Thursday, October 6, 2022

Can Pope Honorius be defended?

My recent article on the error and condemnation of Pope Honorius has gotten a lot of feedback both here and at Twitter (much of the latter surprisingly civil and constructive for that venue).  Because of the historical and theological complexities of the topic, several issues have arisen, but the main one I want to address here is the question of whether Honorius can plausibly be defended from the charge of heresy that the Sixth Ecumenical Council leveled against him.  Keep in mind that what is at issue here is not whether Honorius taught heresy while issuing a purported ex cathedra definition.  He was certainly not doing that, which is why the case of Honorius is irrelevant to whether popes are infallible when they do teach ex cathedra (which is all that the First Vatican Council taught in its decree on papal infallibility).  What is at issue is whether Honorius taught heresy when not speaking ex cathedra – and, more generally, whether any pope could in principle do so.

Let’s note also at the outset that the issue here is not whether Catholics are ordinarily obligated to assent to papal teaching even when it is not put forward infallibly.  The answer is that they are ordinarily obligated.  More precisely, they owe even non-definitive papal teaching what is called “religious assent,” which is not the unqualified assent owed to teaching put forward infallibly, but is nevertheless firm.  To be even more precise, there is a very strong presumption in favor of such assent, though the Church, in documents like Donum Veritatis, has acknowledged that there can be rare cases in which this presumption is overridden and a faithful Catholic at liberty respectfully to raise questions about some magisterial statement.  The clearest sort of case would be one where a magisterial statement appears to conflict with past definitive teaching.  I’ve discussed this issue in detail elsewhere.

Now, one point that some readers have made is that the word “heresy” was used in a more expansive way earlier in Church history than it is today.  That is correct and important, and it is something I have elsewhere emphasized myself.  In modern canon law, heresy is “the obstinate denial or obstinate doubt after the reception of baptism of some truth which is to be believed by divine and Catholic faith.”  Pope Honorius was definitely not a heretic in that sense, both because there is no evidence of obstinacy on his part, and because a charitable reading of his problematic statements supports the judgment that he did not intend to undermine traditional teaching (even if his words inadvertently had that effect).  There are also the related points that one could be a heretic in the material sense of affirming something doctrinally erroneous, while not being a formal heretic in the sense of persisting in the error even after being warned by ecclesiastical authority; and that whether some doctrine has actually been defined by the Church is relevant to whether it is “to be believed by divine and Catholic faith.”

For these reasons, I prefer to use the more general and less potentially misleading term “error” when discussing the case of Honorius, as I did in the title of my previous post.  All the same, the Sixth Ecumenical Council does apply the term “heretic” to Honorius, and “heresy” in those days implied at the very least positive doctrinal error (as opposed, say, to mere negligence or a failure to counter doctrinal error).  In other words, by labeling Honorius a heretic, the council was accusing him of teaching false doctrine.  The question on the table is whether he can be defended against this charge.

The conciliar condemnations

Needless to say, what Honorius actually said in his letters to Sergius is relevant to this question.  But it is not the only thing that is relevant.  The chief obstacle to acquitting Honorius of the charge of positively teaching doctrinal error (however inadvertently) is that, as I showed in my previous article, two papally-approved councils of the Church explicitly said that he did.  In particular, the Sixth Ecumenical Council explicitly labeled him a “heretic.”  And the Seventh Ecumenical Council explicitly condemns “the doctrine of one will held by Sergius, Honorius, Cyrus, and Pyrrhus.”

Defenders of Honorius often argue that Pope St. Leo II, in his statements confirming the council, merely accuses Honorius of negligence in failing to uphold orthodoxy, and of thereby polluting the purity of the Roman See.  They think this shows that the council’s own description of Honorius as a heretic has no force.  But there are three problems with this argument.

First, what matters is that Leo confirmed the council, thereby making its decrees authoritative.  He didn’t say “I confirm it, except for this part.”  It’s true that in his own accompanying condemnation, he limits his accusation against Honorius to negligence in suppressing heresy and thereby polluting the purity of the Roman See, and does not apply the label “heretic” to him.  But Leo doesn’t deny the truth of the council’s statement that Honorius was a heretic.  He just doesn’t mention it (just as he doesn’t mention other things the council said).

Second, as noted by John Chapman (whose book on Honorius I discussed in my previous post), the Church has long held that “an error which is not resisted is approved; a truth which is not defended is suppressed” (in the words of Honorius’s predecessor Pope Felix III).  It is possible to be guilty of teaching doctrinal error by implication, when the context demands that a certain truth needs to be explicitly affirmed and instead one not only fails to do so but speaks in an ambiguous way that gives the appearance of approving the error.  And that is exactly what Honorius did.  The Monothelite error was being put forward, and he not only did not clearly condemn it but seemed to be saying that it could be accepted.  The suggestion that his words can be given a more charitable reading (as I agree they can) is relevant to his personal culpability, but it is not relevant to the question of the doctrinal soundness of the words themselves, and as Chapman emphasizes, in a context like this it is the words that matter.

Third, whatever one says about Leo and the Sixth Ecumenical Council, the papally-approved Seventh Ecumenical Council, which occurred a century later (and thus long after Leo was gone), explicitly characterized Honorius as having taught doctrinal error.  Hence even if it were conceded that Leo rejected the Sixth Council’s description of Honorius as a heretic, the point would be moot.  The Seventh Council would remain as an obstacle to the defense of Honorius.

At this point, defenders of Honorius might argue (as they sometimes do) that while papally-approved councils cannot err on matters of doctrine, they can err on matters of history.  And whether Honorius really was guilty of heresy is, the argument continues, a historical question rather than a doctrinal one.  But there are two problems with this argument. 

First, the reason a council condemns someone as a heretic is because of his teaching.  Hence it is, first and foremost, Honorius’s teaching that was condemned.  That means that the teaching was judged heretical.  But whether a teaching is heretical is a doctrinal matter, and not a mere historical matter.  Now, given that a papally-approved council cannot err on doctrinal matters, it follows that the councils in question infallibly judged that Honorius’s teaching was heretical (whatever his intentions).  But since anyone who teaches heresy is a heretic, it follows (at least given that Honorius really did write the letters that got him into trouble, as most of his defenders concede) that these councils did after all infallibly judge that Honorius was a heretic.

Second, the reason most of Honorius’s defenders try to defend him is to avoid having to acknowledge that a pope can teach heresy when not speaking ex cathedra.  Now, suppose that the councils did indeed get it wrong when judging that Honorius, specifically, was a heretic.  Since that is a historical rather than doctrinal matter, such an error is possible.  Still, by making this judgment, the councils also taught by implication that it is possible for a pope to teach heresy (when not speaking ex cathedra).  And that is a doctrinal matter.  That is enough to refute the larger claim that Honorius’s defenders are trying to uphold by defending him.

This is why Chapman drew the bold conclusion that “unquestionably no Catholic has the right to deny that Honorius was a heretic… a heretic in words if not in intention” (p. 116).  Quibbles over how to interpret his letters are largely a red herring.  What matters more is the authority of papally-approved councils of the Church.

The opinions of the theologians

In response to my previous article, S. D. Wright calls attention to an article of his own from last year at the website The WM Review, defending Pope Honorius.  Wright makes much of what various theological authorities have said about the controversy, and suggests that if we are just going by the numbers, those who would defend Honorius outnumber those who would not.

Even if this is true, it is hardly a decisive argument, given that (as Aquinas famously pointed out) the argument from authority, while not without value, is still the weakest of arguments when the authorities in question are merely human rather than divine.  And they are merely human, given that this is at best a matter about which the Church has not decided, and leaves open to the free debate of theologians.  Indeed, as I have argued, it is actually worse than that for Honorius’s defenders, given that two papally-approved councils (which teach infallibly and thus do have divine authority behind them) taught that Honorius was guilty of teaching error.

