When do popes teach infallibly?

In recent years, some overenthusiastic admirers of Pope Francis, keen to defend his more controversial remarks, have argued that all papal teaching on faith and morals is protected from error, even when not presented in a definitive manner. But there are two problems with this view.

Saint Peter statue outside the Basilica, Vatican, Rome. (Image: Fr. Barry Braum/Unsplash.com)

It is well-known that the Catholic Church teaches that popes are infallible when they speak ex cathedra or exercise their extraordinary magisterium.  What that means is that if a pope formally presents some teaching in a manner intended to be definitive and absolutely binding, he is prevented by divine assistance from falling into error.  The ordinary magisterium of the Church, and the pope when exercising it, are also infallible when they simply reiterate some doctrine that has been consistently taught for centuries.  (Elsewhere, I’ve discussed the criteria for determining whether some such doctrine has been taught infallibly.)  Even when papal teaching on faith and morals is not presented in a definitive and absolutely binding way, assent is normally required of Catholics.  (The rare exceptions are something I’ve also addressed elsewhere.)

Is papal teaching on faith and morals always infallible, even when not presented either ex cathedra or as a mere reiteration of teaching independently known to be infallible?  The Church has not only never claimed this, but deliberately stopped short of claiming it when affirming papal infallibility at the First Vatican Council (despite the fact that some at the time were pushing for this stronger claim).  Hence, that popes are not infallible when not teaching in the manner I’ve described is commonly acknowledged by theologians and churchmen (and, it is worth noting, by traditionalists, conservatives, and liberals alike).  Yet in recent years, some overenthusiastic admirers of Pope Francis, keen to defend his more controversial remarks, have argued for the stronger claim.  For example, Stephen Walford and Emmett O’Regan have asserted that all papal teaching on faith and morals is protected from error, even when not presented in a definitive manner.

But there are two problems with this view.  First, there are no good arguments for it.  Second, there are decisive arguments against it.  Let’s consider these points in turn.

Walford’s and O’Regan’s confusions

In defense of the stronger claim, Walford appeals to several papal statements.  But none of them shows what he claims it does.  For example, he cites a passage from a homily of Pope Benedict XVI that describes papal authority in a very general way, but does not even address the question of whether a pope always speaks infallibly.  He cites a passage from Pius IX that affirms that Catholics ought to submit to papal teaching even when it is not presented in a definitive manner, but Pius too does not there even address the question of whether a pope always speaks infallibly.  Whether a teaching is infallible and whether it is owed assent are, again, separate questions.

The closest Walford gets to a papal remark that might seem to support his case is Pope Innocent III’s statement that “the Lord clearly intimates that Peter’s successors will never at any time deviate from the Catholic faith.”  But Walford himself immediately goes on to admit that it cannot literally be the case that popes “will never at any time” teach error, and cites the famous example of the medieval pope John XXII’s having taught error vis-à-vis the particular judgment.  Walford emphasizes that John held these erroneous views in his capacity as a private theologian (though it is important to note that John did express them publicly in sermons).

What matters for present purposes, though, is that by Walford’s own admission, Pope Innocent’s remark needs qualification.  Now, as already noted, the standard qualification would be that popes can err when neither speaking ex cathedra nor, in their ordinary magisterium, merely reiterating teaching already independently known to be infallible.  And Walford gives no argument for qualifying it in some other way.

Walford also cites this remark from Pope St. John Paul II:

Alongside this infallibility of ex cathedra definitions, there is the charism of the Holy Spirit’s assistance, granted to Peter and his successors so that they would not err in matters of faith and morals, but rather shed great light on the Christian people.  This charism is not limited to exceptional cases.

But this passage too simply fails to show what Walford thinks it does.  John Paul merely says that infallibility can extend beyond the exceptional case of ex cathedra statements, and as I have already acknowledged, a pope’s exercise of the ordinary magisterium can also be infallible when it involves reiterating doctrines consistently taught by the Church for centuries.  But John Paul II did not say, and it does not follow, that infallibility extends to absolutely every statement a pope makes about faith or morals.

O’Regan’s case is, in anything, even weaker than Walford’s.  His opening paragraph appears to suggest that popes are “protect[ed]… from erring in matters pertaining to faith and morals” even in “non-definitive, non-infallible teachings of the ordinary Magisterium.”  This would amount to the thesis that non-infallible teaching is infallible, which is, of course, a self-contradiction.  Not a promising start.

O’Regan’s argument is that even if the Church’s explicit teaching on papal infallibility does not by itself entail that absolutely every papal statement pertaining to faith and morals (even non-ex cathedra ones) must be free of error, this conclusion nevertheless follows from another Catholic doctrine, namely the teaching on the indefectibility of the Church.  He quotes from the Catholic Encyclopedia’s exposition of this doctrine, which says, among other things, that the Church “can never become corrupt in faith or in morals” and that “the Church, in defining the truths of revelation [could not] err in the smallest point.”

But, like the passages cited by Walford, this one simply does not show what O’Regan thinks it does.  What the Catholic Encyclopedia says is that the Church cannot err when “defining” a truth of revelation.  What this means is that it is protected from error when it puts forward some teaching in a solemn and definitive manner (as it does in the decrees of an ecumenical council, or through an ex cathedra papal definition).  The claim is not that absolutely every magisterial statement, including those of a less solemn and definitive nature, will be free of error.  Nor does the doctrine of the Church’s indefectibility imply that.  Certainly O’Regan does nothing to show otherwise (as opposed to merely asserting otherwise).

Like Walford, O’Regan draws fallacious inferences from the passages from Innocent III and John Paul II referred to above.  And like Walford, O’Regan quotes at length from various magisterial passages that expound on papal authority in a general way, but simply do not address the specific question at hand, viz. whether papal statements on faith and morals must in absolutely all circumstances be free of error.  Worse, O’Regan’s rambling article also contains remarks that undermine his case.  He writes:

It is necessary for the ordinary Magisterium to be ready to meet the ever-changing needs of the Church throughout the vicissitudes of history… As such, the ordinary Magisterium is permanently open to refinement and doctrinal development, and is not limited to merely repeat judgments which have been fixed firmly in the past. This confusion seems to arise from a failure to distinguish between the infallible teachings of the extraordinary and ordinary and universal Magisterium (which are in themselves irreformable), and the everyday non-infallible teachings of the ordinary Magisterium, which by their very nature, must remain reformable in order to meet whatever different circumstances may arise throughout the constantly shifting environments of Church history. (Emphasis added)

Now, if a teaching is “reformable,” then it must be possible for it to be erroneous.  In which case, O’Regan is here acknowledging that errors in at least some kinds of magisterial teaching are compatible with the Church’s claim to indefectibility.  But in that case, the appeal to indefectibility can hardly by itself show that papal statements pertaining to faith and morals are guaranteed to be free of error in absolutely all circumstances (rather than only when a pope speaks ex cathedra or reaffirms traditional teaching independently known to be infallible).

The actual teaching of the Church

So, Walford and O’Regan fail to make their case.  Meanwhile, the case for the contrary view – to the effect that it is possible for popes to err when neither teaching ex cathedra nor reiterating the consistent teaching of centuries – is, I maintain, decisive.  There are three main sets of considerations that show this:

The qualifications on infallibility:

When the First Vatican Council solemnly proclaimed the dogma of papal infallibility, it confined itself to asserting that popes are infallible when teaching ex cathedra, specifically.  It did not go beyond that, even though some at the time favored its doing so.  Similarly, the Second Vatican Council, in Lumen Gentium, says that popes are infallible when putting forward some teaching in a definitive way.  Some might note that the relevant passages don’t explicitly deny that papal teaching on faith and morals is infallible even apart from ex cathedra or definitive statements, but that is beside the point.  What matters is that the Church does not herself teach the extreme position that Walford and O’Regan affirm.  It is at best a theological opinion, rather than a doctrine in any way binding on Catholics.

