We live in a society which is afraid of truth. It prefers doubt, espouses confusion, sometimes upholds lies and at times delights in half-truths. Even in the Church, you will find people that to sound “reasonable” would say that there is no black and white, but try to make virtue out of grey. This does, in most cases, not encourage debate and dialogue, but enables confusion to flourish.
That this praise of “greyfullness” and smudged edges is not of Christ is so obvious in the Gospel. He himself said: “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life”; He did not offer himself as an alternative but as the only way: “No one comes to the Father except through me”. If the Church is His body, the continuation of his work; which she is; then she is also clear about what she proclaims. That is one of the marks of the Church. Many try to make pathetic points by confusing the human errors of members of the Church with what the Church upholds as divinely revealed truths, forgetting that the Church is not a society of saints but a school for sinners.
In a previous post entitled You are Peter, we saw how Peter, the witness of the Resurrection, is a gift to the Church. Today we will see that one of the gifts given to Peter, to enable his ministry, is that of Infallibility. Since the death of the last Apostle and thus the closing of Revelation, providence continues to watch over the progress of the Church: “I am with you always, till the end of time.” In Scriptures, truth means fidelity, that fidelity with which God makes good His promises. Infallibility is the historical embodiment of this fidelity of God to His people. Infallibility is the faithfulness of God to His Church.
The starting point to appreciate this wonderful gift is the promise of Jesus himself the truth (Jn 1:14; 14:6 and 5:20). The farewell discourse promises the Paraclete as the Spirit of Truth (Jn 14:7; 15:26; 16:13). The Spirit will lead the disciples into all truth (Jn 8:32; 14:17; 17:17; 2Jn 1-3 and Mt 28:19ff). Paul provides the notion that the Gospel is God’s word and power (Rom 1:16; 2 Cor 6: 7; 13:8; Gal 1:7 and 1 Thess 2:2), and that it may never be falsified (2 Cor 11:4; Gal 1:6; 2:5). The Church is the pillar and ground of truth (1 Tim 3:15). In the Gospel according to Luke we find that the Lord identifies himself with the words of his disciple (Lk 10:16); these disciples are strengthened by Peter (Lk 22:32).
In the Patristic age, infallibility was understood in terms like “rule of faith” or “deposit of faith” (Tertullian, Irenaeus and Vincent of Lerins). The obligation of the Church towards truth is brought forth in the teaching of the Councils. In medieval theology, Aquinas and the Councils of Constance and Basle teach on the reality of infallibility and leave their mark on subsequent theological reflection. After the Reformation, we find this positive teaching upheld by the Council of Trent and theologians like Bossuet, Driedo, Cano and Bellarmine. In the 19th century, infallibility was seen as the work of the Spirit in the entire Church by theologians like Moheler, our own Newman and Scheeben. Vatican Council I defined this Ecclesial gift as a special attribute to Peter, in the biblical notion of confirming his brethren in the faith. Vatican II reaffirmed this doctrine seeing it in the light of the collegiality of bishops united with the Pope, as beautifully codified in canon 749 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law.
Infallibility is the manifestation, the incarnation of the promise of the Incarnate one that he will be with us till the end of time, that we will be led into all truth (Jn16:13). Being in communion with the See of Peter is receiving this gift of truth – Thanks be to God, our God who does not deceive but keeps us in the clarity and beauty of truth.