The Vatican definition, which comes to us in the shape of the Pope's Encyclical Bull called the Pastor Æternus, declares that "the Pope has that same infallibility which the Church has": to determine therefore what is meant by the infallibility of the Pope we must turn first to consider the infallibility of the Church. And again, to determine the character of the Church's infallibility, we must consider what is the characteristic of Christianity, considered as a revelation of God's will.

Our Divine Master might have communicated to us heavenly truths without telling us that they came from Him, as it is commonly thought He has done in the case of heathen nations; but He willed the Gospel to be a revelation acknowledged and authenticated, to be public, fixed, and permanent; and accordingly, as Catholics hold, He framed a Society of men to be its home, its instrument, and its guarantee. The rulers of that Association are the legal trustees, so to say, of the sacred truths which He spoke to the Apostles by word of mouth. As He was leaving them, He gave them their great commission, and bade them "teach" their converts all over the earth, "to observe all things whatever He had commanded them;" and then He added, "Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world."

Here, first, He told them to "teach" His revealed Truth; next, "to the consummation of all things;" thirdly, for their encouragement, He said that He would be with them "all days," all along, on every emergency or occasion, until that consummation. They had a duty put upon them of teaching their Master's words, a duty which they could not fulfil in the perfection which fidelity required, without His help; therefore came His promise to be with them in their performance of it. Nor did that promise of supernatural help end with the Apostles personally, for He adds, "to the consummation of the world," implying that the Apostles would have {323} successors, and engaging that He would be with those successors as He had been with them.

The same safeguard of the Revelation—viz. an authoritative, permanent tradition of teaching, is insisted on by an informant of equal authority with St. Matthew, but altogether independent of him, I mean St. Paul. He calls the Church "the pillar and ground of the Truth;" and he bids his convert Timothy, when he had become a ruler in that Church, to "take heed unto his doctrine," to "keep the deposit" of the faith, and to "commit" the things which he had heard from himself "to faithful men who should be fit to teach others."

This is how Catholics understand the Scripture record, nor does it appear how it can otherwise be understood; but, when we have got as far as this, and look back, we find that we have by implication made profession of a further doctrine. For, if the Church, initiated in the Apostles and continued in their successors, has been set up for the direct object of protecting, preserving, and declaring the Revelation, and that, by means of the Guardianship and Providence of its Divine Author, we are led on to perceive that, in asserting this, we are in other words asserting, that, so far as the message entrusted to it is concerned, the Church is infallible; for what is meant by infallibility in teaching but that the teacher in his teaching is secured from error? and how can fallible man be thus secured except by a supernatural infallible guidance? And what can have been the object of the words, "I am with you all along to the end," but to give thereby an answer by anticipation to the spontaneous, silent alarm of the feeble company of fishermen and {324} labourers, to whom they were addressed, on their finding themselves laden with superhuman duties and responsibilities?

Such then being, in its simple outline, the infallibility of the Church, such too will be the Pope's infallibility, as the Vatican Fathers have defined it. And if we find that by means of this outline we are able to fill out in all important respects the idea of a Council's infallibility, we shall thereby be ascertaining in detail what has been defined in 1870 about the infallibility of the Pope. With an attempt to do this I shall conclude.

1. The Church has the office of teaching, and the matter of that teaching is the body of doctrine, which the Apostles left behind them as her perpetual possession. If a question arises as to what the Apostolic doctrine is on a particular point, she has infallibility promised to her to enable her to answer correctly. And, as by the teaching of the Church is understood, not the teaching of this or that Bishop, but their united voice, and a Council is the form the Church must take, in order that all men may recognize that in fact she is teaching on any point in dispute, so in like manner the Pope must come before us in some special form or posture, if he is to be understood to be exercising his teaching office, and that form is called ex cathedrâ. This term is most appropriate, as being on one occasion used by our Lord Himself. When the Jewish doctors taught, they placed themselves in Moses' seat, and spoke ex cathedrâ; and then, as He tells us, they were to be obeyed by their people, and that, whatever were their private lives or characters. "The Scribes and Pharisees," He says, "are seated on the chair of Moses: all things therefore whatsoever they shall say to you, observe and do; but according to their works do you not, for they say and do not."

2. The forms, by which a General Council is identified as representing the Church herself, are too clear to need drawing out; but what is to be that moral cathedrâ, or teaching chair, in which the Pope sits, when he is to be recognized as in the exercise of his infallible teaching? the new definition answers this question. He speaks ex cathedrâ, or infallibly, when he speaks, first, as the Universal Teacher; secondly, in the name and with the authority of the Apostles; thirdly, on a point of faith or morals; fourthly, with the purpose of binding every member of the Church to accept and believe his decision.

