Cathedra Veritatis: New Book on the Extension of Papal Infallibility!

Nothing arouses the ire and misunderstanding of non-Catholic Christians and secularists as the dogma of papal infallibility, formally defined at Vatican I. Yet, even with the formal definition of the pope's ability to make infallible pronouncements through the exercise of the pope's extraordinary magisterium, considerable debate remains about whether or not the ordinary teaching of the popes is also infallible. In practice, this has led to questions surrounding the authority of some recent papal statements, notable those found in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, Evangelium Vitae, and of course Humanae Viate. In the phenomenal new book Cathedra Veritatis, author by John Joy, S.T.L. argues convincingly that the pope's ordinary magisterium enjoys the prerogative of infallibility in addition to his extraordinary magisterium.

Drawing on the opinions of those bishops who drafted the Vatican I definition and applying rigorous theological precision to the arguments of modern critics, Mr. Joy's book pulls no punches in establishing the infallibility of the ordinary papal magisterium with force and clarity.

Beginning with the definition of 1870, Mr. Joy proceeds to summarize the theological problems that have arisen over the past 130 years since the definition:

"With this definition [of 1870] the question as to whether the pope is able to speak infallibly at all has been finally settled; since then, theological discussion has centered on the subsidiary questions as to how often and under what conditions he does so. There can be no disagreement that the universally promulgated solemn dogmatic definitions of the pope are infallible, the most well known examples of which are the definitions of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Beyond this, however, we are frequently warned against the phenomenon of a “creeping infallibilization” which would extend the boundaries of infallibility indefinitely. Nevertheless, there remain legitimate questions that can be raised about the further extension of the infallibility of the papal magisterium."

It is these subsidiary questions into the nature and extension of papal infallibility that Mr. Joy tackles rigorously in this 157 page study. Mr. Joy describes the outline of his work thus:

"This work is principally concerned with the pope alone as subject of the magisterium and only insofar as he exercises a universal power. The first distinction is clear: we focus on the magisterium exercised by the pope rather than by any or all of the other bishops of the Church. But further distinctions can then be made with regard to the pope himself. The first such is between the pope as a private and as a public person. Catholic doctrine does not attribute infallibility to the pope as a private person, although this has been held by some theologians, and St Robert Bellarmine calls it a pious and probable opinion. As a public person, a further distinction is then made between the pope as a temporal ruler and as a spiritual ruler; and with regard to the latter it is only as supreme teacher in matters of faith and morals that he is infallible, not as supreme ruler in matters of discipline and government.

Finally, there is a series of further distinctions to be made within the realm of the pope’s spiritual authority in matters of faith and morals based on the scope of his teaching activity. The pope acts with a universal authority when he addresses a teaching to the whole Church, such as now frequently occurs in encyclical letters and other universally promulgated documents. However, when the pope proclaims a teaching only to the clergy or faithful of his own diocese, he acts with the particular authority of the local bishop of the diocese of Rome. Such things as papal allocutions to the cardinals or clergy of Rome, papal sermons, and general audiences addressed to the faithful of the diocese clearly fall into this category. Intermediately, when the pope addresses an encyclical letter only to a particular church or group of churches, he may be acting more precisely as patriarch of the West or primate of Italy.

The definition of papal infallibility at Vatican I only attributes infallibility to acts of the pope as supreme head of the universal Church. The pope is not declared to be infallible as patriarch of the West, primate of Italy, or local bishop of Rome. At the same time, however, neither is this positively excluded by the definition, which lacks the word ‘only’ in its enumeration of the conditions of infallibility. The infallibility of the pope in his capacity as local bishop of the particular Church of Rome (and a fortiori as primate of Italy and patriarch of the West) is certainly not a dogma of faith, nor even a Catholic doctrine, but it can be held as a free theological opinion, and indeed, there are strong arguments in its favor which can be drawn from the doctrine of the inerrancy of the particular Church of the city of Rome. Nevertheless, leaving this question aside, it should be understood that this work treats of the pope only in his capacity as supreme shepherd and teacher of the universal Church acting in relation to the universal Church. Presupposing this as the adequate subject of papal infallibility, our present investigation inquires into the extension of the infallibility of the papal magisterium with respect to its object and to its act. In method the work is partly positive and partly speculative. That is, I seek both to establish what the doctrine of the Church is and to propose arguments with respect to points not yet specifically determined by ecclesiastical authority."

Mr. Joy will go on to look at the interpretations of the definition of Vatican I, drawing on the writings of those bishops who drafted the definition, and then expand upon this by looking at Vatican II's reaffiramtion of the dogma. Various views are considered, both of orthodox theologians in good standing with the Church whose disagreement is legitimate, as well as dissenting theologians whose disdain for papal authority is more malicious. Mr. Joy's path of inquiry will lead to the conclusion that, just as the episcopal college has an ordinary exercise (universal teaching when dispersed throughout the world) and an extraordinary exercise (ecumenical council), so the pope has an exercise of his office that is both ordinary (encyclicals, etc) and extraordinary (ex cathedra definitions), and that because the pope in his person possesses the infallibility that the episcopal college possesses collectively, his ordinary definitions can be considered infallible in addition to his extraordinary pronouncements (provided they meet the criteria established in Vatican I).

With so much discussion in the world and Church today about the place and role of the papacy, Mr. Joy's book is a must have for any serious student of Catholic ecclesiology.

Click here to purchase Cathedra Veritatis by John P. Joy, S.T.L., $12.99 USD + Shipping, 157 pages.