Where is your Infallible List of Infallible Doctrines?


Infallible List of Infallible Doctrines?

Hello David, Paul, Mary...

This email is long overdue.. I have had the hub of it for some time but couldn't find time to finalise it amidst all the other emails and life in general...

So on to this conundrum of whether there is an 'infallible list of infallible doctrines'....  this subject matter is not for the faint-hearted it would seem and it may take more deliberate reading and consideration of the points made.    It was a interesting issue raised and I have been stretched to know my faith more.  There is much here that I have gleaned from other sources and so suffice to say I do not claim to be the expert in some of the technical fields however I have tried to put things in my words. I have pasted in links at the bottom for reference. Whilst this challenge is a point of simple logic per se, it has an enormous amount of important thought that flows from it which, as you can see below, I have elucidated on.  My apologies for length and perhaps technicalities of some points but I think at the end you will understand my rationale for offering a comprehensive response.  The main thrust of my argument is that protestantism being true to its nature (it protests against an infallible interpretation) has drifted into rationalism which demands to make fallible reason the test of truth and at this end of the spectrum is the enemy of Christianity.

Weight and substance

There is an aspect of this line of questioning that perhaps falls into the category of  'introspective navel gazing'.  This issue of an 'infallible list of infallible doctrines' is one of asking how you know what you know and the majority of Christians do not have time to consider 'how they know what they know' (epistemology) and live out their Christian lives in a more pragmatic faith.  This level of discussion is for them largely irrelevant and vacuous as they just need to know the truth and live it.  However, whilst the former is true, it must be said and understood that the issue we are discussing, is very much the domain of those who give weight and substance to theological persuasions that become the doctrinal foundations of the faithful for better or for worse .  So for example the early church fathers, the Church hierarchy, and ecumenical Councils fall into this category of those who gave weight and substance to Christian doctrine and practice in the early formative centuries ;  the protestant reforming forefathers, would also fall into this category of those who gave weight and substance to the protestant position that has spawned a multitude of diverse theological persuasions and beliefs.  These new and varied protestant theological persuasions are now, for the most part (quite wrongly and docilely) considered 'orthodox' (approved) against 'historic Christian'orthodoxy'' ; when we say 'historic Christian orthodoxy' we mean of the kind that established post apostolic Christian doctrine and practice and even compiled the books that were authorised to be the infallible Word of God.. the bible.  So whilst time-consuming and difficult, issues such as the one discussed in this email, are in fact the testing of the foundations of faith of our two theological persuasions that will prove to be either rock or sand, or works only worthy of burning at the judgement...

"Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is......If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward......If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire." (1 Cor 3:13-15).

As sure as we both may be about our theological positions this scripture alone should help us desire some humility just in case a veil is indeed over our eyes regarding the truth.

A-historical and fallible

There is a worrying undercurrent to this strand of protestant questioning that seems to be concerned with establishing a premise for a low view of scripture and the Church against what seems to be the actual teaching of scripture i.e. "all scripture is God breathed".    It is, Catholics believe, a response against the weight of historic and biblical evidence that supports the Catholic apologetic position i.e. Christ established a single Church, with a hierarchy of popes, bishops, and priests, along with an infallible teaching office that is guided by the Holy Spirit to teach all truth and thus establish an infallible Church.   The protestant is thus forced to resort to an argument that makes room for their interpretation by continually finding ground that is a-historical and fallible.  Firstly, if Christianity is made a-historical then the foundational hierarchical authority on which the historic Christian Church was built may not be heeded including ecumenical councils that provided Christendom with all(?) of its doctrines and practice and indeed the very scriptures themselves ; secondly, if the scriptures are allowed a fallible element then the protestant is able to fit the varied and contradictory theological persuasions into scripture which speaks adamantly against such reconciling of irreconcilable beliefs.  With regard to a rejection of historic Christian authority the protestant case is made that the Church is invisible meaning Christ did not establish a visible and continuous apostolic hierarchy of Popes, bishops, and priests ;  this argument allows the protestant to reject the historic evidence that clearly points to a visible hierarchy of the Church (Acts of the Apostles and history).  With regard to having a 'fallible' element where scripture is concerned the protestant has a bigger problem as their theological foundation is 'sola scriptura' which requires the scriptures to be infallible ; therefore they either say.. 'the scriptures are 'a fallible collection of infallible scriptures'  or they say 'the scripture are infallible but every interpretation is fallible'.  These positions allow an irrational loop-hole to confessing the scriptures as infallible but allowing for scriptural relativism through fallible interpretations that produce contradictory protestant doctrines and theological persuasions.

