Tuesday, October 4, 2022

The error and condemnation of Pope Honorius

A pope is said to speak ex cathedra or “from the chair” when he solemnly puts forward some teaching in a manner intended to be definitive and absolutely binding.  This is also known as an exercise of the pope’s extraordinary magisterium, and its point is to settle once and for all disputed matters concerning faith or morals.  The First Vatican Council taught that such ex cathedra doctrinal definitions are infallible and thus irreformable.  The ordinary magisterium of the Church too (whether in the person of the pope or some other bishop or body of bishops) can sometimes teach infallibly, when it simply reiterates some doctrine that has always and everywhere been taught. 

The Church does not hold, however, that popes always teach infallibly when not speaking ex cathedra.  The First Vatican Council deliberately stopped short of making that claim.  One reason for this is that there have been a few popes (though only a few) who erred when not exercising their extraordinary magisterium.  The most spectacular case is that of Pope Honorius I (pope from 625-638 A.D.), who taught a Christological error that facilitated the spread of the Monothelite heresy, and was formally condemned for it by several Church councils and later popes. 

The case is briefly discussed in many Church histories and reference works, but an especially detailed account is to be found in Fr. John Chapman’s short book The Condemnation of Pope Honorius, which was published in 1907 by the Catholic Truth Society.  You can read it online via the Internet Archive.  Chapman is also the author of the article about Pope Honorius in the 1910 Catholic Encyclopedia, which presents a shorter but still substantive account.  His results are briefly but approvingly discussed by Fr. Cuthbert Butler in his 1930 book The Vatican Council 1869-1870, the main scholarly work in English about the council and the debate between the council Fathers over papal infallibility.

Many contemporary readers with only a superficial knowledge of the history and theology of the papacy are bound to find shocking the details of the case of Honorius as recounted by writers like Chapman and Butler.  They might expect to hear such things only from either theological liberals keen to subvert the authority of the papacy, or radical traditionalists looking for precedents for accusing recent popes of heresy.  But Chapman and Butler were perfectly mainstream orthodox Catholic academics of the day, whose work was in no way considered scandalous.  They were writing long before the debates over liberalism and traditionalism that arose after Vatican II, so that they cannot be accused of having any ax to grind in those debates. 

Indeed, Chapman was writing during the pontificate of Pope St. Pius X, the great foe of modernism and upholder of the authority of the papacy.  In fact, part of the point of Chapman’s book itself was precisely to uphold that authority, and in particular to defend the Council’s teaching on papal infallibility.  And yet for all that, Chapman does not shrink from the judgment that the historical facts show that “no Catholic has the right to deny that Honorius was a heretic” (p. 116).  The reason he could say this is that the error Honorius was guilty of did not occur in the context of an ex cathedra definition.  And thus Chapman’s judgement is perfectly within the bounds of what everyone acknowledged to be the orthodox understanding of the papacy even in Pius X’s day.

Honorius’s error

The Monothelite heresy arose as a sequel to the Monophysite heresy.  Orthodox Christology holds that Christ is one Person with two natures, divine and human.  Monophysitism holds that Christ has only one nature, the divine one.  Monothelitism can be understood as an attempt to find a middle ground position between Monophysitism and orthodoxy.  It holds that while there are two natures in Christ, there is only one will.  From the point of view of orthodoxy, this is unacceptable, for one’s will is an integral part of one’s nature.  Hence to deny the reality of two wills in Christ is implicitly to deny that he has two natures.  (I’m aware that the dispute over these heresies is more complicated than this quick summary lets on.  But the nuances are irrelevant to the particular purposes of this article.)

The trouble for Pope Honorius began when Sergius, patriarch of Constantinople, wrote to him on the topic of Christ’s will and proposed a compromise that might appeal to disaffected Monophysites.  In his reply, Honorius affirmed that it is better to avoid speaking of either “one or two operations” in Christ, and even affirmed a sense in which there is “one will” in Christ.  The problem is that the first claim seems to leave wiggle room for Monothelitism, and the second seems positively to affirm it.

To be sure, as defenders of Honorius have argued and as Chapman allows, Honorius’s intent was not heretical.  But Honorius’s statements gave ammunition to the Monothelites, who treated his words as a doctrinal definition and appealed to them in support of their position.  And as Chapman notes, whatever Honorius’s intentions, “in a definition it is the words that matter” rather than the intention behind them, and considered as a definition Honorius’s words “are obviously and beyond doubt heretical” (p. 16). 

Now, Honorius was not in fact proposing an ex cathedra definitive formulation, which is why his error is not incompatible with the teaching of Vatican I about the conditions on papal infallibility.  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.  And the error was extremely grave, for as Chapman notes, the Monothelite heresy really only gained momentum after Honorius’s response to Sergius, and partly as a result of it.

The popes following Honorius began to correct the situation by affirming orthodox teaching, and initially tried either to give Honorius’s words an orthodox sense or simply to ignore them.  But as the controversy grew (and involved a complex series of events and cast of characters including St. Sophronius, the Emperor Heraclius, Patriarch Pyrrhus of Constantinople, St. Maximus, and popes John IV, Theodore I, and St. Martin I, among others) it became harder to defend Honorius, whose words had done so much to instigate it.  Pope St. Martin and St. Maximus were among those who suffered severe persecution from the Monothelites, underlining the gravity of the consequences of Honorius’s error.

Honorius’s condemnation

The Third Council of Constantinople (680-681 A.D., also known as the Sixth Ecumenical Council recognized as authoritative by the Catholic Church) was called to deal with the crisis.  It condemned the exchange between Sergius and Honorius very harshly, stating:

The holy council said: After we had reconsidered… the doctrinal letters of Sergius… to Honorius some time Pope of Old Rome, as well as the letter of the latter to the same Sergius, we find that these documents are quite foreign to the apostolic dogmas, to the declarations of the holy Councils, and to all the accepted Fathers, and that they follow the false teachings of the heretics; therefore we entirely reject them, and execrate them as hurtful to the soul.

But Honorius himself, and not merely his words, was also condemned, in terms no less harsh:

We define that there shall be expelled from the holy Church of God and anathematized Honorius who was some time Pope of Old Rome, because of what we found written by him to Sergius, that in all respects he followed his view and confirmed his impious doctrines.

The late pope is included by the council in a long list of anathematized heretics:

To Theodore of Pharan, the heretic, anathema!

To Sergius, the heretic, anathema!

To Cyrus, the heretic, anathema!

To Honorius, the heretic, anathema!

To Pyrrhus, the heretic, anathema!


And again:

We cast out of the Church and rightly subject to anathema all superfluous novelties as well as their inventors: to wit, Theodore of Pharan, Sergius and Paul, Pyrrhus, and Peter (who were archbishops of Constantinople), moreover Cyrus, who bore the priesthood of Alexandria, and with them Honorius, who was the ruler of Rome, as he followed them in these things.

By no means did this reflect any animus against Rome, nor a rejection of papal authority.  On the contrary, as Chapman emphasizes, the decrees of the council were signed by the representatives of the then current pope, Pope St. Agatho.  The council also warmly praises “our most blessed and exalted pope, Agatho,” and affirms that St. Peter “spoke through” him.  Agatho’s successor, Pope St. Leo II, confirmed the council, and added his own personal condemnation of his predecessor, stating:

We anathematize the inventors of the new error, that is, Theodore, Sergius… and also Honorius, who did not attempt to sanctify this Apostolic Church with the teaching of Apostolic tradition, but by profane treachery permitted its purity to be polluted.

Even that was not the end of it.  The Seventh Ecumenical Council of 787 A.D. (also known as the Second Council of Nicaea) reiterated the previous council’s condemnation:

We affirm that in Christ there be two wills and two operations according to the reality of each nature, as also the Sixth Synod, held at Constantinople, taught, casting out Sergius, Honorius, Cyrus, Pyrrhus, Macarius, and those who agree with them.

And again:

We have also anathematized… the doctrine of one will held by Sergius, Honorius, Cyrus, and Pyrrhus, or rather, we have anathematised their own evil will.

The Eighth Ecumenical Council of 869-870 A.D. (also known as the Fourth Council of Constantinople) reiterated the condemnation yet again:

We anathematize Theodore who was bishop of Pharan, Sergius, Pyrrhus, Paul and Peter, the unholy prelates of the church of Constantinople, and with these, Honorius of Rome.

As Chapman notes, in addition to these repeated anathemas:

It is still more important that the formula for the oath taken by every new Pope from the 8th century till the 11th adds these words to the list of Monothelites condemned: “Together with Honorius, who added fuel to their wicked assertions.” (pp. 115-16)

On top of that, Chapman adds: “Honorius was mentioned as a heretic in the lessons of the Roman Breviary for June 28th, the feast of St. Leo II, until the 18th century” (p. 116).

Over forty years passed between Honorius’s death and his condemnation by the first of the councils referred to.  But once he was condemned, the condemnation was repeatedly reaffirmed at the highest levels of the Church for centuries.

Can Honorius be defended?

This is why Chapman draws the conclusion: “Unquestionably no Catholic has the right to deny that Honorius was a heretic… a heretic in words if not in intention” (p. 116), and why Butler cites this conclusion sympathetically.  Some have tried to show how Honorius’s words can be read in an orthodox way, but as Chapman and Butler emphasize, this misses the point that the question of whether Honorius was a heretic cannot be settled by reference to his letters alone.  The fact that councils and later popes themselves have denounced him as a heretic is also crucial, for to deny that he was a heretic is thereby to challenge the judgment of these councils and popes.  To show that Honorius did not err, but at the cost of showing that these later popes and (papally approved) councils did err, would be a Pyrrhic victory.

Some have emphasized that Pope St. Leo II, in his own statement, seems to accuse Honorius only of aiding and abetting heresy rather than condemning him for being a heretic himself, as the Third Council of Constantinople had.  They seem to think this absolves Honorius of the charge of heresy.  But there are several problems with this move.  First, as Chapman notes, in one respect Leo’s statement is harsher than the council’s, not less harsh.  For Leo goes so far as to accuse his predecessor of polluting the purity of the Roman See itself, which the council had not done.  Second, Leo did confirm the council, and thereby lent authority to its decrees.  And those decrees explicitly condemn Honorius as a heretic.  Third, the later councils, as well as the later papal oath, reaffirmed Honorius’s anathematization. 

To be sure, there have over the centuries nevertheless been those who have tried to defend Honorius, the most eminent being St. Robert Bellarmine (in Book 4, Chapter XI of On the Sovereign Pontiff).  But his arguments are weak, and were rejected by later orthodox Catholic theologians.  For example, Bellarmine proposes that “perhaps” Honorius’s letter to Sergius was faked by the heretics, though he also argues that if this theory is rejected, the letter can be given an orthodox reading.  But these strategies obviously conflict with one another.  If the problematic parts of the letter were faked by heretics precisely for the purpose of spreading their heresy, then how can they plausibly be given an orthodox reading?  Or if these parts of the letter are in fact orthodox, how can it plausibly be maintained that they were faked?  Wouldn’t heretics forging a letter have put into it statements that clearly supported their position?

