Evidence for the “Infallible Safety” of the Non-definitive Magisterium

Evidence for the “Infallible Safety” of the Non-definitive Magisterium

*This post is a work in progress and may be updated at anytime. It is a fruit of my own research on this subject.

Any text below in italics is a quote, not my own words. All other text are either my words or my formatting. All formatting below is my own, and not a part of the original quotes.

Many of the below quotes are not intended to be “knock-out” evidence for the notion of “Infallible Safety” (aka. the “Charism of Safety”), but rather simply as evidence of such a proposition. Certainly, many of these quotes can have various interpretations.

NOTE: My preferred term for “Infallible Safety” is the “Charism of Safety.” It removes the misnomer that such a notion is infallible in the sense of ex-cathedra definitions– thus confusing the two topics.

Those quotes which I consider most convincing in affirming the subject notion are the following. These are in chronological order, not in order of importance:

  2. Humani Generis 20
  3. Pius XII, Mystici Corporis (1943), 50
  4. Donum Veritatis, 17 (1990)
  5. JOHN PAUL II - GENERAL HEARING (Wednesday, March 24, 1993)

All quotes are listed in chronological order.

Primary Sources

Catechism of the Council of Trent (Roman Catechism, 1566):

The Church is guided by the Holy Spirit. It is, therefore, not unreasonable to posit that She is guided by said Holy Spirit in all her teachings – even those of the non-definitive Magisterium. Such teaching could therefore be considered “safe” since the Church is guided by the Holy Spirit in teaching them.

“This Spirit, first imparted to the Apostles, has by the infinite goodness of God always continued in the Church. And just as this one Church cannot err in faith or morals, since it is guided by the Holy Ghost…”


Pope Pius VII, Diu Satis, 1800

If the flock should consider the food from the Roman Pontiff to be “safe,” it can reasonably be assumed that said food is “always” safe.

"So the sheep of Christ should consider safe and eat cheerfully the food to which Peter’s voice and authority directs them; but despite any beauty and charm, they should shun as harmful and plague-ridden, what this voice forbids them. Those who do not comply are certainly not to be counted among the sheep of Christ."


Pope Gregory XVI, Mirari Vos, 1832

If the unity of the Church is built upon the existence of the Roman Pontiff, and such Pontiff is to be a “safe port” then it can be reasonably assumed that the ordinary teachings of said Pontiff should also be considered as “safe.”

"Therefore may the unity which is built upon the See of Peter as on a sure foundation stand firm. May it be for all a wall and a security, a safe port, and a treasury of countless blessings."


Pope Pius IX, Maximae Quidem, 1864.

The See of Peter is the “safest port” for all. If it is to be considered safe, then can it occasionally be unsafe? This does not appear to be the case. Thus, the See of Peter should be always considered as “safe,” even in it's ordinary teaching.

[D]o everything so that the faithful committed especially to your vigilance may reverently and obediently follow Us and the See of Peter. This center of Catholic unity is not only the head of all the churches, but also their mother and teacher; it dispels the darkness of error and is the safest port for all who are tossed about.



The Christian people are to be ruled by the Roman Pontiff. Said Pontiff can judge authoritatively as regards the content of Divine Revelation (ex-cathedra pronouncements), but also and separately to show what things are to be accepted/rejected and done/avoided in order to attain eternal salvation. Without the Roman Pontiff's ability to so interpret these things, there would be no “safe guide” and no “sure interpreter” of Divine Revelation. The below quote distinguishes between ex-cathedra teachings (“...what things the sacred oracles contain”) and other teachings (“...what doctrines are in harmony, and what in disagreement, with [what the sacred oracles contain] and…what things are to be accepted as right, and what to be rejected as worthless; what it is necessary to do and what to avoid doing, in order to attain eternal salvation”) – the latter of these teachings are separate from infallible teachings, and are this non-definitive. All of the teachings mentioned are to be considered “safe.”

