In a previous incarnation of my website I had posted a list of all the infallible teachings of the Church. This list was compiled by a professor who went through Ludwig Ott’s “Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma” and gleaned all the doctrines that were marked “de fide.” The reason I did this was because I had been in a debate with a Protestant who asked me “Is there an infallible list of infallible teachings?” His implication was that if there is not such a list, then you can’t really know what is infallibly taught and what is not.
The short answer to his question is: no, there is not actually such a list, at least not officially. Nowhere in the deep recesses of the Vatican archives is there a musty parchment which details exactly which doctrines are infallibly taught and which are not. The list from Ott’s book is useful, but it is actually Ott’s interpretation of what is de fide, and not binding on Catholics.
However, I don’t believe that this lack of an infallible list is a problem, because I believe the presuppositions behind the question itself are faulty.
First, the question betrays a materialistic mindset. With the advent of sola scriptura and the invention of the printing press, many Christians view the written word as the only infallible means of communicating God’s revelation. The spoken word, which was supreme in ancient cultures but has fallen out of favor in modern times, is not considered a reliable method of conveying information. If something cannot be seen and touched, it cannot be trusted. Thus, passing on a belief by oral tradition is considered messy and unreliable, but passing it on via the written word is safe and reliable. If there is no written list of infallible teachings, the thinking therefore goes, how can anyone know what is infallibly taught?
Second, this question reduces the Christian religion to a list of intellectual concepts to be accepted, not a faith to be lived. The primary means of passing on the Faith through the centuries has been the praying life of the Church, primarily the liturgy, not catechism classes or reading assignments. The Assumption of Mary, for example, was not infallibly declared until 1950, but it was liturgically celebrated since at least the 5th century. We know what the Church teaches by living it, not simply learning it.
Third, this question creates a false dichotomy between infallible doctrines and other authoritative teachings. Implicit in the question is the assumption that one must only believe the infallible teachings and is free to reject all other common teachings of the Church. However, this is a legalistic way of looking at our Mother the Church. What loving child calculates which minimum set of directives from his mother he must follow to be in her good graces? Rather, does he not want to embrace all that his mother teaches him? As he matures, he may come to different conclusions over smaller matters, but this is always done with great respect for his mother’s views.
Finally, the one who demands an infallible list doesn’t understand the purpose of having infallible teachings in the first place. The Church does not define beliefs infallibly so that Christians may be burdened with a checklist of things they must accept in order to be saved. The Church instead defines beliefs infallibly so that we might be enabled to know and love God more fully. Typically the Church will only define something infallibly if it finds that the rejection of such belief endangers the souls of those in its flock. It is usually a defensive measure. For example, when the Church defined the doctrine of the Trinity – that God is three persons in one nature – it did so because opposing beliefs, such as that of the Arians, were endangering countless souls. If the belief that Christ was but a creature prevailed, the consequences would have been staggering. The Church realized that this debate had to be settled definitively and therefore declared authoritatively the doctrine of the Trinity. Never again was the Church tempted to deny the divinity of Christ, because the teaching on the Trinity became an integral part of the life of the Church.
All the above is not to say that having knowledge of which teachings are infallible is unimportant. Quite the contrary; at times, especially when debating finer points of theology, it can be vital. And typically this is quite easy to determine. But in the day-to-day life of the average Catholic, having a list of infallible teachings readily available is unnecessary. As I stated earlier, the purpose of infallible teachings is to help souls draw closer to Christ. And it is by simply following the Church – through the teachings of her living magisterium and by the reception of her sacraments – that we are best able to do this. When we die, we will not be given an examination asking us to list official Church teaching, but will instead be given an examination of conscience: did we, through the grace given to us through faith in Christ, love God and love others?