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Papal Infallibility

Papal Infallibility was defined by the First Vatican Council of 1870 as the dogma that the Pope, when he solemnly defines a matter of faith and morals ex cathedra (that is, officially), does not have the possibility of error.

Vatican Council, Sess. IV, Const. de Ecclesi‚ Christi, c. iv, holds:

We teach and define that it is a dogma Divinely revealed that the Roman pontiff when he speaks ex cathedra, that is when in discharge of the office of pastor and doctor of all Christians, by virtue of his supreme Apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine regarding faith or morals to be held by the universal Church, by the Divine assistance promised to him in Blessed Peter, is possessed of that infallibility with which the Divine Redeemer willed that his Church should be endowed in defining doctrine regarding faith or morals, and that therefore such definitions of the Roman pontiff are of themselves and not from the consent of the Church irreformable.

Solemn definitions promulgated by ecumenical councils of the Catholic Church and affirmed by the Pope, such as the dogmatic definition quoted above, are themselves considered infallible.

The only statements of the Pope that are infallible are statements that either reiterate what has always been taught by the Church or are ex cathedra solemn definitions (which can never contradict what has formerly been taught). Infallible statements in the former category are said to exercise the "Universal Magisterium"; infallible statements in the latter category are said to exercise the "Extraordinary" or "Solemn" Magisterium. Statements that exercise neither the Universal Magisterium or the Extraordinary Magisterium (i.e., statements that do not simply reiterate what has always been taught or which are not solemn definitions expressed ex cathedra) are not infallible, and are said to be an exercise of the merely authentic Magisterium. Such teaching is to be obeyed and given religious assent as long as it does not contradict infallible Magisterium and does not harm the faith or lead to sin.

The conditions required for ex cathedra teaching are mentioned in the Vatican decree:

Invocations of the Pope's Solemn (or "Extraordinary") Magisterium are rare. Since 1870 only one statement exercising the Solemn Magisterium has been made, Pope Pius XII's dogma on the "Assumption of the Virgin Mary into Heaven" in 1950.

Following the first Vatican Council, 1870, dissent, mostly among German, Austrian and Swiss Catholics, arose over the definition of Papal Infallibility. The dissenters, holding the General Councils of the Church infallible, were unwilling to accept the dogma of Papal Infallibility. Many of these Catholics formed independent communities which became known as the Old Catholic Church.

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