The Pope, the body of Bishops, and the Church are Indefectible

It is an infallible teaching of the ordinary and universal Magisterium that the Church is indefectible.

“Among the prerogatives conferred on His Church by Christ is the gift of indefectibility. By this term is signified, not merely that the Church will persist to the end of time, but further, that it will preserve unimpaired its essential characteristics. The Church can never undergo any constitutional change which will make it, as a social organism, something different from what it was originally. It can never become corrupt in faith or in morals; nor can it ever lose the Apostolic hierarchy, or the sacraments through which Christ communicates grace to men. The gift of indefectibility is expressly promised to the Church by Christ, in the words in which He declares that the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. It is manifest that, could the storms which the Church encounters so shake it as to alter its essential characteristics and make it other than Christ intended it to be, the gates of hell, i.e. the powers of evil, would have prevailed.” [Catholic Encyclopedia; ]

The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains it this way: “The Spirit who is the Spirit of communion, abides indefectibly in the Church.” [CCC 1108] The Church on earth, even though She is comprised of fallen sinners, is the Body of Christ, enlivened by the Holy Spirit. The Church can no more go astray from the true Faith than Christ or the Spirit can go astray. Jesus himself taught this infallible doctrine:

{16:18} And I say to you, that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.
{16:19} And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound, even in heaven. And whatever you shall release on earth shall be released, even in heaven.”

If the Church ever went astray from the true Faith, then it could be said that the gates of Hell had prevailed over Her. For the Church is the sole Ark of Salvation by which all human persons are offered salvation. Whenever any non-Catholic or non-Christian is saved, it is by at least implicit membership in the one true Church.

Moreover, if the Church ever went astray, then what She might bind or loose would not be would not similarly be bound or loosed in Heaven. For Heaven would not follow a Church that had gone astray. So it is abundantly clear by the teaching of our Lord that the Church is indefectible.

Remnant Church

Some foolish persons have proposed that the institutional Church, including the Pope, the Holy See, and most Bishops and dioceses, will go astray in the great apostasy. They then claim that the true Church will remain as a remnant of faithful believers, in opposition to the Pope and the body of Bishops. But this claim is abject heresy.

First of all, the Pope can never go astray from the true Faith. Nor can he teach heresy, not even mere material heresy, taught with a sincere but mistaken conscience. For the Pope is the head of the Church. He is able to teach infallibly under Papal Infallibility. He participates in the infallible teaching authority of both Ecumenical Councils and the ordinary and universal Magisterium. So the Magisterium depends upon the Pope in a way that is necessary and essential. If the head of the Church and the head of the Magisterium went astray, then it could be truly said that the Church had gone astray.

Since it is a dogma of the Faith that the Church is indefectible, the Pope can never fall into the sins of apostasy, heresy, or schism, nor can he ever teach heresy.

Something similar can be said about the body of Bishops, though only as a body, not as individuals. Jesus did not choose one Apostle only, Peter, but 12 Apostles. Peter was the head of the other Apostles, but they were true Apostles, not merely servants or mouthpieces of Peter. The body of Bishops is essential to the structure of the one true Church, the Ark of Salvation. And if the body of Bishops ever went astray from the true Faith, it could be truly said that the Church had gone astray. For the body of Bishops are a necessary and essential part of the fundamental structure of the Ark of Salvation.

Since it is a dogma of the Faith that the Church is indefectible, the body of Bishops can never fall into the sins of apostasy, heresy, or schism, nor can they ever teach heresy, as a body. Individual Bishops and groups of Bishops can go astray, but not the main body of Bishops dispersed in the world, in communion with the Pope.

It may be the case that, in the distant future, the Church will be a remnant, in the sense that unbelievers in the world will greatly outnumber the faithful. But it is entirely incompatible with required beliefs of the Roman Catholic Faith to claim that the Pope and/or the body of Bishops will go astray, such that the only true Church will be a remnant that exists in opposition to, and separate from, the Pope and the body of Bishops.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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