Understanding Papal Infallibility

On the one hand, we have the abstract, textbook definitions of papal infallibility when applied to papal assertions about, for example, the ordination of men only:

Does this statement meet all five criteria of Papal Infallibility, as defined by the First and Second Vatican Councils?

Vatican I:

1. “the Roman Pontiff”
2. “speaks ex cathedra” (“that is, when in the discharge of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, and by virtue of his supreme apostolic authority….”)
3. “he defines”
4. “that a doctrine concerning faith or morals”
5. “must be held by the whole Church” [Pastor Aeternus, chap. 4.]

Vatican II:

1. “the Roman Pontiff”
2. “in virtue of his office, when as the supreme shepherd and teacher of all the faithful, who confirms his brethren in their faith (cf. Lk 22:32),”
3. “by a definitive act, he proclaims”
4. “a doctrine of faith or morals” (“And this infallibility…in defining doctrine of faith and morals, extends as far as the deposit of revelation extends”)
5. “in accordance with revelation itself, which all are obliged to abide by and be in conformity with” [Lumen Gentium, n. 25, paragraph 3.] . . .

All five criteria for Papal Infallibility are met by the declaration on priestly ordination found in the Apostolic Letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis. Therefore, the declaration falls under Papal Infallibility and is, without doubt, the Infallible Teaching of Christ. This teaching on priestly ordination is an example of the use of the first charism of the Sacred Magisterium: Papal Infallibility.

Moreover, at this point in time, the same teaching is also infallible under the ordinary and universal Magisterium. So the infallibility of the teaching should not be a matter of dispute among the faithful.

Whosoever obstinately denies or obstinately doubts this infallible teaching commits the sin of heresy.

This is good because we know where we stand.

On the other hand, there is the politics of the Roman Catholic Church:

Debate over the reach of infallibility has swirled ever since the First Vatican Council in the 19th century, and has become steadily more intense since the early 1980s.

Vatican I formally defined papal infallibility in 1870, and most experts say it has been clearly invoked only with two dogmas, both about Mary: the Immaculate Conception in 1854, and the Assumption in 1950. In that light, some theologians and rank-and-file believers argue that on other contentious matters that have never been formally proclaimed as infallible, such as the ordination of women, contraception and homosexuality, dissent remains legitimate.

Other voices in the church, however, insist that a tight focus on rare public proclamations downplays the role of the church’s “ordinary and universal magisterium,” meaning things that have been taught consistently across time. Such teachings are effectively infallible, according to this understanding, even if no pope has ever formally declared them as such, and thus Catholics are bound to accept them.

Throughout the 1980s and ’90s, a leading advocate of this more expansive view of infallibility was Cardinal Ratzinger, today Pope Benedict XVI.

In the 1980s, these clashing views were at the heart of an exchange between Ratzinger and Fr. Charles Curran, an American moral theologian fired in 1987 by The Catholic University of America in Washington after a lengthy investigation by Ratzinger’s office. In back-and-forth correspondence with Ratzinger, Curran defended a right of dissent from what he called “authoritative non-infallible hierarchical teaching.”

Ratzinger responded that such a restricted view of the church’s teaching authority derives from the Protestant Reformation, and it leads to the conclusion that Catholics are obligated only to accept a few core dogmatic principles — the Trinity, for example, or the resurrection of the body — while everything else is debatable. In fact, Ratzinger said, the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) used the phrase the “secondary object of infallibility” to refer to a wide range of teachings on faith and morals that are intrinsically connected to divine revelation, and therefore infallible. . . .

American Jesuit Fr. John Coleman called it a form of “papal fundamentalism.” The Catholic Theological Society of America endorsed a 5,000-word study that concluded “there are serious doubts” about whether the teaching is infallible, and called for “further study, discussion and prayer.” The Canon Law Society of Great Britain and Ireland likewise concluded in 1996 that the teaching on women priests was not infallible.

