Robert Letham points out that it is rather ironic that it was a council (Vatican I, 1870) that declared the doctrine of papal infallibility. Given the historic tensions between councils and popes, it’s a little curious in itself. But as one commentator put it, “the Pope needed a council to pronounce infallibly that he never needed it!”
That’s like my asking you why you try to find evidence that protestant doctrine was taught and believed by the Fathers.
You believe in the perspicuity of Scripture and that the Church can wholly defect. What the Church taught in previous ages could be (and is in many cases) different or completely opposed to what you think Sacred Scripture teaches and it wouldn’t matter a whit.
That said, the Pope no more needed a council to ratify his authority than Jesus needed the gospels to be written for his words to be authoritative.
Just because a council said it didn’t mean it wasn’t true the day before the council said it.
Keith Matheson, in The Shape of Sola Scripture (pgs 58-63), argues (following Brian Tierney’s Origins of Papal Infallibility) that the doctrine was first developed and promulgated around 1300 as a defense against papal tyranny: the Franciscans were trying to defend an earlier papal bull agreeing with their doctrine of the poverty of Christ against a later pope who wanted to retract that earlier agreement.
Matheson (pg 61), quoting Tierney: “There is no convincing evidence that papal infallibility formed any part of the theological or canonical tradition of the church before the thirteenth century; the doctrine was invented in the first place by a few dissident Franciscans because it suited their convenience to invent it; eventually, but only after much initial reluctance, it was accepted by the papacy because it suited the convenience of the popes to accept it.”
However, it’s possible that Vatican I still had the orginal purpose of the doctrine in mind — that is, it may have been asserted by that council as a defense against papal deviation.
Vincent of Lerins not withstanding, the late arrival of a doctrine does not mean it wasn’t contained in seed form in the Deposit of Faith all along. Of course Cardinal Newman’s work on the development of doctrine is the best place to go for a defense of that concept.
To attribute the motives of convenience both to the Franciscans and the Popes seems dubious at best.
The rigorous processes through which a doctrine must pass to be considered de fide seems like too much to think that some group of monks or even one Pope could push a doctrine through without actual support from the Church.
Of course believing that the Holy Spirit guides the councils and Popes into all truth doesn’t hurt anything either.
Matt, I don’t disagree with your statement that “the late arrival of a doctrine does not mean it wasn’t contained in seed form in the Deposit of Faith all along.” But it would have to be *demonstrated* that it was there in seed form, so that this doesn’t become merely a convenient and unfalsifiable defense driven by an a priori assumption.
To “attribute the motives of convenience” is indeed dubious if there’s no evidence, but the evidence here is pretty strong that that is exactly what was going on. According to Tierney (via Matheson) the Franciscans promulgated this doctrine precisely to protect their doctrine of Christ’s poverty by referring to an earlier pope who supported them, arguing that a later pope cannot change it back. In other words, the Franciscans said what their motive was. “Convenience” suggests mere self-interest and that’s not what they were about, but convenience in Tierney’s statement means rather that it served their purposes, which was defend what they considered to be sound doctrine. I don’t think a group of monks pushed this through, but all doctrines have a beginning and this was apparently the beginning of this one.
And actually, “believing that the Holy Spirit guides the councils and Popes into all truth” does indeed hurt, since the Scripture doesn’t teach that.