My task is to deal with one of the gravest and most damning errors ever taught by the Roman Catholic Church. It is called the doctrine of Papal Infallibility. In brief, it teaches that when the Pope, speaking in his official capacity as the successor to St. Peter (ex cathedra, or from his throne), he cannot be in error; his pronouncements on matters of doctrine and morals are infallible and are binding upon all Roman Catholics, who are commanded to accept his decrees without questioning. The Pope, according to this doctrine, is as much infallibly inspired in his teaching as the writers of the Scriptures. Moreover, Rome passes this presumption of infallibility down through her hierarchy to the priest, who pretends similar infallibility, claims the ability to provide infallible salvation, to perform infallible sacrifices and to dispense infallible sacraments.
1. The Fallibility of Papal Infallibility
Since the Vatican dogma of Papal Infallibility is the apex of the pyramid of the whole Roman hierarchy and religious system, I want to spend a good part of my allocated time on it.
The Church of Rome claims to be an infallible guide to religious truth. She does not simply lay claim to authority in her teaching; that authority, she maintains, rests on and is derived from the Pope, and is of so exalted a character that it includes the quality of inerrancy. On that tremendous and arrogant assumption her whole system is based. Every doctrine, every practice which distinguishes her from other faiths will be found on investigation to rest on the so-called dogma of infallibility.
The strange thing about Papal infallibility is the fact that it was not accepted until the latter half of the 19th century. The Church of Rome did not officially acknowledge that the Pope was 'infallible' until just a century and a quarter ago. Previously, the Church Councils had, of course, added innumerable other traditions to the Bible, but before the Vatican Council of 1870 the Pope was not believed to be infallible as part of Roman dogma. Clear evidence of this fact is provided by Keenan's Controversial Catechism, which was published in 1860 and used in all the schools of Ireland. In all editions printed before the Vatican Council we find the following question and answer:
Question: Must not all Catholics believe the Pope himself to be infallible?
Answer: This is a Protestant invention; it is no Article of the Christian faith; no decision of his can bind on pain of heresy, unless it be received and enforced by the Bishops of the Church.
Thus not until 1870 was the Pope dogmatically declared to be the infallible interpreter of the Scriptures and the final authority on doctrine and morals, but ever since then the Church has had to accept whatever new doctrine or 'revelation' an 'infallible' Pope as Head of the Church chooses to impose.
How did the dogma come about?
The history of the doctrine of Roman infallibility is a record of gradual development, even of inconsistency and contradiction. Rome herself seems to have forgotten that her own Council of Florence made the following declaration in 1438: "As lawful successor of St. Peter, the Pope has the same gift and power of infallibility that St. Peter had from Christ."
The Council of Trent (1545-1563) decreed that "no one, relying on his own skill […] shall presume to interpret the said sacred Scripture contrary to that sense which holy mother Church - whose prerogative it is to judge the sense and interpretation of the Holy Scriptures - hath held and doth hold, or even contrary to the unanimous consent of the Fathers."
Finally, Pope Pius IX (1846-1878) called the already mentioned Vatican Council, in which the issue was to be debated. Strong opposition was raised by certain prominent bishops, who pointed out the history of errors by earlier Popes. Among those most strongly opposed to declaring the Pope infallible was Bishop Stossmayer. He was a champion against the infallibility of the Pope. You can read his famous speech at the Vatican Council of 1870 in F. Paul Peterson's book The Rise and Fall of the Roman Catholic Church (1959). Stossmayer traced the history of past Popes; he pointed out how the decrees of many of these so-called infallible Popes had been rescinded, reversed or set aside by other Popes; and he recounted the dark and sordid history of murder, incest, adultery and avarice associated with many of them.
