The use of infallibility in Catholic theology is rather restrictive; it is a Catholic dogma and has been taught through the ages. It means that, by Divine assistance, the Church (of Christ), is preserved from error, or even the possibility of error, in definitive dogmatic teachings regarding faith and morals. This does not mean that individual believers are infallible in their subjective interpretations and it does not require a holiness of life after all, Caiaphas was given the greater gift of prophecy when he condemned Christ. Surely a lesser gift would not require more. Christ intended every person to be part of His Church and that the Church be one in faith and worship. In doing so, He established a visible Church and gave authority to the apostles and their successors, exclusively, in order to teach and govern.
Infallibility differs from inspiration in that inspiration is a special Divine influence that not only preserves from error (inerrant) but controls what the subject can say or write as the Word of God. Inspiration directly makes God the author of inspired utterances whereas infallibility only preserves the subject from error. In the case of infallibility, God is not the author.
Church (ekklesia) has a wide range of meanings. In Scripture, the Church is presented as the body of Christ both visible and invisible. Catholics divide the Church into three subgroups the Church Militant, the Church Suffering, and the Church Triumphant. The Church Triumphant is the Church in heaven, the Church Suffering means the souls in purgatory, while the Church Militant refers to those alive on earth. Within the Church Militant there is quite a variety of terms employed by Scripture. For instance, sometimes the Scriptures refer to a single locality, sometimes to a single household while others it refers to those who exercise a teaching office and rule over the faithful. It is this last definition that we will address when referring to an infallible Church.
Biblical proofs on the infallibility of the Church:
Matthew 28:18-20: And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.”
We see here, and in the shorter commission in Mark 16:15-16, that Jesus commissioned the apostles right before His ascension to heaven. It is imperative to understand that this commission cannot be only for the apostles but must also be for their successors since the eleven were tasked to make disciples of all nations “to the close of the age.”
“All authority,” or another rendering would be “All power” as rendered by the Douay Rheims, is pretty clear. There is no greater authority/power than God’s authority/power and here it is being passed to the apostles. This cannot be understood as merely human guidance but of a Divine, supernatural assistance instead. This is reiterated also, and made clear that this is not of human origin but of Divine origin, in Acts 1:8 when Jesus says “you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.”
Jesus also instructs the apostles here to teach the nations. Those that are instructed by the apostles are to receive this teaching as if it were Jesus Himself teaching them. Since Jesus cannot be fallible, this doctrine must be seen as infallible. If we assume that Jesus wanted the Divine truth that He taught to be passed on from generation to generation to all men in all ages and for it to be free from corruption, we cannot also assume that this could be effectively accomplished without a living breathing voice who could speak infallibly throughout the generations. In other words, there cannot be, without infallibility, any finality when disputes arise regarding the truth of Christ. For instance, if the early Church was not infallible in their definition of the Trinity, there is no compelling reason to condemn Arius and his beliefs as being untrue. There would be no reason not to revive this ancient belief and consider it true unless the early Church was indeed infallible in this definition.
History has shown a need for an infallible Church. Since Christ intended a unity in faith, He may have foreseen this need when these ancient heresies, such as Arianism, or even recent events with the denominationalism of Protestant sects. Nothing short of an infallible authority which could act decisively when called upon would suffice. If the early Church was fallible, which means then their definitions were also fallible, then what is to keep people from reinterpreting them, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses on the Trinity? Nothing! We could only know a relative truth and not an absolute truth. One cannot hold that a fallible doctrinal teaching cannot be reformed or revised or even completely abandoned.
We must then conclude that since Jesus wanted the truth to be taught, that the Church be one and His promise to be with us always that the Church does have the ability to claim infallibility and history shows this.
Matthew 16:18: And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.
Let’s start with the predominant Protestant view on this verse. If the Church is built upon the rock, which Protestants believe this verse refers to Jesus as the rock, then the Church must therefore be infallible since Christ cannot err in definitive declarations of faith and morals. If the Church is fallible then the powers of death (commonly referred to by Protestant scholars as both Hades and Satan) has overcome the Church in matters of faith and morals since untrue doctrines can be promulgated as definitive. It would be silly to contend that for nearly 2000 years (or even 1500 years as some claim that the Reformation corrected these "incorrect" doctrine) that the Church erred in the vast majority of her dogmatic definitions if Jesus has delivered His Doctrine and that it would be preserved for all ages as the truth.
John 14:16-17: And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him; you know him, for he dwells with you, and will be in you.
John 16:13: When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.
It is clear in these two passages that there is a promise of infallibility. These passages are talking about once Jesus ascends to the Father. The Holy Spirit is responsible for the teaching of the Church. Since the Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity this makes the Holy Spirit’s teaching necessarily infallible.
1 Timothy 3:15: if I am delayed, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth.
To read this and to continue to say that Jesus intended a fallible Church is simply poor exegesis. If Jesus intended a fallible Church, the fact that the Church is “the pillar and bulwark of the truth” would necessarily be false. However we can see the complete opposite in how the apostles taught and preached. In 1 Thessalonians 2:13 we see that Paul believes he is passing on the Word of God by mouth and that he has the authority to call it the Word of God. In Galatians 1:8 Paul again asserts his authority but takes it one step further this time by anathematizing (excommunicate) anyone who preaches a different gospel than what Paul himself teaches and preaches. If the gospel wasn’t fixed and irreformable then Paul would be anathematizing a person for no reason. Paul even falls back on the authority of the Church when his own authority was challenged in Galatians 2:2-9 proving to his readers that his gospel message was in complete agreement with the other apostles. We see this even with the Ethiopian eunuch who admits that he cannot know what the Scriptures mean without a teacher. A fallible teacher would not be any use to the eunuch, since he admits that he himself is fallible, but an infallible teacher would be of great use. The apostles clearly believed the Church to be infallible and that it was their mission to teach and preach the truth until the end of time. Not merely to hand someone the Scriptures and say “go at it.”
Acts 15:1-35: Again too long to quote in full however it is provided through the link.
Ahhh the Council of Jerusalem. The question of whether this is the Word of God because it is in Scripture or whether it is the Word of God because it happened needs to be asked. The answer is both. We see here that the apostles believed that they were exercising God’s authority. The question that detractors must ask is whether the apostles would act this way had they not sincerely believed that they could act with God’s authority? Simply put, no. The Holy Spirit even saw it right to include this instance in Scripture.
Surely a group of fallible men cannot come together to create an infallible group.
If this were a product of mere human reason then this would hold true. However, even detractors would agree that God can guide a fallible man to be infallible. The charism pertains not to the specific person but to the office(s) held.
Surely infallibility would prevent schisms and heresies from happening within the Church.
The purpose of endowing the Church with infallibility was not to prevent schisms and heresies from happening within the Church, in fact Jesus foretold of these, but instead to take away the justification of these schisms and heresies. Men are given free-will by God and they are able to exercise this free-will however, these heresies were not ever given as dogmatic definitions by the Church even when they were held by the majority (as some claim with Arianism). Instead, truth prevailed and still prevails against these heresies.
Paul corrected Peter because Peter did not adhere to an infallible teaching.
This Paul did however this has nothing to do with infallibility but instead peccability (ability to sin). This was addressed in the first paragraph of this article. Infallibility was not intended to stop peccability as even Jesus admits when talking about the scribes. It would be nice if this charism gave us more holy men but that is not the intent of it. As a reminder, infallibility is for definitive dogmatic teaching and does not pertain even to a spur of the moment utterance. In no way could this passage be seen as Peter teaching dogmatically at this time.