The Magisterium of the Reigning Pope and Papal Indefectibility
The Pope has what is known as his own ordinary magisterium (#4 above), his own teaching authority, and this by divine appointment (Mt 16:18–19). This is separate from, and in addition to, any pronouncements he might make ex cathedra (#1 above).
The Magisterium of the Catholic Church is neither external to the Pope nor separate from him (#1 through #6 above). In fact, for the teaching authority of the bishops throughout the world to be valid and authentic, it necessarily has to be in communion with the Pope.
The Magisterium is neither external to the Pope nor optional with regard to its acceptance and the subjection to it by all the Catholic faithful, because it is the Pope who
- by divine appointment, has supreme and full authority over the universal Church, including, but not limited, to the Catholic Church itself; and
- is the Supreme Guarantor, the Supreme Witness, of the Faith by virtue of (a) the charism of truth and (b) the charism of a faith that never fails (Lk 22:32) granted to him, and to him alone, by God as an intrinsic part of the privileges of his office as the Vicar of Christ.
Assistance is given by God to the Pope when the latter exercises his ordinary magisterium: Divine assistance is also given to the successors of the apostles, teaching in communion with the successor of Peter, and, in a particular way, to the bishop of Rome, pastor of the whole Church, when, without arriving at an infallible definition and without pronouncing in a “definitive manner,” they propose in the exercise of the ordinary Magisterium a teaching that leads to better understanding of Revelation in matters of faith and morals. To this ordinary teaching the faithful are to adhere to it with religious assent which, though distinct from the assent of faith, is nonetheless an extension of it (The Catechism of the Catholic Church, Article IX, paragraph §4:892).
Public statements by the Pope that do not qualify as ordinary and universal magisterium also have an authority that Catholics are not free to dismiss. They are required to give such teachings religious submission in accordance with the declaration of Vatican Council II as follows: Bishops, teaching in communion with the Roman Pontiff, are to be respected by all as witnesses to divine and Catholic truth. In matters of faith and morals, the bishops speak in the name of Christ and the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent. This religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra; that is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will. His mind and will in the matter may be known either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking (Lumen Gentium, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, §25).
As evidenced in Sacred Scripture, Christ said, I say to you, “You are Peter and on this Rock I will build My Church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of Heaven. Whatsoever you shall bind upon the earth, it shall be bound also in Heaven, and whatsoever you shall loose upon the earth, it shall be loosed also in Heaven” (Mt 16:18-19). Thus, Saint Ambrose said, Ubi Petrus, ibi Ecclesia, ibi Deus [Where there is Peter, there is the Church and there is God], because it is Peter – the Pope – who is the Rock, the Guarantor of the Faith, and this by divine appointment. Christ Himself prays to the Almighty Father for the Pope.
Christ, Who is God, declared the true Church to be indefectible. The Pope is, thus, himself indefectible in terms of the Faith and what is needed to be saved precisely because the Church is indefectible. This is true not just when the Pope teaches ex cathedra under the charism of infallibility, but also when he teaches non-infallibly as part of his ordinary magisterium. The Guarantor of the Faith can never fall into the grave sins of apostasy, heresy or schism, because he is safeguarded from doing so by the prevenient grace of God – operating grace (not cooperating grace). Throughout the entire history of the Catholic Church, in which resides the fullness of the Church that was established by Christ while still on earth, no canonically-elected Pope has ever fallen into any one of these three sins or combination thereof while reigning as Pope, despite repeated and apparent claims to the contrary, precisely because of this ongoing gift of prevenient grace. The above-referenced gift of grace, which has been granted to Peter and each one of his successors until the end of all time, is not provided by God for the personal benefit of the Pope. It is provided for the benefit of humanity so that the ark of salvation which is the Church never fails and the gates of Hell do not prevail.
The true Church, therefore, can easily be discerned as being where the Pope is, in accordance with Saint Ambrose’s declaration, because it is the Pope and no one else who has been granted the divine gifts of the charism of truth and the charism of a faith that never fails.