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David Cho wrote:

Hi, guys —

I've searched your database about papal infallibility and noticed in one of your answers you say that the Holy Spirit doesn't allow error when the Pope speaks infallibly.

  • How does the Holy Spirit prevent one from doing this?
  • How does the Pope or the bishops know when to declare infallibility and when not to?
  • Is it only when teachings are about faith and morals that they are declared infallible?
  • Why can't other issues be declared infallible?
  • Aren't they also important enough to be declared as a definitive statement?

David

  { Can you elaborate on the meaning of papal infallibility so I can understand it better? }

Paul replied:

Dear David,

There are three things to consider:

  1. It is the Church that is infallible, as Jesus' extended body. The infallibility of the Head (Jesus) extends to His body (the Church) by virtue of the Holy Spirit that holds them together. Jesus promised His Church this gift for the sake of our salvation — which is why He came to the earth and sacrificed Himself. Our cooperation with Him is paramount.

  2. This gift of infallibility is given to the Church, specifically to its leadership in Peter and the Apostles; and by virtue of Apostolic Succession is possessed by the pope and the bishops in union with him. The pope may declare something:
    • himself through a solemn declaration, or
    • with the bishops at an ecumenical council; or
    • they (the pope and the bishops) may speak infallibly on matters of faith and morals when dispersed throughout the world while in moral union with each other.

This relates to what the Church calls the extraordinary magisterium and the ordinary magisterium. It is well explained in Lumen Gentium 25 [total document]
of the documents of Vatican II as well as in Ad Tuendam Fidem [Vatican|EWTN].

  1. The charism of infallibility extends only to matters of faith and morals because these are the matters pertaining to salvation. Faith is what we need to believe and morals are how we are to live. It relates to the two powers of the soul — intellect and will.

    Faith and morals are truth and life, and is exactly what the Church teaches (Truth) and offers us through the sacraments (Life). Anything else the pope and bishops might say, or how they might act, does not enjoy the gift of infallibility.

This all makes reasonable sense since Jesus did not just come for the relatively few He personally encountered over two thousand years ago. The message of who God is and how we are to respond to Him is meant for all people into the future; and the Church, ensured by the Holy Spirit, is the infallible depository of these means of salvation.

In order to please God, Christ, through His Church, communicates His Word (faith and morals) and offers us His Light and Strength (the sacraments) in order to live it.

Peace,

Paul

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