In spite of the violent protests of a significant segment, however, this Vatican Council was the culminating point in the infallibility debate and it enacted into dogma the doctrine of Papal Infallibility in July, 1870. It decreed that the Pope was infallible when making pronouncements on faith and morals; however, it deemed him not to be preserved from liability to err when he speaks as a private teacher. The famous decree was as follows:
We teach and define that it is a dogma divinely revealed that the Roman Pontiff, when he speaks ex cathedra, that is, when in the discharge of the office of pastor and teacher 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 him in blessed Peter, is possessed of that infallibility with which the divine Redeemer willed that His Church should be endowed for defining doctrine regarding faith or morals: and that therefore such definitions of the Roman Pontiff are unreformable of themselves, and not from the consent of the Church.
This claim of course raises a lot of questions. For example, just when does the Pope speak ex cathedra? Does he suddenly become infallible when he sits on his Papal chair and fallible again when he gets off it? How is it that this doctrine was not revealed or adopted till 1800 years after Peter, the Church of Rome's so-called first Pope, admitted that he could not even understand some things in the Scriptures written by Paul (II Peter 3:16 - "some things hard to be understood")? If Peter, described by Rome as "the first Pope" and whose successors all the Popes claim to be, was indeed 'infallible', how is it that in Galatians 2:11 we read otherwise: "When Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed." Imagine the fate of a bishop today who would follow the example of Paul and dare to blame a Pope!
When the Roman Church finds the testimony of the Bible against her, she appeals to the 'fathers' - but there is scarcely a subject on which they agree: disputes on grace, predestination, free will, for instance, were rife even in apostolic times, and Scripture tells us that, at the first Council of Jerusalem, Peter was not the infallible decider on these matters, and that at Antioch he was the very one who was decided against. Moreover, this rebuke of Peter was made publicly - "before them all" (Gal. 2:14).
Was Pope Pius IX the first Pope who was infallible? Were the Popes before him also infallible? How then could they disagree, and one Pope set aside what another Pope had declared as an infallible revelation? Official utterances of one Pope have often been condemned and rejected by another: for example, Pope Honorius was condemned by the Sixth General Council in 681 and denounced as a heretic by every Pope who succeeded him until the 11th century. Innocent I and Galacius I were condemned by the Council of Trent. If you read W. Hammond's Lectures on Romanism, published in 1940, you will find a list of 66 Popes who, on Rome's own admission, were fraudulent, together with a list of their defects ranging from "heresy" to "disruption of election" and "simony". You will also find that the authority for these facts sometimes includes Acts of Council of the Roman Church herself - and yet these 66 frauds were needed to make up the line of succession of Popes between the years 193 and 1534. You will also see that between 933 and 936 there was no Pope: Peter's chair was vacant; they could not find even a fraudulent man to occupy it during that time. Moreover, on various occasions two people have at the same time claimed to be Pope, and each has cursed the other as an impostor.
The most notorious case in history which blasts the foundation of Papal infallibility is that of Galileo, the great 17th-century scientist who confirmed the discoveries of Copernicus a century earlier that the earth is not flat but globular, revolving around the sun and not vice versa. The Pope and the Roman theologians condemned his teaching as false and heretical, and in 1616 he was condemned by a Council of Cardinals. After he restated his discoveries in 1632, he was again condemned by an 'infallible' Pope, his book was banned, he was imprisoned in the Palace of the Inquisition, and in 1633, under threat of torture and death, he was compelled to denounce his discoveries and leave the sun, moon and stars merrily revolving around the earth until the 20th century, when Rome finally had to admit her error. So much for Papal infallibility - and yet today people are still asked to adopt the creed of this Church with all its superstitions introduced in the even earlier and darker ages!
No one, however, is supposed to mention such matters or to ask such questions about an 'infallible' Pope. Indeed, the faithful Roman Catholic must not ask questions at all: he is obliged to accept blindly what his Church teaches.
If time permitted, we could develop other arguments to disprove the dogma of Papal infallibility, but you will find a very comprehensive summary of them in an article on our Internet site by Rev. Kyle Paisley, entitled The Doctrine of Infallibility.
