Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
October 13, 1960
NUMBER 23, PAGE 1,12

The Bold Assertion Of Roman Catholicism

Irvin Himmel, St. Louis, Missouri

Infallibility of the Church is the taproot error of Roman Catholicism. As long as a Catholic believes in the authority of the Church, he is not impressed by our contrasting what Catholicism teaches with what the Bible teaches. In talking with Catholics one might as well start with the doctrine of infallibility — he'll necessarily get to it sooner or later.

Meaning Of Infallibility

What do Catholics mean by infallibility of the Church? They do not mean that every member of the Church is guarded against error. They do not mean that their clergymen cannot err in teaching. They do not mean that the Pope is above sin.

"By the infallibility of the Catholic Church is meant that the Church, by the special assistance of the Holy Ghost, cannot err when it teaches or believes a doctrine of faith or morals The Church teaches infallibly when it defines, through the Pope alone, as the teacher of all Christians, or through the Pope and the bishops, a doctrine of faith or morals to be held by all the faithful." (A Catechism of Christian Doctrine, p. 31.)

Importance of Infallibility How much importance do Catholics attach to the doctrine of infallibility of the Church? John B. Hartley says in a booklet bearing the imprimatur of Cardinal Spellman, speaking of papal authority and infallibility, "The clear recognition and sincere acceptance of these two truths is absolutely necessary for the welfare of humanity.... Those truths are integral, essential, strongly emphasized elements of that Gospel. And belief in that Gospel is an imperative condition of eternal life. 'He that believeth not shall be condemned' (Mark xvi. 16)." (The Popes: Infallible Teachers, p. 32.)

Source Of Infallibility

What is the basis of the Catholic teaching on infallibility? Harney answers, "This doctrine does not rest on the wishes, the claims, the assurances of any man or group of men. Its sole source is Jesus Christ, of Whose words, promises, and commissions it is but the clear comprehension, and the faithful echo." (Ibid., p. 13.) If its sole source is Jesus Christ, then where do we learn of Christ?

The Scriptures

The Catechism says, "We derive our historical knowledge of Jesus Christ, His life and teachings, and of the Church He established chiefly from the books of the Bible, which can be proved to be reliable historical records." (p. 104.)

If Christ is the sole source of the doctrine of infallibility (as defined by Catholics) and we learn of Christ in the Scriptures, then the Scriptures should furnish proof o' that infallibility. Catholics contend that the Bible does furnish such proof, and they offer the Bible as a witness to testify in behalf of papal infallibility. "Holy Scripture furnishes abundant proof : (1) That Christ established His Church; (2) That He appointed Peter as its first head; (3) That He gave Peter's successors the same authority He had given Peter; (4) That He guaranteed Peter and his successors against error in the preservation and propagation of His truth." (Why Millions Call Him "Holy Father", p. 1.)

Divine Tradition

But Catholics tell us there is another source of truth besides the Bible. "Not all truths revealed for us by God are found in the Bible; some are found only in Divine Tradition.... By Divine Tradition is meant the revealed truths taught by Christ and His apostles, which were given to the Church only by word of mouth and not through the Bible, though they were put in writing by the Fathers of the Church." (A Catechism of Christian Doctrine, p. 105.)

From these quotations we conclude that, according to Catholicism, the sole source of their doctrine of infallibility is Jesus Christ, but we learn of Christ in two sources, the Bible and Divine Tradition, hence these are the two witnesses to testify in behalf of papal infallibility.

Dependent Witnesses

Before we listen to the testimony of any witness, we are entitled to know something of the character of that witness. Let us allow the Catholics to tell us about their first witness — the Bible.