3. These conditions of course contract the range of his infallibility most materially. Hence Billuart speaking of the Pope says, "Neither in conversation, nor in discussion, nor in interpreting Scripture or the Fathers, nor in consulting, nor in giving his reasons for the point which he has defined, nor in answering letters, nor in private deliberations, supposing he is setting forth his own opinion, is the Pope infallible". And for this simple reason, because on these various occasions of speaking his mind, he is not in the chair of the universal doctor.

4. Nor is this all; the greater part of Billuart's negatives refer to the Pope's utterances when he is out of the Cathedra Petri, but even, when he is in it, his words do not necessarily proceed from his infallibility. He has no wider prerogative than a Council, and of a Council Perrone says, "Councils are not infallible in the reasons by which they are led, or on which they rely, in making their definition, nor in matters which relate to persons, nor to physical matters which have no necessary connexion with dogma." Thus, if a Council has condemned a work of Origen or Theodoret, it did not in so condemning go beyond the work itself; it did not touch the persons of either. Since this holds of a Council, it also holds in the case of the Pope; therefore, supposing a Pope has quoted the so called works of the Areopagite as if really genuine, there is no call on us to believe him; nor again, if he condemned Galileo's Copernicanism, unless the earth's immobility has a "necessary connexion with some dogmatic truth," which the present bearing of the Holy See towards that philosophy virtually denies.

5. Nor is a Council infallible, even in the prefaces and introductions to its definitions. There are theologians of name, as Tournely and Amort, who contend that even those most instructive capitula passed in the Tridentine Council, from which the Canons with anathemas are drawn up, are not portions of the Church's infallible teaching; and the parallel introductions prefixed to the Vatican anathemas have an authority not greater nor less than that of those capitula. 

6. Such passages, however, as these are too closely connected with the definitions themselves, not to be what is sometimes called, by a catachresis, "proximum fidei;" still, on the other hand, it is true also that, in those circumstances and surroundings of formal definitions, which I have been speaking of, whether on the part of a Council or a Pope, there may be not only no exercise of an infallible voice, but actual error. Thus, in the Third Council, a passage of an heretical author was quoted in defence of the doctrine defined, under the belief he was Pope Julius, and narratives, not trustworthy, are introduced into the Seventh.

This remark and several before it will become intelligible if we consider that neither Pope nor Council are on a level with the Apostles. To the Apostles the whole revelation was given, by the Church it is transmitted; no simply new truth has been given to us since St. John's death; the one office of the Church is to guard "that noble deposit" of truth, as St. Paul speaks to Timothy, which the Apostles bequeathed to her, in its fulness and integrity. Hence the infallibility of the Apostles was of a far more positive and wide character than that needed by and granted to the Church. We call it, in the case of the Apostles, inspiration; in the case of the Church, assistentia.

Of course there is a sense of the word "inspiration" in which it is common to all members of the Church, and therefore especially to its Bishops, and still more directly to those rulers, when solemnly called together in Council, after much prayer throughout Christendom, and in a frame of mind especially serious and earnest by {328} reason of the work they have in hand. The Paraclete certainly is ever with them, and more effectively in a Council, as being "in Spiritu Sancto congregata;" but I speak of the special and promised aid necessary for their fidelity to Apostolic teaching; and, in order to secure this fidelity, no inward gift of infallibility is needed, such as the Apostles had, no direct suggestion of divine truth, but simply an external guardianship, keeping them off from error (as a man's good Angel, without at all enabling him to walk, might, on a night journey, keep him from pitfalls in his way), a guardianship, saving them, as far as their ultimate decisions are concerned, from the effects of their inherent infirmities, from any chance of extravagance, of confusion of thought, of collision with former decisions or with Scripture, which in seasons of excitement might reasonably be feared.

"Never," says Perrone, "have Catholics taught that the gift of infallibility is given by God to the Church after the manner of inspiration."—Again: "[Human] media of arriving at the truth are excluded neither by a Council's nor by a Pope's infallibility, for God has promised it, not by way of an infused" or habitual "gift, but by the way of assistentia."

But since the process of defining truth is human, it is open to the chance of error; what Providence has guaranteed is only this, that there should be no error in the final step, in the resulting definition or dogma.

7. Accordingly, all that a Council, and all that the Pope, is infallible in, is the direct answer to the  special question which he happens to be considering; his prerogative does not extend beyond a power, when in his Cathedra, of giving that very answer truly. "Nothing," says Perrone, "but the objects of dogmatic definitions of Councils are immutable, for in these are Councils infallible, not in their reasons".

