Disputed Questions on Papal Infallibility – Part 5

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Editor’s note: this and related articles have now been published in a book entitled: Disputed Questions on Papal Infallibility (Os Justi Press, 2022).

Part 1 (Question 1)
Part 2 (Question 1)
Part 3 (Question 2)
Part 4 (Question 2)

Article 8:
Whether the Oath Against Modernism
is an Infallible Profession of Faith?

Objection 1. It seems that the oath against modernism (1910) is not an infallible profession of faith. For Sixtus Cartechini attributes this oath to the ordinary papal magisterium,[1] which is not infallible, as shown above (question 1 article 2).

Objection 2. Furthermore, the oath against modernism was abrogated in 1967 and replaced by a very brief profession of faith composed by the CDF.[2] Hence it must have been only a provisional disciplinary measure and not an irrevocable definition of faith.

On the contrary, according to St. Thomas: “To publish a new edition of the symbol belongs to that authority which is empowered to decide matters of faith finally (sententialiter determinare), so that they may be held by all with unshaken faith. Now this belongs to the authority of the Sovereign Pontiff.”[3] The pope, therefore, is infallible in publishing new editions of the creed or professions of faith, and the oath against modernism is such a profession of faith.

I answer that, it must be said that the oath against modernism is a solemn and infallible profession of faith has been was proposed as a rule of faith for the whole Church. This can be proved in two ways.

First, positively: the oath fulfills the three essential criteria of infallible papal teaching set forth by Vatican I. For it was promulgated by Pope Pius X acting in his official capacity as supreme head of the whole Church and invoking his apostolic duty to “confirm the brethren” (cf. Luke 22:32).[4] Its object is the profession and defense of the Catholic faith against errors that would undermine the integrity of the divine deposit, on account of which it falls at least within the secondary object of infallibility. Finally, the note of definition is evident in the very language of the oath, which says: “I firmly embrace and accept. . . . I profess. . . . I believe with equally firm faith. . . . I hold with certainty and sincerely confess. . . . I also reject the error. . . . I condemn and reject. . . . Finally, I profess. . . . Thus I hold steadfastly. . . . I promise that I shall keep all this faithfully, wholly, and sincerely. . . .”[5]

Second, speculatively: for if it were possible for such an oath to contain error in matters of faith, then it would be possible for the entire hierarchy of the Church to fall away from the true faith, for all Catholic bishops and priests were required to swear this oath for many years (1910–67). But this is contrary to the indefectibility of the Church, according to the words of Christ: “The gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt 16:18).

Reply to Objection 1. To the first it must be said that Cartechini affirmed the infallibility of the oath against modernism even while attributing it to the ordinary papal magisterium. This is because he held that the pope was able to speak infallibly both in his ordinary and extraordinary magisterium, and so regarded the distinction between these two forms of teaching as a question of minor significance.[6]

Reply to Objection 2. To the second it must be said that a distinction must be made between the oath in itself and the mandate requiring it to be sworn by bishops, pastors, professors of theology and philosophy, etc. The latter is indeed merely disciplinary, but the oath in itself is a solemn profession of faith that remains permanently valid, just as the Tridentine profession of faith remains one of the most solemn and venerable creeds of the Church despite no longer being imposed by canon law in the way that it was for over four hundred years.

Article 9:
Whether the Pope Speaks Infallibly
Quanta Cura?

Objection 1. It seems that the pope does not speak infallibly in Quanta Cura (1864). For the errors condemned therein are not condemned specifically as heretical. And as Sullivan says: “Since this form of censure does not explicitly condemn any particular proposition as heretical, one cannot conclude that the contradictory of any of the condemned propositions is a defined dogma. Such documents, therefore, are to be seen as examples of the ordinary, non-definitive exercise of the papal magisterium.”[7]

Objection 2. Furthermore, according to Robert Miller: “Pius IX taught ex cathedra in his bull Ineffabilis Deus (1854) defining the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, and Quanta Cura is nothing like Ineffabilis Deus.”[8]

Objection 3. Furthermore, as Miller also says, the doctrine contained in Quanta Cura cannot be taught infallibly, for it is not contained in natural law, nor in Scripture, nor in Tradition.[9]

On the contrary, Billot includes Quanta Cura in his list of ex cathedra definitions.[10]