Then there is the fact that the Third Council of Constantinople condemned Honorius.  Here too Bellarmine suggests that one strategy to defend Honorius would be to propose that the relevant passages from the council proceedings were faked, and inserted by enemies of Rome.  But the council proceedings elsewhere praise Rome and other popes, so what sense would this have made?  Alternatively, Bellarmine suggests, perhaps the council really did condemn Honorius, but did so under the mistaken assumption that he was a heretic.  This is not a problem, Bellarmine says, because a council can be mistaken about a historical (as opposed to doctrinal) matter.  But even if the council had been mistaken about Honorius, in condemning him it was teaching that popes can (when not speaking ex cathedra) be guilty of heresy, and that is a doctrinal matter.  The larger lesson of the case of Honorius (namely that popes can err when not teaching ex cathedra) would remain, whatever one thinks of Honorius himself.

Bellarmine even suggests that maybe Leo’s letter, too, was faked!  The positing of so much fakery illustrates just how desperate the arguments of even as fine a mind as Bellarmine’s have to be in order to try to get Honorius off the hook.   And that is why such arguments were largely abandoned.  As another Catholic historian of the era of Chapman and Butler, Fr. H. K. Mann, stated in his book The Lives of the Popes in the Early Middle Ages, Second edition, Volume I, Part I:

Contrary to the opinion of some Catholic writers, [Honorius’s] letters are here allowed to be genuine and incorrupt; as are also the Acts of the Sixth General Council.  This is in accordance with nearly all the best Catholic modern authors. (p. 337)

To be sure, Mann defends the orthodoxy of the actual content of Honorius’s letter to Sergius.  But he acknowledges that the council and later popes did indeed condemn Honorius.  In response to the suggestion made by some that the council criticized Honorius only in some weaker manner than it did the Monothelite heretics, Mann says that “it seems, however, more likely that they did” condemn him in the same manner, and that “it cannot… be denied that it is more natural to assume that all those condemned by the council were all condemned in the same sense” (p. 343).  Mann also notes, as Chapman does, that “after the sixth general council the Popes in their profession of faith were wont to condemn Sergius, etc., ‘and Honorius, who gave encouragement to their heresy’” (p. 344).

The lesson of Honorius

As Chapman emphasizes, the Third Council of Constantinople was operating with a very strong conception of papal authority, not a weak one.  The council warmly accepted a letter from Pope St. Agatho defining the correct, orthodox teaching on the controversy.  Moreover:

It deposes those who refused to accept [the letter].  It asks [the pope] to confirm its decisions.  The Bishops and the Emperor declare that they have seen the letter to contain the doctrine of the Fathers; Agatho speaks with the voice of Peter himself; from Rome the law had gone forth as out of Sion; Peter had kept the faith unaltered.  (pp. 108-9)

And yet the very same council anathematized Honorius.  Chapman continues:

How was it possible to assert this, and yet in the same breath to condemn Pope Honorius as a heretic?  The answer is surely plain enough.  Honorius was fallible, was wrong, was a heretic, precisely because he did not, as he should have done, declare authoritatively the Petrine tradition of the Roman Church.  To that tradition he made no appeal, but had merely approved and enlarged upon the half-hearted compromise of Sergius. (p. 109)

Honorius, unlike Agatho, was capable of erring in his own letter because he was not there speaking ex cathedra.  And he actually did fall into error in this case because he was not teaching in continuity with tradition.  After all, as the First Vatican Council emphasized when proclaiming papal infallibility, the whole point of infallibility is not to license the pope to teach novelties, but on the contrary, to guarantee that he preserves traditional teaching:

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.

The lessons of the case of Honorius are clear.  When a pope is not speaking ex cathedra, it is possible for him to fall into error.  And if, in that context, he teaches something contrary to the traditional teaching of the Church, he will fall into error – and may thereby lead others into error as well, with catastrophic consequences for the Church.  But the Church will in such a situation nevertheless right herself before long, and will come to judge harshly any pope who fomented such a crisis.

Related posts:

The Church permits criticism of popes under certain circumstances

Aquinas on St. Paul’s correction of St. Peter

Papal fallibility

The strange case of Pope Vigilius

Two popes and idolatry

Pope Victor redux?


  1. I always thought when Honorius said in his letter to Sergus that in Christ there was one will he meant "the two wills are in harmony" and he was going against the idea there where two contrary wills in Christ. Like I can say Ed Feser and James Scott are of one will on the Divine Origin of the Catholic Faith.
    But it doesn't mean Dr. Feser and I dinna' have our own distinct wills.

  2. And if, in that context, he teaches something contrary to the traditional teaching of the Church, he will fall into error – and may thereby lead others into error as well, with catastrophic consequences for the Church. But the Church will in such a situation nevertheless right herself before long, and will come to judge harshly any pope who fomented such a crisis.

    I can't wait.
    Well, I guess I CAN wait, because I have to. But soon, O Lord, make your presence known to those who flout the teachings of your holy Church!

  3. The article is informative and all but I do have some problems with the overall harsh tone of the article especially the ending where in it seems like some of kind of coping mechanism, which more or less translates to "The going is tough boys, but here is something you can look forward to that will strengthen your faith, the punishment and harsh judgement of those sinners (Followed by Loud Cheers)."

    Why can't we just take a more positive route and pray for the conversion and change of those who we don't think are on the right path, why must we depend on looking forward to some fantasized harsh judgement and punishment of those who have lost their way so that our faith is not shaken.

    To quote Pope Benedict XVI from God is With Us from the chapter God’s Yes and His Love Are Maintained Even in Death

    "The very heart of the faith has been lost to anyone who supposes that it is only worthwhile, if it is, so to say, made worthwhile by the damnation of others. Such a way of thinking, which finds the punishment of other people necessary, springs from not having inwardly accepted the faith; from loving only oneself and not God the Creator, to whom his creatures belong. That way of thinking would be like the attitude of those people who could not bear the workers who came last being paid a denarius like the rest; like the attitude of people who feel properly rewarded only if others have received less. This would be the attitude of the son who stayed at home, who could not bear the reconciling kindness of his father. It would be a hardening of our hearts, in which it would become clear that we were only looking out for ourselves and not looking for God; in which it would be clear that we did not love our faith, but merely bore it like a burden."

    End quote

    To forestall some usual tired objections, obviously this doesn't deny the reality of hell or the reality that some human beings will go to hell or the reality of punishment. These Truths are obvious from Christ's clear words where he says "Many will not be Able". (Although on the question of relative numbers and percentages, I am inclined to agree with Cardinal Avery Dulles where he mentioned that God hasn't provided any such stats or figures like more then 50% etc. Those who interpret the narrow path and wide path in that way are free to do so but other interpretations such as taking it to be a practical warning and not as a prediction are legitimate opinions, The pratical warning interpretation is taken by Pope Benedict XVI in "God and The World " under the question "Two Roads". As in the Book of Revelations, John mentioned he saw an innumerable crowd of people.)

    The main point I am trying to make here is that, looking forward to people's punishments isn't healthy and shouldn't be encouraged. You shouldn't comfort people who is faith has been shaken by ambiguous statements by saying "don't worry, those who made those statements will be brutally punishment".

    1. @ Norm,

      "(Followed by Loud Cheers)"

      There were no loud cheers for harsh punishment. You misreport and miscast Ed's words for some purpose of your own.

      " 'don't worry, those who made those statements will be brutally punishment' "

      He didn't say that. You're attacking a straw man.

      Tom Cohoe

    2. @Tom Cohoe

      Obviously I didn't mean it as if there were literally loud cheers.

      I meant it as a euphemism as in that's the impression that one tends to get.

      What Prof Feser said was

      "But the Church will in such a situation nevertheless right herself before long, and will come to judge harshly any pope who fomented such a crisis."

      What was the requirement of the last sentence concerning harsh judgement if not a reassurance to some people that severe judgement will be passed on those who have erred ?

      What are the consequences of a "harsh judgement" if it is not a harsh punishment.

      Could have ended it with, "The Church will right itself."

    3. @ Norm,

      "I meant it as a euphemism as in that's the impression that one tends to get."

      It was the opposite of a euphemism. It was a stress - biased towards what you wanted to denounce, a funny piece of performance art.

      Ed, stating what he believed, did nothing wrong. How does the impression that you personally tend to get become the impression that "one" tends to get, as if your private opinion is a matter of substantial fact for which Ed must answer? How does a statement of what he believes become a "coping mechanism"?

      Your report of his words is a joke. It is false witness.

      "Could have ended it with, 'The Church will right itself.' "

      You could have argued your point without dragging Ed into it at all.

      You didn't. That's your problem, not his. He doesn't have to pass his words by you for psychoanalysis, the tyrant's dream, before he publishes them.

      Sheesh - you would think he should ask you politely and you will write nice liberal articles for him.

      Tom Cohoe

    4. Hi Norm,
      Much respect to you, and while I agree that you could take Dr. Feser's ending in that way, before I read your post I took it as meaning that the Church's apostolic and papal offices would continue to be guided by the Holy Spirit, both in teaching truth and in refuting heretics, be they popes or no.
      Additionally, I disagree that it is not healthy to desire other's punishment. Obviously, bloodthirstiness (of a physical or spiritual nature) is incorrect, the desire to have punishment where perhaps a lighter sentence would do, but that is merely one end of the bookends of virtue. Justice may require such harsh punishments, but it may not necessarily. C.S. Lewis wrote on this in his book "Mere Christianity," with the example of a man who cheats and lies his way through life without any consideration for others' welfare, and he challenges the reader not to have a desire that the flag should be planted in that rebellious soul, which is just a healthy manifestation of justice. I'm not trying to equate Honorius to that, only to show that a desire for justice and retributive punishment isn't in itself a wrong, even if the judgment is harsh, and I think that you would agree that misleading souls from salvation is a particularly heinous crime. I don't think Dr. Feser is trying to make a slight against Pope Francis either, for that matter.

    5. Dear Kevin

      Thank You for your kind of reply.

      Yes I do agree misleading souls away from salvation is a heinous crime.

      And I agree with your take on the punishment as well.

      My point was just that the rightful desire for someone's punishment shouldn't be the make or break with regard to our faith. Maybe there won't ever be an ideal Pope who will uphold everything. As I mentioned in the above example, it's possible that one may get a Pope who is orthodox in all respects except for the death penalty where he is inspired by NNLT.

      While being a part of the Church on Earth, Our faith should extend beyond this world to the Church in Heaven.

      God will decide who gets punished and who won't, maybe that might be in our accordance with our judgement or maybe it won't.

      But our faith should remain steady nevertheless.

      Again Thanks for you kind reply :)

    6. Hi @Tom Cohoe

      I don't think I am the only one who could have got that impression. There could be people who read it but decided not to express it. Nevertheless I did expres myself so I'll defend myself against some of the points you made.