The main point is this - that historical facts and the statements and actions of the Popes themselves contradict and demolish the doctrine of Papal Infallibility, for if it is true, then the Church of Rome must hold that all Popes have been infallible from the time of the first Bishop of Rome, and this is demonstrably not the case. From her very centre and Head to her utmost extremities that Church is a corrupt, rotten mess, and the lives of the so-called infallible Popes would form a history of literature of obscene language, unfit to enter any decent household. Is it any wonder that Roman Catholics throw dirt, slander, and, if possible, kill anyone who exposes the fraudulent claims of the Church of Rome?
2. The Fallibility of Priestly Infallibility
The second part of my task is to demolish the infallibility of the priest, for Rome's claim to the possession of infallible authority is passed undiminished down through the hierarchy to her clergy.
Here we are confronted with the Vatican's doctrine of Ordination and Succession. Rome claims that her priests can trace their descent, in unbroken continuity, back to the Apostles - that they stand in the line of the true Apostolic Succession. Supreme emphasis is accordingly laid on the question of Orders. Ordination in the Church of Rome is a sacrament. The grace and power which enable a man to be a priest are received through the ordaining bishop. Without such ordination no man can be regarded as duly qualified to administer the sacraments or to preach the Word.
By contrast, the question of personal character, or of fitness in other respects for the office of priest, is of secondary importance. The Council of Trent was at pains to affirm - and pronounced an anathema on all who would deny - that "even priests who are in mortal sin, exercise, through the virtue of the Holy Ghost, which was bestowed in ordination, the office of forgiving sins, as ministers of Christ; and that their [i.e. those people's] sentiment is erroneous who contend that this power exists not in bad priests". (Decrees, Session XIV, Chapter vi; also Canon X on Penance. Waterworth's translation.)
Thus infallibility is passed on by pedigree, regardless of the moral suitability of the priest himself. He occupies his office, and wields its authority infallibly, by virtue of what Professor W.P. Patterson, in his book The Rule of Faith (p. 244), calls "a manipulative act which is supposed to establish a connection with a hierarchical lineage".
This is the foundation principle of the sacerdotal system which makes the clergy a distinct class. They are separated from their fellow-Christians by infallible and supernatural gifts conveyed through the Sacrament of Orders. According to this theory, John Bunyan, Spurgeon or any non-Romanist preachers were not true ministers of Christ, because a Bishop's hand was never laid upon their head; but every priest in Ireland is - however ignorant or degraded or sinful he may be. Hence all the paedophile priests of whom we have heard recently are still, according to Rome, infallible and sound ministers of Christ in the exercise of their priestly duties.
How do these claims of priestly infallibility stand up in the light of the Word of God? The answer is that the Bible reveals them to be false to the core.
True Ministers of the Gospel do not belong to any sacerdotal order. They possess no priestly character in the sense of the Romish claim. Many titles of honour are used for the servants of Christ in the New Testament - bishops, pastors, elders, teachers, stewards, heralds, ambassadors; but never once are they called priests. The Apostle Paul was a man who magnified his office and often had to defend it against his enemies; but in doing so he always emphatically asserted his position as a servant of Christ. Never did he speak of himself as a priest, but rather, with simple dignity, as an apostle of Jesus Christ.
Of course, if you declare that the teaching of the Roman Church in any detail is opposed to Scripture and is therefore unworthy of being accepted, the answer you receive is that you are not competent to interpret the Scriptures. You must understand the Scriptures in the sense declared by the infallible Church; you must even achieve the feat of bringing your beliefs into harmony with "the unanimous consent of the Fathers" - that is, in practical effect, as I have said, with a non-existent unanimity. Rome's argument is: 'I say it is so; therefore it is so. You must not, at your peril, enquire further. I do your thinking, and I do it infallibly.'
The man who believes in the infallibility of the Church is closed to argument. A prominent case was John Henry Newman. Before he went over to Rome, he proved conclusively that several of the doctrines of the Papacy are destitute of any Scriptural foundation, but once he accepted the view that God has appointed an 'infallible' guide to 'truth', he meekly ate his own words, and on the authority of the Church received as true what he had previously demonstrated to be false.
