Saturday, December 17, 2022

When do popes teach infallibly?

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

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

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

Walford’s and O’Regan’s confusions

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

The closest Walford gets to a papal remark that might seem to support his case is Pope Innocent III’s statement that “the Lord clearly intimates that Peter’s successors will never at any time deviate from the Catholic faith.”  But Walford himself immediately goes on to admit that it cannot literally be the case that popes “will never at any time” teach error, and cites the famous example of the medieval pope John XXII’s having taught error vis-à-vis the particular judgment.  Walford emphasizes that John held these erroneous views in his capacity as a private theologian (though it is important to note that John did express them publicly in sermons).  What matters for present purposes, though, is that by Walford’s own admission, Pope Innocent’s remark needs qualification.  Now, as already noted, the standard qualification would be that popes can err when neither speaking ex cathedra nor, in their ordinary magisterium, merely reiterating teaching already independently known to be infallible.  And Walford gives no argument for qualifying it in some other way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The actual teaching of the Church

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

1. The qualifications on infallibility:

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

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

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

Similarly, Ott’s Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma states:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Historical examples of erroneous papal statements:

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

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

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

Related reading:

The Church permits criticism of popes under certain circumstances

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

Papal fallibility

The error and condemnation of Pope Honorius

Can Pope Honorius be defended?

The strange case of Pope Vigilius

Two popes and idolatry

Pope Victor redux?

Denial flows into the Tiber


  1. Hi Dr. Feser, I hope you would consider having a discussion with Erick Ybarra on his channel about this topic. Both of you have very interesting ideas on this topic. Also, if you haven’t already I strongly giving Dr. John Joy’s book a read on this topic. He also seems very even-keeled in approaching this topic.

  2. Dr Feser,
    This is an excellent conservative book about papal infallibility, that also goes into what you said about those who make overbroad claims about papal infallibility.

  3. The Chad Ex-Cathedra-Papal-Infallibility vs The Virgin Absolute-Unconditional-Papal-Infallibility

    1. The fact that there was a debate between ex-cathedra-onlyists and total-vicar-of-cjrist-ists during the First Vatican Council indicates two things:

      1. Many cardinals at the time of VI were ultramontanists. They lost in the end, but they were a yuge fraction of the Church

      2. The fact that they lost indicates that there were doubts

    2. @Infinite_Growth

      Yea, these discussions tend to be very dividing. Since St. Paul and St. Peter Vs the judeo-christians concil you see a lof of discussion going on when it is time to know which view is the catholic one.

  4. This is slightly boring. If the Church teaches that Popes are infallible when speaking ex cathedra, this does not necessarily mean it teaches they can err when not speaking infallibly - it does NOT teach that, and the matter can, and is discussed by theologians; it means only that it teaches that Popes are infallible when speaking ex cathedra.

    There is no case of a Pope teaching heresy. Culpable negligence and weakness in the case of Pope Honorius and the two sermons of Pope John XXII which he himself said were speculation and opinion do not constitute heresy. Vatican I directly linked its definition of infallibility to the impossibility of the Roman See ever failing in the faith. That is de fide. Let's not overreact to overreactions.

    1. If the Church teaches that Popes are infallible when speaking ex cathedra, this does not necessarily mean it teaches they can err when not speaking infallibly

      Yes, I explicitly noted that myself in the post.

      it does NOT teach that, and the matter can, and is discussed by theologians;

      It is true that it does not explicitly teach that. However, I also showed that it implicitly does so given the evidence I cited (e.g. the statement of Innocent III and the popes who reiterated it, Honorius's condemnation, the case of John XXII, Donum Veritatis).

      Re: heresy, I did not say that popes could teach heresy when not speaking ex cathedra. I simply noted that the view that they might in theory do so has been taken by approved theologians. Nor did I say anything about the Roman See "failing in the faith" -- that's a straw man of your own. My claim is only the very limited one that, when neither speaking ex cathedra nor reiterating teaching that can independently be known to be infallible, it is possible in principle for a pope to err. The precise nature of the errors in question (e.g. whether such an error could actually rise to the level of heresy, whether material or formal) is not something I address here. The article is limited merely to rebutting the extreme position of Walford and O'Regan and there are no grounds for a charge of "overreacting."

    2. it does NOT teach that, and the matter can [be], and is discussed by theologians;

      The fact that the Church is perfectly fine with theologians discussing the matter, i.e. debating it, holding opposing views, with neither side being reprimanded, by that very fact means that

      The Church does not teach that the Pope cannot err in non-ex-cathedra teaching. That is to say, while a Catholic in good standing may think it is true that the pope cannot err in non-ex-cathedra teaching, he cannot represent that his opinion is "The Church's position" on it, not at this time. If the Church ever decides to refine this issue so as to take a definite position and "define" on it, then of course there will no longer be room for theologians to debate it. But until then, the fact that theologians are free to debate it means that the Church does not teach one definite answer to the question.

      To take it a step further: one of the proposed "solutions" to "pope's cannot err on faith and morals" - in the face of a manifest case of error by John XXII - is that a pope who issues forth such an error, by that very fact, loses his papacy, and the see becomes vacant. (A variant of this opinion reserves this loss to cases where the pope tries to teach heresy, which is of course a narrower subset of error.) I would suggest that this is a nuclear "solution" to the problem, in that his "losing" the papal office would be an invisible reality, which would pretty thoroughly defeat the purpose of his infallibility.

    3. The Church was deliberate at Vatican I. It did not extend infallibility further than it did; nor did it make its definition exclusive. That the Pope’s table talk can never have the same weight as his ex cathedra statements is obvious. Ex cathedra statements and General Councils are about letting us know what we must assent to. Traditionally-minded Catholics generally distinguish when this assent is required, and when the Pope is being foolish.

      The assertion that Popes can therefore err on faith and morals when not speaking ex cathedra being possible in principle is not Church teaching but a matter of opinion, the likelihood of which could be argued about in terms of probabilities, not certitudes. The mechanical repetition of this opinion makes things simpler for some, but it is not Church teaching.

      Ott’s manual had this to say about one historical issue: “On the Honorius question, let it be remarked that Pope Honorius I was personally orthodox. However, through his prohibition against speaking of two modes of operation, he unwittingly favoured the Monothelite error. The Sixth General Council wrongly condemned him as a heretic. Pope Leo II confirmed the anathematisation but did not adopt the ground given by the Council. He did not reproach him with heresy but with negligence in the suppression of error” (Christology. Para. 13). The Church can infallibly indicate what propositions are heretical and where they are textually located. The council condemning Pope Honorius did not indicate where his “heresy” was located. Its mistake on historical fact was not confirmed by the Pope. No council without the Pope is infallible.

      What Pope Innocent III affirmed (“Peter’s successors will never at any time deviate from the Catholic faith…) has stood the test of time. The other statement referring to sinning against the faith and being judged for it is not the same thing as leaving the faith, in the sense that Pope Innocent and Vatican I meant by that.

      This issue can’t be separated from Vatican I and its affirmation that the Roman See cannot fail in the faith. It’s not a straw man. Obviously, through ex cathedra infallibility, the Church has a guarantee of a rule of faith. But the notion that, apart from this, the Pope could be a kind of Calvin (albeit an invincibly ignorant one) or even a real Calvin, stretches the limits of credibility. We’re back to Balaam’s talking ass.