I answer that, it must be said that the pope indeed speaks infallibly in Quanta Cura when he condemns several “false and perverse opinions” characteristic of the modern age in the following terms:

Amidst, therefore, such great perversity of depraved opinions, we, well remembering our Apostolic office, and very greatly solicitous for our most holy religion, for sound doctrine and the salvation of souls which is entrusted to us by God, and also for the welfare of human society itself, have thought it right again to raise up our Apostolic voice. Therefore, by our Apostolic authority, we reprobate, proscribe, and condemn each and every one of the perverse opinions and doctrines individually mentioned in this letter, and we will and command that they be held by all children of the Catholic Church as absolutely reprobated, proscribed and condemned.[11]

In the first place, there can be no doubt that the pope is here exercising his supreme apostolic authority, which he explicitly invokes.

Second, it can be seen that the doctrines condemned in Quanta Cura fall within the scope of infallibility from the reason the pope gives for their condemnation, namely: “because they chiefly tend to this, that that salutary influence be impeded and even removed, which the Catholic Church, according to the institution and command of her divine Author, should freely exercise even to the end of the world—not only over private individuals, but over nations, peoples, and their sovereign princes.”[12] For infallibility extends as far as is required for the safeguarding and exposition of divine revelation, which certainly includes the institutions and commands of Christ.

Third, the note of definition is manifest in the whole formula of condemnation, and especially in this, that all the faithful are explicitly obliged to hold these opinions “as absolutely rejected, proscribed, and condemned (veluti reprobatas, proscriptas atque damnatas omnino).”[13]

The errors thus infallibly condemned in Quanta Cura are as follows:

  • That the best constitution of public society and also civil progress altogether require that human society be conducted and governed without regard being had to religion any more than if it did not exist; or, at least, without any distinction being made between the true religion and false ones.
  • That the best condition of civil society is one in which no duty is recognized, as attached to the civil power, of restraining by enacted penalties, offenders against the Catholic religion, except so far as public peace may require.
  • That liberty of conscience and worship is each man’s personal right, which ought to be legally proclaimed and asserted in every rightly constituted society.
  • That a right resides in the citizens to an absolute liberty, which should be restrained by no authority whether ecclesiastical or civil, whereby they may be able openly and publicly to manifest and declare any of their ideas whatever, either by word of mouth, by the press, or in any other way. [14]
  • That the people’s will, manifested by what is called public opinion or in some other way, constitutes a supreme law, free from all divine and human control.[15]
  • That in the political order accomplished facts, from the very circumstance that they are accomplished, have the force of right.
  • That permission should be refused to citizens and to the Church, whereby they may openly give alms for the sake of Christian charity.
  • That the law should be abrogated whereby on certain fixed days servile works are prohibited because of God’s worship.
  • That domestic society or the family derives the whole principle of its existence from the civil law alone.
  • That on civil law alone depend all rights of parents over their children, and especially that of providing for education.
  • That the clergy, as being hostile to the true and beneficial advance of science and civilization, should be removed from the whole charge and duty of instructing and educating youth.
  • That the Church’s laws do not bind in conscience unless when they are promulgated by the civil power.
  • That acts and decrees of the Roman Pontiffs, referring to religion and the Church, need the civil power’s sanction and approbation, or at least its consent.
  • That the Apostolic Constitutions, whereby secret societies are condemned (whether an oath of secrecy be or be not required in such societies), and whereby their frequenters and favorers are smitten with anathema—have no force in those regions of the world wherein associations of the kind are tolerated by the civil government.
  • That the excommunication pronounced by the Council of Trent and by Roman Pontiffs against those who assail and usurp the Church’s rights and possessions, rests on a confusion between the spiritual and temporal orders, and is directed to the pursuit of a purely secular good.
  • That the Church can decree nothing which binds the conscience of the faithful in regard to their use of temporal things.
  • That the Church has no right of restraining by temporal punishments those who violate her laws.
  • That it is conformable to the principles of sacred theology and public law to assert and claim for the civil government a right of property in those goods which are possessed by the Church, by the Religious Orders, and by other pious establishments.
  • That ecclesiastical power is not by divine right distinct from, and independent of, the civil power, and such distinction and independence cannot be preserved without the civil power’s essential rights being assailed and usurped by the Church.
  • That without sin and without any sacrifice of the Catholic profession, assent and obedience may be refused to those judgments and decrees of the Apostolic See, whose object is declared to concern the Church’s general good and her rights and discipline, so only it does not touch the dogmata of faith and morals.[16]

Reply to Objection 1. To the first it must be said that the objection assumes that the infallibility of the pope is limited to the primary object of the magisterium, which is false, as shown above (question 1 article 5).

