Infallibility (later Lat. infallibilis, not liable to be deceived, from in, privative, and falli, to be deceived, to err), a doctrine of the Roman Catholic church, which attributes to that church as the divinely appointed teacher of mankind, and to the Roman pontiff as pastor of the whole church, the privilege of being preserved from teaching error. Infallibility is not to be confounded with impeccability, which means immunity from sin. The special assistance of the Holy Spirit which preserves a person from error in the discharge of a certain office is a grace of the supernatural order, called by theologians gratia gratis data, a grace bestowed for the benefit of others than the recipient, such as the power of the priesthood bestowed on good and bad alike, and the gift of prophecy found in such men as Balaam and Caiaphas. It is thus distinguished from graces which are vouchsafed to sanctify their possessor, like that by which John the Baptist and Jeremiah were sanctified before their birth; a grace of this sort is called gratia gratum faciens.
The privilege of infallibility is also to be distinguished from inspiration; because inspiration in many cases means a new revelation, whereas both the church and the pontiff are only witnesses, teachers, and judges of the revelation already made, and are merely preserved from error in guarding, expounding, and defending the deposit of revelation. By the dogmatic decree of the council of the Vatican, the infallibility traditionally ascribed to the church by Catholics is declared to have been directly and immediately conferred on St. Peter, and in him on his successors the bishops of Rome. I. Roman Catholic theologians ground the infallibility of the church principally on the texts of Matt, xxviii. 19, 20: "Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, unto the end of the world;" and Mark xvi. 15, 16: "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.
He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned." These words of Christ, constituting the great commission or charter of the church, as they maintain, established her as the universal and perpetual teacher of mankind, gave into her keeping the deposit of the divine faith and law, declared her office to be that of sole interpreter of the same, bestowed on her the sole jurisdiction existing upon earth in matters of salvation over the reason and will of man, and assured her that in the discharge of this office she will have the Lord with her until the end of time. Faith in Christ through her teaching, and obedience to her in the fulfilment of her office, are required under pain of damnation. Now, it is held to be repugnant alike to the nature of God and to that of man, that God should compel the assent of the reason and submission of the will to a teaching liable to error. The object or matter embraced by this infallible teaching is the whole body of revealed truth written and unwritten, and all that is so connected with it that without treating of it the Word of God could not be guarded, expounded, and defended; such would be the declaring of the canon, authenticity, and true interpretation of Scripture, and the like.
Further, the church claims an infallible guidance in discerning and defining all matters which are opposed to revelation; for, it is argued, she could not discharge her office of teacher of mankind, unless she were able to proscribe with infallible certainty all doctrines at variance with the Word of God. Hence, the direct object Of the infallibility of the church is the revelation or Word of God; and the indirect object is whatever is necessary for its exposition and defence, or contrary to the law of faith and morality. II. Pontifical infallibility is thus defined in chapter 4 of the constitution Pastor aeternus, July 18, 1870: "We teach and define that it is a dogma divinely revealed, that the Roman pontiff, when he speaks ex cathedra, that is, when, in discharge of the office of pastor and doctor of all Christians, by virtue of his supreme authority, he defines a doctrine regarding faith and morals to be held by the universal church, by the divine assistance promised to him in blessed Peter, is possessed of that infallibility with which the divine Redeemer willed that his church should be endowed for defining doctrines regarding faith and morals; and that, therefore, such definitions of the Roman pontiffs are irreformable of themselves and not by the consent of the church." This definition declares that the pope is infallible when speaking from his seat of authority, in discharge of his office of pastor and teacher of the entire Christian fold, and challenging the assent of the universal church.
The doctrinal point defined or finally decided must relate to faith and morals, and in such definitions, it is declared, he is divinely guided by virtue of the promises made to him in the person of Peter. This infallibility of the pontiff has the same extension as the doctrinal office of the church, and the final judgments pronounced in its exercise are in themselves irreformable or irreversible, even before the church has accepted them. The definition limits the infallibility and the divine assistance which secures it to the pope's official acts as pastor and doctor of all Christians. It thus excludes all his acts as a private person, doctor, theologian, local bishop, or ruler. He is exempt from error in only one capacity, that is, when as teacher of the whole church in faith and morals he speaks from the chair of Peter. The phrase doctrine of faith and morals signifies the whole revealed Word of God, the whole way of salvation through faith, or the whole supernatural order with all that is necessary to the salvation of mankind through Jesus Christ. The efficient cause of this infallibility or immunity from error is declared to be the divine assistance promised to Peter, and in Peter to his successors.
