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The successor of Peter teaches infallibly

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Church
General Audience, Wednesday 17 March 1993 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. The Magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, which we explained in the preceding catechesis, belongs to and marks the high point of the mission to preach the Gospel that Jesus entrusted to the apostles and their successors. We read in Vatican II's Constitution Lumen Gentium: "Among the principal duties of bishops the preaching of the Gospel occupies an eminent place. For bishops are preachers of the faith, who lead new disciples to Christ, and they are authentic teachers, that is, teachers endowed with the authority of Christ, who preach to the people committed to them the faith they must believe and put into practice.... Bishops, teaching in communion with the Roman Pontiff, are to be respected by all as witnesses to divine and Catholic truth. In matters of faith and morals, the bishops speak in the name of Christ and the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent" (LG 25). The magisterial function of bishops, then, is strictly tied to that of the Roman Pontiff. Therefore, the conciliar text goes on aptly to say: "This religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic Magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra; that is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme Magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will. His mind and will in the matter may be known either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking" (LG 25).

2. This supreme authority of the papal Magisterium, to which the term apostolic has been traditionally reserved, even in its ordinary exercise derives from the institutional fact that the Roman Pontiff is the Successor of Peter in the mission of teaching, strengthening his brothers, and guaranteeing that the Church's preaching conforms to the "deposit of faith" of the apostles and of Christ's teaching. However, it also stems from the conviction, developed in Christian tradition, that the Bishop of Rome is also the heir to Peter in the charism of special assistance that Jesus promised him when he said: "I have prayed for you" (Lk 22:32). This signifies the Holy Spirit's continual help in the whole exercise of the teaching mission, meant to explain revealed truth and its consequences in human life. For this reason the Second Vatican Council states that all the Pope's teaching should be listened to and accepted, even when it is not given ex cathedra but is proposed in the ordinary exercise of his Magisterium with the manifest intention of declaring, recalling and confirming the doctrine of faith. It is a consequence of the institutional fact and spiritual inheritance that completes the dimensions of the succession to Peter.

3. As is known, there are cases in which the papal Magisterium is exercised solemnly regarding particular points of doctrine belonging to the deposit of revelation or closely connected with it. This is the case with ex cathedra definitions, such as those of Mary's Immaculate Conception, made by Pius IX in 1854, and of her Assumption into heaven, made by Pius XII in 1950. As we know, these definitions have provided all Catholics with certainty in affirming these truths and in excluding all doubt in the matter. The reason for ex cathedra definitions is almost always to give this certification to the truths that are to be believed as belonging to the "deposit of faith" and to exclude all doubt, or even to condemn an error about their authenticity and meaning. This is the greatest and also the formal concentration of the doctrinal mission conferred by Jesus on the apostles and, in their person, on their successors.

4. Given the extraordinary greatness and importance that this Magisterium has for the faith, Christian tradition has recognized in the Successor of Peter, who exercises it personally or in communion with the bishops gathered in council, a charism of assistance from the Holy Spirit that is customarily called "infallibility." Here is what Vatican I said on the matter: "When the Roman Pontiff speaks ex cathedra, that is, when in exercising his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians he defines with his supreme apostolic authority that a doctrine on faith and morals is to be held by the whole Church, through the divine assistance promised him in the person of St. Peter, he enjoys that infallibility with which the divine Redeemer wished to endow his Church in defining a doctrine on faith and morals. Therefore, these definitions of the Roman Pontiff are unreformable per se, and not because of the Church's consent" (DS 3074). This doctrine was taken up again, confirmed and further explained by Vatican II, which states: "And this is the infallibility which the Roman Pontiff, the head of the college of bishops, enjoys in virtue of his office, when, as the supreme shepherd and teacher of all the faithful, who confirms his brethren in their faith (cf. Lk 22:32), by a definitive act he proclaims a doctrine of faith or morals. And therefore his definitions, of themselves, and not from the consent of the Church, are justly styled irreformable, since they are pronounced with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, promised to him in blessed Peter, and therefore they need no approval of others, nor do they allow an appeal to any other judgment. For then the Roman Pontiff is not pronouncing judgment as a private person, but, as the supreme teacher of the universal Church, in whom the charism of infallibility of the Church itself is individually present, he is expounding or defending a doctrine of Catholic faith" (LG 25).