Moreover, taking the view that papal error is indeed possible outside of ex cathedra statements is permitted by the Church, and is explicitly taught in approved theological works of undeniable orthodoxy from the period before Vatican II.  For example, Van Noort’s Dogmatic Theology, Volume II: Christ’s Church, after noting the qualifications on papal infallibility, says:

Thus far we have been discussing Catholic teaching.  It may be useful to add a few points about purely theological opinions – opinions with regard to the pope when he is not speaking ex cathedra.  All theologians admit that the pope can make a mistake in matters of faith and morals when so speaking: either by proposing a false opinion in a matter not yet defined, or by innocently differing from some doctrine already defined.  Theologians disagree, however, over the question of whether the pope can become a formal heretic by stubbornly clinging to an error in a matter already defined.  The more probable and respectful opinion, followed by Suarez, Bellarmine and many others, holds that just as God has not till this day ever permitted such a thing to happen, so too he never will permit a pope to become a formal and public heretic.  Still, some competent theologians do concede that the pope when not speaking ex cathedra could fall into formal heresy. (p. 294, emphasis added)

Similarly, Ott’s Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma states:

With regard to the doctrinal teaching of the Church it must be well noted that not all the assertions of the Teaching Authority of the Church on questions of Faith and morals are infallible and consequently irrevocable.  Only those are infallible which emanate from General Councils representing the whole episcopate and the Papal Decisions Ex Cathedra… The ordinary and usual form of the Papal teaching activity is not infallible.  Further, the decisions of the Roman Congregations (Holy Office, Bible Commission) are not infallible.

Nevertheless normally they are to be accepted with an inner assent which is based on the high supernatural authority of the Holy See… The so-called “silentium obsequiosum,” that is “reverent silence,” does not generally suffice.  By way of exception, the obligation of inner agreement may cease if a competent expert, after a renewed scientific investigation of all grounds, arrives at the positive conviction that the decision rests on an error. (p. 10, emphasis added)

Some will no doubt respond by pointing out that works like Van Noort’s and Ott’s are not themselves official magisterial documents.  That is true, but beside the point.  What matters is that such works were ecclesiastically approved and widely used for the education of priests and theologians in an era when the Church’s emphasis on papal doctrinal authority was perhaps stronger than it ever had been.  Yet they explicitly reject the extreme position later defended by writers like Walford and O’Regan.  They could not have done so if the Walford/O’Regan view really were the teaching of the Church.

(It is worth adding, by the way, vis-à-vis Van Noort’s remarks about Bellarmine and Suarez, that those eminent theologians did in fact allow that a pope’s falling into even formal heresy when not teaching ex cathedra could at least in theory occur.  They simply judged this too extremely improbable to consider it a live possibility.)

Magisterial teaching that contradicts the Walford/O’Regan view:

As it happens, though, it isn’t just that the Church does not teach what Walford and O’Regan say it does, and that the opposite view is permitted.  There are also magisterial statements that positively conflict with the view defended by Walford and O’Regan.

For example, Donum Veritatis, issued under Pope St. John Paul II, explicitly allows that there can be cases where non-definitive magisterial statements “might not be free from all deficiencies” and in some cases may even be open to respectful and tentative criticism by theologians.  (I have discussed this document in detail elsewhere and won’t repeat here what I’ve already said there.)

We saw above how Walford and O’Regan appeal to a statement by Pope Innocent III in defense of their position.  But that particular pope also taught something that points in precisely the opposite direction, when he said: “Only on account of a sin committed against the faith can I be judged by the church” (quoted in J. Michael Miller, The Shepherd and the Rock: Origins, Development, and Mission of the Papacy, at p. 292).  Now, to sin against the faith would be to teach error on some matter of faith or morals.  Hence Innocent III was teaching that it is possible for such error to occur (when a pope is not teaching in a definitive way).  Here Innocent was simply acknowledging a principle already recognized in Gratian’s codification of canon law, and as Christian Washburn has noted in a recent article, two later popes (Innocent IV and Paul IV) made similar statements.

Now, if Walford and O’Regan accept this teaching of Pope Innocent, then they will have to give up their position.  But suppose they hold instead that Innocent was simply mistaken about this.  In that case too, they will have to give up their position.  For if Innocent was wrong to hold that a pope could err when teaching non-definitively on some matter pertaining to faith and morals, then this would itself be an error on his part on a matter pertaining to faith and morals!  In which case, Walford and O’Regan will have to admit that popes can commit such errors when speaking in a non-definitive way.  So, whether they accept Innocent’s teaching or reject it, either way they will have to give up their own position.

There’s yet more irony.  Pope Francis teaches in Gaudete et Exsultate that “doctrine, or better, our understanding and expression of it, is not a closed system, devoid of the dynamic capacity to pose questions, doubts, inquiries.”  Now, if it can sometimes be legitimate to question and doubt doctrines or expressions of doctrine, then that entails that there can be at least some cases where doctrine or its expression could be in error.  For how could it ever be legitimate to doubt or question it otherwise?  But then Pope Francis’s own teaching contradicts the extreme position Walford and O’Regan put forward precisely in his defense!  Hence, if they accept that teaching, they will have to give up their position.  But suppose that Walford and O’Regan were instead to judge that Pope Francis was mistaken here.  In that case too, they would have to give up their position.  For if the pope is mistaken here, then it is an error pertaining to faith and morals.  And in that case, Pope Francis’s teaching would itself be an instance of a pope teaching such error when not speaking ex cathedra.  Either way, then, Pope Francis’s own teaching refutes the position taken by Walford and O’Regan.

Historical examples of erroneous papal statements:

But it gets even worse than that for Walford and O’Regan.  For it’s not just that popes might, in theory, err on a matter of faith or morals when not speaking ex cathedra.  It’s that this has in fact happened, albeit in only a handful of cases.  As already noted, even Walford admits that John XXII erred (and Walford fails to explain why the qualification this requires him to make to his position does not entirely undermine it).  But the most spectacular example is that of Pope Honorius, whose ambiguous words at the very least gave aid and comfort to the Monothelite heresy.  And two papally-approved councils of the Church accused him of worse than that, insofar as they condemned him for holding to this doctrinal error himself.  (I have discussed the case of Honorius in detail here and here.)

Now, if Walford and O’Regan accept these councils’ characterization of Honorius’s views, then they will have to give up their position, since that would be to acknowledge that popes can err when not speaking ex cathedra.  But suppose instead that Walford and O’Regan were to claim that the councils in question erroneously characterized Honorius’s position.  Then, in that case too, they will have to give up their position.  For, again, the councils in question were ratified by popes.  The popes in question thus implicitly affirmed that a pope (such as Honorius) could err when not speaking ex cathedra.  If these popes were wrong about that, then they erred.  Either way, then, Walford and O’Regan will have to give up the position that popes cannot err even when not speaking ex cathedra.

So, not only are there no good arguments for the extreme position defended by Walford and O’Regan, but it turns out to be incoherent.  To get around the various pieces of counterevidence I’ve set out, Walford and O’Regan would have to attribute error to popes precisely in the course of trying to show that popes can never err.

(Editor’s note: This essay originally appeared on Dr. Feser’s blog in a slightly different form and is reprinted here with the author’s kind permission.)


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About Dr. Edward Feser 37 Articles
Edward Feser is the author of several books on philosophy and morality, including All One in Christ: A Catholic Critique of Racism and Critical Race Theory (Ignatius Press, August 2022), and Five Proofs of the Existence of God and is co-author of By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed: A Catholic Defense of Capital Punishment, both also published by Ignatius Press.

66 Comments

    • A Pope found guilty of the crime of heresy by the Church Authority loses the Papacy. If we can subjectively judge wither or not a Pope is a heretic then that would lead to Protestant private interpretation.

      Now how one can judge the Pope under Canon Law is not known.

  1. God’s Holy Spirit is absolutely consistent, as God is not a God rocked back and forth by human sentimentalisms, emotionalisms and lowly passions. It is this sacred and holy consistency that God calls us to when he calls us to be holy with the help of his Holiness and Grace, the highest form of true human evolution. It is pretty obvious that Pope Francis, in his long list of ultra-brazen anti-Holy-Spirit-consistency words, actions, documents, etc. has prepared all this Synod of Synodality to give false legitimacy to anti-Catholic, anti-Truth declarations to later present them in ultimate arrogance as “ex-cathedra truths”.

