sanity).  One, infallibility does not apply to particular instances except in the extraordinary circumstance of canonization.  Two, infallibility doesn’t allow a contradiction.  For a pope to declare abortion okay, it would contradict previous and accepted definitions of murder and person.

Third, a pope can declare something infallibly true, and be absolutely correct in how he applies it, and we can be completely wrong in how we understand and interpret it.  That’s right.  Papal infallibility applies to the pope, not to us.

And what this has to do with socialism and modernism we will take up in the next posting on this subject.