According to the Roman Catholic Church the Catholic teaching Magisterium is infallible when officially defining faith and morals for believers. This is popularly known as the infallibility of the Pope which was pronounced a dogma in 1870 at Vatican 1.
Infallibility is defined as immunity from error, protection against either passive or active deception. Persons are agencies are infallible to the extent that they can neither deceive or be deceived.
Catholics acknowledge that the Pope is not infallible in everything he teaches but only when he speaks as the official interpreter of faith and morals.
Vatican 1 firmly rejects as a necessary condition for infallibility the consent of the whole church. The Pope is not infallible when pronouncing on matters that do not pertain to faith and morals. The Pope is infallible but not absolutely so, that is the province of God alone. Infallibility entails irrevocability; the Pope cannot for example declare void previous infallible pronouncements of the church.
Argument from Scripture.
Roman Catholics use this statement by Jesus to Peter that says “upon this rock I will build my church” to say that it was upon Peter that Christ built his church.
The question is who Jesus was referring to when he spoke of this “rock?”
1) Whenever “Peter” is referred to in this passage it is in the second person but “this rock” is in the third person – an indication that Peter was NOT being connected to “this rock”.
2) Peter is a masculine singular term on rock is feminine singular hence they do not have the same referent - another indication that Peter was NOT being connected to “this rock”.
3) What is more the same authority Jesus gave to Peter in 18:16 is given later to all the apostles in verse 18.
4) Though Peter is not singled in Matthew 16:18 he is singled out five verses later in verse 23. Jesus christ's famous “Get behind me Satan” rebuke. The juxtapostion is stark. An unclear reference to Peter and the Roman Catholics give him primacy in authority. A clear reference to Peter and the RC do not give him a primacy in evil.
Some Catholic authorities agree with the interpretation. Augustine wrote “On this rock, therefore, He said, which thou hast confessed. I would build my Church for the rock (Petra) is Christ; in on this foundation was Peter himself built.
Even if Peter was the rock referred to by Christ he was not the only rock in the foundation of the church as many early church fathers point out. Whatever MT 16:16 may mean Jesus gave all the apostles the same power, the same “keys” to bind and loose that he gave to Peter. These keys were not some mysteries power given to Peter alone but the power granted by Christ to his church by which, when they proclaim the gospel, they can proclaim God’s forgiveness of sin to all who believe. Even if one believes Jesus was speaking of a non salvific binding of a brother in sin it was still given to all the apostles.
Furthermore the scriptures affirmed that the church is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophet and that Jesus Christ himself as the Capstone Eph 2:20
All the apostles not just Peter are the foundation of the church and only one was given a place of uniqueness and prominence and that was Christ the Capstone. 1 Peter 2:7.
Peters’ role in the New Testament falls short of the Catholic claims that he was given unique authority among the apostles. While Peter did give the initial sermon on Pentecost his role in the rest of Acts is scarcely that of the chief apostle, he is best described as one of the prominent apostles 2 Cor 21:11
By God’s inspiration Paul taught that no apostle was really superior 2 Cor12:11
No one reading Galatians can come away with impression that any apostle including Peter was inferior to apostle Paul because Paul claimed to get his revelation independently of the other apostles Gal 1:12, 2:2, to be on the same level as Peter (Gal 2:8) and even used his revelation to rebuke Peter in Gal 2:11-14
The fact that both Peter and John were sent by the apostles on a mission to Samaria reveals that Peter was not the superior apostle Acts 8:4-13 otherwise he would not have been sent in fact he would have been doing the sending.
Although Peter addressed the first council (Acts 15) he exercised no primacy over the others. The decision came from the apostles and the presbyters in agreement with the whole church (Acts15:22-23) Many scholars believe that James not Peter presided over the council since he was the one who gave the final words (Acts15 13-21)
By Peters own admission he was not the pastor of the church but only a fellow presbyter or elder (1Peter 5:1-2) and while he did claim to be in apostle nowhere did he claimed to be the apostle or the chief apostle he certainly was a leading apostle but even then he was only one of the pillars (Gal 2:9)
There’s absolutely no reference to any alleged infallibility that Peter allegedly possessed. The word infallible never occurs in the New Testament. When parallel words or phrases do occur they refer to scripture alone not to any persons or institutions ability to interpret it. Jesus said, for example, “Scripture cannot be set aside (John 10:35) and “Until heaven and earth pass away not the smallest letter or smallest part of a letter will pass from the law” (Matt 5:18)
In this passage Jesus says to Peter, “Feed my lambs and tend my sheep and feed my lambs. Roman Catholic scholars believe this verse shows that Peter and only Peter was given infallible authority to be the pastor of the whole Christian church. Whether this passage should be understood to be speaking of Peter alone or of all the disciples there’s absolutely no reference here to any infallible authority
Feeding is a God given pastoral function that even non apostles had in the New Testament (Acts 20:28, Eph 4:11-12, 1 Pet 5:1-2) One does not have to be an infallible shepherd in order to feed his flock properly.
If Peter had infallibility (i.e. the ability to not mislead in faith in practice) why then did he mislead believers and have to be rebuked by the Apostle Paul in Galatians 2? The infallible scriptures accepted by Roman Catholics declare that Peter clearly was wrong. Peter acted hypocritically with the result the even Barnabas was led astray. It is difficult to exonerate Peter from the charge that he led believers astray, something that an infallible pastor of the church would never do. The fact is Peter cannot be both in infallible guide for faith and morals and at the same time mislead believers on an important matter of faith and morals of which Galatians speak.
The overall meaning of the passage in John 21 speaks more to Peter’s weakness and the need for restoration then to his unique authority. The reason Peter is singled out for restoration is because Peter denied Jesus three times. So only Peter needed to be restored. Thus Jesus was not exulting Peter above the other apostles here but was bringing him back up to their level.
The reasoning is that because in the Old Testament the high priest had an official revelatory function connected with his office is therefore to be expected that there will plead an equivalent New Testament figure (i.e. namely the pope)
This is merely an argument from analogy and is not based on any New Testament affirmation that this would be the case. There is no intrinsic connection between cause and effect.
The New Testament affirmations made about the Old Testament priesthood reject this analogy for they say explicitly that Old Testament priesthood was abolished. The writer to the Hebrews declared that “there is a change of priesthood” from that of Aaron (Heb 7:12) The Aaronic priesthood has been filled in Christ was a priest forever after the order of Melchizeek (Heb 7:15-17)
Despite the common creedal and doctrinal heritage of Catholics and Protestants there are some serious differences. None of these is more basic than the question of authority. Catholics affirm the infallible teaching authority of the Roman church as manifested in the Pope. But what Catholics affirm concerning infallibility and the Pope, Protestants deny. This is an irresolvable road block to any ecclesiastical unity between Roman Catholicism and orthodox Protestantism. No talk about first among equals will solve the problem. For the very concept of infallible teaching Magisterium is contrary to the basic protestant principle of Sola scriptura, the bible alone. Here we must agree to disagree. For while both sides believe the bible is infallible, Protestants deny that any church or the pope has an infallible interpreter of the Bible.