8. This rule is so strictly to be observed that, though dogmatic statements are found from time to time in a Pope's Apostolic Letters, &c., yet they are not accounted to be exercises of his infallibility if they are said only obiter—by the way, and without direct intention to define. A striking instance of this sine qua non condition is afforded by Nicholas I., who, in a letter to the Bulgarians, spoke as if baptism were valid, when administered simply in our Lord's Name, without distinct mention of the Three Persons; but he is not teaching and speaking ex cathedrâ, because no question on this matter was in any sense the occasion of his writing. The question asked of him was concerning the minister of baptism—viz., whether a Jew or Pagan could validly baptize; in answering in the affirmative, he added obiter, as a private doctor, says Bellarmine, "that the baptism was valid, whether administered in the name of the three Persons or in the name of Christ only." 

9. Another limitation is given in Pope Pius's own conditions, set down in the Pastor Æternus, for the exercise of infallibility: viz., the proposition defined will be without any claim to be considered binding on the belief of Catholics, unless it is referable to the Apostolic depositum, through the channel either of Scripture or Tradition; and, though the Pope is the judge whether it is so referable or not, yet the necessity of his professing to abide by this reference is in itself a certain limitation of his dogmatic action. A Protestant will object indeed that, after his distinctly asserting that the Immaculate Conception and the Papal Infallibility are in Scripture and Tradition, this safeguard against erroneous definitions is not worth much, nor do I say that it is one of the most effective: but anyhow, in consequence of it, no Pope any more than a counsel, could, for instance, introduce Ignatius's Epistles into the Canon of Scripture;—and, as to his dogmatic condemnation of particular books, which, of course, are foreign to thedepositum, I would say, that, as to their false doctrine there can be no difficulty in condemning that, by means of that Apostolic deposit; nor surely in his condemning the very wording, in which they convey it, when the subject is carefully considered. For the Pope's condemning the language, for instance, of Jansenius is a parallel act to the Church's sanctioning the word "Consubstantial," and if a Council and the Pope were not infallible so far in their judgment of language, neither Pope nor Council could draw up a dogmatic definition at all, for the right exercise of words is involved in the right exercise of thought.

10. And in like manner, as regards the precepts concerning moral duties, it is not in every such precept that the Pope is infallible. As a definition of faith must be {331} drawn from the Apostolic depositum of doctrine, in order that it may be considered an exercise of infallibility, whether in the Pope or a Council, so too a precept of morals, if it is to be accepted as from an infallible voice, must be drawn from the Moral law, that primary revelation to us from God.

That is, in the first place, it must relate to things in themselves good or evil. If the Pope prescribed lying or revenge, his command would simply go for nothing, as if he had not issued it, because he has no power over the Moral Law. If he forbade his flock to eat any but vegetable food, or to dress in a particular fashion (questions of decency and modesty not coming into the question), he would also be going beyond the province of faith, because such a rule does not relate to a matter in itself good or bad. But if he gave a precept all over the world for the adoption of lotteries instead of tithes or offerings, certainly it would be very hard to prove that he was contradicting the Moral Law, or ruling a practice to be in itself good which was in itself evil; and there are few persons but would allow that it is at least doubtful whether lotteries are abstractedly evil, and in a doubtful matter the Pope is to be believed and obeyed.

However, there are other conditions besides this, necessary for the exercise of Papal infallibility, in moral subjects:—for instance, his definition must relate to things necessary for salvation. No one would so speak of lotteries, nor of a particular dress, nor of a particular kind of food;—such precepts, then, did he make them, would be simply external to the range of his prerogative. 

And again, his infallibility in consequence is not called into exercise, unless he speaks to the whole world; for, if his precepts, in order to be dogmatic, must enjoin what is necessary to salvation, they must be necessary for all men. Accordingly orders which issue from him for the observance of particular countries, or political or religious classes, have no claim to be the utterances of his infallibility. If he enjoins upon the hierarchy of Ireland to withstand mixed education, this is no exercise of his infallibility.

It may be added that the field of morals contains so little that is unknown and unexplored, in contrast with revelation and doctrinal fact, which form the domain of faith, that it is difficult to say what portions of moral teaching in the course of 1800 years actually have proceeded from the Pope, or from the Church, or where to look for such. Nearly all that either oracle has done in this respect, has been to condemn such propositions as in a moral point of view are false, or dangerous or rash; and these condemnations, besides being such as in fact will be found to command the assent of most men, as soon as heard, do not necessarily go so far as to present any positive statements for universal acceptance.

11. With the mention of condemned propositions I am brought to another and large consideration, which is one of the best illustrations that I can give of that principle of minimising so necessary, as I think, for a wise and cautious theology: at the same time I cannot insist upon it in the connexion into which I am going to introduce it, without submitting myself to the correction of divines more learned than I can pretend to be myself.

The infallibility, whether of the Church or of the Pope, acts principally or solely in two channels, in direct statements of truth, and in the condemnation of error. The former takes the shape of doctrinal definitions, the latter stigmatizes propositions as heretical, next to heresy, erroneous, and the like. In each case the Church, as guided by her Divine Master, has made provision for weighing as lightly as possible on the faith and conscience of her children.