Lesson 19 – Authority and Infallibility

Peace be to you

“The Peck Order.”

When I was boy I used to go out to a farm during the summer and I often noticed how chickens used to peck one another.  At that time, I did not know the meaning of it. Then just a few years ago there appeared an article in Scientific America(n) entitled The Peck Order.” 

Some scientist, much more curious that I was, marked each chicken in the barnyard a little bit differently so he could spot them. And he noticed that there was a kind of a hierarchy and authority. A “400” among the chickens and that when they lined up to eat, say “chicken 25” that lived on the wrong side of the tracks would always be at the far end, the last one to be fed or else stayed at the end of the barnyard.

Then the chickens would begin to try and get into the 400 and chicken 22 would peck 21 and if 21 ran away then 22 became 21 and this is now known in scientific order as the Peck Order of Chickens.

  • We know that it exists among human beings. We peck at one another in the business world to try to get ahead, trample upon one another.

Monkeys do the same thing.  Monkey trainers will always watch a group of monkeys to discover which one is the leader.  Then they train the leader and all of the others follow. 

I say that this striving for authority is both in the animal kingdom and in the human order, but when the good Lord came to this earth, he did away with peck orderAnd he introduced an entirely new principle:

  • That the first should be last and the most important should be servant of all. (Mark 9:35)

Entirely new principle:

We notice this in two incidents in the life of our blessed Lord.

  1. One was the night of the Last Supper. Here the 12 apostles were gathered about our blessed Lord and he took off his outer robe, girded himself with a towel and began washing the feet of the apostles. (Ref Jn 13:4)  When he finished he said:

“You call me Lord and Master and you do well.  I am your Lord and Master, but if I wash your feet, then you wash the feet of one another.” (John 13:13-15)

And he said among the Gentiles: “He who is greatest lords it over the others.” (Mat 20:25)

He told his apostles to be the least. (Ref Luke 22:25-27)

  • Here was the introduction of something new in the order of authority. Namely, authority is for service and particularly those who are low and least.


  1. Then he introduced another idea after his Resurrection. The scene was alongside of the Sea of Galilee the Sunday after the Resurrection. There were seven (7) men out in a boat fishing and our blessed Lord appeared on the shore. (Ref John 21:1-14)

John was the first to recognize our blessed Lord and he said, “It’s the Lord.”  And the impetuous Peter dives into the sea, swims the 100 yards to the shore, then if you read the Scriptures carefully you will find that a few verses later Peter is back in the boat again.

Now I wonder why he did that?  He helped the others drag in the fish, I think the reason is that, when he came to the shore, he saw our blessed Lord standing near a fire and that reminded him of another fire about 10 days before.


  • The fire in the courtyard of Caiaphas (John 18:15-18) and Peter then remembered that

he had denied our Lord, so he got away from him.

Now when he comes back, our Lord now gives to Peter authority over the Church. Our Lord had called himself the Good Shepherd, he now makes him a shepherd. As our Lord in the Scripture is called the Rock in the Old Testament many, (ref 2 Sa 22:2)  many times so he made Peter a little rock of His Church.


Condition upon which he conferred authority upon Peter:

But what was the condition upon which he conferred authority upon Peter?  What did he say before he gave authority, feed my lambs, feed my sheep? (Jn 21:16)

  • Three (3) times he said, “Do you love me? Do you love me? Do you love me more than these?” (Ref John 21:14-17)
  • And only after Peter said, “Yes Lord I love you.” (John 21:15)
  • Incidentally, the Greek word, which St. Peter used, was a very weak word – I love you in a kind of a human natural way. Peter was not going to affirm greater love than he could now actually show. But the point is that authority is not only for service, authority is to be exercised because one loves.

Service and Love. 

This was the new principal of authority introduced into the world. Service and Love. 

  • Now a second point: how did our blessed Lord exercise his authority? And how did he propose to continue that authority through the centuries?
  • First of all, how did he exercise his authority?

He exercised his authority always through his human nature.  Because you believed in the divinity of Christ, if you heard him speak you would hear just human lips moving.  But you would say that it is the Son of God who speaks.

So our blessed Lord Taught, he Governed, he Sanctified through this Human Nature, through this Body of His, it was the instrument of his authority.

