On the Infallible Church

12 May 2008

Ever since the Fogey began harping on the infallible church, I have been trying to understand it, mainly because he argues it is the break point, like the place where a path forks and diverges, for Protestants and Catholics.

His argument, as I understand it, is that the Church is infallible while its members are not.  In other words, the sum of the tradition of the Church, its practices, stances, teachings, etc., that have been preserved from time immemorial are infallible, and it is a belief in this infallibility which protects against human meddling and error.  Belief that the Church is fallible or that some of these practices, stances teachings, etc. can change (not the same thing, if you ask me) equals Protestantism.

I value this argument precisely because I consider myself Catholic.  I may not be a Roman Catholic any more, and may be more of an Independent Catholic than a traditional Anglo-Catholic, but I am Catholic.  The belief that some Church practices or beliefs can change does not invalidate the past, tradition, or even those who still hold those practices or beliefs.

Arguing for a practice based on Church infallibility seems to be a faulty argument, simply because it seems to argue that this or that practice is right and this or that one is wrong precisely because it has always been held so.  Both within and without the Church, practice and teaching, theory and reality change.

Perhaps what I am trying to articulate is this: such a belief seems too idealistic and ultimately unproductive (little can be made of it, other than the retrenchment of any position, no position is really promoted by it).

I’ve been thinking about the Church and Catholicity precisely because I’m preaching on Sunday, and I realize I’m one of the more traditionalist members of that congregation.

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2 Responses to “On the Infallible Church”


  1. Good to hear from you again and thanks for the mention and discussion.

    Harping on?’

    You’ve described what I believe – although it’s Christian and shares much in common with me, liturgical Protestantism is not Catholicism; modern controversial issues are only surface symptoms of the big divide – but it doesn’t mean every practice is infallible. There is tradition (cue Fiddler on the Roof song chorus here), of which scripture is a part, immutable, and then there are traditions. Defined doctrines, clarifying points of Catholic dogma and setting limits on interpretation (on people’s claims to change understanding of it), are infallible – that’s right; an infallible church limits people’s power. Moral teaching as well (natural law reinforced by revelation). Not every practice or rule falls under those. Accidents (in the Aristotelian and scholastic sense) of culture – traditions – don’t. For example differences in rites such as the Roman rule on clerical celibacy, different from those of the Eastern churches. They’re not about faith or morals.


  2. I must admit this is the first time I’ve understood your point.

    I still don’t agree with you. It does not make sense to me to stand by doctrine to that extent.

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