Wright is also selective in the way he cites the relevant authorities.  For example, while he acknowledges that Chapman is on the side of those who judge Honorius to be guilty of teaching error, he makes Chapman’s position sound more tentative than it really is.  Wright claims, for example: “Chapman is the most hostile critic, and yet all that he can bring himself to say is that certain passages are ‘difficult to account for.’”  As we’ve just seen, though, that is far from the truth.  Again, in his book Chapman goes so far as to say that “unquestionably no Catholic has the right to deny that Honorius was a heretic”; and in his Catholic Encyclopedia article on Honorius, he says that “it is clear that no Catholic has the right to defend Pope Honorius.  He was a heretic, not in intention, but in fact.”  Oddly, Wright does not quote these (rather important) remarks when reporting on Chapman’s views.

Wright also gives the impression that the Doctors of the Church who have addressed the matter all line up on the side of defending Honorius from the charge of heresy.  That is not the case.  Wright neglects to mention the opinion of St. Francis de Sales, who, when addressing papal authority in The Catholic Controversy, says that “we do not say that the Pope cannot err in his private opinions, as did John XXII, or be altogether a heretic, as perhaps Honorius was” (p. 225).

Wright appeals to the opinion of St. Alphonsus Liguori, who addressed the case of Honorius in The History of Heresies, and Their Refutation.  That is not unreasonable, given St. Alphonsus’s stature, just as it is not unreasonable to consider the similar opinion of St. Robert Bellarmine (which I discussed in my previous article).  But it is important to note that St. Alphonsus and St. Robert do not entirely agree on this matter.  Bellarmine takes seriously the theory that the documents of the Sixth Ecumenical Council have been corrupted, whereas St. Alphonsus rejects this idea, noting that “this conjecture is not borne out by the learned men of our age… [who] clearly prove the authenticity of the Acts” (p. 186).  St. Alphonsus also rejects Bellarmine’s suggestion that the Fathers of the council were mistaken in their judgment about Honorius, and endorses the view of another author that:

[I]t is very hard to believe that all the Fathers, not alone of this Council, but also of the Seventh and Eighth General Councils, who also condemned Honorius, were in error, in condemning his doctrine. (p. 186)

St. Alphonsus is harder on Honorius than Bellarmine is, writing:

We do not, by any means, deny that Honorius was in error, when he imposed silence on those who discussed the question of one or two wills in Christ, because when the matter in dispute is erroneous, it is only favoring error to impose silence

[H]e was very properly condemned, for the favourers of heresy and the authors of it are both equally culpable. (pp. 181 and 182)

St. Alphonsus concludes that the only plausible defense of Honorius is to argue that he was not himself a Monothelite heretic, while nevertheless conceding that he was justly condemned “as a favourer of heretics, and for his negligence in repressing error” and for “using ambiguous words to please and keep on terms with heretics” (p. 187).  That is very close to Chapman’s view that Honorius can justly be accused of heresy given Felix III’s dictum that “an error which is not resisted is approved; a truth which is not defended is suppressed” – even if St. Alphonsus himself stops short of that conclusion.

(As a side note, and while we’re on the subject of arguments from authority, let me cite one further authority mentioned by Chapman, St. Maximus the Confessor.  Now, Maximus, to be sure, defended Honorius.  However, as Chapman reports, when Monothelite heretics asked Maximus what he would do if Rome were to affirm their position, his answer was: “The Holy Ghost anathematizes even angels, should they command aught beside the faith” (pp. 62-63).  Maximus does not answer that Rome could not possibly do that, or that if Rome did so, then Monothelitism would have to be accepted.  That implies that St. Maximus allowed that it is possible for the pope to err, at least when not speaking in a definitive way.)

Now, the opinion of the Doctors of the Church is indeed very weighty when they are all in agreement.  But here, as we have seen, they are not in agreement.  Hence Wright’s argument is not strong.  Meanwhile, the argument from the authority of papally-approved councils is very strong.  I conclude that a case in defense of Honorius remains, at best, difficult to make.

71 comments:

  1. I feel that the key point is the fact, as you mentioned, that even if one succeeds in defending Honorius, it still remains true that the Church has always believed it possible that a Pope can err when acting outside of the boundaries of infallibility. So anyone who wishes to defend Honorius, which usually tends to be the Sedevecantist or Ultramontanist types, can never accomplish their goal. If they were to deny that the Church held the teaching, then they must concede that Popes who tacitly implied/promoted and approved of the belief that a Pope might err, had actually erred. Thus, their position is undermined and cannot ever be salvaged.

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  2. I am glad we agree on the subject of heresy, and retract my comment that you were incorrect on that point.

    But your point about the Council still does not stand. They were in fact making a *historical* claim in judging Honorius guilty of heresy. Councils can be incorrect about historical claims. You say this:

    First, the reason a council condemns someone as a heretic is because of his teaching. Hence it is, first and foremost, Honorius’s teaching that was condemned. That means that the teaching was judged heretical. But whether a teaching is heretical is a doctrinal matter, and not a mere historical matter. Now, given that a papally-approved council cannot err on doctrinal matters, it follows that the councils in question infallibly judged that Honorius’s teaching was heretical (whatever his intentions). But since anyone who teaches heresy is a heretic, it follows (at least given that Honorius really did write the letters that got him into trouble, as most of his defenders concede) that these councils did after all infallibly judge that Honorius was a heretic.

    This does not follow. The councils judged that *monotheilitism was a heresy*, which is completely true. They then made the historical claim that *Honorius was a heretic*, which is not protected by any infallible charism whatsoever. The key point protected by infallibility is not that Honorius was a heretic; it's that monothelitism is a heresy. Whether or not Honorius actually taught monthelitism cannot be established merely by the council's say-so. That simply is not a doctrinal claim.

    You then say this:

    Second, the reason most of Honorius’s defenders try to defend him is to avoid having to acknowledge that a pope can teach heresy when not speaking ex cathedra. Now, suppose that the councils did indeed get it wrong when judging that Honorius, specifically, was a heretic. Since that is a historical rather than doctrinal matter, such an error is possible. Still, by making this judgment, the councils also taught by implication that it is possible for a pope to teach heresy (when not speaking ex cathedra). And that is a doctrinal matter. That is enough to refute the larger claim that Honorius’s defenders are trying to uphold by defending him.

    A Pope can speak heresy, potentially; a Pope cannot teach heresy in the capacity of utilizing his magisterial authority to bind the faithful to religious assent of will, because then the Magisterium would be leading the faithful off the path of salvation. And as you happily acknowledge, what the councils were condemning as heresy is not the understanding that Vatican I used and is in fact not sinful, because monothelitism had yet to be condemned directly in a Church council or by an authoritative papal teaching.

    Also, I am supremely unconvinced that a private letter can ever be an act of Magisterial teaching in any case, and not simply the private opinion of the man who happened to be Pope.

    Also you say this:

    Wright neglects to mention the opinion of St. Francis de Sales, who, when addressing papal authority in The Catholic Controversy, says that “we do not say that the Pope cannot err in his private opinions, as did John XXII, or be altogether a heretic, as perhaps Honorius was” (p. 225).

    Wright "neglected to mention" him because St. Francis De Sales is clearly not condemning Honorius, merely mentioning in passing that he PERHAPS was a heretic. That's not even commentary, just a brief mention of a controversy.

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    1. Bellomy, your distinction re: the judgment of what Honorius' position actually was is a historical matter, even though it involved a doctrinal matter, is one I was prepared to make as well, so I am glad to see that come up.

      It is also a good point that if it was not a historical matter subject to potential correctio and revision, how could later esteemed theologians question or disagree with it? Good point again. We are basically saying that juridical declarations of councils are not infallible, and thus in theory reformable/correctable.

      That said, perhaps in favor of Feser's stance, I think one could say that we need to accept the judgment of a council on the presumption they got it right, even if we recognize that in principle it could be corrected later by a proper authority, We could in fact even adduce evidence for why such a later correction could be justified. BUT, to be safe, I don't think we would want to take that evidence and determine for ourselves that the judgment was wrong, or certainly declare such to others. I think we COULD, however, make a case that we see how such an argument could be made, even if we accept the conclusions of the council in the absence of such a process. (I say "we" rather than those who would be in a position to review and correct such decisions, obviously.) But I suspect Feser might well agree with how I am positioning this, and perhaps you would as well.

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    2. That said, perhaps in favor of Feser's stance, I think one could say that we need to accept the judgment of a council on the presumption they got it right, even if we recognize that in principle it could be corrected later by a proper authority, We could in fact even adduce evidence for why such a later correction could be justified.