      If I make an argument against what Professor Feser said, then obviously I will have to invoke him.

      I am willing to concede that my mention of those "loud cheers" was unjust and uncharitable of me.

      But I will stick to my point that the last sentence could have been put in a better way.

      With regards to your point that stating something believed many times in a short span of time doesn't make it an urgent matter, well then what does is the question? I mean obviously one did not see these kind of post during Pope Benedict XVI's papacy.

      As for novelty, well I think we agree there that it is not a novelty. I was just saying that Prof.Feser is trying to make that point as well.

      As for disdain, it wasn't the reference to "chaotic" but rather the fact that it was mentioned that it will eventually be a blip and the constant references in that post "Do not abandon your Mother" to this papacy as one which is causing immense suffering. I don't think that this papacy has been that bad, which is not to cast aside the ambiguous statements etc but I don't really sympathise with those who want to leave the Church merely because of Pope Francis statements. Many of which are unconfirmed at times, especially when someone says they met him and he said so-so.

      As for comedian, well..I do aspire to comedy to quote Elon Musk :)

    7. @ Norm,

      "If I make an argument against what Professor Feser said, then obviously I will have to invoke him."

      Not at all. You can make your point without making a personal attack.

      "the last sentence could have been put in a better way."

      Nope. He was making his point, not yours. Why should he represent you? Add arrogance to the list of sins spoiling your act.

      The sentence where you use "novelty" accuses Professor Feser of thinking in a manner that you just made up out of whole cloth. Attacking him for this fabrication of yours just seeks your own aggrandization, not truth or justice. Shame on you!

      You say that "the constant references in that post 'Do not abandon your Mother' to this papacy as one which is causing immense suffering" is disdainful because the papacy has not been "that bad". Well, feeling that one is being driven from the Church by improperly rectified sexual abuse scandals and by leaving heterodox opinion at the highest levels standing without clear or any correction or even with encouragement from the highest levels might not cause you to suffer, but lightly dismissing the suffering of others is not right.

      You need to work hard to meet Elon Musk's standard of comedy. He has billions to work with and he doesn't spoil his act with prolonged ax grinding against an innocent target. Comedy can easily become ugly and make people feel ashamed for laughing at it. Whatever you think, if you leave Ed out of it instead of acting as a papally approved censor, your comedy will lighten up and get funnier.

      Tom Cohoe

    8. Hi Tom

      The sentence in which I used novelty merely emphasized the point of these posts namely to demonstrate that it is possible for a pope to commit heresy and it has happened before.

      Here's what I said

      "hence the urgency to show that it is possible for a Pope to commit heresy so that it isn't seen as some kind of novelty"

      In this very post he mentions

      "The lessons of the case of Honorius are clear. When a pope is not speaking ex cathedra, it is possible for him to fall into error. "

      To quote Prof. Feser from twitter while he was replying to someone who questioned that the arguments in this post are also used by heretical catholics (sedes, liberals) to habitually disagree with Papal statements

      "But there are also people whose faith is shaken because they think they're expected to swallow that which contradicts past doctrine. There's a danger in not addressing that worry by keeping silent about the possibility of legitimate disagreement merely because some abuse it."

      It doesn't seem that I said anything different, danger implies urgency.

      As for what you mentioned about the abuse scandals, personally, I feel it's a bit uncharitable to lay all of the blame at the feet of Pope Francis, 99% of the all the abuse took place preceding this papacy and were just revealed during this papacy, obviously there have been some hush ups which should be criticised but those same kind of cover ups took place on a very large scale during Pope St JPII's papacy, And even Pope Benedict was aware of Mccarrick and had already imposed some sanctions. How Prelates may choose to respond to some scandal is a matter of Prudence, prudence maybe wrong at times. There has also been large scale reform though in regards to the issue though, such as making the reporting process easier, efforts to make the process more transparent, candidates to priesthood are also scrutinized to a very high degree, so there has been some positive change.

      As for heresy with regards to sexual morality being perpetuated at the highest level, with regards to same sex marriage and blessings of such couples and the like, the document by the CDCF which was put out awhile ago was quite firm, Pope Francis approved it. Is it not better to go by an official statement then by unconfirmed reports of someone reporting what the Pope allegedly told them.

      With regards to Amoris Latetia, Orthodox Theologians like Mathew Levering have shown that the texts in doubt can be given an orthodox interpretation. Obviously it would be better if Pope Francis answered the Dubium himself and we could criticise him for that. But that doesn't entail that this issue is such that people have cause to question their faith especially when orthodox
      Interpretations have been offered. In the absence of clarification, one ought to charitably go with the orthodox interpretation while respectfully awaiting a reply. If you are someone with a high position in Rome you could even respectfully use your influence to perhaps prompt some response.

      As for "leaving heterodox opinion at the highest levels standing without clear or any correction", It can even be argued that Pope John Paul II did the same with Walter Kasper by promoting him who evidently has a heretical postion on the very issue of divorce. Pope Benedict XVI while obviously and sternly disagreeing with him on this issue, did appraisingly mention Kasper's book on Christ in the intro to his final books on the new testament and Christ.

      Also if I feel that something should be expressed in a particular way, why can't I suggest it, whether it's taken or not is irrelevant and doesn't change my admiration and respect for Prof.

      Elon Musk goes after who he wants without fear lol, did you forget that guy who helped save those kids from the cage. And he jokes about everyone be it republicans or democrats or Trump or Biden.

    9. @ Norm,

      About Elon Musk, I said "he doesn't spoil his act with prolonged ax grinding against an innocent target". See that word "prolonged" in there? That was inserted with care. In other words I did not claim that he does not go after the innocent as well as the guilty. It is the hammering away at the same person that changes it from humor to something else.

      "I feel it's a bit uncharitable to lay all of the blame at the feet of Pope Francis"

      Who has done that? Meanwhile, Francis is the pope now, so his actions will naturally get the most attention.

      I have not been criticizing Pope Francis, but "Amoris Laetitia" (which you mention), the Pope's communication, has prompted many criticisms of the lack of guidance from the Pope, and if these criticisms were not well founded, the plain, simply spoken guidance becomes all the more important. That people feel the absence of this is a problem. The suffering of people who feel, rightly or wrongly, that the Church is going off the rails needs urgent attention, not "official" statements or abstruse theology from people no one has heard of. It needs careful shepherding by the person who issued the letter - the Pope.

      That its absence is no excuse for loss or destabilization of faith really says nothing. No one has excuses for their sins, and yet everyone faces attacks caused by imperfect trust in God precisely because we are human, and that is why loving pastoral guidance is needed. "Let God sort them out, I know why their fears are unjust" is insufficient. The absence of this guidance is fair game for criticism. The respectful waiting that you advise justifiably grows into real criticism with time. It is in a sense an abandonment of the straying sheep who need to be brought back into the fold.

      "Also if I feel that something should be expressed in a particular way, why can't I suggest it, whether it's taken or not is irrelevant and doesn't change my admiration and respect for Prof."

      I am happy that you admire and respect Ed, but it has not sounded like it. Instead of hounding him to speak the way you like, suggest it in general without naming him, which makes it sound like you have a mission against him.

      Are we supposed to have a mission against a brother in Christ?

      Tom Cohoe

    10. Dear Tom

      Thanks for your kind reply!

      I get your point.

      Obviously we aren't supposed to have a mission against a brother in Christ or for that matter any sincere seeker of truth.

      I honestly don't have a mission against Prof.Feser, I mean if I did, I wouldn't post on the blog in the first place, nor would I have complemented this post as informative if you look to my very first post. I have always admired Prof. Feser's work and eagerly await all his new work including blog posts

      Also to be fair to myself, I didn't mention Professor Feser by name in my first post which was related to the article, I only alluded to a certain section of the article namely the ending which I personally thought may come off in a certain away. I admit that the initial snide comment (cheers etc) was in retrospect not required and uncharitable on my part. But in that entire first post if you look at it, there wasn't any reference to Prof but only my take on faith and punishment.

      In the second post where I did mention Prof Feser by name (negative, critical), I also mentioned "justifiably" and "understandably". I even mentioned justifiably so as to suggest that the frustration and overall bleak outlook on this papacy can indeed be justified. And can even be the subject of an interesting and wholesome exchange like the one we had now. Even I become negative and critical from time to time. It isn't really wrong to be so. Again I admit the word "bitter" was a bit of an overstatement. I think what I was going for was is, "exasperated" with this papacy.

      And the overall context of that second post was to point to a hypothetical scenario where a Pope who was orthodox in every except the death penalty and ponder on what would be or should be our reactions. I indicated that Prof's reaction would be more or less similar to what it is now however you may classify it. And I also indicated that I am unsure of what my reaction would be in that hypothetical scenario, maybe it could be just like Prof's. I was namely looking for answers on that, on what should be our reaction, not passing judgement as such on anyone.

    11. @ Norm,

      Norm, you have sufficiently modified your stance that, in good conscience, I can no longer speak against you. Differences remain, but only pride could prompt me to continue the argument, pride of a sinful nature.

      I celebrate that we recognize each other and Professor Feser as brothers in Christ.

      Where I said, "No one has excuses for their sins, and yet everyone faces attacks caused by imperfect trust in God precisely because we are human, and that is why loving pastoral guidance is needed", I wish to clarify that loss of trust (faith) is sin and it is the duty of the shepherd to guide the lost sheep back to safety with the flock.

      Professor Feser wrote an extensive analysis of the parallel duty of the theologian where such pastoral care is insufficient, this parallel duty sometimes going so far as to criticize publicly. It is taken mostly from the work (Donum Veritatis) of Cardinal Ratzinger. Professor Feser quotes him extensively.

      You might find it worthwhile to make a close study of this analysis of Feser's, titled "The Church permits criticism of popes under certain circumstances". It is very interesting.

      Now, assisted by the intervention of Our Holy Mother Mary and some of my favorite saints, Saint Aquinas, Saint Therese of Lisieux, and the Laughing Pope (https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/amp/news/35044/pope-francis-never-forget-to-smile-even-when-life-is-hard), I ask the Holy Spirit to grace you with all the guidance you need.

      In Christ,

      Tom Cohoe

  4. Also I find interesting another hypothetical scenario. I think one that suggests that we shouldn't hold to very idealistic views of what a Pope should be.

    From all the articles over the years, one might get the impression that Prof Feser's biggest beef with Pope Francis has been with regards to the death penalty.

    Suppose a very orthodox Pope is appointed who doesn't make ambiguous statements, who upholds traditional norms on sexual morality, gender, abortion, liturgy in a stern way.

    But there's a catch, he is very inspired by the works of Prof Robby George, John Finnis, E Christian Brugger, Germain Grisez.

