Saturday, November 21, 2015

Papal fallibility (Updated)


Catholic doctrine on the teaching authority of the pope is pretty clear, but lots of people badly misunderstand it.  A non-Catholic friend of mine recently asked me whether the pope could in theory reverse the Church’s teaching about homosexuality.  Said my friend: “He could just make an ex cathedra declaration to that effect, couldn’t he?”  Well, no, he couldn’t.  That is simply not at all how it works.  Some people think that Catholic teaching is that a pope is infallible not only when making ex cathedra declarations, but in everything he does and says.  That is also simply not the case.  Catholic doctrine allows that popes can make grave mistakes, even mistakes that touch on doctrinal matters in certain ways.
 
Many Catholics know all this, but they often misunderstand papal authority in yet other ways.  Some think that a Catholic is obliged to accept the teaching of a pope only when that teaching is put forward by him as infallible.  That too is not the case.  Contrary to this “minimalist” view, there is much that Catholics have to assent to even though it is not put forward as infallible.  Others think that a Catholic is obliged to agree more or less with every view or decision of a pope regarding matters of theology, philosophy, politics, etc. even when it is not put forward as infallible.  And that too is not the case.  Contrary to this “maximalist” view, there is much to which a Catholic need give only respectful consideration, but not necessarily assent.  As always, Catholic doctrine is balanced, a mean between extremes -- in this case, between these minimalist and maximalist extremes.  But it is also nuanced, and to understand it we need to make some distinctions that are too often ignored.

Papal infallibility

First let’s get clear about infallibility.  The First Vatican Council taught that:

[W]hen the Roman Pontiff speaks ex cathedra, that is, when, in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole Church, he possesses, by the divine assistance promised to him in blessed Peter, that infallibility which the divine Redeemer willed his Church to enjoy in defining doctrine concerning faith or morals.  Therefore, such definitions of the Roman Pontiff are of themselves, and not by the consent of the Church, irreformable.

What the Council is describing here is the pope’s exercise of what is called his “extraordinary Magisterium,” as opposed to his “ordinary Magisterium” or everyday teaching activity in the form of homilies, encyclicals, etc.  The passage identifies several conditions for the exercise of this extraordinary Magisterium.  First, the pope must appeal to his supreme teaching authority as the successor of Peter, as opposed to speaking merely as a private theologian, or making off-the-cuff remarks, or the like.  An exercise of the extraordinary Magisterium would, accordingly, typically involve some formal and solemn declaration.  Second, he must be addressing some matter of doctrine concerning faith or morals.  The extraordinary Magisterium doesn’t pertain to purely scientific questions such as how many elements are in the periodic table, political questions such as whether a certain proposed piece of legislation is a good idea, etc.  Third, he must be “defining” some doctrine in the sense of putting it forward as official teaching that is binding on the entire Church.  The extraordinary Magisterium doesn’t pertain to teaching that concerns merely local or contingent circumstances.

But there is a further, crucial condition on such ex cathedra statements.  The First Vatican Council emphasized it in a passage that comes several paragraphs before the one quoted above:

For the Holy Spirit was promised to the successors of Peter not so that they might, by his revelation, make known some new doctrine, but that, by his assistance, they might religiously guard and faithfully expound the revelation or deposit of faith transmitted by the apostles.

Papal teaching, then, including exercises of the extraordinary Magisterium, cannot contradict Scripture, Tradition, or previous binding papal teaching.  Nor can it introduce utter novelties.  Popes have authority only to preserve and interpret what they have received.  They can draw out the implications of previous teaching or clarify it where it is ambiguous. They can make formally binding what was already informally taught.  But they cannot reverse past teaching and they cannot make up new doctrines out of whole cloth. 

Along the same lines, the Second Vatican Council taught, in Dei Verbum, that the Church cannot teach contrary to Scripture:

[T]he living teaching office of the Church… is not above the word of God, but serves it, teaching only what has been handed on, listening to it devoutly, guarding it scrupulously and explaining it faithfully…

Pope Benedict XVI put the point as follows, in a homily of May 7, 2005:

The Pope is not an absolute monarch whose thoughts and desires are law.  On the contrary: the Pope's ministry is a guarantee of obedience to Christ and to his Word.  He must not proclaim his own ideas, but rather constantly bind himself and the Church to obedience to God's Word, in the face of every attempt to adapt it or water it down, and every form of opportunism…

The Pope knows that in his important decisions, he is bound to the great community of faith of all times, to the binding interpretations that have developed throughout the Church's pilgrimage.  Thus, his power is not being above, but at the service of, the Word of God.  It is incumbent upon him to ensure that this Word continues to be present in its greatness and to resound in its purity, so that it is not torn to pieces by continuous changes in usage.

Though the pope’s exercise of his ordinary Magisterium is not always infallible, it can be under certain circumstances.  In particular, it is infallible when the pope officially reaffirms something that was already part of the Church’s infallible teaching on the basis of Scripture and Tradition.  For example, in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, Pope St. John Paul II reaffirmed traditional teaching to the effect that the Church has no authority to ordain women to the priesthood, and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith thereafter confirmed that this teaching is to be regarded as infallible.  The reason it is to be regarded as infallible is not that the papal document in question constituted an exercise of the extraordinary Magisterium, but rather because of the teaching’s status as part of the constant and universal doctrine of the Church. 

Now, what makes some constant and universal teaching of the Church infallible is itself an important topic, but one that is beyond the scope of this post, which is concerned with the teaching authority of the pope, specifically.  Suffice it to emphasize for present purposes that, precisely because exercises of the pope’s ordinary Magisterium are infallible when they merely reaffirm the Church’s own constant and universal teaching, they too do not involve either the reversal of past teaching or the addition of some novelty. 

Papal infallibility, then, is not some magical power by which a pope can transform any old thing he wishes into a truth that all are bound to accept.  It is an extension of the infallibility of the preexisting body of doctrine that it is his job to safeguard, and thus must always be exercised in continuity with that body of doctrine.  Naturally, then, the pope would not be speaking infallibly if he taught something that either had no basis in Scripture, Tradition, or previous magisterial teaching, or contradicted those sources of doctrine.  If it had no such basis, it could be mistaken, and if it contradicted those sources of doctrine, it would be mistaken. 

It is very rare, however, that a pope says something even in his ordinary Magisterium that is manifestly either a sheer novelty or in conflict with existing doctrine.  Popes know that their job is to preserve and apply Catholic teaching, and thus when they say something that isn’t just a straightforward reiteration of preexisting doctrine, they are typically trying to draw out the implications of existing doctrine, to resolve some ambiguity in it, to apply the doctrine to new circumstances, or the like.  If there is some deficiency in such statements, then, it will typically be subtle and take some careful thinking to identify and correct.  There is in Catholic doctrine, therefore, a presumption in favor of what a pope says even in his ordinary non-infallible Magisterium, even if it is a presumption which can be overridden.  Hence the default position for any Catholic must be to assent to such non-infallible teaching.  Or at least that is the default position where that teaching concerns matters of principle vis-à-vis faith and morals -- as opposed to application of principle to contingent concrete circumstances, where judgments about such circumstances are of their nature beyond the special competence of the pope.

Five categories of magisterial statement

So, when must a Catholic assent to some non-infallible papal statement?  When might a Catholic disagree with such a statement?  This is a subject greatly clarified by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (the future Pope Benedict XVI) during his time as Prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith.  Perhaps the most important document in this connection is the 1990 instruction Donum Veritatis: On the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian, though there are also other relevant statements.  Cardinal Avery Dulles has suggested that one can identify four general categories of magisterial statement in Donum Veritatis.  (See Dulles’s essay “The Magisterium and Theological Dissent” in The Craft of Theology.  Cf. also chapter 7 of Dulles’s book Magisterium.)  However, as other statements from Ratzinger indicate, Dulles’s fourth category appears to lump together statements with two different degrees of authority.  When these are distinguished, it is clear that there are really five general categories of magisterial statement.  They are as follows:

1. Statements which definitively put forward divinely revealed truths, or dogmas in the strict sense.  Examples would be the Christological dogmas, the doctrine of original sin, the grave immorality of directly and voluntarily killing an innocent human being, and so forth.  As Dulles notes, according to Catholic teaching, statements in this category must be affirmed by every Catholic with “divine and Catholic faith.”  No legitimate disagreement is possible.

2. Statements which definitively put forward truths which are not revealed, but closely connected with revealed truths.  Examples would be moral teachings such as the immorality of euthanasia, and the teaching that priestly ordination is reserved only to men.  According to Donum Veritatis, statements in this category must be “firmly accepted and held” by all Catholics.  Here too, legitimate disagreement is not possible.

3. Statements which in a non-definitive but obligatory way clarify revealed truths.  Dulles suggests that “the teaching of Vatican II, which abstained from new doctrinal definitions, falls predominantly into this category” (The Craft of Theology, p. 110).  According to Donum Veritatis, statements in this category must be accepted by Catholics with “religious submission of will and intellect.”  Given their non-definitive character, however, the assent due to such statements is not of the absolute kind owed to statements of categories 1 and 2.  The default position is to assent to them, but it is in principle possible that the very strong presumption in their favor can be overridden.  Donum Veritatis says:

The willingness to submit loyally to the teaching of the Magisterium on matters per se not irreformable must be the rule.  It can happen, however, that a theologian may, according to the case, raise questions regarding the timeliness, the form, or even the contents of magisterial interventions.

For this reason,

the possibility cannot be excluded that tensions may arise between the theologian and the Magisterium… If tensions do not spring from hostile and contrary feelings, they can become a dynamic factor, a stimulus to both the Magisterium and theologians to fulfill their respective roles while practicing dialogue…

[A theologian’s] objections could then contribute to real progress and provide a stimulus to the Magisterium to propose the teaching of the Church in greater depth and with a clearer presentation of the arguments.

However, Donum Veritatis also makes it clear that in the normal case even a justifiably doubtful theologian’s further investigations into the matter will eventually result in assent.  The burden of proof is on the doubting theologian to justify his non-assent, and

Such a disagreement could not be justified if it were based solely upon the fact that the validity of the given teaching is not evident or upon the opinion that the opposite position would be the more probable.  Nor, furthermore, would the judgment of the subjective conscience of the theologian justify it because conscience does not constitute an autonomous and exclusive authority for deciding the truth of a doctrine.

Nor, as Donum Veritatis makes clear, could theologians legitimately express their disagreement in these cases with a polemical spirit, or apply political pressure tactics in order to influence the Magisterium, or set themselves up as a counter-Magisterium.

As William May has pointed out, the most plausible scenario in which “theologians [might] raise questions of this kind [would be] when they can appeal to other magisterial teachings that are more certainly and definitively taught with which they think the teaching questioned is incompatible” (An Introduction to Moral Theology, p. 242). 

4. Statements of a prudential sort which require external obedience but not interior assent.  As Dulles notes (Magisterium, p. 94), Cardinal Ratzinger gave as an example of this sort of statement the decisions of the Pontifical Biblical Commission in the early 20th century.  Dulles suggests that the Church’s caution about accepting heliocentrism in the 17th century would be another example.  These sorts of statements are “prudential” insofar as they are attempts prudently to apply general principles of faith and morals to contingent concrete circumstances, such as the state of scientific knowledge at a particular point in history.  And there is no guarantee that churchmen, including popes, will make correct judgments about these circumstances or how best to apply general principles to them.  Hence, while Donum Veritatis says that it would be a mistake “to conclude that the Church's Magisterium can be habitually mistaken in its prudential judgments,” nevertheless:

When it comes to the question of interventions in the prudential order, it could happen that some Magisterial documents might not be free from all deficiencies.  Bishops and their advisors have not always taken into immediate consideration every aspect or the entire complexity of a question.

As the examples given indicate, statements of category 4 generally concern what sorts of positions theologians might in their public writing or teaching put forward as consistent with Catholic doctrine.  The concern is that theologians not too rashly publicly endorse some idea which may or may not turn out to be true, but whose relationship to matters of faith and morals is complicated, and where mistakes may damage the faith of non-experts.  Here what is called for is external obedience to the Church’s decisions, but not necessarily assent.  A “reverent silence” might be the most that is called for, though since Donum Veritatis allows that a theologian might in principle legitimately raise questions about category 3 statements, such questions could obviously be legitimate in the case of category 4 statements as well.  Presumably (for example) a theologian could in principle legitimately say: “I will in my scholarship and teaching abide by such-and-such a decision of the Pontifical Biblical Commission.  However, I respectfully request that the Commission reconsider that decision in light of such-and-such considerations.”

The examples of “prudential” judgments which Donum Veritatis addresses and which Dulles discusses in his comments on that document are all judgments which are very closely connected to matters of principle vis-à-vis faith and morals, even if the statements are of a lesser authority than statements of categories 1-3.  For example, the prudential decisions regarding heliocentrism and modern historical-critical methods of biblical scholarship were intended to preclude any rash judgments about the proper interpretation of scripture. 

However, statements by popes and other churchmen which lack any such momentous doctrinal implications, but instead concern issues of politics, economics, and the like, are also often referred to as “prudential judgments,” because they too involve the attempt prudently to apply general principles of faith and morals to contingent concrete circumstances.  Donum Veritatis does not address this sort of judgment and neither does Dulles in his discussion of the document, but it is clear from other statements by Cardinal Ratzinger that it constitutes a fifth category of magisterial teaching:

5. Statements of a prudential sort on matters about which there may be a legitimate diversity of opinion among Catholics.  Examples would be many of the statements made by popes and other churchmen on matters of political controversy, such as war and capital punishment.  Cardinal Ratzinger gave these as specific examples in a 2004 memorandum on the topic “Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion: General Principles,” wherein he stated:

Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia.  For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion.  While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment.  There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia. (Emphasis added)

End quote.  Note that Cardinal Ratzinger goes so far as to say that a Catholic may be “at odds with” the pope on the application of capital punishment and the decision to wage war and still be worthy to receive communion -- something he could not have said if it were mortally sinful to disagree with the pope on those issues.  It follows that there is no grave duty to assent to the pope’s statements on those issues.  The cardinal also says that “there may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty,” despite the fact that Pope John Paul II, under whom the Cardinal was serving at the time, made very strong statements against capital punishment and the Iraq war.  It follows that the pope’s statements on those issues were not binding on Catholics even on pain of venial sin, for diversity of opinion could not be “legitimate” if it were even venially sinful to disagree with the pope on these matters.  In the memorandum, Cardinal Ratzinger also explicitly says that Catholic voters and politicians must oppose laws permitting abortion and euthanasia, as well as abstain from Holy Communion if they formally cooperate with these evils.  By contrast, he makes no requirement on the behavior (such as voting) of Catholics who disagree with the pope about capital punishment or the decision to wage war.  So, papal statements on those subjects, unlike category 4 statements, evidently do not require any sort of external obedience much less assent.  Catholics thus owe such statements serious and respectful consideration, but nothing more. 