Reply to Objection 2. To the second it must be said that it is irrelevant whether Quanta Cura measures up to the standard of a dogmatic definition like Ineffabilis Deus; what is required is that it should meet the conditions for infallible papal teaching set forth by Pastor Aeternus and reiterated by Lumen Gentium. A thing can fail to measure up to the most pre-eminent example of its kind or class while still being a member of that kind or class.

Reply to Objection 3. To the third it must be said that this objection would undermine the whole doctrine of papal infallibility. For if it were admissible for anyone to judge that the pope does not speak infallibly in a certain instance because the doctrine proposed does not, according to his own opinion, pertain to the deposit of faith, then it would be possible to deny the infallibility of any papal definition at all simply on the grounds that, according to one’s own opinion, the doctrine in question is neither contained in divine revelation nor required for the safeguarding and exposition of the same. But this is absurd, as shown above (question 2 article 7 reply to objection 1). As Joseph Kleutgen says:

Certainly it is true that the authority of the Church has its limits: for it has been given to teach about the religion of Jesus Christ, and not about everything that is able to be known by man. But what follows from this, if not that the Church teaches nothing and decides about nothing other than that which belongs to the religion of Jesus Christ? Were she not given the infallible insight as to how far her authority to teach reached, then her infallibility itself would obviously be void and meaningless. Thus whenever the bearer of this supreme authority judges about a teaching in such a way that he obliges the whole of Christendom to submit to his judgment, then is the certainty of this judgment beyond doubt.[17]

The criterion of matters of faith and morals is not given to us in order that we should make an independent inquiry into the sources of theology prior to accepting definitive magisterial teaching. It is given in order to assure us that God will prevent the pope from requiring us to hold by faith something that does not pertain to faith. What is necessary to determine with regard to the object of papal infallibility, therefore, as has been said above, is not whether the doctrine taught is in fact a matter of faith or morals, but whether it is being proposed as such.

Article 10:
Whether the Pope Speaks Infallibly
Providentissimus Deus?

Objection 1. It seems that the pope does not speak infallibly in Providentissimus Deus (1893). For if there were any infallible teaching in Providentissimus Deus, it would be the teaching concerning the complete inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture. But according to Dublanchy, this belongs to the ordinary papal magisterium,[18] which is not infallible, as shown above.

Objection 2. Furthermore, in order to speak infallibly, the pope must be speaking in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority as head of the universal Church. But this encyclical is not addressed to the universal Church. For the universal Church includes the lay faithful, whereas this encyclical is addressed only: “To our venerable brethren, all patriarchs, primates, archbishops, and bishops of the Catholic world, in grace and communion with the Apostolic See.”[19] Nor does the pope ever invoke his supreme apostolic authority in this encyclical.

Objection 3. Furthermore, the pope does not himself define Catholic doctrine concerning the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture, but merely asserts that it has been defined by the Councils of Florence and Trent. Hence, this is an act of the ordinary (non-infallible) papal magisterium confirming or reaffirming existing Catholic doctrine.

Objection 4. Furthermore, according to Cardinal König: “The Bible’s references to matters of history and natural science sometimes fall short of the truth.”[20] Therefore, the teaching of Providentissimus Deus on the absolute inerrancy of Scripture cannot be infallible.

Objection 5. Furthermore, according to the Second Vatican Council: “The books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of our salvation.”[21] Hence, according to the instrumentum laboris of the 2008 synod of bishops on the Word of God in the life and mission of the Church, it can be said with certainty that “with regards to what might be inspired in the many parts of Sacred Scripture, inerrancy applies only to ‘that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation’.”[22] By placing this limitation on the inerrancy of Scripture, the Second Vatican Council substantially altered the Church’s previous teaching on inerrancy, as Raymond Brown says:

In the last one hundred years we have moved from an understanding wherein inspiration guaranteed that the Bible was totally inerrant to an understanding wherein inerrancy is limited to the Bible’s teaching of “that truth which God wanted put into the sacred writings for the sake of our salvation.”  In this long journey of thought the concept of inerrancy was not rejected but was seriously modified to fit the evidence of biblical criticism which showed that the Bible was not inerrant in questions of science, of history, and even of time-conditioned religious beliefs.[23]

But such a substantial modification of doctrine would not have been possible if Leo XIII’s teaching had been infallible.

