The First Vatican Council on the Gift of a Never-Failing Faith

It is a dogma of Vatican I that each valid Roman Pontiff has the “charism” of truth and of a never-failing faith as a gift from God for the sake of our salvation:

From Vatican I, Pastor Aeternus, chapter 4, n. 7:

The original Latin: Hoc igitur veritatis et fidei numquam deficientis charisma Petro eiusque in hac Cathedra successoribus divinitus collatum est, ut excelso suo munere in omnium salutem fungerentur….

The Tanner translation: 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….

My translation: Therefore, this charism of truth and of never failing faith, was divinely conferred on Peter and his successors in this Chair, so that they might exercise their preeminent office for the salvation of all….

Comments

The most commonly used translation is from Norman P. Tanner, S.J., “Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils”. Notice, however, that the word “gift” is actually “charism” in the Latin, which has more of the meaning of a gift from the grace of God, conferring a special ability or authority. It is a very particular kind of gift, indeed.

Then the phrase “never failing faith” in the Latin uses the word “deficientis”, which can mean not only “never passing away” or “never failing”, but even “never growing weak” or “never faltering”. So the faith of the Pope, by a special charism of God’s grace, not only cannot fail utterly, by blasphemy, apostasy, or idolatry, but also cannot substantially falter, as by a lesser but still grave offense against faith, such as sacrilege, heresy, or schism.

The phrase “successors in this See,” can also be translated as “successors in this Chair”. And this relates the passage on this charism of the Roman Pontiff to the charism described subsequently, in the same chapter of the same document, Papal Infallibility, which is called speaking ex “cathedra”, i.e. from the “Chair” [of Peter].

The charism of truth and a never faltering, never failing faith is one gift to the Roman Pontiff because he holds the Chair of Peter. Yet it is a gift to his person and office, not solely to his office. And this implies that the Pope cannot even be an occult heretic, such that the error is hidden in his heart and mind, but never expressed.

And how does the charism of truth relate to that of a never faltering faith? It is one gift, with both effects. His faith in God and in Divine Revelation, as taught by the Magisterium through the Holy Spirit, is of the prevenient grace of God. And by the same grace, the very same act of God, the Pope is preserved from any grave errors of doctrine or discipline. For faith is not blind; the same Savior gives both light and strength. So the charism includes the light of truth and the strength of faith so as to guide the Church rightly, according to the will of Christ.

Scripture

When we compare this dogma of Vatican I to the passage of the Gospel, on which the Council stated it is based, we find the same wording for failing (or faltering).

{22:32} ego autem rogavi pro te ut non deficiat fides tua: et tu aliquando conversus confirma fratres tuos.
{22:32} But I have prayed for you, so that your faith may not fail, and so that you, once converted, may confirm your brothers.”

Jesus prays for Peter (and his successors) so that their faith may not “deficiat,” fail or falter, may not utterly pass away, but also may not weaken or be insufficient in any way.

And while every Catholic knows the teaching of Vatican I on Papal Infallibility, very few seem to know this teaching, from the mouth of Jesus himself, on the single charism of truth AND a never faltering, never failing faith.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.

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