      There haven’t been any heretical Popes in the past (material or formal), and there aren’t any now, strictly speaking – the only manner that counts. That Popes have, in a practical way, and through negligence, weakness and tendentiousness caused massive amounts of damage would amount to Pope Innocent’s idea of sinning against the faith, justifying an angry reaction from the Church. I think that, with the clear movement by some conservatives to leave the Church on the pretext that the papacy has abandoned the faith (this blog has alluded to bishops who are “flirting with schism”), we ought to emphasise how wrong their hypothesis is. Countering it with the notion of a Church, and a promise of Christ, not fundamentally overturned by a potentially heretical Papacy, because it’s only bound to be infallible occasionally, will not convince such people.
      I don’t say this is your view of the Church, Dr. Feser, but I think that every time we talk about the limits of papal infallibility we ought to remind people that all Popes have a personal promise that they will not renounce the faith, and that this promise has been honoured.

    4. That Popes have, in a practical way, and through negligence, weakness and tendentiousness caused massive amounts of damage would amount to Pope Innocent’s idea of sinning against the faith, justifying an angry reaction from the Church.

      What does that even mean? "[J]ustifying an angry reaction from the Church" is opaque. Pope's don't have to sit through votes of no confidence. There is literally no mechanism to force a pope to stop teaching something that he has been teaching. A pope can blow off "angry reaction" from laity priests, and bishops all day long if he chooses. He can also decline to answer difficult dubia from the Dubia Brothers if he decides. And he probably can silence cardinals with a direct order to them, as they are his ministers.

      The actual quote cited from Innocent is "Only on account of a sin committed against the faith can I be judged by the church". But even here: the rule is that against the judgment of the pope there is no appeal. Christ did not establish an escape mechanism in the Church to get a bad pope to stop being a bad pope (or stop being pope). Hence he seemingly reserved that power to Himself.

    5. Looks pretty clear. Old fashioned, red-blooded anger at papal foibles, fairly common in the past, would not seem very opaque to whoever was at the received end.

    6. Nice: someone is using the name "Tony", right up against my comments. Someone other than me, that is. Using "Tony" without bothering to distinguish identity at all. Nice and helpful behavior, that is!

      Old fashioned, red blooded anger AT the pope, by itself, doesn't actually accomplish any visible result. Red blooded anger that results in your murdering the pope WOULD get a bad pope out of office, but I don't recommend that approach.

    7. @The usual Tony and @Edward Feser

      You may be familiar with Michael Lofton of Reason & Theology. He just did a live video response to your article on CatholicWorldReport about when the pope is infallible, partially agreeing with you but also partially disagreeing:

      His main point seems to be that the charism JP2 talks about that protects non-definitive teaching isn't just for reiterations of previously defined infallible teaching, but specifically prevents non-definitive authoritative teachings from ever teaching heresy which is destructive to souls.

      Ex cathedra teachings are protected from all error, including lower grade ones, but non-definitive teaching, in his view, is still protected from error that would put your soul in danger.

      I haven't spelled out his view in detail, so it's best to just watch the video itself (maybe at 1.5x speed if you want to shorten it if you can still understand the words at that speed) but this sure is interesting.

    8. As long as I have been following the issue of papal fallibility regarding non-ex-cathedra statements, and the allied question of how to understand the obligation of "religious submission" to the non-infallible teachings of the magisterium, I have been hearing of that side-bar comment about the Holy Spirit protecting the pope from teaching error which is destructive to souls.

      And as long as I have heard it, I have wondered at its validity, or even its meaning in the Catholic context. First of all, we ONLY talking about papal teaching on faith and morals, and not on science, the weather, sports teams, and the best cologne. And once you have limited it to matters of faith and morals, on what basis could you EVER prove a matter is NOT a matter that could, (if error were thought true) lead to destruction of souls? The whole point of what God revealed to us through the Bible and Tradition is that this is what we need for salvation. God did not reveal everything, and in some parts more or less expressly said "I'm not telling you that, you don't need to know". But "need to know" includes, if anything, what we need for salvation. So, if it's something that the Church CAN testify to as being revealed through Scripture and Tradition, then (arguably), it is or may be needed for salvation, and it's covered by protection from "error which is destructive to souls."

      I am not at all sure the qualifier does, or is even meant to, narrow the sense of papal teachings that receive protection from error to some lesser subset than "on faith and morals" so that popes might (in theory) err on some matter but that's OK but an error in that matter is "not destructive of souls".

      Take John XXII's error. It would not be hard to construct a scenario in which that error might be destructive of souls.

    9. Hi Toni. Old fashioned red-blooded anger might not accomplish everything. The point was that Innocent III was not speculating on a future Pope abandoning the faith.

    10. @Tony
      To your questions, Lofton makes two points 1) that the Divine protection from error that leads to the destruction of souls covers Heresy in the narrow sense: a truth revealed by God that was have to believe by Catholic Faith. It doesnt cover lesser erros. 2) That the protection, in the pope' s case, extends only to the teachings of the Universal Shepherd. John the XXII's erroneous teaching was done in homilies and he did not intend to teach and bind the whole Church. It wasn't the teachings of a mere private theologian but not was it the teachings of the Universal Shepherd either. Rather it was the teachings of the Bishop of Rome in his capacity as diocesan bishop, and so even if he taught heresy in his local magisterium that wouldn't undermine this theological safety for the whole Church. .

    11. Miguel Cervantes,

      How do you deal with the fact that the pope has now taught that the death penalty is intrinsically unacceptable? The pope is very serious about it and is clearly insisting on a specific teaching about faith and morals, even including it in the Catechism. Yet many traditional Catholics argue that the death penalty is necessarily not intrinsically evil, and as such that no one could "overturn" past church teaching on it, and it is always necessarily false to say the death penalty is intrinsically evil.

      So who's wrong? Do you agree with the pope and current church teaching? If not, then you'd have to conclude that the pope is actually teaching error about morals. And continuously, insistently so, and in his faculty as pope speaking to the church and presenting teaching for the Catechism.

    12. That's not too hard. Pope Francis is wrong, but he has not denied an article of faith. Not heresy.

    13. Miguel Cervantes,

      But then you agree that a pope can teach error about morals etc. to the whole church and can even include it into the catechism, and so on. It's not a slip either, it's something the pope intends as a serious teaching after careful reflection, and which with the intention that Catholics must comply.

      Since you think the pope is therefore teaching error, that seems pretty clearly to show that you believe popes can teach errors outside of ex cathedra pronouncements. Maybe I misunderstood your initial position. You think popes can teach error about morals, but not about faith? You think popes can teach to the whole church, put in the catechism etc., that (e.g.) "Abortion is okay", or "the death penalty is intrinsically evil" (as Francis has done), but not teach anything wrong regarding e.g. the two natures of Christ?

    14. Well, Popes can be tendentious and pick the wrong football team (not this time though!), but the error in question is not one that would put him outside the faith. He didn’t say the death penalty was intrinsically wrong, but that it was inadmissible. That term is obviously confusing. Some statements allude to changing circumstances. Others insinuate that it was never quite right. But then, he has also said that the commandment not to kill must be understood in an “absolute” sense, yet he still defends the right to kill in self-defence and lives near several hundred of his employees who are trained to kill. None of us like these kinds of statements from Pope Francis, but he can’t be put outside the faith for this one, no matter the confusion caused and the lack of piety towards tradition. By the way, you and Toni below, remind me oddly of my friend from the northern wastes. I’m not summoning him to appear here in his usual guise though (would be good to get the overdue response on Confucianism).