The Priest's three main functions reflected in the three remaining infallibilities
The so-called infallibility of the Roman priest embraces the three main functions which he exercises and which correspond with the three remaining infallibilities which I still have to demolish: (a) a sacrificing function which empowers him to perform a miraculous act of atonement through the transubstantiation of the wafer in the Mass; (b) an intercessory function which allows him through the use of sacraments to absolve the sins of the living and the dead; (c) a mediatorial function which enables him to dispense infallible salvation.
3. The Fallibility of Rome's Sacrifice
The sacrificing function associated with the Roman priesthood is perhaps its most distinctive character. The priest must have something to offer. He claims and professes to do this in the Mass, so the Mass is invested with a sacrificial character in order to support the pretensions of the priesthood to be the infallible successors to the Apostles. According to the Church of Rome, the Lord's Supper is not only a sacrament; it is a sacrifice. This claim involves several of Rome's distinctive positions.
(i) For one thing, it involves the crowning blasphemy that Christ is repeatedly being offered by the priest as a sacrifice unto God. "A priest's essential office," says 'Father' Martindale, author of a book called The Faith of the Roman Church (p. 101), "is to absolve, as Christ's representative, and to offer and administer the Eucharist". This is the very essence of Romanist worship. This offering serves to appease God's wrath and obtain the remission of sins and the redemption of souls. It is deemed to be a continual repetition of the very same sacrifice that was offered on the Cross - a repetition necessary for Rome's false salvation. Yet the thief on the cross passed from his shame to his glory without tasting of the Lord's Supper.
The Bible, however, says (Heb. 9:27): "As it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment, so Christ was once [emphasis mine] offered to bear the sins of many." Again (Heb. 10:10): "By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all [emphasis mine]." Again, the sacrifice completed on the Cross was the death of the Son of God; but in the sacrifice of the Mass the Son of God does not die, for Scripture declares (Rom. 6:9): "[…] Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him." Yet again, the sacrifice on the Cross was so dreadfully painful that human imagination cannot conceive of it; but on Rome's sacrificial altar there is no such suffering, and therefore it cannot be the same sacrifice.
(ii) For another thing, the priest's sacrificing function involves the idolatry of the adoration of the Host. The priest, as he serves at the altar, must, on bended knee, adore the bread and wine, and pray to them as to Christ; and, as demanded by the Council of Trent (Session XIII, chapter v), the people must venerate and adore them with the worship that is due to God.
The Bible says, however (Matt. 4:10; Luke 4:8): "Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve" - words pronounced by Christ Himself when He was tempted by the Devil.
(iii) The priest's sacrificing function also embraces the dogma of transubstantiation. He claims to be able to change the bread and wine literally into the Body and Blood of Christ - in Rome's own words "truly, really and substantially, into the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, and the bones and sinews of Christ". Through the consecrating authority of the priest a supernatural change is wrought upon these elements. By some magical kind of potency, the bread and wine become the actual substance of the crucified Saviour.
I shall not waste time here with evidence refuting the doctrine of transubstantiation: it is denounced in Article XXXI of the Articles of Faith of the Church of England in the words: "There is none other satisfaction for sin but the offering of Christ once made; Wherefore the Sacrifices of Masses, in the which it was commonly said that the priest did offer Christ for the quick and the dead, to have remission of pain of guilt, were blasphemous fables and dangerous deceits."
(iv) Furthermore, 'infallible Mother Church' fails to reconcile her hitherto almost universal practice of giving the host only, yet withholding the cup from the people, with Biblical truth, so contradicting her false interpretation of John 6:54: "Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood [emphasis mine], hath eternal life." This text could not possibly have anything to do with the Lord's Supper, which was not instituted until five years later. Moreover, in the Roman Mass there is no shedding of blood, and the Bible clearly says (Heb. 9:22): "[…] without shedding of blood is no remission."