More alarming is the argument that follows from the contradictory protestant persuasions that the faithful cannot know God's truth in all certainty, and in fact that Christ has not made any definitive provision to speak and declare infallible doctrine/truth to the Church.  This is a position that is a modern theological innovation that I would challenge has never been heard of in the Church accept in the last fifty years or so.  How does the protestant validate such an innovation as if the Church has had to wait for such a doctrine that effectively tells it "the truth can only be know in a manner that makes it always subject to error i.e. fallibly?  Have I misrepresented the protestant position as you explain it?  Is there a point of infallible interpretation?

Blessings and curses

Albeit interesting There was something bugging me about the question and it is only recently that I realised what it was: in requesting an 'infallible list of doctrines' the protestant has requested the very thing that scripture tells us is anathema.  The request for a 'infallible list of doctrines' is a request for another closed Canon equal to the scriptures which scripture does not allow and indeed it pronounces curses; the scripture says... "If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life"... We would all agree that the Book of Mormon of the Church of the Latter Day Saints falls into this category.   So the Catholic could claim to be unfairly stuck between a rock and a hard place.  If we produce an 'infallible list of infallible doctrines' we are cursed by God and presumably the protestant can then reject the same proof on the same basis that scripture does not allow for another 'infallible work'.   It is necessary to point out if it is not obvious that the request for a proof that is against scripture is then effectively not valid. This does lead to a pretty straightforward 'binary' conclusion: (1) God has left us without a means of validating infallible doctrines and therefore Christianity cannot be said to based on infallible truth  (2) God has left us with a means other than an 'infallible list of infallible doctrines' to validate infallible true and thus proclaim Christianity is based on infallible truth.  So either Christ is building an infallible Church or Christ is building a fallible Church. It is evident then from the request that the protestant confession must be that Christ is building a fallible Church.  It is an incredible claim against all of scripture and the constant teaching of Catholic, Orthodox and protestant churches throughout history.

Closed infallible Canons?

Firstly just to lay out the problem, you detailed in a previous email....you said... "Perhaps I can state my problem more clearly. If no-one knows which doctrines are infallible, then no-one knows if any specific doctrine is infallible"   Whilst I now understand the context of this statement I think it is worth making it clearer for others.  One protestant on his blog put it this way... "Absent an infallible way to know what [doctrine] is infallibly proclaimed and what isn't, how can he [the Catholic] know?  Implicit in both theses questions is the idea that there is 'no infallible way to prove'  the Catholic Magisterium/Church is infallible. So, the Catholic Church's claim to be infallible (i.e. it teaches God's doctrine without error) is effectively self-authenticating.    Other protestants/bloggers state this issue of 'infallible proof' in this context: Catholics, unlike protestants, claim to know what is infallible (without error) doctrine ; if this is the case, Catholics must of necessity prove this and so produce a complete and infallible list of these infallible doctrines.  The protestant argument continues by explaining that Holy Scripture is a Closed Canon and therefore nothing can be added or taken away, hence it is complete...closed...and therefore infallible.   As existing lists of Catholic infallible doctrine are not closed and also not complete  these lists do not meet the criteria of infallibility i.e. they can be both added to and taken taken away from which means as they stand they are subject to change and possibly error..i.e. they are not infallible.   Hence it is the protestant claim, and as such a reality of logical fact, that a closed Canon of Catholic infallible doctrines does not exist.  From this the logic follows that the existing lists of Catholic infallible doctrine must in fact be fallible and if these lists are fallible, then as you have said David..."..no-one knows if any specific doctrine is infallible. The protestant assertion from this is that the Catholic claim to have an infallible Magisterium that teaches without error is false and as a consequence the Catholic Church is in gross error, leading the faithful astray, and in need of repentance i.e. changing to protestant theology.  Hopefully the issue becomes clear... although there is a fundamental error to the questioning apart from the one explained above in Blessings and curses 

