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One of the properties of the Church according to Catholicism is indefectibility. What does this mean and where does this doctrine originate?

  • Which of these dictionary definition apply? 1.not liable to fail, end, or decay. 2.having no defects; perfect. – Lesley Jan 4 at 17:54
  • probably more #1, but the term is a theological one, so a dictionary definition would be minimal help – eques Jan 4 at 18:06
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    Fair comment. Let's go with the "not liable to fail, end, or decay" as it applies to the Church. It will be interesting to see what answers you get. – Lesley Jan 4 at 18:10
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"Indefectibility" is, according to Catholic Dictionary by Fr. John Hardon, S.J., the

Imperishable duration of the Church and her immutability until the end of time. The First Vatican Council declared that the Church possesses

an invincible stability
invictamque stabilitatem

and that,

being founded upon the Rock, will stand firm to the end of the world.
fundata super petram ad finem sæculorum usque firma stabit.

([Latin:] Denzinger 3013, 3056)

The Church's indefectibility, therefore, means that she now is and will always remain the institution of salvation, founded by Christ. This affirms that the Church is essentially unchangeable in her teaching, her constitution, and her liturgy. It does not exclude modifications that do not affect her substance, nor does it exclude the decay of individual local churches or even whole dioceses.

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    In the second quotation from Vatican I, should "fidem saeculorum" be "finem saeculorum"? That seems to make more sense and to match the English translation. – Andreas Blass Jan 5 at 2:20
  • @AndreasBlass Good catch. That's the way it is in Denzinger 3056. thanks – Geremia Jan 5 at 3:42
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According to Catholicism, what is meant by the Church being indefectible?

"Indefectibility"is, according the Catholic (Online) Dictionaryof the Catholic Culture is as follows:

Indefectabilty

Definition

Imperishable duration of the Church and her immutability until the end of time. The First Vatican Council declared that the Church possesses "an unconquered stability" and that, "built on a rock, she will continue to stand until the end of time" (Denzinger 3013, 3056). The Church's indefectibility, therefore, means that she now is and will always remain the institution of salvation, founded by Christ. This affirms that the Church is essentially unchangeable in her teaching, her constitution, and her liturgy. It does not exclude modifications that do not affect her substance, nor does it exclude the decay of individual local churches or even whole dioceses.

By definition the local ordinary of a diocese does not enjoy the safeguard of indefectibility since it’s definition states clearly that it is accorded to the Church in its entirety. It is not the pope or a bishop that is indefectible, but the Holy Catholic Church itself. Whole dioceses can vanish and no longer exist. Historically, this has already happened many times over. However the Church will last until the consummation of the world.

Dioceses that no longer exist are generally referred to as titular sees.

A titular see in various churches is an episcopal see of a former diocese that no longer functions, sometimes called a "dead diocese".

The ordinary or hierarch of such a see may be styled a "titular metropolitan" (highest rank), "titular archbishop" (intermediary rank) or "titular bishop" (lowest rank), which normally goes by the status conferred on the titular see.

The term is used to signify a diocese that no longer functionally exists, often because the diocese once flourished but the territory was conquered by Muslims or no longer functions because of a schism. The Greek–Turkish population exchange of 1923 also contributed to titular bishoprics. The see of Maximianoupolis along with the town that shared its name was destroyed by the Bulgarians under Emperor Kaloyan in 1207; the town and the see were under the control of the Latin Empire, which took Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade in 1204. Parthenia, in north Africa, was abandoned and swallowed by desert sand.

  • This is basically identical to Geremia's older answer... – curiousdannii Jan 5 at 1:47
  • downvoted as it did not addressed the question properly who is seeking for a good theological explanation. – marian agustin Jan 5 at 2:37
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    @marianagustin Thank you, you are so kind. – Ken Graham Jan 5 at 2:47
  • @KenGraham your welcome, I'm just returning the favor to all my downvoted answers and closed question. Thanks. – marian agustin Jan 5 at 2:53
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    @marianagustin I can not close questions or answers on my own. Downvoters are unknown even to moderators. – Ken Graham Jan 5 at 3:34
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According to Catholicism, what is meant by the Church being indefectible? One of the properties of the Church according to Catholicism is indefectibility. What does this mean and where does this doctrine originate?

