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The website of the University of Dayton has a page dedicated to the dogmatic status and meaning of Mary's Perpetual Virginity. In it we find means by which the Church may have assurance of the infallibility of certain teachings:

There are other norms by which the Church may have assurance that a teaching has been infallibly revealed by God: consensus fidelium (i.e. general agreement among the entire body of believers "from the bishops down to the last of the lay faithful" [Lumen Gentium #12]); and "universal ordinary magisterium" (i.e. frequent authoritative teachings affirming one perspective on a topic given by the Pope alone, or by the episcopate in general).

Later on in the article we see this applied to the teaching of Mary's Perpetual Virginity:

On the topic of Mary's perpetual virginity, we have double assurance that the teaching may be considered as infallibly revealed in light of the statement of the fifth Ecumenical Council and by virtue of its constant use in the life of the Church afterwards (i.e. consensus of the faithful and universal ordinary magisterium).

So, one of the means by which the Church may be assured that the Perpetual Virginity of Mary is an infallible teaching is by virtue of it's constant use in the Church following it's statement in the 5th Ecumenical Council. However there are anathema's associated with denying the perpetual virginity of Mary which were announced, not only at that council, but in councils which followed.

The official acts of the 5th council contain an anathema condemning those who deny "that nativity of these latter days when the Word of God came down from the heavens and was made flesh of holy and glorious Mary, mother of God and ever-virgin, and was born from her.".

The Lateran Council of 649, convened by Pope Martin I contained this condemnation associated with denying the Perpetual Virginity:

If anyone does not, according to the Holy Fathers, confess truly and properly that holy Mary, ever virgin and immaculate, is Mother of God, since in this latter age she conceived in true reality without human seed from the Holy Spirit, God the Word Himself, who before the ages was born of God the Father, and gave birth to Him without corruption, her virginity remaining equally inviolate after the birth, let him be condemned.

A teaching is given to the Church, if you deny the teaching you are condemned, and then all the believers in the teaching are pointed to as proof of the infallibility of the teaching! What choice did they have when the only ones who get to stay in the Church are those who accept the teaching?

  • It has been clarified to me elsewhere that a denier of a doctrine has separated themselves from the church rather than having been expelled but there appears to be no practical distinction as regards this question as they are, in either case, recognized by the Church as separated and their opinion is excluded from 'consensus fidelium'.

My question is, How can the universal acceptance of a teaching within the Roman Catholic Church stand as assurance of that teaching's infallibility when the teaching itself assigns condemnation to deniers of it and considers them to be separated from the Church and, therefore, removed from consensus fidelium?

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  • Catholic dogma is for Catholics. Those Catholics who denies these dogma are condemned. If one professes to be Catholic, one must accept the Church dogmas or be condemned as a heretic.
    – Ken Graham
    Commented Feb 23, 2023 at 15:00
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    @KenGraham Yes. I understand that. The question is, How can universal belief of a teaching within the Church then be used as proof of infallibility when disbelieving that teaching gets you kicked out. Sensus Fidelium seems like a product of anathema not truth. Commented Feb 24, 2023 at 13:06
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    Great question. This 2014 ITC paper maybe relevant to the Catholic Church's current self understanding of sensus fidelium: sensus fidei in the life of the church. Commented Mar 12, 2023 at 13:04
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    To do justice to this question it is necessary to expound on the nature of the magisterium, infallibility, dogmas, etc. An excellent answer will certainly not be short.
    – Glorius
    Commented Mar 25, 2023 at 15:52

1 Answer 1

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I created an account just to answer this, because although I may not be a Catholic, but I see that you've raised such a critical question. In essence, I believe your question can be posed as:

"How can a doctrine be considered the absolute truth if people only accept it to avoid being condemned by the church?"

If you're looking for a lengthy, comprehensive answer about the exposition of the Catholic dogma and the technicalities for its infallibility, this wouldn't be it. But if you want to hear an honest answer from a fellow Christian, I'll be giving one.

If your intention is to see that the Catholic church does not condemn a believer for refusing to accept the perpetual virginity of Mary, then yes, I do support your view. Would Jesus kick you out and condemn you for believing that His earthly mother is not a virgin? Let's be frank. Would Jesus be offended just because you only believe that Mary was a virgin at the time of His birth, and not thereafter? If you firmly believe that Jesus is your Lord and Saviour, born of the virgin Mary, and you repent of your sins to God every day, wouldn't that be of greatest importance? Would your belief against the perpetual virginity of Mary really affect your faith in Jesus and what He can do in your life?

In all honesty, again if you want to hear what a fellow Christian has to say, doctrines such as the perpetual virginity of Mary are not what a church should be putting energy into debating about. The Church of Jesus Christ was placed in this world to serve one and only one purpose: to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ to all who has ears to hear. And as Jesus Himself said, “…this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a testimony unto all the nations; and then shall the end come” (Matthew 24). Isn't this what every Christian should focus on? Shouldn't we orient our entire lives to wholeheartedly serve that purpose -- to find that one lost sheep?

We must not create more division among our fellow Christian brothers and sisters. Christianity is the most divisive religion in the world with tens of thousands of denominations. One may say that the anathema set by the Catholic church was done for the purpose of uniting the church, but nonetheless it has done the exact opposite. It has created "dissident" Christians and caused many to question the governance of the Catholic church who are putting Jesus Christ in a bad light, portraying Him to be petty, oversensitive, and almost vindictive.

Forgive me if I sound a little too blunt but that's just how I have to get my message across. It's time to stop restricting ourselves to the trees and start looking at the forest.

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    @TacoBlayno, I appreciate the edit!
    – Maximus T.
    Commented Mar 27, 2023 at 19:02
  • Welcome to the site, especially as a profound question elicited your joining, and giving a powerful answer. The only comment I make is regards you saying you wish to "get your message across". The site is for asking questions that can receive answers from a wide range of views, but the goal is to answer the question without giving personal opinions. Of course one must answer in accordance with their beliefs, given that substantiating evidence is used. Sometimes an answer can be closed if taken to be a personal opinion. I don't take your answer that way, however. Please keep contributing!
    – Anne
    Commented Mar 28, 2023 at 10:31
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    Your rephrasing of my question is close but only close. It's not a question about believing something just to avoid condemnation by the Church (although that is part of it) but about such enforced belief being used as evidence of a teaching's infallibility. Commented Mar 28, 2023 at 13:02
  • @Anne - Thank you for your advice. That is something I understood as I browsed through C.SE. More seminary-like, and less personal. I definitely could have rephrased my answer to make it sound less personal but nonetheless it remains close to my heart. In any case, I will keep that in mind and I look forward to contributing more on this site.
    – Maximus T.
    Commented Mar 29, 2023 at 17:52
  • @MikeBorden - (1/2) I see your point. The primary reason for a teaching's infallibility is that it's directly sourced from Scripture, such as the Ten Commandments (Exo 20:1-17), the Fruit of the Spirit (Gal 20:22-23) and the physical Second Coming of Jesus Christ (Act 1:9-11). If the teaching is the result of interpretation of Scripture (an example being the perpetual virginity of Mary), it should not be considered infallible by any means. It can be a doctrine of the church but it is not a dogma. [...]
    – Maximus T.
    Commented Mar 29, 2023 at 18:22

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