Doctrinal Changes vs. Infallibility

Q. Christ established the catholic church (small “c”), not the Catholic church. Does the “Church” since the time of the Council of Carthage on look like the church of Christ? No.

A. There was no ecumenical Council of Carthage. There were local bishop’s councils in Carthage, Africa. The first of these was held nearly a hundred years before the Bible was canonized. If, as you say the Church established by Christ was already lost to history, then how can you trust the canon of the New Testament? This same Catholic, universal Christian Church closed the canon of scripture in the early 400’s. Who Decided the Books of the Bible? This was a major factor in my entering the Catholic Church. I could find no way to accept the authority of the Canon of Scripture while at the very same time saying that the Church, the bishops, the council, the Popes who decided the canon and closed it, were supposedly apostate already. How can Protestants trust the canon and not trust the people who made the decision by the power of God?

But of course, I do believe that Hell has not overcome the Church established by Christ, just as He promised in Matt. 16:18 so I believe it has existed continuously since it was founded by Him.

Q. Purgatory was not taught until the 4th century and was not formally recognized until the 16th century.

A. This is simply not historically true. Please see my post: Early Fathers on Purgatory taken from Catholic Answers

Q. If the Catholic church is governed by “infallible” men, then how can the church traditions and doctrines change?

A. Catholic Doctrine does NOT change. Please see this POST. What doctrine do you think has changed? Over time we as we study scripture and teachings of the Fathers, our understanding deepens and develops. But all of our doctrines remain. And the Tradition of the Church with a capital “T” does not change either. Our practices and disciplines can and do change. Like eating fish on Friday. And no pope has taught error to the whole church. Please see my post

Q. How could Popes be excommunicated if they are infallible.

A. Easy. There might even be popes in Hell. I hope you will read the above post but to be brief, infallibility refers to the fact that God protects His Church by ensuring that the pope, whenever he teaches on Faith and Morals to the Whole Church will never teach error. God will prevent this. The Pope is not perfectly sinless. Neither is every word from his mouth infallible. He only exercises God’s empowering infallibility when he teaches on faith and morals to the whole church.

Q. God is the only infallible One. He is the same today as he was yesterday, and will remain the same for all of eternity.

A. God is certainly infallible but He is able to produce infallibility in a man to accomplish His purposes. For instance, sacred scripture is all written by men who, we both believe, were used by God to teach infallibly in the written word even though they were sinners.

Q. I thank you for such a kind intelligent debate!

A. You are most welcome.


7 Responses to Doctrinal Changes vs. Infallibility

  1. Tyler Vandergaag says:

    As a Protestant, I sympathize with the Catholic faith in its desire to hold to the Tradition of the Fathers.

    The question I have is a follow up from your issue of Canonicity and the infallibility of the Pope when teaching faith and morals. You said that Protestants who hold that the Church fell away prior to the 4th century, cannot trust the New Testament because it was canonized by the fallen church. But at the same time you argue very affirmatively that even an evil pope is infalliable when he teaches in faith and morals. Following your own logic, it should then be possible that even if the church was apostate when canonizing the NT, that the canonization was guided by God and therefore trust worthy.

    My point is not to show that the Church of the 4th century was heretical (I happen to believe that the Church was very faithful at that time); rather, my point is to reveal that you should be more careful with your logic. For by the same logic you condemed your Protestant brothers/sisters, you have affirmed the infallibility of the pope…

  2. bfhu says:

    Excellent point. And you are quite correct that an apostate pope(s) could infallibly canonize the Bible.

    But that is a Catholic belief. Protestants reject the infallibility of any pope holy or apostate and yet accept the canon of the NT decided by the Popes of the Catholic Church.

    So for a Protestant, and a deciding factor in my conversion to the Catholic Church was:

    How can I accept the NT as infallibly canonized by an apostate Church????? I refused to even go to a Church that taught anything I disagreed with so how many Protestants would thank an apostate Catholic Church for the NT?

    They don’t. Most are VERY unclear about how the Bible was canonized and those who do try to approach the issue try to say “Everyone just knew which books were infallible in the first century” or something like that.

    They do not really deal with the fact that, while that may be true of most of the books, there were others that were in very much dispute.

    I either had to reject the Bible’s canonization along with the Catholic Church ORreject Protestantism, which relies solely on Scripture and become agnostic. How could I be Protestant and trust the Bible when the Church that canonized it was apostate? I could not. Either it was all a hoax or else the Catholic Church was NOT apostate after all.

    I decided to trust the Bible and the Catholic Church and reject the rebellious Protestant Churches.

  3. Michael says:

    BFHU: “And you are quite correct that an apostate pope(s) could infallibly canonize the Bible.”

