Sorry for the delay, I had to prepare for a class presentation yesterday.
While it is true there are many flavors of Catholics, there are documents and beliefs, all of which are based upon scripture, which we subscribe to and from which we are able to forge our identity. It is also true we as a church have become very polarized in the last 20 years over ideological battles and what these documents actually mean. Very sad, in my book.
I would, however, point out that we Catholics do not believe in the dualistic notion of either fath or works. Rather we believe in faith and works, that it is our faith that motivates us to work for a more just world, relieve suffering, and so forth. The scriptural basis for this is in James 2:14-26
I too believe free will is important, and we do indeed have the freedom to accept or reject God's call, and God, in his infinate love for us, will honor our desire. God's grace, mediated by the Holy Spirit, is indeed at work in our desire to love and Follow God in the person of Jesus Christ, thus the concept of the Trinitarian God.
Infallibility is a concept which is frequently misunderstood, even among many catholics. The first way, as you point out, is the pope speaking ex cathedra, which you correctly say, has only been done twice in the last 150 years, thie first regarding the immaculate conception, the second regarding her bodily assumption into heaven. While in theory the Pope can make the pronouncement alone, in practice, the pope must take into account the belief of the Church in making his pronouncement. This is why both Popes made their pronouncements only after extensive consultation among the bishops in order to guage whether this is a belief which is widely held.
The second way in which infallibility is practiced is by ecumenical council, whereby the pope and bishops meeting in conclave make pronouncements after debate and democratic vote. The most recent example of an ecumenical council is the Second Vatican Council in the early 60's.
Getting back to the original question, the things I have been reading in my Scripure and Christology classes are:
Jesus: A Gospel Portrait by Donald Senior, 1992.
Ancient Christian Gospels by Helmut Koester, 1990
Interpreting the New Testament, and the Sacra Pagina commentary on Matthew's Gospel, both by Daniel Harrington
Plus a number of articles by Rudolf Bultmann and Vincent Taylor.
Hope this rather long-winded answer helps. Thanks for taking the time to respond.
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