I know that the Pope can speak infallibly (ex cathedra), and that this has officially been done once, as well as three times before Papal infallibility was formally declared. I would assume that any doctrine he talks about or mentions would be infallible, at least with regards to the bits spoken while in ex cathedra mode. Additionally, however, I can't immediately think of a reason why ex cathedra statements would be the only ones to result in infallible doctrines. Thus, my question is: which doctrines of the Roman Catholic church are infallible?

If none, many, or all of Catholic Church doctrines are infallible, then say so. In the case of many, a broad classification would be appreciated. If there is a small number of them, then a list would be greatly appreciated.

  • Duplicate: christianity.stackexchange.com/q/2950/1548
    – Jas 3.1
    Apr 10, 2013 at 1:11
  • 1
    @Jas3.1: Wait, I took a closer look, and now I disagree that this is a duplicate. That one is asking about ex cathedra and other infallible statements spoken by popes or bishops, this one is asking about infallible doctrines, which may or may not have been explicitly been spoken by a pope or bishop. Apr 10, 2013 at 1:18
  • Oh. Sorry. Actually I don't understand the difference, but if you're sure they are different questions I will retract my VTC. Except that I'm not sure how... I might need some guidance on that one.
    – Jas 3.1
    Apr 10, 2013 at 2:34
  • I'm uncertain about it myself, actually. The VTC expires eventually, I think. An acceptable answer would be one that says that all infallible teachings are those spoken while in ex cathedra, and then the list is covered by the other question. Apr 10, 2013 at 2:54
  • Question seems fine, not sure why there are several downvotes.
    – Alypius
    Apr 10, 2013 at 8:38

5 Answers 5


Short answer: According to the catholic church, ALL of its doctrines are infallible.

Long answer: The problem arises when someone questions whether a particular subject (matter of grave importance) is a Catholic doctrine or not. When that occurs, and there is an eminent danger of those people (who may or may not hold an ecclesiastical post) present a false doctrine as official church teaching, then pope has to step in and clear the matter by pronouncing a doctrine as a dogma. Now, there are some doctrines which will never be formally defined as dogmas, probably because no one will question them. (for example, virgin birth of Christ)

I understand that there is a room to wiggle around with respect to a doctrine. But as with a dogma, it is, with no second thought, infallible from a Catholic POV

Wikipedia article on Papal infallibility lists out seven instances of a pope speaking ex cathedra:

  1. "Tome to Flavian", Pope Leo I, 449, on the two natures in Christ, received by the Council of Chalcedon;
  2. Letter of Pope Agatho, 680, on the two wills of Christ, received by the Third Council of Constantinople;
  3. Benedictus Deus, Pope Benedict XII, 1336, on the beatific vision of the just after death rather than only just prior to final judgment;
  4. Cum occasione, Pope Innocent X, 1653, condemning five propositions of Jansen as heretical;
  5. Auctorem fidei, Pope Pius VI, 1794, condemning seven Jansenist propositions of the Synod of Pistoia as heretical;
  6. Ineffabilis Deus, Pope Pius IX, 1854, defining the Immaculate Conception;
  7. Munificentissimus Deus, Pope Pius XII, 1950, defining the Assumption of Mary.

The above article also states that there is no complete list of doctrines or dogmas ever prepared by the Holy See. Which understandably is an impossible task.

My personal opinion: When ever a canonization occurs, it is infallible too, because it satisfies all of the criteria of an infallible statement.

Just a footnote: A dogma is a doctrine to be believed by Catholics that has been proposed by the Church to be divinely and formally revealed. A dogma can be defined by a valid ecumenical council, approved by the pope. Or by the pope himself alone. Doctrine just means teaching which are assumed to be accepted by the universal church. There is no formal declaration is needed for a doctrine. Always a dogma and a doctrine will not contradict the scriptures.

