Ryan Grant has translated and published a booklet excerpted from Saint Robert Bellarmine’s larger work on the papacy. The title of this brief book is: “Papal Error?: A Defense of Popes said to have Erred in Faith”
The book offers a defense of 40 past Popes, accused of errors against the faith. It also argues that no Pope can teach or commit heresy, not even privately, and certainly not as a teaching to be held by the whole Church.
‟It is probable and may piously be believed that not only as ‛Pope’ can the Supreme Pontiff not err, but he cannot be a heretic even as a particular person by pertinaciously believing something false against the faith.”
‟It is proved: 1) because it seems to require the sweet disposition of the providence of God. For, the Pope not only should not, but cannot preach heresy, but rather should always preach the truth. He will certainly do that, since the Lord commanded him to confirm his brethren, and for that reason added: ‛I have prayed for thee, that thy faith shall not fail,’ that is, that at least the preaching of the true faith shall not fail in thy throne. How, I ask, will a heretical Pope confirm the brethren in faith and always preach the true faith?
And then the second way that this probable opinion is proved is by the fact, after the careful examination of cases where Popes are so accused, none is found to be guilty of heresy. I will add that, in the present day, Fr. Iannuzzi has made the same argument, and has found that none of the popularly accused Popes is actually guilty of heresy.
Furthermore, both Bellarmine and Iannuzzi see the passage from Scripture — I have prayed for you, that your faith shall not fail — as indicating the protection of the Pope from any type of heresy, material or formal. And this is exactly what the First Vatican Council taught:
“This gift of truth and never-failing faith was therefore divinely conferred on Peter and his successors in this See so that they might discharge their exalted office for the salvation of all, and so that the whole flock of Christ might be kept away by them from the poisonous food of error and be nourished with the sustenance of heavenly doctrine.”
If a Pope could teach heresy, even privately or materially, then he would not have the gift of truth. If a Pope could commit heresy, whether publicly or hidden in his heart and mind, then he would not have a never-failing faith.
This is a matter of faith for us. Jesus’ prayer will not fail. The prevenient grace of God cannot be refused by anyone, Saint or sinner. The providence of God also protects the faith of the Pope. Providence brings the right advisors and the right words to his ears and eyes. Providence makes certain that he has the right experiences to dispose him to continue in faith. And grace prevent the sin of heresy absolutely, since prevenient grace does not require cooperation.
Is this fair to the free will of each Pope? Yes, because he freely accepts his office, and he can freely resign. So free will is not harmed by violence.
The souls in Purgatory cannot sin at all, by the prevenient grace of God. The Virgin Mary in this life could not sin, by the same type of grace, to a most full extent. So it is not unthinkable that the Roman Pontiff would have this gift, so as to keep the Church indefectible, and to prevent the Ark of Salvation from becoming a shipwreck — which is certainly what would happen if the Church and her Head did not have the grace and providence of God.
* The Great Theological Question of Today
* Vatican I, Pastor Aeternus, on the Indefectibility of the Pope
* The Roman Pontiff: Immunity from Error and Never-failing Faith
* In Defense of Pope Honorius
Please take a look at this list of my books and booklets, and see if any topic interests you.