Well my first real blog post should probably be on some lofty subject that I have given a great deal of thought to and can illustrate with numerous citations, but its going to have to be something I’ve been idly musing on during the daily grind of work.
Infallibility and obedience to the Church
It always strikes me that when a lot of people talk about infallibility (often Papal infallibility) they seem to regard it as something mysterious. I’d say that is exactly what it shouldn’t be. It’s an amazing gift from God to the Church, it is carried out by God’s abundant grace and it is miraculous. But it isn’t mysterious, or at least it shouldn’t be in my opinion.
It seems to me that the whole point of Jesus’ pledge to Peter in the region of Caesarea Philippi and thus to the Church, was to dispel confusion. Peter was to lead the disciples and later the Church and what he said would be law. It is fairly straight forward when the Pope teaches on faith and morals within his capacity as the Vicar of Christ, then what he says goes.
Simple??? But does this always translate into obedience to the Pope or Church teaching?
I’ve heard people take a very reductionist view of the teachings of the Church as to which are infallible, and what’s more I’ve heard people say something along the lines of “well I don’t think the Pope was talking ex-cathedra there, so I don’t have to obey that particular bit” or “that encyclical wasn’t infallible so I can take it or leave it” In this way the clarity given to the doctrine of Papal infallibility is being abused as a tool to ignore a vast chunk of what the Pope says, and indeed what the Church very often has infallibly taught already.
It is possible, as an intellectual exercise in vanity, to go down the reductionist route, and end up with a handful of things I can be sure of, be very smug and can gloss over teachings that are challenging, (and of course be personally very fallible indeed)….. Or we can take the other road, the road where we treat as much as possible as infallible, and if we do, things start to get a bit more interesting.
The question of which papal statements are infallible is academic in a way because Catholics should be listening to what the Pope says regardless and unless he says something which is immoral as defined by the Church or scriptures, or in contradiction to previous teaching which is infallible then we should be endeavouring to follow it.
Catholics are so blessed at the moment with Benedict the 16th, a wiser, more learned, and more humble man may exist, but I can’t think of him. So why is it, when we know the Pope wants priests to say mass facing east, are the Pope’s wishes ignored in this country? It would be incredibly easy to implement overnight. Why is receiving communion on the tongue whilst kneeling seemingly frowned upon in this land? Why is Latin in the Mass not encouraged? Why are controversial views proudly held by Catholics, even by Bishops? Why is liturgical abuse in our parishes often tolerated?
We should be striving to run down the middle of the road to salvation because that road is difficult enough without walking down the edge of it. The idea of primacy of conscience does not condone or encourage wilful disobedience of infallibly taught doctrine.
We should be conforming ourselves to the Church, at the parish level, and at the global level and even at the heavenly level with the Church triumphant and the holy souls in purgatory.
The Pope is the Holy Father to all Catholics on earth, our obedience to him should not be limited by infallibility, only enhanced by it. Catholicism is not a reductionist faith it is Christianity with all the bells and whistles left in it, why don’t we just roll with it? I certainly think it’s more fun that way.