  5. Very timely post especially with the news that Father Frank Pavone has been laicized.

  6. * Is the criteria for infallibility laid out infallibly?
    * What was the first infallible statement made by a Pope in history?

    1. Vatican I described the conditions under which the pope teaches infallibly thusly:

      we teach and define as a divinely revealed dogma that

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

      I believe this is an attempt to describe the conditions in which the pope exercises the teaching office in an infallible way, because they did not intend to set for a formula which must be used for the pope to invoke the teaching authority in an infallible definition.

    2. As usual, Professor, this is well done. However, I would ask you to make a clarification of an ambiguity that arises in 2 places in your post:

      The ordinary magisterium of the Church, and the pope when exercising it, are also infallible when they simply reiterate some doctrine that has been consistently taught for centuries...

      as I have already acknowledged, a pope’s exercise of the ordinary magisterium can also be infallible when it involves reiterating doctrines consistently taught by the Church for centuries.

      These comments are similar but in part deficient in clarity when compared to another comment:

      Now, as already noted, the standard qualification would be that popes can err when neither speaking ex cathedra nor, in their ordinary magisterium, merely reiterating teaching already independently known to be infallible.

      The issue I have is in that more precision is needed in speaking of the pope's "ordinary magisterium" and how it bears on infallibility.

      First, I would suggest that it is probably a mistake to even use a phrase like "the pope's magisterium" at all. Not that the phrase is wrong altogether, but I think it creates a connotation that is unhappy: the Church has the teaching office as a whole, and the bishops exercise that teaching office in a special way their fullness of the priestly orders. The bishops (including the popes) exercise the teaching office in an ordinary way when they teach. The bishops exercise the teaching office in an extraordinary way when they teach by solemn definition in ecumenical council. The pope, acting distinctly from the college of bishops, exercises the magisterial office in an extraordinary way when he solemnly defines a truth to be held by the universal Church.

      And the bishops, not executing their office as teacher in an extraordinary way also generate an infallible teaching when they teach in an ordinary way some truth as to be held, where there is universal agreement on this teaching by the college of bishops. In this latter case, the infallibility is the effect, not of bishops acting in an extraordinary act of solemn pronouncement, but of the Holy Spirit bringing about effective universality and unanimity to the separate teaching acts of the bishops exercising their teaching office in an ordinary way.

    3. So, I would offer as a result something that stems from the way an infallible teaching comes out of the ordinary teachings of the college of bishops: before a specific pronouncement that such a teaching has become an infallible teaching, the popes, when they repeat such an infallible teaching, should not be referred to as "teaching infallibly". When the pope, in his ordinary exercise of his office as bishop and teacher, repeats the same teaching that bishops (and popes) before him taught, he is doing the same thing they were doing: they were "teaching" but doing so as the ordinary exercise of the office of teacher - and that ordinary exercise is not "teaching in an infallible way" even if the teaching HAD become infallibly taught already. On the other hand, when such a teaching has been pronounced as "having been taught by the CHURCH infallibly" through the ordinary exercise of the bishops in a universal agreement achieved by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and the pope reiterates that same teaching, we shouldn't say the pope is "teaching infallibly" because that doctrine's infallibility has already been made manifest, the pope is merely reasserting what has already been manifested. (We would not normally refer to a later pope who simply repeats the doctrine of Pius IX on the Immaculate Conception as the (later) pope also "teaching that doctrine infallibly" - the extraordinary kind of action was taken by Pius IX, and later popes don't have to take on an extraordinary act to mere agree with it, that's an entirely ordinary kind of action.)

      Finally: a doctrine that is long taught by the teachers of the Church (especially, the bishops) doesn't become infallible merely from it being taught "for centuries" or even "for many centuries". While time is one aspect of the way we discern such an infallible doctrine, it is not the core criterion. Rather, it is through agreement by the college of bishops throughout the world. This agreement is difficult (or perhaps impossible) to identify without looking at centuries of common agreement, but arguably "centuries" is not by itself sufficient evidence of the universality required. Therefore, it is better to speak (as you did in one place) of popes repeating doctrines that are "independently known to be infallible" than of popes repeating doctrines taught "for centuries" if you want to capture popes in their ordinary exercise of their magisterial office on teachings that are (separately) infallible.

    4. Doubt it. Even the bishops of the while world together are not infallible without the Pope.

    5. The teaching provided in Vatican II is that the bishop in communion with the Pope, while distributed throughout the world, if they teach as to be held some doctrine in which they are in agreement that the doctrine is to be held definitively, the teaching is infallible. While there is a presumption that the pope and the bishops are in agreement, but this does not have to be explicit: the "agreement" between the bishops does not have to be the kind in which every single bishop speaks out in a definitive way, and every one of them says the same thing in the same way. It would be enough, for example, if a great many bishops taught the same thing, and continued to do so, and other bishops having plenty of opportunity to say otherwise, are either silently in support of the teaching, or teach other truths that assume it, or teach other truths that connect to it as coincident truths, or in other ways indicate general assent to it. The pope could be one of the other bishops that indicates assent indirectly rather than directly.

    6. No. From the notificationes on Lumen gentium received from the Secretary General of the Council, Archbishop Felici (16.XI.64):
      "In other words, it is not a distinction between the Roman Pontiff and the bishops taken collectively, but a distinction between the Roman Pontiff taken separately and the Roman Pontiff together with the bishops"

      "Though it is always in existence, the College is not as a result permanently engaged in strictly collegial activity; the Church's Tradition makes this clear. In other words, the College is not always "fully active [in actu pleno]"; rather, it acts as a college in the strict sense only from time to time and only with the consent of its head" The "bishops of the world" do not even exist as a college, let alone have infallibility, without the Pope.

    7. The bishops' exercise of ordinary magisterial teaching authority is infallible

      "when, even though dispersed throughout the world but preserving for all that amongst themselves and with Peter's successor the bond of communion, in their authoritative teaching concerning matters of faith and morals, they are in agreement that a particular teaching is to be held definitively and absolutely.

      Nothing about that says they "act as a college" or that their college is "fully active" or act as a college "in the strict sense". Acting as a college "in the strict sense from time to time" would be when they are in Council. The infallibility that comes when they are teaching in ordinary acts of magisterial teaching is not when they are in Council.

      Such infallibility cannot be had "without the pope" because they all need to be in communion with the pope. But they don't need the pope to be one of the bishops who explicitly repeats the teaching, if there is the requisite agreement as a whole on the teaching among the bishops, who are in communion with the pope (and who is one of the bishops who are all in agreement).

    8. Hi Toni. The bishops of the world are rather indefinite as a source of infallibility, if you mean the Church's ordinary magisterium. It cannot be compared to the the Oecumenical Councils or ex cathedra statements. The bishops' magisterium (even in technical communion with the source of infallible charisma) would be impractical as a final arbiter of any controverted issue, by definition. Nor is the Pope's infallibility a mere infallible historical declaration of what an episcopal "consensus" might have been. This idea would be the end of the traditional Church.

