This past Saturday, Voces was somewhat different. Instead of having a typical formation talk, we staged a “debate” over the Doctrines surrounding Papal Infallibility. This was the first Voces of its kind, and despite that, it was a wild success in my estimation! It goes without saying, this is a very controversial and complicated subject.
The main lines of argument and counter argument taken up during the debate included the following:
Debate Key Issues
While there is not enough space here to go into all of these, I want to take a deeper dive into the infallibility/impeccability distinction because these two things are commonly confused. How, after all, can a papacy which has such a history of violence and worldliness make such a strong claim on the consciences of Christians? Isn’t the papal claim to authority just a product of the overreaching corruption so typical of the papacy during the middle ages and early renaissance? Jesus is perfect and we are not; better He be our head than a pope, who, however saintly he may be, is still just a man!
The fact is that every truth God has revealed to humanity has been handed on to us and is persevered for us through the mouths of sinners.
While this argument presents a strong sentimental appeal, intellectually it is not particularly difficult to refute. The first pope, St. Peter, tried to talk Jesus out of carrying out the Father’s will (Mt 16:21-23), denied his affiliation with Christ three times (Mt 26:69-75), and failed to always live up to the doctrines that he himself proclaimed at the Council of Jerusalem (Gal 2:11-14), yet basically every Christian still believes his two encyclicals are infallible!!
The fact is that every truth God has revealed to humanity has been handed on to us and is persevered for us through the mouths of sinners. There is no reason to think that the personal sinfulness of a given pope presents a challenge to the possibility of his possessing some capacity to speak infallibly on matters of faith and morals. In fact, if sinfulness really were an obstacle to the Holy Spirit’s capacity to “guide [us] to all truth” (Jn 16:13), then more than just papal infallibility would be jeopardized.
Has God established a visible Church to receive and defend the Truth He revealed to us in the mystery of His Incarnation, or does the visible church admit of variation according to the fancy of her constituents or the needs of time and place?
Afterall, if the fact of revelation requires nothing more than submitting to one’s own private judgment of what the contents of revelation are, then what is wrong with one denomination building a church around one theory of the contents of revelation while another denomination builds another church around a different theory?
It seems to me, that the more one grows to love the Church as the living Bride of Christ...the more plausible the former vision of the Church becomes and the more repugnant the latter.
If, however, the former view of the Church holds true, then to separate oneself from the visible Church is to separate oneself from the divinely established context in which God has ordained the Truth of His revelation to be received.
It seems to me, that the more one (whether Protestant or Catholic) grows to love the Church as the living Bride of Christ and thus as a good transcendent of the tides of history or of the whims of her currently embodied members, the more plausible the former vision of the Church becomes and the more repugnant the latter.
For a Protestant in whom this love for the Bride of Christ is awakened, the next step may not be a full acceptance of Papal Infallibility, but it at least will dispose him to question where his newfound love ought to be sought. To this we must reply along with St. Augustine: “in the Catholic Church” where “the succession of priests keeps me, beginning from the very seat of the Apostle Peter, to whom the Lord, after His resurrection, gave it in charge to feed His sheep, down to the present episcopate.”
 The New Testament Letters of Peter (aka 1st and 2nd Peter)
 St. Augustine “Against the Fundamental Epistle of Manichaeus.” Translated by Richard Stothert. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 4. Edited by Philip Schaff. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1887.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1405.htm>