On the contrary, according to Pope Benedict XV, Pope Leo XIII “solemnly declared the ancient and traditional belief of the Church touching the absolute immunity of Scripture from error.”[24] And again: “These words of our predecessor leave no room for doubt or dispute.”[25] Likewise, Pope Pius XII: “This teaching, which Our Predecessor Leo XIII set forth with such solemnity.”[26] But a solemn declaration that excludes all doubt can only be an infallible definition.

I answer that, it must be said that Pope Leo XIII infallibly defined the complete inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture, where he says:

But it is absolutely wrong and forbidden, either to narrow inspiration to certain parts only of Holy Scripture, or to admit that the sacred writer has erred. For the system of those who, in order to rid themselves of these difficulties, do not hesitate to concede that divine inspiration regards the things of faith and morals, and nothing beyond, because (as they wrongly think) in a question of the truth or falsehood of a passage, we should consider not so much what God has said as the reason and purpose which He had in mind in saying it—this system cannot be tolerated. For all the books which the Church receives as sacred and canonical, are written wholly and entirely, with all their parts, at the dictation of the Holy Ghost; and so far is it from being possible that any error can co-exist with inspiration, that inspiration not only is essentially incompatible with error, but excludes and rejects it as absolutely and necessarily as it is impossible that God Himself, the supreme Truth, can utter that which is not true. This is the ancient and unchanging faith of the Church, solemnly defined in the Councils of Florence and of Trent, and finally confirmed and more expressly formulated by the Council of the Vatican.[27]

In the first place, there can be no doubt that the inspiration and truth of Scripture are matters pertaining to faith. Moreover, the entire encyclical is an act of the pope in his official capacity as supreme pastor and teacher of the universal Church, for it is addressed directly and explicitly to the entire Catholic hierarchy, and therefore also indirectly and implicitly to all the faithful subject to them.

The only question to arise regards the note of definition, whether the pope proposes this teaching as to be firmly believed or definitively held; and it must be said that he does. For he directly and conclusively issues his sentence in order to definitively exclude a novel doctrine then being put forward by some, saying: “It is absolutely wrong” to limit the inspiration or inerrancy of Scripture. Moreover, the word here translated as ‘wrong’ is nefas, which literally means ‘contrary to divine law.’ The pope therefore declares that it is absolutely contrary to divine law to deny the complete inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture. And this is why the system of those who attempt to limit the inspiration of Scripture “must not be tolerated” (nec toleranda est). Furthermore, the pope concludes by expressly declaring that this doctrine of the complete inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture “is the ancient and unchanging faith of the Church, solemnly defined in the Councils of Florence and of Trent,” etc., which leaves no room for doubt that, according to the mind of the Roman pontiff, the contrary opinion is to be held definitively as heretical or at least proximate to heresy.

Reply to Objection 1. To this it must be said that Dublanchy affirmed the infallibility of this declaration even while attributing it to the ordinary papal magisterium. This is because he held that the pope was able to speak infallibly both in his ordinary and extraordinary magisterium, distinguishing between them only on the basis of extrinsic solemnity.[28]

Reply to Objection 2. To the second it must be said that it is not necessary for the pope to explicitly address the lay faithful in order to exercise his supreme authority; it is proof enough that he is acting as supreme head of the universal Church if he addresses the entire hierarchy of the Church, for then it is clear that he is not acting in a private capacity nor merely as the local diocesan bishop, etc. Moreover, by directly obliging all the bishops of the Church to hold and teach a certain doctrine, the pope indirectly requires all the faithful, who are subject to their bishops, to accept and hold the same teaching.

Reply to Objection 3. To the third it must be said that there is nothing to prevent the pope from speaking infallibly when he issues a formal confirmation of existing Catholic doctrine, as has been shown above.