Contemporary works of theology written by theologians loyal to the Magisterium often recognize this category of prudential statements to which Catholics need not assent.  For example, in his book The Shepherd and the Rock: Origins, Development, and Mission of the Papacy, J. Michael Miller (currently the Archbishop of Vancouver) writes:

John Paul II’s support for financial compensation equal to other kinds of work for mothers who stay at home to take care of their children, or his plea to cancel the debt of Third World nations as a way to alleviate massive poverty, fall into this category.  Catholics are free to disagree with these papal guidelines as ways in which to secure justice.  They can submit to debate alternative practical solutions, provided that they accept the moral principles which the pope propounds in his teaching. (p. 175)

Germain Grisez suggests that there are five sorts of cases in which assent is not required (The Way of the Lord Jesus, Vol. 2, p. 49).  The first would be cases in which popes and other churchmen are not addressing matters of faith and morals.  The second are cases where they are addressing matters of faith and morals, but speaking merely as individual believers or private theologians rather than in an official capacity.  The third sort of case would be when they are teaching in an official capacity, but in a tentative way.  The fourth are cases where popes or other churchmen put forward non-binding arguments for a teaching which is itself binding on Catholics.  The fifth sort of case is when they are putting forward merely disciplinary directives with which a Catholic might legitimately disagree even if he has to follow them.

It is perhaps worth noting that the works just cited are works bearing the Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur.  The reason this is worth noting, and the reason it is also worth emphasizing the significance of Cardinal Ratzinger’s memorandum, is that certain Catholic writers have a tendency to accuse fellow Catholics who disagree with papal statements on matters of political controversy of being “dissenters.” For example, it is sometimes claimed that any Catholic who is consistently “pro-life” will not only agree with papal statements condemning abortion and euthanasia, but will also agree with papal statements criticizing capital punishment or the war in Iraq, or endorsing certain economic policies.  The suggestion is that Catholics who reject the Church’s teaching on abortion and euthanasia are “left-wing dissenters” and Catholics who disagree with recent papal statements on capital punishment, the war in Iraq, or specific economic policies are “right-wing dissenters” -- as if both sides are engaged in disobedience to the Church, and disobedience of the same sort.

At best this reflects serious theological ignorance.  At worst it is intellectually dishonest and demagogic.  A Catholic who disagrees with the Church’s teaching on abortion or euthanasia is rejecting a category 1 or category 2 magisterial statement -- something that is never permitted.  But a Catholic who disagrees with what recent popes have said about capital punishment, the war in Iraq, or specific economic policies is disagreeing with category 5 statements -- something that the Church herself holds to be permissible.  Hence, Catholics who condemn their fellow Catholics for disagreeing with category 5 statements are themselves the ones who are out of sync with what the Church teaches -- not to mention exhibiting a lack of justice and charity. 

Papal error

Since the Church allows that Catholics can under certain circumstances legitimately disagree with statements of category 3, not to mention statements of categories 4 and 5, Catholic teaching thereby implies that it is possible for popes to be mistaken when making statements falling under any of these categories.  It is even possible for a pope to be mistaken in a more radical way if, outside the context of his extraordinary Magisterium, he says something inconsistent with a statement of category 1 or category 2.  And it is possible for a pope to fall into error in other ways, such as by carrying out unwise policies or exhibiting immorality in his personal life.  Indeed, short of binding the Church to heresy, it is possible for a pope to do grave harm to the Church.  As Cardinal Ratzinger once said when asked whether the Holy Spirit plays a role in the election of popes:

I would not say so in the sense that the Holy Spirit picks out the Pope, because there are too many contrary instances of popes the Holy Spirit would obviously not have picked.  I would say that the Spirit does not exactly take control of the affair, but rather like a good educator, as it were, leaves us much space, much freedom, without entirely abandoning us. Thus the Spirit’s role should be understood in a much more elastic sense, not that he dictates the candidate for whom one must vote. Probably the only assurance he offers is that the thing cannot be totally ruined. (Quoted in John Allen, Conclave: The Politics, Personalities, and Process of the Next Papal Election)

Here are some examples of popes who have erred, in some cases in an extremely serious way:

St. Peter (d. c. 64): As if to warn the Church in advance that popes are infallible only within limits, the first pope was allowed to fall into serious error.  Before the crucifixion, he denied Christ.  On another occasion he avoided eating with Gentile converts lest he offend the more hardline Jewish Christians, leading St. Paul famously to rebuke him.  Says the Catholic Encyclopedia:

As this action was entirely opposed to the principles and practice of Paul, and might lead to confusion among the converted pagans, this Apostle addressed a public reproach to St. Peter, because his conduct seemed to indicate a wish to compel the pagan converts to become Jews and accept circumcision and the Jewish law… Paul, who rightly saw the inconsistency in the conduct of Peter and the Jewish Christians, did not hesitate to defend the immunity of converted pagans from the Jewish Law.

Pope St. Victor I (189-98): Western and Eastern Christians had long disagreed over the date on which Easter should be celebrated.  Though earlier popes had tolerated this difference, St. Victor tried to force the issue and excommunicated several Eastern bishops over the matter.  For this excessive severity and departure from previous papal policy, he was criticized by St. Irenaeus. 

Pope St. Marcellinus (296-304): During a persecution of Christians, Emperor Diocletian ordered the surrender of sacred books and the offering of sacrifice to the gods.  It is said that a fearful St. Marcellinus complied, and later repented of having done so.  Historians disagree about whether this actually occurred.  However, as the Catholic Encyclopedia says:

On the other hand it is remarkable, that in the Roman “Chronograph” whose first edition was in 336, the name of this pope alone is missing, while all other popes from Lucius I onwards are forthcoming…

[I]t must indeed be admitted that in certain circles at Rome the conduct of the pope during the Diocletian persecution was not approved… It is possible that Pope Marcellinus was able to hide himself in a safe place of concealment in due time, as many other bishops did.  But it is also possible that at the publication of the edict he secured his own immunity; in Roman circles this would have been imputed to him as weakness, so that his memory suffered thereunder, and he was on that account omitted… from the “Chronograph”…

Pope Liberius (352-366): With the Arian heresy having been endorsed by many bishops, and under pressure from the emperor, Pope Liberius acquiesced in the excommunication of the staunchly orthodox St. Athanasius and agreed to an ambiguous theological formula.  He later repented of his weakness, but he would be the first pope not to be venerated as a saint.

Pope Honorius I (625-638): Pope Honorius at least implicitly accepted the Monothelite heresy, was condemned for this by his successor Pope St. Agatho, and criticized by Pope St. Leo for being at least negligent.  Though his actions are in no way incompatible with papal infallibility -- Honorius was not putting forward a would-be ex cathedra definition -- they caused grave damage by providing fodder for critics of the papacy.  As the Catholic Encyclopedia says: “It is clear that no Catholic has the right to defend Pope Honorius.  He was a heretic, not in intention, but in fact…”

Pope Stephen VI (896-897): In the notorious “cadaver synod” -- an event which some historians consider the low point of the papacy -- Pope Stephen exhumed the corpse of his predecessor Pope Formosus, dressed it in papal vestments and placed it on a throne, put it on trial for alleged violations of church law (see the illustration above), found it guilty and declared all of Formosus’s acts while pope null and void, then had the corpse flung into the Tiber.  Formosus’s supporters later deposed Stephen and put him in jail, where he was strangled.

Pope John XII (955-964): E. R. Chamberlin, in his book The Bad Popes, describes the character of Pope John XII as follows:

In his relationship with the Church, John seems to have been urged toward a course of deliberate sacrilege that went far beyond the casual enjoyment of sensual pleasures.  It was as though the dark element in his nature goaded him on to test the utmost extents of his power, a Christian Caligula whose crimes were rendered particularly horrific by the office he held.  Later, the charge was specifically made against him that he turned the Lateran into a brothel; that he and his gang violated female pilgrims in the very basilica of St. Peter; that the offerings of the humble laid upon the altar were snatched up as casual booty.

He was inordinately fond of gambling, at which he invoked the names of those discredited gods now universally regarded as demons.  His sexual hunger was insatiable -- -- a minor crime in Roman eyes.  What was far worse was that the casual occupants of his bed were rewarded not with casual gifts of gold but of land. (pp. 43-44).

Of his demise, J. N. D. Kelly writes in The Oxford Dictionary of Popes: “[H]e suffered a stroke, allegedly while in bed with a married woman, and a week later he died.”

Pope Benedict IX (1032-44; 1045; 1047-8): Benedict IX was elected through bribes paid by his father.  Kelly tells us that “his personal life, even allowing for exaggerated reports, was scandalously violent and dissolute.”  The Catholic Encyclopedia judges: “He was a disgrace to the Chair of Peter.”

Pope John XXII (1316-34): Pope John XXII taught the heterodox view that the souls of the blessed do not see God immediately after death, but only at the resurrection -- a version of what is called the “soul sleep” theory.  For this he was severely criticized by the theologians of his day, and later recanted this view.  As with Honorius, John’s actions were not incompatible with papal infallibility -- he expressed the view in a sermon rather than by way of issuing a formal doctrinal statement.  But as James Hitchcock judges in his History of the Catholic Church, “this remains the clearest case in the history of the Church of a possibly heretical pope” (p. 215).

Pope Urban VI (1378-89): Urban is described by the Catholic Encyclopedia as an “inconstant and quarrelsome” man whose “whole reign was a series of misadventures.”  The cardinals attempted to replace him with another pope, Clement VII -- beginning the infamous forty-year-long Great Western Schism, in which at first these two men, and later a third man, all claimed the papal throne.  Theologians, and even saints, were divided on the controversy.  St. Catherine of Siena was among the saints who supported Urban, while St. Vincent Ferrer is among the saints who supported Clement.

Pope Alexander VI (1492-1503): This Borgia pope, who had many children by his mistresses, notoriously used the papal office to advance the interests of his family.

Pope Leo X (1513-21): Leo X is the pope who is famously said to have remarked: “Let us enjoy the papacy since God has given it to us.”  Says the Catholic Encyclopedia:

[T]he phrase illustrates fairly the pope's pleasure-loving nature and the lack of seriousness that characterized him.  He paid no attention to the dangers threatening the papacy, and gave himself up unrestrainedly to amusements, that were provided in lavish abundance.  He was possessed by an insatiable love of pleasure, that distinctive trait of his family. Music, the theatre, art, and poetry appealed to him as to any pampered worldling.

Leo was pope during the time of Luther’s revolt, with which he did not deal wisely.  The Catholic Encyclopedia continues:

[When we] turn to the political and religious events of Leo's pontificate… the bright splendour that diffuses itself over his literary and artistic patronage, is soon changed to deepest gloom. His well-known peaceable inclinations made the political situation a disagreeable heritage, and he tried to maintain tranquillity by exhortations, to which, however, no one listened

The only possible verdict on the pontificate of Leo X is that it was unfortunate for the Church… Von Reumont says pertinently -- “Leo X is in great measure to blame for the fact that faith in the integrity and merit of the papacy, in its moral and regenerating powers, and even in its good intentions, should have sunk so low that men could declare extinct the old true spirit of the Church.”

Further examples could be given, but these suffice to show how very gravely popes can err when they are not exercising their extraordinary Magisterium.  And if popes can err gravely even on matters touching on doctrine and the governance of the Church, it goes without saying that they can err gravely with respect to matters of politics, science, economics, and the like.  As Cardinal Raphael Merry del Val wrote in his 1902 book The Truth of Papal Claims:

Great as our filial duty of reverence is towards what ever [the pope] may say, great as our duty of obedience must be to the guidance of the Chief Shepherd, we do not hold that every word of his is infallible, or that he must always be right.  Much less do we dream of teaching that he is infallible, or in any degree superior to other men, when he speaks on matters that are scientific, or historical, or political, or that he may not make mistakes of judgment in dealing with contemporary events, with men and things. (p. 19)

[E]ven to-day a Bishop might… expostulate with a Pope, who, in his judgment, might be acting in a way which was liable to mislead those under his own charge… The hypothesis is quite conceivable, and in no way destroys or diminishes the supremacy of the Pope. (p. 74)

And as theologian Karl Adam wrote in his 1935 book The Spirit of Catholicism:

[T]he men through whom God's revelation is mediated on earth are by the law of their being conditioned by the limitations of their age.  And they are conditioned also by the limitations of their individuality. Their particular temperament, mentality, and character are bound to color, and do color, the manner in which they dispense the truth and grace of Christ… So it may happen, and it must happen, that pastor and flock, bishop, priest, and layman are not always worthy mediators and recipients of God's grace, and that the infinitely holy is sometimes warped and distorted in passing through them. Wherever you have men, you are bound to have a restricted outlook and narrowness of judgment.  For talent is rare, and genius comes only when God calls it.  Eminent popes, bishops of great spiritual force, theologians of genius, priests of extraordinary graces and devout layfolk: these must be, not the rule, but the exception…  The Church has from God the guarantee that she will not fall into error regarding faith or morals; but she has no guarantee whatever that every act and decision of ecclesiastical authority will be excellent and perfect.  Mediocrity and even defects are possible.  (pp. 248-9)

That popes are fallible in the ways that they are is as important for Catholics to keep in mind as the fact that popes are infallible when speaking ex cathedra.  Many well-meaning Catholics have forgotten this truth, or appear to want to suppress it.  When recent popes have said or done strange or even manifestly unwise things, these apologists have refused to admit it.  They have tied themselves in logical knots trying to show that the questionable statement or action is perfectly innocent, or even conveys some deep insight, if only we would be willing to see it.  Had Catholic bloggers and pop apologists been around in previous ages, some of them would no doubt have been assuring their readers that the Eastern bishops excommunicated by Pope Victor must have had it coming and that St. Irenaeus should have kept silent; or that Pope Stephen was trying to teach us some profound spiritual truth with the cadaver synod if only we would listen; or that Liberius, Honorius, and John XXII were really deepening our understanding of doctrine rather than confusing the faithful. 

