The Decrees of the Vatican Council/Part 3/Chapter 4
Concerning the Infallible Teaching of the Roman Pontiff
MOREOVER, that the supreme power of teaching (magisterii) is also included in the apostolic primacy, which the Roman Pontiff, as the successor of Peter, Prince of the Apostles, possesses over the whole Church, this Holy See has always held, the perpetual practice of the Church confirms, and Œcumenical Councils also have declared, especially those in which the East with the West met in the union of faith and charity. For the Fathers of the Fourth Council of Constantinople, following in the footsteps of their predecessors, gave forth this solemn profession: "The first condition of salvation is to keep the rule of the true faith. And because the sentence of our Lord Jesus Christ cannot be passed by, who said, 'Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church,' these things which have been said are proved by events, because in the Apostolic See the Catholic religion has always been kept undefiled, and her well-known doctrine has been kept holy. Desiring, therefore, not to be in the least degree separated from the faith and doctrine of this See, we hope that we may deserve to be in the one communion, which the Apostolic See preaches, in which is the entire and true solidity of the Christian religion
And, with the approval of the Second Council of Lyons, the Greeks professed that: "the holy Roman Church enjoys supreme and full primacy and princedom over the whole Catholic Church, which it truly and humbly acknowledges that it has received with the plenitude of power from our Lord Himself in the person of Blessed Peter, Prince and Head of the Apostles, whose successor the Roman Pontiff is; and as the Apostolic See is bound before all others to defend the truth of faith, so also, if any questions regarding faith shall arise, they must be defined by its judgement,"
Finally, the Council of Florence defined that: "the Roman Pontiff is the true Vicar of Christ, and the head of the whole Church and the father and teacher of all Christians; and that to him in Blessed Peter was delivered by our Lord Jesus Christ the full power of feeding, ruling and governing the whole Church."
To satisfy this pastoral duty, our predecessors ever made unwearied efforts that the salutary doctrine of Christ might be propagated among all the nations of the earth, and with equal care watched that it might be preserved genuine and pure where it had been received. Therefore the bishops of the whole world, now singly, now assembled in synod, following the long established custom of Churches and the form of the ancient rule, sent word to this Apostolic See of those dangers especially which sprang up in matters of faith, that there the losses of faith might be most effectually repaired where the faith cannot fail. And the Roman Pontiffs, according to the exigencies of times and circumstances, sometimes assembling Œcumenical Councils, or asking for the mind of the Church scattered throughout the world, sometimes by particular synods, sometimes using other helps which divine Providence supplied, defined as to be held those things which with the help of God they had recognized as conformable with the sacred Scriptures and apostolic traditions. For the Holy Spirit was not promised to the successors of Peter, that by His revelation they might make known new doctrine, but that by His assistance they might inviolably keep and faithfully expound the revelation or deposit of faith delivered through the Apostles. And indeed all the venerable Fathers have embraced and the holy orthodox Doctors have venerated and followed their apostolic doctrine; knowing most fully that this See of Saint Peter remains ever free from all blemish of error, according to the divine promise of the Lord our Saviour made to the Prince of His disciples: "I have prayed for thee that thy faith fail not; and when thou art converted, confirm thy brethren."
This gift, then, of truth and never-failing faith was conferred by heaven upon Peter and his successors in this Chair, that they might perform their high office for the salvation of all; that the whole flock of Christ, kept away by them from the poisonous food of error, might be nourished with the pasture of heavenly doctrine; that, the occasion of schism being removed, the whole Church might be kept one, and resting in its foundation, might stand firm against the gates of hell.
But since in this very age, in which the salutary efficacy of the Apostolic office is most of all required, not a few are found who take away from its authority, We judge it altogether necessary solemnly to assert the prerogative which the Only-begotten Son of God vouchsafed to join with the supreme pastoral office.
Therefore, faithfully adhering to the tradition received from the beginning of the Christian faith, for the glory of God our Saviour, the exaltation of the Catholic religion, and the salvation of Christian people, with the approval of the Sacred Council, We teach and define that it is a dogma divinely revealed: that the Roman Pontiff, when he speaks ex cathedra, that is, when in discharge of the office of Pastor and Teacher of all Christians, by virtue of his supreme Apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine regarding faith or morals to be held by the universal Church, is, by the divine assistance promised to him in Blessed Peter, possessed of that infallibility with which the divine Redeemer willed that His Church should be endowed in defining doctrine regarding faith or morals; and that, therefore, such definitions of the Roman Pontiff are of themselves, and not from the consent of the Church, irreformable.
But if anyone—which may God avert!—presume to contradict this our definition, let him be anathema.
Given at Rome in public session, solemnly held in the Vatican Basilica in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and seventy, on the eighteenth day of July, in the twenty-fifth year of our Pontificate.
In conformity with the original.
JOSEPH, BISHOP OF ST POLTEN,
Secretary to the Vatican Council.
- Matthew xvi, 18.
- From the Formula of St Hormisdas, subscribed by the Fathers of the Eighth General Council (Fourth of Constantinople), A.D. 869. Labbe's Councils, vol. v, pp. 583, 622.
- From the Acts of the Fourteenth General Council (Second of Lyons), A.D. 1274. Labbe, vol. xiv, p. 512.
- From the Acts of the Seventeenth General Council (that of Florence), A.D. 1438; Labbe, vol. xviii, p. 526.
- John xxi, 15-17.
- From a letter of St Cyril of Alexandria to Pope St Celestine I, A.D. 422, vol. VI, Paris edition of 1638.
- From a Rescript of St Innocent I to the Council of Milevis, A.D. 402. Labbe, vol. III, p. 47.
- From a letter of St Bernard to Pope Innocent II, A.D. 1130; Epist. 191, vol. iv, p. 433, Paris edition of 1742.
- Luke xxii, 32. See also the Ads of the Sixth General Council A.D. 680; Labbe, vol. vii, p. 659.
- In the words used by Pope Nicholas I, note 13, and in the Synod of Quedlinburg, A.D. 1085, "It is allowed to none to revise its judgement, and to sit in judgement upon what it has judged." —Labbe, vol. XII, p. 679.