This, it is asserted by Catholic theologians, is contained explicitly in the words of Christ to Peter, Luke xxii. 32: "I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted strengthen thy brethren;" and implicitly in Matt. xvi. 18: "And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." The assistance thus promised and its effect are a divine ordinance. It is further affirmed that before the definition of the Vatican council, the infallibility of the pontiff was a doctrine revealed by God, delivered by the constant tradition of the church, recognized in oecumenical councils, presupposed by the acts of the pontiffs in all ages, taught by all the saints, defended by every religious order, and by every theological school except the Gallican, and in that school only disputed by a numerical minority and during one period of its history, and believed at least implicitly by all Catholics. The definition, Catholics believe, has added nothing to the intrinsic certainty of this doctrine, which is derived from revelation.
It has only added the extrinsic certainty of universal promulgation, binding the whole church to believe the dogma explicitly. - The doctrine of pontifical infallibility, theologically considered, is intimately connected with the pontifical supremacy; and, considered historically, it is seen that from the exercise of the supremacy was gradually evolved and finally asserted the prerogative of infallibility. The bishops of Rome at a very early period claimed a supreme and final authority in deciding all ecclesiastical disputes; and this claim they founded on the fact of the see of Rome being the seat of Peter's authority, and of their being his successors with supreme jurisdiction over the entire church. On the other hand, the opposition to the exercise of this supremacy forms a parallel and continuous record in the early church down to the consummation of the Photian schism. Thus, in the ante-Nicene period Pope Victor I. (about 193) claimed to decide finally the controversy about the proper day for celebrating Easter, and excommunicated the Asiatic churches which refused to abide by his decision; and Pope Stephen I. (253-257) decided against St. Cyprian and the churches of northern Africa, that baptism performed by heretics should not be repeated, and annulled the sentence of a Spanish synod against two bishops.
But the decision of Victor was set aside by the Asiatic bishops; and in like manner the bishops of Africa and Spain persisted in upholding their own local customs and established rights. Earlier still Tertullian, in his treatise Be Pudicitia, complained that the Roman pontiff issued peremptory edicts, as if he were "bishop of bishops." From the time of Constantino the Great this exercise of supremacy, and the right on which it was founded, were brought into greater prominence by the part taken by the Christian emperors in convening councils and enforcing their decrees, by the conflicts which occurred between the councils themselves and the authority of the popes, and by the contests for preeminence waged by the see of Constantinople with the patriarchal sees of the East, and with Rome herself. Thus Leo the Great received the appeal of Celidonius, bishop of Besancon, deposed by Hilary of Poitiers, and restored him to his see; thus, also, it is maintained, his doctrinal letter was received as a final decision by the council of Chalcedon (451). Another document quoted by ultramontane theologians as pointing to an exercise of supremacy, is a letter of Pope Gelasius in 493, in which it is said: "The canons themselves refer the appeal of the whole church to the examination of this chair.
They decree that from it there is no further appeal, and by it the whole church is judged; it goes for judgment to none, nor can its judgment be judged, nor its sentence reversed." (Labbe, vol. iv., p. 1169.) Against this claim of deciding all ecclesiastical causes without appeal, thus distinctly formulated in the 5th century, is quoted the recently established fact of the Roman presbyter St. Hippolytus having been at the time of his death in opposition to the pope, his superior, as well as the instances in which popes fell into heresy or encouraged heretical opinions. Such were the cases of Zozimus, who commended the Pelagian teaching of Ce-lestius; Julian, who affirmed the orthodoxy of the Sabellian Marcellus of Ancyra; Liberius, who subscribed (359) the Arian creed of Rimini; Vigilius (547), who contradicted himself thrice on a question of faith; and Honorius, who lent the whole weight of his authority (633) to the support of the nascent Monothelite heresy, and was solemnly excommunicated by an oecumenical council for doing so.
Still the bishops of Rome persisted in their claims, while in the East the resistance to them grew as the patriarchs of Constantinople rose in power and influence among the. eastern hierarchy, until the conflict of jurisdiction ended (879) in the disruption of Christendom. In western Europe the primacy of the Roman bishops continued to be universally acknowledged after the separation of East and West; but their personal infallibility was never maintained in a formal theological thesis till the time of Thomas Aquinas. He however does not employ the term infallibility; he says that the same security from error in teaching, judging, and determining all that pertains to faith, which is ascribed to the church, belongs also to the Roman pontiff, by virtue of the promise made to Peter. The thesis, thus placed in distinct form before the great theological schools of Europe, soon acquired increased definiteness and interest from the contests between temporal princes and the popes, and between rival claimants for the papacy and the ecclesiastical assemblies convened to heal the great western schism.