    They will be invalid, of course, but as many huge sinful fantasies today are enshrined as “law” by political and judicial tyranny mixed with social forceful indoctrination, Francis wants to dovetail on that and do the same with sin and heresy. We must resist permanently this “ex-cathedra” farce, as only complicit compliance can give it any substance.

    Sounds like I am now crazy? Just look at all the monstrosities accepted today that would have been though impossible to happen some decades ago. Naive, blind, false obedience is Satan’s weapon, while absolutely consistent and sacrificial obedience to only Christ is our victory!

  2. For those interested, I interacted with this article and navigated between Feser’s view and O’reagan’s alleged view in the following video: youtube.com/watch?v=tLgK0SUwW3g&t=1779s&ab_channel=Reason%26Theology

    • let’s cut to the chase. Is the statement in Humani Generis that all humans are descended from a single pair of first parents infallible? If so we have a repeat of Galileo on our hands since DNA science establishes, with the same degree of theory and experimentation applied to the earth’s motion around the sun, that humanity evolved from a cluster of primates-not two individuals. If the statement is not infallible than we have dodged a bullet on papal infallibility and we can all enjoy the benefits of modern science in fighting disease.

      • @John Hogan & Karen

        In short yes.

        > Is the statement in Humani Generis that all humans are descended from a single pair of first parents infallible

        According to the Fundamemtals of Catholic Dogma by Ott the following doctrinal propositions are infallible.

        The first man was created by God.(DeFide)
        Our first parents, before the Fall, were endowed with sanctifying grace.
        They were also endowed with donum immortalitatis, i.e., the gift of bodily immortality.
        Our first parents in paradise sinned grievously through transgression of the Divine probationary commandment.
        Through the sin our first parents lost sanctifying grace and provoked the anger and the indignation of God.
        Our first parents became subject to death and to the dominion of the Devil.
        Adam’s sin is transmitted to his posterity, not by imitation, but by descent.
        Original sin is transmitted by natural generation.

        The claim modern DNA science has rendered biological monogenesis impossible has been disputed by my friend Dr. Dennis Bonnette in the third addition of his book THE ORIGIN OF THE HUMAN SPECIES. The claim is overblown.

        OTOH it is possible to concede biological monogensis is not possible for humans and still have a theological monogenesis. Here is a paper to that effect.

        https://www3.nd.edu/~afreddos/papers/kemp-monogenism.pdf

        Feser also addresses it.

        https://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2011/09/monkey-in-your-soul.html

        So yeh we can believe in Evolution and Adam.

        BTW if one wishes to be pedantic. Special Relativity says objects are only in motion relative to frame of the observer. So technically there is no center to the universe so if you want to stand on a planet and make it your frame of reference and say the rest of the Cosmos revolves around that planet that is perfectly valid.

        In a sense Einstein overthrew Gallio like he overthrew Ptolemy.

        Cheers.

        • The picture of a common mother is now, apparently, a genetic DNA-based finding, as reported over thirty years ago. And, which “strengthened the claim that all humans alive today are descended from a single African woman” who lived perhaps 140,000 years ago. This scientific info is reported by Thomas Maugh II: “Out of Africa: New Evidence One Woman is ‘Mother of us All’” (in the Los Angeles Times, October 5, 1989, summarizing molecular biologist Allan Wilson, University of California, at an international genetics conference).

          Also, second, there’s the very different, but still congruent distinction between such science and our finite reason, and what is coherently revealed of the complete Mystery of Divine Truth…

          That is, since God lives in eternity, in the mind of God are all of us—from the very “beginning”—created simultaneously (!) as well as within time and our experience of human history? Simultaneously? Meaning: are all of us of the same and ever-deeper substance, in ways only sketchily disclosed in the linear Genesis narrative? Elsewhere we do refer, too routinely, to the universal natural law—but what does this fact and term fully mean?

          In Adam—the “first” man—we all sinned. But, is there an added twist to this revelation, however, such that in all but the “first” man we suffer only from concupiscence, or the residual tendency of the singular original sin of Adam? Despite Luther, the “earlier” and original innocence is not totally erased.

          It’s all a great mystery—nature and grace, irreducibly both—within the greater and infinite Mystery of the gratuitous Creator God.

        • The contortions inherent in the cited texts include the following. God ensouled two individuals who produced ensouled children in the natural way. These children mated with other homosapians who were not ensouled and were not descended from Adam. This explains our DNA diversity but hardly aligns with straight forward reading of the encyclical. One would have thought infallibility implied clarity. Instead of attempting to clarify the issue the church is saying “move along, there’s nothing to see here”.

          • @John

            >The contortions inherent in the cited texts include the following.

            I hope ye dinnae hurt yer back their mate moving them goalposts? Take some aspirin ye will feel better.

            >This explains our DNA diversity but hardly aligns with straight forward reading of the encyclical.

            You can assert this ad hoc but you haven’t made any rational argument this doesn’t align with a straightforward reading. It seems to be in complete harmony.

            I am afraid nothing in the encyclical excludes this interpretation. I am sorry but it looks to me like you are reading the encyclical with a Protestant mindset and not a Catholic Scholastic one.

            >One would have thought infallibility implied clarity.

            So, are ye a Lutheran then? How cute. Perspicuity is a Protestant thingy mate.

            >Instead of attempting to clarify the issue the church is saying “move along, there’s nothing to see here”.

            So, you have moved the goalposts from Infallibility to Luther’s perspicuity mentality? Catholics are not moved by that.

            Anyway, biological polygenesis is not an impediment to belief in a Historical Adam. Belief in an actual Adam is Dogma.

            Catholic Theistic Evolutionism is superior to the liberal Protestant version that makes Adam a total myth.

          • @Jim, If by complete harmony you mean Adam had ensouled grand children who had unensouled grand parents (read animals) other than Adam and Eve than we have saved the science of human DNA at the expense of the a straightforward reading of Humani Generis namely: “cannot embrace that opinion which maintains that either after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as from the first parent of all”. If the pope said “first and only” than we would have a true Galileo moment in which church teaching was in direct conflict with science. By the way, I’m more a fan of Darwin than Luther.

  3. For those interested, I interacted with this article and navigated between Feser’s view and O’regan’s alleged view in the following video: youtube.com/watch?v=tLgK0SUwW3g&t=1779s&ab_channel=Reason%26Theology

  4. As shown by Dr. Feser, they’re damned if they do and damned if they don’t, these two Walford and O’Regan…

    My identical twin brother and I spent long hours, taking turns with each trying to pronounce two words at the same time, but finally gave it up as impossible. Infallibly so. One had to choose. Even the double-speak (yes?) Synod on Synodality will likely fall into the daresay or heresy of hearsay. We did not yet know that word—”infallible;” butt still abandoned such childish syllabic-shuffling at the early age of four.

    Cardinal Newman explained the meaning of straight-faced infallibility this way: “…not to enfeeble the freedom or vigour of human thought in religious speculation, but to resist and control its extravagance” (Apologia Pro Vita Sua, Image, 1962; p. 329).

    So, the extravagant “Walborgan” pair, or duet or whatever, and the Synodality of “talking together”–take note!

  5. “What that means is that if a pope formally presents some teaching in a manner intended to be definitive and absolutely binding, he is prevented by divine assistance from falling into error.”

    If God did not “prevented by divine assistance from falling into error” for His Jewish Church, why would God do so for His Catholic Church?

    Matthew 26:65 Jesus Before the Sanhedrin.
    Then the high priest tore his robes and said, “He has blasphemed! What further need have we of witnesses? You have now heard the blasphemy; what is your opinion?” They said in reply, “He deserves to die!”

    Matthew 23:1 Denunciation of the Scribes and Pharisees.
    Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, saying, “The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice…
    …“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You lock the kingdom of heaven before human beings. You do not enter yourselves, nor do you allow entrance to those trying to enter. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You traverse sea and land to make one convert, and when that happens you make him a child of Gehenna twice as much as yourselves. “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If one swears by the temple, it means nothing, but if one swears by the gold of the temple, one is obligated.’ Blind fools, which is greater, the gold, or the temple that made the gold sacred?…

    • You ask: “If God did not ‘prevented by divine assistance from falling into error’ for His Jewish Church, why would God do so for His Catholic Church?”