      I admit I might be wrong on this point, but even this seems a little too strong to me. It is simply a fact that on matters of history - which the condemnation of Honorius is - it is in no way impious to judge that the Council was wrong. One should do it respectfully, as the Saints Dr. Feser references do, but you can absolutely question such judgments. If that were not so, then Maximos, Bellarmie, and Alphonsus Liguori wouldn't question it.

      For example, Trent says that their teaching on indulgences goes back to the time of the Apostles*. It is not impious to point out that this is a *historical* claim about indulgences and simply incorrect.

      We do largely agree though, and perhaps I'm pushing too hard.

      *I got this from Fr. O'Malley's book "Trent: What Happened at the Council"

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  3. Let me put my point about the Council's condemnation this way. If a Church Council condemned him in such a way we should regard it as infallible, what on earth were Bellarmie, Alphonsus, and Maximos doing defending him? Surely if they thought it was an infallible teaching of a Council they actually should have done the opposite! Obviously they did not think it infallibly taught that Honorius was a heretic and the matter was at least up for debate.

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    1. I think you are ignoring the elephant in the room though. The fact that a council condemned Honorius proves that Catholics, including the Pope, held that a Pope can be guilty of teaching heresy outside of infallibility. It is very easy to establish by looking at the history of the Church that such a belief was never rejected as an error. We see this in the case of how the Church viewed cases like Pope John XXII as well. In fact, considering that even some of the saints you mentioned do not say that such a thing is impossible, it only confirms the matter. As for why they attempted to defend Honorius, that would just be piety at work.

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    2. The fact that a council condemned Honorius proves that Catholics, including the Pope, held that a Pope can be guilty of teaching heresy outside of infallibility.

      As understood at the time, sure, but it does not establish - as Dr. Feser admits - that he is teaching heresy as understood at the time of Vatican I. He clearly was not.

      "As for why they attempted to defend Honorius, that would just be piety at work."

      Piety, and a recognition that it is at least possible for the Council to err on this point. Otherwise it would be highly impious of them to doubt the judgment of a Church Council.

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    3. The central issue though is that if you concede that the Catholic Church held it possible that a Pope can err outside of his infallible pronouncements, it becomes less important whether Honorius is an actual example of this possibility. For even if he were not an example and the council had merely operated on limited information on his writings and context, it still remains true that a Pope can err. Perhaps more importantly, it remains true that the more recent notion that a Pope can never err is foreign to the Catholic faith. As it happens, the case of Honorius is mostly discussed today in the context of this matter.

      As for your comment on piety, once again, it is of less importance whether the council actually erred. All one needs to establish is that Catholics held it possible that a Pope could err.

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    4. The central issue though is that if you concede that the Catholic Church held it possible that a Pope can err outside of his infallible pronouncements, it becomes less important whether Honorius is an actual example of this possibility.

      I don't agree that this is the entirety of the issue. The Pope can certainly err in his non-infallible pronouncements, but I disagree that the Magisterium - and Dr. Feser argues that his letters here are a part of the Magisterium (I am not convinced) - can ever teach heresy as defined by Vatican I, because then the Magisterium would be leading believers off the path of salvation. As Dr. Feser points out, he was not teaching heresy by that understanding so there is no issue.

      As for your comment on piety, once again, it is of less importance whether the council actually erred. All one needs to establish is that Catholics held it possible that a Pope could err.

      Okay, but this then concedes my point, which is contra Dr. Feser's.

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    5. When a pope (or bishop) teaches, he is using the teaching office of bishop. That just is the magisterial office.

      It doesn't matter whether he does so from a pulpit, in a private conversation, in a letter to one individual, or in an encyclical to the world. "To teach" is to be a "magister", and to use the office of teacher.

      What is affected by the medium is the degree to which the teacher is requiring assent by the hearer. The various (non-infallible) teachings of the Church have varying degrees in which we give reserved assent, i.e. the proper assent due from us given the manner in which the teaching is proposed.

      Even if Honorius' comments in a letter ONLY lead one person (i.e. the person to whom the letter is addressed) astray, and even if by "merely" wrongful silence, even so the net result is in fact "the pope leading astray" one of the faithful. And, as that letter demonstrates perfectly, no papal letter is utterly private. By being written, it is capable of being shared and published abroad.

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    6. I am not talking about mere leading astray. I am talking about leading someone off the path of salvation, which even Dr. Feser concedes did not happen here as it was really mere error and not heresy as defined by Vatican 1.

      Bellomy here. My phone will not let me log in.

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  4. All of this shows how utterly pointless the doctrine of papal infallibility is. Infallible means unable to err. Fallible means able to err. When you say that the Pope is most of the time able to err, you have asserted that the Pope is fallible. If you limit infallibility to ex cathedra statements, that's limited infallibility, which is another way of saying fallibility. To put it another way, the Pope is infallible except when he isn't - and we can't even agree on when he is and isn't. Yet the Pope is infallible. The whole doctrine and its defense appears to have been invented by Lewis Carroll or L. Ron Hubbard.

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    1. If you limit infallibility to ex cathedra statements, that's limited infallibility, which is another way of saying fallibility.

      This is nonsensical. Nobody else on planet earth - outside of the bishops speaking in union to teach the faithful on a matter of faith and morals - can EVER be infallible in any circumstance. That is a very clear, major, and obvious difference between regular people and the Pope.

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    2. Laudator Temporis ActiOctober 8, 2022 at 2:57 AM

      "Nobody else on planet earth - outside of the bishops speaking in union to teach the faithful on a matter of faith and morals - can EVER be infallible in any circumstance."

      So you're not infallible when you claim that the Magisterium and Pope are infallible?

      I think you need to brush up on the notions of passive and active infallibility. In fact, you are infallible when you speak on this topic. How could you not be? But you remain a regular person.

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    3. So you're not infallible when you claim that the Magisterium and Pope are infallible?

      You lost me here. Of course I am not. Yes, it is true that eventually fallibility is introduced into the equation. The difference is that *IF* my claim is right there is then a point when infallibility is introduced, which is never the case normally.

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    4. Laudator Temporis ActiOctober 10, 2022 at 2:38 AM

      You've missed the point. All statements about infallibility are made by fallible humans. There is no way to escape human fallibility. Therefore infallibility is never established. As you yourself have admitted: you are fallible. Therefore how can you belief in infallibility be certainly true?

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    5. Laudator Temporis ActiOctober 10, 2022 at 3:01 AM

      "You lost me here. Of course I am not."

      Ok, you've admitted you're not infallible. But if you're not infallible, your statements about infallibility are not certainly true. Therefore infallibility is not established.

      "Yes, it is true that eventually fallibility is introduced into the equation."

      Infallibility has to be there from the beginning or it can never be there. I think you need to study the concept of passive infallibility. As things are, you've shown once again that claims of infallibility are always and only made by fallible humans. Some of whom are more fallible than others.

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    6. If you're looking for perfect and unimpeachable knowledge about which you can never have doubt, you got us. I guess. Catholicism is not for you.

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    7. Laudator Temporis ActiOctober 11, 2022 at 3:12 AM

      Thank you (honestly) for an honest response. If more Catholics were like you (and Dr Feser), I think Catholicism would be for me.

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    8. Well, I appreciate the compliment. The most I can say is that I don't think it's possible to have total and absolute knowledge of anything. Even if I can reason to it logically, there is a remote chance that I made an error at some point.

      Now on matters like "What is 2+2" the odds of an error are astoundingly low to the point we can just about dismiss it. But on something like "What is the true religion", well, sure, I think the evidence points to Catholicism. I might be wrong, but I have to do my best.

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  5. Implying that a Pope can teach heresy when not speaking ex cathedra - simply because Vatican I defined that ex cathedra statements cannot be heretical - seems a classic logical flaw of making the conclusion broader than the premises.

    The Seventh Oecumenical Council could not evaluate the writings of Pope Honorius as heretical, not only because they weren’t, but because there was no discussion of these writings. If it accepted the history that Honorius was a heretic, it got it wrong.