    He comes to formally declare that the death penalty is intrinsically evil, what should be our reaction ? What would be Prof Feser's reaction ? I think that he would be just as negative and critical and bitter as he is now even though given Pope Francis at the moment, I think it's understandable and justifiable but with the aforementioned hypothetical scenario I don't think it would be.

    Like personally I think that the death penalty is legitimate and is not an intrinsically evil act

    However this ongoing tussle on this issue among orthodox Theologians has been intriguing to watch.

    Germain Grisez has never been disciplined by the CDCF, he was in fact called for consultation on Veritatis Splendor.

    Same for the rest of the NNLTL folk.

    So in the aforementioned above hypothetical scenario I think I would be inclined to submit to the Pope. I am not sure though.

    Any thoughts ?

    1. @ Norm,

      Ed is not "negative and critical and bitter".

      Your sermon does not resonate with me.

      Tom Cohoe

    2. Well if you just take a quick online survey of all the orthodox catholic philosophers/academics (Dr Matthew Levering, Dr Chris Kaczor, Dr Scott Hahn , Dr Michael Patrick Barber, Dr Jennifer Frey, Dr Robert P George etc) and analyse their public statements , you would probably find that Prof Feser has been the most critical and open about his reservations with regards to this papacy.

      As for negativity, the very reason why there has been an increase of posts on these topics is that, Prof.Feser thinks that Pope Francis is close to committing heresy, hence the urgency to show that it is possible for a Pope to commit heresy so that it isn't seen as some kind of novelty, which is kind of a bleak or negative outlook don't ya think ?

      I mean instead of preparing for the worst, might it not be better to pray for the best, to pray that such a scenario doesn't arise in the first place, to pray that the Holy Spirit grant Pope Francis sound wisdom.

      As for bitterness, well perhaps that was bit of an overstatement but if you look at some of Prof Feser's passages over the years, to quote him

      "Pope Honorius’s errors were not condemned until forty years after his death. Further examples could easily be given. Few people remember these events now, because things eventually worked themselves out so completely that they now look like blips. If the world is still here centuries from now, Pope Francis’s chaotic reign will look the same way to Catholics of the future. "

      Prof Feser's absolute disdain for the papacy has been quite evident.

    3. @ Norm,

      "Prof Feser has been the most critical"

      The old survey-of-a group-selected-by-Norm fallacy. Funny stuff.

      "hence the urgency to show ..."

      Ridiculous. Stating something believed does not make it an urgent matter to the person stating - even if stated many times.

      "so that it isn't seen as some kind of novelty"

      Heh, heh, heh. Something that has been held and acted on for centuries isn't a novelty.

      You need to bill yourself as a comedian, not as a serious thinker.


      " 'Pope Francis’s chaotic reign' "

      That a person's actions have been chaotic does not mean that the only attitude possible towards him is disdain - except in some TV situation comedies. In reality, the attitude could be any degree of concern up to prayerful intercessory requests for the enlightenment of the chaotic person.

      You are the one showing urgent disdain in very odd arguments.

      (Ed, where do you get these comic entertainers?)


      Tom Cohoe

  5. Laudator Temporis ActiOctober 5, 2022 at 1:59 AM

    If infallibility per se is respectable on philosophical grounds, why do so few philosophers believe in it? And those that do believe in it nevertheless don't agree about who or what has it. Far more people believe in the existence of God (1) than in the infallibility of the Pope (2), so how can one claim that the arguments for 2 are as secure as the arguments for 1? Furthermore, theologians and philosophers who do accept a particular strand of infallibility don't agree on how to interpret supposedly infallible teachings within that strand.

    It's a mess. But a fascinating one.

    1. @ Laudator Temporis Acti

      "If infallibility per se is respectable on philosophical grounds, why do so few philosophers believe in it? [etc, etc, etc]"

      Philosophy isn't theology.

      Furthermore, simply, truth does not correspond with popularity.

      Tom Cohoe

    2. Laudator Temporis ActiOctober 6, 2022 at 2:24 AM

      "truth does not correspond with popularity."

      It does in math. Only lunatics and the mathematically illiterate reject things like the impossibility of squaring the circle (under the classic conditions). But mathematicians don't claim to be infallible. They don't need to, because their proofs are objective.

      "Philosophy isn't theology."

      They overlap and the arguments for infallibility fall within philosophy. In any case, you haven't addressed the question of why there are competing versions of infallilibility.

    3. @ Laudator Temporis Acti,

      "It does in math"

      Even in math, truth never corresponds with popularity because math depends on the logic under which it is developed and even humans can develop a logic under which what is true in one system is false under another. Under what authority do you ban the rule of inference "(A is true implies that A is false)"? If every mathematician in the world called such a rule lunacy, that would not be sufficient to ban it. Lunacy is not even a mathematical concept.

      This proffered rule of inference is perhaps the logic of some rock. Since everything is false under its logic, it wills nothing, hence does nothing of its own will. Conventionally we say a rock does not have a will.


      A lunatic has a logic somewhat damaged (by convention) but still closer to normal. He can will himself (usually) to put food into his mouth and even raid the fridge, and even if his neurons are so destroyed that he can't do that, his body will digest the food under its own degraded logic. Of course he could be dying, but that is to be undergoing a change of state to something that is no longer human (lacking a will).

      Mathematics just is not objective, somehow outside of creation. It is what God wants it to be. Furthermore, God is beyond our understanding. If He wants it to be possible to square a circle, he can make it so and we have only human arguments against it using the logic that God willed us to normally have, rather than another.

      "you haven't addressed the question of why there are competing versions of infallilibility"

      This funny question is like asking why the disagreement of two witnesses to an event on a street should not imply that nothing happened. If theologians disagree, so what? People disagree. You can't prove anything important from that.

      Tom Cohoe

    4. Laudator Temporis ActiOctober 8, 2022 at 2:32 AM

      "Mathematics just is not objective, somehow outside of creation. It is what God wants it to be."

      No, God is not free in that way. He doesn't "want" 127 to be a prime and 128 to be a power of 2. They are those things per se.

      "If He wants it to be possible to square a circle, he can make it so..."

      No, He can't, if the attempt to square the circle takes place under the classic conditions. Nor can He make pi = 3 or 128 into a prime number. I don't think you understand either God's nature or mathematics.

      "If theologians disagree, so what? People disagree. You can't prove anything important from that."

      Ah, but you can: you can prove either that there is no objective proof or that something is interfering with people's ability to understand the objective proof. As I said: they don't disagree in math when there is an adequate and objective proof. But humans do disagree when there isn't such a proof or when cultural and psychological factors interfere. That is why they disagree about infallibility. Everyone claims to have a proof, but it differs from group to group: Catholics vs Orthodox vs Protestants vs Muslims vs etc. And there are also disagreements within the separate groups. So who is right? As I said, it's an absurd situation.

    5. @ Laudator Temporis Acti,

      "He doesn't "want" 127 to be a prime and 128 to be a power of 2. They are those things per se."

      They are these things for either one of two reasons.

      First, they are so because of a system of axioms with rules of inference that allows us to prove it as a conclusion of a formal argument. This method of proof is not necessarily connected with the world we measure and physically inhabit. For example, without the infinite parallel postulate the axioms can have added to them an intrinsic curvature in which by locally parallel transport a circle can be constructed whose area is a rational multiple of its radius and this circle can definitely be squared.

      So much for "per se" or human fiat. I don't even have to invoke the God beyond human understanding to get that.

      The second method is by measuring the physical world we inhabit and building up a finite mathematics which cannot be fudged up by arbitrarily adding axioms which have not been physically proven themselves.

      Well it is just God's choice (will) that the local physics supports your system. We can examine what God *can* do by examining what a model of God allows, but we cannot examine what God *cannot* do this way because God is greater than a model of God (a picture of you can show your hair color but it can't jump or walk - but you can jump or walk and jump because you are not limited by what the picture cannot do) . If you conclude from a model that God cannot do something, you have only proved that it can't be done in the model - which is not God.

      A good physical model of God is a computer with a program. A computer program exists in which any circle, measured in the program, is exactly 6 times its radius. This can be illustrated as a virtual reality in which virtual actors measure virtual circles and always get that result. It can be shown as a visual animation that can be watched, as in a computer game. This is a model of God. If it can be made logical (in the measuring sense, the second method of proof, in which axioms are experimentally determined as described above) on a computer, then God can make it logical in physical reality, which, of course, would be a different physical reality then the one we have come to know and love.

      Similarly, God is not limited to creating a physical universe where 127 is prime and 128 is a power of 2. It just outrages your sense of mathematical truth as it is known to you from living in this universe, but emotion doesn't belong in mathematical proofs (in this universe).

      It is just an old "rule" without ground that mathematics and logic are independent of God. It is just an assumption.

      "So who is right?"

      That you cannot, in your mind, know who is right does not mean that there is no truth or that no one can enunciate it on a particular matter. That 15 people give different accounts of some event does not mean that none of the accounts are correct. If you drive from Topeka to Billings and two witnesses disagree on what you had for lunch, that does not mean that neither of them were correct. You had a tuna and marshmallow sandwich. One witness said you had a ham and cheese sandwich. The other said you had a tuna and marshmallow sandwich.

      Is this inconceivable?

      Tom Cohoe

    6. Laudator Temporis ActiOctober 10, 2022 at 2:54 AM

      As I expected, you simply hid behind a cloud of words and told me things that, as you were well aware, I already knew.

      " For example, without the infinite parallel postulate the axioms can have added to them an intrinsic curvature in which by locally parallel transport a circle can be constructed whose area is a rational multiple of its radius and this circle can definitely be squared."

      Indeed. Why did you think I said "under classic conditions"? Because I liked the way the words looked on the page and had no idea what they meant?

      "That 15 people give different accounts of some event does not mean that none of the accounts are correct."

      Indeed. Did you think this is a revelation to me? However, the differing accounts of infallibility do PROVE that humans can be wrong about infallibility. Yes? Therefore, I'd like to know how you escape human fallibility on this topic.

      "Similarly, God is not limited to creating a physical universe where 127 is prime and 128 is a power of 2."

      Indeed. But can he create a physical universe containing 127 and 128 in which the former is not prime and the latter is not a power of 2? I don't think so. And can you answer that question honestly? Again, I don't think so.

    7. @ Laudator Temporis Acti,

      "Why did you think I said 'under classic conditions'?"

      I have no idea what you mean by "classic conditions". The geometry of the surface of a sphere goes back to the Greek mathematitions of classic Greece in the 5th century BC.

      "However, the differing accounts of infallibility do PROVE that humans can be wrong about infallibility."

      You are hiding behind a funny obsession about infallibility. The joke is that it amounts to a useless and ridiculous infinite regress. I.e. "You are not infallible about that" ... "Yes, but you are not infallible about _that_" ... "Sure, but you are absolutely not infallible about_THAT_, etc, etc, etc ad infinitum.

      Humans are going to talk about things anyway. If you are going to try to block these things by saying "not infallible", why not say nothing because you are not infallible either.



