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<   No. 1639   2007-07-23   >

Comic #1639

1 Ginny: Look out! Here comes the Pope!
2 Pope Pius XI: E voi chi diavolo siete? Cosa state combinando?
2 [subtitle]: Who the devil are you? What are you up to?
3 Minnesota Jones: Siamo la ditta di pulizie. Stiamo semplicemente lucidando la Serratura di Leonardo.
3 Pope Pius XI: Ah, va bene. Continuate pure. {walks off again}
3 [subtitle]: We're the cleaners. Just polishing da Vinci's lock.
3 [subtitle]: Ah, very well. Carry on then.
4 Monty: I can't believe he fell for that.
4 Minesota Jones: Just because he's the Pope doesn't mean he's infallible.

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Catholic dogma states that the Pope is incapable of making an error when he makes a formal declaration to the Church regarding certain matters of faith or morals, provided he attaches to the declaration the requisite conditions and formalities. This doctrine is known as Papal infallibility.

To those not fully versed in the doctrine, this may at first sight seem ridiculous. After all, what if the Pope says that elephants are pink?

Infallibility comes with several conditions:

  1. The Pope must be speaking in his official capacity as head of the Catholic Church. While the Pope might well say that elephants are pink, for some reason or other (hey, stranger things have happened), he probably wouldn't do so as an official statement.
  2. The statement must be worded as an explicit definition of truth. So even if the Pope was speaking in an official capacity, merely stating that elephants are pink is not good enough. He'd have to say something like, "The Church solemnly declares, decrees, and affirms the absolute and inviolable fact that elephants are pink."
  3. The statement must be accompanied by an additional statement that this teaching is absolute and binding to all members of the Catholic Church, and that any who disagree with it are immediately outside the realms of the Catholic faith. So the Pope has to say something, in an official capacity, like:
    The Church solemnly declares, decrees, and affirms the absolute and inviolable fact that elephants are pink. If anyone, God forbid, should question or deny the self-evident truth of this teaching, or cause doubt of it to any member of the faithful, then let it be known to all that that person has fallen from the Catholic faith, may God have mercy on his miserable misguided soul.
    Now I don't know about you, but I reckon the Pope is highly unlikely to say anything like this about the colour of elephants. But still, he potentially could, which brings up the final condition:
  4. The statement must concern the revelation of matters of faith or morals. This is the real killer. The Pope can rave about the colour of elephants all he likes, but it will never count as an infallible statement, because the colour of elephants is not a matter of faith or morals. (It would be an interesting religion in which this was a matter of faith, and an even more interesting one in which it was a moral issue.)
In fact, Papal infallibility has rarely been invoked. The most recent instance was in 1950, when Pope Pius XII made the infallible statement in the Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimus_Deus that:
By the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own authority, we pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory. Hence if anyone, which God forbid, should dare willfully to deny or to call into doubt that which we have defined, let him know that he has fallen away completely from the divine and Catholic Faith.
This is clearly a matter of faith. If you're anything like me (before researching this annotation), you probably don't even have a good idea what this actually means. It refers to the Assumption of Mary, which is the teaching that Mary (the mother of Jesus) was transported bodily into Heaven at the end of her life on Earth, as opposed to her body simply dying and decaying down here like all the rest of us, while only our souls go to Heaven (if you believe this in the first place). Interestingly, the question of whether Mary died first, and then was transported to Heaven, or if she was transported before death, has long been a point of theological debate in the upper echelons of the Catholic church. Pius XII's infallible statement appears to be carefully worded so as to avoid this aspect of the issue altogether. Make of that what you will.

This is, so far, the only time that the Pope has explicitly invoked infallibility, since the dogma of infallibility itself was only defined in 1870, by the First Vatican Council. Catholic theologians are in general agreement that the 1854 pronouncement of Pope Pius IX on the Immaculate Conception was also an instance of infallibility, since the rules apply retroactively. A few other cases are posited as possible infallible statements over the previous centuries, but there is no consensus on any of those.

On a different tack, I know I am highly fallible when it comes to translation, so I recruited two native Italian speaking readers to help me with the Italian in this strip. Danilo e Diego, molto grazie!


I'm also grateful to Chris B. for sending me the awesome custom made Pope figure. Unfortunately, he sent it to me after I'd made this strip. But the figure was so good I had to go back and do a remake. The original version of this strip is shown here:
Comic #1639 original version

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