    Vatican I, which left nothing to implication, explained how we ought to interpret its deliberations. Because it defined that all the Popes had “unfailing faith”, the expressions contained in the deliberations of the Seventh Oecumenical Council should be understood as the censure of the extremely negligent behaviour that it was; the term heretic was not as specific then as it later would be. The sense of Vatican I in defining Papal infallibility is obvious; it is prefaced with Christ’s prayer that Peter’s faith would not fail, not merely that he might speak infallibly one a century. Rather than put a strict modern theological understanding of the term heresy into the mouths of prelates in ancient times, we need to apply the modern Church understanding of the Papacy; there is no getting around this.

    Whether or not one can be accused of being a heretic for “not resisting an error” and “not defending the truth, one is NOT a heretic because of those things; Pope Felix III, cited in the post, has just explained how to view quite possible uses (which do not convey the understanding of a heretical Pope as we discuss it) of the term heretic in his times!

    The bottom line is that, even if “the Pope cannot be heretical when not speaking ex cathedra” were reduced to an opinion that is not probable, this would not translate into meaning the contrary opinion is probable. Such a view still needs to be substantiated, something very far from view.

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  6. By the way, I'd like to note I am not making an ultramontanist or sedevacantist argument. My point is not that the Magisterium can never err doctrinally. My point is that the Magisterium is protected by the Holy Spirit from moving believers off the path of salvation. This includes all of the post-Vatican II popes as well as Honorius. Thus while I accept that Honorius *might* have made a doctrinal error, that error would not lead anyone off the path of salvation since it was not yet an error on a teaching infallibly defined by the Church and thus it would not have been sinful at the time to share the Pope's (possible) opinion.

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  7. I offer more commentary on my blog here

    https://erickybarra.org/2022/10/07/dr-feser-on-pope-honorius-part-2/

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  8. Wrong question.
    Right one: can any pope be defended? Sure. They only do and say what they are supposed to do and say, based on interests, preferences and motives---
    some of which change, with changes in interests, preferences and motives...

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  9. Laudator Temporis ActiOctober 8, 2022 at 2:52 AM

    To sum up the doctrine of infallibility:

    Humans are fallible, except when protected by God from error, when they become infallible. And how do we know this? Because fallible humans tell us so.

    P.S. Only my particular group of fallible humans is right about having access to infallibility. The other groups -- Orthodox, Protestants, Muslims, Catholics (delete as applicable) -- claiming access to infallibility are wrong. After all, they're fallible humans and God has not protected them from error. Whereas I'm a fallible human whom God has protected from error on this particular topic.

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    1. ‘It is very common, doubtless, especially in religious controversy, to confuse infallibility with certitude, and to argue that, since we have not the one, we have not the other, for that no one can claim to be certain on any point, who is not infallible about all; but the two words stand for things quite distinct from each other. For example, I remember for certain what I did yesterday, but still my memory is not infallible; I am quite clear that two and two makes four, but I often make mistakes in long addition sums. I have no doubt whatever that John or Richard is my true friend, but I have before now trusted those who failed me, and I may do so again before I die.’

      ‘A certitude is directed to this or that particular proposition; it is not a faculty or gift, but a disposition of mind relatively to a definite case which is before me. Infallibility, on the contrary, is just that which certitude is not; it is a faculty or gift, and relates, not to some one truth in particular, but to all possible propositions in a given subject-matter. We ought in strict propriety, to speak, not of infallible acts, but of acts of infallibility…’

      ‘A man is infallible, whose words are always true; a rule is infallible, if it is unerring in all its possible applications. An infallible authority is certain in every particular case that may arise; but a man who is certain in some one definite case, is not on that account infallible.’

      ‘I am quite certain that Victoria is our Sovereign, and not her father, the late Duke of Kent, without laying any claim to the gift of infallibility; as I may do a virtuous action, without being impeccable. I may be certain that the Church is infallible, while I am myself a fallible mortal; otherwise, I cannot be certain that the Supreme Being is infallible, until I am infallible myself. It is a strange objection, then, which is sometimes urged against Catholics, that they cannot prove and assent to the Church's infallibility, unless they first believe in their own. Certitude, as I have said, is directed to one or other definite concrete proposition. I am certain of proposition one, two, three, four, or five, one by one, each by itself. I may be certain of one of them, without being certain of the rest; that I am certain of the first makes it neither likely nor unlikely that I am certain of the second; but were I infallible, then I should be certain, not only of one of them, but of all, and of many more besides, which have never come before me as yet. Therefore we may be certain of the infallibility of the Church, while we admit that in many things we are not, and cannot be, certain at all.’

      St John Henry Newman, ‘A Grammar of Assent’ pp. 173-74

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    2. Laudator Temporis ActiOctober 10, 2022 at 3:06 AM

      "Therefore we may be certain of the infallibility of the Church, while we admit that in many things we are not, and cannot be, certain at all." Said the fallible human Newman. But many other fallible humans disagree with him. Furthermore, Newman was not happy with the formal declaration of Papal Infallibility at Vat1.

      "I may be certain that the Church is infallible, while I am myself a fallible mortal; otherwise, I cannot be certain that the Supreme Being is infallible, until I am infallible myself."

      The Orthodox and Muslims believe in the infallibility of the Supreme Being, but do not accept the infallibility of the Church.

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    3. @ Laudator Temporis Acti

      Once we understand and apply the difference between certainty and infallibility, we can overcome the problem.

      Newman's fallibility, or the fallibility of any other private individual (such as you or me or the other posters on this site), is irrelevant, since no one is using their supposed infallibility as the premise in an argument for papal infallibility, or for anything else. No one is saying, 'I am infallible, so accept what I say. QED.' So our fallibility has no logical bearing.

      Anyone can come to a valid rational certainty of a particular truth (whether absolute certainty or reasonable moral certainty, as the case may be) based on strong enough evidence before them in the particular case, even without a generalised gift of infallibility. The conclusive evidence in the particular instance shows them that their general vulnerability to false beliefs is not actualised in that instance. (Otherwise, no one could ever be certain of anything.)

      Also, can we only be certain of something as long as everyone else agrees with us? Maybe we have had the chance to come across and consider evidence that someone else has not.

      (By the way, Newman believed in papal infallibility, but didn't think the First Vatican Council was an opportune moment for the Church to declare it.)

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    4. Laudator Temporis ActiOctober 13, 2022 at 3:07 AM

      I apologize to Dr Feser (and readers of the blog) for the unpleasant and jeering tone of this comment. I thought I'd stopped being a New Atheist, but I spoke like a New Atheist there.

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    5. Laudator Temporis ActiOctober 13, 2022 at 3:16 AM

      Newman's fallibility, or the fallibility of any other private individual (such as you or me or the other posters on this site), is irrelevant, since no one is using their supposed infallibility as the premise in an argument for papal infallibility, or for anything else.

      They're not explicitly stating that, but it's implicit in the doctrine of infallibility. That's why theologians distinguish between active infallibility and passive infallibility. The Pope is actively infallible in proclaiming a doctrine and we are passively infallible in accepting it and asserting it ourselves.

      "So our fallibility has no logical bearing..."

      I think it does. Do you not agree that Orthodox, Muslims et al have succumbed to fallibility in denying Papal infallibility and claiming an infallibility of their own? Obviously you do. My problem is that I don't see how you've escaped the fallibility that you yourself fully accept applies to others. And it's obvious that if you or I had been born, say, Orthodox or Muslim in an Orthodox or Muslim culture, then we would be much more likely to embrace the Muslim or Orthodox version of infallibility than the Catholic. This doesn't happen in math or physics.

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    6. Laudator Temporis ActiOctober 13, 2022 at 3:22 AM

      I think Newman reasons badly here:

      "I have no doubt whatever that John or Richard is my true friend, but I have before now trusted those who failed me, and I may do so again before I die."

      In effect he's saying: I'm certain of X, but I admit I could be wrong. What he should say is: I feel certain of X, but I could be wrong.

      But if he'd said that, his argument collapses. He fails to distinguish between the subjective feeling of certainty and the objective possession of certainty. Alas for us humans, all we can ever be sure we have is the first. In my subjective opinion. And those who disagree with me do not agree with each other: Catholics are certain about X being true and Y being false, Muslims are certain about X being false and Y being true, etc. Plus, Catholics disagree with each other and Muslims with each other.