      Could it possibly be that Christ is the one prophesied in the Old Testament (to the Chosen People rather than to a ‘church’), and that now it is He/Christ who promised/promises “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Mt 16:17-19).
      Noting here that Christ IS the incarnate Second Person of the Triune God to whom you refer, and that the Church IS His body of which He (not the pope) remains the head.

      A great Mystery, this Church, and one therefore that minimally is at least protected against affirmative and formal error from Peter’s papal successors, if not from anything and everything else coughed up by hell and high water in our chaotic human history.

      • Hello Peter and James,
        Would you agree that the reason Pope Leo XIII had Christ’s Church pray the ‘Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel’, was for St. Michael to come to earth to protect the Church from Freemasonry taking control of the Chair of St. Peter?

        “Papal ban of Freemasonry,
        Leo XIII “emphasizes that ‘the ultimate and principal aim’ of Masonry ‘was to destroy to its very foundations any civil or religious order established throughout Christendom, and bring about in its place a new order founded on laws drawn out of the entrails of naturalism’.”
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Papal_ban_of_Freemasonry

        After the fall of the papacy’s Papal States temporal power in 1870, Pope Leo XIII was then in tremendous fear of Freemasonry seizing control of the Spiritual power of St. Peter’s Chair as well. In great distress, Pope Leo XIII sent out the Calling All Angels, SOS, Distress, Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel. The prayer to St. Michael the Archangel was recited after all low Masses around the world from the 1880s to 1964. It is still recommended today.

        The 1890 version of the Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel, is really an exorcism prayer, put in place to protect the, “Holy Place” Chair of St. Peter, from the, Matthew 24:15 The Great Tribulation. “When you see the desolating abomination spoken of through Daniel the prophet standing in the holy place”.

        A portion of, Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel 1890 version
        These most crafty enemies have filled and inebriated with gall and bitterness the Church, the spouse of the Immaculate Lamb, and have laid impious hands on her most sacred possessions.

        In the Holy Place itself, where has been set up the See of the most blessed Peter and the Chair of Truth for the light of the world, they have raised the throne of their abominable impiety, with the iniquitous design that when the Pastor has been struck, the sheep may be scattered.

        Arise then, O invincible prince, bring help against the attacks of the lost spirits to the people of God, and bring them the victory.
        Quoted from:
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prayer_to_Saint_Michael…

        Matthew 24:15 The Great Tribulation.
        “When you see the desolating abomination spoken of through Daniel the prophet standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then those in Judea must flee to the mountains, a person on the housetop must not go down to get things out of his house, a person in the field must not return to get his cloak. Woe to pregnant women and nursing mothers in those days. Pray that your flight not be in winter or on the sabbath, for at that time there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will be.

        EWTN’s ‘Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing’ video will show you how the, ‘Liberal’ ‘Progressive’ ‘Democrats infiltrated the Catholic Church to destroy the Catholic Church. The Progressives started after WWI and have grown to become 800 covert organizations world wide, with the goal to destroy Christ’s Church. The Progressives have many operatives at top positions of power in our Catholic Church today.

        https://youtu.be/ZnKB9NzgD4k

        • Just catching up, here. You ask “would I agree.” Short answer, yes.

          Longer answer–mine is a Novus Ordo parish where things are done well, and where the St. Michael Prayer is routine after every daily Mass, and where Perpetual Adoration was installed in September 1986, 24/7, until disrupted by the COVID thingy. And now with steps to re-institute at some level, but with a diminished parish. Adjacent parishes also have daily Adoration, plus the St. Michael Prayer and Rosary before some Masses.

          Very blessed in our neck of the woods, but would you agree that “the wickedness and snares” are no longer limited to Freemasonry…

    • Paul told the Jews in the Letter to the Hebrews the New Covenant was a better covenant. The Old Testament prefigure of the Papacy Isaiah 22:20-23 was uprooted with the Babylonian captivity. However the New Testament Papacy the Messiah promises the Gates of Hell will not prevail. Matt 16:18.

  6. “Admirers of Pope Francis, keen to defend his more controversial remarks, have argued that all papal teaching on faith and morals is protected from error, even when not presented in a definitive manner” (Feser). Here Feser defines the issue, infallibility either a pronounced narrowness, a given faculty, or a universal power resembling God’s inherent infallibility.
    “The ordinary magisterium of the Church, and the pope when exercising it, are also infallible when they simply reiterate some doctrine that has been consistently taught for centuries” (Feser). Antagonists argue that all papal teaching regardless of definitive expression is infallible.
    Antagonists Walford and O’Regan, in addition cite indefectibility, That “the Church ‘can never become corrupt in faith or in morals’ and that the Church, in defining the truths of revelation [could not] err in the smallest point”(Feser citing Walford O’Regan). While I agree with the remainder of Feser’s analysis of the ‘antagonists’ this is an intriguing issue. “It is, remember, the Church of the living God, the pillar and the foundation of the truth. No one can deny that this religion of ours is a tremendous mystery” (1 Tim 3:15). Whatever the Catholic Encyclopedia may intend, the plain meaning pronounced by Christ isn’t conditional.
    If I may suggest as an addition to this point, which isolates the immense issue we’re confronted with, the mistaken moral doctrines of this pontificate, mistakes or errors whatever we wish – and the futile attempts to defend Pope Francis’ remarks by conflating the doctrine of infallibility – that the case may well be that indefectibility exists where it pertains, where and among whom Apostolic tradition is firmly held. That it’s quite possible that members of the Church including those in authority may have distanced themselves from the protection of indefectibility by their apostasy. Is it possible for a Roman pontiff to remain free from error insofar as he upholds Apostolic tradition, as Francis often does by dual messaging compounding the distressful state of affairs, but nonetheless severe himself from unity with the Mystical Body by defect, that is, by heterodoxy if only by suggestion [since his controversial remarks are never definitively stated]? Would that comprise a false Body parallel to the true? Would God allow this as a means of separating the wheat from the chaff?

    • Further notation on indefectibility is the problem of a consistent pattern of remarks, suggestion by word and act, that are effectively hostile to the precise revelation of Christ, and as received and conveyed by the Apostles. Whereas formal error cannot be determined in such instances, a form of error is disseminated among the faith evident in widespread communion without repentance for acts contrary to moral doctrine. We find instance of that in the Malta hierarchy counsel to the faithful to follow their conscience – in context of those living in irregular unions [following the doctrine suggested in Amoris Laetitia, confirmed by oblique papal reference in the exchange of papal Argentine hierarchy letters incorporated in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis]. Germany, and the Synodaler Weg while admonished [by letter] continues to ‘advance’ a concept of pastoral ministry that is antithetical to Apostolic tradition. Favorably suggested by word and act evident in His Holiness’ assignment to the significant role of relator to a homosexual relations [and other aberrations] advocate Card Hollerich SJ. Card Hollerich’s outlook does not differ remarkably from that of the Synodaler Weg.
      Neither should we omit, as now passe, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò’s allegations regarding Pope Francis’ knowledge of the McCarrick dossier. The Pope’s refusal to publicly respond, as he did to the Dubia. Apparently, Our Lord permits this to occur for the first instance in ecclesial history [the Aryan heresy involved a complex theological issue that the vast majority were unable to comprehend] all moral, theological doctrine is mitigated to the point of creeping dissolution. There is a crisis we cannot ignore and argue away by citing theological opinions. We do not meet our responsibility to the faithful by offering them theoretical bromides. We’ve reached the point when we must call it as it is.

