Wednesday, June 4, 2008


During a meeting today one of my clients paid me a compliment for consistently being calm and collected, hard-working but low-key and disinclined to get rattled no matter what the circumstance.

"Sean is infallible," she said.

The word she meant to use was "unflappable." While I chuckled, someone pointed out her error and suggested the correct term.

"Only the Pope is infallible," I offered.

"Oh, I'm not Catholic," she replied. "I didn't mean to say anything offensive!"

"No, I'm not offended," I smiled.

Someone else then said, "And Jesus is infallible."

This last remark was meant as extolment, and is one of those statements that is correct if understood one way and entirely false if understood another.

To be infallible means to be free of the possibility of error.

The Pope speaks infallibly when he renders a decree:

* about faith and morals (i.e. not in unrelated domains like astronomy or poetry),

* in his official capacity as Roman pontiff (i.e. not as a private individual, but with full ecclesiastical authority),

* in the name of the Catholic Church (i.e. as the supreme teacher and legislator after its Divine Founder, Jesus Christ),

* with Apostolic authority (i.e. in agreement with what was given by Christ to the 12 Apostles and handed down to their successors and universally taught and practiced by 20 centuries of popes, doctors, saints, and dogmatic councils),

* with the intent of being binding upon the conscience of Catholics (i.e. not merely a suggestion).

Thus, the Pope's infallibility is extremely focused and has distinct limits, but is inerrant when within those limits. When the conditions outlined above are met, the Holy Father's statement is certain to be error-free. Never in the 2,000 year history of Christendom has a Pope rendered an infallible decree that was later annulled or reversed by a successor.

And the teachings of Jesus Christ are -- without limit -- objectively and eternally true. As such they can never be revoked, qualified, or overruled. They are incapable of being wrong, without exception, regardless of time or circumstance or subject matter.

And I mean that unflappably.

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