5. It should be noted that the Second Vatican Council also calls attention to the Magisterium of the bishops in union with the Roman Pontiff, stressing that they too enjoy the Holy Spirit's assistance when they define a point of faith in conjunction with the Successor of Peter: "The infallibility promised to the Church resides also in the body of Bishops, when that body exercises the supreme Magisterium with the Successor of Peter.... But when either the Roman Pontiff or the body of bishops together with him defines a judgment, they pronounce it in accordance with revelation itself, which all are obliged to abide by and be in conformity with, that is, the revelation which as written or orally handed down is transmitted in its entirety through the legitimate succession of bishops...which under the guiding light of the Spirit of truth is religiously preserved and faithfully expounded in the Church" (LG 25). The Council also says: "Although the individual bishops do not enjoy the prerogative of infallibility, they nevertheless proclaim Christ's doctrine infallibly whenever, even though dispersed through the world, but still maintaining the bond of communion among themselves and with the Successor of Peter, and authentically teaching matters of faith and morals, they are in agreement on one position as definitively to be held. This is even more clearly verified when, gathered together in an ecumenical council, they are teachers and judges of faith and morals for the universal Church, whose definitions must be adhered to with the submission of faith. And this infallibility with which the divine Redeemer willed his Church to be endowed in defining doctrine of faith and morals, extends as far as the deposit of revelation extends" (LG 25).

6. These conciliar texts codify as it were the awareness which the apostles already had when they assembled in Jerusalem: "It is the decision of the Holy Spirit, and ours too..." (Acts 15:28). This awareness confirmed Jesus' promise to send the Spirit of truth to the apostles and the Church once he had returned to the Father after offering the sacrifice of the cross: "He will teach you everything and remind you of all I told you" (Jn 14:26). That promise was fulfilled at Pentecost and the apostles continued to feel its life.

The Church inherited that awareness and memory from them."

After the Catechesis, Papa Giovanni Paolo II greeted the pilgrims in various languages

A bambini e giovani studenti

Carissimi Ragazzi e Giovani! Vi accolgo con gioia, e vorrei salutare personalmente ciascuno di voi. Non potendolo fare, dico a tutti: benvenuti in questa Basilica, centro della Cristianità! Grazie per il vostro entusiasmo e per l’amore che nutrite verso Cristo; grazie anche per l’affetto che dimostrate al suo Vicario in terra, il successore dell’apostolo Pietro. Gesù amava stare con i fanciulli ed i giovani, e ha insegnato agli apostoli a fare altrettanto. Egli vi ama ed ha fiducia in voi. Anche il Papa vi vuole bene e conta sul vostro aiuto: voi siete la speranza della Chiesa, il futuro della nostra società. Siatene sempre ben persuasi, preparatevi ad assumere da grandi le vostre responsabilità e cercate di offrire ai vostri coetanei una testimonianza cristiana coerente e gioiosa.

Molti fra voi sono studenti, in particolare vorrei ricordare gli alunni dell’Istituto “Camilli” di Ostia e del Liceo Internazionale di Roma, come pure quelli della Scuola media “Francesco De Sanctis” di Cervinara (Avellino) e delle Scuole elementari dell’“Arca” di Legnano, dell’“Arcobaleno” di Pavia e del “Geis” di Arese; altri si preparano alla Prima Comunione e alla Cresima. In modo speciale ricordo il folto gruppo della parrocchia dell’Immacolata di Foggia, comprendente, oltre ai ragazzi, i catechisti e i genitori. Carissimi, il Signore vi invita tutti a seguirlo, a divenire suoi discepoli. E mentre ammirate lo splendore di questa Basilica, le sue luci e le sue decorazioni, dite a voi stessi: ecco, voglio che la mia anima, la mia vita risplenda così; voglio essere un riflesso della luce che Gesù ha portato tra gli uomini. Se farete questo, diventerete amici veri di Gesù, sarete come alberi piantati vicino a un fiume ricco di acqua, e i vostri frutti saranno abbondanti e buoni. Vi lascio queste parole come un augurio per la prossima Pasqua. Vi accompagno tutti con la mia benedizione: portatela anche alle vostre famiglie.

Ai giovani

Siamo molto grati al Signore che ci ha portato questi ospiti da una terra lontana, da una città lontana, ma speriamo adesso più vicina. Preghiamo nello spirito della Quaresima preparandoci alle festività pasquali. Preghiamo uniti a Cristo: questo è il periodo in cui la Chiesa vuole essere più che mai unita a Gesù, unita alla sua Parola, al Vangelo, unita alla sua Passione per essere unita alla sua Risurrezione nel Giorno di Pasqua. Questa è la Verità e la Vita che ci ha lasciato nostro Signore Cristo Gesù.

Saluto in modo speciale i bambini ed i ragazzi ammalati che si trovano tra noi, loro meritano un amore speciale da tutti ed una preghiera continua.

Ai fedeli di lingua francese

Chers Frères et Sœurs,

J’accueille avec plaisir les pèlerins de langue française, notamment les jeunes.

J’adresse un salut particulier aux membres du Comité des Organisations internationales catholiques, que j’encourage dans leur témoignage et leur apostolat en Eglise. Je salue aussi cordialement les Pères Blancs, dans le souvenir de mes récentes rencontres avec eux en Afrique. Et je souhaite au groupe de prêtres de Montréal un séjour à Rome aussi agréable qu’utile à leur ministère.