How do you know confusion

The first port of call is to ask whether this criteria of a Closed Canon of infallible doctrines, is the right criteria or even the only criteria for proving infallibility?  Is a infallible list of infallible doctrines, the single proof for infallibility?  If we are looking for a infallible list of these infallible doctrines we should perhaps turn to the scriptures that both Catholics and (most) protestants consider a Closed Infallible Canon. So we could ask how did the Canon of Scriptures come to be 'closed and infallible' which would lead us of course to the historic Church that believed it was led infallibly to close the Canon of Scripture. If protestants believe the scriptures to be infallible then they are bound by logic to agree that Church was led infallibly to close the Canon of Scripture. This line of argument seems to point to the Church as the agent that declares things infallible.  This is problematic to the protestant  as the proof they are demanding is a closed Canon of infallible doctrines, not the Church (Catholic).  But perhaps it is more revealing to turn the protestant demand for proof back on the protestant and ask the question raised by our protestant blogger above but apply it to the scriptures... 'absent an infallible way to know what is the Canon of Scripture and what isn't the Canon of Scripture, how can he [the protestant] know?'  Here the protestants rejection of the Catholic Church's infallible authority and demand for another infallible proof in relation to his own confessed infallible scriptures creates a road to nowhere.  The protestant claim is that as there is no infallible way to prove that the Catholic Magisterium is infallible and its claim is therefore self-authenticating ; the Catholic counter is (only to force the logical point) that as, according to this protestant criteria, there must also be no infallible way to prove  the Canon of Scripture is infallible their claim that scripture is infallible is also self-authenticating!!  (Of course if this line of argument were the truth it would also mean the scriptures would be fallible for Catholics also... thankfully it is not the truth)   By their own protestant criteria there exists no infallible means to prove how you know anything infallible including the scriptures which they consider

  1. 'infallible' ,

  2. 'the soul source of divine revelation' ,

  3. the singular and sole authority for Christian life.

So raising the issue against claims of Catholic infallibility in this way is self-defeating on an disputational level but also destructive on a worldview level, as whilst the Catholic Magisterial Infallibility claim (seemingly) crumbles so does the protestant/Christian scriptural infallibility claim crumble.  One might say on the basis of this protestant argument we are left in a sea of 'not knowing' anything at all and certainly not knowing truth!

Where on earth are the answers...

The reality is that most protestants do believe the scriptures to be infallible although in my own studies there is an ever-increasing shift to water-down this position.  The main reason is a historic one, as explained above, that creates a huge dilemma for the protestant.  They confess, as do Catholics, the scriptures are infallible as they believe the Holy Spirit led the Catholic Church Councils of the time (AD 382, 393, 397) to decide on the correct books that would be compiled to form the infallible Word of God... the Bible.  The dilemma for the protestant is that nowhere in the books that make up the bible is there a list of the books that should be in the bible; so the infallible scriptures do not contain an infallible list of books that should be in the scriptures.  If the claim of scriptural infallibility, and the ultimate protestant claim of 'sola scriptura' (scripture alone as the sole rule of faith), is to be maintained protestants must have an infallible source deciding on the books of the bible that will validate scriptural infallibility. At some point it seems the protestant must concede the Catholic Church was led infallibly to compile the Canon of Scripture if they are to retain any rational credibility.  The respected reformed theologian R C Sproul attempts to get around this problem by stating the scriptures are 'a fallible collection of infallible scriptures' ; this argument falls at the first hurdle as a fallible collection of scriptures is not 'a closed collection of scriptures' therefore scripture can be added or taken away.

One Orthodox blogger that has written on this protestant epistemological position points out the error that protestants make in putting forward the 'no infallible proof' argument.. '...[you] are confusing the epistemic problem of (1) deciding what authority to follow with the epistemic problem of (2) whether there is in fact an authority who can answer the question at hand'.  He goes on to explain...'the protestant is forced to say that nowhere on earth is there a [infallible] source of knowledge about the canon [of scripture]. You have to say that because [to protestants] there is no authority [and no infallible proof] that can answer that question. So you can search high and low, research till you're blue in the face, and no certainty can actually come. This is quite different to our [orthodox] position that you can find the true church which continues the authority of the apostles and which can answer these kinds of questions.  This blogger goes on to show that the protestant, in order not to deny the infallibility of the scriptures which is the very foundation of their theological persuasion, must make a fundamental rational correction, and make finding the the true authority and indeed the true Church, their epistemological starting point.

