Why do you Catholics arrogantly claim your pope and Church are infallible?


Truth is humility, not arrogance, and the infallibility of the Church is truth. But before addressing this question, let's first define what infallibility is not.

Infallibility -v- Impeccability

Infallibility is not impeccability. The former refers to an inability to be wrong—in this case, in matters of faith and morals; the latter means sinlessness. No member of the Catholic Church claims to be sinless—not the pope, bishops, priests, deacons, or nuns.

When we claim the Church is infallible, we are saying the Church is protected by the Holy Spirit from teaching error in matters of faith and morals. The Church alone represents Christ. She alone can carry on His work of redemption. Reason demands that the teacher of Christ's divine revelation must be infallible.

Reason Demands Infallibility

Would a good God, "who desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth" (I Timothy 2:4), fail to provide His revelation with a living, infallible teacher? Would a just God command us to believe all He teaches under penalty of hell (Mark 16:16), but leave us to the mercy of false or lying teachers? Would He tell us to follow Him or go to an eternity in hell, then fail to leave us a way to know how to follow Him?

No, God could not be God (i.e., all-perfection without limit) if He left us on our own. He would be arbitrary and capricious, thus lacking in perfection. The New Testament portrays the Church founded by Christ as a divine, infallible teaching authority. Jesus refers to it as a city founded on a rock foundation, and that hell could never defeat it (Matthew 16:18; 7:24-28).

The pope, who is the successor of St. Peter, is the Vicar of Christ. St. Peter was given the keys to the kingdom of heaven and promised infallibility for himself and all his successors (Matthew 16:18-19). For the same reasons the Church is infallible, so too is its visible head, the pope, infallible.

Conditions of Infallibility

But there are limits. The pope is not infallible if he, say, predicts the winner of the World Series. The pope is only infallible:

  1. When he speaks ex cathedra, that is, when he speaks officially as the Supreme Pastor of the universal Church. He is not infallible as supreme legislator, judge or ruler, but only as Supreme Teacher.
  2. When he defines a doctrine regarding faith and morals. In other words, when he pronounces a doctrinal truth with the intention of settling it definitely, finally, and irrevocably.
  3. When he speaks of faith and morals, which includes the whole content of divine revelation. This means the ordinary, daily teachings of the Church.
  4. When he intends to bind the whole Church to believe an article of faith under pain of sin.

God alone is essentially infallible, but He can make the pope infallible as His earthly representative to safeguard the deposit of faith. That He has done so is proved by Sacred Scripture and Church history.
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