Infallibility, Integrity and Obedience: The Papacy and the Roman Catholic Church, 1848-2023

By John M. Rist

An excoriating study of the history of papal authority in the Roman Catholic Church since the late nineteenth century, and how it has led to the present doctrinal crisis.

ISBN: 9780227179390


The doctrinal and structural revolution currently underway in the Roman Catholic Church is alarming for several reasons, not least because of the arbitrary nature of its imposition and the absence of resistance it has encountered. The reluctance of many to challenge the authority of the pope, tied to the increasing personal veneration by the faithful of each successive incumbent of the Holy See, is arguably a symptom of unresolved unclarity surrounding the nature of authority in the Church dating back to the First Vatican Council.

In Infallibility, Integrity and Obedience, John Rist unflinchingly exposes the developments that have bred this crisis of understanding – and the resulting rejection of tradition in the papal agenda – over the past hundred and fifty years. Reserving particular attention for the Roman Catholic dilemmas, political and theological, of the 1930s, the mid-twentieth-century debates on reproductive technology, and the advent of ‘celebrity autocracy’, he shows how a misapprehension of the nature and definition of papal infallibility is at the root of the major issues facing the Church today. Most importantly, he proposes how the conciliar and individual decisions that have led to the current situation might be reversed, and how the proper role of the Pope can be reclaimed for the good of the Church.

Additional information

Dimensions 234 × 156 mm
Pages 246

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About the Author

John Rist is Professor of Classics and Philosophy Emeritus at the University of Toronto, former Father Kurt Pritzl Chair in Philosophy at the Catholic University of America and has taught (as Regius Professor of Classics) at the University of Aberdeen, at the Patristic Institute in Rome and at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. His more recent publications include: What is Truth? From the Academy to the Vatican; Augustine Deformed: Love, Sin and Freedom in the Western Moral Tradition; Plato and the Discovery of Moral Realism and What is a Person? His latest book, written in collaboration with his wife Anna, is Confusion in the West: Retrieving Tradition in the Modern and Post-Modern World. He was received into the Roman Catholic Church in 1980.



1. Toward the Syllabus of Errors
2. From The Syllabus of Errors to Pastor Aeternus (1870)
3. Leo XIII: Top- Down Pastor
4. Saint Pius X and the Modernist Dragon
5. The 1930s: Fascists, Nazis, ‘New Theologians’, Condoms
6. The End of an Era? Pius XII as Past and Future
7. Who Changed What at Vatican II?
8. The Pope, the ‘Pill’ and the ‘ Woman Problem’
9. Celebrity Autocracy: John Paul II
10. Joseph Ratzinger: Poacher Turned Gamekeeper?
11. Perón Meets Ignatius: The Choice Against Tradition
12. Modest Conclusions, Less Modest Suggestions

Very Select Bibliography


Endorsements and Reviews

In this invigorating study of the modern papacy, Professor John Rist identifies the conjoining of four elements, which have caused serious damage to the Church: the creeping authority of the Pope stemming from uncertainty surrounding Vatican I; the servility and silence of the bishops in response; a revolutionary aspect on the part of the Jesuit order; and the unthinking obedience of a poorly instructed laity. Rist argues persuasively that the authentic truth of Vatican I, that the gift of the Holy Spirit is given to the successors of St Peter to safeguard the Deposit of Faith, must be restored before things become beyond repair on the human level. Chief among his proposals is that the nineteenth century misuse of the term ‘infallibility’ should be strictly curtailed to its primary meaning, that the Church and the pope must always cling to basic Catholic dogma, and a hierarchy of truths must be recognized. John Beaumont, author of The House with a Hundred Gates.

One need not necessarily agree with all of Dr. Rist’s account of recent Church history or his proposed solutions to the current crisis in the Church, but one must recognize that he has clearly exposed the root of an important cause of this crisis. He unquestionably documents a dangerous growth of an exaggeration of papal authority and irrational obedience to the papal will. Although these exaggerations can appear welcome when exercised by faithful popes with good intentions, he shows how they can be repurposed to deconstruct the Church and her doctrine. This may be one of the most important books written to wake Catholics up to this danger.Brian M. McCall, Orpha and Maurice Merrill Chair in Law, University of Oklahoma

I’m old enough to remember, quite vividly as a child, Pope Pius XII. I pray for him, along with every pope of my lifetime, every day. That includes Pope Francis—wholeheartedly. And yet, while a book like John Rist’s is diminished by its flaws, it’s not entirely unfair about our current moment. One can’t help but wonder if somewhere a young Erasmus has the draft of a new Exclusus in his drawer. The original was withering. We should hope that the Church in our day will have a kinder legacy. Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., is the archbishop emeritus of Philadelphia In Public Discourse, October 2023

Rist opens his book with a very through discussion of the debate leading up to the formal proclamation of papal infallibility Vatican I. He explains the ardent desire of Pope Pius IX for unambiguous support of his primacy—which he inelegantly expressed by saying: “I am the Church! I am the tradition!” Rist also explores the argument advanced by opponents of the initiative, such as Ignaz von Dollinger, whose implacable hostility toward the claim of papal infallibility eventually led to his excommunication. Phill Lawler in Catholic Culture, 2024