This kind of “spin doctoring” only makes those engaging in it look ridiculous.  Worse, it does grave harm to the Church and to souls.  It makes Catholicism appear Orwellian, as if a pope can by fiat make even sheer novelties and reversals of past teaching somehow a disguised passing on of the deposit of faith.  Catholics who cannot bear such cognitive dissonance may have their faith shaken.  Non-Catholics repulsed by such intellectual dishonesty will wrongly judge that to be a Catholic one must become a shill.

The sober truth is that Christ sometimes lets his Vicar err, only within definite limits but sometimes gravely.  Why?  In part because popes, like all of us, have free will.  But in part, precisely to show that (as Cardinal Ratzinger put it) “the thing cannot be totally ruined” -- not even by a pope.  Once more to quote the Catholic Encyclopedia, in its judgment about the outcome of the Great Western Schism:

Gregorovius, whom no one will suspect of exaggerated respect for the papacy… writes: “A temporal kingdom would have succumbed thereto; but the organization of the spiritual kingdom was so wonderful, the ideal of the papacy so indestructible, that this, the most serious of schisms, served only to demonstrate its indivisibility”… From a widely different standpoint de Maistre holds the same view: “This scourge of contemporaries is for us an historical treasure.  It serves to prove how immovable is the throne of St. Peter.  What human organization would have withstood this trial?”

UPDATE: The esteemed Dr. Edward Peters, canon lawyer extraordinaire, kindly comments on my article at his blog.  He argues that, contrary to what I implied in my post, John Paul II’s Ordinatio Sacerdotalis did indeed constitute an exercise of the extraordinary Magisterium.  He makes a strong case. 

108 comments:

Keen Reader said...

As a Protestant, it seems to me that the strongest argument against papal infallibility is an examination of the few things they have declared infallibly!

SK said...

Personally I have a question on the application of historico-critical methods of biblical scholarship and the Papal infallibility. For example a popular theory by people using the historico-critical method is the Documentary Hypothesis even among Catholic scholars. As Catholics were there any rulings by the Pope or by the Magisterium that forbid certain interpretations of Scripture like the Documentary Hypothesis? Are these Catholic scholars commiting heresy?

I think the more traditional readings of Scripture are to be preferred simply because it sticks close to tradition although I don't know how this would relate with Sacred Tradition. Would Sacred Tradition compel us to reject the Documentary Hypothesis and other such things?

Brandon said...

SK,

If we are talking about general approaches to interpretation, the only strict limitations are that the interpretation cannot exclude interpretations that have been definitively recognized or interpretations agreed upon by the Fathers of the Church. Within those limits, interpretations are to be judged on reasonableness and piety, as common sense would indicate. There is thus no problem with Catholic scholars using the Documentary Hypothesis as long as (1) they did so on reasonable grounds and (2) they did not treat it as an exhaustive account of the meaning of the text but also respected the liturgy and teaching of the Church. But it would also be reasonable to prefer more traditional readings of Scripture simply because they are traditional, as long as in doing so one also did so reasonably and in such a way as to respect the liturgy and teaching of the Church.

The document that most closely considers the questions that you are considering is Divino afflante spiritu.

The Maestro said...

Great post. I would possibly take issue, however, with the use of the popular example of Pope Liberius. In fact he used to be venerated liturgically as a saint. See this post: http://papastronsay.blogspot.com/2009/09/holy-pope-liberius-there-is-place-for.html

Also this: http://theradtrad.blogspot.com/2014/03/st-liberius-pope-of-rome.html

BB said...

I would certainly add to your list Nicholas V (1447-1455), whose instructions to the Portuguese in his bulls Romanus Pontifex and Dum Diversas did much to start the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Of course, this contradicted both earlier pronouncements and later ones (the Roman Church was later instrumental in outlawing the Spanish and Portuguese slave trade, well before the better known (at least to me) Protestant efforts in Northern Europe and North America gained steam), but still led to one of the biggest shames of Western civilisation.

JohnD said...

Where does the Church's teaching on contraception fall in the 5 categories? And how do we know?

Brandon said...

The Maestro,

To strengthen the point, Liberius still is venerated as a saint in the Catholic Church -- he's on a number of Eastern Catholic calendars. And Eastern Catholic calendars are roughly equivalent to the Roman Martyrology for Latin Catholics -- which, while not usually regarded as strictly infallible, is authoritative because of its close association with official liturgy.

JohnD,

The Church's teaching on contraception isn't a single claim, and the claims that make it up are of different kinds: part of it is clarification of natural law, part of it is interpretation of Scripture, and part of it is sacramental theology of marriage, and even these parts involve multiple claims of differing importance. Thus it would be necessary to determine which claim, in particular, one had in mind; and then one would simply reason it out on the basis of things like how closely connected the claim is to essential claims in sacramental theology, Christology, ecclesiology, etc. Sometimes it is easy to determine (it is very easy to show that contraception corrupts the essential symbolism of sacramental marriage) and sometimes more difficult (the reason the Church needed to clarify the natural law on the question is precisely that there are a lot of things that could introduce confusion into the question if you aren't very, very careful).

None of this is surprising, of course; this layering and variety is exactly the kind of thing one gets in any kind of teaching. One has to avoid the notion that recognizing different degrees of authority means one doesn't have to study the question and think it through; in fact, quite the opposite -- it means it's more important to do so. The kinds of 'spin-doctoring' Ed is criticizing at the end of the post is exactly one of the kinds of laziness you get among students who aren't actually trying to understand the material.

entirelyuseless said...

There is an ambiguity in the statement that the Pope cannot use his infallibility to declare an utter novelty or to contradict Catholic doctrine. That is, the statement about the purpose of his infallibility is a statement about God's purpose, not a restriction on how we personally determine that something the Pope said is infallible. This is unlike the other conditions, where e.g. the fact that the Pope doesn't intend to bind everyone to believe something, shows us that he is not speaking infallibly.

So for example, if the Pope did try to declare ex cathedra that homosexual behavior is not a sin, saying that it is divinely revealed that it is not a sin, and that this novelty is now binding on all Catholics, and that he was saying this with the fullness of his authority, one could not simply say, "Well, that contradicts Catholics doctrine, and so it wasn't a case of infallibility." You would say instead, "Well, that contradicts Catholic doctrine, and so it turns out that Vatican I was wrong about papal infallibility."

In other words, the Pope cannot do that sort of thing in the sense that given that the Catholic doctrine is true, such a thing will never happen. But since your non-Catholic friend probably does not think that the Catholic doctrine is true, it is not unreasonable for him to think that such a thing can happen.

Of course, even if the Catholic doctrine were false, it would be crazy to think that any Pope would ever do such a thing in fact, at least in such a blatant way.

Stewart said...

So what was the answer to the question of whether the Pope *could* make an ex cathedra statement reversing some previously infallible teaching?

Based on what you say later ("The sober truth is that Christ sometimes lets his Vicar err, only within definite limits"), it seems that what you're reallydoing here is just preliminarily banking on the likelihood that a Pope *won't* do it... which of course seems like pretty poor basis for any actual substantive and consistent theology.

Plus, it seems awfully like magical thinking: that some spiritual beings are literally intervening into our world to prohibit people from erring. (Even though you've admitted that the Holy Spirit or whoever is certainly allowing it at every other level.)

I would point to the flimsiness of this idea in that all that it would take to conclusively debunk this suggestion is a single Pope *actually* doing it... but I have no doubt that you have all sorts of ready-made special pleading for this situation. ("Must not be a true Pope"; it's a "test of faith for the Church," etc.)

But, I mean, the hierarchy of the Church is no stranger to actual magic -- for God's sake, the apostolic replacement of Judas was "chosen" based on cleromancy! -- so maybe "magic" isn't so unlikely after all.

Brandon said...

So what was the answer to the question of whether the Pope *could* make an ex cathedra statement reversing some previously infallible teaching?

Answering this question was the explicit point of the discussion of Vatican I at the beginning of the post.

Stewart said...

@Brandon:

But it doesn't really answer the question. For example, we have a giant gap of knowledge in the beliefs and practices of the Church from like 35 CE up until... well, until the time that we start to have more documentary evidence about whatever it is that we're looking at. All we have from that time is what happened to have fortuitously survived (that which happened to be recorded in texts, and these texts which happened to be copied and transmitted widely enough for them to be extant, etc.).

The effect of this is that there are many instances where we don't *know* what can truly be said to be the "revelation or deposit of faith transmitted by the apostles." That is, there are a ton of gaps in our knowledge where we simply don't know what was authentically believed "from the beginning," and what was innovation that wasn't genuinely "apostolic."

For example, other than the virgin birth -- and, mind you, even here things are mysterious -- there's very little trace of any of the classic Mariological doctrines before the early/mid 2nd century. And there are some pretty unambiguous indications that some of these are clearly foreign "intrusions" that simply cannot be historically authentic; and further, I can't help but think that had those who were a bit closer to the historical Jesus known what would have developed here, they almost certainly would have been found them theologically objectionable, too.

But on this particular definition of ex cathedra pronouncements that we're dealing with (the one from Vatican I), infallible Mariological pronouncements (like the Assumption, in "Munificentissimus Deus") would "seal the gap" in a way -- by virtually *demanding* that such dogma be considered part of the "revelation or deposit of faith transmitted by the apostles"... even when it has a dubious claim to such. (And surely we can add Mary's perpetual virginity to this, making its first ecumenical appearance at the Second Council of Constantinople.)

In other words, it doesn't necessarily *reaffirm* the continuity of tradition here or whatever, but *manufactures* it. And what's to stop this from always being ad hoc?

Anonymous said...

Ugh.. Come on man, cut out this sophistry.

Brandon said...

But it doesn't really answer the question.

Your question was: "whether the Pope *could* make an ex cathedra statement reversing some previously infallible teaching". Which indeed it does answer. Perhaps you had a different question in mind that was not completely expressed by the terms in which you originally put it.

Anonymous said...

It doesn't make a lot of sense to argue about Papal Infallibility if your idea of the supernatural is "magical thinking" that envisions "spiritual beings literally interfering in our world" (in this case, to prevent people from erring). The issues are quite a bit more fundamental than going all the way to the end of the line on Catholic-Protestant polemics.
"This Papal Infallibility thing is nonsense! God is a fairy tale!" <--Wrong conversation room.

Although it should be added that Prof. Feser (and Catholics) are holding up the last 2000 years of history, or 1800 if you prefer, and asking for just one example of a pope contradicting dogma. That's not exactly flimsy, however probative it may be.

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Ed,

Excellent post. Just one small request: how about a flow chart, so that Catholics can determine which of your five categories category a given (non-infallible) magisterial statement falls into?

Vincent Torley said...

Sorry. That should be: "how about a flow chart, so that Catholics can determine which of your five categories a given (non-infallible) magisterial statement falls into?"

Tony said...

Ed, thanks immensely for this excellent and very timely post. Just last night and early this morning, I was wishing for a concise statement of what are our obligations, as Catholics, regarding possibly infallible teachings and non-infallible but still acts of the teaching Church. This helps.

One of the things one might do to flesh out this analysis is to discuss ways in which the Popes, even in official teaching documents like an encyclical, vary rather widely within the document in stating things from categories 1 through 5. And they only sometimes distinguish the different categories with clarity. For example, a Pope stating definitively, for the first time, in such a way that he is NOW BINDING Catholics to hold a truth, will be very clear that he is teaching to the whole Church, that he is laying down definitively, etc. But a Pope in a later document might state the same truth without mentioning that it must be held definitively. That he didn't state it definitively doesn't imply that the faithful are no longer held to the prior Pope's definitive pronouncement.

Much more significantly, I think, is this: the popes often do NOT make any special effort to explicitly (down) grade their posits to category 4 or 5, even when those posits must be in those categories. You have to THINK as well as read, and the fact that a pope makes a claim about politics, history, science, sociology, capital punishment, without qualifying his claim as "probable" or "fallible" doesn't imply he meant to deliver it as definitively to be held by all. As a result, even statements regarding faith and morals can happen so. Sure, sometimes they do use tentative or qualifying language, but they don't have to, and often they don't. A pope like Francis, for example, by temperament seems to shy away from even approaching toward making intentionally definitive statements (other than merely repeating clearly and long-stated doctrines without adding thereto), and frequently intentionally limiting himself to less firmly pronounced posits by preference, I think. He himself said “I am worried, but you know I have a defect: a good dose of carelessness. I’m careless about these things...”

Tony said...

In other words, the Pope cannot do that sort of thing in the sense that given that the Catholic doctrine is true, such a thing will never happen. But since your non-Catholic friend probably does not think that the Catholic doctrine is true, it is not unreasonable for him to think that such a thing can happen.

@ Entirely

That's fair enough. But I think that if your discussion with a non-Catholic friend is going to get off the ground AT ALL, you need to somewhere discuss at least the possibility that God could intend to create an infallible visible institution (and, if He intends it, that He could do it). If God could intend such a thing, the fact that this visible institution of the Catholic Church has gone 1800 years (allowing for Stewart's skeptical 200 year gap) without a clear reverse happening is suggestive. If your friend won't even grant the possibility that God could intend it, you have more serious problems than that he rejects the authority of Catholic doctrine.

Plus, it seems awfully like magical thinking: that some spiritual beings are literally intervening into our world to prohibit people from erring. (Even though you've admitted that the Holy Spirit or whoever is certainly allowing it at every other level.)

@ Stewart

If you are skeptical of there being "some spiritual beings" that are "literally intervening" in our affairs, you shouldn't bother your head about the doctrine of infallibility. That's like worrying about whether each table on the Titanic each has a salt and pepper shaker, as it slips below the waves. You've got MUCH MORE SERIOUS beefs with Christianity than this. And NONE of our responses will make any sense at all until you deal with those bigger issues. It is a waste of your time and energy bothering about this. (And ours, until the larger ones are addressed).

Al said...

@BB

If you're going to pick on Nicholas V because of modern slavery, you'd have to add lots of Churchmen well into the nineteenth century.

The Church itself was a major slaveholder. In my country (Brazil), many of the best econometric studies of slavery are based on Church estates, since their owners were literate, there was continuity of the estates over time, and they were punctilious account-keepers, three characteristics which were rare with private slaveowners.

Even in the early United States, not a Catholic country, did the Church have slaves without any qualms. (See, e.g. this dissertation).

I'd be interested in reading suggestions on the evolution of the Church's thinking about slavery. I wonder into which of the five categories mentioned in the OP it would fall, since it does seem to be a very important issue of morals, and also seems to be an area about which the Church changed radically.

Edward Feser said...