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    7. @Laudator Temporis Acti

      "And it's obvious that if you or I had been born, say, Orthodox or Muslim in an Orthodox or Muslim culture, then we would be much more likely to embrace the Muslim or Orthodox version of infallibility than the Catholic. This doesn't happen in math or physics."

      Would this not also apply to your reasoning here? Supposing that you are from a ocidental country them you are from a culture were religious claims are seem at, at best, incapable of being shown to be true or false, a claim that most traditional muslim or orthodox folks would probably regard as false. If your criteria is more certain than the catholic claims, why do so many disagree with it?

      Why is your controversial epistemological claim protected from the fact that it is, well, controversial? It being regard as true for most ocidental folks today does not says much by itself.

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    8. Laudator Temporis ActiOctober 14, 2022 at 2:10 AM

      "Would this not also apply to your reasoning here?"

      Yes, it does. I am obviously shaped by the random factors of where and when and what I was born. That's one reason why I like math, where all manner of folk can reach consensus on important truths without rancor or resentment (mostly). Theology, alas, behaves like politics, not like math.

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    9. Good to see you back again, George M/Talmid. Good point there! By all means write again.

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    10. @Laudator Temporis Acti

      There is nothing about your objection that logically limits its application to matters of religion - if it were valid, it would remove the possibility of objective certainty in any field of knowledge, since any assertion we made would always require the implicit qualification, 'But since I am fallible, I could be wrong about this' (even about e.g. 2+2=4).

      I'll mention in passing - the objection, thus taken to its logical conclusion, would therefore appear to be self-refuting, because the objector puts forward the objection itself as objectively certain truth (not qualifying it as 'merely probable').

      But be that as it may, I will try to show that (whether or not its conclusion is self-refuting) the objection is a logical fallacy.

      This is its basic structure:

      It is possible for beliefs of mine to be false.
      X is a belief of mine.
      Therefore it is possible that X is false.

      Consider the parallel argument:

      It is possible for cats to be black.
      Fluffy is a cat.
      Therefore it is possible that Fluffy is black [even though I can see she is white].

      The reason that these arguments fail is that I can be aware of more about Fluffy than the fact that she is a cat, and I can be aware of more about 'X' than the fact that it is a belief of mine. If all we knew about Fluffy was that she was a cat, then it would be reasonable to say that it was possible that she was black. And if all we knew about X was that it was a belief of my fallible self, then it would be reasonable to say that X was possibly false.

      But in fact, I can know from the evidence of my senses that in Fluffy's case, the abstract possibility for cats to be black is not fulfilled in her particular case. And I can know from direct knowledge of conclusive logical or factual evidence in the particular case of X (e.g. 2+2=4), that the abstract general possibility of my beliefs being false is not fulfilled in the particular case of my belief X.

      This is why the general fallibility that is ours as humans does not prove the impossibility of individuals reaching valid objective certainty in particular cases, where the individual is aware of sufficient evidence for the belief.

      So there is no reason in principle why an individual, although fallible, might not discover sufficient evidence to ground a valid objective certainty (absolute certainty or reasonable moral certainty as the case may be) that e.g. '2+2=4', or 'The theory of relativity is true', or 'God has promised to protect from error a whole class of statements made by the pope in certain fairly well-defined circumstances'. One would need to examine the purported evidence in each case, but there is no reason in principle that it could not exist, despite our fallibility.

      Justin (the 'Unknown' above)

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    11. @Laudator Temporis Acti

      That other fallible humans have a subjective certainty Y, that contradicts a subjective certainty X belonging to my own fallible self, is no proof that X could not be recognised by me as objectively valid. (As with the colour of Fluffy the cat in my previous post) it's only a problem if all I knew about X and Y were that they were beliefs belonging to this or that person.

      If all the knowledge that we had access to was that 'I believe X, you believe Y', then since we are all fallible, there would be no grounds for preferring X over Y in regard to their objective certainty.

      But the presupposition that all the knowledge to which we have access is of the form 'I believe X, you believe Y', is a type of philosophical idealism: 'All we can directly know is the fact that something is someone's belief - we cannot have direct knowledge of evidence for these beliefs in themselves, whereby we can discriminate which are true and which are false.'

      But we do not grant this unproven idealist presupposition (which furthermore is contradicted by our very experience of having direct awareness of evidence); and so we are not led to the relativist conclusion.

      In short, we are not reduced to saying, 'Fallible person A says X, fallible person B says Y - who knows?' Each fallible individual can turn to the actual evidence, by which valid objective certainties can be established in particular cases - even if in other particular cases, someone (myself or others) fails to properly examine the evidence, and so actualizes in those particular cases the abstract possibility of falling into error.

      I agree that my background and life history makes it more likely for me to have ended up a Catholic than e.g. a Hindu. But that proves nothing. My background also makes it more likely that I will have a valid objective certainty of Pythagoras' Theorem, than if I had been born in 3000 BC. For every individual, particular contingent circumstances channel us into a position where we are more favourably placed than we otherwise would have been to discover objective evidence for this or that truth. That does not invalidate our objective certainty of those truths, once we have seen the evidence. Again the principle: we must examine the actual evidence regarding X (not matters about our background that are logically irrelevant to the truth or falsity of X).

      And just on a couple of your other points:

      I can agree for the sake of argument that Newman's example regarding the trustworthiness of John or Richard is for our purposes the least satisfactory of his examples, since the nature of the 'evidence' for their trustworthiness raises all sorts of other questions. (His example is nonetheless perhaps a useful corrective against modelling our understanding of certainty primarily on our experience of mathematical certainty, rather than on e.g. certainties that occur in interpersonal relationships.)

      And the passive infallibility (according to Catholic teaching) of the whole Body of the Faithful guided by the Holy Spirit, has no bearing on the topic of an admittedly fallible individual, Catholic or not, coming to a valid objective certainty in a particular case, by rationally examining evidence.

      Justin (the 'Unknown' above)

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    12. @Laudator Temporis Acti

      Oh, that was a easy agreement XD
      (Justin is right, lets complement)

      I can see the point of your view, it truly seems that our reasoning outside mathematics is very uncertain. But, of course, disagreement by itself does not says much. The evidence of the senses should be pretty certain and uncontroversial but if you, say, go to a bunch of people that were there during a discussion or even fight between two folks they care about, for instance, you find that sense evidence can be the origin of disagreement as well as metaphysics! If ideas matter to life, people will disagree.

      Our boy Descartes is simply wrong, we don't need certain knowledge to be justified on our beliefs. Math deals with abstractions, so of course it will have a degree of agreement than areas that deal with real life do not, every step on the direction of particularity is a step away from certainty. And even math has polemics, no?

      Anyway, i can see value in your epistemological criteria, specially on a non-religious worldview, but it seems to me to ask for too much certitude. If we have good reasons to a point of view on theology them we can believe in it.

      @Miguel Cervantes

      Thanks, man! That is sweet. But i'am not George, that is another guy XD

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    13. That's fine Jorge. The show must go on.
      p.s. I'm not Don Quijote.

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  10. @ Ed,

    I had thought that the Church, with its popes, church men, and councils, was the Body of Christ and He was its Head. Was not Honorius receiving absolution in confession during his papacy? If so, what is the big deal? If Councils and popes condemned him as a heretic and to harsh punishment what does that mean? That he goes to Hell?

    Why not Purgatory with the meaning of "harsh", or whatever words were used, being indeterminate in absolute meaning? At his death, action would have been out of the Hands of the Body and beyond Its reach and, as the action of the infinite God, beyond Its absolute understanding.

    Are the matters of this dispute not indeterminate as matters of human understanding within the Church militant? Does not this indeterminacy within we who have not yet suffered death mean that as long as we argue about it, it can never be settled? Is that not why the argument goes on and on?

    If so, what is the big deal? Let the issue be settled by the increasing distance of time. Let the scholars who insist on digging up the corpse of this affair have their fun with it and let the rest of us forget it. The scholars cannot settle it and should not be able to settle it. Only time can settle it.

    No?