  7. I think we can admit the possibility of limited error when popes teach in a manner that is not per se irreformable (i.e. non-infallible). The question is whether the indefectibility of the Apostolic See and Divine Providence would allow such errors to reach the level of formal heresy. Both Suárez and Bellarmine believed Divine Providence would protect the Church from ever having such a heretical pope.
    In Book 4, chapter 3 of De Summo Pontifice, Bellarmine states that “without doubt” (sine dubio) the privilege has been handed down to Peter’s successors, which insures that “in his chair there would never be found someone who would teach contrary to the true faith” (in sede ejus numquam inveniretur qui doceret contra verum Fidem).
    In Book 4, chapter 6, when speaking of the Pope as a particular person, Bellarmine maintains that “it is probable and can piously be believed that the Supreme Pontiff not only cannot err as a Pontiff, but also that as a particular person he cannot be a heretic, by obstinately believing something false contrary to the faith.”
    Bellarmine then provides two proofs for this position. First, “because the gracious disposition of divine providence seems to require it. For the Pontiff not only should not but cannot preach heresy, but also should always teach the truth, and without doubt he will do that, since the Lord commanded him to confirm his brothers” (Nam Pontifex non solum non debet nec potest haeresim praedicare, sed etiam debet semper veritatem docere et sine dubio id faciet, cum Dominum illi juserit confirmare fratres suos). The second proof is from the events of the past (ab eventu): “Because there has never been a heretical pope up till now, or certainly it cannot be proved that any Pontiff was a heretic. Therefore, this is a sign that it cannot happen.” (ergo signum est, non posse esse).
    On whether a pope could fall into heresy, Suárez says: “Even though many affirm this as more probable, nevertheless to me (in brief) it seems more pius and more probable that a Pope could indeed err as a private person out of ignorance but not out of contumacy. For although God is able to prevent a heretical Pope from harming the Church, nevertheless it is more agreeable to the way of divine providence that—since God has promised that the Pope would never err in his definitions—He would insure that there would never be such a heretical Pope. And since up till now there has never been one in the Church, it should consequently be thought that, by the ordination and providence of God, there cannot be one.” De Fide, disp. 10, sect. 6, no. 10: Opera Omina, Vivès ed. Vol. XII, 319.

    Both Bellarmine and Suárez were aware of the case of Pope Honorius I but they did not believe he was guilty of formal heresy because the truth of the two wills of Christ had yet to be defined during his lifetime. Dr. Feser quotes Fr. Ludwig Ott’s Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma. On the case of Pope Honoroius I, Fr. Ott had this to say: “There is no doubt that Pope Honorius I (625-638) was personally orthodox. However, through his prohibition against speaking of two modes of operation he unwittingly favored the Monothelite error. The Sixth General Council wrongly condemned him as a heretic. Pope Leo II (682-683) confirmed his anathematization but not for the reason given by the Council. He did not reproach him with heresy, but with negligence in the suppression of the error. cf. DH 563.” From Fr. Ludwig Ott, The Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma trans. Patrick Lynch (St. Louis: Herder, 1958), p. 150 (p. 162 in the revised 2018 Baronius Press edition).

    • We read: “He [Pope Leo II] did not reproach him [Pope Honorius] with heresy, but with negligence in the suppression of the error.” That is, not for any affirmative and formal statement, but for silence.

      Silence: the evasion of formal heresy, but also enabling much mischief…like silence first toward the dubia, and then much else? Like silent and signaling (?) photo-ops with Fr. James Martin, and then the silence of not granting an audience to Cardinal Zen? Like silence toward “pastoring” dismembered from Veritatis Splendor?

      A horrendous task for this or any pope, to now foresee even greater catastrophes in human and global affairs, and wanting to ensure that everyone caught in the disaster still knows they are welcome into God’s infinite mercy? How to do this, butt without undoing everything else that partakes of the self-disclosed/incarnate and totally gratuitous entry of divine Truth into human history?

  8. Thank you for this excellent piece. I will only add that the expansive view of papal infallibility cannot survive the papacy of Francis. It is simply not possible for the “teachings” of a man of such obviously low character to be protected from error. It is asking way top much of the Faithful to believe such a preposterous proposition.

  9. Thank you for this. I am an independent thinker who is Catholic, sometimes a tough row to hoe with this Pope. And I have fallen back repeatedly on the knowledge that this Pope, like all Popes, is merely human with his own personal biases and predelictions toward error based on his upbringing, culture and personal lack of knowledge of how some other cultures (mine, here, in the USA) have developed and how we think. So, I continually fall back on “he is not speaking ex cathedra” and thus do not leave my beloved Church, and defend to others who ask how I can stay in our Church, in spite of some of his clearly highly misinformed statements, by saying just that..he is speaking off his misinformed head, not as a Pope ex cathedra, and I will not let him drive me away from my Church, the Host as brought through our priests, and the veneration of Holy Mary, though I have to admit Orthodox is looking better and better.

    • Watch out for the Orthodox. They are fishing for Catholics in troubled waters, as they could not fish for us otherwise. They are not “better” or, as their name commercially pretends, more “orthodox” than us. Not at all. Just look at Patriarch Kirill being a servile servant of Vladimir Putin.

      While there are devoted Orthodox deserving of respect, their leadership is as spotty as ours or much worse, while our Catholic Faith is, yes, superior to theirs. Much, much better to be in the flooding Barque of Peter in its worst storm ever while Jesus appears to deep sleep than in the Orthodox antique hyper-mystical cruise ship.

    • Pauline,
      You’ve given a reasonable and sympathetic view of why some of Francis’ words strike some of us as problematic. I think you have shown great kindness, and if I were Francis, I would piously accept your words as a good Christmas gift.

      I agree with Phil. If we consider the Orthodox as a viable option, we fail to see the work and word of Jesus giving Peter the keys and the primacy. Even should Peter’s successors lead us to hell’s gates, those gates will not prevail. Shall we not trust God and our Catholic faith before we trust the ill-advised and mis-informed words of a pope or priests fueled by pride, ignorance, or worse?

  10. Thank you for taking the time to respond to one of my articles on Vatican Insider, Dr Feser. I’ve read your work on Aquinas, which I found to be quite excellent. The above subject is the topic of my doctoral thesis, and I would like to point out that my position is being misrepresented here. I don’t hold to an infallible ordinary papal Magisterium. As Prof. Fastiggi notes above, the non-definitive teachings of the authentic Magisterium can contain limited errors, such as in the area of particular facts, among other areas, or even concerning its prudential judgments in matters of discipline. My position is a lot closer to Michael Lofton’s, which he presents in the podcast he has linked to above. Basically, my thesis is that any errors in the non-definitive teachings of the authentic Magisterium can never amount to the level of heresy or sententia haeresi proxima corresponding to the first two levels of assent in the Professio fidei. The meat and bones of my real argument is based on Bishop Gasser’s statement in the relatio of Vatican I, that St Robert Bellarmine’s “fourth proposition” concerning the impossibility of a Roman Pontiff falling into formal heresy or teaching heresy to the universal Church in his public capacity as pope would be raised to dogmatic status upon the ratification of Pastor aeternus. I’ve briefly outlined this thesis in a follow-up article on Vatican Insider, which you haven’t engaged with above:

    https://www.lastampa.it/vatican-insider/en/2017/12/11/news/the-heretical-pope-fallacy-1.34082024/

    I think I can successfully demonstrate exactly how St Robert Bellarmine’s position was raised to dogmatic status in Pastor aeternus, as stipulated by the relatio. This is the only point where I would differ with Michael Lofton, in his argument that the idea of a pope teaching heresy in the non-definitive exercise of the authentic Magisterium is merely a theological error. If St Robert Bellarmine’s view on a heretical pope was raised to dogmatic status, then it is actually heresy to claim that a pope is capable of teaching heresy to the universal Church in his public capacity as Roman Pontiff.

    • The issue is better framed, ‘that a pope is capable of [engineering] heresy [within] the universal Church in his public capacity as Roman Pontiff’. As it is understood, that the pontiff doesn’t definitively propose heresy, rather suggests it. I don’t believe suggestion warrants canonical censure.
      A comment to your lecture on indefectibility deserves consideration in this,
      “Any developments to the faith must be consistent with the previous statements that have been defined because the development is in our understanding not in the facts themselves which do not change. We can of course deny openly heretical statements do not deny the faith but we can only do that if we ourselves have already personally defected [consciously or unconsciously] from the faith!” (Ingrid Lindbohm).

      • Ingrid Lindbohm isolates with precision what are sins against the faith, “We can deny openly heretical statements do not deny the faith but we can only do that if we ourselves have already personally defected [consciously or unconsciously] from the faith!” A sin against the faith is not understood as personal sins [sexual, excessive anger, the various forms of self abuse] against oneself, or another.
        As commonly understood, there are five principal sins against faith: profession of a false religion, willful doubt, disbelief, or denial of an article of faith, and culpable ignorance of the doctrines of the Catholic Church.

