Rome’s Claim Means That Only the Roman Church Has the Infallible Truth of Christ

As was indicated above, there were implications of the claim to infallibility of the Roman Catholic magisterium before the nineteenth century, but Vatican I was the first council to officially pronounce papal infallibility. Pope Pius IX decreed that the pope, “using the counsel and seeking for help of the universal Church,” cannot err. Instead it ruled that the pope’s definitions are “irreformable of themselves, and not from the consent of the Church” when speaking ex cathedra, that is, as pastor and doctor of all Christians.

Rome has not been shy about this claim since that time. It was repeated in Vatican II and in the recent Catholic Catechism. Vatican II declared “the primacy of the Roman Pontiff and his infallible teaching office”:45

“This infallibility, however, with which the divine redeemer wished to endow his Church in defining doctrine pertaining to faith and morals, is co-extensive with the deposit of revelation, which must be religiously guarded and loyally and courageously expounded. The Roman Pontiff, head of the college of bishops, enjoys this infallibility in virtue of his office, when, as supreme pastor and teacher of all the faithful—he confirms his brethren in the faith . . . he proclaims in an absolute decision a doctrine pertaining to faith or morals.46

Likewise, The Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms, “in order to preserve the Church in the purity of the faith handed down by the apostles, Christ who is the Truth willed to confer on her a share in his own infallibility. By a ‘supernatural sense of faith’ the People of God, under guidance of the Church’s living Magisterium,” unfailingly adheres to this faith.47 Of course, it is only infallibility in matters of faith and morals.48 “The Roman Pontiff, head of the college of Bishops, enjoys this infallibility in virtue of his office. . . . The infallibility promised to the Church is also present in the body of bishops when, together with Peter’s successor, they exercise the supreme Magisterium, above all in an Ecumenical Council.”49 In brief, on official doctrine for the Church, the pope cannot be wrong, nor can the bishops with him be in error in an ecumenical council.

Rome’s Claim Means Anyone Who Dies Knowingly Rejecting This Doctrine Will Go to Hell

According to the Roman Catholic Church, it is a mortal sin to reject one of its infallible teachings. Unrepented moral sins lead to eternal condemnation (hell). The Council of Trent often indicated this by attaching anathema to its decrees, saying something like, “If anyone, however, should not accept the stated dogma knowingly and deliberately, let him be anathema.”50 But the claims that the Roman Church is the only true church of Christ on earth and that its pope is the infallible interpreter of Christian truth are Roman dogma, since they were proclaimed at ecumenical councils such as the Fourth Lateran Council and Vatican I.

This means that, according to Rome, anyone who knows and rejects this, as most knowledgeable Protestants do (including the authors of this book), will go to hell.

Conclusion

Our concern in this chapter has been to understand the Roman claim to being the true church on earth. Before we could evaluate this claim, we examined, first, what it does not mean and, second, what it does mean. In order to understand its meaning we studied the historical development that led to the authoritarian papal claim to have and to interpret Christian truth. With this background, we conclude that while the claim is not absolute, allowing for some exceptions, nonetheless it is sweeping.