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Over the 2,000 year history of Christianity, there've been 266 popes.
The pope is correctly understood by the world as the leader of the Catholic Church — but who is he more specifically?
According to canon law, the Roman pontiff is the successor of St. Peter, head of the college of bishops and "obtains full and supreme power in the Church."
This is why Blessed Pope Pius IX said in 1870: "Whoever succeeds to the Chair of Peter obtains by the institution of Christ himself, the primacy of Peter over the whole Church. ... This is the teaching of the Catholic truth, and no one can depart from it without endangering his faith and salvation."
This quote comes from the First Vatican Council — the same council that, in its document Pastor Aeternus, defined papal infallibility:
We teach and define as a divinely revealed dogma that when the Roman pontiff speaks ex cathedra, that is, when, in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole Church, he possesses, by the divine assistance promised to him in blessed Peter, that infallibility which the divine Redeemer willed His Church to enjoy in defining doctrine concerning faith or morals.
Although it was clarified in the 19th century, the Church has always understood these teachings.
In the fifth century, St. Augustine writes: "Rome has spoken; the case is concluded" (Sermons, 131, 10).
In the third century, St. Cyprian writes: "Would the heretics dare to come to the very seat of Peter whence apostolic faith is derived and whither no errors can come?" (Letters 59 , 14).
In Sacred Scripture, Jesus specifically gives Peter the keys to the kingdom, saying: "Thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give thee the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven."
In the book of Acts, chapter 15, the Council at Jerusalem is recorded — where Peter has the final word on a dispute that could not be resolved by Paul and Barnabas.
"Peter rose and said to them, 'Brethren, you know that in the early days, God made choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe.'"
After Peter said this, Scripture specifically notes that "all the assembly kept silence."
Catholic apologist Jesse Romero notes about this verse: "They realize that when he (Peter) spoke, it was binding — it was over. He was speaking with the authority of Christ, and so as a result of that, that's why they fell silent."
The three sources of authority in the Church are Scripture, Tradition and the Magisterium. This differs from Protestantism, which made up in the 16th century the belief that Scripture is the only source of authority.
The Church teaches and has always taught that: "In Sacred Scripture, the Church constantly finds Her nourishment and Her strength, for She welcomes it not as a human word, 'but as what it really is, the word of God.'"
It's important to note that the Catholic Church compiled the books of the Bible (also known as the canon of Scripture) in the year A.D. 382.
And the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, which is the center of the Catholic faith, is covered from beginning to end in Sacred Scripture.
With regard to Tradition, the Church teaches: "In order that the full and living gospel might always be preserved in the Church, the Apostles left bishops as their successors. They gave them their own position of teaching authority."
These bishops, originally appointed by Christ Himself, have passed on their God-given authority in an unbroken line to this very day — and this is known as apostolic succession.
The Magisterium exercises this teaching authority of the Church.
The Catechism teaches: "The ordinary and universal Magisterium of the pope and the bishops in communion with him teach the faithful the truth to believe, the charity to practice, the beatitude to hope for."
Under certain or extraordinary circumstances, the pope can exercise on his own this teaching authority called papal infallibility.
The teaching on the infallibility of the pope is often misunderstood. Some think the Church's teaching means he's impeccable or incapable of sin, while others think it means that every single word uttered by a pope is dogma. Both claims usually come from outside the Church as a means to delegitimize the truth of the matter.
Go Premium and click this link to watch the full Mic'd Up with Michael Lofton, who answers the most pressing questions today relating to papal infallibility.