    • Bellarmine’s fourth proposition does not declare the IMPOSSIBILITY of papal heresy. Rather, Bellarmine argues for the IMPROBABILITY of a heretical pope. His supporting ‘proof’, in my view, is not strong.

      Bellarmine’s ‘ab eventu’ proof is that no pontiff to Bellarmine’s time had been shown to have been a heretic. This proof is weak. 1) It fails to consider Peter’s contradicting the words of Jesus, leading Jesus to fling the epithet of “Satan” toward him. 2) It does not consider Peter’s other erroneous teachings and behavior. 3) Jesus, Paul, Peter, and others offered numerous warnings that there will be false teachers, particularly ‘in fine temporum’. By their fruit we shall know them.

      Bellarmine further argues that God would not likely allow a heretical pope because His providence “sweetly disposes all things” and He would likely not cause “violence.” But Is God not God? Can God not allow a heretical pope? God did allow man his original sin with its violent consequences. Humans are fallible, and popes are human. God is God, and with Him all things are possible. Or SO HE SAID.

      We may have now or in the future a heretical pope if it is God’s permissive will.

  11. This critique of Stephen Walford’s work makes a category error, in that Walford never claims that the ordinary teaching of the popes is infallible. This assertion is frequently made _about_ his position, but he does not claim it for himself.

    Indeed, one of Walford’s key points – which Feser ignores – is the fact that we, as Catholics, are bound to grant religious assent to non-definitive teachings of the Magisterium on faith and morals. There is little wiggle room about this in the Tradition of the Church. (Donum Veritatis offers guidelines for withholding assent.)

    To my knowledge, the Magisterium has not explicitly or definitively resolved the question of the types of errors (or “deficiencies”, as DV puts it) that might appear in such teachings, but has made the obligations of the faithful towards them very clear. There is certainly no justification in the Tradition for publicly declaring that a pope has formally taught heresy or manifest error, let alone calling upon the faithful to resist a teaching. Dr Feser seems to be hinting that this is licit, and by appealing to pre-1870 theological speculation, he’s trying to reopen an issue that was closed by Vatican I and reiterated by Vatican II.

    Walford, O’Regan, Fastiggi, Lofton, and others, however, are engaging the question of the nature of non-definitive teachings of the papal Magisterium. Lofton seems to take the stance that these teachings can contain errors in faith and morals, but such errors cannot lead us to sin. Walford, O’Regan, and Fastiggi seem to agree that such teachings could be “erroneous” in the sense that they involve factual errors, imprudent application of moral principles, or other deficiencies that require reform and revision. Effectively, the outcome is the same for all of them, and Catholics are obliged to submit. In other words, there’s no justification to deny the legitimacy of the pope’s magisterial teachings on faith and morals.

    Given that Dr. Feser’s arguments are typical of those who try to justify defiance of Pope Francis’s teachings on the death penalty and in Amoris Laetitia, it seems important to point out that although he’s welcome to debate the prudence of these teachings, arguing against their legitimacy and authoritative nature is not justified.

    Finally, Dr. Feser quotes Pope Innocent III as saying, “Only on account of a sin committed against the faith can I be judged by the church.” There seems to be a reading comprehension error here. Pope Innocent III is speaking of “sin committed against the faith” – not “erroneous teaching.” History shows many popes were extremely sinful. We don’t believe in papal impeccability. Innocent’s position was that a pope’s sins can be judged. That’s different than saying a pope’s teachings can be judged, and thus is irrelevant to the issue at hand.

    • Is it possible, Mr. Lewis, that you miss the precise point of disagreement –not “defiance,” but questions as in the still unanswered dubia?

      Also, with regard to the death penalty pronouncement which still remains silent and in-explicit about the longstanding legitimacy of proportionate retribution (not revenge), whether exercised or not. Pope Francis uses the term “inadmissible,” not immoral, and therefore is refining the prudential judgment of John Paul II (the Gospel of Life), and not inventing a “teaching” to reverse the previous and continuing magisterium.

      Nor does he quite “teach” in Amoris Laetitia (Chapter 8, and especially fn. 351), but seems to insinuate and enable, such that others will pastorally exploit the ambiguity.
      Which leads some to wonder whether the new language is now the salt-free “inadmissible” and “admissible,” in place of moral absolutes (the Catechism, Veritatis Splendor); again, enabling “pastoral” practices that categorically “enlarge the grey area” (Cardinal Grech’s term) along the lines of Cardinal Hollerich who, even in advance of the (scripted?) Synod on Synodality, already signals and pontificates thusly:

      “I believe that the sociological-scientific foundation of this teaching [on sexual morality] is no longer true [….] I think it’s time we make a fundamental revision of the doctrine” https://www.aol.com/news/liberal-cardinal-calls-revised-catholic-135429645-181222377.html

      Is the issue not, as you ass-ume, “the prudence of [Pope Francis’] “teachings,” but rather the teaching of his “prudential judgments”? With which those having precise questions can still assent and agree! But, in the hands of others, does one thing leads to another, now morphing into a layered and clericalist fog?

      • Peter, I would argue that it is only those who want to avoid granting assent to Amoris Laetitia and the revised teaching on the death penalty who claim that what is being proposed is unclear. I am not certain if it’s willful ignorance or lack of critical thinking.

        If nothing else, in Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis is teaching “this is a licit path for pastors to pursue.” If nothing else, it is clear that Pope Francis is prohibiting the death penalty and admonishing Catholics to work for its abolition.

        The dubia and Dr. Feser’s questions about CCC 2267 are irrelevant to what the Pope has authoritatively taught. The Magisterium has spoken, and what we’re being asked to accept is clear. You are free to work out the metaphysics in your free time, but it’s not necessary.

        • While some may wish to “argue,” the question remains the same: which Magisterium?

          Regarding “a licit path for pastors to pursue,” even this seems to propose (?) a disjunction between the intact Magisterium and enabled “pastoral” approaches, when Cardinals Grech and Hollerich seem set on categorically “expanding the grey area.”
          As you say, “the Magisterium has spoken.” I supply the following not in the spirit of argument, but as simply information which has already been “work[ed] out” and, yes, “spoken.”

          “A separation, or even an opposition [!], is thus established in some cases between the teaching of the precept, which is valid and general, and the norm of the individual conscience, which would in fact make the final decision [no longer a ‘moral judgment’!] about what is good and what is evil. On this basis, an attempt is made to legitimize so-called ‘pastoral’ solutions [!] contrary to the teaching of the Magisterium, and to justify a ‘creative’ hermeneutic according to which the moral conscience is in no way obliged, in every case, by a particular negative precept [thou shalt not!]” (Veritatis Splendor as the basis of the legitimate and ambiguously ignored dubia, n. 56).

          And!
          “This is the first time, in fact, that the Magisterium of the Church [!] has set forth in detail the fundamental elements of this [‘moral’] teaching, and presented the principles for the pastoral discernment necessary in practical and cultural situations which are complex and even crucial” (n. 115). And, ““The Church is no way [!] the author or the arbiter of this [‘moral’] norm” (n. 95).

          • The reference escapes me (Was it his Christmas address to the Curia?) but didn’t Francis this past week ‘teach’ that we ought to question and yes, doubt, traditional teaching and doctrines of faith? Didn’t he say that faith ought not become ‘crystallized’?

            His Curial message this year specifically stated that conversion is necessary, conversion in reference to the VCII. “What was the Council if not a great moment of conversion for the entire Church? As St. John XXIII observed: ‘The Gospel does not change; it is we who begin to understand it more fully.’ The conversion that the Council sparked was an effort to understand the Gospel more fully and to make it relevant, living, and effective in our time,” he said.

            Pope Francis added that “the error of trying to crystallize the message of Jesus in a single, perennially valid form” is contrary to conversion.

            Loading up, he offered a definition of ‘true’ heresy: “True heresy consists not only in preaching another gospel (cf. Gal 1:9), as St. Paul told us, but also in ceasing to translate its message into today’s language and ways of thinking, …”

          • Mieron, thank you for the heads up…I have over-edited.