"Any student of reliable history should know that the Catholic Church gave the Bible to the world; that only on her authority the world knows that this book contains inspired writing...." (Father Smith Instructs Jackson, p. 34.) "Well, prove to me that the contents of this book are inspired in any other manner than on the authority of the Catholic Church. Now, the Catholic Church either was infallible when she said so, or she was not. If she was not, she might have been mistaken; and in such case you do not know whether the book contains the Word of God or not." (Ibid., p. 52.) Conway says, "....the inspired and canonical character of the books of the Bible could be known only by the divine authority and tradition of the Catholic Church." (The Question Box, p. 66.) Again he writes, "....without the intervention of a divine, infallible teaching apostolate distinct from the Bible, we could never know with divine certainty what books constitute the inspired Scriptures, or whether the copies we possess to-day agree with the originals....The Bible itself is but a dead letter calling for a divine interpreter...." (p. 76.) Gibbons says the Catholic Church "was sole Guardian of the Scriptures for fifteen hundred years." (The Faith of Our Fathers, p. 68.)

Now look at it! The Catholics call forth the Bible as their first witness in behalf of the infallibility of the Church, then they tell us: (1) The Church gave the Bible. (2) It is only on the authority of the Catholic Church that we know the Bible is inspired. (3) Without the infallible Church we would not know which books belong in the Bible. (4) Were it not for the infallible voice of the Church we could not believe the Bible. (5) We need the infallible Church to tell us what the Bible means. (6) The Bible itself is but a dead letter. THE CHURCH CALLS THE BIBLE TO BE ITS FIRST WITNESS IN BEHALF OF INFALLIBILITY, BUT WITHOUT THAT INFALLIBILITLY THE WITNESS IS DEAD! The infallibility of the Church depends on a source that in turn depends on the infallibility of the Church!

Catholicism's other witness for infallibility, Divine Tradition, is likewise made to depend on infallibility. Catholics do not profess to accept all that might be classed as tradition. "Remember that the Tradition which we believe contains the word of God is Divine Tradition, not human." (Father Smith Instructs Jackson, p. 58.) How do we know which tradition is human and which is divine? The infallible Church tells us! "When the Church studies the ancient monuments of her faith she casts over the past the reflection of her living and present thought and by some sympathy of the truth to-day with that of yesterday she succeeds in recognizing through the obscurities and inaccuracies of ancient formulas the portions of traditional truth, even when they are mixed with error....Thus are explained both her respect for the writings of the Fathers of the Church and her supreme independence towards those writings; she judges them more than she is judged by them." (Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. XV, p. 10.)

We must depend, according to Catholicism, on the infallible Church to judge which traditions are divine, and more than that, to tell us what they mean. "We can know the true meaning of the doctrines contained in the Bible and Divine Tradition from the Catholic Church, which has been authorized by Jesus Christ to explain His doctrines, and which is preserved from error in its teachings by the special assistance of the Holy Ghost." (A Catechism of Christian Doctrine, pp. 105-106.)

Circle Reasoning

Since Catholicism's only two witnesses in behalf of infallibility are made to depend on infallibility, the argument runs in a circle. It is as if a man should call two witnesses to testify in his behalf in court, then he announces that what they say is by his authority, no one can really understand what they say except he interpret it, and their testimony would be worthless without his standing behind it! Let a man call his own witnesses, tell them what to say, and tell the jury that he alone can really understand their testimony, and what couldn't he prove?

Conway attempts to answer the charge of circular reasoning when he says, "We allow the words of Christ and His apostles to speak for themselves, without appealing to the authority of the Church." (The Question Box, p. 80.) But just four pages earlier he told us, "The Bible itself is but a dead letter calling for a divine interpreter." How can a dead letter speak for itself? Catholics invariably meet themselves coming back when they undertake to prove their doctrine of infallibility. If the words of Christ and his apostles can speak for themselves, the Bible is not a dead letter. If it is a dead letter calling for a divine interpreter, it cannot speak for itself. Either position is fatal to Catholicism.

Conway further states, "When two independent witnesses confirm each other's evidence, the argument for the truthfulness of both is not circular, but cumulative." (Ibid., p. 81.) But Catholicism's witnesses are not independent! That is why we charge that the argument for papal infallibility runs in a circle. The moment they allow the Bible to stand as an independent witness they concede that it can speak for itself, and in that case it needs no interpreter.

Grand Assertion

The whole Catholic system rests on the doctrine of the infallibility of the Church. That basic doctrine is a bold, unfounded, unproved assertion. A system that stands on a false premise is a false system. We plead with Catholics to honestly investigate the ground on which they stand.