Since a Catholic Encyclopedia won't suffice, here is a good explanation coming from a private theologian who expounded on this subject.

It is an infallible teaching of the ordinary and universal Magisterium that the Church is indefectible.

“Among the prerogatives conferred on His Church by Christ is the gift of indefectibility. By this term is signified, not merely that the Church will persist to the end of time, but further, that it will preserve unimpaired its essential characteristics. The Church can never undergo any constitutional change which will make it, as a social organism, something different from what it was originally. It can never become corrupt in faith or in morals; nor can it ever lose the Apostolic hierarchy, or the sacraments through which Christ communicates grace to men. The gift of indefectibility is expressly promised to the Church by Christ, in the words in which He declares that the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. It is manifest that, could the storms which the Church encounters so shake it as to alter its essential characteristics and make it other than Christ intended it to be, the gates of hell, i.e. the powers of evil, would have prevailed.” Catholic Encyclopedia

The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains it this way: “The Spirit who is the Spirit of communion, abides indefectibly in the Church.” [CCC 1108] The Church on earth, even though She is comprised of fallen sinners, is the Body of Christ, enlivened by the Holy Spirit. The Church can no more go astray from the true Faith than Christ or the Spirit can go astray. Jesus himself taught this infallible doctrine:

(Matthew16:18) And I say to you, that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.

(Matthew16:19) And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound, even in heaven. And whatever you shall release on earth shall be released, even in heaven.”

If the Church ever went astray from the true Faith, then it could be said that the gates of Hell had prevailed over Her. For the Church is the sole Ark of Salvation by which all human persons are offered salvation. Whenever any non-Catholic or non-Christian is saved, it is by at least implicit membership in the one true Church.

Moreover, if the Church ever went astray, then what She might bind or loose would not be would not similarly be bound or loosed in Heaven. For Heaven would not follow a Church that had gone astray. So it is abundantly clear by the teaching of our Lord that the Church is indefectible.

Remnant Church

Some foolish persons have proposed that the institutional Church, including the Pope, the Holy See, and most Bishops and dioceses, will go astray in the great apostasy. They then claim that the true Church will remain as a remnant of faithful believers, in opposition to the Pope and the body of Bishops. But this claim is abject heresy.

First of all, the Pope can never go astray from the true Faith. Nor can he teach heresy, not even mere material heresy, taught with a sincere but mistaken conscience. For the Pope is the head of the Church. He is able to teach infallibly under Papal Infallibility. He participates in the infallible teaching authority of both Ecumenical Councils and the ordinary and universal Magisterium. So the Magisterium depends upon the Pope in a way that is necessary and essential. If the head of the Church and the head of the Magisterium went astray, then it could be truly said that the Church had gone astray.

Since it is a dogma of the Faith that the Church is indefectible, the Pope can never fall into the sins of apostasy, heresy, or schism, nor can he ever teach heresy.

Something similar can be said about the body of Bishops, though only as a body, not as individuals. Jesus did not choose one Apostle only, Peter, but 12 Apostles. Peter was the head of the other Apostles, but they were true Apostles, not merely servants or mouthpieces of Peter. The body of Bishops is essential to the structure of the one true Church, the Ark of Salvation. And if the body of Bishops ever went astray from the true Faith, it could be truly said that the Church had gone astray. For the body of Bishops are a necessary and essential part of the fundamental structure of the Ark of Salvation. - The Pope, the body of Bishops, and the Church are Indefectible

A good question is, can a Bishop of a Diocese err in exercising his authority even if he is in Full Communion with the Body of Bishops and the Holy See? Yes or No?