            The reference is to St. John Paul II’s encyclical, Veritatis Splendor explaining natural law and moral absolutes as part of the Magisterium. Which is to notice, for example, that Amoris Laetitia (as an “exhortation”) is of lower rank. Much better to say that the latter is more of a prudential judgment than possibly a direct contradiction of doctrine in the Magisterium.

            If one wants direct contradictions to stand side by side (some beady-eyed critics might fear possibly in the name of de-crystalizatizing the Gospel message?), then one should consider Islam which enlists such sequential “abrogation,” even in the Qur’an, as key to its arsenal of Muslim apologetics.

            Now, abrogation is probably not quite the same as a posited “paradigm shift” in the Church or in the universal natural law and morality, but yours truly is too un-credentialed to defend such historically Jesuitical or now cross-cultural casuistry.

    • You write that “Catholics are obliged to submit” to “non-definitive teachings of the papal Magisterium.” There is no Magisterial teaching (that I know) that says Catholics are obliged to submit or agree with errors in Magisterial teaching when those errors contradict the Church’s deposit of faith.

      “Assent” to a teaching is not the same as agreeing with, accepting, and acting upon the content of a teaching. The deposit of faith, the Church’s teaching of the ages, is not open to contradiction. A teaching may be judged to be false or in error; a Catholic is not obliged to violate his conscience by assenting the false to be true.

  12. Strong popes take up the whole armour of God. They know H.is word and proclaim it with enthusiasm. God’s expression is authoritative. Weak will proclaim their view with the mock shield of infalibility. God’s word separates the wheat from the chaff.

  13. For a Pope to do something drastically wrong it wouldn’t necessarily have to involve a pronouncement ex cathedra. At the time Peter was dabbling with Jews and circumcision he was already doing a very bad thing: it had to be corrected and resisted firmly. The affair was not limited to circumcision.

    Peter was 1. being wishy-washy with the question on circumcision and 2. misdirecting himself on the matter of Judaizers. He wanted to be “open” with the Jews who had stoned Stephen to death. It’s a crucial aspect of the story: the Council of Jerusalem declared other new principles, covered in James’ letter; and this was not built on the platform of “openness”.

    There were lessons here Peter had to learn quickly even as he hadn’t the strength to bear them on his own and wasn’t first in being inspired and wasn’t inspired at all.

    This 20th Century-present great dash back to Pentecost under the auspices of VATICAN II – sorry but they do not even understand Pentecost properly and the misunderstanding of VATICAN II is quite apparent as well.

  14. The issue of whether Pope Francis’ tendentious statements should be criticised is one thing. Of course they should. But he is not a heretic. Nor has there ever been a heretical Pope, materially or formally.
    The Church does not teach that the Pope can be a heretic when not making ex cathedra declarations. Asserting that he can, is a matter of opinion, and plenty of canonised theologians have argued that against it. They have also argued that Pope Honorious was never condemned by the ensuing General Council as a a heretic. One cannot assert that the Church teaches that Pope can become heretics, or that any have, as Church teaching.

    Above all, one cannot use this theory to justify criticism of Pope Francis. A Pope is quite capable of doing immense damage to the Church without being one. He should be criticised for it. And we should not be scandalised into doing what Pope Honorious is alleged to have done.

    • “A Pope is quite capable of doing immense damage to the Church without being one” [a heretic either formally or materially]. Miguel, that’s been my understanding of the widely recognized issue that’s damaging the faith of many, leading to aberrant behavior. It can be, seemingly, done simply by suggestive statements, appointments, restructuring [example John Paul II’s Apostolic Academy on Life].
      Insofar as ‘material’ heresy that concept is an opinion some hold. It may be true, in context, of a willful direction. That judgment remains with God. Our requirement is exactly for a judgment, as a priest a sentinel for the laity that judgment must be made to warn the laity et al of the risk to salvation if we follow what is presumed papal teaching.

      • That’s true. If priests don’t explain how such Papal statements can lead to the wrong conclusions, the effects can be bad for us.

      • Miguel, again on the issue of heresy, a statement per se doesn’t warrant the canonical censure of heresy. Heresy as such must be stated definitively and persistently. Words said offhand, remarks nonetheless can be in error, or at least misleading.
        When we have an abundance of such comments from a pontiff, the accumulative effect can justly be said to suggest departure from Christ’s commandments, the doctrines of the Church – that such departure is permissible in belief and in practice.
        Assurance of the infallibility of doctrine is narrow, and limited to definitive ex Cathedra pronouncements. Insofar as the ordinary magisterium, any pontifical teaching outside of that ex Cathedra forum we do not have that assurance. Which means error may be considered possible.

        • You may hold the opinion that a Pope can err on faith and morals when not speaking infallibly, but that is opinion, not Church teaching. I’m not blaming you, because your summing up of the situation is very common. When Vatican I defined infallibility, it did not do so exclusively. Nowhere has the Church taught that in other circumstances a Pope may fall into heresy. What Vatican I did teach was that the See of Rome would conserve the faith until the end of time. Something very similar was taucgt by Innocent III. Until the Church teaches as doctrine the opinion that Popes can err on the faith in these other circumstances, or a Pope actually does teach heresy plain and simple, we will have to admit that it is quite normal for a Catholic to affirm that the Pope can never be a heretic. As Our Lord said, “I have prayed for you, that your faith…” But than you Father, for your comment.

          • At Luke 22:31, Jesus addresses Simon Peter as: “Simon, Simon,” while Luke 22:34 has Jesus addressing Peter as “Peter.” Does the name change suggest anything? Did Jesus do anything by chance? Does scripture err? The name Simon alludes to the person Peter was and may still be if God’s grace is not put to play/war against Satan’s influence.

            Luke 22:31-32 continues: …”Satan has desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for thee, that they faith may not fail; and do thou, WHEN ONCE THOU HAS TURNED AGAIN, strengthen thy brethren.” Do we not understand Simon’s turning as a conversion and repentance? If not, how else can we understand the words of Jesus in these verses?

            Luke 22:34 has Jesus prophecying that the cock will not crow until Peter has thrice denied knowing Jesus.

            These words and this passage unambiguously demonstrate that the man chosen to be pope may err against Christ, just as Simon Peter the man did err.

            History has clearly shown that many (most?) popes have made mistakes when they have spoken or acted as men while occupying the position of pope. Men as popes have taught “NON-INFALLIBLY.” Isn’t that precisely why Vatican I defined infallibility as very narrow?

          • I understand Miguel Cervantes to be saying it is a delicate issue.

            On the Scripture, I am inclined to view things as before the Crucifixion/Pentecost and after, in qualitative developments. Before: our Lord charged him “Peter!” upon his identifying in Christ. After: our Lord says to him what his task is, in the identity.

            How beautiful is the Church. She is not something I describe to you. She is what our Lord has desired and shared for our sakes.

          • Regarding the controversy of papal infallibility, on June 29, the month following Archbishop Cordileone publicly banned Nancy Pelosi May 20, Pope Francis published his Apostolic Letter on the liturgy, Desiderio desideravi, in which he wrote,” To be admitted to the feast all that is required is the wedding garment of faith which comes from the hearing of his Word.”
            At the time Cordileone banned Pelosi, Francis made a public statement to the effect of criticizing the Archbishop for not being pastorally sensitive. The events are manifestly interrelated, the pontiff standing by previous comments that no one should be denied the Eucharist. This isn’t a mistake. It’s a public declaration that dismisses the Catholic doctrine requiring confession and repentance for serious sin prior to receiving the Eucharist. A doctrine that reaches back to the Apostle Paul [reaffirmed at Trent] who instructed the faithful, “Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves” (1 Cor 11:26-).
            Wearing the wedding garment is more than belief. The virgins who were left outside in the dark believed, although did not practice the faith sufficiently. Wearing the garment refers to a real faith that lives the commandments. This series of papal statements is as clear as it gets to error.

  15. Miguel Cervantes, could be your quibbles make the same tendentiousness and you are the best judge. But there has to be concern for heresy as well as for scandal and sin; where in fact people ray for the best for the Pope.

    Besides, souls are endangered; it isn’t focusing negatively on the Papacy.

    • Elias, The fact that such explanations are necessary shows the problems are not invented by people like me being judgemental concerning the Pope. I wish it were not so, but I’m still a Papist and I wish the modern Papacy would do itself a favour here.

