As the leader of the Roman Catholic Church, the Pope is one of the most influential people in the world. How often has the Pope spoken ex cathedra?
Popes have spoken ex cathedra on two occasions. The first of these came in 1854 when Pope Pius IX stated that the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary was officially Catholic doctrine. The second came in 1950 when Pope Pius XII declared that the Assumption of Mary was recognized in the Catholic faith.
For more on papal infallibility and examples of the Pope speaking ex cathedra, read on.
Papal infallibility is dogma stating that the Pope, as the head of the Roman Catholic Church and the successor of Saint Peter, has the highest authority on earth in matters of the Catholic faith.
The term is surrounded by a great deal of confusion and misinterpretation, with some believing that it means the Pope is immune to sin. This isn’t the case, as it is accepted that even somebody whose faith is absolute might still act in a way that is in opposition to their beliefs.
Some also believe that papal infallibility means that the Pope has absolute power to determine Catholic doctrine, alone. In reality, the Pope determines doctrine in unison with the Catholic bishops, even if the Pope serves as the head of this group.
Bishops also embody papal infallibility, but only so long as they carry Catholic doctrine with them and act accordingly. They cannot define doctrine alone, but they can ensure that Catholic beliefs are spread and observed.
Throughout history, there have been few occasions where papal infallibility was called into use. In these instances, the Pope might speak “ex cathedra”, a Latin phrase that means “from the chair”. These incidents are rare, as most Catholic doctrine has existed for many centuries.
The term refers to the Pope speaking from their throne and making an absolute statement that particular dogma is officially part of the Catholic faith. Ex cathedra has also come to be used in a wider sense to refer to anybody making an authoritative statement, whether or not they are in a position to do so.
While there are several other examples of papal infallibility in history, there are only two times that Popes specifically spoke ex cathedra. Both of these instances regarded the Virgin Mary, in cases where particular beliefs did not have their foundation in scripture.
The first of these came in 1854 when Pope Pius IX addressed the issue of the Immaculate Conception. The Immaculate Conception refers not to the conception of Jesus, as is sometimes believed, but to the conception of Mary.
Original sin is an integral part of Catholic doctrine. It states that all humans are born with sins inherited from their ancestors, originating with Adam and Eve’s disobedience of God in the Garden of Eden.
The only way to be freed of Original Sin is by the grace of God. The Immaculate Conception is the belief that Mary, as the mother of Christ, was born without inherited sin, by God’s grace.
The belief had been present in Catholicism for many years but Pius IX made a papal endorsement of it in 1854. Sixteen years later, in 1870, the First Vatican Council made it an official part of Roman Catholic dogma when they established papal infallibility.
Assumption of Mary
The second time that a Pope spoke ex cathedra was in 1950 when Pope Pius XII addressed the Assumption of Mary. The Assumption refers to the Virgin Mary being raised into heaven to live with her son, Jesus Christ, for eternity.
The majority of people have to wait until the end times for the resurrection of their physical bodies. Mary was able to have a physical and spiritual presence in Heaven, as she was free of original sin.
Like the Immaculate Conception, the Assumption of Mary is not directly mentioned in the New Testament of the Bible.
Belief in the Assumption can be found as early as the 5th Century, but it has been a divisive subject between Catholics and Protestants because of its absence from the Bible. The endorsement from Pius XII made the Assumption an official part of the Catholic faith.
Neither example of Popes speaking ex cathedra came as a surprise to Roman Catholics. Both the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption were widely accepted parts of Catholic doctrine for many centuries before they were officially endorsed by the Pope.