We may conclude, then, that there is not a single particle of evidence in the New Testament for the sacrificing function of a priest. There, all Christians are called "a royal priesthood" (I Peter 2:9). As such, all Christians offer up spiritual sacrifices of praise and prayer, acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
4. The Fallibility of Rome's Sacraments
Next, the priest exercises an intercessory function. This office he fulfils mainly through the discharge of sacraments. He claims the power of absolving from sin, however great his own sin may be, and his intercessory authority extends not only to those still alive on earth, but also to the souls that are supposed to be in the imaginary condition of purgatory.
It is noteworthy that the Church of Rome adds to the two sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper the further falsely so called 'sacraments' of confirmation, penance, extreme unction, orders and matrimony. In this way she cunningly succeeds in expanding the sacramental rites until they infiltrate and dominate all the outstanding events of life from the cradle to the grave. Then she goes on to invest them with an inherent virtue which, she pretends, enable them to confer directly the grace of God upon her people. Thus she achieves the mechanisation of religion which works through the hands of the priest and which enables her to exert tremendous power over the lives of her adherents, both physically and spiritually.
The Council of Trent (Session VII: On the Sacraments, Canon I) cursed anyone who did not believe that all Rome's 'sacraments' had been instituted by Christ Himself; but there is no Biblical evidence that Christ did so. A typical example of the false and deceitful basis of Rome's 'infallibility' in this matter is provided by 'Father' Ronald Knox in his book The Belief of Catholics (p. 212): "Confirmation is a rite not explicitly instituted by our Lord in any words which have come down to us. Yet it can be safely assumed [emphasis mine] that he did enjoin it, since it forms part of the normal procedure employed by the Church of the Apostles." There you have the basis of Rome's 'infallibility' - an admission from one of her own clerics that there is no Biblical evidence for something, followed by a 'safe assumption' that it must nevertheless be true because it is part of "normal procedure", i.e. tradition. As this priest puts it (p. 213): "Once more we have to repose our confidence in the Church." Again (p. 215): "The Church […] is not only our accredited teacher, not only the 'competent authority' which interprets laws and makes rules for us. She is also the custodian of the Seven Sacraments. Here again she must be our interpreter […]."
If we had time I could demolish Rome's definition of a sacrament, for what she calls true sacraments are fundamentally lacking in the formal requirements of such. For instance, the Catechism of the Council of Trent approvingly quotes Augustine's definition: "A sacrament is a visible sign of an invisible grace, instituted for our justification." Yet the sacraments of Rome fail to satisfy the requirements of her own definition. Confirmation, penance, ordination and matrimony have no sign in the proper sense, being not significant 'things' at all but acts and actions. Article XXV of the Church of England expresses the plain truth when it declares that Rome's five added 'sacraments' "have not like nature of sacraments with Baptism and the Lord's Supper, for that they have not any visible sign or ceremony ordained of God."
5. The Fallibility of Rome's Salvation
Finally, Rome claims to stand as a mediator between the sinner and God, providing the sole and infallible means of salvation. This claim is based on the assumption that the sinner has no liberty of direct access to God and therefore must approach Him through a special order of intermediary priests. Rome does not allow the sinner to come directly to Christ and believe in Him to the saving of his soul. For the attainment of salvation in Romanism, faith as an inward, spiritual, personal act is superseded by the observance of outward rites. Hence the sacraments, as we have seen, are exalted above the preaching of the Gospel; they are saving ordinances, in and of themselves conferring grace. Since they cannot be administered except by the priest, pardon and grace can be obtained only through his mediation. Apart from him, therefore, there cannot be salvation.
Professor W.P. Paterson, in his book The Rule of Faith (p.244), makes the following comment on this principle: "The radical religious defect of this conception is that it makes the sinner fall into the hand of man, rather than into the hand of the all-merciful God."
