Infallibility and Faith

In the last post I started looking at what Catholics mean by “faith,” and decided that they use the term in a way that’s a bit different from the common contemporary usage, and that it really doesn’t get us very far.

Moving on though, we find where the real work is being done:

Whatever God reveals is true but God has revealed the mystery of the Holy Trinity therefore this mystery is true. The major premise is indubitable and intrinsically evident to reason; the minor premise is also true because it is declared to us by the infallible Church, and also because, as the Vatican Council says, “in addition to the internal assistance of His Holy Spirit, it has pleased God to give us certain external proofs of His revelation, viz. certain Divine facts, especially miracles and prophecies, for since these latter clearly manifest God’s omnipotence and infinite knowledge, they afford most certain proofs of His revelation and are suited to the capacity of all.”

OK, so we all agree that the important question isn’t whether you can trust an honest infallible god, but whether we know what an honest infallible god actually believes. So how do we bridge this gap? With an “infallible Church” and with “miracles and prophesies.”

Well, well, well.

Before turning to the substance of these claims, let’s pause to note that they sit rather badly with the Non-Overlapping Magisteria picture of religion and science. The notion that there are “truths of faith” revealed by religion but out of bounds to science isn’t going to fly if the justification for the “truths of faith” depends on evidence discounted by science. Once you appeal to miracles, you’re running into conflict with science.

Further, where does this leave someone who decides that we don’t have good reasons to believe that the church is infallible, or that miracles have occurred? Sure, it’s got to be true if our super-swell god has said it’s true, but how do we know that some infallible being said it’s true? If accepting things on religious faith really depends on accepting miracles (or the infallibility of the Church), I think don’t see how such faith can be reasonable.

But the entry provides more “motives of credibility” (i.e., reasons to believe that the church is reporting the actual beliefs of a god).

  1. The Bible talks about god, miracles, Jesus, and the start of the church.
  2. Christianity spread quickly throughout the world.
  3. The church never changed its doctrines in the face of political pressure or heresies.

But if the history of the Church since New-Testament times thus wonderfully confirms the New Testament itself, and if the New Testament so marvellously completes the Old Testament, these books must really contain what they claim to contain, viz. Divine revelation. And more than all, that Person Whose life and death were so minutely foretold in the Old Testament, and Whose story, as told in the New Testament, so perfectly corresponds with its prophetic delineation in the Old Testament, must be what He claimed to be, viz. the Son of God. His work, therefore, must be Divine.

Wow. Is this really what it’s all supposed to rest on? The success of the Christian church shows that its holy book is true, and so the church is reliably speaking for an infallible god?


It’s not reasonable to suppose that some false religious claims might – just might – achieve global popularity? Even if the world had never seen Buddhism, Islam, etc., would this argument be remotely persuasive? This is supposed to give us certitude? Support a claim to infallibility?

I guess there is a little bit (but not much) more:

Indeed, we can truly say that for every truth of Christianity which we believe Christ Himself is our testimony, and we believe in Him because the Divinity He claimed rests upon the concurrent testimony of His miracles, His prophecies His personal character, the nature of His doctrine, the marvellous propagation of His teaching in spite of its running counter to flesh and blood, the united testimony of thousands of martyrs, the stories of countless saints who for His sake have led heroic lives, the history of the Church herself since the Crucifixion, and, perhaps more remarkable than any, the history of the papacy from St. Peter to Pius X.

So we’ve got the miracles again. (But not the miracles themselves, just the “testimony of His miracles.” Are these people ignorant of how common miracle-claims are?) We’ve got that Jesus is reported to have said some nice things. A bunch of people were convinced of the truth of what he said. (Am I really supposed to buy something just because someone was willing to die for it? I know Aquinas lived before suicide bombers, but still . . . you’d think they’d think about this a bit.) And we’ve got the popes. Because obviously there couldn’t be a succession of 265 white dudes in charge of the church, unless they infallibly report the beliefs of an omniscient god. (Seriously, at this point I have trouble imagining what they think the argument is.)

These testimonies are unanimous; they all point in one direction, they are of every age, they are clear and simple, and are within the grasp of the humblest intelligence.

OK, now this claim is demonstrably false. Perhaps I’m not bright. Perhaps I have only the humblest intelligence. But I don’t grasp the supposed force of these testimonies. (And I’m assuming that if I’m above the humblest intelligence, I should grasp whatever the more humble grasp.)

It’s funny how the rhetoric gets ramped up precisely at the points that the argument is the weakest. They don’t say you’re stupid if you don’t understand that whenever an infallible being tells you something, it’s got to be true. But they do say you’re stupid (well, below stupid, I guess) if you don’t understand that the political success of the church, and a book saying that some guy is a god, means that there’s no way that the church could be wrong about what that god says.

Now, it might be reasonable to give these sort of considerations some weight (though I’m not even sure of that), but they want to claim they give “definite and certain knowledge of Divine revelation”? Definite and certain? That’s just sad.


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