Infallibility criteria

Infallibility criteria

James Bogle

In his haste to respond with exclamatories, my good friend John Young does me a surprising injustice by accusing me of holding a view I did not express and which he knows I don't hold. Indeed, in my first article, I gave four paragraphs to the infallible Ordinary Magisterium.

It is thus John who makes a "serious blunder".

Let me, then, spell it out for him.

If an Ecumenical Council (or the Pope) teaches infallibly then that is, ipso facto, said to be "Extraordinary" not "Ordinary".

Ordinary infallible teaching is that of the bishops dispersed round the world, not gathered in Council.

John not only misrepresents what I wrote but he makes a category mistake by claiming that the infallible teaching of a Council can be "Ordinary".

Consequently, he misunderstands my reference to Ludwig Ott and the Catholic Encyclopaedia.

At page 300 of the 4th Ed of his Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, Dr Ott writes thus: "The Bishops exercise their infallible teaching power in an ordinary manner when they, in their diocese, in moral unity with the Pope, unanimously promulgate the same teachings on faith and morals ... [when] scattered over the whole earth ... [and] the express or tacit assent of the Pope ... is essential."

The Catholic Encyclopaedia says similar.

If the bishops are "in their diocese" and "scattered over the whole earth" then, plainly, they are not gathered in Council.

Ott clearly also thinks the infallible Ordinary Magisterium involves more than a mere snap-shot poll of bishops and, moreover, nowhere supports John's claim that two-thirds of the Council, with the Pope, "indicate ... the degree of unanimity" for infallibility.

The "two-thirds" ( duarum partium) majority idea was expressly condemned centuries ago even though decreed (overwhelmingly) by a General Council.

Regrettably, John sticks to his erroneous argument that infallibility depends, at a Council, upon large majorities and mere promulgation, rather than the requirement of Vatican I and Lumen Gentium 25 that the teaching first be definitive (or proposed as divinely revealed).

He thus misstates the criteria for the infallible Magisterium to operate.

John also fails to see where the nub of the debate on Dignitatis Humanae lies.

As Fr Harrison points out, Dignitatis does not propose any teaching to be held definitively (or as divinely revealed). It thus does not teach infallibly.

Dignitatis replaces the traditional limit to religious freedom, namely the "common good", with that of "public order". John overlooks the significance of this change and so misses where the debate lies.

The Council did not, and did not intend to, teach infallibly. That does not mean that its teachings can simply be ignored.

John refuses to see this argument.

London, UK

James Bogle is a barrister in privateĀ  practice based in London, is Chairman of the Catholic Union of Great Britain and the author of Heart for Europe , a biography of the Blessed Charles of Austria.

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