Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
The Question Box
by Father I.J. Mikulski
(From the July 1, 2010 edition of the Inland Register)
Q. Most Catholics of the old school believe that there are few infallible truths in the Catholic faith, the virgin birth and the Assumption being two such truths. However, our diocesan theologian says that all encyclicals and proclamations of the Magisterium are infallible. Who is right? If the theologian is correct, when did we get so much more infallible data?
A. There’s an element of truth in both positions. If we take the narrow road where infallibility is restricted to specific statements made by the pope or the wide road where infallibility is extended to include a broader concept of error-free doctrine, well, there’s a little bit of space, but not much, to wiggle a little, but not much, to show both are correct.
Lest we muddle along we should define our terms. Theologians, who have never met an issue they could not sub-divide, know they can’t go wrong holding the primary definition. Infallibility is present when the pope speaks as chief teacher of the faith on matters of faith and morals and clearly states his intention to use his gifted office in this capacity. Let there be no mistake about his declaration.
How often has that happened, you ask? Twice. Both declarations were precise statements about the Blessed Virgin Mary. In 1854 Pope Pius IX proclaimed the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. In 1950 Pope Pius XII proclaimed the dogma of the Assumption of Mary. Both popes declared their intent to present infallible doctrine. These were not new doctrines. Both beliefs were traced back more than 1,000 years in Catholic tradition.
You used the word “magisterium” properly. It’s derived from the Latin word magister, meaning teacher. Catholics have a magisterium, the teaching authority, based on Christ’s promise. After he had quizzed Peter by asking Who do you think I am? Jesus said “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you declare bound on earth shall be bound in heaven; whatever you declare loosed on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:19) Peter, and his successors, received the magisterium of teaching error-free doctrines “always, until the end of the world.” (Matthew 28:20)
Infallibility is also in effect when the body of bishops, in union with the pope, exercise their magisterium in an ecumenical council. They have defined such major doctrines as the Trinity, grace, redemption, the divinity of Christ.
Q. Will you please state the position of the Catholic Church regarding Muslims? I know they have had meetings to talk things over. Pope John Paul invited leaders to that meeting at Assisi a few years ago. What does the church say about them?
A. The Catholic church takes no position on the eternal consignment of anyone. Leave the judging to God, gladly.
From the teaching of Jesus we know there will be a personal judgment and there is an eternity, but the final decision, the judgment, about those truths, is the exclusive prerogative of God.
Jesus stressed the importance of being accountable for our actions and the motives for our actions. He stressed the essential sacrament of baptism. “Unless a man is born again of water and the Holy Spirit he will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (John 3:5)
Is there such a thing as no-fault non-baptism? Is it because of neglect? Inculpable ignorance? Genuine intellectual doubts? There are too many combinations of motives in that mysterious labyrinth of the mind. At some point we must step aside and let God, who alone understands our inner secrets, make his judgment.
The best answer to your question is Vatican II. “There are people who are in ignorance of Christ’s gospel and of his church through no fault of their own and who search for God in sincerity of heart; they attempt to put into practice the recognition of his will that they have reached through the dictate of conscience. They do so under the influence of divine grace; they can attain everlasting salvation.”