Hi Tony,

Yes, in fact, related to all that, I meant -- and forgot -- to say a little about some suggestions Dulles makes in the article of his I quoted from. He notes that ecclesiastical authorities tend these days (and much more than in the past) to issue an enormous number of documents, feel they need to address every issue of public controversy, don't always take account of all the differences in circumstances in different countries, etc. He recommends that they cut back on the number of documents, consult with theologians representing a wide range of opinions before making a statement, do a better job of anticipating possible objections rather than just making out of the blue assertions, etc.

Another problem is that a lot of this stuff gets churned out by national bishops' conferences which don't themselves really have any teaching authority. The influence of bishops' conferences is something Ratzinger complained about in the 80s in The Ratzinger Report. It is individual bishops who have authority, not these faceless bureaucratic conferences. And the conferences tend to foster a groupthink mentality, discourage bold individual action, etc. Ratzinger's remarks on the subject are pretty strong, and worth reading.

The average Catholic doesn't know how to winnow through all this. Hence some think that what some conference document says about the Internet, or immigration policy, or whatever, has the same status as the Catechism or an encyclical. Hence they either conclude that they have to accept all of it (false), or that since they don't have to accept everything in the ream of document churned out by bishops' conferences, then they are not obliged to accept anything even a pope says unless it is declared infallibly (also false).

Re: Pope Francis, a book could be written about his Magisterium, and I would bet a large sum of money that someday many such books will be written. But one feature of it that is too little noticed is exactly what you note -- how deliberately tentative he often is in what he says. John Allen recently wrote a piece on that, giving several examples, and I can think of other examples Allen doesn't cite.

Edward Feser said...

Stewart,

I wasn't even addressing the question of what the mechanism is by which popes are preserved from error, whether God would strike dead a pope who tried to make an ex cathedra heretical statement, etc. And that wasn't what the non-Catholic friend of mine that I quoted was asking about. He really thought that Catholic doctrine itself allows a pope to declare anything ex cathedra, even a reversal of past teaching. He seemed to think that Catholics believe that popes can teach by fiat in this way. My point was to explain why that is not the case.

In other words, I wasn't doing apologetics in this post -- that is, I wasn't trying to show that the doctrine of papal infallibility is true (though I think it is), or defend it against all objections, etc. Rather, I was just trying to explain what it actually says, whether or not one thinks it is true.

JohnD said...

Brandon,

Re: contraception discussion

Thanks for your reply. I'm sorry for being so vague as I do want to understand the issue more carefully. The claim I had in mind is: "It is morally impermissible for a husband and wife to use artificial contraception in marriage."

What is the binding nature of this claim and what category would it fall into in Ed's article? Obviously, as a Catholic, my upbringing tells me that it differs in kind from the (say) application of the death penalty question. But how so? And how do we know this? I'd like to have a better understanding in case I was challenged by one of the SCORES of Catholics who dissent from this particular moral claim.

Edward Feser said...

JohnD,

That proposition is at the very least a category 3 statement. Some -- e.g. John Ford and Germain Grisez, in a famous article which I think you can find online -- have argued that it has been taught infallibly by the ordinary Magisterium, in which case it is at least a category 2 statement. I agree with their position.

Neil Parille said...

Ed,

One of the issues I find interesting is the common view (today) that the Catholic teaching on heaven/hell is von Balthasar's "optimistic universalism" eg that it's possible that everyone is going go heaven. I've heard certain "pop apologists" say that this is the Catholic position and if you don't believe it you are a killjoy who is excited about the prospect of people burning up in Hell. John Paul II said things that are supportive of von Balthasar's position, but it's debatable what he said. (I think Dulles talked about this.)

I guess my question is what would a confused Catholic do to determine if this view of correct or not.

Edward Feser said...

Hi Neil,

Well, it would be completely ridiculous for anyone to assert that von Balthasar's view is now "the Catholic teaching." What a "confused Catholic" of the sort you are talking about should do is demand of anyone who says this that they justify such an assertion, which would require (a) citing actual magisterial statements (which would have to be of categories 1, 2, or 3) which assert something like von Balthasar's view, while also (b) explaining how they would deal with magisterial statements of categories 1, 2, and 3 which point away from the von Balthasar position. Just noting that some well known people happen to like von Balthasar's view is not good enough.

The most that one can say is that some theologians with a reputation for orthodoxy have toyed with the von Balthasar position. And not at all plausibly, in my view.

Tom DePietro said...

Professor Feser,

What happens if the Pope falls into heresy? Do you think he ceases to be Pope?
thanks

Scott said...

Tom DePietro:

Ed gave a substantial list of "popes who have erred, in some cases in an extremely serious way," including (apparently) heresy. See especially the comments on Popes Honorius I and John Paul XXII.

aelianus said...

Splendid post. Only one caveat. Vatican I never invokes the ordinary/extraordinary distinction. It seems it would be possible for the Pope to fulfil the criteria laid down for an infalible definition (as John Paul II does in Evangelium Vitae and Ordinatio Sacerdotalis) in his ordinary magisterium. This seems to be the implication of Bishop Gasser's final relatio to Vatican I. Pius XI's Mortalium animos is one of the few places where the extraordinary magisterium is described and there it seems to be distinguished by "solemn rites and decrees" rather than infallibility per se.

Skyliner said...

Greetings, everyone,

Just to clarify, Balthasar did not teach that, in the end, all will be saved. He merely taught that it is *possible*, and that there are certain passages in Scripture and strands in the Tradition which imply such. But, we can't be sure. We must live in fear and trembling, but not without hope. See his _Dare We Hope_.

kyle coffey said...

HI ED,

I think you might of missed one aspect (to my knowledge anyways). When popes define and solemnly condemn something relating to faith and morals it is also infallible.

awatkins909 said...

Wonderful post Ed. Thank you!

Aloysius said...

Tom DePietro:

As luck would have it, the question of what happens when a pope falls into heresy was a question that was much discussed amongst the Counter-Reformation and baroque Scholastics. The most well-known of the men writing about this were Cajetan, Bellarmine, Bañez, Suárez, John of St. Thomas, and the Salmanticenses (all except Bellarmine being eminent and well-known commentators on St. Thomas' Summa. The majority view, in sum, is that the pope can fall even into formal heresy without immediately losing his office: he must be deposed by the Church. Suárez writes, in his De legibus lib. IV, cap. viii, no. 10:

«Therefore there remains one remedy for the Church [in the case of a heretical Pope], namely, that in a general council he juridically be declared a heretic; for by this he falls from his dignity, not so much by human, but by divine power. For just as when he is elected, he does not receive power from the electors, but from Christ: so in this special case he is deposed by Christ Himself after a juridical declaration. And although perchance concerning this matter we do not have an express written divine law, yet the tradition of the Church sufficiently shows that this power is in the Church, which power was due to it by defensive right, and pertained most of all to the providence of Christ the Lord. But whether this remedy is always necessary, even if it should happen that the Pope is a heretic publicly, will be disputed in the places selected before.»

If I recall correctly, it is the express opinion of Suárez (as he relates it in the De legibus and ) that the juridical authority of the pope does not depend upon the virtue of faith, and hence when faith is lost, his authority still remains.

If I may reproduce a comment I made in another venue, in response to a person opining that trad Catholics would be leaving for sedevacantism because of Francis' absurdities:

...if they are actually traditional and theologically informed Catholics, they should know that what is happening with Francis now (erroneous and misleading statements/declarations, material heresy, etc.) was acknowledged as perfectly possible as far back as the baroque scholastics of the 1500s and 1600s (e.g. Suárez, Bellarmine, Toletus, John of St. Thomas), and the tradition of canonists and theologians has followed them all the way up to Vatican II (after which Catholic theology basically suffered a temporary and spectacularly pathetic death). Indeed, these theologians (Suárez for instance, De legibus IV.7, nos. 3-10: http://www.archive.org/stream/rpfranciscisuare05suar#page/358/mode/2up) argue that the pope can even be a formal and manifest heretic and still does not lose his office until he has been deposed by a council of the Church. John of St. Thomas (De auctoritate Summi Pontificis: https://archive.org/stream/JohnOfSt.ThomasOnThePopeHereticQuestion/John%20of%20St.%20Thomas%20on%20the%20Pope-Heretic%20Question#page/n0/mode/2up) proposes the same, as do the Salmanticenses (De fide, disp. IV dub. I, no. 6: https://archive.org/stream/collegiisalmanti11anto#page/250/mode/2up) and Cajetan (De auctoritate papae cap. 20-25).

Suárez and the other Scholastic authors whom I have read do maintain that it is the more pious opinion, that God would not permit his Church to be headed by a formal and manifest heretic (two important qualifying conditions which are often ignored: the requirements for one to be a manifest heretic are quite high, and not even Francis has come close to crossing that line yet). But they still disputed on the topic, given that they all acknowledged that even as far back as Pope Symmachus (as the Salmanticenses relate in their De fide), the possibility was clearly recognized by both popes and councils.

Aloysius said...

Tom DePietro:

In addition, I would recommend reading the articles that Robert Siscoe has kindly written up against sedevacantists on the question of heretical popes, deposition of the same, etc. In addition to referring to Suárez, Bellarmine, and John of St. Thomas, he also points out the opinions of various eminent canonists through the centuries who have opined on the matter. You can find the articles here (if you're wary of The Remnant, I don't entirely blame you...but the Siscoe articles are very, very solid stuff):

http://www.remnantnewspaper.com/Archives/2013-0315-siscoe-sedevacantism.htm

http://gloria.tv/media/vpheBmTfRbx

http://remnantnewspaper.com/web/index.php/articles/item/1284-can-the-church-depose-an-heretical-pope

http://www.cfnews.org/page88/files/d9316b1dfdf813d95b197bee8640f489-219.html

Aloysius said...

Sorry, that first comment of mine should read:

...it is the express opinion of Suárez (as he relates it in the De legibus and De fide theologica)...

Anonymous said...

Skyliner,

Was Balthasar referring to all being saved, even against their will? This position has been declared heretical by the Fathers and by the ecumenical councils. But that all might be saved, even after death, if they wish to be saved, is quite a different position. Many Orthodox, for example, express this belief, and even the hope that all might be saved.

Peter Smith said...

Thanks for this terrific explanation. It is lucid, logical and complete.

Br. Joseph Selinger O.P. said...

Have you ever thought about doing a post/commentary on De Valore Notarum Theologicarum by Sixtus Cartechini S.J.? It would be a good followup post and quite helpful because this book is not available in English.

Something else that would be helpful is a commentary on the transition from theological notes to the "hierarchy of truths". From what I understand, the Fathers of Vatican II, despite wanting to move away from theological notes, still saw them as an authority and presupposed familiarity with the method of discerning them. In what way are they still valid?

Eric MacDonald said...

Professor Feser, despite your very clear and more or less exhaustive account of the doctrine of infallibility, the issue is still shrouded with uncertainty in practice. Take Paul VI, who rejected his own commission on sexuality's recommendations regarding contraception. It was clear that his refusal was largely based on a papal encyclical, Casti Connubii, which was, interestingly enough, effectively a reposte to the Anglican Communion's Lambeth Council of 1930, which gave grudging support for artificial means of conception control. Was Casti Connubii an infallible pronouncement? Whether it was or not, it was effectively made so by Paul VI who recognised it as an authoritative papal pronouncement, which made Humanae Vitae effectively infallible as well. What constitutes an ex cathedra pronouncement is not quite as clear as you would like it to be, and considerable interpretation is involved in determining what is and what is not infallible. Francis, for example, has said, of the matter of women priests, that the matter is now closed. Does that mean that John Paul II was speaking ex cathedra when he declared the matter closed, or do popes still have some flexibility here? This is not altogether clear. Or is it?

Skyliner said...

Say hey, Anonymous,

He would side with the Eastern padres on that question. The fact that humans must willingly accept the offer of salvation is the primary reason why he thought it impossible for us to say that all will definitely be saved.

Anonymous said...

M. MacDonald,

Pay no heed to the particular person of this or that pope, but only examine particular statements proceeding from the papacy. In this way you will not be distracted by particular personalities and will be capable of calmly considering nothing but statements. Leave it to the journalists and common people to chat about persons.

Now, if you are no longer worrying about who said what and are only perceiving a list of particular statements proceeding from the office of the papacy, then you may carefully consider the text.

Brandon said...

Whether it was or not, it was effectively made so by Paul VI who recognised it as an authoritative papal pronouncement, which made Humanae Vitae effectively infallible as well.

While the issue of infallibility and encyclicals is indeed a complicated one, this particular inference seems to run into two problems; although they both involve common mistakes, they muddy the water unnecessarily. (1) Authority and infallibility are for obvious reasons not the same. Fallible teaching may be authoritative; it is just not going to be exactly the same kind of authority as infallible teaching. Encyclicals are authoritative papal pronouncements; this is a distinct question from infallibility. (2) Encyclicals are not the right unit for considering these questions. They are recognized as mixed forms of teaching that make a very large number of claims of different kinds. It is, rather, particular claims and statements that are relevant here.

Jay Richards said...

Well done Ed. This is the clearest and most complete explanation of papal infallibility I've ever seen.

Tony said...

(2) Encyclicals are not the right unit for considering these questions.

While the type of document does play a role, I think it's very much second fiddle to the language and context of the actual statement. Consider this language from Vatican I on papal infallibility:

we teach and define as a divinely revealed dogma that when the Roman Pontiff speaks EX CATHEDRA, that is, when, in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole Church, he possesses, by the divine assistance promised to him in blessed Peter, that infallibility which the divine Redeemer willed his Church to enjoy in defining doctrine concerning faith or morals.

Now consider the prohibition in women priests in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, and Apostolic Letter:

Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church's divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful.

I find it very, very difficult to credit a position that JP II was not speaking ex cathedra in this. If you consider the elements point by point, I think you find congruence.

Office as shepherd and teacher...in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren
He defines.......................I declare
Concerning faith and morals......a matter of great importance
..................................which pertains to the Church’s divine constitution itself
To be held by the whole Church...this judgment is to be held by all the Church’s faithful
Let's add
that infallibility which the divine Redeemer willed his Church to enjoy .......
.................................in order that all doubt may be removed

I think that's an ex cathedra statement.

Hank Marginis said...

May I suggest that you listen to the (free)
broadcast by His Excellency Bishop Donald Sanborn
found here:

http://www.restorationradionetwork.org/season-i-episode-13-the-second-vatican-council/

Theology is a discipline related to Philosophy
but is distinct from it and requires distinct
study and understanding.

Hank Marginis

Scott said...

With all due respect, Hank, I'm having a hard time keeping a straight face at the suggestion that what this discussion needs is a little sedevacantism.

DavidM said...