Reply to Objection 4. To the fourth it must be said that, although there are many difficulties in the interpretation of Scripture, nevertheless, as Saint Augustine says: “If we are perplexed by an apparent contradiction in Scripture, it is not allowable to say that the author of this book is mistaken; but either the manuscript is faulty, or the translation is wrong, or you have not understood.”[29] And if anyone should ask why God should have caused Scripture to contain so many obscurities and ambiguities, Augustine also says: “I do not doubt that all this was divinely arranged for the purpose of subduing pride by toil, and of preventing a feeling of satiety in the intellect, which generally holds in small esteem what is discovered without difficulty.”[30]

Reply to Objection 5. To the fifth it must be said that Dei Verbum §11 is ambiguous on this point, since the clause “for the sake of our salvation” could be understood not as limiting the scope of inerrancy but as giving the purpose of all Scripture, so that the sense would be that the books of sacred Scripture teach truth without any error, and that everything in them was put there by God for the sake of our salvation. Moreover, this latter interpretation fits better with what is said immediately before, namely: “Everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit.”[31] For if the sacred writers erred in any of their assertions, and not only in those pertaining directly to human salvation, then the Holy Spirit would have erred, which is impossible. Moreover, the note on this text of Dei Verbum §11 references the teaching of Providentissimus Deus on the complete inerrancy of Scripture, which makes it absurd to suppose that it was simultaneously contradicting Providentissimus Deus on this point. However, even if Dei Verbum had contradicted the teaching of Providentissimus Deus in this matter, nothing would follow from this except that the Second Vatican Council would have taught error. For in cases of conflict between magisterial teaching, the less authoritative must give way to the more authoritative and the non-definitive to the definitive, as shown above (question 1 article 2).

Article 11:
Whether the Pope Speaks Infallibly
Exsurge Domine?

Objection 1. It seems that the pope does not speak infallibly in Exsurge Domine (1520). For the propositions condemned therein are not condemned individually but only globally (in globo) as being “respectively heretical, or scandalous, or false, or offensive to pious ears, or seductive of simple minds, and against Catholic truth.”[32] And according to Brian Harrison:

A pope’s condemnation of a proposition that may—for all he has told us—be no worse than ‘scandalous’, ‘offensive to pious ears’, or ‘seductive of simple minds’, can certainly not qualify as an ex cathedra definition. For all those three lesser censures clearly involve the kind of judgment that might turn out to be reformable; whereas infallible definitions, of course, are by their very nature irreformable. (Assuming it is not certainly false, a given proposition that is nevertheless likely to ‘scandalize’, ‘offend’, or ‘seduce’ the faithful under certain cultural/historical circumstances may not necessarily be so noxious under different circumstances.)[33]

Objection 2. Furthermore, one of the propositions condemned in Exsurge Domine is this: “That heretics be burned is against the will of the Spirit.”[34] But Exsurge Domine seems to err on this point, and so cannot be infallible. For anything that is intrinsically evil must be against the will of the Spirit. And capital pubishment is intrinsically evil. For as it says in the revised text of the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Consequently, the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that ‘the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person’.”[35] And it can never be morally legitimate to attack the inviolability and dignity of the person.

Objection 3. Furthermore, the burning of heretics constitutes a form of torture, which is also intrinsically evil. For the Second Vatican Council mentions torture, among other things, as an infamy that is a “supreme dishonor to the Creator.”[36] Pope John Paul II cites the same list of things, including torture, as examples of intrinsically evil actions, saying: “They are such always and per se, in other words, on account of their very object, and quite apart from the ulterior intentions of the one acting and the circumstances.”[37] And according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Torture which uses physical or moral violence to extract confessions, punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred is contrary to respect for the person and for human dignity.”[38]

On the contrary, according to Johann Baptist Franzelin, no Catholic can rightly deny that the propositions collectively condemned under diverse censures in Exsurge Domine are condemned infallibly.[39]

I answer that, it must be said that Pope Leo X spoke ex cathedra when he condemned forty-one of the errors of Martin Luther in the following terms:

With the advice and consent of these our venerable brothers, with mature deliberation on each and every one of the above theses, and by the authority of almighty God, the blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and our own authority, we condemn, reprobate, and reject completely each of these theses or errors as respectively heretical, scandalous, false, offensive to pious ears or seductive of simple minds, and against Catholic truth. By listing them, we decree and declare that all the faithful of both sexes must regard them as condemned, reprobated, and rejected.[40]

The only doubt that arises with respect to the infallibility of this condemnation concerns the inclusion of several of the lesser censures, such as ‘scandalous’ and ‘offensive to pious ears’, within a global formula of condemnation, so that it is unclear which theological censure should be applied to which condemned proposition.

