Inspiration and InfallibilityJul 2nd, 2009 | By Andrew Preslar | Category: Blog Posts
These thoughts are prompted by some comments made over at Green Baggins, which is hands down the best blog name that I have ever seen. The topic is also related to the ongoing discussion under Neal Judisch’s post, Calvin on ‘Self-Authentication.’ The question at hand is whether or not the Catholic Church’s claim to infallibility is significantly distinct from a claim to inspiration. If not, then it seems that the Church effectively equates the authority of infallibly taught (though putatively non-inspired) ecclesial dogmas with the authority of Sacred Scripture (which is inspired as well as infallible).
It is not necessarily easy to see the difference between divine inspiration and ecclesial infallibility. Each of these involves a mysterious, pedagogical activity of the Holy Spirit, working in and through fallible men so that we might know the truth about God and salvation. There are, however, significant differences between inspiration and infallibility. Here is my very fallible attempt to explain what those differences are:
1. All inspired teaching is infallible, but not all infallible teaching is inspired.
2. Divine inspiration is an act of God whereby a human being is so moved by the Holy Spirit that the words which he utters or writes are (in a mystery) the very words of God. The work of God, in this case, pertains directly to the words spoken or written by inspiration.
3. Ecclesial infallibility is a gift of God, such that, when the whole Church expresses her mind, in an ordinary or extraordinary way, on matters of faith and morals, she is protected from error by the Holy Spirit. The Church’s infallible teachings are not the very words of God.
4. In the case of inspiration, the Spirit is directing someone to speak or write something, i.e., God’s word. In the case of ecclesial infallibility, the Spirit is preventing someone from saying or writing something, i.e., error.
5. A text or utterance given by inspiration is a divine revelation. As such, its content need not be either explicitly or implicitly contained in the deposit of faith (also called the “treasury of revelation”) received up to that time. A text or utterance promulgated infallibly, though not by inspiration, merely explicates the deposit of faith, and must be at least implicitly contained therein.
6. God’s word is radiant and delectable, a light unto the path, food for the soul. The Church’s non-inspired teachings, even those which have been taught infallibly, are mere eye drops, to wash away the confusion that would be foisted upon the faithful by those who misapprehend the word of God.
7. The basic distinction is between divine revelation and the unerring exposition of this revelation. The latter involves the subjective apprehension, by the Church, of the objective revelation of God. This ecclesial apprehension, and subsequent exposition, of the word of God does not belong merely to the natural order, because the Church has the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16), together with the mandate to express that mind (Matthew 28:18-20), and the Holy Spirit of truth (John 14:26), whereby she is constituted and maintained as “the pillar and foundation of truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).