Tony wrote: "I think that's an ex cathedra statement." So does Ed Peters:
https://canonlawblog.wordpress.com/2015/11/24/i-agree-with-dr-feser-99-953/

DavidM said...

Dulles fell short with four; but perhaps Feser too, to be clear, shouldn't have stopped his enumeration at five?
"5. Statements of a prudential sort on matters about which there may be a legitimate diversity of opinion among Catholics.
"... Catholics thus owe such statements serious and respectful consideration, but nothing more."
Plus,
6. "It is even possible for a pope to be mistaken in a more radical way...
...recent popes have said or done strange or even manifestly unwise things."

Or do we still owe "serious and respectful consideration" to statements that are "manifestly unwise," just because the pope is the one who said them? Or who said them 'recently'? (Is that relevant?) Or should we still give serious and respectful consideration to the notion that "Pope Stephen was trying to teach us some profound spiritual truth with the cadaver synod if only we would listen; or that Liberius, Honorius, and John XXII were really deepening our understanding of doctrine rather than confusing the faithful"? (Presumably not.) Does a pattern of strange or even manifestly unwise statements and actions justify ceasing to pay much attention to a given pope, given that our "serious and respectful consideration" is a finite resource, arguably better expended elsewhere? Should all Catholics read - and seriously and respectfully consider - Laudato si, for example? (Obviously not, I should think.)

Opacus said...

@entirelyuseless

Your point is correct but not exhaustive. Faced with a seeming pope who seems to be teaching under conditions ensuring infallibility who yet seems to be contradicting Catholic doctrine, one could indeed say that the game is up for the teaching of Vatican I on infallibility. The other options are (i) to say that the conditions for infallibility are only apparently met, (ii) to say that the contradiction is only apparent, and (iii) to say that the papacy is only apparent. If I understand correctly, (i) is Prof. Feser's option but, unless one could point out which condition for infallibility was not fulfilled by the teaching act in question, it would be at best an act of faith and at worst would make the application of those conditions unverifiable. Similarly for (ii). Although reinterpreting what is said to avoid contradiction is a standard tactic of e.g. those who want to defend both tradition and Pope Francis, it comes at the cost of making meaning inaccessible if pressed too far. What confidence could we have that those who laid down the tradition in the first place meant what they said either? Option (iii) is a sedevacantist option. If a pope under certain conditions can't teach error then anyone who is teaching error under those conditions can't be pope. That is logically true. Of course no actual sedevacantists think that those conditions have been met in the current situation but the logical requirement to infer sedevacantism in certain conditions is itself significant. Unless it could be shown that it follows from Catholic teaching that you couldn't have a merely apparent pope apparently teaching ex-Cathedra, the confidence of Catholics that sedevacantism is wrong would be overblown. Not only have there been times when large numbers of Catholics have thought that someone was pope who wasn't, various popes have themselves envisaged that a papal election might elect someone who wasn't really pope. We presume that a correctly conducted papal election produces a pope but we can't assume that it does any more than we can assume that a properly conducted wedding produces a marriage. The marriage might not take place not because anything was amiss with the service, e.g. no vows were said, but because of an impediment e.g. proper consent was missing. Similarly a papal election might fail to produce a pope not because there was something awry with it, e.g. vote rigging, but because of an impediment e.g. lack of the Catholic faith on the part of the man elected - a pope has to be a Catholic. So, though there is a presumption in favour of election just as there is a presumption in favour of marriage, that presumption can be overturned.

Tony said...

Faced with a seeming pope who seems to be teaching under conditions ensuring infallibility who yet seems to be contradicting Catholic doctrine, one could indeed say that the game is up for the teaching of Vatican I on infallibility.

There's no "apparent" about it. Pope Francis hardly ever says anything that he requires to be taken definitively and infallibly, and when he has it has always been the old, tried and true, standard Catholic fare. He just isn't the kind of guy who gets his jollies out of "I solemnly pronounce, define and declare that...X is true and must be definitively held by all the faithful". He isn't into all that. He says it himself: he is a careless sort of fellow. That "defining" sort of stuff is for those precise, persnickety popes who like to find t's to cross and i's to dot. So, claiming "under conditions ensuring infallibility" without citing a single one is unacceptable.

I gotta say, also, that you should go out and read what dissenters say about JPII's teaching in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis (OS). JPII was about 20 times more definitive in that, than Francis has been about anything, but the nay-sayers try to convince themselves that not only wasn't OS an ex cathedra statement, it wasn't an act of ordinary magisterium, or even an act to which they owe religious assent. So, if JPII gets a stiff run for his money on the most definitive act of the last 60 years, you can bet your last dollar that Francis hasn't said ANYTHING in "conditions ensuring infallibility" except when he is simply quoting infallible prior statements that were infallible before him.

Brandon said...

I think that's an ex cathedra statement.

Oh, it's quite clearly ex cathedra; I agree entirely, and think your argument for it is quite a good summary of why. But not everything in the encyclical need be the same kind of claim. This is widely recognized in other kinds of cases -- for instance, while the Assumption of Mary is a defined dogma, not every claim in Munificentissimus Deus is of the same authority. And Munificentissimus Deus is an apostolic constitution, which is in general a more formal and authoritative document than a typical encyclical letter. Claims in an encyclical may express infallible acts of teaching; encyclicals by their nature will tend to make claims of very diverse kinds of authority.

E.Seigner said...

Brandon, Claims in an encyclical may express infallible acts of teaching; encyclicals by their nature will tend to make claims of very diverse kinds of authority.

With all due respect, what's the meaning of papal infallibility when popes in their bulls and encyclicals are as fallible as the SCOTUS in its rulings? The way this so-called dogma is delineated here, it follows straightforwardly that popes are fallible and we could call it papal fallibility as it indeed is in the title. With all due respect to the office of His Holiness, Vicar of Jesus Christ, Holder of the Keys of Heaven, etc.

Jaime Gabriel Lopez Zapata said...

Professor Ed could you please do apologetic about this topic ? I like seeing your thoughts in action, I would like seeing you addressing a more doctrinal topic

Brandon said...

With all due respect, what's the meaning of papal infallibility when popes in their bulls and encyclicals are as fallible as the SCOTUS in its rulings?

I have no idea what you are trying to ask here. (1) I didn't say that popes in their bulls and encyclicals "are as fallible as the SCOTUS in its rulings"; I said that bulls and encyclicals have a wide variety of different kinds of statements, not all of which express infallible acts of teaching. This is not even controversial. (2) Obviously popes are fallible; that has always been the doctrine of the Church, and has been true of everyone since St. Peter. Only the Holy Spirit is an unconditionally infallible teacher. But the teaching of the Church, under the right conditions, is the teaching of the Holy Spirit; and the teaching of the Pope, under the right conditions, is this kind of teaching of the Church. It would make no sense to complain that papal teaching is only conditionally infallible, or that the conditions for infallibility don't necessarily obtain every time the Pope says something; both of those are exactly what a reasonable person would expect.

Opacus said...

@Tony

You seem to think that my 'faced with a seeming pope...' sentence refers to Pope Francis. In fact, as should be obvious, it refers to the hypothetical situation postulated by @entirelyuseless and has nothing to do with Pope Francis. I mention him later as someone whose remarks are often defended by a typical strategy but that is all. I no more think him likely to define anything infallibly than you do. What need has he to do that when he can lead the vast majority astray with ambiguity, innuendo and bad example? Nor is anything else you say relevant to the point I was making about what responses are possible if a certain situation was claimed to arise and that more responses are possible, and perhaps warranted, than @entirelyuseless mentioned.

Tony said...

I mention him later as someone whose remarks are often defended by a typical strategy but that is all.

My mistake. Sorry. I thought they were connected.

What need has he to do that when he can lead the vast majority astray with ambiguity, innuendo and bad example?

Sad, but true.

Similarly a papal election might fail to produce a pope not because there was something awry with it, e.g. vote rigging, but because of an impediment e.g. lack of the Catholic faith on the part of the man elected - a pope has to be a Catholic.

I have read that the common opinion among theologians is that being a material heretic is not an impediment to becoming the true pope, (and some suppose this happened, with at least one), neither an impediment to a valid election nor to validly ascending to the chair of Peter as real pope.

Electing a formally declared heretic would have to be put in the same category as a material heretic attempting to define a false dogma: the Holy Spirit would not permit it.

Opacus said...

@Tony

I probably should have said 'If we were faced with a seeming pope...' to have made myself clearer.

I don't think it is sufficient to say regarding any species of heresy – material, formal, occult, manifest or whatever – that the Holy Spirit would not permit a heretic of that kind to be elected. The question is not whether it would be permitted but whether it could seem to have happened, by which I mean not that it could seem to people that some heretic has been elected pope but that some heretic might seem to people to have been elected pope. (I trust you see the scope distinction there.) So, by analogy, the Holy Spirit does not permit siblings to get married. It does not follow from that, however, that a man and woman, who are in fact siblings, could not seem to people to have been married. That is the trouble with impediments. They can stop things happening without it seeming to anyone that the thing in question has not happened. So if you think that in order for something to be prevented then it has to not appear to have taken place you are confusing prevention with intervention. As to whether some species of heresy is actually an impediment, I do not claim to know. There appears to be a reasonable case that manifest heresy is such an impediment and an equally good case for saying that Jorge Bergolio was a manifest heretic even before his election, and certainly a much better case than for any other supposed pope since Pius XII. Personally, I don't think the case needs to be made out in order to justify resistance to what he is doing. As for those who would say that no one is permitted to judge a pope, they may well be right but it does not follow that no one is permitted to judge whether someone is a pope. Those who dredge that up are usually ignoring another scope distinction.

Tony said...

That is the trouble with impediments. They can stop things happening without it seeming to anyone that the thing in question has not happened.

Ummm. Not particularly what I was talking about: someone is formally DECLARED TO BE a heretic. The business of "seeming" or not ceases to be much of an issue with the formal declaration. Now, one can certainly entertain the words "what if Martin Luther, after he was condemned as a heretic, was elected pope...?" But like the category of "what if a pope reverses the ex cathedra statement of a prior pope and declares it to be false", we need only have it the Holy Spirit won't let it happen. We don't need to thread around "seems". How is there any place for "it seemed to have happened" without it actually have happen? By having the "impediment" formally declared, you take the issue out of guesswork, seeming, maybes and probablies, and make it definite.

There appears to be a reasonable case that manifest heresy is such an impediment

I don't think the "reasonable case" really is.

and an equally good case for saying that Jorge Bergolio was a manifest heretic even before his election

I don't reckon "manifest" means what such people think it means. Even if "manifest heresy" was an impediment.

Aloysius said...

an equally good case for saying that Jorge Bergolio was a manifest heretic even before his election

To be a manifest heretic, one must be declared such: either by himself, or by the proper authorities. The former would be fairly obvious, but the requirements for the latter are very stringent, and Pope Francis has definitely not met them, as it requires, among other things, several public warnings by the Church before the alleged heretic is judged incorrigible -- which warnings obviously have not occurred.

Opacus said...

@Tony

I'm not sure you are seeing the point here, so let me restate it. Suppose we grant your contention that the Holy Spirit will not let a heretic of some sort – you take your pick what kind – become a pope. The question is how he will prevent it. If he prevents it by means of an impediment then the prevention is compatible with well-founded mass supposition to the contrary. If he prevents it by means of an intervention then it is not. By analogy, consider the case of Henry VIII. He argued, in effect, that the Holy Spirit had prevented him being married to Catherine of Aragon despite there being a well-founded mass supposition to the contrary based on his properly conducted wedding to her. If he had been thinking that prevention meant intervention then his contention would have been absurd. No lightning bolt from the sky, no sudden death or whatever happened to prevent the marriage. But since he thought that the prevention took the form of an impediment based on Catherine's previous marriage to his brother Arthur, his contention was at least arguable. Similarly, it would be absurd to argue that the Holy Spirit prevented Jorge Bergolio from becoming pope if prevention meant intervention. His election seems to have gone smoothly and thus there is a well founded mass supposition to the effect that he is pope based on that election. If he were prevented from being pope by an impediment, however, the contention would be arguable despite the properly conducted election. To combat someone arguing in that fashion you would have to show that there were no impediment of the kind alleged.

@Aloysius

Why do you think that being a manifest heretic requires a declaration? Every protestant is a manifest heretic but very few of them have been declared to be so whether by an authority or by themselves. To be pertinacious, heresy might require declarations, but to be manifest it merely needs to exist and be in the public domain. So those who argue that Jorge Bergolio was a manifest heretic before his election point to such facts as that he wrote books espousing antisupersessionism. Now while one may argue that his views were not heretical one can hardly argue that they were not in the public domain since they were published. So if he was a heretic then he was manifestly so. Whether he was a formal, pertinacious heretic are separate questions, as is the question of whether any kind of heresy is an impediment to papacy in the way that at least some kinds definitely are impediments to the reception and exercise of holy orders.

E.Seigner said...

Brandon, I have no idea what you are trying to ask here.

Just pointing out that papal infallibility (the Catholic dogma) looks perfectly interchangeable with (and indistinguishable from) papal fallibility as illustrated with examples in this blog post.

When people serving certain offices prove themselves fallible, we call them fallible because that's what they are. For some irrational reason though, Catholic church has formulated and retains the dogma of papal infallibility.

Not asking and not trying to figure out. Just noting.

Michael Paterson-Seymour said...

The borderline between questions of doctrine and questions of fact is by no means always clear-cut.
All theologians accept that Pope Innocent X’s condemnation of the famous Five Propositions of Jansenism in Cum Occasione of 1653 was an exercise of the infallible magisterium. The pope claimed that these propositions were taught in the Augustinus of Cornelius Jansen.
In 1656, in Ad Sanctam Beati Petri Sedem, Pope Alexander VII declared that since some still insisted that those propositions were not to be found in the Augustinus, or were not meant by the author in the sense in which they were condemned, he declares that they are contained in the Augustinus, and have been condemned according to the sense of the author. It is hard to see how this could possibly be a question of faith or morals.
Nevertheless, in 1664 in Regiminis Apostolici, he imposed on the clergy subscription of a formula, submitting “to the apostolic constitution of the Supreme Pontiff Innocent X dated May 31, 1653, and to the constitution of the Supreme Pontiff Alexander VII dated October 16, 1656, and, with a sincere heart, I reject and condemn the five propositions taken from the book of Cornelius Jansen entitled Augustinus and in the sense understood by that same author, just as the Apostolic See has condemned them by the two above-mentioned constitutions and so I swear.” How anyone could subscribe that formula in good conscience who had not read the Augustinus or who differed from the Pope’s interpretation is an interesting question. Were they required to make a submission of faith to the Pope’s judgment?