There are three schools of thought concerning this question. Some hold that such lesser censures do not involve a definite judgment of falsity, but merely proscribe a proposition as being somehow dangerous in the concrete circumstances of that time, while allowing for the possibility that they could be held and taught without danger at some future time.[41] Others hold that these censures do involve an infallible judgment of the falsity of the doctrine, since a true doctrine could not be so absolutely objectionable.[42] Still others hold that even though some of these censures do not involve a definite judgment of the falsity of the doctrine, there is still an infallible judgment as to the objectionable quality specified by the censure, so that the doctrine condemned as offensive to pious ears, for example, is permanently to be rejected and condemned as objectively offensive to pious ears, regardless of its inherent truth or falsity.[43]

This last position seems most in agreement with the mode of expression used by the pontiffs in condemnations of this kind. For the first position seems to minimize the definitive mode of the condemnation, while the second position seems to minimize the particular qualities of the censures employed.

However, this question need not be settled in order to accept the infallibility of the condemnations in Exsurge Domine. For in this instance it can be seen in other ways that Pope Leo X intended to exclude all the condemned propositions as objectively false and incompatible with the Catholic faith. In the first place, even though it is not clear which propositions are condemned as heretical, which as scandalous, which as offensive to pious ears, etc., nevertheless all of the propositions are condemned together as being “against Catholic truth” (veritati catholicae obviantes), for this last clause is introduced by the word ‘and’ rather than ‘or’.[44] Moreover, in the words immediately preceding the formula of condemnation, the pope gives the reason for this condemnation, saying:

For according to these errors, or any one or several of them (vel eorum aliquo vel aliquibus), it clearly follows that the Church, which is guided by the Holy Spirit, is in error and has always erred. This is certainly against what Christ at his ascension promised to his disciples, as is read in the holy Gospel of Matthew: “I will be with you even to the consummation of the world.” It is also against the determinations of the holy Fathers, and the express ordinances or canons of the Councils and the supreme Pontiffs.[45]

According to this explanation, which clearly manifests the mind and will of the pope, each and every individual error condemned in Exsurge Domine is to be rejected and condemned as being opposed at least by a logical consequence to a truth of divine revelation (namely, Mt 28:20), which places it squarely within the secondary object of infallibility. There can, therefore, be no remaining question as to whether the condemnations in Exsurge Domine are infallible.

Objection 1. To the first it must be said that this objection overlooks the importance of the whole document in determining the intended sense of the condemnation and ignores the crucial words “and against Catholic truth” (& veritati catholicae obviantes) within the formula of condemnation.

Objection 2. To the second it must be said that capital punishment is not intrinsically evil. For according to the unanimous teaching of the Fathers of the Church,[46] from which no Catholic is permitted to depart,[47] God himself declares the moral right of the civil power to make use of the death penalty as just retribution for grave crimes, saying: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for God made man in his own image” (Gen 9:6); and again: “But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he [the civil ruler] does not bear the sword in vain; he is the servant of God to execute his wrath on the wrongdoer” (Rom 13:4). If, therefore, the revised text of the Catechism regarding capital punishment were to be understood as asserting that the death penalty is intrinsically evil, then it would have to be rejected as false and heretical. If, however, the revised text of the Catechism should be understood, as some have argued,[48] merely as a prudential judgment regarding the “admissibility” of using the death penalty in present contingent circumstances but without denying its intrinsic legitimacy, then it would still have to be criticized as badly expressed (male sonans) and savoring of heresy (sapiens haeresim).

Objection 3. To the third it must be said that the penalty of death by fire cannot be described as intrinsically evil without denying either the goodness of God or the divine inspiration of the Old Testament. For God himself in the law of Moses prescribes death by fire for certain crimes (cf. Lev 20:14; 21:9). In order to accept the teaching of Vatican II, Pope John Paul II, and the Catechism regarding the intrinsic evil of torture, therefore, we must say either that death by burning is not torture, which seems implausible; or that the meaning of the term “torture” is insufficiently clear, and this seems most likely. For “torture” may be used to mean the infliction of severe or extreme pain, and in this case it could not be described as intrinsically evil; or it could be used to mean the infliction of excessive pain, in which case it would be intrinsically evil by definition; or it could be used to refer to the kind of extra-judicial torture that prevails in modern times, that is, the illegal infliction of severe pain, which is intrinsically evil not on account of its severity as such but because “disproportionately cruel, or inflicted by unauthorized persons, or without due process, or inflicted on the innocent, or from sadistic motivations”—according to Harrison, we should understand the modern condemnations of torture in this latter sense.[49]

Article 12:
Whether the Pope Speaks Infallibly
Unam Sanctam?