In December 1996, the then-secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Bishop Tarcisio Bertone, published an article in L’Osservatore Romano in which he asserted that certain papal teachings should be considered infallible, even in the absence of a formal statement. Bertone mentioned three such documents: Veritatis Splendor, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis and Evangelium Vitae.

Bertone is today a cardinal and the Vatican’s secretary of state.
In January 1997, the doctrinal congregation published a collection of documents supporting its reasoning on women’s ordination. In a press conference, Ratzinger addressed the question of whether Catholics who believe that women should be priests are heretics. Technically, he said, the term “heresy” refers to denial of a revealed truth such as the Incarnation or the Resurrection. The ban on women priests, he said, is a doctrinal conclusion derived from revelation, and as such those who deny it are not literally heretics. They do, however, “support erroneous doctrine that is incompatible with the faith” and exclude themselves from communion with the church.

In his 1998 commentary on Ad Tuendam Fidem, Ratzinger argued that a host of teachings are infallible because they’re joined to the revealed truths of the faith, either by a historical relationship or by a logical connection.

Examples of doctrines connected by historical necessity, according to the Ratzinger commentary, include: the legitimacy of the election of a given pope; the acts of an ecumenical council; the canonizations of saints; the declaration of Pope Leo XIII in the papal bull Apostolicae Curae on the invalidity of Anglican ordinations. Examples of doctrines connected by logical necessity include: the doctrine that priestly ordination is reserved only to men; the doctrine on the illicitness of euthanasia; the teaching on the illicitness of prostitution; the teaching on the illicitness of fornication.

(Notice how little teaching about the work of Jesus Christ is considered to be infallible.)

What are Protestants to think? Heck, what are Roman Catholics to believe? But for a doctrine, nay, a reality, that is supposed to produce such certainty, it sure looks like Roman Catholics stumble over it the way that Protestants fail to agree on what their Bibles teach.

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46 thoughts on “Understanding Papal Infallibility

  1. Hear, hear! When will we see an infallible list of infallible propositions?

    You point out analogies with protestant understandings of scriptural authority, but I see similarity also to the question of assurance; what good are doctrines of election and perseverance, without assurance? And yet WCF asserts that we have “not a bare conjectural and probable persuasion…but an infallible assurance of faith”. I’d love to hear your ruminations on our own use of “infallible” in this regard.

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  2. D.G.

    Heck, what are Roman Catholics to believe?

    About what, precisely? Your question itself is ambiguous.

    But for a doctrine, nay, a reality, that is supposed to produce such certainty, it sure looks like Roman Catholics stumble over it ….

    The difference, of course, is that for those Catholics confused about the status of some doctrine, the magisterium can clarify the status of that doctrine, and has often done so. No such prospect is available in the Protestant paradigm.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

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  3. Bryan Cross: The difference, of course, is that for those Catholics confused about the status of some doctrine, the magisterium can clarify the status of that doctrine, and has often done so. No such prospect is available in the Protestant paradigm.

    RS: What? The magesterium can say what others have said, but Protestants can say “Thus says the Lord” and there is no need to wonder what a thousand others have said. The way of Rome is much like the way of the scribes and Pharisees. Rabbi A said this while Rabbi B said this, but on the other hand Rabbi C said this and on and on with a hundred or more other rabbis. Instead of listening to the Word of God they get into discussions about everything but the Word of God. The Pope says this and the magesterium says that, but… How about just reading the Word of God once in a while?

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  4. Quoted from above:

    They do, however, “support erroneous doctrine that is incompatible with the faith” and exclude themselves from communion with the church.

    Can someone clarify something for me? Aren’t there any number of RCC priests, nuns, scholars, and laypersons who “support [any number of] erroneous doctrine that is incompatible with the faith?” And aren’t these men and women still in communion with Rome (attend Mass, receive the Eucharist) even while ignoring Papal doctrine? When and where is infallible doctrine actually applied through discipline? If rarely, or only as an exception to normal practice, then what practical value, as far as protecting the flock, is the so-called infallible teaching office of the Pope?

