Tuesday, January 11, 2011

When Is Church Teaching Infallible?

Q - Is the Catechism considered to be infallible? Is it given by the Magisterium?

My second question is about council infallibility. At the Second Vatican Council, in Lumen Gentium, Mary is referred to as the Mediatrix, and other such titles. Would this be doctrinally binding, as conciliar documents are considered to be infallible?

A -
Thanks for the questions. I hope I can help you out.

I would like to talk about what infallibility is first. A simple definition is the protection from teaching error. It means, the Holy Spirit will keep the Church from teaching error, when she intends to teach with her full authority on matters of faith and morals. Vatican II said the following:
"Although the individual bishops do not enjoy the prerogative of infallibility, they can nevertheless proclaim Christ’s doctrine infallibly. This is so, even when they are dispersed around the world, provided that while maintaining the bond of unity among themselves and with Peter’s successor, and while teaching authentically on a matter of faith or morals, they concur in a single viewpoint as the one which must be held conclusively. This authority is even more clearly verified when, gathered together in an ecumenical council, they are teachers and judges of faith and morals for the universal Church. Their definitions must then be adhered to with the submission of faith"
-Lumen Gentium 25
Later Vatican II also re-affirms that the Pope also enjoys the gift of infallibility. Thus, this gift is expressed in several different ways, but it doesn't mean that every one of these examples is infallible, but rather, that it can be one way of giving an infallible teaching:
  1. – Ordinary Universal Episcopal Magisterium
    • -Normal teaching of the Church
  2. – Extraordinary Universal Episcopal Magisterium
    • -Dogmatic definitions of ecumenical councils. (note: not all statements in an council are infallible)
  3. – Extraordinary Papal Magisterium
    • -Ex Cathedra infallible teachings of the Pope
Most infallible declarations have been made through Church Councils.

From this, I can try and answer your first question. The Catechism is not an infallible document, but has infallible teachings within it, which were given in other ways and which were included in the Catechism. A Catechism is a summation of teachings given to the general population. There are many Catechisms. The one we refer to as The Catechism of the Catholic Church is a "universal Catechism" as opposed to a "local Catechism", since it was issued for all of the Church.

We call the teachings of the Catechism "ordinary", in that they are not given in an extraordinary form (e.g. from a Church Council). But, it doesn't mean they don't carry the authority of the Church because they are not all infallibly taught. This is why the Catechism itself states:
"Divine assistance is also given to the successors of the apostles, teaching in communion with the successor of Peter, and, in a particular way, to the bishop of Rome, pastor of the whole Church, when, without arriving at an infallible definition and without pronouncing in a "definitive manner," they propose in the exercise of the ordinary magisterium a teaching that leads to better understanding of revelation in matters of faith and morals. To this ordinary teaching the faithful "are to adhere to it with religious assent," which, though distinct from the assent of faith, is nonetheless an extension of it."
-CCC 892
We can't just pick-and-choose what teachings are given by the Church - ordinary or extraordinary.

Now, as to your second question the teaching that Mary is Mediatrix (which means she is a {not THE} mediator of grace because she said "yes" before Christ could give us His grace) IS a doctrine of the Church but is NOT infallibly defined dogma.

Ludwig Ott writes the following about this,
"The doctrine of Mary’s Universal Mediation of Grace based on her co-operation in the Incarnation is so definitely manifest in the sources of the faith, that nothing stands in the way of a dogmatic definition"
-Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma
What he means is that it could be a dogma, but is not right now.

In 1996 a commission was put together by the Vatican to explore some Mariological issues, this being one of them. You can read the full statement here. I will provide a snip:
reflection will have to be given to why these three titles Coredemptrix, Mediatrix, Advocate have been avoided or so little used by the Magisterium of the Church over the last 50 years: it is probably because they are no longer suitable for expressing the content to which they refer.
I hope this helps sort out what can be quite confusing.

Some links that you might be interested in:
*Infallibility
*Dogma vs Doctrine
*Has the Church Changed Doctrine

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