    Tom Cohoe

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    1. Laudator Temporis ActiOctober 11, 2022 at 3:18 AM

      " Does not this indeterminacy within we who have not yet suffered death..."

      It's "within us who have", Tom. Don't worry: it's a common mistake among those who don't know as much about literary English as they like to think.

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    2. @ Laudator Temporis Acti,

      "It's 'within us who have', Tom."

      No it isn't. The object of the preposition is the entire clause - "we who have not yet suffered death...". Do you say "us who have again missed the bus ..."? Really?

      Ha-ha-ha!

      Ridiculous!

      Tom Cohoe

      PS - correcting grammar is dangerous and it is also empty as argument. That is why I have resisted correcting your spelling and grammar. That is why I resist it in general. But I suppose you have an infallible reason for sticking your neck out to no purpose.

      In which dialect are you correcting anyway?

      Funny!

      :-)

      TC

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    3. Laudator Temporis ActiOctober 13, 2022 at 3:05 AM

      My words were sinful but not empty this time. In "...within us who have...", the preposition governs "us" in the accusative, which is followed by a sub-clause headed by a relative pronoun in the nominative. Here's an example in Latin from Peter Abelard (I'm not a Latin scholar, but did it at school long ago):

      Inter nos, qui hoc recipimus... Among us, who have received this...

      http://www.thelatinlibrary.com/abelard/dialogus.html

      Nos is accusative, qui is nominative. I know English isn't Latin, but standard literary English follows the same rule.

      However, the "whoever" is correct here:

      * They fight against us who have the Light, for they fight against whoever hath the Light.

      The first preposition governs a pronoun followed by a sub-clause, the second preposition governs an entire clause headed by "whoever". Many folk would think it's "whomever."

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    4. @ Laudator Temporis Acti,

      I am breaking down the fairly complex sentence for purposes of analysis.

      "Does not this indeterminacy within we who have not yet suffered death mean that as long as we argue about it, it can never be settled?"

      Leaving out the disputed phrase this becomes, "Does not this indeterminacy mean that it can never be settled?"

      Replacing the disputed phrase, with a single word object for the preposition, this becomes, "Does not this indeterminacy WITHIN SOME mean that it can never be settled?"

      SOME = "We who have not yet suffered death"

      This is a noun clause. It is the object of the preposition "within". It is a dependent clause and must exist in some relation with the rest of the sentence. It cannot stand alone as an independent sentence. The preposition "within" connects this dependent clause with the sentence. The entire clause is the object of the preposition. Otherwise the rest of the clause, "who have not yet suffered death", would be standing alone with no connection to the sentence.

      Let us look at the clause in isolation by making it independent.

      "We, who have not yet suffered death, pause."

      "Us, who have not yet suffered death, pause"

      You choose.

      "We pause" or "Us pause" or perhaps "Us paused".

      Only the first sounds correct to me. You choose. I will not argue it further, but I would still write it the way I did.

      I have a very interesting book on the relation between English and Latin called "English Grammar for Students of Latin" by Norma W. Goldman. It does not teach Latin grammar from English grammar or vice versa". It helps to teach Latin Grammar by showing how it is similar to and how it differs from English grammar. One thing is immediately obvious in it; you do not get correct English grammar by applying the rules of Latin grammar to English. In fact, English is fundamentally a Germanic language with a large element of the Romance languages admixed.

      It is true, however, that teachers and other English stylists have long tried to make English follow Latin in grammatical style, something that seems overwrought to me. I don't think this is as common as it was once.

      Tom Cohoe

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    5. Laudator Temporis ActiOctober 14, 2022 at 2:18 AM

      Sorry, my Latin example was bad, because "nos" is both nominative and accusative. I'll try an example in English. I'm sure you agree that the "us" is correct here:

      * They hate us, for they hate all who hath the Light.

      If you add a relative clause, why would the case of "us" change? It doesn't:

      * They hate us who have the Light, for they hate all who hath the Light.

      Your example here is correct:

      "We, who have not yet suffered death, pause."

      Yes, it's "we", because "we" is the subject of the verb "pause." But here:

      "Does not this indeterminacy within we who have not yet suffered death..."

      "We" is not the subject of any verb and is governed by the preposition. The subject of the verb is "who."

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    6. @ Laudator Temporis Acti,

      I guess we'll just have to live with the fact that we will probably never agree on this.

      :-)

      Tom Cohoe

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  11. I guess we won't be celebrating St. Honorius Day any time soon.

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  12. I'm going to push back on another point that you make here, Dr. Feser. I am not convinced these letters by Honorius are acts of the Magisterium. You make the case here:

    But it is not true to say (as some have in Honorius’s defense) that he was merely speaking as a private theologian. He was doing no such thing. Sergius wrote to him seeking the authoritative advice of the bishop of Rome, and Honorius responded in that capacity.

    Okay, let's look at it like this. When Pope Francis is being asked for quotes about theological matters, they are not interviewing him because he's a regular guy. They are interviewing him because he's the Pope. The only reason they are about his opinion is that he is the Pope. When he gives his response, it is as the Pope, sometimes on a subject of faith and morals. Is this an authoritative teaching? If the Pope wrote his response down would it be?

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    1. How is it possible to be an consecrated a bishop and then teach but not teach under the auspices of your being a bishop, i.e. "teacher"? If you are made a teacher, and you teach, you are exercising your "teacher" role.

      But the bindingness of bishops' teachings varies in degree, according to the manner in which they propose them to us "to be held". Some they assert with great force and definitude, with explicit reference to this being something taught by the Church from time immemorial. Others they teach less definitely, but still "with authority". Others again they teach very mildly, but still as something they want us to accept. These are all teachings and therefore they must be received by us, in accord with the MANNER in which they were proposed to be received. There are infinitely many degrees in which their teachings require assent from us, as is the infinitely many degrees of the teachings being taught with an expectation of being received.

      It is when a bishop, either by venue, by context, or by clear mention, indicates that he is merely speculating or indulging in pious but uncertain considerations, that he is not asking for our assent as such. When he says things like "well, it seems to me", or "in my personal opinion," or "I feel that X, but others may feel differently" he is indicating room for dissent by others.

      But note also that the venue is not WHOLLY determinative: in an encyclical, a pope might state a new idea that is his own personal view but is still uncertain, and also re-state a time-honored and universally approved teaching. The fact that the venue is capable of teaching high and strongly authoritative statements (and is the normal venue for doing so) does not mean every word in the encyclical bears that degree. Just as not every word of an ecumenical council consists in an infallible dogmatic decree, even though a council is capable of that.

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    2. Well, for one thing, I think it's a mistake to think of "Magisterium" as a simple translation of "teacher", asif that's all we mean when we say it. Clearly we're referring to the Church *intentionally exercising her authority to teach in an official capacity*. I disagree a private letter is any sort of official capacity.

      This is Bellomy. My phone won't let me log in.

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    3. Also,

      How is it possible to be an consecrated a bishop and then teach but not teach under the auspices of your being a bishop, i.e. "teacher"?

      Quite easily, I should imagine. If I am a teacher, and a student asks me a question outside of class and I answer him in a private email, I am teaching but not in my official capacity as a teacher. I see no reason being a Bishop changes this basic concept of official vs. unofficial teaching capacity.

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    4. Well, sure, when you are "on the clock" for being paid, you are a teacher, and when you are "off the clock" you can act in other capacities.

      I would note three things: (1) if you are writing the email in response to a question he raises in relation to the very subject you have been hired as a teacher, and if your answer gives him information relating to the subject about which you were hired as a teacher, you ARE acting "as a teacher". (2) a bishop is never "off the clock". Consequently, (3) if he is writing a private letter to one of his flock on a matter of faith and morals, and he is intending that his letter guide that member of his flock, he IS being a teacher. The fact that it is private is irrelevant to whether he is teaching, and to whether he intends the recipient to receiving this and be guided by it.

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    5. The fact that it is private is irrelevant to whether he is teaching, and to whether he intends the recipient to receiving this and be guided by it.

      It is certainly very relevant when discussing if anybody should be bound to this teaching or whether he is writing a simple advice letter.