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  5. Jack,

    1st Part of the issue is just sheer size. Think of mega churches just trying to administer the Lord’s supper every week, much less discipline all her members 2nd part is sheer volume, I think the last catechism I saw was roughly 850 pages, that’s a lot to try to say and not contradict yourself. 3rd is money. Everytime the holy see has had all it can stand of the buffet-style catholics in the states, the american ‘magisterium’ likes to quietly remind them of their need to keep the vatican bank solvent. 4th; is vocations. Heterosexual men and women are not falling over themselves to live celibate, some impoverished lives, when they can marry and have legitimate outlet for their created appetites and earn a living. 5th; Vat II changed the whole paradigm, there won’t be any turning off that faucet now, particularly if the traditionalists are also gonna abide the prevailing scriptural hermenuetic of protestant liberalism. 6th; because of #4, you now have a tolerated homosexual clergy filling a number of the posts and you literally can’t afford to alienate them. Plus, you told them it was ok, just don’t engage the behavior in the rectory. Well, they sort of told them that. Depends who you ask. I’m not positive of Sister Simone’s appetite but I can make an educated guess and even if she’s not, she’s thumbing her nose at the ‘male’ magisterium all the while reminding them she represents 80% of the sisterhood, at least in the states.

    That’s not all but it’s a starting point.

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  6. Sean – I appreciate your comments as someone who has gone in the direction of Rome to Reformed (vs. Reformed to Rome). I think those guys are still drinking too much of the Kool-Aid. I suppose they might say the same about you, though. This is fascinating stuff and makes me want to dig into way more church history. I am considering shutting down my online book business and reading a lot more.

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  7. The last paragraph of the Catholic Encyclopedia article on infallibility seems vitally important (what the right hand takes away, the left hand gives back?)

    before being bound to give such an assent [to alleged infallibility], the believer has a right to be certain that the teaching in question is definitive (since only definitive teaching is infallible); and the means by which the definitive intention, whether of a council or of the pope, may be recognized have been stated above. It need only be added here that not everything in a conciliar or papal pronouncement, in which some doctrine is defined, is to be treated as definitive and infallible. For example, in the lengthy Bull of Pius IX defining the Immaculate Conception the strictly definitive and infallible portion is comprised in a sentence or two; and the same is true in many cases in regard to conciliar decisions. The merely argumentative and justificatory statements embodied in definitive judgments, however true and authoritative they may be, are not covered by the guarantee of infallibility which attaches to the strictly definitive sentences — unless, indeed, their infallibility has been previously or subsequently established by an independent decision.

    So maybe I should convert to Catholicism, and immediately invoke my right to an infallible list of infallible declarations, and while I wait, I’ll just keep believing everything in Westminster.

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  8. Another obvious point now occurs to me; even stipulating the meta-doctrine of infallibility (that declarations meeting the stated critera are in fact infallible), does the above paragraph not give away the farm by locating within the individual believer the right to decide for himself whether any alleged infallibility really meets the stated criteria of infallibility, before assenting to the infallibility?

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  9. Dr. Hart,

    Your textbook definition is actually different from the official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. It might be better to simply take the concluding statement of the First Vatican Council (Pastor Aeturnus, Ch. 4, paragraph 9):

    “… we teach and define as a divinely revealed dogma that when the Roman pontiff speaks EX CATHEDRA, that is, when, in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians,in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole church, he possesses, by the divine assistance promised to him in blessed Peter,that infallibility which the divine Redeemer willed his church to enjoy in defining doctrine concerning faith or morals. Therefore, such definitions of the Roman pontiff are of themselves, and not by the consent of the church, irreformable.”

    This dogmatic decree explicitly repudiates the notion that the whole church must embrace a doctrine for it to be infallibly taught (point #5 of your “textbook” definition). This, of course, means that those Roman Catholics who are seeking a more minimalistic understanding of Papal Infallibility are not being faithful to what the RCC teaches about Papal Infallibility.