Sur vous tous, j’invoque la Bénédiction du Seigneur en ce temps de montée vers Pâques.

Ai pellegrini di espressione inglese

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I am pleased to greet the Knights and Ladies of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem from the Western United States. I thank all of you for your efforts to support the Church’s mission in the Holy Land. My greetings also go to the crew of H. M. S. Nottingham and to the officers and men of the United States Armed Forces. Upon all the English–speaking pilgrims and visitors I cordially invoke the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Ai fedeli giapponesi

Carissimi componenti dei vari gruppi provenienti da ogni parte del Giappone. Vi esorto a coltivare sempre meglio i valori morali del vostro stato: l’armonia dello spirito che deve accompagnare le note musicali e i colori; e la salute dello spirito che è ancor più necessaria di quella del corpo.

Ai fedeli di lingua tedesca

Liebe Schwestern und Brüder!

Mit dieser kurzen Betrachtung heibe ich die deutschsprachigen Pilger und Besucher sehr herzlich willkommen. Mein besonderer Grub gilt der Pilgergruppe aus Tirol, die sich anläblich der Feiern zum 100. Geburtstag von Anna Dengel, der Gründerin der ”Missonsärztlichen Schwestern“, in Rom aufhält, ferner den Seelsorgern, Ärzten, Schwestern und dem Pflegepersonal des St.–JosephsKrankenhauses in Freiburg sowie der Gruppe von Aussiedlern aus Nordrhein–Westfalen. Euch, liebe Schwestern und Brüder, Euren Angehörigen in der Heimat und all jenen, die uns in diesem Augenblick geistlich verbunden sind, erteile ich von Herzen meinen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai fedeli della Spagna e dell’America Latina

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

Saludo ahora muy cordialmente a todos los peregrinos y visitantes de los distintos países de América Latina y de España. En particular, a la peregrinación proveniente de El Salvador, a las Comunidades Neocatecumenales de España, a los miembros de la Federación provincial de Agrupaciones de Empresarios de la Construcción, de Cádiz, así como a los alumnos y profesores del Instituto Nervión, de Sevilla, y a la peregrinación de la parroquia de San Cipriano, de Toledo. A todos imparto con afecto la Bendición Apostólica.

Ai pellegrini di lingua portoghese

Saúdo todos vós, queridos Irmãos de língua portuguesa, e dou–vos a minha Bênção Apostólica, extensiva aos vossos familiares: Deus vos faça prosseguir, seguros e concordes na verdade revelada, a vossa marcha penitencial rumo à Páscoa eterna!

Ai fedeli venuti dalla Polonia

Nastepujace grupy: z parafii Najświętszej Maryi Panny Matki Kościoła w Warszawie – pielgrzymka młodzieży, z kolei dzieci ze szkoły podstawowej w Józefowie koło Otwocka z diecezji Warszawa–Praga, z parafii św. Katarzyny z Miedźna w archidiecezji częstochowskiej, z parafii Najświętszego Serca Pana Jezusa z Chorzowa–Batorego w archidiecezji katowickiej, młodzież z Mosiny koło Poznania, z Kozienic w diecezji radomskiej – parafia Św. Krzyża, grupa turystyczna “ Mistral ” – Katowice, grupa turystyczna “ Marmara ” – Łódź oraz wszyscy inni obecni na tej audiencji Polacy, zarówno z kraju, jak i z emigracji.

Ai gruppi di pellegrini italiani

Nel rivolgere ora il saluto ai pellegrini di lingua italiana, mi è particolarmente gradito esprimere il mio benvenuto al gruppo dei rappresentanti della Polizia di Stato. Saluto il Signor Vicecapo Vicario della Polizia, Dottor Umberto Pierantoni, i Signori Prefetti e Questori Direttori, i Dirigenti e i vari gruppi di Agenti, che fanno parte della Questura di Roma, degli Istituti per Funzionari ed Ispettori, delle Scuole per Sovrintendenti ed Agenti. Un pensiero beneaugurante va specialmente ai Cappellani della Polizia, guidati dal loro Coordinatore, Monsignor Alberto Alberti. Auspico che la presenza dei Cappellani in mezzo a voi, giovani Agenti, valga a sostenervi nel servizio sociale che vi è proprio e ad orientare le vostre coscienze soprattutto nei momenti di prova. Su tutti voi invoco la protezione della Vergine Santissima e del vostro Patrono, San Michele Arcangelo.

Agli ammalati e alle coppie di sposi novelli

Il tempo di Quaresima è una grande occasione di rinnovamento. Voi, ammalati, offrite al Signore la vostra Croce, facendo del dolore una preghiera, che strappi al cuore di Dio il dono della pace. Voi, sposi novelli, che sperimentate la gioia della grazia sacramentale appena ricevuta, non dimenticate mai che l’amore vero si conquista giorno per giorno al calore e alla luce dell’amore divino. A tutti imparto la mia benedizione.

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