Objection 1. It seems that the pope does not speak infallibly in Unam Sanctam (1302). For that which is infallibly defined is irrevocable. But Pope Clement V revoked Unam Sanctam by his apostolic brief Meruit (1306).

Objection 2. Furthermore, according to the Second Vatican Council: “The assent of the Church can never be wanting” to an infallible definition.[50] But most Catholics do not in fact assent to the teaching contained in Unam Sanctam. Therefore, it could not have been an infallible definition. As Sullivan says: “The eventual failure of any papal doctrine to be received by the Church as an article of its faith would show that the doctrine was not contained in the deposit of faith, and hence was not capable of being defined as dogma.”[51]

On the contrary, Billot and Dublanchy categorize Unam Sanctam as an ex cathedra definition.[52] Pope Pius XII also refers to the doctrine of this constitution as “the solemn teaching of Our predecessor of immortal memory Boniface VIII.”[53]

I answer that, it must be said that there could be no clearer instance of an ex cathedra definition than the declaration of Pope Boniface VIII at the conclusion of Unam Sanctam, where he says: “Furthermore, we declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff.”[54] The only real question concerns the rest of the document—whether any more of its teaching is infallible or only the final definition. In response to this it must be said that there are in fact many infallible doctrinal assertions in this document. For the opening lines of the constitution are explicitly definitive, saying: “Urged by faith, we are obliged to believe and to maintain that the Church is one, holy, catholic, and also apostolic. We believe in her firmly and we confess with simplicity that outside of her there is neither salvation nor the remission of sins.”[55]

The doctrinal content of the main body of the constitution is then presented largely without such explicitly definitive language, and yet it is one of these assertions which Pius XII identifies as the “solemn teaching” of Boniface VIII, saying: “That Christ and his Vicar constitute one only head is the solemn teaching of Our predecessor of immortal memory Boniface VIII in the apostolic letter Unam Sanctam.”[56]

Finally, there is more explicitly definitive language toward the close of the constitution where it says: “With truth as our witness, it belongs to spiritual power to establish the terrestrial power and to pass judgement if it has not been good.” And again: “Therefore whoever resists this power thus ordained by God, resists the ordinance of God (Rom 13:2), unless he invent like Manicheus two beginnings, which is false and judged by us heretical.”[57]

Reply to Objection 1. To the first it must be said that Pope Clement V did not actually revoke or contradict in any way the solemn teaching of Unam Sanctam. In order to appease King Philip IV of France, he merely explained that Unam Sanctam had not made temporal rulers subject to the authority of the Church in any way other than they had been formerly, saying:

Therefore, we will and intend that no prejudice be engendered against the king and kingdom by the definition and declaration of our predecessor Boniface VIII, of happy memory, which begins Unam Sanctam; and that neither the king, kingdom, nor the inhabitants thereof be more subjected to the Church of Rome than they were before; but that all things be understood as remaining in the same state in which they were before the aforesaid definition, both as regards the Church and as regards the aforesaid king, kingdom, and inhabitants thereof.[58]

Reply to Objection 2. To the second it must be said that to make the authority of a solemn papal definition dependent upon its reception by the Church is a complete inversion of the proper relationship between authority and faith. Lack of reception of this teaching or of any other dogma of the Church, even by a great number of Catholics, is evidence only of their ignorance or heresy, and not of the genuine sensus fidelium.


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[1] Sixtus Cartechini, De valore notarum theologicarum (Rome, 1951), 34.

[2] CDF, Formula to adopt from now on in cases in which the Profession of Faith is prescribed by law in substitution of the Tridentine formula and the oath against modernism (1967).

[3] Thomas Aquinas, ST II-II, q. 1, a. 10.

[4] See Joseph C. Fenton, “Sacrorum Antistitum and the Background of the Oath Against Modernism,” American Ecclesiastical Review 143 (1960): 240.