24. In defining the limits of the obedience owed to the pastors of souls, but most of all to the authority of the Roman Pontiff, it must not be supposed that it is only to be yielded in relation to dogmas of which the obstinate denial cannot be disjoined from the crime of heresy. Nay, further, it is not enough sincerely and firmly to assent to doctrines which, though not defined by any solemn pronouncement of the Church, are by her proposed to belief, as divinely revealed, in her common and universal teaching, and which the Vatican Council declared are to be believed "with Catholic and divine faith."(27) But this likewise must be reckoned amongst the duties of Christians, that they allow themselves to be ruled and directed by the authority and leadership of bishops, and, above all, of the apostolic see. And how fitting it is that this should be so any one can easily perceive. For the things contained in the divine oracles have reference to God in part, and in part to man, and to whatever is necessary for the attainment of his eternal salvation. Now, both these, that is to say, what we are bound to believe and what we are obliged to do, are laid down, as we have stated, by the Church using her divine right, and in the Church by the supreme Pontiff. Wherefore it belongs to the Pope to judge authoritatively what things the sacred oracles contain, as well as what doctrines are in harmony, and what in disagreement, with them; and also, for the same reason, to show forth what things are to be accepted as right, and what to be rejected as worthless; what it is necessary to do and what to avoid doing, in order to attain eternal salvation. For, otherwise, there would be no sure interpreter of the commands of God, nor would there be any safe guide showing man the way he should live.

Syllabus of Errors - Pius IX (1864)

Catholics are not “strictly bound” only to ex-cathedra teachings, but also to those non-definitive teachings proposed by the Magisterium. To say it positively, Catholics are “strictly bound” to even non-definitive teachings of the Magisterium. If Catholics are strictly bound to such teaching (note that no exceptions for potential heresy or error are given to such binding), then it must be considered to be “safe,” as the Church would not strictly bind the faithful to belief in something which would be injurious to their souls.

The Syllabus of Errors, Pope Pius IX the following proposition was condemned as FALSE:

“The obligation by which Catholic teachers and authors are strictly bound is confined to those things only which are proposed to universal belief as dogmas of faith by the infallible judgment of the Church.” (Syllabus, Condemned Error No. 22)

Vatican I - Dogmatic constitution on the Catholic Faith, Preamble, 1 (1870)

The assistance promised by God to the Church when She teaches is given without condition. It can therefore be said that if the Church teaches non-definitively, such teaching is also guaranteed to be given such Divine assistance.

“The Son of God, Redeemer of the human race, Our Lord Jesus Christ, promised, when about to return to his heavenly Father, that he would be with this Church Militant upon earth all days even to the end of the world. Hence never at any time has He ceased to stand by his beloved Bride, assisting her when she teaches, blessing her in her labors and bringing her help when she is in danger.”

Vatican I, First Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of Christ, Ch 4, Art. 6 (1870)

How can the successors of Peter “religiously guard and faithfully expound upon Divine Revelation if they are only given Divine assistance for ex-cathedra teachings? Does not the Holy Spirit guide the Church even in non-definitive teachings, as well? If the Holy Spirit does guide the Church in such teachings, then they must be, at least, considered “safe.”

For the Holy Spirit was promised to the successors of Peter not so that they might, by his revelation, make known some new doctrine, but that, by his assistance, they might religiously guard and faithfully expound the revelation or deposit of faith transmitted by the apostles.

The See of Peter “always remains unblemished by any error.” This would include the See of Peter as it teaches non-definitively. This is also a text used to give evidence against the claims of heresy in the papal magisterium (ie. Honorius, Vigilius, etc.).

Indeed, their Apostolic teaching was embraced by all the venerable Fathers and reverenced and followed by all the holy orthodox Doctors, for they knew very well that this See of St. Peter always remains unblemished by any error, in accordance with the divine promise of our Lord and Saviour to the Prince of His disciples: “I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren.”


Vatican I, First Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of Christ, Ch 4, Art. 7 (1870)

See the above explaination, and relate it to this passage, as well.

“This gift of truth and never-failing faith was therefore divinely conferred on Peter and his Successors in this See so that they might discharge their exalted office for the salvation of all, and so that the whole flock of Christ might be kept away by them from the poisonous food of error and be nourished with the sustenance of heavenly doctrine.”


Pope Pius XI, Quas Primas (1925), 22

How can the Church be immune from error and heresy if her head on earth (the Roman Pontiff) is not, in his magisterium, also immune from [dangerous] error and heresy? This quote, taken alone, could be used to uphold an extreme form of ultramontanism where there is no distinction between safe and dangerous error. The point of this quote is, again, to to uphold the notion of “infallible safety,” per se, but simply to add more evidence in it's favor.

The Church is endowed with perfect and perpetual immunity from error and heresy. 


Pope Pius XII, Mystici Corporis (1943), 31

If the notion of “infallible safety” is denied, then the Church certainly can teach false doctrine in Her non-definitive magisterium. Such a position would directly contradict the below assertion of P. Pius XII:

Jesus Christ, hanging on the Cross, opened up to His Church the fountain of those divine gifts, which prevent her from ever teaching false doctrine.