The Bible tells us that salvation is through Christ alone (I John 1:7): "The blood of Jesus Christ, God's Son, cleanseth from all sin." Furthermore (I Tim. 2:5), there is "one mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ". Again (Acts 16:31): "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house." To be cleansed is to be purged, and only the precious Blood of Christ, through His own sole mediation, has the power to act as a cleansing or purgatory from sin to secure salvation.
Enter fallible Rome to deny the infallible Word of God and invent the existence of a state of purgatory where souls go after death to suffer and be cleansed by the masses and indulgences of the mediating priest and helped by the suffrages of the faithful; but Christ has done all the suffering, all the cleansing and all the mediating.
Luther, before he was enlightened in the knowledge of the Gospel, looked forward with fear to the purgatory which is defined by the Council of Trent and illustrated in the histories of the Church of Rome; but the moment he became acquainted with the truths of the Gospel, he abandoned the Popish purgatory and held to the provision of the everlasting Gospel.
One thing must be clearly understood: purgatory is not for sinners who die in what the Roman Church calls mortal sin; it is not for those rejecting and despising the Gospel: it is for those who have been the most faithful and most devoted children of 'Holy Mother Church', including the Popes themselves - all of whom are said to go there! It is derived from Rome's false distinction between 'mortal' and 'venial' sins, which is disproved by James 2:10: "Whoso shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all." One sin may be more heinous than another, but the wages of sin is death, and while the greatest sin is not so great that the Blood of Jesus cannot cancel it, the least sin is not so little that it will not sink you to the depths of perdition unless expiated by the sin-forgiving Cross of the Lamb of God.
Purgatory, moreover, is not forgiveness, but payment of the last farthing; it means suffering so much, and thereby deserving so much; but forgiveness, which is of grace alone, cannot have any connection with expiatory suffering, which is merit in the sight of God.
There is no evidence for Papal infallibility, and no trace of sacrificing, mediating or intercessory priesthood, in the New Testament. Rome's claim to infallibility is a usurpation of deity and a perversion of Biblical truth, for while the Roman system professes faith in a Trinity, the Fatherhood of God is an almost unknown subject in Romanism. Where do you ever meet with worship directed to God the Father in Romanism? God's place as an object of worship has been taken over by Mary; the Pope has usurped the place of Christ by making himself the Head of the Church; and the work of the Holy Spirit has been assumed by a man who claims to be the infallible teacher. Thus Romanism has virtually denied the work of a Triune God by taking over the offices of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
I want to tell you what happened on the day on which the Pope's doctrine of infallibility was passed - 13th July, 1870. In the Bible, 13 is the number of wickedness. God was angry. When Pope Pius IX (1846-1878) was about to read out his decree in St. Peter's, a curtain was to be drawn aside so that the sun could shine in and illuminate the place; but God ordered it otherwise. It so happened that one of the greatest thunderstorms that ever occurred in Rome took place in the middle of fine weather. There was such a shaking of the place that the Pope had to give the paper to one of his Cardinals to read - but that was by no means all that happened. There was at that time a war, the Franco-Prussian War, between a Bible-reading people (Germany) and an infidel nation (France). Napoléon withdrew his troops from Rome; the Roman Catholics of Italy rose up in rebellion. Three months later Rome was surrounded. The crushed Roman Catholics of Italy pleaded with Almighty God that the Germans might win the day against the Papal tyrant. Napoléon handed over his sword. Italy rose up in rebellion against the Pope. On 20th September the Vatican walls crumbled. Between the first two cannons that entered was a cart-load of Bibles, drawn by a large Newfoundland dog and adorned with a flag inscribed with the words: "The entrance of Thy Word giveth light." The Pope fled. Italy prospered as never before and rejoiced in the Light until Leo XIII came to power in 1878 and re-established Papal darkness.
May God hasten the day when every Roman Catholic will see the one and only true and infallible Light, accept the Lord Jesus Christ as the only Mediator between God and man, and denounce the self-declared infallible impostor who has denied God, assumed all the honours and powers belonging to God, usurped the place of the Almighty and stolen His Name.