      Ankle biters are already at at work on this front! Michael Warren Davis' newspeak has proclaimed ("Vatican II Didn't Create Confusion") that the traditional doctrine in the Church before Nicea, by episcopal consensus, was Arianism. Athanasius was a "revolutionary" and the Church these days is doing the same thing. Only, in Davis' dreams, the revolution would be the adoption of an autonomous source of authority or infallibility in the bishops. Anything to bring down the "evil" post-Tridentine Church in which we live. They will fail!

    9. The bishops' magisterium (even in technical communion with the source of infallible charisma) would be impractical as a final arbiter of any controverted issue, by definition.

      Almost true, but not quite so: If the bishops all teach a doctrine in agreement, that doctrine is infallibly taught. If, later on it becomes a disputed question that some bishops disagree with (as, effectively, heretics either material or formal), then their error can be discerned and publicly attested by the faithful bishops, precisely on the basis of referring to the prior universal agreement that held earlier. This is, in effect, just what the early Oecumenical councils did, establishing their decrees on the basis of what had been taught earlier in universal agreement. The matter of SETTLING the new dispute may - because of bad bishops - have taken the action of a Council, but the prior agreement wasn't irrelevant, as they didn't just construct a new doctrine out of majority agreement at the Council.

    10. Hi toni. Your comment seems to support mine. You say that, if there is disagreement among the bishops, the only practical infallible organ is a General Council confirmed by the Pope or an ex cathedra statement. However, as I mentioned, such declarations do not merely amount to infallible statements concerning the history of the ordinary magisterium of the bishops. They do rely on tradition, of course, but the cruncher in any infallible declaration is that it is part of the faith revealed by God, as Pius IX and Pius XII said, immediately prefacing their dogmatic defini-tions. Tradition is the keeping of the faith whose revelation ended with the death of the last Apostle. Obviously the Church cannot lose the faith, but the final arbiter of what that faith is, is the Papacy and General Councils con-firmed by it. When it comes to tradition, the Church of Rome which alone as Pius IX said, has never lost the faith, must carry more weight than parts of the Catholic Church.

    11. You say that, if there is disagreement among the bishops, the only practical infallible organ [on that disputed point] is a General Council confirmed by the Pope or an ex cathedra statement.

      Agreed. This does not prevent there to be a dispute about something that had already been taught infallibly earlier. Indeed, Councils have often needed to repeat and re-state the very same dogmatic teaching that a previous Council had made a definitive, infallible teaching: because people continued to dispute with the earlier teaching. In such a situation, ordinary teaching by bishops won't "settle" the issue. You need extraordinary teaching authority, and you may need several rounds of it EVEN THOUGH each round is capable of infallibility all on its own. De facto and de jure are distinct: "has been accepted" is not the same as "SHOULD have been accepted".

      However, as I mentioned, such declarations do not merely amount to infallible statements concerning the history of the ordinary magisterium of the bishops.

      Agreed. Before the aftermath of Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, (so far as I know) the organs of the Church never attempted to officially declare that that "this dogmatic truth has been taught infallibly by the ordinary magisterium of the bishops throughout the world". And in fact, it would be a particularly bad idea for a pope to attempt an Ex Cathedra declaration that "this truth had been taught infallibly through the ordinary magisterium", not least because post-Apostolic HISTORICAL truth is not a normal object of divine revelation about which the Church exercises infallible teaching. No: ex cathedra teachings do not have the history of the teaching as their formal object, they have the truth of the faith as their formal object. I have made this point extensively in my own blogging.

      I have also made the express point that Pope JPII could not set the matter of women's ordination beyond doubt (which was his express purpose) WITHOUT giving the teaching as an ex cathedra statement. So, in light of the fact that he used ALL the necessary forms of giving an ex cathedra declaration in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, the fact that later on the CDF asserted that the teaching had already been taught infallibly DID NOT refute the fact that Ordinatio Sacerdotalis also taught infallibly that the Church cannot ordain women as priests.

      My underlying point remains standing: when a pope simply repeats a teaching that has ALREADY been infallibly taught by the Church, this is just an ordinary kind of ordinary magisterial act, and this is of the same nature as other bishops also repeating that same teaching, who themselves also carry out ordinary magisterial acts of the teaching Church. His teaching act is an ordinary act of the magisterial office of the Church.

    12. I'm happy you now agree with me. You did say earlier that my point [the magisterium of the bishops being impractical in settling disputed issues] was "not quite right".

      However, your underlying issue of being unhappy with the term "the Pope's magisterium" seems unwarranted. It is not the same as that of a local bishop in union with the rest. The Pope is the immediate juridical and teaching authority for each one of us. Papal Magisterium seems quite warranted.

    13. The primary locus of teaching authority - with the force of certainty and which commands the assent of faith - is in God Himself. The derivative "primary" locus of that authority is in the Church, to whom He granted teaching authority and to whom he gives protective grace and inspiration, and whom has Jesus Christ as her Head. This is the magisterial authority of the Church, and in this rests the magisterial office of the Church. The bishops - each bishop - participate in the exercise of that magisterial office when they teach in His name, and to those teachings we normally owe religious assent. The pope exercises that magisterial office in a particular (extraordinary) way when he teaches infallibly in an ex cathedra declaration, to which we owe unreserved assent; he also exercises the magisterial office in a most excellent ordinary way when he teaches in an ordinary way what the Church teaches, to which we owe a particularly high degree of religious assent according to the manner in which he manifests his call to receive that teaching. While the pope can, by his special office, call us to a most fulsome degree of religious assent to a teaching, a higher degree than that to which individual bishops normally can call us, the general nature of that assent remains religious assent, which is not of the same KIND as the unreserved assent we give to those infallible teachings that call for divine and catholic faith. The pope, like the bishops, always participates in the charism granted by Christ to the Church in her teaching authority, when he teaches in a way that calls forth our assent (either unreserved or the lesser kind in religious assent).

      I would propose that it is a better way of speaking to say that Pope Francis does not have "a magisterium" that is distinct in number from the magisterium as exercised by Pope Benedict, JPII, JPI, Paul IV, Pius XII, or Peter. The Magisterium is that of the Church in her teaching office, exercised by popes and bishops, as they participate in the grace-filled office of teacher.

    14. Sounds like quibbling only Toni. The issue here is whether the teaching of the Popes (outside an ex cathedra or Conciliar declaration) is different to that of the Bishops, not the quality of our assent. The Pope's teaching is different, because the Bishop of Rome is the successor of St. Peter, and therefore bishop of Rome, which will never deviate from the faith (Pius IX), has personal guarantees of faith from our Lord that were used at the Vatican I definition, and the Pope's jurisdiction is the source of each bishop's jurisdiction and authority - they are not autonomous. The relation between the Pope and other bishops is much more lopsided that that between St. Peter and the Apostles.

      The Pope inherits Christ's promise to St. Peter that his faith will not fail. No other bishop has this. The teaching of the Pope is different to that of the bishops, no matter how they are considered.

    15. The Pope's teaching is different, because the Bishop of Rome is the successor of St. Peter,

      The non-infallible teachings of the popes can call forth from us a higher degree of that religious assent we make to the Church's non-infallible teachings, than those of other bishops, because he is the successor of Peter. (Therefore, his teaching is "different".)