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    6. I once had reason to write to my bishop about a matter of faith that needed clarification. His private, written response, delivered through his staff theologian, constituted for me an expression of his will to teach me in a certain way, and his will that I accept his teaching. That it was a private letter indicated how broadly he intended his instruction to bind people, but it did not detract from whether he intended that I give his instruction my assent. I could have simply ignored his instructions ONLY by ignoring the obligation to give religious submission to the teachings of the successors to the Apostles, to whom Christ said "he who hears you hears me". The manner of my assent, i.e. the reserved assent proper to "religious submission" depends quite definitely on the nature of the reservations by which it falls short of UNreserved assent, and this too owes its proper determination to the intention of the bishop, as to the manner and degree by which he intends to bind his subordinate(s). And this he conveys in the very same manner as indicated in the quoted passage from Vatican II below,
      "His mind and will in the matter may be known either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking."

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    7. I'm not convinced what you're describing - the letter you wrote to your bishop or the letter written to Honorius - is an act of the Magisterium as the Church at Vatican I understands it. I get that Bishops have an authority to teach, and magister means teacher, but they were referring to a very specific thing when they talked about the protection afforded to it. I doubt private letters rise to that level.

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    8. Well, I don't know that I can convince you, but:
      The "authority to teach" has always been connected to Christ's "he who hears you hears Me." And the latter has always been part of the basis for the position that the magisterial office is protected from error, though not protected in every sense. It is pretty odd to think of Christ conveying (to bishops) an authority to teach in his name, but NOT do anything about protecting said teachings of those teachers, just the teachings of the pope. And when the bishops, in their ordinary teachings, teach a truth that is also universally taught by the other bishops, that teaching is not only protected somewhat (i.e. like the kind of protection over those teachings to which we owe religious submission), those teachings are infallible and we owe them unreserved assent. So, the bishops in exercising their ordinary teaching office can at least touch on the higher protection, which suggests that they also can touch on the lower protection afforded those teachings to which we owe religious assent - also in their ordinary exercise of their teaching office. That is, both acts are acts of their ordinary teaching office, the difference in the kind of submission we owe being EXTERNAL to the teaching act itself: it is implausible that we would come to owe UNRESERVED assent to a teaching of our bishop once we realize that it has universal agreement of the other bishops, but that before we completed that discovery that we owed it not even the smallest smidgen of religious submission even when we have discovered wide agreement of many bishops (but have not yet established a universal agreement).

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    9. That is all fine, but I guess my question is, is a private letter of the pope on a private theological a magisterial document in the sense meant by Vatican I, protected in *any way at all* from error? The problem I see here is the argument that 1) Yes it was an act of the Magisterium, even from the Pope himself, thus 2) Therefore the Magisterium is not protected even from heresy in its ordinary teachings.

      This strikes me as unworkable. One resolution - one Dr. Feser seems to agree with - is that it was not heresy in the sense Vatican I defined heresy. I think it is also notable that the Pope did not consult the bishops or address the Church, so I'm not sure if Vatican I was referring to a Pope's private letters when it talks about the teaching office of the Church.

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    10. 1) Yes it was an act of the Magisterium, even from the Pope himself, thus 2) Therefore the Magisterium is not protected even from heresy in its ordinary teachings.

      What, specifically, makes you phrase the second as "not protected from heresy?"

      We know that the Church's fallible teachings (I.e. those which were not taught infallibly) are "not absolutely protected" from ERROR, in that fallible teachings are reformable and might eventually be reformed because they were wrong and needed to be corrected.

      But one cannot conclude from this that the Church's fallible teachings are therefore utterly not protected from error, i.e. that there is simply NOTHING that limits how much error they have. That doesn't follow. As I understand it, the Church says of these teachings that they, too, are influenced by the Holy Spirit, in a lesser way, such that the Church will not fall into such error (on non-infallible teachings) that she lastingly leads Christians into grave error that endangers their souls. These criteria are inherently difficult to apply to particular cases, but the basic idea is that, like situation where the Holy Spirit's action by which He molds the teachings of the many bishops so that they (without formal collusion) all teach the same thing so that it becomes an infallible teaching, so also at other times He molds their teaching so that where one or some are in error, others are not, or at least not gravely and for long. This is indeed a protection, afforded to the Church, that does not protect from every error, rather from an error having a certain scale of effect.

      Clearly the Arian heresy running rampant was an error in the ranks of bishops so that they were teaching error, but it never swallowed the entire episcopate. Since it is simply the case that the bishops who were Arians were teaching wrongly by their officially demanding belief in Arianism, and since the bishops certainly exercise their magisterial office when they teach in an official capacity in such wise as to insist on and require assent, we know that "the Magisterium can teach error" in at least that limited sense, don't we?

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    11. Bellomy here

      You may be agreeing with me. Bishops individually can teach heresy; the college of bishopss can teach error but not heresy.

      The Pope can teach error; the Pope cannot teach heresy when he teaches something that bibds believers to religious assent of mind and will.

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  13. In support of your point, can we say that one essential factor differentiating magisterial and non-magisterial acts is the manifested will of a bishop to bind to obedience the faithful under his authority to adhere (at least in some degree) to a particular teaching?

    Vatican II said of the Ordinary Magisterium, 'In matters of faith and morals, the bishops speak in the name of Christ and the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent. This religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra; that is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will. His mind and will in the matter may be known either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking.' (Lumen Gentium 25)

    As with Vatican I's dogma of papal infallibility, I would think that this is intended by Vatican II as a description to be also applied retrospectively, even if in the 7th century they were not yet thinking about it in these explicit terms.

    The 'manifest mind' of a pope refers especially to the doctrinal content of a document; his 'manifest will' refers especially to his intention to teach and bind the faithful of the world. Normally he will not express this intention in so many words, but it can be known 'either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking.'

    But as a minimum, the intention to somehow bind the faithful of the world would require the intention to promulgate the teaching to the faithful of the world (not just sending a letter to one individual, leaving it to his choice and initiative to promulgate to the world as he saw fit).

    The Holy See these days generally publishes a papal teaching document (including letters to individuals or groups) in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis if the pope's intention had been to promulgate that document to all the faithful - thus confirming that it has at least some level of magisterial authority.

    Was it the intention of Pope Honorius that his letters to Patriarch Sergius be promulgated to the Catholic world as binding (albeit non-definitive) teaching? It does not appear so, and the condemnations of Honorius by the Ecumenical Councils do not require us to think this either.

    Just as his letters do not fall within Vatican I's description of the papal Extraordinary Magisterium, neither, apparently, do they fall within Vatican II's description of the papal Ordinary Magisterium. And therefore, neither do they provide a precedent showing that a teaching of the papal Ordinary Magisterium can be not merely in error, but heretical.

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    1. I actually intended this as a reply and support to Bellomy, but mis-published it as a general reply to Ed's post. So my opening words 'in support of your point' is meant to refer to Bellomy's post, October 8 at 1:10 PM.

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    2. Just as his letters do not fall within Vatican I's description of the papal Extraordinary Magisterium, neither, apparently, do they fall within Vatican II's description of the papal Ordinary Magisterium. And therefore, neither do they provide a precedent showing that a teaching of the papal Ordinary Magisterium can be not merely in error, <

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    3. The bishop's office of "teacher" is not exercised ONLY when he expressly "intends to bind the faithful" in an unreserved way, for a bishop cannot bind the faithful in that way because he is not infallible. But he still exercises the office of teacher when he teaches in such a way that he expects his people to hear and receive and be guided by his teaching. This is what the magisterial office means. The pope, in exercising his ordinary office of bishop of Rome, exercises the same magisterial authority as any bishop does. But by being the pope, his teaching acts also teach the whole world. It is impossible for him to teach "just Rome" and not implicitly teach to the world.

      Just as is true of ALL the bishops, who teach their teachings in various degrees of definitude by which they intend others to receive them, so also does the pope. When he indicates, by details such as formality of venue, tone of voice, and declarative mood, that a teaching is more definitive than usual, we are obliged to give it a greater degree of respect, (i.e. to assent to it with less reserve than usual). As a result of these truths, it will be automatically the case that when the pope wishes to be especially definitive, he will typically be doing so especially to the world. But even THERE, he has degrees available: if the pope gives a speech to an international forum of obstetricians and speaks there about the immorality of certain tubal ligations (as contraceptive), it is inevitable that he be speaking broadly to the whole world, in that those doctors are from the whole world and will repeat his teaching around the world. But the venue is not as formal as an encyclical, and so has a lesser degree of definitude - lesser sense that he "intends to bind" - as to that aspect. The intention he has is CAPABLE OF DEGREE. Hence the deference we give it must be capable of degree.

