Infallible Authority and the Role of the Pope

For Roman Catholics, the Pope has the power to speak infallibly. Therefore, his ex cathedra pronouncements are considered on par with Scripture once established.

The Irony of the Catholic Position

The irony is that Roman Catholic apologists often tell Protestants that there must be a magisterial authority to have an authoritative canon of Scripture. Furthermore, they argue that Protestants can have no confidence in the Bible because it comprises a “fallible canon of infallible books.” However, Catholics themselves do not have any canon delineating the infallibly accepted instances when the Pope has spoken ex cathedra. Therefore, they possess a “fallible canon of infallible papal pronouncements.”

Criticism of Protestant Biblical Interpretation

Moreover, Roman Catholics criticize Protestants for their inability to know infallibly what the Scriptures mean. They accuse Protestants of having to rely on personal “personal private interpretation” of the Scriptures, which, they claim, hopelessly divides us. While it is true that we Protestants must ultimately interpret the Bible ourselves without any infallible authority dictating its meaning, Catholics are not in any better position. They must interpret the Catholic Church’s interpretation of their interpretations, which come via the twenty-one Ecumenical Councils and the (as of yet) undetermined ex cathedra statements of the Pope.

The Ultimate Reliance on Fallible Interpretations

We should not be deceived into thinking these interpretations are self-evident any more than our interpretation of the Bible is. We all ultimately rely on our fallible interpretations. Roman Catholics depend on the private personal interpretations of their Magisterial Authority’s interpretation of the Bible, while Protestants rely on their private personal interpretations of the Bible. Essentially, we just eliminate the middle man!

Disagreements Within the Church

This is why there is disagreement within the Roman Catholic Church as to how to interpret what the Ecumenical Councils have infallibly declared and what the Pope has actually stated with infallible authority.

It’s a mess when you look closely at it.

Reflecting on Authority and Doctrine

Don’t get me wrong, I would love to have an apostolic/prophetic authority in the church today. The problem is not only that we do not have one, but we also have to wrestle with all our beliefs and our doctrines personally. Actually, this is not a problem, but a feature.

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    2 replies to "The Paradox of Infallibility of Rome: A Protestant Perspective"

    • [email protected]

      The Paradox of Protestant (Calvinist/Reformation) infallibility. The Infallibility of the Pope of Rome verses the Infallibility of the Protestant Reformation (of Martin Luther or of John Calvin). No thank you! I’ll join the Russian Orthodox Church outside of Russia: God bless Her and Save Her! Amen!

    • Eric

      Lessons learned from Michael Patton’s Theology Program. In the realm of scientific inquiry, evidence-based discussion stands as the bedrock for consensus and advancement. This approach, grounded in rigorously examining textual, historical, and archaeological evidence, holds transformative potential for theological discussions as well. Michael Patton’s The Theology Program, particularly in the session on Ecclesiology & Eschatology, brilliantly illustrates how this method can be applied to religious dialogue.
      Michael emphasizes the principle of “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.” This motto not only fosters unity by focusing on the core, shared beliefs of Christianity but also allows for freedom in doctrinal differences, thus promoting a spirit of charity in all interactions. His approach defines what constitutes the “essentials” of Christian doctrine, acknowledging that while there are valid differences in interpretation and practice, these do not necessarily undermine the core faith. Such recognition allows both traditions—Catholic and Protestant—to respect and accept diversity within the bounds of orthodoxy.
      A charitable attitude is crucial, especially when disagreements arise. It encourages us to listen and understand rather than to confront each issue as a battle to be won. Michael has consistently invited Catholics to engage in an irenic manner, particularly through joint scholarly efforts aimed at exploring the historical and scriptural bases of disputed doctrines. Furthermore, he extends these principles beyond academia to the public sphere through educational programs, Patreon support, and DVDs.
      His commitment to outreach and education, as delineated above, is commendable and serves as a model for how theological dialogue can progress. By drawing from the methodological strengths of scientific inquiry, his approach not only enriches but also deepens our understanding of faith. This integration, though perhaps unintentional, highlights the power of an evidence-based framework in resolving doctrinal disagreements and interpreting sacred texts, ensuring that theological discussions benefit from a rigor similar to that of scientific disciplines.

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