      But that religious assent we give is the same in kind, though in higher degree, that we give to the other non-infallible teachings of the Church. That is, the difference is a matter of degree, not a difference in kind.

      The "personal guarantees of faith" in the person of the pope do not prevent his teaching an error, as manifestly happened with John XXII.

      and the Pope's jurisdiction is the source of each bishop's jurisdiction and authority

      I don't think that's true. Can you cite a source for this? Christ made each of the Apostles a bishop and gave them their authority to teach and sanctify directly, not through Peter. Each time a bishop is consecrated, he receives his authority to teach and sanctify from God, not through the pope. (As a matter of recent historical paradigm, the bishops of the Latin Church all receive their call to the bishopric from the pope, who also assigns them some jurisidiction. But the eparchs of Eastern uniate Churches don't - they are chosen locally. And in past ages, plenty of bishops were chosen for a see and consecrated without the pope doing the choosing.)

    16. Hello Toni. Happy New Year. I think you are unnecessarily complicating things for yourself. The assent due to the Pope's teaching differs here, because his teaching is different, not the other way round. Do you seriously argue this principle everywhere (that authorities and their modes of teaching differ primarily because of the assent they induce)?

      John XXII did not teach heresy, and only (in two sermons) propounded, as opinions, ideas which he said were taken from certain Fathers who, like himself, wrote before the matter had become dogma. There is also question as to what degree his statements in fact contradicted Catholic doctrine as defined. He recanted these ideas in any case. The Popes have never professed heresy, materially or formally. Vatican I and Innocent III were right concerning the See of Peter, the Church of Rome.

      Vatican I. Not only is all episcopal jurisdiction a participation in Papal jurisdiction; each of us is directly subject to the Pope's jurisdiction as well. The Pope is no "president", charged with intervening to adjudicate where the bishops as a whole happen to be infallible. Pastor aeternus needs to be read again and again, not just in its conclusions but in its argumentation. I do recommend it.

    17. The assent due to the Pope's teaching differs here, because his teaching is different, not the other way round. Do you seriously argue this principle everywhere (that authorities and their modes of teaching differ primarily because of the assent they induce)?

      I go by what the Church says. The Church teaches that we owe deference to the pope's teaching, including to his non-infallible teaching. She also teaches that we owe deference to the teaching of the Church, including that of the bishops. In both kinds she refers to that kind of deference that falls under the term "religious assent." There are, under religious assent, different degrees of deference called for. If the non-infallible teaching of the pope is a different kind of thing than the teaching of the bishops, I have not heard a name for it. If the kind of assent given to the pope's teaching is a different kind of assent than what is given to the teaching of the bishops, I have not heard a name for it. Please do tell.

      John XXII did not teach heresy,

      I did not say it was. As you well know. Not all error is heresy.

      and only (in two sermons) propounded, as opinions,

      I have read that he "taught" it, not that he "proposed it as an opinion". I would be glad to have his actual words in those two sermons to see the truth, if you have a basis on which to say that he "proposed it as opinion". In general terms, I would suggest that a bishop "teaches" in sermons except he makes explicit reference to an idea being less certain and offer that it may be not given credit as true. A pope would need to be even more careful than other bishops to successfully "not teach" in a sermon.

      each of us is directly subject to the Pope's jurisdiction

      But of course.

      The Pope is no "president"

      Well, he can in fact preside, but that does not describe his office nor are his powers limited to presiding. Of course.

      Not only is all episcopal jurisdiction a participation in Papal jurisdiction;

      Not only does Pastor Aeternus NOT say this, it implies the opposite:

      5. This power of the Supreme Pontiff by no means detracts from that ordinary and immediate power of episcopal jurisdiction, by which bishops, who have succeeded to the place of the apostles by appointment of the Holy Spirit, tend and govern individually the particular flocks which have been assigned to them. On the contrary, this power of theirs is asserted, supported and defended by the Supreme and Universal Pastor; for St. Gregory the Great says: "My honor is the honor of the whole Church. My honor is the steadfast strength of my brethren. Then do I receive true honor, when it is denied to none of those to whom honor is due."

      Nowhere does this even hint that the powers (and jurisdiction) of each bishop derive from that of the pope, the implication seems (to me) clear that this is NOT the case, and that the bishops' offices and powers are indeed those of the Apostles, "by the appointment of the Holy Spirit."

    18. Perhaps the length and repetitions in this exchange of comments have caused you to forget the well-known name, which your first two comments took exception to "it is probably a mistake to even use a phrase like "the pope's magisterium" at all".

      John XXII did put the views across as opinions, inviting objections.

      The common interpretation is that bishops (all of whom are the descendants of the Apostles, as your excerpt from the Council decree mentions, but not all of whom have jurisdiction) receive their jurisdiction from the Pope (who has "the absolute fullness, of this supreme power" over the entire Church - from the same decree), not from God directly. St. Thomas cite Cyril of Alexandria in support of the Rome's claim: "It is his exclusive right to reprove, correct, enact, resolve, dispose and bind in the name of Him who established it.”. The idea that there are autonomous sources of authority in the Church is a recipe for trouble The "fullness of power" of the Popes doesn't mean a power unlike the others. Let's stay Roman!

  7. Imagine if your cellphone was at 10% but somehow it lasted for eight days until you could hookup to a charger. That's how you understand the miracle of Chanukah.

    (P.S. 1 Maccabees is one of the most reliable historical documents from the ancient world (2 Maccabees is fiction) and the first mention of the Chanukah miracle comes from a portion of the Talmud written 600 years after the event. Make of that what you will.)

  8. What about the position of Ronald L. Conte Jr.?


  9. Ed,
    I wish you and your family a Blessed Christmas.
    I wish everyone on this blog a Blessed Christmas as well.

  10. Replies
    1. I also repent of the sin of idolatry (thinking a human being can achieve omniscience).

    2. No human being can. Even Jesus' human intellect does not have omniscience. Only His Divine Intellect that He has in the Divine Essence. Jesus has two distinct natures you see.

      Happy Chanukah.

    3. But can God ride a bike? If not, he cannot be omniscient.

    4. @Anonymous I think you meant to say "But can God ride a bike? If not, then He cannot be omnipotent".

    5. If God cannot ride a bike then he cannot know what it is like to ride a bike in all its particularities, so he cannot be omniscient. But that would be derivative of the fact that he would not be omnipotent.

      Sure God can ride a bike. If he could take a stroll in the Garden of Eden he could just as well have perambulated around on a bicycle.

    6. @Anonymous "what's it like" knowledge (e.g. Thomas Nagel's "What's it like to be a bat?") does not traditionally count under omniscience.

    7. Please stop feeding this troll. I already addressed the "Bike Riding nonsense". God is omnipotent. Which means He has All Powers.

      Bike riding involves a physical and material anthropomorphic creature siting on said bike and pushing the peddles.

      God is not material or physical so God cannot literally sit on a bike and ride it in a natural manner to move it.

      God is all powerful but there is no such thing as a power for a non-physical and non-material God to naturally ride a bike. God can do anything but that does not describe anything. It describes nothing. Which adds new meaning to the phrase "There is nothing God cannot do".

      Sure God can supernaturally cause the bike to move as if it has a physical rider by way of a miracle but He would not literally be riding it.