      • In the English lexicon the word Papist includes the forces of derision and hostility. This applies to the historical contexts as well as to the current usage. As a result, it is difficult for me to ascertain what you actually are indicating.

        • All Catholics should be Papists, even when they’re angry at something the Pope has done. Our religion isn’t a fan club, the hierarchy aren’t gurus, and all Popes have a personal promise they won’t renounce the faith. The fact that papist was used as a term of abuse in times when the Papacy was particularly glorious, or that some Papists mistakenly believe the Pope is infallible in his predictions for tomorrow’s weather makes no difference. Not hard.

  16. Miguel Cervantes, on the one hand you want to affirm a position that the Pope can teach infallibly when not ex cathedra and on the other hand you want to admit that the Pope can err; with both positions reconciled in VATICAN I “See of Rome” conserving the faith until the end of time. You add the assurance (confirmation?) that Christ promised to pray for Peter and successors and still you say others may have varying opinions about it.

    Outside my office, nearby, there is a wooden electricity pole with a cracked base; and it rocks to and fro in the wind. Live wiring is hitched to this pole and it serves the whole block. It seems to have come about after the heavy storms of November. I reported this hazard more than a week ago but the authority has not responded as it should. It could be that they believe that because it is Christmas and holidays, they are relieved from responding with immediacy and their judgment about it is infallible. Or it could be that they are overwhelmed in emergencies. Apparently, therefore, nothing blameworthy is occurring and should something terrible happen, that will be the conclusion.

    If you read the story with Innocent III, you will see he never as Pope acted in the manner such as this electricity authority is doing presently.

  17. Miguel, I appreciate your kindness, civility during this discussion. However, Miguel, the Church did not for good reason, declare a negation, that the Pope could not fall into error. For sake of clarifying the truth for the faithful, it affirmed that infallibility is exclusively recognized, affirmed when doctrine is pronounced definitively ex Cathedra.
    Now if, as you say, a pope “Is quite capable of doing immense damage to the Church without being one, [a heretic either formally or materially]” – that opinion cannot be reconciled to the exclusion of heresy [understood as excluding heresy]. Regardless of whether it doesn’t appear to be canonically judged as heresy [canon law requires the person to be adamant and persistent in their repudiation of the faith].
    For example, it is reasonable to assume that there may be intent, if only in recognition of that damage and his persistent [even adamant] unwillingness to effectively address it. As was the case with Honorius I. Although, you refuse to accept the pronouncement of the infallibility of the Acts of a Council presided over by a Pope. If, in fact, Honorius did not fall into error, the Popes and the Council that condemned him were wrong [see meiron’s reference to Roberto De Mattei].

    • Fr.Morello, yes, it’s an important distinction, that the definition of infallibility was a positive, not a negative one. The aim was surely to make clear what the faithful are obliged to assent to. Vatican I did rely, however, upon arguments that have to do with Christ’s personal promise to St. Peter and his successors that their faith would not fail.

      The Pope’s table talk cannot be the material for something we should absolutely assent to, therefore ex cathedra and Conciliar moments are essential. On the other hand, any conception that extracts infallible declarations on the faith from the mouth of someone who is (either innocently or consciously) a kind of Luther, amounts to something like the talk of Balaam’s Ass. I hope the Church never teaches this. Nevertheless, infallibility is not the same thing as the guarantee of not losing the faith, as your point concerning the Vatican Council’s positive definition touches. The Pope’s table talk may not be the occasion for infallibility, but we won’t see him transform into Arius at lunchtime, or his birthday either. Of course, this is only my opinion, but can you imagine the Church defining such a thing?

      Therefore, it’s only natural that the Church would never teach it (though people often say it, in other words, in order to make infallibility simple). The Council that condemned Pope Honorius was ratified by Pope Leo, but not in its characterisation of Honorius as a heretic. Ratification by the Pope is necessary for Conciliar declarations to be infallible. Therefore the Church has not taught that a Pope can be a heretic. This was the view of St. Robert Bellarmine and many other great theologians, on the Council at Constantinople. This view is to be found in a manual of dogmatic theology like Ott’s, prior to Vatican II. Of course, one may hold the opposing opinion, but it is not the teaching of the Church.

      As for Popes causing damage – it’s not necessary that they be heretics in order for them to do this. I think a lot of damage has been done since the 1960s, and with the best of intentions.

      • Isn’t this a misconstrual of scripture? “Christ’s personal promise to St. Peter and his successors that their faith would not fail.” Jesus PRAYS that Peter’s faith would not fail; Jesus does not PROMISE that Peter’s faith will not fail. Jesus also prayed that all those given to him would remain One in Him as He was in the Father. Prayer differs from a promise. Jesus’ prayer reflects a longing and an aspiration. We know, as Christianity has divided into numerous sects and divisions that we are not all One. A prayer differs from a promise. Jesus respects man’s free will. As such, He allows (or permissively wills) man’s choosing in opposition to His divine and sovereign will.

        • Hello. Vatican I interpreted it as a guarantee the Pope’s faith would not fail, and used it as one of several bases for its definition of Papal Infallibility. Catholics believe that only the Church can definitively interpret its own texts, like the Scriptures.

  18. A Pope who has been found guilty of the Crime of Heresy by Church Authority can’t be Pope anymore. There I fixed that for you.

    That is what the teaching means. If such a subjective standard (individual Catholics figuring out for themselves if the Pope was a heretic) were our standard, then it devolves into Protestantism & private interpretation

  19. Don’t have misconceptions on Balaam’s donkey. The angel actually confirmed what the donkey was rebuking and proved it to Balaam. The angel let Balaam proceed warning him to say only what he would be told; later Balaam would become undone over it nonetheless. It was the angel’s sympathy for the poor animal and the glory of God that bought the rotten prophet a little time. And Balaam had two servants alongside who witnessed the whole affair.

    • Numbers 31, I have to say I believe that the favoured donkey -ass- ended up the prize and possession of the Israelites. They would have put it through the ritual purification.

      The donkey would have come to a blissful ending: seeing the diviner Balaam and his kings get justice; being relieved of a slavery to Balaam and his wanderings and banter; finding place with the general company of more than sixty thousand fellow asses; getting purified and joining to the pilgrimage of the Chosen People; and being confirmed by an angel, as a prophet!

      One day in time the Lord of Hosts would ride one of its own, in triumph upon Jerusalem and the whole of creation.

      • Simplifying much of the above, perhaps, is a classic remark offered by Cardinal Newman regarding dime store pearls cast before swine—

        Newman: “I add one remark. Certainly, if I am obliged to bring religion into after dinner toasts (which does not seem quite the thing) I shall drink–to the Pope, if you please–still, to conscience first, and to the [precisely infallible, but also humanly defectible] Pope afterwards.”

        About this “conscience,” then, Newman was clearly on board with objective morality, as is the Second Vatican Council especially in Gaudium et Spes (GS)–this Constitution as the context for any side language in the lower-ranking Declaration, Dignitatis Humanae which affirms “freedom from coercion” from the state (the misunderstood term “freedom of conscience” does not even appear in the declaration):

        GS: “In the depths of his conscience, man detects a law be does not impose upon himself, but which holds him to obedience [….] the Council wishes to recall first of all the permanent binding force of universal natural law and its all-embracing principles” (n. 16, 79)….meaning the Constitution’s “principles” affirming moral absolutes as taught (!) in the now magisterial Veritatis Splendor. Including this: “The Church is no way the author or the arbiter of this [‘moral’] norm” (GS, n. 95). Bats-sing, Grech, Hollerich & Co., take note!

        Possible moral ambiguities spilled at 30,000 feet over “dinner toasts” or even cocktails count for less than the Council or precise ex cathedra pronouncements from the well-grounded Chair of Peter.

3 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. When do popes teach infallibly? | Passionists Missionaries Kenya, Vice Province of St. Charles Lwanga, Fathers & Brothers
  2. When do popes teach infallibly? | Franciscan Sisters of St Joseph (FSJ) , Asumbi Sisters Kenya
  3. Dr. Edward Feser on Papal Infallibility: A Friendly Response – Reason and Theology

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