Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
July 11, 1957
NUMBER 10, PAGE 10-11b

Catholic Infallibility --- (No. II.)

Wm. E. Wallace, Owensboro, Kentucky

To further picture before the reader the calculated attempts of the Catholic authorities to escape the force of the Galileo incident. I call attention to the Catholic doctrine of "fallible provisional teaching." The conclusion of the Catholic theology concerning the Church's doctrinal authority is, "all who refuse to assent to her teachings are threatened with eternal damnation." (Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. VII, page 792). The "fallible provisional teaching" of the Catholic Church becomes infallible when a "formal statement of doctrine, concerning faith and morals," is made by the pope as universal teacher, or by an ecumenical council in union with him. "Such a statement may be prepared by a long process of purely human work, but when it is finally issued it is guaranteed infallible. Hence it is definitive: there is no appeal against it either now or hereafter. It binds all the Faithful at all times, and is not subject to revision." (Ibid.) Now the claim is, the teaching of error by the Catholic Church regarding the Galileo matter does not come under the heading of definitive teaching (infallible), but under provisional teaching. "If Galileo, who happened to be right, while the ecclesiastical tribunal which condemned him was wrong, had really possessed convincing scientific evidence in favor of the heliocentric theory, he would have been justified in refusing his internal assent to the opposite theory, provided that in doing so he observed with thorough loyalty all the conditions involved in the duty of external obedience." (Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. VII, page 792.) In other words, if Galileo had advanced convincing evidence he would have been justified in opposing the Catholic error regarding the universe and the Bible. We are told in the same paragraph that "fallible provisional teaching, as such, derives its binding force principally from the fact that it emanates from an authority which is competent, if need be, to convert it into infallible definitive teaching." So you see the Catholic Church may be teaching error in some of its "fallible provisional teaching," and people are obligated to follow this error unless they can present "convincing" proof against the error. And. they would have to do better than Galileo did! The Catholic people are obligated to give loyal obedience to the Church in the matter involved, though it is error!

After this provisional teaching has had a journey through the trial and error stage the pope might get around to making a formal statement on the idea and then it changes from fallible provisional teaching to infallible definitive teaching.

The popes of Galileo's day thought wrong, spoke wrong, acted wrong and enforced their wrong conclusions, but as the doctrine of the infallibility of the pope was not declared until July 18. 1870 the Catholic Church has a little loop-hole through which to escape, they think. A group of high prelates in 1870 declared the pope to be infallible in his ex-cathdra declarations. In 1611 and 1616 a group of high prelates declared Galileo to be wrong. It is admitted by high prelates now that the high prelates then were wrong — in error, and upheld a false principle. If high prelates now can put the stamp of falsehood on high prelates of the past, and on the popes of the past also, maybe those high prelates of the Vatican Council of 1870 will meet the same fate in an hundred years or so. The infallibility of the church! Notice that in one quotation above it is declared that after the pope speaks ex-cathedra the matter is guaranteed to be infallible. And who guarantees it? The pope who can and has been wrong, or, some lesser fallible Roman Catholic office. Fallibility guaranteeing infallibility!

While the pope takes his time and delays in ex-cathedra declarations, millions of Catholics are forced to submit to "provisional fallible teaching" because it "emanates from an authority which is competent, if need be, to convert it into infallible definitive teaching." And there just may be a lot of "grave and deplorable error' in it.

Regarding the possibility of error in undefined teaching the Catholic Encyclopedia states, "The Catholic believer who has real faith in the efficiency of Christ's promises will no doubt but the Holy Ghost who abides in the Church, and Whose assistance guarantees the infallibility of her definitions, will also provide that any definition that may be necessary or expedient for the safeguarding of Christ's teaching will be given at the opportune moment, and that such definable questions as left undefined may, for the time being at least, be allowed to remain so without detriment to the faith or morals of the faithful." (Vol. VII, page 795.) Where was the Holy Ghost aiding when the Index and the pope decided in favour of error in Galileo's time?

In a candid sort of a summary the Catholic Encyclopedia has this to say about the Galileo affair: "As to the Galileo affair, it is quite enough to point out the fact that the condemnation of the heliocentric theory was the work of a fallible tribunal." Vol. VII, page 798.) In the final analysis it will be seen that the pope is the only one that has the infallibility. And, he does not have it unless he speaks ex-cathedra. The fallible tribunal that condemned Galileo had the fallible pope as its presiding officer. The fallible tribunal with its fallible pope issued a fallible pronouncement, a decision that proved to be error. The requirements of ex-cathedra pronouncements are said to be "(a) The pontiff must teach in his public and official capacity as pastor and doctor of all Christians . . . (h) Then it is only when, in this capacity, he teaches some doctrine of faith or morals that he is infallible. (c) Further it must be sufficiently evident that he intends to teach with all the fullness and finality of his supreme Apostolic authority . . . (d) Finally for an ex-cathedra decision it must be clear that the pope intends to bind the whole church, to demand internal assent from all the faithful to his teaching under pain of incurring spiritual shipwreck. . . . It should be observed in conclusion that papal infallibility is a personal and incommunicable charisma, which is not shared by any pontifical tribunal." (Vol. VII, page 796.)

The infallibility actually resides not in the Catholic Church but in the pope himself. The tribunals and other ecclesiastical congregations, even though the pope presides, are fallible. But when the pope makes a pronouncement which meets the requirements mentioned above (which requirements were set forth by one of the fallible congregations) he is infallible!

As Catholic authorities labor to explain why various ecclesiastical congregations were in error they actually destroy the idea of the infallibility of the church and the proposition that the church is the "Living Voice" should be changed to the proposition that the pope is the "Living Voice," and that only when he speaks ex-cathedra. And, the more you consider the matter the more absurd it gets.

The Catholic Church fixes strict demands on her members. If the people do not obey they are penalized or punished. But the infallibility lies only in definitive judgments from the pope. That means many, in fact most of the requirements and demands of Roman Catholicism might be in the realm of error. To illustrate this matter with authoritative words, I quote from Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, page 49: "In regard to the decisions of the Roman tribunal quoted above, it is proper to remark that while they claim the respect and loyal adhesion of Catholics, they are not irreformable, since they are not definitive judgments, nor do they proceed directly from the Supreme Pontiff, who alone has the prerogative of infallibility. If ever reasons should arise, which is most improbable, to change these pronouncements, those reasons would receive due consideration."