    David

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  10. RS: What? The magesterium can say what others have said, but Protestants can say “Thus says the Lord” and there is no need to wonder what a thousand others have said. The way of Rome is much like the way of the scribes and Pharisees. Rabbi A said this while Rabbi B said this, but on the other hand Rabbi C said this and on and on with a hundred or more other rabbis. Instead of listening to the Word of God they get into discussions about everything but the Word of God. The Pope says this and the magesterium says that, but… How about just reading the Word of God once in a while?

    John Y: The way you interpret the Word of God Richard I am glad you are not infallible nor that I have to agree with your interpretation. I would much rather have open dialog and seeming confusion than some magisterium telling me what is authoritative.

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  11. Can someone explain to me what is the difference between the Westminster magisterium and the Catholic magisterium? I think that it is only that the Westminster magisterium does not consider itself infallible- is that correct?

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  12. One has the goal of being a faithful summary of Scripture and the other is not so concerned with that because it considers itself on par with Scripture.

    Maybe it’s no coincidence that the two times the Pope has spoken ex-cathedra it was on doctrines of Mary that do not have obvious Scriptural support.

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  13. John Yeazel: Can someone explain to me what is the difference between the Westminster magisterium and the Catholic magisterium? I think that it is only that the Westminster magisterium does not consider itself infallible- is that correct?

    RS; Westminster clearly teaches that the final authority is Scripture and that everything they say is to be judged by Scripture. The ROMAN Catholic magesterium says that what they say about Scripture and what they say Scripture says is final. Oh, by the way, that is my interpretation. By the way John, it might give you just a bit of pause to think that my version of things is usually in line with Westminster. Sure enough I put things a bit differently, but then again I don’t live in the mid-1600’s.

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  14. Richard,

    You say “usually in line.” I don’t have problems with most of what is said in Westminster either. I do have problems with some of what you say Richard. Pause to think back at you.

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  15. Dr. Hart,

    My apologies, but I should clarify my comment:

    When I read the “textbook definition” provided in your article I took “must be held by the whole Church” as a statement of the whole Church holding to the doctrine as a pre-condition of considering it infallible teaching. I missed the obvious fact that these five points were simply quotes from Pater Aeternus. What the fifth point means in Pater Aeternus is that the Pope is prescribing it as required to be held by the whole Church and not that the whole Church is concurring with what he is teaching.

    I still stand by my assertion that this means many items have been taught by the Pope which fits this definition. For example, clearly the Papal Bull “Unam Sanctum” fits The First Vatican Council’s criteria for infallibility when it states: “We declare, say, define, and pronounce that it is wholly necessary for the salvation of every human creature to be subject to the Roman Pontiff. The Lateran, November 14th, in our eighth year. As a perpetual memorial of this matter.”

    David

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  16. OK, so that totals three known infallible statements; two about Mary, and this one; let’s keep ’em coming!

    A particular question though, if salvation infallibly requires subjection to the pope, how can any protestants be “estranged brethren” instead of anathametized (as per Unam Sanctum and Trent)? Can we rationally deduce that the “estranged brethren” statement (I forget where it comes from) is fallible and indeed errant, because it contradicts Unam Sanctum?

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  17. Bryan, your use of the word paradigm is helpful. It does seem that for you and for some others at CTC this is all about intellectual consistency. I wonder if you could have been saved from Rome if you had first encountered neo-Calvinist epistemology.

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  18. John Y., which is why the phrase, “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, from Lord Acton, I believe was declared during Acton’s objections to Vatican I on papal infallibility. And Acton was a fairly conservative Roman Catholic, I am told.

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  19. John Y. the Westminster divines are and were fallible. The were wrong on the civil magistrate. Presbyterian churches who adopted the Confession also revised it.

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  20. John,

    Can someone explain to me what is the difference between the Westminster magisterium and the Catholic magisterium? I think that it is only that the Westminster magisterium does not consider itself infallible- is that correct?

    The difference is that the authority of Westminster is not magisterial, but rather ministerial.

    So whereas magisterial authority is described thusly:

    “The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, and obeyed, depends not upon the testimony of any man, or Church; but wholly upon God (who is truth itself) the author thereof: and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God” (WCF 1.4).