  • Just as, for example, I write through a pencil, so he exercised His Divine Powers and communicated his Truth through this Human Nature, which he took from Mary.
  • A step higher, he now proposes to communicate this power, this truth, this authority and he communicates it to his apostles and the apostles became his New Body. Not a physical body, we sometimes call it a Mystical Body.


 “I am the Truth.”

  • And he wills to communicate now his truth, his authority, his power to his apostles whom he had chosen with Peter as the head.
  • Now our blessed Lord who had said, “I am the Truth.” (John 14:6-7)

Every other teacher said, “Here’s the truth in this code in this doctrine.”  Our Lord said, “I am the Truth.”  (John 14:6-7)

  • Now to this Body of the Apostles to his Church he said, “My truth I give to you. He that heareth you, heareth me. He that despises you, despises me.” (Luke 10:16)
  • There was no doubt that he was communicating his Truth and his Power. He said, “All power is given to me in heaven and on earth.” (Matthew 28:18)

He sends them out to teach all nations, to forgive sins and bidding others to do all things that he had commanded.

  • So that just as once, he was communicating his Power through his own Personal Human Nature so now he is doing it through his Corporate Human Nature which is the Church.


 Now what was this Church like at the beginning?

  • Well it was made up of the 12 apostles with Peter as the head.
  • Our Lord did not first choose Peter and then the other 11.

College of Apostles

  • He chose the 12 and then he put Peter at the top. After all, everybody has to have a head and he made him the Rock of the Church so that the apostles are what

might be called a college, a College of Apostles.  And Peter who was the head was the first Vicar of Christ, the first Pope.


  • Our Lord said now that this truth and this power that he communicated to them was to continue even to the consummation of the world.

Well how was it continued?

  • The Bishops of the Church are the continuators of the Apostles. The Pontiffs, the Vicars of Christ, the Pope, are the successors of Peter. So that today the church is governed by the college of the apostles, the college of bishops, what is called the Collegiality of Bishops, with Peter as their head. And they can no more do without Peter as their head than the apostles could have done without Peter as their head because our blessed Lord named Peter as the head.


Now let’s take up the Bishops.

What are Bishops anyway?  Well, fortunately, I am talking to you through a record and you do not know me well and do not judge the Bishops of the Church by me.  But I will tell you what a Bishop is.

  • One of his functions is to be something like a curious list of names that appears in the genealogy of the human nature of our blessed Lord in the gospel of Matthew. (Ref MT 1:1-16)  For example, Aminidab begot Nanon, Nanon begot Solomon and so on so forth. Remember all the begats in the gospel? Now what was this?  This long list of Judges and Kings and Prophets and men of the Old Testament were a kind of a proof that our blessed Lord was the one who was expected through the centuries.

I can show you my line

These men are unimportant that are mentioned, they were not all good men.  Some of them were very imperfect but they just happen to belong to a family tree and if you would ever challenge our blessed Lord and said, “We know that the one who is to come belongs to the tribe of Judah and also is a descendent of Abraham, our blessed Lord would have pointed to his family tree and he would say, “There you are, there’s the proof.  I can show you my line.”  That was the purpose of these rather insignificant men.


   Now you come to the Bishops.  Who are they and what function do they perform?

Well one of their functions is this.

  • They are witnesses in this century of the fact that the truth, which they teach, goes back to our blessed Lord himself. And you say,

“Where did you get your authority?”  Suppose you asked me that.  Where did you get your power to be a bishop?  Well, I was consecrated in Rome by Cardinal Piazza and I know who consecrated Cardinal Piazza and I know that the one who consecrated Cardinal Piazza was in turn consecrated by Pope Pius X and then from Pope Pius X it’s easy to go all the way back to Peter.

So, the Bishops in this day and age, you see, fulfill somewhat the same function as this long genealogical line did in proving that our blessed Lord belonged to the royal line of David.

   Now that’s not all of the functions but this is rather important because, well we have a number of wires in this room and suppose the wire to which this microphone is attached was put within 6 inches of the electric outlet.  Do you think that you would hear what I am saying?  Suppose we put the wire 1500 inches from the plug or 1 inch, no current! Why? Too far away from the source.

Follow the Line:

So, if you want to know where does the truth, where does the authority of the church come from you have to be able to follow the line, follow the line of bishops, follow them back to the dynamo, to the seat of power, to the seat of truth, follow it back to Christ himself. 

And if anyone starts a church 10 years after our blessed Lord ascended into heaven, too late, too late, no power, no energy. That is one of the functions of bishops.

