Thursday, 22 April 2010


"The Roman Pontiff, head of the college of bishops, enjoys... infallibility by virtue of his office when, as supreme pastor and teacher of all the faithful...he proclaims by a definitive act a doctrine pertaining to faith or morals...The infallibility promised to the Church is also present in the body of bishops when, together with Peter's successor, they exercise the supreme Magisterium, above all in an Ecumenical Council."
Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 25.

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"We declare, say, define and pronounce, that it is absolutely necessary for the salvation of every human being that they be subject to the Roman Pontiff."
Pope Boniface VIII, Unam Sanctum.

"Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of conscience - those too may achieve eternal salvation"
Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, 16, repeated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1994, para 847.

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For the moment, I will set aside the questions raised by the theological anthropology that seems to inform the last statement from Lumen Gentium (although I suspect these questions are at the heart of the differences between Roman and Evangelical catholics). The first statement, by Pope Boniface VIII, certainly seems to meet the stated requirements of a definitive pronouncement on a matter of faith (and if it doesn't, what does?).

The second pronouncement was formulated by the Roman bishops, with the Pope at their head, gathered at what Rome maintains was an Ecumenical Council, a gathering which according to their own teaching partakes of the infallibility Christ has guaranteed to the church. It might be argued that the second statement is not a dogmatic definition, but it is surely intimately related, even a constituting part of a dogmatic definition, namely the supremacy of jurisdiction of the Pope (which our first statement certainly makes a matter of faith). In any case, occurring as it does in an official teaching document it requires the "submission of faith" of loyal Roman Catholics, which certainly implies that it is a matter of dogma.

My purpose here is to draw attention to the readily apparent contradiction between these two formal pronouncements of the Roman Magisterium; by any reasonable canons of interpretation, the difference in teaching between Pope Boniface VIII and Vatican II would certainly appear to be a contradiction, a formal error on the part of the Roman Magisterium. Yes, there may be roughly 700 years separating the two statements, but then the Roman doctrine is maximal in its assertions and does not admit to qualifications on account of the passing of time or cultural changes, and the matter under discussion is certainly a substantive one, pertaining to the eternal salvation of non-Roman Catholics.

Comment from a Roman Catholic would be appreciated, and provided it is expressed politely and furthers the discussion, it will be published. This is not an invitation to a debate, it is an opportunity given for clarification, although I reserve the right of response [it is my blog, after all :0)]. Those using noms de plume are requested to inform me of their identity by e-mail, if they have not done so already. Anonymous comments will receive close scrutiny before being posted, if they are posted at all.
[In time I hope, d.v., to draw attention to other problematic moral and theological issues in several other papal documents. These difficulties, among others, prevent me from giving assent to papal claims.]


Matthias said...

I think that the statement 'it is absolutely necessary for the salvation of every human being that they be subject to the Roman Pontiff." runs counter to scripture. What is necessary for salvation is for people to confess their sins,accept that Christ died for them and accepting this and trusting in the Grace of God. however I do not accept that the pope is the Anti Christ ,given that the most recent from Pope John to the current one -have sought people to have a relationship with the Living God ,BUT it is this belief in Papal infallibility when making a statement over doctrine and morals ,that needs to be removed.I believe that it is a stumbling block,and needs to be removed.

'acroamaticus' said...

Unfortunately, Matthias, it is an irreformable teaching, and hence cannot be removed from the RC deposit of faith.

Matthias said...

Yes i thought as much pastor,despite the fact that it only appeared in the late 19th Century? The only other religious leaders to have such "treatment" are the Presidents(Prophets) the various Latter Day Saints churches,when they have a vision.

'acroamaticus' said...

Well, Matthias, to be fair, Catholics would argue that it is much older than the 19th C., and had alwasy been a part of the "deposit of faith" handed down by the Apostles, although 1870 is when it was defined as a doctrine.
But the onus would seem to be on them to bring forth the historical data (and of course many have attempted to do this.)
Reading the background documents to the 1st Vatican Council makes for fascinating reading, and makes it apparent that the bishops who voted (and the vote is another matter that deserves looking at) were certainly voting for something much more wide-ranging than even most present-day Catholic theologians teach. I do think that most present-day Catholics, even the loyal ones, don't realise this, and opt for a minimal interpretation.