I am no expert on epistemology but the point seems clear that it is irrational to use an argument that destroys your own position and so for the sake of good conscience the protestant must change tack from disputing if there is any infallible authority (i.e.what authority to follow ) to finding out is there an infallible authority (i.e. what authority can answer the question at hand) and thus to follow it.  (I apologise if my technical ability here perhaps loses the force, clarity and necessity of the choice)   At first glance the two positions are only a slight variation of each other but it is a variation that creates a worldview of difference ; one position answers no questions and never can... the other position answers the questions of God's truth...."Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (John 8:32)

Grasping the infallible nettle

You said in a previous email...  "You kept referring to infallible doctrines other than the two which have been declared to be infallible, and I didn't realise there were any. Now I know why I was ignorant - they don't exist"  As I have detailed previously the infallible teachings of the Church are not only declared through the Pope's ex-Cathedra seat but also through its Ordinary (and infallible) Magisterium.. "the Magisterium effects protection and clarification either, extraordinarily, through ecumenical councils and ex-Cathedra teachings of the Popes or ordinarily, when they confirm that which has been taught previously in accord with the over all history of the Church"... so there are certainly more than two declared infallible doctrines.   However your point is not which are the 'infallible declarations' but as there are no infallible lists any claim to infallible doctrines cannot be proven therefore.. "they [ infallible doctrines ] don't exist"!  I think the case is made already that this protestant epistemological argument is self-defeating and therefore not a rational means of defending the protestant position ; however Christianity need not cower in the shadows and therefore it is worth testing this rational 'proof of knowing' position' further.  If this epistemological position is beyond questioning it would true at all times, in all places and in all situations ; this thought could also be put another way - was there any point in history where the protestant demand for 'an infallible list/canon of the infallible doctrines was not required for doctrine to be proven to be divinely revealed and unquestioningly infallible.

I would propose that St Peter's proclamation that Jesus was the Son of God is an example; Christ affirms that fallible Peter had spoken infallibly.. "Blessed are you Simon Bar-Jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed this to you, but my Father which is in heaven"   As there is not a an infallible list/canon of the infallible doctrines for Peter (or the other disciples) to refer to (and indeed neither a Canon of scripture) the protestant, if he is to be consistent in his epistemological argumentation, must continue to insist that Peter's pronouncement cannot be rationally proven to be revealed from heaven and cannot be rationally proven to be infallible. So this protestant argument taken to its extreme attempts to deny even Christ's affirmation of infallible doctrine!!  If the protestant trys to find a way out of the dilemma and say that with Christ speaking it is different we must press the point and ask in what way is it different? If the protestant desires to give-up the rational necessity of proof in the presence of Christ, why? Why does the rational test of truth become null and void with Christ present?  The answer is pressed for because in the answer is seen the error and weakness of this protestant argument. The answer of course is that the presence of  'divine Son of God'  transcends the need for a rational test of truth and thus transcends this demand for an infallible list/canon of the infallible doctrines because Christ is all Truth and indeed is the Truth ; and thus His voice is the proof, evidence and guarantee of infallible interpretation.

The Infallible Self-Revelation of God

The case is then made that this epistemological challenge is not only insufficient as it is self-destructive but is also not appropriate where the divine infallible voice is present ; Christ is the 'Word of God' and by His divine nature is a 'living, infallible Canon of infallible doctrines' and as such meets all natural rational demands. So the needs of faith and reason are met with super-rational truth....Christ the Lord.  We must not lose sight of the fact that in this issue discussed the principle concern is not the infallible definitions but the self-revelation of God.   This self-revelation is initiated by God in the Old Testament and is completed in the incarnation of Christ, the Son of God, his life, death and resurrection.. and ultimately in the Church which Christ has promised to build.. "thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church"...  St Peter's infallible revelation has the equal purpose of revealing the Father as does all revelation (that is always infallible) that comes from God.

