|Pope Benedict XVI- 265th Pope of the Church of Christ|
True, the word ``Pope'' doesn't appear in the Bible--but then neither do the words ``Trinity,'' ``Incarnation,'' ``Ascension'' and ``Bible'' appear in the Bible. However, they are referred to by other names. The Bible, for example, is referred to as ``Scripture.'' The Pope, which means head bishop of the Church, is referred to as the ``rock'' of the Church, or as the ``shepherd'' of the Church. Christ used that terminology when He appointed the Apostle Peter the first head bishop of His Church, saying: ``Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona . . . Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.'' (Matt. 16:17-19). ``There shall be one fold and one shepherd.'' (John 10:16). ``Feed my lambs... feed my sheep.'' (John 21:15-17). The words ``rock'' and ``shepherd'' must apply to Peter, and they must distinguish him as the head Apostle, otherwise Christ's statements are so ambiguous as to be meaningless. Certainly the other Apostles understood that Peter had authority from Christ to lead the Church, for they gave him the presiding place every time they assembled in council (Acts 1:15, 5:1-10), and they placed his name first every time they listed the names of the Apostles. (Matt. 10:2, Mark 3:16, Luke 6:13-14, Acts 1:13).
In addition, there is the testimony of the Church Fathers. In the second century St. Hegessipus compiled a list of Popes to the time of Anicetus (eleventh Pope) which contained the name of St. Peter as first. Early in the third century the historian Caius wrote that Pope Victor was ``the thirteenth Bishop of Rome from Peter.'' In the middle of the third century St. Cyprian related that Cornelius (twenty-first Pope) ``mounted the lofty summit of the priesthood . . . the place of Peter.'' Even Protestant historians have attested to Peter's role as first Bishop of Rome, first Pope of the Catholic Church. Wrote the eminent Protestant historian Cave in his Historia Literaria: ``That Peter was at Rome, and held the See there for some time, we fearlessly affirm with the whole multitude of the ancients.'' Hence the source of the Pope's authority to rule over the Catholic Church is quite obvious: It was given him by none other than Jesus Christ--by God Himself.
Why do Catholics believe the Pope is infallible in his teachings when he is a human being, with a finite human intellect, like the rest of us? What is the scriptural basis for this belief?
The doctrine of Papal Infallibility does not mean the Pope is always right in all his personal teachings. Catholics are quite aware that, despite his great learning, the Pope is very much a human being and therefore liable to commit human error. On some subjects, like sports and manufacturing, his judgment is liable to be very faulty. The doctrine simply means that the Pope is divinely protected from error when, acting in his official capacity as chief shepherd of the Catholic fold, he promulgates a decision which is binding on the conscience of all Catholics throughout the world. In other words, his infallibility is limited to his specialty--the Faith of Jesus Christ.
In order for the Pope to be infallible on a particular statement, however, four conditions must apply: 1) he must be speaking ex cathedra . . . that is, ``from the Chair'' of Peter, or in other words, officially, as head of the entire Church; 2) the decision must be for the whole Church; 3) it must be on a matter of faith or morals; 4) the Pope must have the intention of making a final decision on a teaching of faith or morals, so that it is to be held by all the faithful. It must be interpretive, not originative; the Pope has no authority to originate new doctrine. He is not the author of revelation--only its guardian and expounder. He has no power to distort a single word of Scripture, or change one iota of divine tradition. His infallibility is limited strictly to the province of doctrinal interpretation, and it is used quite rarely. It is used in order to clarify, to ``define,'' some point of the ancient Christian tradition. It is the infallibility of which Christ spoke when He said to Peter, the first Pope: ``I will give (o thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven.'' (Matt. 16:19). Certainly Christ would not have admonished His followers to ``hear the church'' (Matt. 18:17) without somehow making certain that what they heard was the truth--without somehow making the teaching magisterium of His Church infallible.
For a complete understanding of the Pope's infallibility, however, one more thing should be known: His ex cathedra decisions are not the result of his own private deliberations. They are the result of many years--sometimes hundreds of years--of consultation with the other bishops and theologians of the Church. He is, in effect, voicing the belief of the whole Church. His infallibility is not his own private endowment, but rather an endowment of the entire Mystical Body of Christ. Indeed, the Pope's hands are tied with regard to the changing of Christian doctrine. No Pope has ever used his infallibility to change, add, or subtract any Christian teaching; this is because Our Lord promised to be with His Church until the end of the world. (Matt. 28:20). Protestant denominations, on the other hand, feel free to change their doctrines. For example, all Protestant denominations once taught that contraception was gravely sinful; but since 1930, when the Church of England's Lambeth Conference decided contraception was no longer a sin, virtually all Protestant ministers in the world have accepted this human decision and changed their teaching.
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