    And thusly:

    “God alone is Lord of the conscience, and has left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men, which are, in any thing, contrary to His Word; or beside it, if matters of faith, or worship. So that, to believe such doctrines, or to obey such commands, out of conscience, is to betray true liberty of conscience: and the requiring of an implicit faith, and an absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience, and reason also” (WCF 20.2).

    Ministerial authority is described like this:

    “It belongs to synods and councils, ministerially to determine controversies of faith, and cases of conscience; to set down rules and directions for the better ordering of the public worship of God, and government of his Church; to receive complaints in cases of maladministration, and authoritatively to determine the same; which decrees and determinations, if consonant to the Word of God, are to be received with reverence and submission; not only for their agreement with the Word, but also for the power whereby they are made, as being an ordinance of God appointed thereunto in His Word” (WCF 31.3).

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  21. Rube, what’s the alternative, fallible assurance? Yeah, I want some of that.
    If only true theology were determined by what is preferable to us… But still, I would like to see a more serious reflection on the mechanics of this reformed usage of “infallible”. How do we move from “waiting long, and conflicting with many difficulties” and having “the assurance of their salvation divers ways shaken, diminished, and intermitted; as, by negligence in preserving of it, by falling into some special sin which wounds the conscience and grieves the Spirit; by some sudden or vehement temptation, by God’s withdrawing the light of His countenance, and suffering even such as fear Him to walk in darkness and to have no light” — to “attaining thereunto [infallible assurance]”? Well I know how (“right use of the ordinary means”), but how do we infallibly know when we’ve crossed that gap?

    We all know apostates from among apparent believers at all levels of maturity (who would have pushed back if JJS had claimed a year ago that he felt he had “attained thereunto”?) how can we, practically speaking, have infallible assurance that we are elect and God will cause us to persevere?

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  22. Infallible assurance is restricted to the realm of archetypal theology, or that of axioms. Ectypally speaking (i.e., as well as we know anything in the real world), we know we have the promises of God and rest in those. Being creatures, there’s always fallibility to contend with, but if the purported alternatives — the papacy, epistemic self-consciousness, having a word from the Lord — are all illusory, we’re not missing anything by renouncing the QIRC and embracing our inability to transcend our own skin.

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  23. Bryan,

    You write:
    “The difference, of course, is that for those Catholics confused about the status of some doctrine, the magisterium can clarify the status of that doctrine, and has often done so. No such prospect is available in the Protestant paradigm.”

    Hmmm. I find this a bit untrue and a bit of an equivocation. The point of all of these questions and answers are not about doctrine but about dogma (theolegumena versus articles of soteriological faith). Doctrine is about teaching; dogma is about belief and what is necessary to belief. If this is true, and I think it is, then Darryl would not allow me, an unapologetic synergist who believes that men were called to be gods (in the here and now, Darryl), to be part of his church. I imagine that I would have to renounce some of my beliefs about original sin, infusion versus imputation, accept various Nestorian beliefs, etc. I’m not so sure the Catholic Church does so in practice–i.e., with regards to withholding communion (this would be the ultimate act of cutting someone off). Sure, a politician who doesn’t properly vote on the right to life issue (but who does vote to go to war, for capital punishment, for various free-market enterprises, etc.–all those things which seem to be, at face value, against Catholic Social Teaching, but which I guess are up for question) won’t get communion every 2/4/6 years.

    In short, Bryan, the Church’s teaching on the Filioque (with regards to Eastern Catholics) needs to be settled. Is there a double procession? If there is not, then does the Church make sure Western Rite Catholics understand it in the orthodox manner. If there are two ways of understanding it, how does on reconcile this? Further, if theoria is manifest in praxis, then what does the Catholic Church do about female lay Eucharistic ministers? What does She do about all communicants not drinking (arbitrarily, and from private opinion?) from the Chalice (I’m assuming, out of ignorance, that “take this is my body which is shed for you for the remission of sin”)? Please see the various questions Darryl has asked about Jews’ clothing and how a faithful Catholic (seriously) deals with that question. If the teaching of Jews’ clothing was never ex Cathedra, then what does one do at the time? If it was ex Cathedra, was the teaching a sin (obviously not). So what does one do? Take Darryl’s question seriously. If teachings are given non-ex Cathedra, then what is the IP? Do you drink our Lord’s Blood from the Chalice? Why? What about those who don’t? What is the Church’s position on this? Is this Scriprturally consistent?

