When Jesus was on the Earth, He (obviously) held the authority to declare whatever doctrine he wished, as the ultimate authority in His church.

On a tier just below that, prophets like Moses were granted authority to essentially act as God's voice on Earth. To the people following them, there was no functional difference between receiving a commandment from one of these prophets, and from God's actual voice. Exodus 4:16 is an example of principle:

And he shall be thy spokesman unto the people: and he shall be, even he shall be to thee instead of a mouth, and thou shalt be to him instead of God.

I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, so I am accustomed to the idea of having a prophet now who still receives revelation from God in the Isaiah or Moses archetype. I can also comprehend fairly easily, after discussing with my Protestant friends, the concepts and practice when one believes in the end of such a tradition, and relies on the scriptures and personal conscience instead. What I'm fuzzy on is what happens in what feels like a blurry middle ground--where one still believes in following a single leader, who has been ordained by God to lead His church, but one does not go so far as to give him the same authority as Moses/Elijah/Peter and the like.

Does the Pope have power to announce "thus saith the Lord" and pronounce new scripture? To clarify existing doctrines, but not give new (to us) ones? To give definitive interpretations of scripture?

  • "When Jesus was on the Earth, He (obviously) held the authority to declare whatever doctrine he wished, as the ultimate authority in His church." Actually, Jesus did not go beyond what was already written. Mar 16, 2023 at 12:44
  • Yes, but also no? I, and most Christians, would agree with you that Jesus did not "make up" doctrine to be whatever he thought sounded neat. The laws he pronounced are infinite and eternal laws of what is fundamentally right and wrong, and as such these laws already existed. I can see how my phrasing might have made it sound like that, but I didn't really mean that. I'll have to think of a better way to edit it. What I did mean is that Christ had the authority to come and fulfill the law of Moses while changing lots of things that were not already written--i.e., we now worship on
    – Lige
    Mar 17, 2023 at 13:50
  • Sundays rather than Saturdays, eat pork, and don't stone people for adultery. Jesus Christ had the authority to change things like that, which were not already written, and (by extension) we see that a prophet like Moses did as well, when he brought the Law of Moses that Christ eventually fulfilled. It sounds like, from the responses, that most Catholics would say the Pope does not have the authority to do anything like that. Am I making sense?
    – Lige
    Mar 17, 2023 at 13:53
  • 1
    Yes. That clears it up. Thanks. They say the Pope doesn't have such authority but at the same time the Doctrine of Mary's Assumption (which one must believe in order to be Catholic) is admitted to have no biblical basis, so... Mar 18, 2023 at 12:27

2 Answers 2


What degree of authority does the Pope hold to reveal and declare doctrine, or the word of God?

Does the Pope have power to announce "thus saith the Lord" and pronounce new Scriptures? To clarify existing doctrines, but not give new (to us) ones? To give definitive interpretations of scripture?

Papal infallibility has limits. He may not introduce new Scriptures as the Catholic Scriptural Canon was settled in the Early Church in 350 A.D.

Our modern Biblical Canon was more or less finalized in 350 at Jerusalem by Bishop Cyril of Jerusalem. Prior to that Both Irenaeus (in 160) and Origen (early 3rd century) had their own lists.

The canonical Christian Bible was formally established by Bishop Cyril of Jerusalem in 350 C.E., confirmed by the Council of Laodicea in 363 C.E., and later established by Athanasius of Alexandria in 367 C.E. In his Easter letter of 367 C.E., Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, gave a list of exactly the same books as what would become the New Testament canon, and he used the word "canonized" (kanonizomena) in regards to them. The African Synod of Hippo, in 393 C.E., approved the New Testament, as it stands today, together with the Septuagint books, a decision that was repeated by Councils of Carthage in 397 C.E. and 419 C.E. These councils were under the authority of Augustine of Hippo, who regarded the canon as already closed. Pope Damasus I's Council of Rome in 382 C.E., if the Decretum Gelasianum is correctly associated with it, issued a biblical canon identical to that mentioned above, or if not the list is at least a sixth century compilation. Likewise, Damasus's commissioning of the Latin Vulgate edition of the Bible, c. 383, was instrumental in the fixation of the canon in the West. In 405, Pope Innocent I sent a list of the sacred books to a Gallic bishop, Exsuperius of Toulouse. When these bishops and councils spoke on the matter, however, they were not defining something new, but instead "were ratifying what had already become the mind of the Church." Thus, from the fourth century, there existed unanimity in the West concerning the New Testament canon (as it is today), and by the fifth century the East, Eastern Orthodoxy with a few exceptions, had come to accept the Book of Revelation and thus had come into harmony on the matter of the canon. Nonetheless, a full dogmatic articulation of the canon was not made until the Council of Trent of 1546 for Roman Catholicism, the Thirty-Nine Articles of 1563 for the Church of England, the Westminster Confession of Faith of 1647 for Calvinism, and the Synod of Jerusalem of 1672 for the Greek Orthodox. - Biblical canon

Thus a pope can not add new Scriptures to this list as the Catholic Church holds the Public Revelation ended with the death of the last apostle, St. John.