  • Then the bishops, too, remember are called to be shepherds and going back to the authority of our blessed Lord we do not belong to a peck order. We bishops are supposed to be servants.

You laity are not our servants.

Priests are not our servants, we are theirs and we are not just administrators, we are shepherds, we can turn into administrators in an affluent rich country but that is not what the Lord wants us to be.

  • We are to be shepherds, and furthermore, we are not just the head of a diocese, we are first consecrated for the world, then for the diocese.
  • Then we are related one to another but, just like your arms and your legs and all of the veins and vessels of your body would be useless unless you had a head,
  • We have no authority except in virtue of our communion with the head, who is the Vicar of Christ, the successor of Peter. Without this, our authority is in vain.

  Infallibility of the successor of Peter, of the Pope:

Now you have heard much about the infallibility of the successor of Peter, of the Pope. Honestly if there is anything which people do not understand is this notion of infallibility.

  • I heard one woman saying to another woman one day, “Oh,” she said, “You know the Catholics believe that the Pope is omniscient, he knows all things.” And the first woman said “Oh no that isn’t true. They don’t believe he is omniscient, but,” she says, “they do believe that he is inflammable.”  Well that’s true.

Infallibility meaning:

We do believe he is “inflammable” and what does infallibility mean, infallibility is not a personal gift.

If you ever visit the Holy Father and you say to the Holy Father, “I am very interested in the stock market would you tell me if I should invest in General Motors?”  And supposed he said, “Yes, I think General Motors is a good investment.”  Listen, that’s no more infallible a statement that what I am making to you.

  • He is infallible only when he functions as the Head of the Church, and I will mention some other conditions a little later on.
  • Furthermore, infallibility is not a positive gift, it is a negative gift. Infallibility is taken from two Latin words. “In” and falor,not to be mistaken.”
  • Our blessed Lord said to Peter that the gates of hell, that is to say the judgments of error and sin, would not touch him or His Church. (ref Mt 16:18)
  • It’s not a positive gift. He cannot, for example, make an infallible statement on literature or science.
  • Many people think that infallibility is like a faucet, that the Holy Father goes to this great faucet of infallibility, turns it on, and the truths just pour out.
  • No that’s not infallibility, infallibility is a levy, it’s a levy that prevents the river of truth from overflowing and destroying the countryside.

The difference between a river and a swamp is that the swamp has no banks or limits, and a river has.

And to be infallible the Holy Father must fulfill 3 conditions.

  1. One, he must speak as the Head of the Church, that is to say, the head of the Church composed of all of the bishops of the Church.
  2. Secondly, he must speak on the subject of Faith and Morals and
  3. thirdly, he must address himself to the entire Church and not to any member of it or not to any one country.

Many a pontiff goes through life without making one single infallible decision.  Not a one.

Why Obey the Authority of the Church?

  • Now this is the authority of the church and many people wonder, why is it we obey the church? After all, it’s hard to obey some human beings that we see but they are only the gloves, inside is the hand of Christ. And we obey them because they are the representatives of Christ.
  • We obey Christ and that gives us tremendous amount of consolation to have Divine Truths in those things, which concern the Soul.
  • For the world, well, the authority is “They.” Something anonymous, everybody follows the styles, or they say, “Everybody’s doing it.”
  • Oh no, right is right if nobody is right and wrong is wrong if everybody is wrong.
  • And believe me, in this error-infested world, what we really need is a Church and an Authority that is right, not when the world is right, but one that is right when the world is wrong.

God Love You

1.  In today’s lesson on Authority and Infallibility – what stood out the most to you?



2.  Why do you think Bishop Sheen gave the title “Freedom and License ” to this lesson?


3. How would you explain to someone seeking a deeper understanding of – The Pope , his authority and Infallibility – his role in our Salvation?


4. Now that you have learned more about The Pope , his authority and Infallibility  and his  role in your Salvation  –  what changes do you think this will have in your daily life?



889. “In order to preserve the Church in the purity of the faith handed on 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 the guidance of the Church’s living Magisterium, ‘unfailingly adheres to this faith.'[LG 12; cf. DV 10.]”


