Questions:The third question jumps out the most at me, as far as "the history of ideas" goes. It's a connection I've made with regard to other 19th century ideas such as the "inerrancy of scripture."
Question of new context: “superstar” status of Pope, and centralization of governance combined with telecommunications making a new situation for role of bishop than was at Vatican II. (Imagine any historical absolutist government with access to e-mail.) Because of this, does the relative “access” to the Pope—even though it is more perceived than real, coming as it generally does through various media outlets—effectively undermine the ordinary magisterium of the local bishops and episcopal conferences?
Significance of the Doctors of the Church as raised by McGinn as a source or level of teaching authority distinct from laity, episcopacy and papacy.
Is the insistence on “irreformability” or “infallibility” of a doctrine ultimately self-destructive? Does it destroy faith by undercutting the work of fundamental theology and its attendant understanding? It is, in fact, an outgrowth of, or capitulation to, modernity’s critique of faith?
Has the notion of infallibility undermined the impact of any other teaching by the magisterium? Have all other definitions become de facto “disregardable” by the laity, or at the very least, much less likely to be received seriously? Even in stylistic terms, the recourse to defining a teaching as “noninfallible” is bound to strike the ear flatly.
I suppose as a "reaction to modernity," these might be understood as an answer as to what was being claimed as the fundamental "inerrancy" of the physical sciences. Since the popular mind was being swayed by the propaganda of the Enlightenment--which, though coming later, had claimed for itself the authority of the new modern sciences as proof of its own philosophical programme--there might have been a perceived need for a statement of a similarly strong statement of a fundamental authority or epistemology. I suppose that in some ways it's nothing terribly unusual: just a much more formal claim to be speaking a truth. Anyone who actually holds an opinion believes their opinion to be true, of course. Perhaps these formal articulations were reflective of the perceived "absoluteness" of the opposing philosophical or epistemological claims. Perhaps it's reflective, in some way, to the absolutist nature of the 19th century state. I wonder if anyone has explored that sort of thing in 19th Century Studies. Anyone know anything about that?