off to Boston tomorrow! Retreat begins Sunday (to be followed by community updating classes and a two-week recording session). I won't see Chicago again until Labor Day! I do have one more thing to do before I go, however...
The Legion of Mary group that meets at Old St. Mary's parish asked me to give a 15-minute reflection on Papal Infallibility. I put some notes together and, needing a factoid from Google, found that infallibility has been a hot topic of late among more progressive Catholics. It was Pope Benedict's removal of a certain bishop in Australia that caused the flurry of articles and comments--not so much on "infallibility" as on its limits.
But infallibility was just as controversial when it was first (infallibly!) defined in 1870. Back then, rationalism was picking up steam and beginning to dominate intellectual circles. Today, the most common attitude toward truth is relativism: “Well, that may be true for you, but it's not my truth.” Both rationalism and relativism seem to begin and end in the individual's mind. Rationalists, unlike relativists, assume that “their” reasonableness is universal (so some of them claim that faith is “unreasonable”) and relativists think that there is no objective truth (so “your” truth does not hold good for another person).
Infallibility answers both of these tendencies by saying “Truth is not up to us”; we are in front of a reality that surpasses both reason and imagination; that was revealed. And it is God that we're ultimately talking about—revelation is like Holy Communion: it surpasses our ability to put into words.
Truth is a given; we don't choose to make something true.
Truth calls us to account; we are answerable to the truth.
There is moral truth, not just doctrinal/intellectual truth (ideas that are true).
So "infallibility" (which is not simply a Papal prerogative, but a grace given to the Church itself) can be a way of talking about the meaning of truth (truth is always infallible!)