      So this objection is wrong even if there are no gods.

      Prof Feser can we stop this idiot thread unless there is an actual intelligent good faith response to it?

      PS Obviously Jesus could ride a Bike but His human nature would be doing it not his divine save threw the agency of His human nature.

      God can know what it is to ride a bike because God causes the existence of bike riders and the material that artificers fashion into bikes.
      God does not know things by literally observing but by causing and willing it.

      Enjoy the Christmas Info. That is Brian Davies 101.

    8. "
      If God cannot ride a bike then he cannot know what it is like to ride a bike in all its particularities, so he cannot be omniscient."

      Even granting that experimental knowledge is required for omniscience, I don't think this follows. If I have ridden a bike in the past, but then am injured so that I can't ride any more, it doesn't seem like I would lose the knowledge of riding just because I lost the capacity. So it seems like at the very least we need to add some qualifiers there if we want to infer knowledge about riding bikes from our ability to do so.

    9. God can know what it is to ride a bike because God causes the existence of bike riders and the material that artificers fashion into bikes. God does not know things by literally observing but by causing and willing it.

      It seems that this does not logically follow. One of the characteristics of Nagelian type knowledge is that it is not possible to know it without experiencing it.

    10. God's knowledge is not Nagelian. This begs the question. It's like saying an immaterial soul cannot in principle exist in a materialist universe. Yes but we don't believe creation is purely materialistic.

      The Divine Knowledge is not experiential. God knows thing as the cause of them. Not by experiencing them.

      Wrong God guy.

      I am not presupposing Nagel. I am channeling Feser and Davies.

      As Feser said once and I kept this quote.

      "you are mistakenly modeling divine knowledge as a kind of observation by which God learns what is happening in the world. That is not what it is at all, and God doesn't "learn" anything, not successively and not even in a single timeless act. Rather, God knows the world by virtue of knowing Himself as its cause. And what He causes is a world in which things happen successively. It doesn't follow that He knows it via some sort of succession of observations or the like. Nor does it follow that He is observing all moments of time at once. He is not observing it at all, any more than an author knows his novel by observing the characters and events in it."END

    11. @ Walter Van den Acker,

      "AKA complete predestination"

      Only in your created personal logic, which gives you no more than limited understanding. It does not rule I AM.

      Tom Cohoe

    12. @Son of Ya'Kov I do not understand how God causing a bat to be also confers Him experiential knowledge of what it's like to be a bat. That's like saying a writer writing a character in a story confers Him knowledge of what it's like to be that character. Confused.

    13. Infinite Growth

      A writer writing a character in a story knows exactly what it's like to be that character.


      In every sort of logic and especially in Son's.

    14. @ Walter Van den Acker,

      God rules you, not you God.

      Tom Cohoe

    15. @Walter Van den Acker

      So if you wrote a woman character as the protagonist in your first novel you would know exactly what it's like to be a woman?


    16. Are ye well Infinite Growth?

      >Son of Ya'Kov I do not understand how God causing a bat to be also confers Him experiential knowledge of what it's like to be a bat.

      Seriously? God has no experiential knowledge. Period. I just said that twice. Do ye nor read the King's English? God created the Bat. God from all eternity knew what He want to create down to the infinitely smallest detail. How then can He not know the Bat better than the Bat can know itself? By definition.

      You are Jewish and you dinnae know this?
      Are you for real or are you trolling me?

      >That's like saying a writer writing a character in a story confers Him knowledge of what it's like to be that character. Confused.

      An author's character is entirely made up by the author so how does the author not know his own character that he thought up?

      That is confusing to you? Laddie. I know it is the holidays & all that but take mae advice.

      Lay off the sauce....sober up and re-read what I wrote quoting Feser.


    17. Geez Infinite Growth? Walter is a religious skeptic of some sort. He gets it.

    18. Infinite Growth

      If I wrote a woman character as the protagonist in my first novel I would know exactly what it's like to be that particular woman.

    19. Haha, now Yakov wonders if Infinite Growth is trolling him, and dishes out his obnoxious bile to him too. Utterly paranoid and troll obsessed is our Yako, as well as being the blog's troll feeder extraordinaire too.

      Of course , Feser will never reign this jerk in ( or other sociopaths like Tom Cohoe ) as he is an obliging, grovelling toady.

    20. @ Walter Van den Acker,

      "Triangles have four sides"

      What are you getting at Walter?

      That triangles have three sides is just a definition, made by humans and expressed in human language, so it is part of how we talk and has nothing to do with some kind of limit on God. A side can also, in our talk, exist independently of any geometric figure.

      It can be defined as a line segment. Or, more particularly, as a line segment terminated by particular points.

      That a triangle does or does not have four sides is just an example of _our_ power to use language to express and communicate ideas. It has no bearing that I can see on what we can imagine and intelligibly communicate about God's will, and even less about God's will that is beyond our understanding.

      Tom Cohoe

    21. @ Walter Van den Acker,


      I neglected to post a Christmas wish for you. I hope yours was a merry one and that the New Year will find you in good spirits (but not literally rolling around under the table).


      Tom Cohoe

    22. Merry Christmas Anon. :D

      Classic Theism is grant and cannae be otherwise.

      Blessings of God upon ye this season.

    23. "If I wrote a woman character as the protagonist in my first novel I would know exactly what it's like to be that particular woman."

      If you intend her to truly be a woman, then you cannot know exactly what it's like to be her.

      If you wrote a story about a bat, you still wouldn't know what it's like to be a bat, and hence you wouldn't know what it's like to be that bat. This is quite obvious: you intend your character to be a true representation of specimen X, but if you don't know what it's like to be specimen X, just writing that character wouldn't change that

    24. RunDec

      But the woman or the bat are just that: characters in a story I wrote. There isn't anything beyond that story, so there is no 'true representation of specimen X', there is just a representation of my thoughts.
      Now of course a human being always uses experiential knowledge, but Son of Ya'Kov's point is that God does not have such knowledge. And I fully agree with that. it's just that this comes down to predestination.

    25. PS. My best wishes to everybody around here.

    26. @ Walter Van den Acker,

      "this comes down to predestination"

      But Walter, we have been given only a limited understanding of God's Act. Predestination is your own thought, from your own imagination and experience. God's Will is above limits that our minds seem to impose.

      Tom Cohoe

    27. Tom

      I don't wish to discuss this any further here, because it's off topic.

    28. @ Walter Van den Acker,

      I can't make you talk, so OK, I accede to your demand for a ceasefire.

      Now no sneaky advances.


      Tom Cohoe

  11. Dr. Feser, Michael Lofton from Reason and Theology responds to your CWR article on this topic. when asked if he would invite you on the show to discuss he commented that you had declined four previous invitations (he didn't say why and it wasn't an attempted put-down by any means) and so wasn't going to reach out. Perhaps you, Ed, could reach out to him. It would be a good discussion since Michael is doing his dissertation on the Magisterium. Make it happen, pretty please! Merry Christmas!

    Lofton's stream:

    1. I would not be averse to a discussion between Lofton and Feser. Wee Lofton is an up and comer. But Dr. Feser does have a lot on his plate.

    2. I acknowledge that Feser is really busy, but I think Lofton has enough cred and a following to be worth Feser's time. Also, Lofton is probably more educated in this area and so it would be good for these two smart men to have a go at a discussion.