IMPORTANT NOTE:

A single Bishop in full communion with the Church cannot err, that is the teaching of Christ rooted in His promised to send the Spirit of Truth or the Spirit of Christ to guide all the Apostles and Disciples.

Proof?, the following passages are the proof. John16:14, John14:16 and John15:26

St. Paul is a Model Bishop when we speak of Church indefectibility thru it's Bishop.

St. Paul boldly exclaimed, that his thoughts, words and actions are all coming from Christ, and so not only indefectibility is guaranteed even infallibility was assured eventhough he is not the Pope. If all Bishops are like St.Paul then all single Bishop can guarantee Church indefectibility.

Does the Catholic Church able to produce Bishop like St.Paul? The answer is YES and the list are many.

List of Saints who were Bishops

The articles said the Pope as the Supreme Pontiff cannot err in teaching the faithful, and also the Body of Bishops or the Apostles united to Peter cannot err too in teaching the faithfuls in matters of faith and morals.

How about a single Bishop in the Diocese, can he err, like for example in exercising his authority by giving an imprimatur? Since the Bishop, though acting alone is a member of the Church and his authority is united to the Pope Magisterium, the Bishop cannot err if he is in Full Communion with the Pope Magisterium, because the Holy Spirit that is guiding the Church to be indefectible is protecting the Church not to commmit error in teaching all the faithfuls. But, the possibility that a single Bishop can err in his judgement alone is a possibility. That's why the docility of the Bishop to the voice of the Holy Spirit is very important for his thoughts and inspirations be in unity with the Pope Magisterium, that's why Pope Francis during the height of confusions on Amoris Laetetia, had implore all the Priest and the Bishops to seek conversion, for them to receive the same inspirations like what Pope Francis had received from the Holy Spirit.

Conversion means, a soul is docile to the voice of the Holy Spirit and so the soul can see and follow the inspiration of the Holy Spirit very clearly because the gift of discernment aids a soul who had a converted heart.

A single Bishop not in full communion with the Pope Magisterium can err because only in unity with the Pope can the Dogma of Indefectiblity be preserved and protected. That's why a Bishop who are seen in schism with the Pope is definitely a source of error in his teachings and interpretation. Also, a Bishop can err in exercising his authority like in giving imprimatur because the "gift of discernment" to see doctrinal errors in a document was impaired by the sin of pride & disobedience. Blindness to the Truth is rooted in pride and disobedience, but since the Church is Hierarchical in nature, the erring Bishop can be corrected by the Higher Authority to preserved the indefectibility of the Church.

  • Where is it taught that an individual bishop in communion has indefectibility? Can you explain how indefectibility is not violated if one Pope says something which contradicts what earlier Popes or Ecumenical Councils said? – eques Jan 6 at 1:22
  • @eques Read CCC92 and CCC93. There's no contradiction, it is called by Pope BXVI as "hermeneutics of continuity". The contradiction stems from the word "rigid", rigid attitude means oppose to the Holy Spirit inspirations.Pope Francis called Rad Trads "rigid". – marian agustin Jan 6 at 5:12
  • That doesn't answer the question at all. If one Pope or Ecumenical Council says there are three persons in God (e.g Trent, Vatican I, Pope John II, Pope Gregory the Great, et al), what happens if another Pope says something like "there are 4 persons in God"? Or can such a thing never happen? – eques Jan 6 at 14:46
  • " not even mere material heresy, " That is definitely NOT Catholic doctrine. To suggest that would mean the Pope as an individual possess a perfect intellect, but Pope Honorious was corrected after death by an ecumenical council, proving that his comments were heretical – eques Jan 6 at 21:44
  • @eques your views seems coming from corrupted sources. First, the word "IF" makes your proposition not credible, please talk only of facts. Re Pope Honorius I, it is refuted million times, a Council cannot judge a Pope read Canon1404. The Pope does not possess a perfect intellect but the Holy Spirit charisma was bestowed upon him it is called "a never failing faith" read Luke22:32. – marian agustin Jan 6 at 22:48

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