890. “The mission of the Magisterium is linked to the definitive nature of the covenant established by God with his people in Christ. It is this Magisterium’s task to preserve God’s people from deviations and defections and to guarantee them the objective possibility of professing the true faith without error. Thus, the pastoral duty of the Magisterium is aimed at seeing to it that the People of God abides in the truth that liberates. To fulfill this service, Christ endowed the Church’s shepherds with the charism of INFALLIBILITY in matters of faith and morals. The exercise of this charism takes several forms: “


891. “‘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 – who confirms his brethren in the faith he proclaims by a definitive act a doctrine pertaining to faith or morals…. 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.[LG 25; cf. Vatican Council I: DS 3074.] When the Church through its supreme Magisterium proposes a doctrine ‘for belief as being divinely revealed,’[DV 10 # 2.] and as the teaching of Christ, the definitions ‘must be adhered to with the obedience of faith.’[LG 25 # 2.] This INFALLIBILITY extends as far as the deposit of divine Revelation itself.[Cf. LG 25.]


2035. “The supreme degree of participation in the authority of Christ is ensured by the charism of INFALLIBILITY. This INFALLIBILITY extends as far as does the deposit of divine Revelation; it also extends to all those elements of doctrine, including morals, without which the saving truths of the faith cannot be preserved, explained, or observed.[Cf. LG 25; CDF, declaration, Mysterium Ecclesiae 3.]


2051. “The INFALLIBILITY of the Magisterium of the Pastors extends to all the elements of doctrine, including moral doctrine, without which the saving truths of the faith cannot be preserved, expounded, or observed.”




816. “‘The sole Church OF Christ (is that) which our Savior, after his Resurrection, entrusted to Peter’s pastoral care, commissioning him and the other apostles to extend and rule it…. This Church, constituted and organized as a society in the present world, subsists in (subsistit in) in) the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor OF Peter and by the BISHOPS in communion with him.'[LG 8 # 2.]
The Second Vatican Council’s Decree on Ecumenism explains: ‘For it is through Christ’s Catholic Church alone, which is the universal help toward salvation, that the fullness OF the means OF salvation can be obtained. It was to the apostolic COLLEGE alone, OF which Peter is the head, that we believe that our Lord entrusted all the blessings OF the New Covenant, in order to establish on earth the one Body OF Christ into which all those should be fully incorporated who belong in any way to the People OF'[UR 3 # 5.]”


857. “The Church is apostolic because she is founded on the apostles, in three ways:
– she was and remains built on ‘the foundation
OF the Apostles,’[Eph 2:20 ; Rev 21:14.] the witnesses chosen and sent on mission by Christ himself;[Cf. Mt 28:16-20 ; Acts 1:8 ; 1 Cor 9:1 ; 1 Cor 15:7-8 ; Gal 1:1 ; etc.]
– with the help
OF the Spirit dwelling in her, the Church keeps and hands on the teaching,[Cf. Acts 2:42 .] the ‘good deposit,’ the salutary words she has heard from the apostles;[Cf. 2 Tim 1:13-14 .]
– she continues to be taught, sanctified, and guided by the apostles until Christ’s return, through their successors in pastoral office: the
COLLEGE OF BISHOPS, ‘assisted by priests, in union with the successor OF Peter, the Church’s supreme pastor’:[AG 5.]
You are the eternal Shepherd who never leaves his flock untended. Through the apostles you watch over us and protect us always. You made them shepherds
OF the flock to share in the work OF your Son….[Roman Missal, Preface OF the Apostles I.]


869. “The Church is apostolic. She is built on a lasting foundation: ‘the twelve apostles OF the Lamb’ [Rev 21:14.]. She is indestructible (cf. Mt 16:18). She is upheld infallibly in the truth: Christ governs her through Peter and the other apostles, who are present in their successors, the Pope and the COLLEGE OF BISHOPS.”


880. “When Christ instituted the Twelve, ‘he constituted (them) in the form OF a COLLEGE or permanent assembly, at the head OF which he placed Peter, chosen from among them.’[LG 19; cf. Lk 6:13 ; Jn 21:15-17 .] Just as ‘by the Lord’s institution, St. Peter and the rest OF the apostles constitute a single apostolic COLLEGE, so in like fashion the Roman Pontiff, Peter’s successor, and the BISHOPS, the successors OF the apostles, are related with and united to one another.’[LG 22; cf. CIC, can. 330.]