  12. "When do popes teach infallibly?"

    Aside from when they are wearing their fancy hats, sitting in the special chair, and perhaps holding some symbol of office or placing a special notice or seal on a written proclamation; I guess it is when you are sure that they are without question genuine popes.

    How one not a priori convinced, purportedly knows this nowadays - ostensibly in real time - is another, subtler, question.

    I don't have enough interest in the issue to go into the weeds myself regarding the "St. Gallen Mafia" so-called, and the widely reported admission or even smug boasts of some members with regard to illicit caucusing or political strategizing beforehand. But looking at it from a bit of distance, it seems that improper electioneering might cast some doubt on the technical legitimacy, or at the very least, the inspiration, of the process.

    In any event, I suppose that many are not only content to give, but ardent about giving, him the benefit of the doubt: right up to the point he starts publicly proclaiming some apostate doctrine directly contradicting scripture ... and who knows ... perhaps even beyond that.

    If Bergoglio would recite more scripture, and jibe and and smirk at traditional Catholics less, more people might be inclined to extend that unquestioned presumption to him; and whole the issue might never have arisen.

  13. Here's an error from somethign called "Lumen Gentium! ":

    " But the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator. In the first place amongst these there are the Muslims, who, professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God, who on the last day will judge mankind."

    Allah, is not God.

  14. "I blame the Liberal Theologians. Of course I blame them for everything."- Fr. Benedict Groeschel.

  15. “As regards opinion, whatever the Roman Pontiffs have hitherto taught, or shall hereafter teach, must be held with a firm grasp of mind, and, so often as occasion requires, must be openly professed.”

    —Pope Leo XIII, Encyclical Immortale Dei, n. 41, 1885

    “In defining the limits of the obedience owed to the pastors of souls, but most of all to the authority of the Roman Pontiff, it must not be supposed that it is only to be yielded in relation to dogmas of which the obstinate denial cannot be disjoined from the crime of heresy. Nay, further, it is not enough sincerely and firmly to assent to doctrines which, though not defined by any solemn pronouncement of the Church, are by her proposed to belief, as divinely revealed, in her common and universal teaching, and which the Vatican Council declared are to be believed ‘with Catholic and divine faith.’

    But this likewise must be reckoned amongst the duties of Christians, that they allow themselves to be ruled and directed by the authority and leadership of bishops, and, above all, of the apostolic see. And how fitting it is that this should be so any one can easily perceive. For the things contained in the divine oracles have reference to God in part, and in part to man, and to whatever is necessary for the attainment of his eternal salvation.

    Now, both these, that is to say, what we are bound to believe and what we are obliged to do, are laid down, as we have stated, by the Church using her divine right, and in the Church by the supreme Pontiff. Wherefore it belongs to the Pope to judge authoritatively what things the sacred oracles contain, as well as what doctrines are in harmony, and what in disagreement, with them; and also, for the same reason, to show forth what things are to be accepted as right, and what to be rejected as worthless; what it is necessary to do and what to avoid doing, in order to attain eternal salvation. For, otherwise, there would be no sure interpreter of the commands of God, nor would there be any safe guide showing man the way he should live.”

    —Pope Leo XIII, Encyclical Sapientiae Christianae, n. 24, 1890

    “It is not to be thought that what is set down in Encyclical Letters does not demand assent in itself, because in this the Popes do not exercise the supreme power of their magisterium. For, these matters are taught by the ordinary magisterium, regarding which the following is pertinent: ‘He who heareth you, heareth Me’ (Luke 10:16); and usually what is set forth and inculcated in the Encyclical Letters already pertains to Catholic doctrine. But if the Supreme Pontiffs in their acts, after due consideration, express an opinion on a hitherto controversial matter, it is clear to all that this matter, according to the mind and the will of the same Pontiffs, cannot any longer be considered a question of free discussion among the theologians.”

    —Pope Pius XII Encyclical Humani Generis 1950

  16. Leave it to a V2 conservative to say that a pope can teach error!

  17. >Allah, is not God.

    "Allah" is an Arabic contraction of the phrase Al'Ilah meaning "The God". It is just saying God in Arabic. Like the word "God" is English for the Hebrew "Elohim".

    I've been to Masses in Arabic that call God "Allah". Coptic Catholics and Melikites both call God "Allah" except they correctly believe Allah the God of Abraham is "Al Ab", "Al Ibn" and "Ruel Al Qudds." and Allah is Alhall.

    (God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit who are One)

    What's with the trolls?

  18. I think this discussion is quite useful. As recent Popes have not taught heresy per se, and it seems no Pope ever has, the rationale for resisting some wishes of a Pope does not have to be because they have fallen into heresy, but simply because his every wish or thought is not infallible. It's also true that being mistaken, or taking actions that are extremely harmful to the Church do not mean the Pope has become a heretic (or, on the view of some, he is not a Pope).

    There have been a number of responses to the confusion since Vatican II. One, championed by the Opus Dei, for example, makes every effort to remain orthodox, while putting what the Pope does in the best possible light, generally not criticizing other parts of the Church, but speaking and working behind the scenes. This has made it possible for them to do a lot of good work.

    Another response has been that of Archbishop Lefebvre and the Saint Pius X Society. They have loudly attacked aspects of Vatican II (which they say must be authoritatively interpreted in the light of the traditional teachings of the Popes), and refused the accept the new liturgy. In order for them to do this, Archbishop Lefebvre consecrated four bishops against the wishes of Rome. At the same time, he and his congregation have never suggested any changes to the structure of the Church. They are Roman to the core, they simply believe that the Popes since Vatican II have made some big mistakes (that do not affect their infallibility) that warrant not being followed.

    Lately there seems to be a third position that should be worrying orthodox Catholics. It consists in, not just challenging the current Pope or refusing to recognize him, but a plan for a new Church structure. Here are a couple of recent examples.

    One is from John Lamont, in a debate featured on the Rorate Caeli site: "An admission that Pope Francis is a heretic destroys this cult-like understanding of the Church. It requires the Catholic faithful to exercise their faith in the words of Our Lord on their own, without the instruction of their bishops..." Secondly, this excerpt from an article by Peter Kwasniewski, where he argues, incongruously, for traditionalists not to leave the Church: " if a pope says that all that I love about the Latin Church is “rigid” and “nostalgic” and “out of date” and “closed off to surprises” and whatever other nonsense he comes out with, I will know that he is in the devil’s pay, since no pope who was a believer in Christ and a practicing Catholic would ever speak thus...". What Pope Francis is supposed to have done here is very far from heresy. Will we be next be told that he used a diabolical number of fingers to make the sign of the cross.

    Kwasniewski says he could not leave because Orthodoxy is a different "flesh and blood tradition and that his home is the West. It seems to me that he ignores the many attempts that have been made to create Western Orthodoxies. I believe we might be witnessing another of these. By "staying" in the West physically, but teaching an ecclesiology that is not Catholic, this group looks more like the modernists who persisted in undermining the Church from within. It might be very wrong to call liturgical traditionalism nostalgia, but attacking the structure of the Catholic Church is much worse.

  19. It seems to me that he ignores the many attempts that have been made to create Western Orthodoxies.

    I cannot understand this.