      "But can he create a physical universe containing 127 and 128 in which the former is not prime and the latter is not a power of 2?"


      Every created thing is an image of God even though the created thing may not seem like God at all. We say that the image exists pre-eminently in God. So if one says a house is like the architect who designed it, we say that the house exists pre-eminently as an image in the mind of the architect, and he creates his observable plan drawings from the unobservable image in his mind and the house is built from these drawings by his agent, the carpenter. So the house is an image of the architect. This is straight out of Aquinas.

      In the same way, I can specify a model, or image, of God. The model exists pre-eminently in God and is like Him, even though it is just me who specifies the model. God is not limited by the limitations of the model, but what can be shown in the model exists pre-eminently in God.

      The model, or likeness, is an infinite unbiased binary sequence of 50/50 bits. All finite subsequences exist within this infinite sequence. If the consecutive binary digits are each 50/50, then the infinite sequence is a normal sequence. Even so, any subsequence of specified finite length could be missing a particular sub-sub-sequence of itself because such a subsequence itself must appear normally within the infinite sequence. Therefore, discovery by bitwise examination of a subsequence of finite length, no matter how long, that misses a particular sub-sub-sequence cannot be a demonstration that the infinite sequence is not normal.

      A description of finite space and time is encoded by a finite subsequence of the infinite normal sequence. A computer that can run the subsequence as a program, including memory, could virtually reproduce all that we experience of reality, given the finite resolution of our senses in time and space. We would not be able to tell whether a missing sub-sub-sequence would exist further along in time in which the rules of arithmetic are no longer what they were. Since the infinite sequence is of random bits, the rules of arithmetic really are not rules. They have just appeared to be rules by random chance. The model, as explained, does not specify God or God's will. So we cannot say from the model whether God could change what appeared to be rules of arithmetic into completely different rules where 128 is not a power of 2 and 127 is a composite number.


      Tom Cohoe

    8. @ Laudator Temporis Acti,


      The following is just a sample of the part of the random subsequence that describes physical reality as we sense it in which, tomorrow, say, 128 ceases to be a power of 2 and 127 becomes composite. It is klutzy because it is just my idea. The klutziness of my idea and the subsequence describing the future are just of me and the model. They therefore do not limit God to a klutzy technique for causing this cchange. In God, the situation where 128 is prime and 127 is prime, is beautiful. And remember, this is a simulation as a computer program. It is logical because the computer is a logic machine with a logical substrate producing all the virtual simulations.

      So in tomorrow's representation, when the new subsequence comes into play, whenever the question of prime or composite concerning 127 or 128 arises, the subsequence that is the virtual reality program now also runs the sub-sub-sequence that was missing in the part of the program representing times heretofore. The new stuff just adds 1 to 128 or 127, calculates whether the sum is prime or a power of 2 using the old rules, and pops out the new answer for the numbers before the addition was made.

      Voila, 127 is a power of 2 and 128 is a prime number.


      That's all I have time for today. This gives you time to cook up another fallibility argument and make more angry and disdainful responses before I continue with your eddy-better-cation.


      Tom Cohoe

    9. @ Laudator Temporis Acti,

      I need to clarify and correct my two part comment above.

      First, clarifications:

      A "50/50 bit" is a random bit with a 50% chance of being a 1 and a 50% chance of being a 0.

      Also, following the last sentence of the first part, add, "but we can say from the model that God cannot be limited to not being able to change the rules of arithmetic into completely different rules where 128 is not a power of 2 and 127 is a composite number, because they can be so changed in the model."

      Second, a correction:

      In the second part of the two part comment, the sentence "In God, the situation where 128 is prime and 127 is prime, is beautiful." needs to be corrected to "In God, the situation where 128 is prime and 127 is a power of 2, is beautiful."

      Tom Cohoe

    10. Laudator Temporis ActiOctober 11, 2022 at 3:01 AM

      Well, well, well. What an impressive (and completely unexpected) response. Btw, have you ever considered conducting cutting-edge research in Critical Race Theory? I know your natural diffidence and lack of narcissism will tell you that you're not intellectually equipped for it, but trust me: you're eminently equipped to match all the standards of rigor, reason and integrity that apply there.

      *** That's all I have time for today. ***

      Don't worry: you'll always be able to find time to listen to the sound of your own voice.

      *** This gives you time to cook up another fallibility argument ***

      The argument I cooked up at the beginning has never been addressed, so there's no need for that.

      *** and make more angry and disdainful responses before I continue with your eddy-better-cation. ***

      What clever use of language. Look, I understand that your Narcissistic Personality Disorder (or whatever your precise psychiatric condition is) prevents you from being honest or humble, but you might perhaps want to consider whether you've committed any sins in our little dialog (or not so little, on your side). That's assuming you are a Christian. I suspect you aren't and that you've just been engaging in some silly little adolescent game of intellectual masturbation.

      But if you are a Christian and do genuinely believe in infallibility, thanks for further eddy-better-cating me on the topic.

    11. @ Laudator Temporis Acti,

      Ha ha ha!


      You might want to reconsider your response after reading my corrections. You might be able to understand my two part comment with them.

      Otherwise, I suppose that, as in your latest, above, only through empty words will you seek to somehow satisfy your too sensitive soul.


      Tom Cohoe

    12. Laudator Temporis ActiOctober 13, 2022 at 2:48 AM

      "...only through empty words will you seek to somehow satisfy your too sensitive soul."

      Yes, you're right and I apologize for the adolescent, narcissistic and sinful nature of my blustering response. Empty words, as you said. I hope you've forgiven me for it. I would like to accept Catholicism, but infallibility is something that I can't see as proven.

      This is why I don't think I am obsessed by infallibility, which is an extraordinary claim that has very interesting philosophical, psychological and sociological implications. Nor do I think I have fallen into an infinite regress. There's an infinite loop, maybe:

      "I can fly unaided."
      "Amazing! Please show me."
      "There's no point, because YOU can't fly unaided." (etc)

      My point about math is this: when they're mathematicians doing math, Catholics, Orthodox, Protestants, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, atheists, black folk, white folk, sinners, saints, et al all happily agree about important results and accept complex proofs. Those groups obviously don't do that in theology. There are things at work in theology that aren't at work in math.

    13. @ Laudator Temporis Acti,

      Thank you for your unreserved apology. I accept it without any reservation of my own.

      "I would like to accept Catholicism [...]"

      I became a Catholic at age 65, after a long struggle in what I call "the Hell of spiritual agnosticism". This is common, as many narratives about "crossing the Tiber" tell us. I think, therefore, that your protests and arguments are a typical resistance that is your form of staying honest with yourself until you are satisfied with issues that concern you about Catholicism even while you are attracted by it.

      I would say issues like infallibility dog even practicing confirmed Catholics, as you can see by all the arguments here on Professor Feser's site. The way to become firm in your choice about Catholicism is to pray to the Holy Spirit for the grace to understand where truth lies. The answer that comes to your heart, in time, may not instantly enlighten you concerning infallibility. I suggest that you not avoid being distracted by it for now. Let it simmer on the back burner.

      The other issues here I have not time to answer. I will deal with them later.

      Holy Mother Mary, I ask for your intercession with the Holy Spirit, that Laudator Temporis Acti be graced with sufficient spiritual enlightenment from the Holy Spirit to find and accept the whole Truth in due time.

      Tom Cohoe

    14. @ Laudator Temporis Acti,

      "[..They] all happily agree about important results and accept complex proofs."

      There is much disagreement and wrangling. Look at the foundations of mathematics, for example. In your words, "It's a mess. But a fascinating one". There is nothing that cannot be proven by some mathematician, somewhere, using his version of what constitutes a proof and his version of what the meaning of mathematics is.

      Theology is more distant from concrete human experience than mathematics is, so the possibility of disagreement among theologians should not be surprising or upsetting or something to base a conviction upon that it is about nothing or that there is no truth or that we can not make progress towards truth. But if God, infinitely beyond our understanding, is truth, then we cannot see it without His help. There's more to it than formal, logic based argument.

      Tom Cohoe

    15. Laudator Temporis ActiOctober 14, 2022 at 1:53 AM

      Thanks for your replies and for helping me understand this topic better.

      "But if God, infinitely beyond our understanding, is truth, then we cannot see it without His help."

      Yes, I agree fully. But so would the Orthodox, Muslims, Jews, et al. But all these groups take the same premise -- God exists and guides us -- and reach different conclusions from those of the Catholic Church's. So my problem is: How do I know which of these groups is right? In short, how do I know who has escaped human fallibility? For you, it must be human fallibility that explains why the Orthodox don't accept Papal infallibility. But I don't see how you've escaped human fallibility yourself. Mathematical beliefs don't depend on culture and psychology in the way that theological beliefs do.

    16. Laudator Temporis ActiOctober 14, 2022 at 2:01 AM

      Thank you for your prayer. I'm attracted to Catholicism partly by the good example of Catholics such as yourself and Dr Feser, who show me that intelligence, belief and goodness are perfectly compatible. Orthodox folk have shown me the same, but Orthodoxy seems to me too much about the heart and too little about the head. Catholicism seems to get the balance better.

  6. I'm a bit puzzled as to why material and formal heresy are not distinguished in Honorius' case, since the Church straightforwardly calls not only his writings, but his very person anathema.

    But another question comes to mind :
    Are we then to believe that Honorius was both pope and a heretic ?

    This seems particularly relevant qua sedevacantism.

    1. Hi--I am glad to see someone else makes the distinction between formal and material. I commented on myself in my series of remarks before your comments were visible to me. That discussion might be of interest.

      My suspicion is that the formal/material distinction was not formally worked out in Catholic theology yet. In retrospect, it seems practically impossible for either a current or a deceased Pope to be judged a formal heretic, for reasons I give. I also comment on the ramifications this might have both for the Honorius case, as well as possible future cases like it.

    2. As Pope St. Leo II makes clear, a part of Honorius' condemnation is his aiding and abetting of the monophelite heresy. irrespective of whether he was formally or materially heretical, he is still culpable for the damage which he caused

  7. Isn't there a danger of circularity here? We know a Pope is teaching correctly because he is teaching in line with tradition, as long as he is not teaching ex cathedra. So what's the point of the Pope in non-infallible matters? It seems to come back to our private judgement on whether he is teaching in conformity to tradition.

  8. A helpful and informative discussion. I will break up my reflection in multiple posts, since what I have to say is too long for a single comment.

    One point I see consistently unmentioned in various assessments of Honorius I have read online over the years, though, is the importance of the distinction between formal and material heresy. I do not know when this distinction came to be (ahem) formally recognized in Catholic thought, but I suspect it was after the period of Honorius.

    What is significant in this in respect to the later Vatican I's declaration of papal primacy of jurisdiction is that the Pope himself is the final court of appeal. Hence, in many cases someone might not be aware of their heresy, and hold it materially but not formally (insofar as they are not consciously and obstinately asserting a view contrary to the teaching of the Church, as made clear to them by the ecclesial authorities). In other words, it is ultimately up the ecclesial authorities, and ultimately via appeal to the Pope himself, to declare a view heretical.

