Throughout this work the assumption is that theological reflection can begin from the teaching of the Church, and from Scripture and tradition as the Church understands them. Although common among Catholic theologians until recently, this assumption is denied today by many who challenge various points of Catholic teaching.
Because their denial would undercut the whole of the present work, this issue must be treated here, although it belongs more to ecclesiology than to Christian moral principles. The treatment remains a theological clarification, however, which assumes the truth of the Church’s teaching rather than trying to prove it. Yet such a clarification, although not adequate as an apologetic addressed to nonbelievers, will help Catholics understand the issues and see through many poor arguments used by dissenting theologians. The present chapter deals with the problem constructively, by clarifying the infallibility of the Church and the authority of both Scripture and ecclesial teachings. Chapter thirty-six examines certain specific claims of dissenting theologians and shows that they are specious.
By the gift of infallibility, the Church is protected from error in recognizing what does and does not pertain to faith. The apostles were infallible in their appropriation of God’s revelation in Jesus, and their infallibility extends to the belief and teaching of the Catholic Church. Teaching is proposed infallibly not only in solemn definitions but also in day-to-day authoritative teaching which meets certain conditions. A substantial body of received Catholic moral teaching has been proposed infallibly. Even teaching not proposed infallibly might pertain to divine revelation; it calls for religious assent.