Tony said...

The question is how he will prevent it. If he prevents it by means of an impediment then the prevention is compatible with well-founded mass supposition to the contrary. If he prevents it by means of an intervention then it is not.

Right. And in analogy with "the Holy Spirit will not allow a pope to reverse a prior pope's ex cathedra definition", i.e. by intervention, we can assume intervention for this also. The problem goes away.

To combat someone arguing in that fashion you would have to show that there were no impediment of the kind alleged.

Or argue that they stop looking to impediment, and conclude that since no intervention happened, he is Pope.

Why do you think that being a manifest heretic requires a declaration? Every protestant is a manifest heretic but very few of them have been declared to be so whether by an authority or by themselves.

Every Protestant manifestly holds material heresy. It is not true to say that every Protestant is a formal heretic - i.e. has done acts that include the FORM of the sin of heresy, which requires conscious rejection of the definitive stated position of the authority they otherwise understand to be authoritative. Since only those who had been Catholic and THEN became Protestant actively reject the definitive pronouncements of the authority they otherwise understood as authoritative, by and large only those are manifestly material AND formal heretics.

Eric MacDonald said...

Anonymous, I'm not at all sure what you mean. I wasn't in fact looking at individual popes as individuals, but as popes who made apparently universal declarations. My point was very much in line with what Tony says about JP II's statement regarding women in the priesthood. It looks, as I said, very much like an ex cathedra pronouncement. Was it or wasn't it? And what, besides the wording, distinguishes it from other things that popes have said? My problem is that what constitutes infallible speech seems on all fours with other types of speech, since in any of an individual pope's pronouncements on a whole range of things, it seems clear that he is acting as shepherd and teacher for the purpose of confirming his brethren in the faith. I guess I don't see how it is possible to distinguish clearly amongst papal pronouncements to distinguish those that are undoubtedly ex cathedra and those that are not. When Francis says, in Laudato Si, that what he writes has now taken its place within the Magisterium of the Church, is what he is saying ex cathedra or not, and can that statement be taken to cover everything in Laudato Si, or not? I just don't see how the distinction is being made, which makes the doctrine of infallibility a bit of a puzzle. I can see why Pius IX wanted it, since he was in a life or death struggle with modernism (as were most Christian bodies at the time), and wanted a decisive way in which he could make a distinction between modernism (which, at the time, effectively meant critical approaches to scripture and its consequences for Christian faith) and that which could be taken to be unquestionable bedrock doctrine, but while it is easy to talk about ordinary and extraordinary Magisteria, it is hard to see what qualifies for each category, a decision which clearly depends on interpretation (and that is done by those who reflect on papal pronouncements, not by the popes themselves - at least in general), and is therefore open to dispute.

Anonymous said...

JohnD,

Brandon's reply is well put. To clarify something on which he touches, part of that teaching is expressed in Humanae Vitae thusly: "...the direct interruption of the generative process already begun and, above all, all direct abortion, even for therapeutic reasons, are to be absolutely excluded as lawful means of regulating the number of children. Equally to be condemned, as the magisterium of the Church has affirmed on many occasions, is direct sterilization, whether of the man or of the woman, whether permanent or temporary." It's certain that these two assertions are, at the least, category 2.

TomP

Brandon said...

Just pointing out that papal infallibility (the Catholic dogma) looks perfectly interchangeable with (and indistinguishable from) papal fallibility as illustrated with examples in this blog post.

This doesn't make any sense at all; the whole point of the blog post is to identify what is actually meant by 'infallibility' in the context, so the examples of papal fallibility are precisely to identify what is wrong with a false interpretation of what the doctrine means.

When people serving certain offices prove themselves fallible, we call them fallible because that's what they are. For some irrational reason though, Catholic church has formulated and retains the dogma of papal infallibility.

But as I already pointed out, we do call popes fallible. The doctrine of papal infallibility is not and never has been the claim that popes never err. It was, explicitly and in black-and-white noted by Vatican I, that the pope under very specific conditions exercises the full teaching authority of the Church, which is itself the exercise, arising when certain specific conditions are met, of the teaching authority of the Holy Spirit. And the teaching authority of the Holy Spirit is infallible, always, and it would be irrational nonsense to suggest otherwise.

Brandon said...

Michael Paterson-Seymour,

The example seems to me to be a bit less useful for your point than you are suggesting. Precisely point of Regiminis apostolici was to give the King of France a means of breaking the hold of the Jansenists on a number of important offices and teaching positions connected to the Church; the whole point was to eliminate people from teaching positions who differed from the Pope's interpretation, either because they would not accept the formula of submission or, if they did, because there would then be a way to proceed against them if they turned out to have accepted it falsely. Questions of "submission of faith" don't even seem to be relevant -- it was a policy matter. If anyone signed the formulary without sincerely accepting it, that is, of course, their own perjury.

Likewise, Ad sanctam beati Petri sedem was quite clearly a warning that the Holy See, having checked the matter given the arguments of the Jansenists, found those arguments to be without merit, and did not accept the argument of the Jansenists as a sufficient response to the prior condemnation. It's very explicitly a statement of fact about the conclusion of an investigation by the Holy See and a reiteration of the prior condemnation in light of that conclusion.

Thus all of the documents are very different kinds of acts in the first place; and in the case of Ad sanctam beati Petri sedem and Regiminis apostolici are mixed up with policy and disciplinary considerations that make the question of whether they are strictly infallible relatively unimportant; papal jurisdiction and (in the case of early modern France) royal jurisdiction in matters pertaining ecclesial discipline and policy are not confined to the realm of faith and morals.

Opacus said...

@Tony

So in response to the claim that one can't be a manifest heretic without a declaration having been made I pointed out that most protestants are manifest heretics without any such declaration having been made of them. To this you reply that most protestants are not formal heretics, which, whether or not it is true, is not something I stated. I can't see how your reply is relevant unless you are claiming that one cannot be a manifest heretic without being a formal heretic and that one cannot be a formal heretic without a declaration having been made. If that is your point then it is not correct since what makes one a formal rather than a material heretic is nothing to do with declarations but relates to whether the rejection of Church teaching is witting rather than unwitting.

As for the rest, are you claiming that there are no impediments to papacy and that divine intervention is the only way that anyone who can't be pope is prevented from being so? If so, that is clearly wrong. Being female, for instance, is such an impediment. If a cunning woman were to attempt to emulate the mythical 'pope Joan' we need not think that we have to be saved by divine intervention from her devious plan. The mere fact that she is female would prevent her being pope even if she had managed to fool the cardinals during an election!

Brandon said...

Opacus said:

If that is your point then it is not correct since what makes one a formal rather than a material heretic is nothing to do with declarations but relates to whether the rejection of Church teaching is witting rather than unwitting.

Actually, this is itself not quite correct -- the formal element of heresy, in moral theology, is obstinacy or pertinacity in rejection, requiring a refusal to be corrected, not whether it is conscious. If someone consciously rejects, on the moment, Church teaching, but then relents very soon afterward, they have committed no formal heresy. Likewise if someone consciously rejects Church teaching, but still sincerely continues to listen in the hopes of better understanding and, if they can, accepting the Church teaching, they have committed no formal heresy. Merely having a "No, that's not right" moment with regard to something recognized as Church teaching is not the sin of heresy.

But there seems some confusion in the discussion, since while obstinacy suffices for the sin of formal heresy, a matter of moral theology, it does not suffice for the crime of formal heresy, a matter of canonical jurisprudence. And the latter requires, by what is usually taken to be divine positive law (Titus 3:10-11), warnings and declarations. The sin and the crime, although obviously related, should not be conflated in the discussion of a Church office like the papacy.

Tony said...

Brandon, good point. Thanks for clearing that up.

@ Opacus

Your more interesting case would be a woman who pretended to be a man and HID the fact that she was a woman during the entirety of her clerical career, and was "elected" pope.

Or, even better, a person who suffers from one of the more difficult forms of hermaphroditism, and whose sex is actually ambiguous.

daurio said...

This is a good post.
Many people don't seem to understand this subject very well.
They tend to think that a teaching must have been defined by the pope ex cathedra in order to be infallible, ignoring the Ordinary Magisterium. They also seem to be ignorant of the fact that the majority of dogmatic declarations were not made by the pope speaking ex cathedra, but by the General Councils of the Church (with the pope presiding).

Not to change the subject too much, but I just cannot understand how the Church's traditional teaching on capital punishment (the view that permits it) is not to be given assent by all Catholics. Philosophical arguments notwithstanding (Christian Brugger makes a particularly compelling argument) I don't see how we can reconcile an anti-capital punishment view with the tradition of the Church.

bill bannon said...

daurio,
You'll notice that in the catechism, even ccc #2267 affirms the death penalty but then undoes it as a modern tool by saying that prisons are now capable of securing the murderer for life. Both the catechism and St. John Paul II seemed to have looked only at the middleclass countries of Europe which have low murder rates without the death penalty.... ( the two largest Catholic countries, Brazil and Mexico have porous prisons, no death penalty and very high murder rates). UN figures have shown that where the poor are numerous, the death penalty prevents murder. China is 20 times safer from murder than Brazil and Mexico. The ccc 2267 did not talk of deterring uncaught murderers...but only the one you arrested. That is a mistake in prudential thinking. The new anti death penalty verbal campaign by the last three Popes is a mistake via bad prudential opinion which should not be in a catechism at all.

bill bannon said...

daurio,
p.s. From 1972 til 1976, the US Supreme Court halted US death penalties while they studied competing deterrence studies. The Court after four years judged the pro death penalty deterrence studies correct and resumed it. John Paul tried to make it a mercy/ theological problem but it isn't....it has a lot to do with world data. Africa and Latin America have few death penalties, many poor, and the two highest murder rates by large region. Asia, heavy on dp, and on the poor is number one safest...even ahead of middleclass Europe. Check UN figures online at wiki....homicide by country.

Neil Parille said...

Bill Bannon,

CC 2267 doesn't say that prisons are now capable of securing the murder for life and that this is the basis for de facto opposition to the DP. It's not entirely clear what the Catechism's rationale is. The possibility of locking someone up for life has always existed (the Tower of London for example).

bill bannon said...

Neil,
Last paragraph: " Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm - without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself - the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity "are very rare, if not practically non-existent."

Neil Parille said...

Bill: You'll have to ask whoever wrote the section what he meant. If the claim is that the possibility of life without parole means that the death penalty now shouldn't be used then he or she is wrong. The state has always had the possibility of locking people up for life.

I suspect that the church's opposition to the DP has more to do with a sentimental philosophy than any concern about justice. If you look at the church's lack of concern for crime and the victims of crime (the pedophilia scandal) then it seems that outrage about crime was far from the concern of JP2, Ratzinger, Bernie Law, etc.

bill bannon said...

There may be a difference in their minds between the sex abusers and murderers. They under estimated how extensive the former was and keep in mind that priests hear awful things in some confessions. In the dp matter, St. JPII turned very pacifist in the 1990's..Not even wanting the coalition to take back Kuwait from Hussein. It's an awful mistake but sounds merciful.

Tony said...

Bill: You'll have to ask whoever wrote the section what he meant. If the claim is that the possibility of life without parole means that the death penalty now shouldn't be used then he or she is wrong. The state has always had the possibility of locking people up for life.

I suspect that the church's opposition to the DP has more to do with a sentimental philosophy than any concern about justice.


Neil, you are correct about the last point, in a sense, but only in a sense. And you are confusing what was INTENDED with what is the actual state of affairs. The passage in the Catechism is a clear reference to the manifest EASE with which the modern state can now (a) keep a person incarcerated and not a risk to the public at large, as opposed to certain places and times where - even if the state did have long-term lockups, the state could not ensure its long-term integrity.

There are (at least) 2 different ways that this prudential judgment by JPII and other popes and church officials is difficult to substantiate, or simply wrong. The first is the fact that there is no manifest ease with which the modern state can keep these people from harming others inside the prison, or from continuing to be part of an ongoing crime family that continues to threaten people both inside and outside the prison. That's #1: the failure of the Pope and clerics to even attempt to parse this out. The second difficulty is that as the state fails to attempt to impose sentences that SETTLE injustices with finality (insofar as the state can ascertain, at least), society itself trends toward more and more injustice, which increases the justice / prison burden, which will eventually overwhelm "the system" and you get a melt-down where even good-willed people fail to know how to direct their behavior toward justice.

There are probably other difficulties with JPII's personal, prudential opinion that modern states have a capacity "for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm", too. But the point is that this "teaching" is just a personal, prudential opinion, not a magisterial teaching, much less an infallible magisterial teaching.

JPII's attempted, in the Catechism, to adjust the traditional (and infallible via ordinary Magisterium) teaching that capital punishment is a just and licit punishment, by adding to it an addendum that "it shouldn't be used except when absolutely necessary to prevent this criminal from harming others". This was an attempt to make us focus more on mercy and on "state safety" than on justice. Since the effect of doing so (when JPII was successful and got the state to not use capital punishment even when that was just) is per se not that of bringing about the just retribution, Neil is partly right in saying that the object wasn't "any concern about justice". JPII was, effectively, saying "yes, imposing death would be just; I am asking you to deal from mercy rather than justice." As long as you don't contravert infallible teaching by attempting to say that the death penalty is UNJUST when a lesser punishment like life in prison will prevent this criminal from hurting anyone else, asking for mercy rather than for justice isn't a DENIAL of the traditional teaching, it is side-stepping it.

Tony said...

If you look at the church's lack of concern for crime and the victims of crime (the pedophilia scandal) then it seems that outrage about crime was far from the concern of JP2, Ratzinger, Bernie Law, etc.

You can't lump everybody into the same big lump as if they were all equally at fault. There are bishops and cardinals who had no knowledge of the pedophilia problem (as a largescale issue), who correctly dealt with each case in their own area of authority, and had no information beyond those. There are other bishops who had only piecemeal, or hearsay information about matters outside their own area of authority (like, in the next diocese over), who did not act because their information was uncertain and because there is no clear way for one bishop to correct the malpractice of another bishop. Even the Vatican cannot simply remove a bishop for IMPRUDENT handling of priest abusers. (There is, actually, some legal doubts about just what the Vatican can remove bishops for, and more concern about what the Vatican could do if a deposed bishop simply refused to leave.) While simply moving an abuser from one parish to another was clearly (and gravely) wrongful behavior on the part of a bishop, taking the priest out, sending him to treatment for 5 years until "cured" (or so the early reports in the 60s and 70s might suggest), is not malfeasance on anything like the same order. In any case, as with the Fr. Maciel problem, it is not at all obvious that the Pope had the information in 1990 or 1995 that he had later on, and saying outrage was "far from their concern" on the basis of their not acting earlier seems to assume prior knowledge that we don't know they had. I sure don't, anyway.

