I was visiting Pastor Weedon’s blog as I do from time to time to keep up with things at the saner end of Lutheranism in the States, and there read his post “On the Platonic Church”. Here is the gist of it:
“The Church doesn’t err. Never has and never will. Bishops may err. Priests may err. Christian people may err. Whole dioceses may err. But the Church never can err.” Hold that thought.
“The problem with you Lutherans is that you have a Platonic notion of what the Church is.” Um. Houston…?
Let’s see: can anyone point to this “visible” church that cannot err? Oh, not that bishop! Oh, not his diocese! Oh, not this parish or that priest and certainly not that layperson!
…[Roman Catholics] put all their “church cannot err” eggs into the papal basket, though they try to make it clear that it’s not about the pope per se, but about the whole church, the infallibility given to the whole. But there sits Honorarius… Granted he didn’t make his monothelite leanings an infallible pronouncement ex cathedra, but then again Rome didn’t TALK that way then. But, wait a minute? Oh, never mind.
Luther’s solution was rather simple…: “Therefore the holy church cannot and may not lie or suffer false doctrine, but must teach nothing except what is holy and true, that is, God’s Word alone; and where it teaches a lie it is idolatrous and the whore-church of the devil.”
In other words, the Church by very definition is she who has and speaks the Word of God and it is that Word that does not err, lie, or deceive. When “church” presumes to speak what is NOT God’s Word alongside God’s Word, well, to the extent she does, she forfeits her claim of infallibility, because alongside of the inerrant Word she’s mixed in stuff than can be quite fallible indeed.
etc. His basic point is that rather than having faith in the inerrancy of the Church (and therefore trusting that what the Church teaches is God’s Word), we should trust in the inerrancy of God’s Word and look for the ecclesial community that teaches it in its purity.
Well as far as the argument goes, I have no problem with that. In fact, oddly enough, I believe I have found that visible society upon earth which has unerringly taught God’s Word throughout history (and we all know who that is, don’t we, dear Reader?).
But for the record, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches the following about the Church’s inerrancy:
91 All the faithful share in understanding and handing on revealed truth. They have received the anointing of the Holy Spirit, who instructs them [cf. 1 Jn 2:20, 27] and guides them into all truth [cf. .Jn 16:13].
92 “The whole body of the faithful… cannot err in matters of belief. This characteristic is shown in the supernatural appreciation of faith (sensus fidei) on the part of the whole people, when, from the bishops to the last of the faithful, they manifest a universal consent in matters of faith and morals” [LG 12; cf. St. Augustine, De praed. sanct. 14, 27: PL 44, 980].
93 “By this appreciation of the faith, aroused and sustained by the Spirit of truth, the People of God, guided by the sacred teaching authority (Magisterium),… receives… the faith, once for all delivered to the saints… The People unfailingly adheres to this faith, penetrates it more deeply with right judgment, and applies it more fully in daily life” [LG 12; cf. Jude 3].
In addition to this, the Catechism teaches that:
869 The Church is apostolic. She is built on a lasting foundation: “the twelve apostles of the Lamb” (Rev 21:14). She is indestructible (cf. Mt 16:18). She is upheld infallibly in the truth: Christ governs her through Peter and the other apostles, who are present in their successors, the Pope and the college of bishops.
889 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. By a “supernatural sense of faith” the People of God, under the guidance of the Church’s living Magisterium, “unfailingly adheres to this faith” [LG 12; cf. DV 10].
890 The mission of the Magisterium is linked to the definitive nature of the covenant established by God with his people in Christ. It is this Magisterium’s task to preserve God’s people from deviations and defections and to guarantee them the objective possibility of professing the true faith without error. Thus, the pastoral duty of the Magisterium is aimed at seeing to it that the People of God abides in the truth that liberates. To fulfill this service, Christ endowed the Church’s shepherds with the charism of infallibility in matters of faith and morals.
For the record, the Catholic Church does not teach that popes cannot err. She does not teach that bishops, priests, theologians, or even councils which proclaim themselves to be ecumenical cannot err.
She does teach that the scriptures “firmly, faithfully, and without error teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation” (DV 11), and that “the Roman Pontiff, the head of the college of bishops, enjoys [infallibility] in virtue of his office, when, as the supreme shepherd and teacher of all the faithful, who confirms his brethren in their faith, by a definitive act he proclaims a doctrine of faith or morals.” (LG 25)
And if you have stuck with me this far, it is probably very significant to note that the same passage in Lumen Gentium teaches that this infallibility “extends [ONLY] as far as the deposit of Revelation extends, which must be religiously guarded and faithfully expounded”.
So, yes, Pastor Weedon, Catholics believe that the one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church as a whole cannot err. And if you ask me to point to this Church, I can: it is that whole body of the faithful which was established by Christ and the Holy Spirit, which has existed throughout history from the day of Pentecost, and which is governed by Christ through Peter and the other apostles, who are present in their successors, the Pope and the college of bishops.
And I for one find it hard to know how one could ever give assent to the teachings of community which does not believe in such inerrancy (here at least Pastor McCain–see the post above–is consistent). For without this, how am I to know that the measure by which I am judging the truthfulness of the Church’s teaching today (the “purity” of its teaching, as Lutherans would say) is in fact a true measure?
And why does Pastor Weedon keep going on about Honorius? Catholics are quite capable of reading history, and the Fathers of the First Vatican Council were well aware of the case of Honorius (if you aren’t, take a look at this Catholic Encyclopedia article which is fairly detailed). The Church has never taught the personal infallibility of the pope (cf. Pope Benedict’s note in the preface to his new book “Jesus of Nazareth” that no-one should regard his personal book as infallible!). The charism of infallibility is something quite different from being a good or bad theologian. I think the most that can be said of Honorius is that he was the latter. We know from history that he was a good and faithful pastor. In any case, Honorius rather proves the point than not: the Church was not derailed by his error; the sixth Council, which condemned the theological opinion expressed by Honorius in that one letter, got it right in the end; and the Church went merrily on its way into the future built upon the solid Rock of Truth.