    It seems that it is only at that point that one who continues to hold the problematic view can be definitively called a formal heretic (such would apply earlier, of course, if the person himself acknowledged his view was heretical, but said he did not care, etc.). But in the case of one who does not consider his view heretical, it would require ecclesial judgment, and even this could be overridden by the Pope via appeal. That would be the final say, at least in that Pope's lifetime (another wrinkle in the case of Honorius, on which i'll comment more in a moment).

  9. (continued from previous post)

    So, in the case of Honorius, we see this distinction between formal and material heresy is not made, and the question of whether it could have been formally heretical is challenged by the fact that in his own lifetime (at least while holding the Chair), Honorius himself would have been the final court of appeal. Assuredly he would not have taken his own view to be heretical. So right there there seems to be a strong reason to declare he was at least not a FORMAL heretic. But this takes us to the question of the authority of FUTURE councils and Popes. Many questions arise.

    First, it seems to me that while current popes have primacy of jurisdiction, and infallibility in ex cathedra teaching, their juridical judgments are not infallible (leaving aside the issue of the infallibility of canonizations of saints). But of course, in their time no one would have the authority to ignore or override a Pope's juridical judgment. Vatican I makes this much clear. BUT, could such a person still believe, privately or publicly, that a current pope's judgment was wrong, even while admitting that neither he (that person himself) nor anyone other than the Pope could juridically do anything about this? It seems this would be the case, though it would also be within the Pope's power to discipline such a person.

    So, it does seem possible that a Pope could wrongly judge that someone was not in heresy, or that the person was heretical, but juridically that judgment would still have to be honored, since the current Pope would have the final say in such matters. (to be continued)

  10. (continued from previous 2 posts)

    With this in mind, take the question now to the issue of future Popes making judgments about the views of previous popes. As Vatican I notes, we might ask if a future Pope could override the judgment of a previous Pope as to whether that previous view was indeed heretical or not. Indeed, this might even hold to the previous Pope's own views. BUT, it is still hard to see how one could judge that the previous pope was FORMALLY heretical, since he presumably would not have taken his own view to be heretical. Could a future pope judge that a previous pope really did know his view to be heretical, etc.?

    This raises some very thorny issues indeed. It seems to me that this could not occur because as I understand it, part of the process of declaring someone a formal heretic is that the person is confronted by the authority with a judgment of heresy, and obstinately persists in his views. Obviously, this cannot happen for someone who is deceased.

    Another difficulty of course is that if we say future popes can override the judgment of prior popes, then we would also have to hold that an even later pope could override THAT judgment, and so on. BUT, given that we hold that Popes are bound by magisterial teaching, one might ask how this could happen. Or, are popes bound only by magisterial teaching, and not by all previous magisterial juridical decisions, etc.? If we hold that juridical judgments are not infallible (even if they are authoritative in their time), then it seems one could, in theory, later remove the anathemas of Honorius, or whatever. (It certainly seems in other cases a future pope could override earlier papal juridical decisions--e.g., we can conceive of a person excommunicated being reinstated in the church by a future pope, and so on--does this change when the decisions are concretized in conciliar declarations, etc.? Important questions--to be continued, one final segment....).

  11. (final segment--see previous 3 posts from me)

    So, taking all of these points together, we are left to wonder if anyone can be declared FORMALLY heretical posthumously (at least in a case where there is no evidence they were judged heretical and obstinately persisted in their views). This then raises the question as to whether one can, and/or should, be anathematized posthumously at all. This has obviously occurred, presumably also in cases other than that of Honorius, so it certainly can happen. BUT, what we do not have in Honorius's case is a judgment that he was FORMALLY heretical (a distinction I suspect was not fully formulated or conceived at the time of Council condemning him). And once this distinction between formal and material heresy is made, we must face more squarely whether it is appropriate, or even possible, to condemn someone who is not formally heretical (as it seems Honorius could not have been). Prior to this distinction being made, we can likely forgive such anathemas, but it seems this distinction now affects how such judgments can be made (and perhaps even how we assess anathemas given before the material/formal distinction was fully developed).

    In any case, we see that it was only a future pope and council who passed these judgments about a previous pope. At the very least, this should give great pause to anyone not in such authority to presume too definitely that anything a current or previous pope did was heretical. But this is especially true if one goes down the path of implying formal heresy, as for a current pope that would ultimately require the judgment of the Pope himself, and would be questionable if even a current Pope could do that in respect to a previous Pope (see above). I realize Feser is not arguing otherwise, but I suspect some who read this might apply what he says to current situations and neglect to appreciate the limits the points I raise place on such assessments. (And, we might add, such people could never have it seems even more than an opinion, though perhaps a well informed one, that a current pope held even a materially heretical view, since the judgment of heresy would ultimately fall to the Pope himself).

    All this said, to reiterate a previous key point, in respect to Honorius, we can ask whether the current distinction between formal and material heresy would preclude anathemas like those against Honorius from taking place today. And, we may even ask whether the authority of a current pope would permit qualifying, or perhaps even removing, the judgment against Honorius in later councils, depending upon the extent to which one determines juridical declarations of councils (bearing in mind juridical decisions do not seem to be infallible, even if in their time they are authoritative), are or are not components of magisterial tradition which oblige agreement with current judgments, papal or otherwise.

    1. Melkman, you seem to be fusing two different issues: the first is the difference between material heresy and formal heresy. Material heresy is believing X when the Church has taught not-X. You can do this by merely NOT KNOWING that the Church has taught not-X. Formal heresy adds to the material heresy the necessary spiritual ingredient of holding the proposition X obstinately, in the face of the Church's teaching, being aware that the Church teaches not-X. This is the sin of heresy in its formal aspect.

      Then there is another distinction, having the sin of heresy, versus the ecclesiastical crime of heresy. If you obstinately hold X, but never tell or act on that belief, you could not be held guilty in a Church court for the ecclesiastical crime, because there would be no knowledge of the fact. So your heresy could become publicly declared. So it would not be "formally" determined heresy, by which you mean "officially NAMED 'the sin of heresy' by the Church".

      And then there is the distinction between holding an X where the Church has taught not-X, but in which not-X is not a formally defined dogma to be affirmed with Catholic faith, or a definitive teaching "to be held" unreservedly but a lesser position, taught ("merely") as a firm tradition. While a Church court might find you guilty of some crime or other in publicly asserting X, it wouldn't necessarily be that of "heresy" as defined in the canons. For the latter, the teaching of not-X must be a definitive one, a teaching on which the Church has definitively resolved the debate. So, you could be found obstinately sinful in holding error, but not that of "formally defined" error.

      Your point seems to be that even if the position stated by Honorius was actually material heresy, (a) maybe he wasn't guilty of the obstinacy necessary for the sin, and (b) nobody in the Church could have successfully carried out an ecclesiastical trial to determine his guilty status so that it could be OFFICIALLY DECLARED to be "heresy" to all. erick below points out the additional issue that the true answer had not yet been defined.

      To all of this, I will submit: the point of this post is not to answer whether a pope might be officially declared a heretic, or whether a pope might hold a position that had already been officially defined to be wrong, but to discuss whether a pope might ever hold (and teach) what is, materially, erroneous, on faith and morals; and do so when he should have known better even if the Church had not yet officially defined the issue.

    2. Tony, thank you for taking the time to read my posts. I am not clear on what issues you think I am fusing, but I THINK it is that i did not distinguish formal heresy from the ecclesiastical crime of heresy.

      If I understand you correctly, I would say that my posts presume a case where a person does not consider his views to be heretical (as I would presume was the case with Honorius). I understand that a person could admit to knowing his view was heretical, and hold to it obstinately, and it be formal without ever being denounced by ecclesial authority.

      So I accept that in principle the ecclesiastical crime of heresy and formal heresy are different. BUT, it seems to me that where a person does not take his view to be heretical, they basically conflate. The debate then would be whether a judgment by an authority is needed for us to discern whether or not they had sufficient basis to know the view was heretical. I THINK this might be where you and I disagree.

      I would certainly acknowledge that one COULD be aware, in reality, that his view was heretical without such a judgment. But could anyone outside of the person himself sufficiently discern that? That is the question. My view would be that the only way we could know this definitively is if a judgment was made against the person, and he remained in his error.

      And I think this then applies to the case of Honorius (BTW, elsewhere I noted Erick's point that there is the additional issue of no council having declared on monothelitism yet at the time of Honorius' letter, an additional wrinkle). I did state in places that I realize Feser was not addressing as such the distinction between formal and material heresy. I raise it to point out that in principle one could be anathematized on material heresy alone where that was not a clear understanding of this distinction, but such an anathema in retrospect is problematic. So that would prompt a further discussion as to given that the Church never later teaches anything not already implicitly supported by the defined deposit of faith, we must presume that those condemning Honorius would in fact be aware of something like material and formal heresy distinction, and still condemned him anyway.

      My contention would be that we should not take their condemnation as proof that a pope could be guilty of teaching something sufficiently close to formal heresy, as I THINK you are suggesting. Rather, I would be inclined to do the reverse. Given that what the Church herself now implies (as I take it) about the relationship between formal heresy and the ecclesiastical crime of heresy (in cases where the person does not consider his view heretical), we can see that cases such as Honorius' prompted the need to develop the formal/material distinction more clearly. I think it is also fair to say that over time the Church has come to be procedurally more rigorous in understanding teachings to be DEFINITIVE only when formally pronounced in councils or ex catheda, even if we can contend that there can be infallible doctrine not so explicitly defined. But the ability to judge a person in relation to what they hold in such doctrines does in fact seem to differ when certain distinction and juridical procedures are more defined than they appear to have been in the time of Honorius' condemnation.

    3. As a brief follow up, Tony, I THINK your point is that their anathemas show that Honorius had sufficient basis to know his view was heretical, to where we in retrospect can say that he was guilty of something sufficiently close to what we today would call formal heresy. I would say the anathemas show that his condemners thought he was sufficiently guilty of BLAMEWORTHY heresy, but in time the distinction between formal and material, and its relation to ecclesiastical crime of heresy, needed to be developed in order to assess cases like Honorius' more effectively, the result being that such a condmenation today would not be tenable. (Though his teaching could still be criticized in juridical decisions, etc.). And this would prompt the follow up issue of whether juridical declarations of councils are subject to later revision, etc.--I don't have a firm stance on that, though I suspect it would be possible, at least in terms of adding various clarifications and disclaimers, etc. in light of more recent developments--i.e. not necessarily completing negating the acts against Honorius, but mitigating them, or something like that.