Pius XII, Mystici Corporis (1943), 50

The Roman Pontiff, above all, is guided in teaching by Christ so that the faith is preserved, defended, and confirmed.

“It is Christ who enriches pastors and teachers and above all His Vicar on earth with the supernatural gifts of knowledge, understanding and wisdom, so that they may loyally preserve the treasury of faith, defend it vigorously, and explain it and confirm it with reverence and devotion.”


Humani Generis, 20 (1950)

It is true to use Luke 10:16 (“He who heareth you, heareth me”) in regard to the non-definitive Magisterium (“ordinary teaching authority”). If Christ is heard in the non-definitive Magisterium, then such teaching must be considered “safe.” Christ would not lead his Bride, the Church, into unsafe paths.

Pope Pius XII, 1950, states:

Nor must it be thought that what is expounded in Encyclical Letters does not of itself demand consent, since in writing such Letters the Popes do not exercise the supreme power of their Teaching Authority. For these matters are taught with the ordinary teaching authority, of which it is true to say: “He who heareth you, heareth me”; and generally what is expounded and inculcated in Encyclical Letters already for other reasons appertains to Catholic doctrine. (Humani Generis 20)


Donum Veritatis, 17 (1990)

All acts of the Magisterium are sourced in Christ. Thus, even non-definitive teachings can therefore be considered trustworthy and safe by the faithful.

17. Divine assistance is also given to the successors of the apostles teaching in communion with the successor of Peter, and in a particular way, to the Roman Pontiff as Pastor of the whole Church, when exercising their ordinary Magisterium, even should this not issue in an infallible definition or in a "definitive" pronouncement but in the proposal of some teaching which leads to a better understanding of Revelation in matters of faith and morals and to moral directives derived from such teaching.

One must therefore take into account the proper character of every exercise of the Magisterium, considering the extent to which its authority is engaged. It is also to be borne in mind that all acts of the Magisterium derive from the same source, that is, from Christ who desires that His People walk in the entire truth. For this same reason, magisterial decisions in matters of discipline, even if they are not guaranteed by the charism of infallibility, are not without divine assistance and call for the adherence of the faithful.

Donum Veritatis, 24 (1990)

It is to be considered the rule that the faithful submit to even reformable (non-definitive) teachings of the Magisterium. This quote is given as additional justification for the “infallible safety” notion, but is not meant to be a proof of it, per se.

24. Finally, in order to serve the People of God as well as possible, in particular, by warning them of dangerous opinions which could lead to error, the Magisterium can intervene in questions under discussion which involve, in addition to solid principles, certain contingent and conjectural elements. It often only becomes possible with the passage of time to distinguish between what is necessary and what is contingent. The willingness to submit loyally to the teaching of the Magisterium on matters per se not irreformable must be the rule. It can happen, however, that a theologian may, according to the case, raise questions regarding the timeliness, the form, or even the contents of magisterial interventions. Here the theologian will need, first of all, to assess accurately the authoritativeness of the interventions which becomes clear from the nature of the documents, the insistence with which a teaching is repeated, and the very way in which it is expressed.(24)


JOHN PAUL II - GENERAL HEARING Wednesday, March 24, 1993

The “charism of assistance of the Holy Spirit” is granted to the Roman Pontiff in matters of faith and morals. This charism is not only limited to the cases of ex-cathedra teachings (“exceptional cases”), but “embraces to varying degrees the entire exercise of the magisterium.” This “entire exercise of the magisterium” obviously includes non-definitive teachings of the ordinary magisterium. If the “charism of the assistance” of the Holy Spirit embraces even those non-definitive teachings, then such teachings can be considered as “safe.”

“4. The Supreme Pontiffs can exercise this form of magisterium. And this actually happened. However, many Popes have not exercised it. But it should be noted that in the conciliar texts we are illustrating, the "ordinary" magisterium is distinguished from the "extraordinary" one, underlining the importance of the former, which is of a permanent and continuous nature; while what is expressed in the definitions can be said to be exceptional. Alongside this infallibility of ex cathedra definitions , there exists the charism of assistance of the Holy Spirit, granted to Peter and his successors so that they do not err in matters of faith and morals and instead give good enlightenment to the Christian people. This charism is not limited to exceptional cases, but embraces to varying degrees the entire exercise of the magisterium.”


(Translated from the Original Italian using Google Translate web page feature)


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