Article 78 – Catechism of the Catholic Church Series
Paragraphs 888-896 Teaching authority of the Church
Among Jesus’ many titles in the New Testament is that of “Teacher.” Unlike all other teachers, however, Jesus, the God-man was the perfect Teacher. We could never make such a statement about any other person in the history of the world!
In fact, with all the search engines on all the computers in the entire world linked together in one giant computer, or with the most intelligent people in the world with their learning pooled into one giant brain, the intellectuals of all times and all places could never match the unlimited knowledge of Christ, the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity. Christ knew every detail of not only what He was teaching, but also to whom He was teaching. He knew every question from every angle. He knew just how every word and every idea would be received by His hearers.
Although the Church would never claim to know all things as Christ did, we believe that the Church is Christ (the Mystical Body of Christ) and the Church is, therefore, our Teacher. We believe that in establishing the Church upon the apostles (and their successors), Christ willed to remain with the Church until the end of time.
In the Gospels, we discern that unlike the prophets of old, Christ taught with authority. Christ gave this same right to his Church — to teach with authority. The Catechism states it this way: “In order to preserve the Church in the purity of the faith handed on by the apostles, Christ who is the Truth willed to confer on her a share in his own infallibility” (ccc 889). More specifically, “Christ endowed the Church’s shepherds with the charism of infallibility in matters of faith and morals” (ccc 990). To say it another way, quoting from the Second Vatican Council’s “Decree On the Ministry and Life of Priests” and the “Dogmatic Constitution on the Church,” the Catechism, in paragraph 888, states: Bishops, with priests as co-workers, have as their first task “to preach the Gospel of God to all people,” in keeping with the Lord’s command (Presbyterorum Ordinis 4). They are “heralds of faith, who draw new disciples to Christ; they are authentic teachers” of the apostolic faith “endowed with the authority of Christ” (Lumen Gentium 25).
In short, the Church, through her authentic teachers (bishops in union with the Bishop of Rome) are not infallible in all things, but have “a share” in the infallible teaching or authority of Christ. The aspects of Christ’s teaching with which they have a share are “in matters of faith and morals” (ccc 890).
The remaining paragraphs in this section of the Catechism (ccc 890-896) focus on this “the charism of infallibility” (ccc 890). The Code of Canon Law captures the essence of this section in Canon 749 as follows: Canon 749 §1 In virtue of his office , the Supreme Pontiff is infallible in his teaching when, as chief Shepherd and Teacher of all Christ’s faithful, with the duty of strengthening his brethren in the faith, he proclaims by definitive act a doctrine to be held concerning faith or morals.
§2 The College of Bishops also possesses infallibility in its teaching when the Bishops, gathered together in an Ecumenical Council and exercising their Magisterium as teachers and judges of faith and morals, definitively declare for the universal Church a doctrine to be held concerning faith or morals; likewise, when the Bishops, dispersed
throughout the world but maintaining the bond of union among themselves and with the successor of Peter, together with the same Roman Pontiff, authentically teach matters of faith or morals, and are agreed that a particular teaching is definitively to be held.
Have you ever considered the fact that most doctrines of the Church, such as the doctrine on the Blessed Trinity, Mary’s perpetual virginity, the divinity of Christ, the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ and People of God, etc., are accepted by all Catholics but have not been declared infallible statements. When an infallible teaching is made by the pope alone, by the Magisterium within an ecumenical council, or by the college of bishops in union with the pope meeting together outside a council, it would probably occur only when a doctrine is called into question.
In any event, a few words in an article may not persuade people to accept the teaching of the Church on infallibility. In fact, many fallen-away Catholics and evangelical-fundamental Christians often use the so-called classic example from St. Paul’s New Testament Letter to the Galatians to undermine the Catholic teaching on infallibility.
The example from Galatians involves St. Peter’s conduct at Antioch, where he was unwilling to eat with Gentile Christians so as not to offend certain Jews from Palestine (Galatians 2:11–16). St. Paul criticized Peter for his behavior. Does this biblical example close the door on papal infallibility? Absolutely not! Why? Because St. Peter’s actions here related to matters of discipline and not any special teaching, much less a solemn definition of infallibility in matters of faith and morals, the charism of which “Christ endowed the Church’s shepherds with” (ccc 890).
In our own day, this strikes a familiar chord. Instead of following the teaching of Christ as proposed by his Church, too many Catholics today follow the opinions of those who put sociological and psychological values, as interpreted by self-proclaimed “experts” and self-appointed “theologians,” before the clear teaching of the real keepers and guardians of the truth. Faith and morals, as faithfully proclaimed through the centuries, takes a back seat to what has become the flavor of the day.
The advice offered by first-century bishop St. Ignatius of Antioch and quoted in paragraph 896 of the Catechism is good advice for us: “Let no one do anything concerning the Church in separation from the bishop.” The Second Vatican Council “Dogmatic Constitution on the Church” (Lumen Gentium 27:2) says it this way: “The faithful … should be closely attached to the bishop as the Church is to Jesus Christ, and as Jesus Christ is to the Father.”