  12. All concede that a Pope can error in his non-definitive but authoritative magisterium(i.e. non-infallible). The question is to what extent can he error? It is also wrong to view such magisterial teaching as not having any more divine protection than that of any other Catholic, be they theologian or even Bishop. And the argument is that although error is possible, it is limited and there is protection against teaching grave errors that could endanger the souls of the faithful -because hundreds of millions of ordinary catholics aren't in a position to weigh each non-infallible but authoritative teaching and "decide" if the Pope is somehow contradicting a prior teaching that was CLEARLY taught definitively under the charism of infallibility - and only then give their "religious assent of will and intellect". Their is limited permission to dissent to such teaching and that presupposes the knowledge and capacity to judge such matters - over and against the Holy See who must have already made such a judgement before issuing the teaching.

    As for the Honorius case, you make the best case for your "side" but I am not compelled. Have read these detailed debates for years from both sides and I side with Bellarmine (other than the "forgery" defense) and his successors who have since made more detailed arguments than his to push back on the points you and the Catholic Encyclopedia author legitimately raise.

  13. The famous paragraph slipped into the Fourth Council of Constantinople’s deliberations had more to do with the inflamed politics of the East than the wrongs of Pope Honorius. The Lateran Council of 649, rejecting Monothelitism, had blamed the orientals, making no mention of Pope Honorius. Pope Agatho got his legates to bring to the Council of Constantinople a letter in which he stated: “From the day when the leaders of the Church of Constantinople tried to introduce heretical novelties in the immaculate Church of Christ, my predecessors never ceased to exhort them… that they had to abstain… [from proclaiming the error concerning the single will etc.]”.

    The Council’s machinations contradicted Pope Agatho and resulted in a wording that was modified by Pope Leo II (upon receiving notice of its deliberations) when he ratified it. This was the version he then sent to Constantinople and all the bishops of the West. Pope Leo, in his explanation of the affair to the bishops of Spain, clearly distinguished between the list of heretics named by the Council, and Pope Honorius, censured for being negligent.

    In a long article in the Dictionnaire de theolgie catholique (1931, the DTC was in another league entirely from the estimable Catholic Encyclopedia), Fr. E. Amann, professor of theology at Strasbourg, concludes: “For us, the two letters of Pope Honorius represent a doctrinal intervention of the Roman pontiff in a debated question: referring to previous decisions, without adding anything new to them except in manner, the pope teaches the theory of the two natures, each operating according to what is proper to it, and demands entire acceptance of this doctrine. Alongside this doctrinal teaching is a very unfortunate prescription on the silence to be kept relative to the formulas in dispute, ‘one or two energies’”.

    He concludes that “… [Honorius’] thought carries greater weight than the formulas by which he expresses it, that these formulas themselves can with the greatest rigor uphold an interpretation which does not deviate too much from official orthodoxy. But to conclude from this, as many theologians have done, the perfect orthodoxy of the two letters of Honorius, there is, it seems, some distance.”

    Had the Council made a dangerous mistake? “It would certainly have done so if, taking the question from an exclusively dogmatic point of view, it had passed a doctrinal and pointless judgment on the very teaching of Honorius….[because Honorius was basically orthodox, despite his expressions in these letters] the assembly set itself up as judge much less of a theology than of a type of conduct and those who engaged in it”.

    The weak arguments made by some theologians mentioned in the post do not devalue their stronger ones – which don’t get a proper mention; the question of the Pope losing the faith, the issue of formal heresy dealt with by Bellarmine, surely deserves some explanation. As far as the history goes, Pope Honorius was NOT a heretic, and Fr. Chapman’s 100 page work does not establish it.

    I think there is a distinction between ex cathedra infallibility (which permits no stain of error) and the foibles of Popes at other times which, however much destruction they cause, does not translate into meaning they can lose the faith. Obviously we aren’t expected to believe that off the cuff “magisterium” on planes is not free from tendentiousness to the point of destructive favouring of whatever error is in fashion. That the man doing this will not lose the faith, ever, is in line with what Vatican One defined concerning the Faith of the See of Rome that would not fail until the end of time. Reducing this to the extraction of ex cathedra statements one a century from men who could otherwise have no faith, or renounce Christ, seems more like the speech of Balaam’s ass.

    1. Whether or not the later popes and councils made an error about the details of Honorius' actual stance, their behavior demonstrates that THEY thought (and taught) that a pope could hold error and teach it. And...if they were WRONG in thinking so...that still proves the point.

    2. Had the Council made a dangerous mistake? “It would certainly have done so if, taking the question from an exclusively dogmatic point of view, it had passed a doctrinal and pointless judgment on the very teaching of Honorius….[because Honorius was basically orthodox, despite his expressions in these letters] the assembly [s] set itself up as judge much less of a theology than of a type of conduct and those who engaged in it”.

  14. Hi Ed,

    You write that "Honorius, unlike Agatho, was capable of erring in his own letter because he was not there speaking ex cathedra." I have to say that this statement is anachronistic. The term "ex cathedra" dates from the Middle Ages, and the modern doctrine of papal infallibility was first proposed by bishop Guido Terreni in 1332. To be sure, the formula of Hormisdas (519) declares that "in the Apostolic See the Catholic religion has always been kept unsullied," but (a) it was written before Honorius became Pope, (b) it refers to the Apostolic See, not the Roman Pope, and (c) it says nothing about there being different categories of papal pronouncements (reformable and irreformable).

    You also suggest that in the case of a future Pope who, while not speaking ex cathedra, nevertheless teaches error, the Church "will come to judge harshly any pope who fomented such a crisis." I'm not so sure. The reason why the third ecumenical council of Constantinople (680-681) was able to condemn Pope Honorius was precisely because its bishops had never been handpicked by him, whereas today, all bishops in the Latin Church are appointed by the Pope, and typically, most of the Cardinals who will elect the next Pope were handpicked by the current one. Thus it appears extremely unlikely that the bishops, speaking in unison, will judge any Pope harshly. Cheers.

    1. @ Vincent Torley,

      "I'm not so sure"

      Perhaps one who dreams that he is important cannot understand why others might not worry about of what he is sure. We have seen already that you like to concoct intricate arguments which depend on your assumed authority in interpretations, definitions, and Church history in which you argue that the Church shifts and changes like loose sand on a beach, the only infallibility being in your own person.

      But your dream is always funny: So Augustine did not affirm a doctrine before he became a Christian (you must, impossibly, have heard everything he said and read everything he wrote, now lost or not), and that, according to dream reasoning becomes evidence that he believed the opposite. A non Christian's lack of speech on a Christian matter is evidence that the Church believed what the dreamer says it believed?

      Vedy funny. Vedy, vedy funny. Ha, ha ha.


      Your current dream follows the previous dream almost as a template it is so similar in form.

      One must laugh at this quickly before one yawns and the eyes glaze over at such farce.


      Tom Cohoe

    2. Vincent,

      Like always, you assume way too much from far too little.

  15. @Ed Feser

    So why believe Chapman over Bellarmine?

    Seems the problem is the term "heresy" has undergone a development over the past 2000 years. The Greek term literally means to break off from the whole. In it's early use simply not following the discipline of the Church made you a heretic (where as in later times we would call you a mere schismatic). Thought in later times it is narrowly defined to refer to professing a false & formally condemned doctrinal proposition.

    Allowing heresy to be taught or failing to condemn it can get you labelled a "heretic" even if you do not hold to any formal doctrinal or moral errors.

    Also I think condemning anybody as a heretic is an act of discipline not faith and morals. I don't think the Catholic Church has the power to infallibly say Nestorius was a heretic. But she can infallibly say Nestorianism (the false view Christ is two persons, one divine and one human attributed to Nestorius) is heresy.

    Which is why you can in theory rehabilitate a heretic. You don't know their subjective intent with any certainty. But you can know a given doctrinal proposition is false when the Church has clearly condemned it.

    With that in mind Prof Feser I don't think rehabilitating Honorius is a Pyrrhic victory.

    1. If you peruse my comments, Son of Ya'kov, I think I agree with everything you say here. :)

    2. Well at the risk of starting another tangent argument I take my inspiration from the Trads. Many a Trad especially those who are overly fond of the SSPX dreams the future Church will rehabilitate Archbishop Lefebvre and make him a Saint. My own opinions on that they would not like but I could be wrong? If I am proven wrong in the future then the Church calling Honorius a heretic is a fallible act of discipline(like it was with calling Lefebvre a schismatic which even I a mega-critic of him concede) and not an infallible act of teaching faith and morals.

      Thus rehabilitating Honorius is possible in principle.

  16. Dr. Ed Feser gives a brief rundown of the “error” and condemnation of Pope Honorius I (625-638). He draws mostly from the Patristic scholarship of great Fr. John Chapman who was a remarkable scholar on the early Papacy and the issues related to the Latin vs Byzantine Churches throughout the first seven ecumenical Councils. In my own research, I have come to think that Fr. Chapman’s is perhaps the best sketch and explanation of the events surrounding Honorius. There can be no question that Pope St. Leo II, the very Pope who confirmed the decrees of the Council of Constantinople III (681), that is, the very council which had accused Pope Honorius of heresy, believed that his predecessor Honorius had committed a heresy. There can be no question that, including Constantinople III, three more ecumenical synods repeated the anathema against Honorius for heresy. Moreover, in the Roman Breviary, up until the 18th century, included a description of Honorius as a “heretic” for June 28th, the feast of the Pope who executed Honorius’s condemnation (St. Leo II). There also can be no question that these Councils, Popes, theologians, canonists, and general Christian thinkers understood Honorius as a heretic. Though, you have some exceptions.

    One thing that Feser does not venture deeply into is the question of what kind of “heretical crime” was proven at the Council in 681 over Honorius, a man who had died 42 years prior to its convocation. At best, Honorius can be convicted of material heresy since the form added to the matter of heresy has to be proven. Moreover, since the doctrine of two-wills in Christ was not definitively settled, even a material heresy in this regard (according to Catholicism’s developed canon law) could not, of itself, situate one into the canonical crime of heresy nor the status of mortal sin. Otherwise, we would have to anathematize the person and memory of St Thomas Aquinas for his rejection of the Immaculate Conception. But that is impossible since Pope Sixtus condemned anyone who would accuse another for mortal sin or canonical heresy when the matter had not yet been resolved by the Apostolic See. While the Council of Constantinople III cannot be said to have worked with these parameters, those parameters did become standard and acceptable to Catholic canon law, jurisprudence, and pastoral theory. It is practical today.

    What lessons, asks Feser, can be drawn from Honorius for us today? I think the most that can be drawn is that a Pope can commit a doctrinal error. But that a Pope could become teach heresy and thereby become a formal heretic is not illustrated by the Honorius-event. One might argue that the Honorius-event lends great precedent that such a thing could, in theory, happen. But there is nothing in the Honorius-event, according to developed Catholic beliefs on the nature of heresy and its criminality, that illustrates that precedent. Now, if we revert back to the standards of the Latin and Greek policies during the 7th century, then it is a foregone conclusion, a Pope can become a formal heretic. But it seems to me that we cannot ignore the canonical, theological, and pastoral developments that have taken place since Honorius to the present day.

