Papal Infallibility: A Socratic Dialogue

peterThese dialogues aren’t meant to cover every aspect of, or every objection to, each doctrine. There’s more that could be said, obviously.

They’re meant to be a fun and intellectually stimulating introduction to Catholic teachings that can sometimes be hard to understand.

Also, I’ve tried to make it a reasonably fair exchange between Martin (the Protestant) and Justin (the Catholic), but I haven’t tried that hard.

The goal here is to demonstrate the superiority of the Catholic position, something that couldn’t be done in the space I’ve done it in if I were to launch every Protestant objection to the doctrines discussed.

Cool? I don’t think Protestants are cotton-headed ninny muggins’s. Promise.

Enjoy, and please give me your feedback below

What is Papal Infallibility?

Martin: What do you mean by papal infallibility, Justin?

Justin: That whatever the pope says is correct. So, for example, if he says that it will rain next Thursday, it will rain next Thursday.

Martin: Tell me you’re joking.

Justin: I’m joking.

Martin: Thank goodness.

Justin: But this is, unfortunately, what many Protestants think is meant by the doctrine of papal infallibility, so let’s be clear on that from the outset. It doesn’t mean the pope is sinless, it doesn’t mean he’ll have the answer to every issue facing the Church.

Martin: So what does it mean?

Justin: it means that the pope has a special grace from Christ that protects him from leading the Church into error.

Martin: So no statement the Pope makes about Christian doctrine or morality will be false?

Justin: Not quite. You’re right that papal infallibility pertains to faith and morality, but it doesn’t mean he’s immune from believing, or even saying, something erroneous with respect to these things. Instead, it means that the pope will never officially lead the Church into heresy. For example, pope-emeritus Benedict XVI wrote a marvelous trilogy of books entitled Jesus of Nazareth. In it he makes it clear that he’s writing as a theologian, not as the vicar of Christ, and therefore, he says, people can, in good conscience, criticize his statements and even disagree with him.

Why Think it’s True?

Martin: Okay, I think I understand. So why should I think papal infallibility is true?

Justin: Because you say you’re a Bible believing Christian.

Martin: I’m listening. Let me open up my Bible.

Justin: Turn to Matthew 16:18. Jesus say to St. Peter, who Catholics believe to be the first pope, “you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.”

Martin: My translation says “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

Justin: Right. It means the same thing. So if Christ promised that “the gates of hell” shall not prevail against the Church, it would make sense, would’t it, that the chief pastor of this Church would not steer it into Hell by teaching heresy.

Martin: Go on.

Justin: Christ promised that even if the faith of all the apostles should fail, Peter’s would not.

Martin: Woah, wait a minute, you’re getting all that from this verse?

Justin: Sorry, no. I’m referring to Luke 23:31-32 where Jesus says—here, let’s read it from your Bible . . . “And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat:  but I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.”

But Didn’t Paul Oppose Peter?

Martin: Okay, but none of this means that everything Peter taught would be protected from error. What about in Paul’s letter to the Galatians where we see Paul opposing Peter. Where is it here . . . Here. 2:11: “But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed.”

Justin: Right, but this didn’t have to with what St. Peter taught—let alone taught officially—, it had to do with how he behaved. He feared those Christians who thought circumcision was necessary and so decided not to eat with the uncircumcised.

Martin: Well show me an instance where Peter teaches something officially that has to be true.

Justin: How about first and second Peter? These are official teachings without error, right?

Martin: Well that’s silly.

Justin: Why?

Martin: Because you’re comparing apples to oranges. If first and second Peter make him Pope because they are without error then that would make Paul Pope also since his letters are without error.

Justin: You’re putting words in my mouth. I never said St. Peter is Pope because he taught without error. You asked me to give you an example of some teaching from St. Peter that is free of error, and I gave you two epistles. Look, if it’s possible for God to prevent Peter from teaching error in those epistles, shouldn’t we agree that it’s possible he would prevent Peter and his successors from teaching error in the future?

Martin: I suppose it’s possible.

Justin: Okay. Well, may I suggest comparing and praying over two texts of scripture?

Martin: Sure.

Justin: Compare Isaiah 22:15-25 which is a prophecy of the papacy with Matthew 16:13-19. Next time we meet up we can discuss.

What Next?

I hope you found this helpful. What would you like Martin and Justin to discuss next?

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