Catholics, Orthodox, and other denominations hold that the definitions produced by accepted ecumenical councils are protected from error by the Holy Spirit.

What is the manner of this inspiration? Does that mean these definitions should be treated with the same authority and reverence as accorded for Scripture?

1 Answer 1


Ecumenical councils derive their authority from the pope who ratifies the councils' documents, so your question amounts to asking about papal infallibility or how a pope defines a dogma.

cf. also: "Creed, Encyclical, Decretal, Canon, Bull, etc - What's the difference?", "The Church's Theological Notes or Qualifications"

Also, St. Robert Bellarmine—Book II, ch. XII of On Councils: Their Nature and Authority (from his De Controversiis)—compares the authority of Holy Scriptures to that of councils:

Catholics do not subject the Sacred Scripture to Councils, but places it before them; nor is there any controversy on this point. But if some Catholics sometimes say scripture depends upon the Church, or a Council, they do not understand this in regard to its authority, or according to what it is, but in regard to the explanation and in regard to us.

(from this answer)

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    Here and in your earlier answer you speak of "refuting a Protestant straw-man argument against Catholics". Could you kindly state what that is? Also, I understand that it wasn't until the Council of Trent btwn 1545 and 1563 that many Catholic doctrines were defined/clarified as they had not received official status but the Reformation showed the need to do so. Was their 'divinely inspired' status applied retrospectively?
    – Anne
    Commented Dec 10, 2022 at 13:43
  • So, for instance, the 4th Council of Trent infallibly defined the canon of Scripture in 1546 even though Papal Infallibility wasn't defined until 1870? Commented Dec 10, 2022 at 19:42
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    @MikeBorden That's correct.
    – Geremia
    Commented Dec 10, 2022 at 20:26
  • And Papal Infallibility was infallibly defined by a Pope using the heretofore undefined capacity? Commented Dec 10, 2022 at 20:38
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    @MikeBorden Prior to Pius IX's 1870 definition of the dogma of papal infallibility in Pastor Æternus, papal infallibility was a material (definable) dogma ("a truth revealed by God that the Church has not yet proposed one has to believe under pain of mortal sin against faith and excommunication").
    – Geremia
    Commented Dec 10, 2022 at 21:08

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