    Which is more like creating a schismatic severance from Christ's Church?

    (1) Openly defying Vatican II's explicit requirement that the elements of the mass should (a) not be modified "unless the good of the Church genuinely and certainly requires them", and (b) changed by organic development rather than unnatural innovations imposed by mere fiat; and when people cling to the mass to which violence has been done, demand that they give it up not by valid and upright law, but by inference, implication, innuendo, canceling, and persecution by a thousand unlawful cuts. Or,

    (2) When unlawful demands are made upon them, the people ignore those demands to remain attached to the mass as it was before violence was done to its form; the people ignore the cadging, name-calling, and vilifying of bishops (and popes) who call them "rigid" neo-Pelagians by continuing to pray for those bishops and popes while refusing to submit to said unlawful persecution by refusing to give up the old mass and the immemorial teachings of the Church.

    In regards to my use of the term "unlawful" above, I make 2 points: First, after 40 years of people at the Vatican and below insisting (without evidence) that Paul VI had abrogated the right to say the old mass, Benedict said it wasn't so. Second, while in Traditiones Custodis the pope could have demanded that priests request of their bishop the right to continue to say the old mass, instead the actual language is that the priest "should" request it of their bishops - language which is advisory rather than imperative. (The interpretive stance Church law is that restrictive rules are to be interpreted narrowly, not expansively: an advisory is not a command that must be obeyed.) Yet bishops have "interpreted" TC by imposing demands even more harsh and stringent than TC requires, without reason or need.

    1. As per the two examples, "creating Western Orthodoxies" refers to tendencies which aim to change ecclesiastical structure completely. I think these tendencies have nothing in common with the Opus Dei and the Saint Pius X Society, which have absolutely no wish to revolutionize the Church. Peter Kwasniewski, to broaden the example, evidently does not seem to think the Pope can reform the Roman Liturgy at all. This is to be seen in his articles opposing pre-Novus Ordo reforms going back to Leo XIII and beyond.

      Several "lights" of traditionalism are of the opinion that the broad Church (where is this ideal Church now?) is a better guarantor of liturgical and doctrinal fidelity than Rome - even though the rite has always been whatever the Pope legislated. This goes against the Catholic spirit entirely and such views properly amount to "Latin Rite Orthodoxy", but one that wants to remain within the Church. Just like the German bishops!

      This has nothing to do with not following liturgical reforms that have very harmful effects for the faith, or questioning certain texts of Vatican II as they have officially been interpreted thus far. Obviously the Novus Ordo is a departure from former norms and a plaything of liturgists imbued with notions from the '60s. It was resisted, with good reason, by Archbishop Lefebvre.

      For all that, it is still the Roman rite. Despite the grave issues that Ottaviani brought up, it rigorously follows the ritual sequence of the old rite, annoyingly recognizable even in the mangling of the old prayers.

    2. John Salza has the SSPX number. They are schismatics and quite mad. They are also evil and useless(note Salza is much kinder toward them than I am).

      The SSPX has been given many opportunities to return to full communion with the Church and become regularized. If they did they would be in a unique position to reach millions with orthodox Catholic teaching. But they choose to go at it alone with their foul Protestant mentality.

      Salza has their number. SSPX is not living in reality.

    3. For all their "evil", they have never put forward a plan to change the structure of the Catholic Church.

  20. For all that, it is still A Roman rite.

    It is not the only mass celebrated at Rome, despite the persecution that has its aim at snuffing out the older normative mass.

    1. I may have to nit pick here, I'm afraid. Your "older normative Mass" is another form of "the" Roman rite. There is only one Roman rite.

    2. Getting back to the comment actually made:

      For all that, it is still the Roman rite.

      I may have to nitty-nit pick here: the antecedent of "it" is the Novus Ordo mass.

      Obviously the Novus Ordo is a departure... It was resisted, with good reason,...

      In the sense of your most recent comment: no, the Novus Ordo mass is not the Roman Rite, it is one of the masses OF the Roman Rite. It does not encompass and set forth the whole of and every particle of "the Roman Rite".

      Speaking more generally: there is, so far as I have found in a reasonable amount of digging, no extant set of definitions that distinguish what, precisely, constitutes the specific difference of a "Rite" versus other classes of liturgical distinction, such as various "uses" of masses. From my lack of locating any such definitions, or even anything that purports to set forth the specific difference that sets the notion of "Rites" apart, I tentatively conclude that the historical practices that eventually came to represent the various "Rites" can only be distinguished as more or less ad hoc collections of customs and practices, i.e. distinct by reason of historical accident rather than by reason of principled, per se differences. If so, there is nothing that necessarily prevents a future practice in which the mass of the 1969 Roman Missal from being called a different "Rite" from the mass of the 1962 Roman Missal. If some future pope or council decided to distinguish them so, then they would be distinct Rites for practical purposes, and that's (apparently) all that separates the other Rites in terms of being named so - practical purposes. The fact that Pope Benedict invented one naming option, calling one the "ordinary form" and the other the "extraordinary form" doesn't set the matter in stone, and (given that this attempt cannot be generalized to deal with, say, the Dominican mass) it may well prove unstable and short-lived.

    3. Good luck with your discovery that there are no recognizable rites in the Catholic Church. Beware of nominalism, or not seeing the forest for the trees.

      The different forms of the Roman rite are those established by the Roman Church. It's unclear how the Novus Ordo can be its own antecedent. Your nit picking must have really tangled up the thread.

    4. Good luck with your discovery that there are no recognizable rites in the Catholic Church.

      I didn't say that. They are recognizable. Rather obviously so.

      I said that I have discovered no principle that distinguishes "rites" from different masses of the same rite, e.g. a principle that objectively requires that we consider the Coptic mass as not being within the same "rite" as the Eritrean mass, instead of allowing them to be considered two distinct masses under a single rite, a principle that would distinguish without reliance primarily on historical accident. If you believe there is one, please feel to state it, and the source from which you get it. I could not find one. Here's a definition of "rite" that would seem to preclude even the possibility of there being such a principle:

      A rite consists of “the diverse liturgical traditions in which the one catholic and apostolic faith has come to be expressed and celebrated in various cultures and lands" (Catechism Glossary).

  21. The definition you gave at the end is right though it's only intended to be general. More correctly, it would read, "Rites consist of the diverse etc." - not diverse syllogisms. The logic is juridical, not metaphysical. Rites are quite easy to categorize now. Thanks to Roman government, they also correspond to recognizable structural differences between rites, and official status as such. Arcane discussions are not very relevant to this discernment. For instance, whether the Mozarabic rite really belongs to the Jacobite liturgical family is supremely irrelevant to a Syrian Christian who happens to stumble into the Rite of Toledo today. Binding and loosing is very appropriate when its comes to the Church's law regarding official worship. This is the province of its government, by definition. And being Roman, it always settles down to what is most sensible and practical, eventually.

    I leave you to worry about whether the Church might declare the Novus Ordo to be another rite that is not the Roman rite. The opinion of those who don't appreciate the Tridentine rite would be more likely to place IT beyond the pale, in some kind of Ordinariate or other type of ghetto. Ideally, the Roman rite will simply get rid of all tendentious elements, and become uniformly traditional again. In this case, the whole Latin rite will celebrate as one, and enjoy it.