Philip the Fair in 1303 declared his intention of calling a general council to judge Pope Boniface VIII. In the council of Constance, where the French clergy largely predominated, the French theologians D'Ailly and Gerson proposed the framing of a decree declaring an oecumenical council superior to the pope. In the council of Basel, soon afterward, this superiority was urged against Eugenius IV., particularly after he had dissolved that body. The superiority of oecumenical councils to papal authority was embodied in the pragmatic sanction of Bourges in 1438, both as a theological maxim and as a rule of national •jurisprudence. Thenceforward the theologians in France who maintained this superiority were called Gallicans, and their opponents ul-tramontanes. Gallicanism, considered as a system of jurisprudence and theological doctrine, comprised the liberties or franchises of the Gallican church, and the peculiar tenets of its churchmen with regard to the nature and limits of the pontifical supremacy. These Gallican franchises were understood in one sense by the churchmen, and in quite another by French magistrates.
In reality they affirmed that the pope had no right, by virtue of his supremacy, to interfere with the king in the holding of his crown or the lawful exercise of his power; that the election of ecclesiastical dignitaries, the collation of benefices and the disposition of their revenues, the imposition and collection of taxes on church property, belonged by inherent right and custom exclusively to the church of France, under the protection of the king. These franchises, and the peculiar doctrine of the Gallican church concerning the pope's inferiority to a general council, were formulated in six articles presented by the Sorbonne to Louis XIV., May 8, 1663, which were reaffirmed with greater solemnity in 1682. The famous "four articles" then proclaimed by the assembled clergy, besides the absolute independence of the civil power, declared that the plenitude of power in spirituals possessed by the successors of St. Peter is to be limited by the decrees of the council of Constance, which have ever been in force in the Gallican church; that the use of the pope's apostolic power is to be regulated by the canons, and within the kingdom of France by the received rules, customs, and constitutions; and that, although the pope has the chief authority in questions of faith, and his decrees regard all the churches, and each church in particular, nevertheless his judgment is not irre-formable until the consent of the whole church supervenes.
The whole question of infallibility continued to be vehemently discussed by Jesuits and Jansenists, Gallicans and ultramon-tanes, down to the French revolution. When public worship was restored by Bonaparte, the concordat concluded with him by Pius VII. abolished the old French hierarchy with all its privileges, and established new sees and new ecclesiastical dioceses. But Bonaparte inserted in the concordat, on its publication, what is known as the "organic articles," which among other things reaffirmed the offensive portion of the declaration of 1682. This was maintained as the law of the land and a rule of state policy through every change of government, although Gallicanism itself was constantly on the wane. In 1867 it was resolved by Pius IX. and the bishops assembled in Rome that an oecumenical council should be convened without delay; and it soon became generally known that one of the doctrinal questions to be decided in the council was that of pontifical infallibility. A warm discussion immediately began as to the opportuneness as well as the possibility of such a definition.
Conspicuous among the opponents of the contemplated measure was Dr. Dollinger of Munich, and among its promoters Archbishop Manning of London. The Jesuits, always the most strenuous advocates of papal prerogative, used all their influence to secure the definition. In France the bishops were divided; in England, Ireland, the United States, Germany, and Austria, a majority would have preferred delay; but Italy and Spain were for instant definition. Among the European governments a strong diplomatic effort, originating with Bavaria and seconded by France, was made to dissuade the court of Rome from a step deemed full of danger. On Dec. 8, 1869, the council was opened by Pius IX. in the Vatican basilica of St. Peter's. A first doctrinal constitution on Catholic faith, having been elaborated and accepted, was officially proclaimed, April 24, 1870. Then began the discussion of a second constitution "on the church,"ending with the decree on pontifical infallibility. Outside the council itself, the dogma in its theological and historical aspect, and its bearing on the relation of the church to civil governments, was vehemently discussed in the press.
A correspondence between Bishop Dupanlonp and Archbishop Manning, and the publication of an exhaustive Gallican argument by M. Ma-ret, bishop of Sura, had created much interest just before the opening of the council; and this was largely increased by the appearance during its sittings of a series of letters in the Augsburg Allgemeine Zeitung signed " Janus," afterward published in book form with the title of "The Pope and the Council." (See Dollinger.) Another series of letters from Rome were printed in England from the pen of " Quirinus," while two more issued from the French press entitled Ce qui se passe au concile and La derniere heure du concile. Within the council itself every portion of the schema or draught was warmly discussed. On July 11 the schema of the chapter on infallibility was discussed in detail and adopted in a general congregation; and the whole schema was put to the vote in another congregation held on the 13th. Each prelate voted placet, if content; placet juxta modum, if only content with a part; or non placet, if not content. The register showed 451 as voting placet, 62 placet juxta modum, and 88 non placet.
On July 18, in solemn session, 534 prelates answered placet, 2 non placet, and 65 were absent, of whom a majority did not wish to vote favorably. - See Archbishop Manning's Petri Privilegium (London. 1871), and "The Pope and the Council," by Janus (Boston, 1870). (See also Old Catholics.)