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PJ MCGRATH ON PAPAL INFALLIBILITY

The Catholic Church and the pope claim to be protected from error under certain circumstances. Most Catholic doctrine has been infallibly declared by the Church. The Church says that she is infallible during Ecumenical Councils – she means that the bishops that meet and vote at these councils are infallible but only as a whole as long as they meet that way and intended to be. The problem is how sinners can give us God’s truth at these councils. The Church says that infallibility is not impeccability. True, but if God is so important it would be blasphemy to believe what a man claiming to have a revelation from him says when that man is unreliable or even if you don’t know much about him. This is the blasphemy that is the foundation of the whole Roman system. We know that the clergy of Rome are foundationally crafty and their specialty is lying in the name of God so they are far from reliable. And it is they who are the Church that infallibly declared that the pope was infallible!

PJ McGrath’s Believing in God has a chapter that discusses the claims of the papacy from which I extract the necessary insights and comment on them. He rejects Kung’s view that an infallible statement is impossible for propositions are only symbolic – all our statements are expressed by symbols – as saying that no statement of any kind says anything. But he argues that since the Church needs infallibility to make its statements that does not mean the wording of the statement is infallible so an attempt to make an infallible doctrine can backfire if the wording is wrong. The danger with this is that the pope can abuse his infallibility by expressing the revelation badly or ambiguously which opens the road to heresy. Infallibility cannot guarantee anything and it all comes down to trust in the pope as a man. The Church boasts that the infallibility claim is not arrogance for it says that strictly speaking the Church is not infallible but God expresses his infallibility through it. But that is not enough to rescue the Church from the charge of arrogance. If you want to claim to be infallible out of arrogance you have to say that some God is making you infallible to avoid sounding like a fool. The Church would say to this that we are confusing infallibility with certainty for infallibility does not prove a doctrine but only proves that the doctrine should be believed as having come from God for Christianity is a religion of faith not knowledge (page 47, Church and Infallibility). But they are still saying that infallibility gives a good bit of certainty and that is enough to justifiably charge them with arrogance. They tell us that contraception is wrong for certain even when it saves a woman from an AIDS infection.

McGrath observes that statements do not err but only the people that make them do. If a statement is in error, it is not the statement that errs but the people making it. We have seen this to be the case and seen that it is highly unsafe. It really means for Catholics that men are telling you what to think about God and religion.

And McGrath observes that if a statement does not contain error then there can be no difference between one that is infallible and one that is just true, so one is at a loss to explain how they are supposed to be dissimilar and distinct for infallibility implies a gift that makes you right. He rejects the objection that when a statement is true it does not have to be true for there is no force making it true but an infallible one is made because it is true because of some power. In other words, he rejects the view that a true statement just happens to be true but an infallible one cannot avoid being true. Since infallibility requires the Church and pope to be as certain as possible what they want to define is true before they define it, it follows that infallibility is not certainty and so it is absurd. It is a contradiction to say that such and such a teaching is infallible but you are not sure if it is true. And since doctrines can be and are said to be certain before they are made infallible then what use is infallibility? It is unethical for the people to put a declaration that is said to be infallible before examination of the facts which is what they do when they believe the immaculate conception or whatever because the pope said so instead of having a look at the evidence behind the doctrine. An all-good God would not encourage such sloth. He would not give the gift of infallibility so that we might be lazy and like pea-brained sheep. To believe a doctrine is infallible you have to believe that an infallible authority the Bible or Jesus gave the Church the power to make that doctrine but there is no evidence that Jesus did that or if he did if the Church is sticking to the conditions he laid down for infallibility to operate. So the infallibility claim just hangs there in mid-air like a bad stench of incense.

The Church boasts that it needs infallibility so that we can be sure what God said. But it has turned out that the kind of infallibility it claims cannot function unless the Church is already certain so how could the Church be infallible when it does not need to be? How can we avoid the conclusion that infallibility is a deliberate hoax designed to puff up the image of the Church? When all is said and done, the only kind of infallibility the Church could claim is the magical type in which one can reveal brand new doctrines never heard of before and which were learned by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Whether it is realised or not, the pope and the Church think that they are exactly the same as Bible style prophets giving inspired utterances and new doctrines to the world. They are hostile to visionaries for they think only Church leaders have a monopoly on God.

Infallibility is a superstition.