Has anyone asked, or have you asked, how a man of flesh and blood can have the audacity to claim that he can speak with absolute certainty of truth? Not only that, but by making an infallible statement that God himself is bound by that infallible statement? Now that would take some nerve, wouldn’t it? That would take some guts to say that God has to listen to me!
But that’s pretty much what the pope can do. And it bugs non-Catholics, and many Catholics, quite a lot.
Why can he do this? On what authority can the pope make infallible declarations that are even binding upon heaven? Let’s look in the Bible, shall we?
In Genesis 41-42 Joseph is put over all of Pharaoh’s empire. Why? Because he interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams. He had a revelation from God. We’ll discuss how Joseph lends some other interesting things to Peter being the first pope in other posts, but the point here is Joseph gets the job by having a revelation from God.
In Hebrew tradition, Moses, and then the prophets, talked to God and told the people what he said. Moses and the prophets were given the ability to speak infallibly. Did they sit down and have a chit-chat with God? I’m not sure, I wasn’t there, but during the Old Testament they had infallible statements.
Now we get to the New Testament. There hasn’t been a prophet in a while. There’s no king on David’s throne. And then this happens:
“He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." and Jesus said to him, "Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.” (Matt 16:15-17 NAB)
Jesus asks who people say he is. Seems like a simple question. The various disciples take a stab at it but they all miss the mark, until Peter. After Peter’s response Jesus says something amazing: “Flesh and blood have not revealed these things to you, but the Father above.” What just happened? Peter didn’t know about Jesus’ real identity because he saw something or he read it somewhere. God revealed it to Peter. Peter’s statement was an infallible declaration given to him directly by the Father above.
Because of this, Jesus went on to say (to Peter):
I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." (Matt 16:19 NAB)
Just like Joseph and the prophets before him, Peter is given authority because God revealed Truth to him. Peter’s not a good guesser. He gets a lot of stuff wrong. In fact, this is one of the only times he gets it right; and he can’t take credit for it since it was from God, not his own flesh and blood.
This is how we see the pope today. He may make infallible statements on faith and morals. He cannot say infallibly that blue is a better color than red, but he can infallibly state that abortion is an intrinsic evil. He has that right and responsibility to declare that which God has revealed to him. Jesus said he can; on what authority do you say that he can’t?