    For a more relevant historical context wherein a Pope committed an error while in office, coupling form and matter (but perhaps not pertinacity), you would have to study the Three Chapters controversy under Emperor Justinian regarding the Constituta of Pope Vigilius.

    PS. For the life of me, when I read Honorius’s letters, my own private judgment does not see him as a true Monothelite. His statements, as interpreted by his successor Pope John IV and St. Maximus the Confessor, seem to me to be speaking of something entirely different.

    1. Well done. You, and I believe someone else, touch on another point I wanted to make but already had a four part reply. :) As you say, there had not yet at the time of Honorious been a formal declaration against monotheletism, so one could not be accused of knowingly opposing a formally established doctrine of the faith. At most, one could say he erred in failing to make an allegedly obvious deduction from Chalcedon (all arguable), but that it seems to me would still just rise to the level of material heresy, because presumably the failure to make such a deduction would not in itself evidence obstinancy in error. And, to be a formal error, there would have to be, I think, a formal declaration of what is to be believed. So I think we are back to (among other things) the question of whether it even makes sense to accuse a deceased person of formal heresy (which Feser has not done I realize), unless perhaps we can explicitly find a place where this person acknowledged he knew his view was heretical and did not care, etc.

      It is also fair to say, I think, that these current insights would prevent such declarations against Honorius today. And we might have raise, as i have previously, where future popes could amend the non doctrinal juridical condemnations of earlier councils, but I would have to know more about the status of such statement relative to the establishment of tradition to venture a confident answer on that point. But I am inclined, very tentatively, to say since judgments are not infallible (even if they are at least authoritative AT THE TIME they are given) that they could be corrected later--though of course those corrections themselves could also be the same measure also be reviewed later, and so on. I suspect we could find concrete cases in Church history, but I'd have to look for details.

    2. Erick, Vatican I explains how those Councils condemning Pope Honorius for his failings must be interpreted. For the First Vatican Council cites the Fourth of Constantinople: "For in the apostolic see the catholic religion has always been preserved unblemished", which is hardly consistent with a heretical Pope not long prior to it. The Vatican Council defines: "This gift of truth and never-failing faith was therefore divinely conferred on Peter and his successors in this see...". The quality of never-failing faith (not exactly the same thing as speaking ex cathedra) has to be understood as pertaining to all Popes, including Honorius. The task of theologians is to interpret the case of Honorius with this understanding in mind, I would suggest, rather than have too many hangups about inflammatory language by oriental bishops that confounded (as we understand it today) formal heresy with aiding and abetting.

      I think Fr. Amman's argument above does that well. Vatican I tells us explicitly what we cannot infer from the Roman breviary, at any time.

    3. The Church can canonize the dead and infallibly decree they are Saints. But can She infallibly say a specific individual is in Hell? I was always under the impression She canna'? Are Her judgements a specific individual is a heretic infallible? If so then no heretic can appeal his judgement once it is handed down.

      But the Church is infallible in formally condemning a false doctrinal or moral proposition attributed to a heretic.

      Feeneyism is a heresy. But maybe Fr. Feeney wasn't a heretic? A thesis a grouchy trad I used to bump heids with used to claim. He told me Fr. Feeney never denied Baptism by desire & that was a novelty invented later by some of his followers. That could be true in principle.

      So Honorius being called a heretic by many councils and Popes is well ambiguous. Like many of Pope Francis' teachings. :D LOL!!!!


    4. Well, did Pope St Leo and all th3 Popes who confirmed Cple 681, Nicaea 787, and Cple 869 err too when they condemned Honorius?

    5. Son of Ya'Kov, that sounds fair enough. And of course, the strict sense of the term we have did not apply then. Over last five hundred years the overwhelming majority of theologians defend Pope Honorius from the charge of being a heretic for good reason.

      Erick, I think the very loose application of the term heretic by Pope Felix III (cited in the next post) confirms the view that the Councils' declarations using it do not necessarily have the same meaning they would today. Therefore, we apply the understanding of Vatican I: "unfailing faith" in all Popes.

  17. Dr. Feser, respectfully, you make a clear error here. The council being wrong about Honorious being a heretic would be an error in a judgment of historical fact, not a matter of faith and morals. The matter of faith and morals would be the judgment of monothelitism as heresy, which is entirely true and accurate; whether or not Honorious was a heretic is a matter of historical fact and judgment, and the Council is not and never has been stated to be protected on questions of that kind. You claim that judging Honorious to be a heretic is a matter of faith and morals, but this is wrong; the matter of faith and morals is the condemnation of the *teaching* as heresy. If a judgment of an individual as a heretic was protected infallibly, excommunications could not be lifted years after someone's death, yet this happens all the time.

    If Honorious was using his authority as the Pope to teach - and I disagree that writing anything in a private letter rises to such authority, as when the Pope attempts to teach something to the universal church he addresses the Church directly - then Honorious cannot teach heresy. The reason is that we are obliged to give religious assent of will to anything a Pope teaches from the ordinary magisterium, and the Magisterium cannot bind us to sin.

    Honorious was *possibly* a heretic by the standards the Councils were using at the time but absolutely *not* a heretic by the standards we use to judge heresy today, as monothelitism had not yet been definitively judged as false by the Church. If we were to call him a heretic in the way that Vatican I understands the term, we'd also have to call St. Thomas Aquinas a heretic for rejecting the Immaculate Conception.

    So I disagree with your argument here. The Magisterium cannot teach heresy as understood by Vatican I's definitions of teach, heresy, and Magisterium, and Honorious did no such thing.

  18. I want to pick up on something that Todd said, above:

    authoritative magisterium (i.e. non-infallible)

    I have seen phrases similar to this in many comments (not just blog comments, but (probably even more) news articles and editorial comments in published sources. I want to cry 'foul' on the idea of an "authoritative magisterium" of the pope, being somehow a distinct category from his other stuff that he teaches that is, you know, NOT "authoritative" or not "magisterial" or not "authoritatively magisterial".

    There ain't no sich category".

    At least, that's what I am inclined to argue, though I am willing to be given better material to become educated on the issue.

    Pope's generally don't go around stating which of their teachings are "authoritative" or "magisterial". By coming from a bishop, they automatically participate in the magisterial office of the Church. That's it. All bishops participate in that office, and they are all authoritative when they exercise their authority to teach. Period.

    The bishops (all of them) must necessarily participate in the magisterial office of the Church in order to be the agents by which a teaching be infallibly taught by the universal magisterium of the bishops around the world. If they can do it SOME of the time, then they have the role. And they all have the authority.

    Now, there are indeed different degrees by which those teachings enjoy the protection of the Holy Spirit. THAT's open to "full" versus something lesser. A pope has a heavier hand in that being protected than other bishops, but his participation in the magisterial office isn't utterly unlike that of the other bishops. He can still err (as proven), and (more importantly) just like the other bishops his teachings are capable of DIFFERENT DEGREES of commanding that respect that comes under "religious assent" from the people of the Church. A pope, just like other bishops, teaches some things mildly, some things firmly, and some things very firmly, without invoking the infallibility of an ex cathedra declaration. Similarly, popes (and other bishops) teach some things in identical fashion as those before him for many centuries had, for some things, while on other things he sets out with a new metaphor, or a new explanation for an old doctrine, and all the degrees in between that carry all the possible degrees of assertiveness.

    AND THEY DON'T SIT THERE TELLING US WHERE EACH STATEMENT LANDS on these scales of firmness, traditionalness, etc. Indeed, if anything, the popes and bishops are highly reticent to STATE EXPLICITLY anything about how firmly our obligation of religious assent kicks in for most of the things they say. We are left discerning that by various markers that are available, including tradition, tone of 'voice', type of teaching occasion or document, etc. But (short of a solemn declaration by an ecumenical council) these markers make such discernment a chore and often only probable. Such, I think, is the life of the educated Catholic.

    I would propose that the only teaching stuff that comes from the bishops that is "not magisterial" is the stuff that they themselves SAY is uncertain, putting in qualifiers like "I feel that this is right, but I don't insist upon it" and "there is room for disagreement on this" and so on. Everything else is "teachings" and therefore is magisterial. That's what the office of bishop implies.

  19. And as long as I am at it: can we please get people to STOP referring to some teaching as "belonging" to a special class of the "ordinary and universal magisterium," when it is taught universally by the bishops around the world. That's not what the statement in Vatican II on the infallibility that is possible to the bishops means. Rather: when the bishops in their sees around the world exercise their ORDINARY office of teacher, teach the same truth as certain and "to be held", and when there is a (moral) unanimity in their so teaching, THEN that teaching is infallibly held out to the faithful. There isn't some special class of magisterium that is an "ordinary and universal" one. It's when the particular acts of the bishops in their ordinary office as teacher are universally in union on a teaching.

    Each individual bishop, in so teaching, would not (at first) be able to say "this is proposed as infallible", because each one alone hasn't that kind of authority. But the Holy Spirit can cause the teaching to be proposed infallibly by the CHURCH by causing the bishops around the world to teach the same thing. Then it is infallibly taught. But each bishop is just exercising his ordinary role (and authority) as "teacher", i.e. "magister."

  20. The "fake" Tony IS (really) embarrassing.

    1. As is the "fake" Anonymous.

      I am not sure why you need the quote marks around "fake" - is it not REALLY a fake Tony, but the real Tony masquerading under the mere name of some faker, so as to be not a truly fake Tony?

      In point of fact, this is the Tony that usually comments here under the name of "Tony". And I authored 2 comments above under my name.

  21. Let’s assume it’s the year 1850. You aren’t aware of Ex Cathedra vs Non-Ex Cathedra infallibility. How would you read these events then? Can we be sure that the way you are reading history is not just a redaction in light of Vatican I?

    Sorry for the anonymous posting, my mobile wouldn’t let me log in to my account.


    1. It seems to me that before Vatican I, the Church was well aware of the matter of teachings that were binding in some strong sense even without a dogmatic decree by a Council. One of the indicators of this is, expressly, the Church's willingness to categorize someone as "a heretic" (and not just condemn their teaching) on the basis of not merely that their idea is erroneous, but that they should have KNOWN better, and thus their holding such ideas is morally faulty as well as intellectually faulty. Certainly, the fact that something had been already taught universally by the Fathers was considered sufficient evidence of its bona fides, without either a council or a papal declaration, and indeed its unanimous affirmation by the Fathers was USED by the Councils as the basis for their dogmatic definitions. But at the same time, there were many other teachings that were neither dogmatically defined, nor contested / disputed, that were simply passed along from generation to generation as being "what had been taught" and everybody assented to them and nobody got worked up about whether they were held definitively and irreformably or just, you know, the ordinary teachings of the Church.

      The distinction between teachings that have been affirmed by the Church in a way that demands assent without reservation, and teachings that have been affirmed in a way that requires assent that can still be with reservation, has been implicitly present from the beginning. People had been implicitly using that implicit distinction all along.