      Once we realize that religious assent - the kind of assent that is not the "unreserved" assent given to infallible teachings - is reserved assent, we must realize that it comes in many flavors just as do the reservations by which it is not UNreserved. And the intention to bind is also present in many degrees.

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    4. @Tony

      In Benedict XVI's Foreword to his book 'Jesus of Nazareth' published during his pontificate, he wrote, 'It goes without saying that this book is in no way an exercise of the magisterium, but is solely an expression of my personal search for the face of the Lord. Everyone is free, then, to contradict me. I would only ask my readers for that initial goodwill without which there can be no understanding.' (It was understood by everyone as being written in his capacity 'as a private theologian'.)

      The book had a certain impact around the world of Catholic thought, as he no doubt wished - partly caused by his pre-existing reputation as a theologian, but certainly added to by the simple fact that he was now pope. He wanted to 'teach' people, in a similar way to us wanting to 'teach' each other by posting on this blog - hopefully our motive is that we want to help one another on the path to truth. And he wanted to use his new platform as pope to reach a wider audience.

      However, Benedict didn't want Catholics to consider themselves morally bound to accept what he said, just from the mere fact of who it was that said it. I don't think that this was particularly because he was tentative or uncertain about his statements in the book - maybe for some of them he was, others he wasn't. But rather, he wanted in this case to leave acceptance of what he was saying simply up to the free consideration of the individual. He didn't wish to 'bind' anyone.

      So, he took off his 'pope' cap and put on his 'private theologian' cap, saying that his writing was solely an expression of his 'personal search for the face of the Lord' (despite presumably being motivated by wanting others to learn from his words and to be influenced by them).

      Is that swapping of caps problematic on your view? I'm reading you (maybe) as saying or implying that the assertions of a pope in faith or morals cannot fail to be 'binding' on any Catholic to some extent, whether the pope likes it or not; or maybe that this is so, at least by default. That is (maybe unless the pope explicitly says otherwise, as with Benedict's book), Catholics should consider themselves morally bound to adhere (at least to some degree) to a pope's assertions in faith or morals, merely from the fact of who it is that is asserting them. This would be whether or not they are published in an official document, and whether or not they are promulgated to the whole Church: it is all 'teaching', and by a representative of Christ, and therefore magisterial.

      So on this view, the official but private replies of Pope Honorius to Patriarch Sergius would be 'binding' to some extent on any Catholic who learnt of them and their contents.

      And the plane interviews of Pope Francis would be to some small degree magisterial (if they concern faith or morals) - calling for our acceptance of his statements from the mere fact of who it is that is speaking and 'teaching'.

      Am I misreading you?

      Justin (the original 'Unknown' above)

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    5. Is that swapping of caps problematic on your view?

      No, this is no problem for me: I expressly said that if the pope (or any other bishop) gives a caveat that makes it clear that they ARE NOT intending their comment to be taken as "official" or not as from them qua teacher, it is not magisterial. (It may have been in the prior post that I said this. Not sure which one.)

      I'm reading you (maybe) as saying or implying that the assertions of a pope in faith or morals cannot fail to be 'binding' on any Catholic to some extent, whether the pope likes it or not; or maybe that this is so, at least by default.

      I am saying that the "bindingness" is a matter of degree, just as is the intention and the manner in which the intention is expressed are manifestly capable of degree. All commentators agree that there are different levels of authoritativeness to different kinds of papal documents, from Apostolic Constitutions through encyclicals and such, down to other actions. And all agree that the pope can emphasize his teaching with different levels of formality and different levels of insistence. Just reading through JPII's encyclicals gives you a wide range of statements he makes that land at widely different levels of insistence that Catholics be guided by his teaching. It's not an on/off switch, with nothing in between.

      his 'manifest will' refers especially to his intention to teach and bind the faithful of the world. Normally he will not express this intention in so many words, but it can be known 'either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking.'

      These last points, i.e. markers of the pope's intention, clearly are of the kind that are capable of degree. Especially "frequent repetition of the same doctrine" - if the pope (and the Church) want frequent repetition to be used as a marker, it is necessarily the case that a teaching pass only gradually from "newly proposed" to "long-standing teaching" by which the Church expresses "we're serious about this...".

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    6. And by the way, I would offer the idea that this helps characterize true and real development of doctrine that is binding, and separate it from opposition and revolution or not-binding teaching: a true development, when FIRST proposed, is normally by that very fact not proposed as binding. It is (normally) by dint of being then thoroughly fleshed out and worked out so that its compatibility with all the other doctrines that it is not meant to unseat is clear. Even better, when the new development is expressed in a way that manifestly connects to and coordinates with the pieces of the prior teachings that it IS meant to alter in some qualified way. It is true development when a Catholic who accepted the old way of saying the teaching can look at the new way and say of it: "I see that this re-frames the old concepts in a way that introduces a new distinction never made before, and is not so much a denial of the old teaching but a refinement of it." When those who have been holding to the old teaching CANNOT say anything like that, indeed when the appearance (to them, in good faith) is that the new "teaching" really is just a flat out denial of the old, that's not true development, and the very lack of clarification given should be taken as CONSTITUTING a criterion by which the Church saying that the Church is not (yet) insisting on the new "teaching" as binding.

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    7. Pretty strange like the pope speak to all churches but not only his church. Not contrary to the anticanonical conclave which left out laity and priesthood for the election ed now, in a very strange way of internazionalism is without any relationship with the eparchy/diocese of Rome at all.

      This if you bealive that the pope is who is because he is bishop of Rome. If you prefer that the bishop of Rome derive from the papacy, please look at Antiochia

      Daouda

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  14. It occurred to me that I should write a comment here as well as on Twitter.

    Thank you for your engagement and we will publish a reply in due course.

    In the meantime, I'd like to agree out that "amassing" the words of theologians doesn't necessarily prove anything about Honorius himself. But the purpose of the essay was not to prove Honorius to be innocent. Rather, it was to show the untenability of the de Mattei method - which I think you too are pursuing, Prof. Feser? - of basing conclusions about the modern crisis on debated events and precedents in history.

    Typically the Honorius narrative is presented as if it were all certainly one way (viz. official magisterial letters, certainly containing heresy, he was certainly condemned as a heretic just as Sergius was, and so on) and then either the authors draw conclusions from it about Francis etc, or just leave innuendo hanging there.

    I'll address all this more fully in due course, as I said. Thank you again for your time.

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    1. Further to the above, here is a response explaining some of these points:

      https://wmreview.co.uk/2022/11/07/honorius-de-mattei-feser-i/

      Many thanks.

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    2. Just for the sake of completeness, here is the concluding part - which looks more at the application of the principles from the first part.

      https://wmreview.co.uk/2022/11/10/honorius-de-mattei-feser-ii/

      Prof. Feser, many thanks again for your time.

      S.D. Wright

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  15. I suppose I will get around to responding to this or not.
    You Rule Ed!

    Cheers sir.

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  16. I'm so stupid thinking about Honorious is an human with free will like any other?
    Magisterium if not straordinary or universal/integral ordinarly is indeed only authentic which is to be respect but can conteins also errors like heresies.

    Heresy for the father is non only doctrinal point but also moral and liturgical.

    What is the problem? Also remember that the l'Ekthesis of Eraclius is based on the letter of Honorious.

    Nestorious is not heretic...but nestorianism it is, right? Bah, very strange how you put complication in such so simple question.
    Bellarmine and Alfonsus , humans, what might had said on the Formoso's case?

    Problem is this: magisteroum is not doctinal, is a giuridic act like the infallible council of Costantinople 3. It also can speak on liturgy and praxis ( like the second Nicea council ) or the spiritual mystical way.
    You speak about magisterioum like it has the power to esthabilish teorical theology which is false.

    Sorry for my english, daouda

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