881. “The Lord made Simon alone, whom he named Peter, the ‘rock’ OF his Church. He gave him the keys OF his Church and instituted him shepherd OF the whole flock.[Cf. Mt 16:18-19 ; Jn 21:15-17 .] ‘The office OF binding and loosing which was given to Peter was also assigned to the COLLEGE OF apostles united to its head.’[LG 22 # 2.] This pastoral office OF Peter and the other apostles belongs to the Church’s very foundation and is continued by the BISHOPS under the primacy OF the Pope.”


883. “‘The COLLEGE or body OF BISHOPS has no authority unless united with the Roman Pontiff, Peter’s successor, as its head.’ As such, this COLLEGE has ‘supreme and full authority over the universal Church; but this power cannot be exercised without the agreement OF the Roman Pontiff.’[LG 22; cf. CIC, can 336.]


884. “‘The COLLEGE OF BISHOPS exercises power over the universal Church in a solemn manner in an ecumenical council.’[CIC, can. 337 # 1.] But ‘there never is an ecumenical council which is not confirmed or at least recognized as such by Peter’s successor.’[LG 22.]


886. “‘The individual BISHOPS are the visible source and foundation OF unity in their own particular Churches.’[LG 23.] As such, they ‘exercise their pastoral office over the portion OF the People OF God assigned to them,’[LG 23.] assisted by priests and deacons. But, as a member OF the episcopal COLLEGE, each bishop shares in the concern for all the Churches.[Cf. CD 3.] The BISHOPS exercise this care first ‘by ruling well their own Churches as portions OF the universal Church,’ and so contributing ‘to the welfare OF the whole Mystical Body, which, from another point OF view, is a corporate body OF[LG 23.] They extend it especially to the poor,[Cf. Gal 2:10 .] to those persecuted for the faith, as well as to missionaries who are working throughout the world.” 


891. “‘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 – who confirms his brethren in the faith he proclaims by a definitive act a doctrine pertaining to faith or morals…. 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.[LG 25; cf. Vatican Council I: DS 3074.] When the Church through its supreme Magisterium proposes a doctrine ‘for belief as being divinely revealed,’[DV 10 # 2.] and as the teaching OF Christ, the definitions ‘must be adhered to with the obedience OF[LG 25 # 2.] This infallibility extends as far as the deposit OF divine Revelation itself.[Cf. LG 25.]


936. “The Lord made St. Peter the visible foundation OF his Church. He entrusted the keys OF the Church to him. The bishop OF the Church OF Rome, successor to St. Peter, is ‘head OF the COLLEGE OF BISHOPS, the Vicar OF Christ and Pastor OF the universal Church on earth’ [CIC, can. 331.].” 


1559. “‘One is constituted a member OF the episcopal body in virtue OF the sacramental consecration and by the hierarchical communion with the head and members OF the COLLEGE.’[LG 22.] The character and collegial nature OF the episcopal order are evidenced among other ways by the Church’s ancient practice which calls for several BISHOPS to participate in the consecration OF a new bishop.[Cf. LG 22.] In our day, the lawful ordination OF a bishop requires a special intervention OF the Bishop OF Rome, because he is the supreme visible bond OF the communion OF the particular Churches in the one Church and the guarantor OF their freedom.”


1577. “‘Only a baptized man (vir) validly receives sacred ordination.’[CIC, can. 1024.] The Lord Jesus chose men (viri) to form the COLLEGE OF the twelve apostles, and the apostles did the same when they chose collaborators to succeed them in their ministry.[Cf. Mk 3:14-19 ; Lk 6:12-16 ; 1 Tim 3:1-13 ; 2 Tim 1:6 ; Titus 1:5-9 ; St. Clement OF Rome, Ad Cor. 42, 4; 44, 3: PG 1, 292-293; 300.] The COLLEGE OF BISHOPS, with whom the priests are united in the priesthood, makes the COLLEGE OF the twelve an ever-present and ever-active reality until Christ’s return. The Church recognizes herself to be bound by this choice made by the Lord himself. For this reason the ordination OF women is not possible.[Cf. John Paul II, MD 26-27; CDF, declaration, Inter insigniores: AAS 69 (1977) 98-116.]


1594. “The bishop receives the fullness OF the sacrament OF Holy Orders, which integrates him into the episcopal COLLEGE and makes him the visible head OF the particular Church entrusted to him. As successors OF the apostles and members OF the COLLEGE, the BISHOPS share in the apostolic responsibility and mission OF the whole Church under the authority OF the Pope, successor OF Peter. “

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