  • Your opinion isn't just yours: see footnote 5 in the Wikipedia article. Apr 10, 2013 at 7:47
  • 2
    This is plain wrong. The Catholic church most certainly does not claim all it's doctrines to be infallible. Otherwise the following excerpt from a Vatican statement would be nonsensical: "For this reason the Second Vatican Council states that all the Pope's teaching should be listened to and accepted, even when it is not given ex cathedra but is proposed in the ordinary exercise of his Magisterium"
    – user32
    Jan 30, 2014 at 1:34
  • @SoftwareMonkey: I don't get your point. Not all popes teachings are doctrines. And yes all of Catholic doctrines are true. (doctrine: a belief or set of beliefs held and taught by a Church officially; Popes teachings may or may not be doctrines deepening on how he speaks. It is usually a interpretation of a doctrine. These interpretations are not doctrines by themselves and unless done ex cathedra, they are not infallible) Jan 30, 2014 at 4:39
  • We may have differing definitions of doctrine. I could be wrong, but I thought a doctrine only became infallible once it's been made a dogma via an ex cathedra declaration. The CCC contains 2,865 doctrinal statements (calling itself a "compendium of all catholic doctrine" and "a sure and authentic reference text for teaching catholic doctrine", John Paul II's words) - I highly doubt they are all held as infallible. Rather I put to you that they are given under the ordinary Magisterium or the intro by John Paul II would declare them as infallible which it does not.
    – user32
    Jan 30, 2014 at 17:51
  • Doctrines put forth by the "ordinary and universal magisterium" are infallible and hence binding on the faithful. (1, 2, 3, 4 All of these say that doctrines are immune from errors) All dogmas are doctrines but not all doctrines are dogmas. Declaring a dogma does not make it true. It confirms it to be true. And it is done only when opposing thought arises. Jan 31, 2014 at 5:04

You might want to look at the book "Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma" by Ludwig Ott. In addition to saying what the Catholic Church teaches, it annotates the teachings with indications of how certain they are and (therefore) how obligatory it is to believe them. The highest level is "De fide" ("of the faith"); these are doctrines infallibly proclaimed by popes or ecumenical councils as part of the deposit of faith and therefore to be believed "with Divine and Catholic faith". (If you deny one of these doctrines, you're a heretic.) The introductory part of the book also contains an explanation of the other levels of certainty, such as "sententia fidei proxima", "sententia certa", and so forth.


Jayarathina Madharasan has already answered the question asked. But I noticed there is another sub question to this which is: "I can't immediately think of a reason why ex cathedra statements would be the only ones to result in infallible doctrines"

I would try to put some light on this valid point.

Ex-cathedra means "solemn papal definitions". It is the Charism the Pope "enjoys in virtue of his office" or literally it means "from the chair".

Many confuse charism of Infallibility as impeccability. Some imagine that Pope cannot sin. Infallibility is not the absence of sin nor is it a charism that belongs only to Pope. Indeed, infallibility also belongs to the body of bishops as a whole, when, in doctrinal unity with Pope, they solemnly teach the doctrine as true.

On infallibility, Vatican II explains that

"Although the individual bishops do not enjoy the prerogative of infallibility, they can nevertheless proclaim Christ’s doctrine infallibly. This is so, even when they are dispersed around the world, provided that while maintaining the bond of unity among themselves and with Peter’s successor and while teaching authentically on a matter of faith or morals, they concur in a single viewpoint as the one that must be held conclusively. This authority is even more clearly verified when, gathered together in an ecumenical council, they are teachers and judges of faith and morals for the universal church. Their definition must then be adhered to with submission of faith (Lumen Gentium 35)."

Some argue that how popes can be infallible if some of them lived scandalously. That is why it is infallibility not impeccability. The doctrine don’t say that Pope wont’ sin or give bad example. Some wonder hoe infallibility could exist if some popes disagreed with others. In fact the accurate understanding of infallibility is that which applies only to solemn, official teachings on faith and morals, not on disciplinary decisions or even to unofficial comment on faith and morals. A Popes private theological opinion are not infallible but only that which is solemnly defined is considered infallible teaching.

Some think that infallibility means that popes are given some special grace that allows them to teach positively whatever truth needs to be known. That is not correct either. Infallibility is not a substitute for theological study on the part of Pope.

What infallibility does do is to prevent Pope from solemnly and formally teaching as truth something that is in fact an error.

  • If you focus on this point, you should definitely point out that Ecumenical Councils are another organ of infallibility, and explain how they relate to the authority of St Peter and his successors.
    – Alypius
    Apr 10, 2013 at 17:30

The idea that everything a Pope (or the Catholic church) teaches is infallible is simply a flawed premise.

After searching on the Vatican website, I found that the CCC quite clearly defines dogma, which is the form of doctrine which is infallible or irrevocable in the words of the CCC (emphasis mine):

The dogmas of the faith

88 The Church's Magisterium exercises the authority it holds from Christ to the fullest extent when it defines dogmas, that is, when it proposes, in a form obliging the Christian people to an irrevocable adherence of faith, truths contained in divine Revelation or also when it proposes, in a definitive way, truths having a necessary connection with these.