By this we understand that God desires to reveal himself to the Church in an infallible (without error) way.  Likewise God purposes through an infallible Church within which resides 'the divine infallible voice'  to reveal himself and along with His infallible voice he has given the Church infallible scripture.  Scripture attests to this truth... "thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (Matt. 16:16-19).  So to St Peter alone it is pronounced that he will have the 'keys of the kingdom' which the Church has taught to be 'the power to speak in the person of Christ (in persona Christi capitas) in questions of faith and morals i.e the infallible teaching office of the Church'....   Like St Peter in the infallible revelation discourse, and indeed the inspired writings of the apostles, the Magisterium is guided to speak  infallible truth.  So the infallible truths of the Catholic Magisterium are not the work of flesh and blood, but of the Father in heaven who continues to reveal himself through revelation... "I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth Against the protestant argument that Christ is building a fallible Church Catholics confess that Christ continues to build his infallible Church that of necessity logic and necessity cannot not be in error ; Christ's Church continues to teach doctrine that is divinely revealed and unquestioningly infallible...'...because no lie comes from the truth  (1 John 2:21)   Christ continues to reveal the Father to us through the infallible teaching office, that is 'the divine infallible voice' (the Magisterium) of the Church..

Did God say... (Gen 3:1)

It is at this point then we see how the protestant desire to force its theological premise into the Christian panorama as orthodoxy (right belief) is in error ; protestantism errs in this issue of infallibility by approaching the question of the Church and authority mostly on the foundation of reason rather than on the foundation of faith.  The Church is a supernatural creation and uses the currency of supernatural truth ; consequently natural reason is limited in its ability to test or be a proof of infallible truth. We have already seen that the protestant argument that seeks to establish 'fallbility' and 'not knowing' undermines its own confession of infallible scripture and in reality this argument, of reason, undermines the foundations of Christian faith.  The whole sense of this 00000000000000000000000position has an echo of the serpent in the Garden of Eden introducing doubt against the word and purpose of  God..."Did God say..." (Gen 3:1)!   This protestant epistemological demand of  'a rational infallible proof '  introduces that same tone of questioning and doubt against the infallible Word of God and Christ's infallible Church.  The NewAdvent (Catholic) Encyclopedia explains the fundamental difference and necessity that separates the protestant and Catholic paradigms....  'We assume as antecedently and independently established that God can supernaturally guide and enlighten men, individually or collectively, in such a way that, notwithstanding the natural fallibility of human intelligence, they may speak and may be known with certainty to speak in His name and with His authority, so that their utterance may be not merely infallible but inspired.

In demanding a 'rational proof of infalliblity' protestantism drifts onto the shores of  'rationalism' where reason is the sole source and final test of truth and indeed the momentum towards doubt and religious unbelief.  The protestant in this infallible list of these infallible doctrines argument demands reason be the competent judge of all truth in contradiction to the scriptures which show that God has made the Church the competent and infallible judge of all truth.. The late Cardinal Manning said.. 'I seem to see no choice but this...the voice of God speaking always through His Church.. or the reason of man judging God's revelation'

There seems a stark decision for protestantism ; it can either choose to put reason before faith and struggle in the quicksand of questioning but never knowing ; or it can choose to put faith before reason and accept the scriptural and historic premise of an infallible Church and therefore the means of receiving and knowing infallible truth. As has been detailed above for the protestant to be able to walk in faith with regard to infallible truth he must make an epistemological correction and make finding the the true authority and indeed the true Church, his/her epistemological starting point.  The NewAdvent (Catholic) Encyclopedia explains...

'Once we come to believe in and rely upon authority we can afford to overlook the means by which we were brought to accept it, just as a man who has reached a solid standing place where he wishes to remain no longer relies on the frail ladder by which he mounted. It cannot be said that there is any essential difference in this respect between Divine and ecclesiastical infallibility. The latter of course is only a means by which we are put under subjection to the former in regard to a body of truth once revealed and to be believed by all men to the end of time, and no one can fairly deny that it is useful, not to say necessary, for that purpose. Its alternative is private judgment, and history has shown to what results this alternative inevitably leads. 

We are left with the words of Christ telling us that he will continue to speak to the Church infallibly.... 

“I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.  He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you.   All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.” (John 16:12-15)

Every blessing in the love of Christ...

David A

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