For what it’s worth, here is an article I wrote several years ago in response to a Protestant friend, with whom I was debating the doctrine of papal infallibility with regard specifically do the doctrine of “no salvation outside the Church”. Has the Church contradicted herself on this doctrine?
- Response to your message
1.1. Critique of your argument
“A. Infallibility is the inability to commit error;
- Where a contradiction exists error is necessarily present;
- Church A has contradicted herself;
- Therefore Church A has committed error;
- Therefore Church A does not possess the charism of infallibility”
While steps B through D of your syllogism are valid, A is materially defective, leading to your false conclusion E.
The reason is that premise A, insofar as it purports to define infallibility as it applies to the Catholic Church, is incomplete. When the Church calls itself infallible, it does not mean, “The Church never commits error.” Rather, as I have explained before, it means the Church is protected from committing error under certain specific circumstances. Those circumstances are, when the bishops in union with the pope teach a doctrine pertaining to faith and morals, which usually takes place in ecumenical council; or, when the pope himself teaches a doctrine pertaining to faith and morals. And it only applies when they are intending to define something infallibly to the entire Church. (For ease of typing, I will refer to the circumstances in which infallibility applies, as “the Circumstances of Infallibility”, or “COI” for short.)
Infallibility may be refuted in one of two ways: (1) by showing that something which was defined infallibly is demonstrably false; or (2) by showing that something which was defined infallibly contradicts something else that was defined infallibly.
So if you are going to show that the Church has contradicted itself in a way that refutes infallibility, it’s not enough to show that one pope has contradicted another pope, or that a pope has contradicted a council. You have to show that a pope or council, when intending to speak infallibly, has contradicted what another pope or council has taught when intending to speak infallibly – or in other words, under COI.
So your syllogism, in order to prove what you are trying to prove, would need to run like this:
- The Catholic Church’s claim to be infallible, means that under COI, the Church cannot commit error or contradict herself.
- The Catholic Church has contradicted herself under COI.
- Therefore the Church is not infallible.
Thus in order to prove the Church is not infallible, you have to show that premise B. is true: that the Church has contradicted herself under COI.
In your attempt to show this, you have provided two citations, one a papal bull and another a statement of an ecumenical council, both of which teach that there is no salvation outside the Church.
Then in an attempt to show a contradiction, you have cited the statements of Vatican II that I provided, which say that it’s possible for someone who is not a formal member of the Church to be saved.
The problem, of course, is that the V2 statements I provided were not intended to be infallible definitions of faith and morals (as I explained previously), and therefore do not fall within COI. So you have not established premise B. If premise B. fails, the syllogism fails, and you have not proven your point. Continue reading