That said, I would (and do) point out that as chief executives, it is their business to know the kind of men they are appointing to be bishops. And it is their business to seek to foster (or create) the right kind of internal culture among bishops that the ones who have some basis for worry about other bishops' behavior can and will come forward and speak to the top people and be heard. There was institutional failure there. And there is a great ongoing institutional failure of putting forward men for being raised to the rank of bishop who should not be put forward, either because they are not wholly orthodox, or because they are severely imprudent, or both.

Ferrara said...

I seem to recall that Ratzinger's rather cavalier relegation of ALL early 20th-century decisions of the Pontifical Biblical Commission to the category of "prudential judgment" occurred during a press conference or in some other informal setting.

That claim is untenable. For example, respecting the creation of Eve from Adam, Leo XIII insisted that this was the constant teaching of the Church respecting a dogmatic fact no one may doubt, a revealed truth, and the Commission reflected the status of the teaching in answering negatively the query whether it could be called into question. This was no prudential judgment but rather the insistence upon adherence to a revealed truth, thus appropriately included in even the latest edition of Denziger.

As Father Brian Harrison has shown, the teaching on the creation of Eve ex Adamo pertains to the infallible ordinary magisterium by dint of its constancy: http://www.rtforum.org/lt/lt73.html.

Other decisions of the Commission are likewise not so easily tossed into the waste bin labeled "Prudential Judgment."

Pueblo Southwest said...

Two brief notations: First; not everyone who attended Vatican I supported the proclamation on papal infallibility. This was not because they disagreed theologically but because they thought it politically imprudent to do so in view of the Church's problems with the new Italian government. In addition, this declaration was at least partially responsible for the schism by Old Catholics and the Polish National Church, and also alarmed the Eastern Orthodox churches. Second; the question of "prudential Judgement" arises today on the subject of Pope Francis' comments on climate change. This is a complex subject which, despite what one would read in the media, lacks scientific concensus to the same degree we require it in other areas.

Daniel O'Connor said...

No effect is greater than its cause. Lengthy discussions on precisely what Papal Infallibility is, and when it is in effect, and where it has been defined as such in Catholic Doctrine, so often entirely miss the point; for they focus merely on Catholic teaching *on* infallibility; as if some entity can infallibly declare itself infallible (which of course is manifest nonsense).

Whatever would constitute a violation of Our Lord's promise to Peter in Matthew 16:18 is impossible, because God (Jesus) cannot lie. The Church cannot teach error, because if it were to teach error, it would speak for Satan, and if it were to speak for Satan, then the Gates of Hell would have prevailed against Christ's Church.

That is infallibility, in a nutshell.

Tony said...

Other decisions of the Commission are likewise not so easily tossed into the waste bin labeled "Prudential Judgment."

Excellently said. Thank you! Card. Ratzinger's comment was, certainly, an off-the-cuff comment that is not to be taken as even remotely definitive. The Biblical Commission early in the century held more authoritative capacity, it was not designed and constructed to be a solely consultative study group, it was intended to speak with authority.

Ferrara said...

To Tony:

Not only that, but Saint Pius X expressly declared that Catholics are bound to submit to decisions of the Commission, which was then an arm of the Magisterium. He issued that declaration in response to the murmurings of the Modernists.

Moreover, the special (immediate) creation of Adam likewise pertains to the constant teaching of the Magisterium. The idea that God would have created a human body without a human soul at the same time is utterly foreign to Tradition and, as Chaberek notes, "would stand in conflict with the perfection of the first creation, as both are part of human nature." Aquinas, of course, rejects the idea. ST, I, 91, a 2.





Tony said...

I thought I remembered that, Ferrara, but I could not locate a cite. Thanks.

Amateur Brain Surgeon said...

St Athanasius was never excommunicated and the great Saint exonerated (see his Hx of the Arians) Pope Saint Liberius (Yes, Virginia, he is a saint), he vouched for his orthodoxy and blamed the Arians for what he did because, well, the Arians had him in custody and were torturing him

Amateur Brain Surgeon said...

Saint Athanasius ,HX of the Arians, part V

http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/28155.htm


Pope Saint Liberius

http://theradtrad.blogspot.com/2014/11/the-heretical-pope-tradistan.html


http://theradtrad.blogspot.com/2014/03/st-liberius-pope-of-rome.html

Amateur Brain Surgeon said...

See Denzinger's "The Sources of Catholic Dogma, specifically the entry between 57 c and 58 for this is what it reads:

St Liberius 352-366

Hans Georg Lundahl said...

"4. Statements of a prudential sort which require external obedience but not interior assent. As Dulles notes (Magisterium, p. 94), Cardinal Ratzinger gave as an example of this sort of statement the decisions of the Pontifical Biblical Commission in the early 20th century. Dulles suggests that the Church’s caution about accepting heliocentrism in the 17th century would be another example. These sorts of statements are “prudential” insofar as they are attempts prudently to apply general principles of faith and morals to contingent concrete circumstances, such as the state of scientific knowledge at a particular point in history."

Would you mind giving a kind of traditional proof for existence of this category, so that Donum Veritatis is not just talking baloney here?

I would argue that decisions of 1633 and 1909 were infallible, or at least close to.

Ferrara said...

"prudently to apply general principles of faith and morals to contingent concrete circumstances, such as the state of scientific knowledge at a particular point in history."

Of course, the constant teaching of the Church on the creation of Eve ex Adamo, not by "evolution," is in no way an "application" of faith and morals to "contingent concrete circumstances such as the state of scientific knowledge at a particular point in history." It is simply the affirmation of a revealed truth about Eve's origins. Leo thus insisted that no one may doubt it.

What is really going on here is the stealthy reverse: a "prudential judgment" applying so-called science to faith and morals and finding the constant teaching of the Church to be false. Now that kind of prudential judgment is per se fallible.

Furthermore, if the traditional understanding of Genesis must give way to "science" on every matter in which science purports to gainsay the Genesis account, then the whole of divine Creation would have to go and we would have to adopt the multiverse or string theory as the best "scientific" explanation for why there is something rather than nothing.

Either God has revealed how He made man or He has not. Efforts to reduce the biblical account of Creation to an allegorical tale devoid of any actual historical fact inevitably undermine belief in revelation itself. That is precisely why the Church has always insisted on the special creation of Adam and the creation of Eve from Adam as facts standing at the foundations of revelation, as the Commission put it.

JesseM said...

Daniel O'Connor wrote:
Whatever would constitute a violation of Our Lord's promise to Peter in Matthew 16:18 is impossible, because God (Jesus) cannot lie. The Church cannot teach error, because if it were to teach error, it would speak for Satan, and if it were to speak for Satan, then the Gates of Hell would have prevailed against Christ's Church.

That is infallibility, in a nutshell.


But do you think that Matthew 16:18 means nothing taught by any member of Catholic hierarchy can be an error, or nothing taught by a Pope, or only that some more narrow collection of widely agreed-upon teachings cannot be in error? And do you think it's only those teachings relevant to salvation that can't be in error (as might be implied by the comment about not letting the Gates of Hell prevail), or does infallibility apply to all teachings, even ones where if the teaching were false, there'd be no obvious reason that believing it would lead anyone to be damned? (For example, if the doctrine of all people being born into sin was true, but the story of Adam and Eve was metaphorical rather than literally true, it's not clear why believing that all modern people descend from a single pair of individuals who were the first humans to commit sin would damn anyone to Hell.)

Anonymous said...

Dear Dr. Feser, I came across this article which may be relevant to your post :) http://www.ncregister.com/blog/mark-shea/fr.-robert-barron-on-protestantism-and-authority

Hans Georg Lundahl said...

"For example, if the doctrine of all people being born into sin was true, but the story of Adam and Eve was metaphorical rather than literally true, it's not clear why believing that all modern people descend from a single pair of individuals who were the first humans to commit sin would damn anyone to Hell."

If however the story of Adam and Eve IS literally true, it is clear why believing it only metaphorically true would damn someone to Hell, if they think through the consequences.

Mark 10:6 But from the beginning of the creation, God made them male and female.

Matthew 23:35 That upon you may come all the just blood that hath been shed upon the earth, from the blood of Abel the just, even unto the blood of Zacharias the son of Barachias, whom you killed between the temple and the altar.

1) There were males and females from beginning of creation. If Earth is 7214 years old, the less than six full days between "the beginning" and the moment in day six when Adam was sleeping and Eve created is minuscule to it. If Earth is 4.5 billions of years old and Universe 13.5 billions of years old, the time from first Homo Sapiens to now, or even first Neanderthal or Homo Erectus to now is equally minuscule, which would render the words of Our Lord literally untrue and spoken, obviously, to people thinking them literally true;
2) Abel was the first just man slain, just as Zacharias the son of Barachias was the last, if not of all, at least for those accountable by Jewish guilt in this word. When Antiochus Epiphanes later slew other just, that was not Jewish guilt ... sorry, that won't work, since it says "all" ...

Tony said...

(For example, if the doctrine of all people being born into sin was true, but the story of Adam and Eve was metaphorical rather than literally true, it's not clear why believing that all modern people descend from a single pair of individuals who were the first humans to commit sin would damn anyone to Hell.)

Maybe it is not clear - to you - why believing ANY false thing could damn a person to hell. And, in fact, for a pagan who has not been exposed to the truths of the Christian faith, not _explicitly_ believing in any of those truths won't - by itself - damn him to hell.

But it should be clear enough why the basics of the story of Adam and Eve, as literally true, bear importantly on the whole structure of the account of the faith, importantly so that removing it from the account will cast the whole structure into a heap. Without a single set of parents, and a single original sin, there is no coherent way of understanding that the state of sin is definitively the inherited state of every man born of woman (except those miraculously kept free of it). And, thus, that grace is necessary for every person, not just a good idea. And that baptism is necessary, not just a good idea.

Without the human race - all those with human nature - being derived ultimately from the same ancestor pair, Christ becoming man would not mean Christ is of the same family and same human nature as all men. His sacrifice for man would be a wholly extrinsic basis for the payment of the debt of the human family. Justification as intelligible would wobble or fail.

Hans Georg Lundahl said...

Concur with previous, except for one : even before the fall, grace was necessary in order to enter Heaven, though it was not yet reparative grace, but original grace. At least for Eve, though Adam may for some moment have been in a state of pure nature (neither grace nor fallenness).

JesseM said...

Tony, Hans: you are just arguing that the story is in fact literally true, but my question is specifically asking you to imagine a hypothetical world where it's not true, but a world in which the Bible is still the same, the Catholic Church still has the same history, the basic beliefs of the Nicene creed are true, and God's guidance of the Church is limited to preventing the teaching of errors that would damn people to hell. In this hypothetical world God does not prevent the Church from teaching other types of errors that don't have this property of damning people to hell, nor did God guide the human writers of the Bible in such a way as to prevent them from such "minor" errors (so the fact that Matthew believed Abel was the first human murdered doesn't mean it must be true--it would be Matthew's error, not God's). Is there anything inherently self-contradictory about the idea of God creating such a world and acting in this way, does it conflict with any ideas about God's basic nature? If not, then even if you don't believe this is what our world is really like, you at least can't rule it out based only on more basic premises like the truth of the Nicene creed, premises about God's basic nature, or the premise that the Catholic Church is divinely guided in a way that other Christian sects are not. If you met a liberal Catholic who actually believed something like the above, what common premises could you cite to try to change his mind?

Anonymous said...

To Hans,
"though Adam may for some moment have been in a state of pure nature (neither grace nor fallenness)"

Given Adam's powers as described in Genesis before the fall, for instance to name all the animals with authority, what we commonly understand as pure nature today is falls far short of what this pure nature was before the fall. Therefore it follows that pure nature before the fall was itself infused with divine grace. This also follows from being made in the image of God.

Note: I speak from my understanding of Genesis. I am not a theologist by any sort of training.

Roland

Hans Georg Lundahl said...

1) naming all animals is still done by man;
2) the Genesis does not speak as if it were an inherent power of man to name all animals with authority, but as a gift by God;
3) Adam was THEN already in the state of Original Grace, and Eve was created in it;
4) the State of Pure Nature does not occur now.

One can only be in a state of sin or of grace.

There are faculties which are in themselves purely natural, but their concrete use is either enhanced by grace or deteriorated by sin.

Also, man had more of them, either in State of Pure Nature (hypothetical for Adam) or in State of Original Grace (certain for Adam before he named animals and certain for Eve from her first moment - up to Adam's fall - or up to Eve's fall, insofar as she was in mortal, though not yet Original sin when telling Adam of the fruit).

Hans Georg Lundahl said...

Reposting previous (which I will delete) with a correction:

"Is there anything inherently self-contradictory about the idea of God creating such a world and acting in this way, does it conflict with any ideas about God's basic nature?"

Yes, it would conflict with God's inherent veracity.

If God had allowed a book to be written from which he excluded only damning errors (like, say, Silmarillion), and this be accepted by the Church as canonic (Silmarillion isn't), and Tolkien as accepted as a propeht (which he isn't either), He would not have allowed the Nicene Creed to say of God the Holy Spirit:

Qui cum Patre, et Filio simul adorátur, et conglorificátur : qui locútus est per Prophétas.

But the other phrase about Him would have been worded differently so as to allow for authorial mistakes.

Also, in this case it would even involve an unreliability, either about Matthew reporting Christ correctly or about Christ speaking only truth.

You see, Matthew 23 has only very few words by St Matthew:

[1] Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to his disciples, [2] Saying:

From then on to the last words, the words are such as in certain English Bible editions would be red and not black letters.

Now, St Matthew also was one of the personal witnesses to Christ's public ministry, from the day on which Christ told a tax collector called [Matthatiahu Ha-] Levi to do the right thing and he did.

Since before his tax collecting moral misery he had the scribe training of a Levite, it would also be extremely improbable even humanly speaking to note one word other than as meant. He had a training which had specialised him in the attention required to reproduce verbatim what had been said. It involves rapid memorisation. In this disciple context, it probably implied also taking notes in turn and then comparing them after the occasion, so he would have memorised, if he acted as secretary, the first phrase:

The scribes and the Pharisees have sitten on the chair of Moses.

Then a sign to the next disciple who memorised:

All things therefore whatsoever they shall say to you, observe and do: but according to their works do ye not; for they say, and do not.

