No Infallibility for Anyone

August 13th, 2008

So, something I’ve been doing during the long gap between my posts has been an occasional comment on other blogs, under the name Jugulum.  One of my exchanges ended up being highlighted by Carrie (a contributor to the blog), who posted excerpts in a separate entry, saying,  “Not that the general discussion points haven’t been covered here and elsewhere many times over, but I thought Jugulum provided a nice clarity to the issue in his comments”.  Thanks, Carrie. :)

The exchange has to do with infallibility in Roman Catholicism.  One of the appeals of Catholicism is the idea of certainty.  If you have to read & interpret the Bible for yourself, how do you know if you’ve got it right? You’re just a fallible private interpreter.  But if you listen to the Church, you have an infallible interpreter to tell you what you should believe.

The major problem is this: Who interprets the interpreter?

When you read the Scriptures, you have to try to figure out what they mean.  You might get it wrong.  And when you listen to the Pope or read the Catechism or read the rulings of councils, then you also have to try to figure out what they mean, and you might get it wrong.  Either you’re reading the infallible Scriptures, or you’re reading (allegedly) infallible proclamations of the Church–and you have to interpret both.  Because you’re fallible, your theology will always be fallible–even if you were sitting at the feet of Christ during his ministry on earth, you could still misunderstand.

  • Note: This argument doesn’t tell us whether or not God actually did give us the Catholic teaching Magisterium to be our guide.  It just means that your theology will always be fallible, regardless of who’s right about sola Scriptura.  This common Catholic argument ends up being an (unintentional) shell game.
  • However, the Catholic system does offer something that would be nice, if it were really from God.  Even though we can’t become infallible, it would be nice to have an infallible interpreter.  Wouldn’t it be great to be able to ask Paul what he meant sometimes?  To interact with him in person? If the Catholic Church (or the Orthodox Church) could actually give us authoritative interpretations from God, it would be nice.  (And we would be obliged to submit.)  But, we can be assured that if God didn’t give us such a thing, then we don’t need it.  If we Protestants are right that the only infallible authority is Scripture, then we can be confident that we have all the guidance we require–everything God wanted us to have.  (Other authorities–like tradition, philosophy, etc.–might be helpful, but they’re under Scripture, and they’re not infallible.)  If so, then Catholics are (sadly) seeing deficiency in what God has graciously lavished on us.  We need to get this right.

So, now that I’ve summarized it, on to the exchange.  It started when I replied to this comment from Alexander Greco:

Within Catholicism, granting that its teachings are true, a person has the possibility to know that he or she is holding beliefs at variance with sound doctrine, and can avoid this.

My reply starts here, and the exchange continues through the combox.  Or, if you don’t want to read everything, you can check out the excerpts pulled out by Carrie.

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4 Responses to “No Infallibility for Anyone”

  1. I am so amazed at the RC apologists. What is so not understandable with: “But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him.” He also said: “Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works.”

    Undoubtedly John was reflecting on: “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” In both cases you is in the plural indicating that it is not a gift that is restricted to an elite few, but is given to all.

    The whole argument becomes superfluous and contradictory: “But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers.” Simply, this indicates that exclusivity of truth is not the property of the few but as John says because the anointing abides in each of us, each stands on equal footing authoritatively as if we were all teachers. That does not mean that contradictory truths can be mutually held. What it does mean is that infallible truth can be held by each one for the mutual benefit of all.

    If indeed we are all brothers and eventhough the teaching authority is give to the ecclesia, Scripture clearly teaches us directly under the tuteledge of the Holy Spirit even if illuminated by teachers.

    Do they just not read for themselves? Jesus has removed all barriers. We no longer sit under the instruction of prophets who interceded for God. There is no longer any priesthood save that of the One who dwells in us by the Spirit.

    I was thinking, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” That is an infallible piece of truth knowledge, immovable, needing no interpretation. Paul said simply, “What do you have that you did not receive?” And admonishes us not to go beyond what is written. How is it that we have certain infallible knowledge, individually? Paul’s point is that what we have received we have received and it does not move, it is a rock, a sure foundation that no other can lay. Now why all that assurance of access to infallible knowledge if indeed it did not exist, nor was available to the individual individually directly as a promise of both freedom and assurance that that freedom shall never be lost?

    Are we exaustively infallible, no. Are we particularly, individually so, yes. In fact, what Jesus said cannot be refuted nor diminished, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.” What this means is that we are not beholden to any other man. The gift of salvation is not put into the trust of others to be sure for us. Quite the contrary, the very meaning of faith is what we know without shadow of turning. The trust has been placed in us individually, a free gift. What the RC does is to steal that gift, deprive the assurance individually of salvation by making the Church the trustee. But Scripture says that we have a reward, being fully and most highly blessed, seated already with Christ in heaven where nothing, not even the thief can break in and steal. We have received an inheritance that can never be taken away, that makes the enemy even more jealous and angry.

  2. Grandma says:

    Thank you, Tim. I have been missing your messages. I asked your Mom if maybe I wasn’t getting them any more – - – and she said, “No” – - you hadn’t sent any lately and you were getting “questions” why from others – - that’s good :>)
    Love you much and many prayers – - – - for ALL my children, grandchildren – - and, now – - – great-grandchildren. from Grandma

  3. Tim says:

    Thomas,

    Thanks, you point out some important Scriptures on knowledge being accessible and attainable. The Bible uses language like “so that you may know,” and “know for certain”, etc.

    Now, “infallible” isn’t a word that’s used in those Biblical promises, and it’s not clear to me that it’s quite the right word to use to sum up what the Bible does teach on the matter. It not clear to me that it’s ever accurate to say that something in me, or my knowledge, has become infallible. Jesus was infallible, the Scriptures are infallible, the apostles and prophets were infallible (I think), but my own knowledge or understanding of those sources is always subject to correction. I haven’t found any Biblical promises that lead me to believe that anything in my head ever passes the point of being (in principle) correctable by Scripture. And if that’s the case, I don’t see how I can use the word “infallible” about anything in me. “True”, or “correct”, or “without error”–but not “infallible”. (I talked about this distinction a bit over in an extension of the same discussion, when I was asked if the Christology of the council of Chalcedon was “infallible”.)

  4. Tim says:

    Awwww, Grandma… The guys are watching! You’re crimping my style!

    Just kidding. :) I love you, Grandma. I’ll try not to let such a long lapse happen again.

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