The pope may hold a particular interpretation of Scripture as binding to Catholics, but not always. Some passages of Sacred Scriptures, the Church allows for different interpretations. Many factors are involved in Scriptural exegesis that it would make this answer quite long.

There are other limit to papal infallibility.


Pastor aeternus does not allow any infallibility for the Church or Pope for new doctrines. Any doctrines defined must be "conformable with Sacred Scripture and Apostolic Traditions":

For the Holy Spirit was not promised to the successors of Peter that by His revelation they might make known new doctrine, but that by His assistance they might inviolably keep and faithfully expound the Revelation, the Deposit of Faith, delivered through the Apostles.

It gives examples of the kinds of consultations that are appropriate include assembling Ecumenical Councils, asking for the mind of the Church scattered around the world, Synods, and so on.

Not all Catholic teaching is infallible. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith differentiates three kinds of doctrine:

  • to be believed as divinely revealed to be held definitely

  • following a solemn defining act by a Pope or Ecumenical council

  • following a non-defining act by a Pope, confirming or re-affirming a thing taught by the ordinary and universal teaching authority of bishops worldwide

  • otherwise, to be respected or submitted to (in the case of priests and religious) as part of the ordinary teaching authority of bishops, but without any claim of infallibility.

Examples of doctrines to be believed as divinely revealed include the sayings of Jesus in the Gospels, since the Gospels are part of the Bible, which is part of the deposit of divine revelation, as well as the Immaculate Conception of Mary and the Assumption of Mary, since the documents defining these doctrines state clearly that they are part of the divinely revealed truths. Examples of doctrines to be held definitively include Transubstantiation, the Sacramental Seal, women not being allowed to be ordained as priests, and papal infallibility itself.

In July 2005 Pope Benedict XVI stated during an impromptu address to priests in Aosta that: "The Pope is not an oracle; he is infallible in very rare situations, as we know." Pope John XXIII once remarked: "I am only infallible if I speak infallibly but I shall never do that, so I am not infallible." A doctrine proposed by a pope as his own opinion, not solemnly proclaimed as a doctrine of the Church, may be rejected as false, even if it is on a matter of faith and morals, and even more any view he expresses on other matters. A well-known example of a personal opinion on a matter of faith and morals that was taught by a pope but rejected by the Church is the view that Pope John XXII expressed on when the dead can reach the beatific vision. The limitation on the pope's infallibility "on other matters" is frequently illustrated by Cardinal James Gibbons's recounting how the pope mistakenly called him "Jibbons".

Conditions for teachings being declared infallible

According to the teaching of the First Vatican Council and Catholic tradition, the conditions required for ex cathedra papal teaching are as follows:

  • the Roman Pontiff (the Pope alone or with the College of Bishops)

  • speaks ex cathedra, that is, when, (in the discharge of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, and by virtue of his supreme apostolic authority,) he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals

  • to be held by the whole Church.

The terminology of a definitive decree usually makes clear that this last condition is fulfilled, as through a formula such as "By the authority of Our Lord Jesus Christ and of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by Our own authority, We declare, pronounce and define the doctrine . . . to be revealed by God and as such to be firmly and immutably held by all the faithful," or through an accompanying anathema stating that anyone who deliberately dissents is outside the Catholic Church.

  • So, "Furthermore, we declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff.", from Unum Sanctam, Pope Boniface VII, 1302, is most definitely an infallible Papal statement? Mar 16, 2023 at 12:41

OP: Does the Pope have power to announce "thus saith the Lord" and pronounce new scripture? To clarify existing doctrines, but not give new (to us) ones? To give definitive interpretations of scripture?

The Catholic Church certainly believes it does.

The Council clarified the Latin dogma of papal primacy:

"We likewise define that the holy Apostolic See, and the Roman Pontiff, hold the primacy throughout the entire world; and that the Roman Pontiff himself is the successor of blessed Peter, the chief of the Apostles, and the true vicar of Christ, and that he is the head of the entire Church, and the father and teacher of all Christians; and that full power was given to him in blessed Peter by our Lord Jesus Christ, to feed, rule, and govern the universal Church." Council of Florence (emphasis mine)

As to scripture, it declared the following at Trent.

The Canon of Trent is the list of books officially considered canonical at the Roman Catholic Council of Trent. A decree, the De Canonicis Scripturis, from the Council's fourth session (of 8 April 1546), issued an anathema on dissenters of the books affirmed in Trent.1 The Council confirmed an identical list already locally approved in 1442 by the Council of Florence (Session 11, 4 February 1442),3 which had existed in the earliest canonical lists from the synods of Carthage4 and Rome in the fourth century. Canon of Trent

See page 17-20 for more on this.

As to new doctrine, the Catholic Church would not necessarily use that phrasing, but rather, it might use something like it clarifies and pronounces that which has been believed since the beginning. The four Marion dogmas are examples. See here and here.

Hope that answers your questions.

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