[5] Pope Pius X, Sacrorum Antistitum (1910).

[6] See Cartechini, De valore, 33–36.

[7] Sullivan, Creative Fidelity, 89.

[8] Robert T. Miller, “Integralism and Catholic Doctrine,” Public Discourse, July 15, 2018.

[9] Miller, “Integralism and Catholic Doctrine.”

[10] See Billot, Tractatus de Ecclesia Christi, 644.

[11] Pope Pius IX, Encyclical Letter Quanta Cura (1864), §6.

[12] Ibid., §3.

[13] Ibid., §6.

[14] All cited in Ibid., §3.

[15] All cited in Ibid., §4.

[16] All cited in Ibid., §5.

[17] Kleutgen, Die Theologie der Vorzeit, 2nd ed., 150.

[18] See Dublanchy, “Infaillibilité,” 1705.

[19] Pope Leo XIII, Encyclical Letter Providentissimus Deus (1893).

[20] Acta Synodalia, 3/3:275 (trans. Brian W. Harrison in, “Paul VI on the Truth and Inerrancy of Sacred Scripture: Part B,” Living Tradition 166 [2013]: 3).

[21] See Vatican II, Dei Verbum, §11.

[22] Synod of Bishops XII Ordinary General Assembly, Intrumentum Laboris (2008), 15.

[23] Raymond E. Brown, The Virginal Conception and Bodily Resurrection of Jesus (New York: Paulist, 1973), 8–9.

[24] Pope Benedict XV, Encyclical Letter Spiritus Paraclitus (1920), §16.

[25] Ibid., §18.

[26] Pope Pius XII, Encyclical Letter Divino Afflante Spiritu (1943), §4.

[27] Leo XIII, Providentissimus Deus, 20.

[28] See Dublanchy, “Infaillibilité,” 1705.

[29] Augustine, Against Faustus XI, 5.

[30] Augustine, On Christian Doctrine II, 6.

[31] Vatican II, Dei Verbum, §11.

[32] Pope Leo X, Exsurge Domine (1520), §4.

[33] Brian W. Harrison, “Torture and Corporal Punishment as a Problem in Catholic Theology, Part II: The Witness of Tradition and Magisterium,” Living Tradition 119 (Sep. 2005).

[34] Leo X, Exsurge Domine, condemned proposition 33.

[35] 2018 Catechism of the Catholic Church [henceforth: CCC], 2267.

[36] Vatican II, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes (1965), §27.

[37] John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor, §80.

[38] 1997 CCC, 2297.

[39] Franzelin, De divina traditione et scriptura, 112–13.

[40] Leo X, Exsurge Domine, §4.

[41] See, for example: Harrison, cited in the objection above.

[42] See, for example: Kleutgen, Die Theologie, 137.

[43] See, for example: Franzelin, De divina traditione, 113.

[44] Leo X, Exsurge Domine, §4. For the Latin text, see Laerzio Cherubini, ed., Magnum Bullarium Romanum (Lyons: Borde and Arnaud, 1692–97), 1:615.

[45] Ibid., §3.

[46] For a review of the patristic sources, see Edward Feser and Joseph Bessette, By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed: A Catholic Defense of Capital Punishment (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2017); see also Avery Dulles, “Catholicism and Capital Punishment,” First Things (April 2001).

[47] See: Council of Trent, Decree on the Edition and Use of the Sacred Books (1546); Vatican I, Dei Filius, ch. 2; Leo XIII, Providentissimus Deus, §14.

[48] See, for example: John Finnis, “Intentional Killing Is Always Wrong: The Development Initiated by Pius XII, Made by John Paul II, and Repeated by Francis,” Public Discourse, August 22, 2018.

[49] Harrison, “Torture and Corporal Punishment.”

[50] Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, §25.

[51] Sullivan, Creative Fidelity, 88.

[52] Billot, Tractatus de Ecclesia Christi, 642; Dublanchy, “Infaillibilité,” 1703.

[53] Pope Pius XII, Encyclical Letter Mystici Corporis (1943), §40.

[54] Pope Boniface VIII, Bull Unam Sanctam (1302).

[55] Ibid.

[56] Pius XII, Mystici Corporis, §40.

[57] Boniface VIII, Unam Sanctam.

[58] Pope Clement V, Meruit (1306).

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