    In short, Bryan, and I am very sympathetic the the CC’s cause, but how do all of your historic claims carry the weight of historical reality? I won’t bore you with links to liturgical nightmares that would make the OPC blush, but we all know they exist. So I can ask an OPC what his basic theological position is, and, most of them, where I come from (but only because I’m neighbors with D.G), would give me the same answer. It’s pretty routine–heretical, but routine. So, it seems to me, Bryan, if the theoria which you advocate is True (and often I believe it is), then surely the praxis will match up–especially with such a strong authority. But I think we all know this is kind of untrue. Liturgics is weak in the Catholic Church. Hell, I’d bet liturgical conformity is stronger in the OPC (shutter!!!!!) than in the Catholic Church. I could be wrong here.

    I’ve defended you elsewhere, Bryan, but your responses here, have fallen flat. It may be because the argument isn’t about IP, but about the praxis of it all. I hope you take the time to consider this–not that your position is untrue but that you imaginings of the Church (historical and now) are untrue. Maybe the parish to which you belong is true in all of these things–theoria and praxis–and maybe is the Catholic Church in its very locality–but this may have very little to do with the universality of it all. Perhaps you’ve simply confused the IS and the OUGHT. Maybe the IS is infused with lived potentiality and the Ought is for confession.

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  24. Infallible assurance is restricted to the realm of archetypal theology, or that of axioms. Ectypally speaking (i.e., as well as we know anything in the real world)

    So then we, in this life (in the real world), do not actually have infallible assurance; or if we do have it, we can’t know (be infallibly assured) that we do, which amounts to the same thing.

    But the words in WCF 18 seem to be saying that we really can attain to infallible assurance.

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  25. Rube,

    You are right, WCF speaks of an infallible assurance that can be attained to through the due use of the ordinary means (18.1), but this must also be tempered by the fact that this assurance, or the subjective apprehension of it by the believer is not unassailable. This seems (to me at least) mean that while the experience of infallible assurance is there to be reasonably had, the realities of sin and doubt can creep in to such a degree that while the true saint is assuredly saved, the ability to experience this assurance, and to take consolation in it is something that can be shaken, so much so that the saint might have no reasonable assurance of his salvation. FWIW, 2 Pet. 1:3-11 seem to be exactly what WCF 18 is speaking to, namely assurance in one’s election, how it is obtained, and what threatens it.

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  26. Rube, preference is not so bad when it comes to trusting in Christ compared to trusting myself. I’ll take some of that.

    But when it comes to assurance, it is complicated. One difference between WSC and Heidelberg is supposed to be over whether assurance is of the essence of faith (WSC for, Heidelberg not). But when you read Calvin on assurance it sure seems to me that he says assurance is part of faith. He also says doubt is part of a believer’s life.

    So I’m not sure the issue is infallibility as much as it is assurance.

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  27. Justin, thanks for commenting. I knew you read Old Life sometime. Acknowledging serious differences among Orthodox, Rome, and Protestants might nurture less triumphalisim.

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  28. I agree that there is some difference about assurance between WSC and Heidelberg. But I don’t think Calvin himself would have any problem with Heidelberg. You see, Calvin also knew that sin was a part of the Christian life. We don’t have to say all doubt is sin in order to say that some doubt is sin.

    The question becomes the object of our doubts and assurance. Those who deny that justification from the law’s condemnation of sin is the reason sin “does not have dominion” over us tend to find their assurance instead in some notion that sin is not part (or a normal part, or a pattern) of the Christian life. And thus they doubt themselves (unless they are completely self-righteous), which means they condition the blessings of salvation on what God does in themselves in addition to whatever it was that God did in Christ.