Or as far as he could go with good memory performance, each repeating the words they had noted till it was their next turn.

This is how secretaries in Roman and Byzantine courts and diplomatic chanceries took notes, unless they even wrote them down in Tironic notes (a kind of proto-sthenography, which left traces in Medieval palaeography).

And this even presuming the disciples had neither pen nor paper.

So, we would not be dealing with an error on part of Matthew, but with an error on part of God made Man.

Something which St Thomas definitely excludes. Ignorance? "who touched me". Error? No.

JesseM said...

@Hans Georg Lundahl:
If God had allowed a book to be written from which he excluded only damning errors (like, say, Silmarillion),

Of course the interpretation I'm discussing is not one where the Bible merely excludes damning errors like the Silmarillion--the idea is that unlike the Silmarillion, it also contains a great deal of revealed truth, and will be of vital importance to people in attaining salvation and also in living a moral life.

and this be accepted by the Church as canonic (Silmarillion isn't), and Tolkien as accepted as a propeht (which he isn't either), He would not have allowed the Nicene Creed to say of God the Holy Spirit:

Qui cum Patre, et Filio simul adorátur, et conglorificátur : qui locútus est per Prophétas.


To say that God has "spoken through the prophets" does not obviously mean that God dictated the precise wording and the prophets repeated what they heard word for word; one might for example suppose that God planted certain high-level concepts and images in their mind and they expressed them in their own words, with some of their own interpretation, with God guiding this process to prevent clear errors (and this could be true of Jesus as well, provided one believes he chose not to access his omniscient knowledge on many matters and spoke from the understanding of his human mind, which I believe is the Catholic teaching). And there is also the fact that the ideas had to be expressed in human language, which always has some degree of ambiguity about literal vs. figurative meaning, and would continue to do so for human listeners even if God did dictate the precise wording (unless God intervened in each listener's thought processes to prevent misunderstanding). The prophets in the Bible often speak in ways that most Christians would understand to be figurative rather than literal, as with much of the imagery in the Book of Revelation. Jesus also used plenty of figurative language, and although it was often introduced with a phrase of the type "__ is like __", it wasn't always--the statement about the camel passing through the eye of a needle is obviously figurative but not introduced that way, for example. And although I suppose it would have been just as obvious to his listeners that this was figurative, there may be cases where it would be genuinely ambiguous to listeners whether he was talking literally or figuratively--for example, when he said in John 14:2 that "In my Father's house are many mansions", this could be interpreted either in terms of literal heavenly residences for people in resurrected physical bodies, or it could be interpreted in a more figurative way.

JesseM said...

(continued from previous comment) The verses you mentioned, Mark 10:6 and Matthew 23:35, could either be interpreted in terms of Jesus speaking from the understanding of a first century Jew (who would have believed the story of Cain and Abel regardless of whether it was literally true as a historical incident), or simply in terms of the language not being intended to have the literal meaning you ascribe. Thinking in terms of the second possibility, "from the beginning of the creation" in the first verse cannot literally mean the very beginning, since the Bible itself says humans were created on the sixth day of creation; and if it's just interpreted to mean "since the beginning of the human race", then it's just as true in evolutionary theory as it is in creationism that humans have always been male and female since the beginnings of the species. As for Matthew 23:35, I don't know how the phrase is used in Aramaic, but in English a phrase of the type "from A to B" does not always mean that A is the first in a sequence and B is the last, A and B can just be two exemplars which give a sense of the scope of whatever the phrase is intended to cover. For example, if you picked up a book titled "Leadership in Warfare from Rameses II to General Patton" and found that the book actually mentioned leaders prior to Rameses and later than Patton, you probably wouldn't feel that the title had misled you; the idea was just that Rameses is a major example of a leader from one of the earliest wars we have written records of, and Patton is a major example from the "modern" era.

Finally, what about the possibility that everything the prophets say that is not obviously figurative is literally true, but that some of their words might have been misreported by those who recounted them or wrote them down, who were not themselves prophets? And what if God does not interfere with such transmission errors as long as they don't alter anything in a way that would lead people to be damned who might otherwise be saved? There is pretty good evidence of at least a few such transmission errors in the Bible, for example the story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery in John 7:53-8:11 does not appear in the earliest known copies and was probably a later addition. So if a Christian in the Medieval era believed that trust that God "spoke through the prophets" and that this meant he could trust absolutely that Jesus actually said the phrase translated as "let him who is without sin, cast the first stone", wouldn't he have been mistaken? If God allows such "minor" errors in the transmission of the text, why not "minor" errors in the memory of the apostles about the exact phrases Jesus used, as long as they didn't alter the main message being taught?

Hans Georg Lundahl said...

"Of course the interpretation I'm discussing is not one where the Bible merely excludes damning errors like the Silmarillion--the idea is that unlike the Silmarillion, it also contains a great deal of revealed truth, and will be of vital importance to people in attaining salvation and also in living a moral life."

Vital or not, Silmarillion may be useful for such purposes too.

It has not pleased God that a collection of books with the vital importance for salvation the Bible has, should anywhere be untrustworthy even as to non-damning (or non-salvific) detail.

For one thing, Christ said, John 3:12 If I have spoken to you earthly things, and you believe not; how will you believe, if I shall speak to you heavenly things?

For another:

To say that God has "spoken through the prophets" does not obviously mean that God dictated the precise wording and the prophets repeated what they heard word for word; one might for example suppose that God planted certain high-level concepts and images in their mind and they expressed them in their own words, with some of their own interpretation, with God guiding this process to prevent clear errors (and this could be true of Jesus as well, provided one believes he chose not to access his omniscient knowledge on many matters and spoke from the understanding of his human mind, which I believe is the Catholic teaching).

Even personal interpretation not given by God must be excluded if the Holy Spirit has spoken through the prophets.

Only acceptable level broader than dictation word by word (which however does occur - God Spoke to Moses and Said, and St John was receiving Apocalypse vision for vision, but Gospel penstroke per penstroke), is own wording without any implication accepted by God which might then and in future in itself lead anyone to a real error (even factual), if he was attentive and pious.

Church is infallible, i e its words can never lead anyone to damnation. It is not inerrant, as seen from fact that Latin and Eastern liturgies give different years after Creation for Christ's birth (5199 in Latin liturgy, more in Byzantine one). One of the liturgies is factually wrong.

Trent has defined that the Bible is not only infallible, but in original text inerrant.

That means factual errors can be there in such and such a copy or translation (Vulgate would give a date closer to Ussher's 4004 than to 5199), but these cannot go beyond what can be expected to arise as copying errors.

Trent and Pope Leo XIII have made it quite clear that your view is "out of court".

Hans Georg Lundahl said...

Continued from previous.

"And there is also the fact that the ideas had to be expressed in human language, which always has some degree of ambiguity about literal vs. figurative meaning, and would continue to do so for human listeners even if God did dictate the precise wording (unless God intervened in each listener's thought processes to prevent misunderstanding). The prophets in the Bible often speak in ways that most Christians would understand to be figurative rather than literal, as with much of the imagery in the Book of Revelation"

What is figurative is not the wording of St John, but the visions given by God.

This does not mean it is not precise.

"the statement about the camel passing through the eye of a needle is obviously figurative but not introduced that way, for example."

Obviously figurative? The sentence actually doesn't say "a camel can go through a needle's eye" but "it is easier" (as in less obvious obstacles amounting to practical impossibility) "for a camel" etc. Meaning the comparison is stated as a comparison, though of a somewhat different sort.

"And although I suppose it would have been just as obvious to his listeners that this was figurative, there may be cases where it would be genuinely ambiguous to listeners whether he was talking literally or figuratively--for example, when he said in John 14:2 that "In my Father's house are many mansions", this could be interpreted either in terms of literal heavenly residences for people in resurrected physical bodies, or it could be interpreted in a more figurative way."

Both are literally true.

That there are mansions (as witnessed by St John's vision of Heavenly Jerusalem) and the practical purposes of mansions being there too, i e people who get along better together being in same mansion (as was the point, obvious from context).

To be continued

Hans Georg Lundahl said...

Continued, part III

"The verses you mentioned, Mark 10:6 and Matthew 23:35, could either be interpreted in terms of Jesus speaking from the understanding of a first century Jew (who would have believed the story of Cain and Abel regardless of whether it was literally true as a historical incident), or simply in terms of the language not being intended to have the literal meaning you ascribe."

But the thing is that a first century Jew had top quality infoirmation about it, so his understanding was perfectly correct. He had this from Genesis, from God.

You speak as if we were past 1:st C Jews in that respect, we aren't.

"Thinking in terms of the second possibility, "from the beginning of the creation" in the first verse cannot literally mean the very beginning, since the Bible itself says humans were created on the sixth day of creation"

Before getting to very opposite range of exactitude, and implying a bad wording in the Word Made Flesh, how about looking at it like this:

* time from "beginning" before God created light on day one to day six is, compared to time lapsed from day six to Jesus' or our time negligible;
* by contrast, time from "Big Bang beginning" to "Lucy's posterity" of Erectus or Heidelberg type (whichever you count as first real man) is so great that it is instead the human story since then which is negligible by comparison.

This even Protestants get, why not you, if you have the advantage of being Catholic?

"in English a phrase of the type "from A to B" does not always mean that A is the first in a sequence and B is the last, A and B can just be two exemplars which give a sense of the scope of whatever the phrase is intended to cover."

No, not just two examples.

To be continued

Hans Georg Lundahl said...

"For example, if you picked up a book titled "Leadership in Warfare from Rameses II to General Patton" and found that the book actually mentioned leaders prior to Rameses and later than Patton, you probably wouldn't feel that the title had misled you; the idea was just that Rameses is a major example of a leader from one of the earliest wars we have written records of, and Patton is a major example from the "modern" era."

Wrong.

Either main scope is limited to between Ramses II and Patton, and earlier and later ones are marginal, like pre-Ramses not being sufficiently documented and post-Patton being too close to cover without indiscretion or stirring passions, OR scope has been widened since book got its title, with added examples.

So, you are vastly exaggerating a point of imprecision in "from A to B" in order to squeeze in Long Age "Science". You are wronging the English and any other language.

"Finally, what about the possibility that everything the prophets say that is not obviously figurative is literally true, but that some of their words might have been misreported by those who recounted them or wrote them down, who were not themselves prophets?"

Prophet by extension includes also other hagiographers.

Only after hagiographer is such a thing possible.

For instance, Amwaz is 160 stades from Jerusalem (city). Possibility one: St luke wrote 160 stades like one manuscript says. Possibility two: Amwaz is only 60 stades from Jerusalem COUNTY. Possibility three : Emmaus was moved when rebuilt after wars. St Luke did not get it wrong.

"If God allows such "minor" errors in the transmission of the text, why not "minor" errors in the memory of the apostles about the exact phrases Jesus used, as long as they didn't alter the main message being taught?"

The range for such minor errors is like quoting "who touched me" when Jesus said "who is it who touched me" - St Peter could do that in conversation, but St Matthew had too good a "secretarial" training for that.

"for example the story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery in John 7:53-8:11 does not appear in the earliest known copies and was probably a later addition."

The earlist known copies are not very worn, are they? Such an omission might have been why they were laid aside as not to be read, and why they are available to us.

So, the story very much belongs to the Gospel. Your example does very much NOT amount to "pretty good evidence".

"So if a Christian in the Medieval era believed that trust that God "spoke through the prophets" and that this meant he could trust absolutely that Jesus actually said the phrase translated as "let him who is without sin, cast the first stone", wouldn't he have been mistaken?"

None of those who believed this up to "modern scholarship" was mistaken, none of those who believe it to this day are mistaken.

It has been attacked ultimately because it involves a God who could show clemency with an adulteress.

Tory Quinton said...

I just discovered this blog and have greatly enjoyed reading so far. As a Non-Catholic who respects many of the traditions of the Catholic church I thought I would lend my opinion.

The issue of Papal infallibility for non-Catholics has more to do with the aura and mystique than with the real vested authority. I remember for example when Benedict ascended it was said by many Catholics that it is good that a staunch defender of traditional faith is the new Pope. Then, when Francis ascended a lot of Catholics changed tune and suddenly it was good that a breath of fresh air was the new Pope, and that many felt restricted under Benedicts "traditional" mindset.

Now to be fair, Francis has not changed doctrine, but many of his statements, while said in compassion have been vague enough as to make many believe that he supports homosexuality, to use that as one example. And for his part, being compassionate, he has not done enough to deliver real doctrines to the people in a way that is unequivocal.

So while he has certainly not changed Church doctrine on homosexuality his statements have empowered many in the Church to believe that he does condone it or even celebrate it and is only bound by a "tradition" that prevents him from openly endorsing what has long been considered a sin. This in turn erodes the very value of the traditions that empower the Popes authoritative statements. After all, if tradition has always said one thing, and that one thing is now considered wrong, and it is ONLY tradition that prevents the church from moving into the new age then tradition, including all the powers vested in the Pope become meaningless.

This shifts the argument away from can the Pope alter church doctrine to what extant is the Pope a defender of the faith, and then if he ceases to be a defender of the faith can he be rightly said to be a divinely appointed pontiff? In many ways what we are seeing today is not that dissimilar, though on a much smaller scale to what the world saw during the first schism, when the East and West church parted ways, or the second Schism that saw the birth of Protestantism.

Hans Georg Lundahl said...

"I remember for example when Benedict ascended it was said by many Catholics that it is good that a staunch defender of traditional faith is the new Pope. Then, when Francis ascended a lot of Catholics changed tune and suddenly it was good that a breath of fresh air was the new Pope, and that many felt restricted under Benedicts "traditional" mindset."

Are you sure you remember any single, or even many Catholics who used both tunes according to occasion?

I never felt Ratzinger was TOO traditional, to me he was rather good news when he came, but a disappointment, too LITTLE traditional. After that I was glad Bergoglio was a gentle man, but was watchful about what he would say, after "canonisation" of Wojtyla and Roncalli I am no longer accepting him as Pope. Currently provisionally Under Pope Michael.

Gerard O'Neill said...

Whenever the subject of Papal infallibility comes up, I think of a quote by Christopher Hitchens:

"I've never met a Holy Man who wasn't also a primate..."

Hans Georg Lundahl said...

I am pretty sure Padre Pio wasn't Primate of Italy (btw, I think the Popes, those who were such, were so, not sure how Pope Michael intends to fulfil that part of his duty, probably it is suspended by his being Pope in exile).

But on the other hand, Hitchens may not have met Padre Pio.