89 There is an organic connection between our spiritual life and the dogmas. Dogmas are lights along the path of faith; they illuminate it and make it secure. Conversely, if our life is upright, our intellect and heart will be open to welcome the light shed by the dogmas of faith.

90 The mutual connections between dogmas, and their coherence, can be found in the whole of the Revelation of the mystery of Christ. "In Catholic doctrine there exists an order or hierarchy of truths, since they vary in their relation to the foundation of the Christian faith."

But the Catholic teaching on and use of ex cathera dogmatic declarations is difficult to unravel. In the history of the Catholic Church I can find authoritative references (wikipedia is not authoritative) for only three doctrines which are undisputed to have been declared ex cathedra dogma:

  • The Immaculate Conception of Mary (declared by Pope Pius IX in 1854, CCC 491 & 966)
  • The Bodily Assumption of Mary into Heaven (declared by Pope Pius XII in 1950, CCC 966)
  • The Holy Trinity (CCC 249 - 256)

That appears to be it. Searching the Vatican website we can turn up other references to possibilities:

  • Dogma of Papal Infallibility (referenced by many papers on the Vatican.va site)
  • Dogma of original sin (but specifically mentioned as disputed)
  • Dogma of the Consubstantiality (proposed by Pius XI, uncertain if ratified by the bishops)

Though I can't find a reference, I would expect that all creedal statements of church councils which are recognized as valid by the Catholic church are considered dogmatic.

To further muddy the water, many church doctrines are widely considered dogmatic while never having been officially declared as such; these are popularly treated as dogmatic and have an extremely low possibility of ever being rescinded (and the creeds may be in this category).

The main point is that truly ex cathedra dogmatic and irrevocable doctrines are few and far between.

All other doctrinal positions are subject to modification and may be rescinded, even the "ordinary" conclusions and declarations of church councils. That is not to say they are to be taken lightly; papal and official statements from the church are to be considered binding on all Catholics for as long as they are in force -- but they are not automatically infallible.

See this CSE answer and this article from uscatholic.org and this Vatican statement on infallibility for more details. The last of these explicitly mentions the only two undisputed ex cathedra statements made:

As you know there are cases in which the papal Magisterium is exercised solemnly regarding particular points of doctrine belonging to the deposit of revelation or closely connected with it. This is the case with ex cathedra definitions, such as those of Mary's Immaculate Conception, made by Pius IX in 1854, and of her Assumption into heaven, made by Pius XII in 1950. As we know, these definitions have provided all Catholics with certainty in affirming these truths and in excluding all doubt in the matter.

Specifically note the words: "... there are cases in which ...".

From what I have been able to ascertain, it seems like quite specific verbiage introduces an ex cathedra declaration, along the lines of:

... by the authority of Jesus Christ our Lord, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own: We declare, pronounce, and define that ...


Which Catholic doctrines are infallible?

Catholic Doctrines are not necessarily infallible. Only defined dogmas are infallible.

Certain doctrines, such as the doctrine of the Limbo of Infants, are not infallible. Papal encyclicals are likewise not necessarily infallible.


A papal document treating of matters related to the general welfare of the Church, sent by the Pope to the bishops. Used especially in modern times to express the mind of the Pope to the people. Although of themselves not infallible documents, encyclicals may (and generally do) contain pronouncements on faith and morals that are de facto infallible because they express the ordinary teaching of the Church. In any case, the faithful are to give the papal encyclicals their interior assent and external respect as statements of the Vicar of Christ.

An encyclical epistle is like an encyclical letter but addressed to part of the Church, that is, to the bishops and faithful of a particular area. Its contents may be doctrinal, moral, or disciplinary matters of universal significance, but may also commemorate some historical event or treat of conditions in a certain country or locality.

Dogmas on the other hand must be believed.


Doctrine taught by the Church to be believed by all the faithful as part of divine revelation. All dogmas, therefore, are formally revealed truths and promulgated as such by the Church. they are revealed either in Scripture or tradition, either explicitly (as the Incarnation) or implicitly (as the Assumption). Moreover, their acceptance by the faithful must be proposed as necessary for salvation. They may be taught by the Church in a solemn manner, as with the definition of the Immaculate Conception, or in an ordinary way, as with the constant teaching on the malice of taking innocent human life.

There are too many Catholic dogmas to list here and many have already been posted in other answers. Catholic dogmas may be pronounced ex cathredra by a reigning pope or defined by a Church Ecumenical Coucil.

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