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Dr. Sirilla's Analysis of Pope's Infallibility and Primacy


• Introduction

• About the document "Pastor Aeternus"

• The Magisterium on Papal Infallibility

• The Magisterium on Papal Primacy

• A teaching that is still relevant in our world today

• Summary

✓ Introduction

In commemoration of the 150th anniversary of "Pastor Aeternus", Vatican News spoke with Dr Michael Sirilla, who is a Professor of Dogmatic and Systematic Theology at Franciscan University of Steubenville, about the Council’s teaching, based on the document "Pastor aeternus".

✓ About the document "Pastor Aeternus"

Pastor aeternus, which is the "First Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of Christ" was issued by the First Vatican Council, on the 18th day of July, 1870. The document defines four doctrines of the Catholic faith, which are as follows: 1) the apostolic primacy conferred on Peter, 2) the perpetuity of the Petrine Primacy in the Roman pontiffs, 3) the meaning and power of the papal primacy, and 4) Papal infallibility - infallible teaching authority (magisterium) of the Pope.

Below are some of the responses of Dr Michael Sirilla on the issue of Papal Infallibility and Papal Primacy.

The Magisterium on Papal Infallibility

Dr Sirilla starts by highlighting that “What’s most well-known from Vatican I is the dogmatic definition of papal infallibility in chapter four of Pastor Aeternus".

The idea of Papal infallibility does not mean that popes cannot sin, or that “whatever they say on any topic at all is without error.” According to him, what papal infallibility means “is that in very specifically circumscribed conditions… a pope enjoys a share in this gift, this charism, that Jesus promised to the Church, to lead the Church… into all truth” through the Apostles and their successors, with the assistance of the Holy Spirit.

Furthermore, he avers that when a pope “exercises the charism of infallibility, when he defines a matter of faith and morals, speaking with his supreme Apostolic authority, and he defines a matter of faith and morals to be held by the whole Church, those definitions are infallible.”

The Pope’s office of teaching, otherwise known as the papal Magisterium , is extremely important, says Dr Sirilla. “It’s a great visible sign of the unity of a gargantuan body of believers… it’s a beautiful gift.

The Magisterium on Papal Primacy

In Pastor Aeternus, there is also a significant teaching of the Church on the power and nature of the Pope.

With the issues and circumstances surrounding Vatican I, the Council Fathers, basing themselves on the Sacred Scriptures, maintain that Peter was given a certain primacy among the Apostles, and that this primacy was passed on to his successors, the Roman Pontiffs. At this postulation, Dr Sirilla points out that "This primacy is not simply one of honour," but a real primacy of jurisdiction; whereby the pope “can legislate, he can bindingly teach, and he can discipline in virtue of his office.” 

Nevertheless, this privilege is “a great gift from Christ to the Church,” says Dr Sirilla; which makes the Church “to have this visible sign of Christ’s presence in His visible representative.” The Church recognizes that all popes have been sinners, “from Peter all the way up.” But, Dr Sirilla posits that “God also uses them to visibly manifest his truth of doctrine, and the goodness and amazing grace of the Sacraments, and the charity of his discipline, his governance.

✓ A teaching that is still relevant in our world today

Talking about the dogmas authenticity and relevance, Dr Sirilla says that "The dogmas proclaimed at the First Vatican Council are as relevant today as the teachings on the Trinity are, from Nicaea, from the New Testament." His argument on their relevance is “because these are the great mysteries of our faith for the pilgrim Church on earth, as we make our way to our homeland in heaven.”

Dr Sirilla in highlighting their relevance asserts that “the most relevant aspect of it is this: Jesus left us with a visible head in Peter and His successors, that Jesus willed this, He willed to give this to us, meeting us where we are at on the level of the senses. We need something sensible, audible, tangible, so to speak, and He gave us this visible head, this person who, if we see him, we see Jesus… He's the vicar or representative of Christ."

✓ Summary

The Scripture has it that the gate of hell can never prevail against the Church. The teaching authority of the Church (also known as the Magisterium) is the representative voice of God on behalf of the body of Christ, which is the Church.

Let all Christians continue praying for those of their ministers that represent their singular interest in promulgating and promoting disciplines, doctrines and devotions.





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