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  29. McMark,

    I agree that there is some difference about assurance between WSC and Heidelberg. But I don’t think Calvin himself would have any problem with Heidelberg.

    Interesting catch, I did grapple with the language of WCF 18 after reading Rube’s comments, and even after my own. I went into Williamson’s commentary on WCF, and even there I am not sure how well he dealt with how ch. 18 was at minimum upholding a rather dynamic tension between infallible assurance and the Christian’s ability to struggle with or even loose an infallible sense of assurance. I’d be interested on any other commentary on 18, but I don’t want to derail the post too much.

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  30. Those puritans who advocated “the practical syllogism” read II Peter 1 as teaching that we must
    add works and virtues to our lives in order to gain and maintain assurance. I agree with Walter Marshall and others who point out that II Peter 1 teaches that we have to make our calling and election sure in order to even know if our added works and virtues are acceptable and pleasing to God.

    In other words, we need to think about which gospel it was we were called. Were we called by a gospel which conditioned our end on our having works and virtues? Or were we called by the true gospel which says that we must be accepted by God in Christ’s righteousness before we can do anything good or acceptable to God?

    The legalists of course are careful to say that their works are the evidence of Christ’s work in them. Nevertheless, most legalists do not test their works by the gospel doctrine of righteousness. Most legalists think you can be wrong about the gospel doctrine, and nevertheless still show off your salvation by your works and acts of piety.. In other words, legalists (like Paul Washer) raise doubts about those who don’t “try more effort”, but they don’t have these same doubts about “sincere and hard-working” Arminians and Roman Catholics.

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  31. One difference between WSC and Heidelberg is supposed to be over whether assurance is of the essence of faith (WSC for, Heidelberg not).

    ??? WCF 18.3 “This infallible assurance does not so belong to the essence of faith…”

    So I’m not sure the issue is infallibility as much as it is assurance.

    Well really, the concept of infallibility is built in to the term assurance itself. If it’s not infallible, then you’re not really sure, are you? My point was to highlight that we have our own use of the I word (even beyond scriptural infallibility), and I’ve never really understood it (and probably still don’t), but I’ll leave it there.

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  32. Good discussion here; David R. that was very helpful in regards to magisterial authority and ministerial authority. The discussion on assurance was helpful too. The fact that Westminster has been shown to be fallibly wrong in the past and that there were means by which correction ensued (even though all did not agree with the correction-civil magistrate) makes the document much different than the infallible documents which come to those in the Catholic church. There is room for open discussion and dialog about the contents of Westminster- not so in Rome.

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  33. I found Merriam-Webster helpful when reading the WCF article on assurance: Apart from “incapable of error,” a second, and more germane, definition of infallible is “not liable to mislead, deceive, or disappoint.”

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  34. Rube,

    The contrast in the Confession is with a “fallible hope,” while the infallible assurance is explained as being “founded upon the divine truth of the promises of salvation.” I don’t know what the Divines were contradicting (the Roman Catholic assurance of the time?), but I think “infallible” is meant to describe the object of faith/ground of assurance, not the believer’s sense of it.

    If it’s not infallible, then you’re not really sure, are you?
    Sections 3 and 4 list many uncertainties beside the i-word. It doesn’t seem that being really sure was their purpose in employing it.

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  35. Sometimes the average believers knows better than the one with infallibility thanks to historical development:

    Infallibility is a very minimal protection so that the essence of the faith is preserved and all the teaching and the graces Christ intended for the Church remain available down through the ages. But it is our task to grow in grace and wisdom over time and to build one another up in loved. And like it or not, God has so ordered the body of Christ that we who can (in some areas at least) see further than our ancestors are typically able to do so because of the sacrifices and struggles they undertook by grace to transcend their own culture limitations. We should not be too smug because the day will inevitably come when our children will look at us and ask exactly the “How could you?” questions we so blithely ask of our ancestors.

    So why not revise the doctrine of papal supremacy and authority (except that the last 600 years of Roman Catholicism depend on it)?

    Like

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