    He can’t, because an apostate cannot speak on behalf of the Church. In any case, the Bible has been already “canonized”, it can’t be again.

    But, to come to TYLER’s point, you haven’t addressed his question which seems to be: if an evil pope is infallible when he teaches on faith and morals, why can’t the apostate (i.e. evil) Church infallibly canonize the Bible?

    By the way, the first complete list of books, and subject that Baruch is implied under Jeremiah, is from a.d.405, which is not the early 4th century.

  4. bfhu says:

    The infallibilty of the pope is accomplished by God. God CAN work through the disobedient sinner if He so chooses.

    You are quite wrong about the Catholic faith. A priest in mortal sin and thus destined for Hell can still call upon God to confect the Eucharist for the mass and the faithful. So, theoretically God could use an apostate or evil pope to canonize the Scriptures.

    The infallibility of a pope does not reside in the man but in the office through which GOD protects the purity of the teaching of His Church.

    Michael: Why can’t the apostate (i.e. evil) Church infallibly canonize the Bible?

    The Church is pure and indefictible protected by the Power of God and the Promise of Jesus. People can be apostate and evil. NOT THE CHURCH.

    To answer your question (I did answer it to Tyler) :

    An evil pope or an apostate pope could, by the power and protection of God, be used as an instrument to canonize the Bible. This is not a problem for Catholics.


    They deny that the pope is infallible. They deny that the Catholic Church is infallible. And they deny that an apostate or evil man would be used by God to canonize the Bible. That is exactly my point.

    They want to have it both ways. The Bible is infallible. The Christian Church was pure at first but became corrupted at the time of Constantine and has been ever since.

    They don’t realize that by this rationale they run into the problem that the Bible, upon which they base everything was therefore according to this imaginary history, canonized by a corrupt Catholic Church.

    I never said anything about the early “4th Century” I said “early 400’s”. Unless you are referring to another post where if I made the mistake…oops.

  5. Michael says:

    “The infallibility of the pope is accomplished by God”. Where did you find this doctrine? Or this one: “The infallibility of a pope does not reside in the man but in the office through which GOD protects the purity of the teaching of His Church.”

    Smells of a high degree of papalatry, and our friend Tyler, if he exists at all, is better off staying Protestant. The pope is not a divine loudspeaker, but a member of the Church with a prerogative to articulate precizely, under strictly specified conditions, what the Church already believes; and the consensus of the Church that the specified conditions were met is essential for his definition to be a definition at all. Thus far he did it only three times, on relatively less vital matters.

    An apostasy is a renunciation of the Catholic Faith, non merely a sin or error, and if a pope renounced the Faith he would ceased to be the pope. If he attempted to define an article of Faith, it would be a sham. He would not enjoy “the power and protection of God” still less be able to use it “as an instrument to canonize the Bible”.

    What is your notion of “canonize”? The list of books of the Holy Scripture has been already accepted by the Church, and there is nothing left to the pope to “canonize”.

    The question “why can’t the apostate (i.e. evil) Church infallibly canonize the Bible?” was not mine but Tyler’s, and I reminded you that he received no reply, although it was his main point.

    The Protestant theologians must have a rational explanation for the list of books they accept – which list isn’t and can’t be in the Scripture – while, at the same time adhering to the “sola scriptura” principle. One must not underestimate their intelligence. Tyler tried to explain.

    Regarding the Canon, the first complete lists, in early 5th cent., or possibly late 4th century (Councils of Hyppo and Carthage III), were far from definite. They seem to have been generally accepted in the Western Patriarchate (now the Latin part of the Catholic Church), but not in the remaining four patriarchates (Constantinople, Antioch, Jerusalem and Alexandria – now the Orthodox Church proper). The Council of Trullo (Quinisextum), 692, had at least two lists: both without the Apocalypse, and one of them expressing doubts about the Hebrew and the four Catholic Epistles. This Council is considered ecumenical by the Orthodox Church, which now accepts complete NT canon and yet doesn’t use the Apocalypse in liturgy. The Orthodox are divided about Deuterocanonical books of the OT which, in so far as accepted, include some books that are not among our Deuterocanonical books. One cannot, therefore, claim a consensus of the Church of the 1st millennium, but only after the Orthodox separation which was finalized with the Crusaders’ sacking Constantinople 1204, when the Western part of the Church remained alone.

    Other points you raised are irrelevant: they have nothing to do with my earlier comment.

  6. bfhu says:

    You have stated your opinion.

  7. […] to interpreting infallibility. One Roman Catholic claims that popes only speak ex cathedra “on less vital matters” of no consequence, and another claims that they only speak ex cathedra to address “a […]

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