Dear 1Peter5, Your Claims about Gasser and Pighius are False

Over at the blog OnePeterFive.com (1P5), this article caught my attention: Papal Infallibility After One Hundred and Fifty Years. It was written by “Pauper Peregrinus”, the pseudonym of a Catholic priest and theologian. The purpose of this post is to refute a false claim in that article.

Bishop Vincent Gasser spoke to the fathers of the First Vatican Council about a proposed chapter of Pastor Aeternus, the document of Vatican I that includes the definition of Papal Infallibility. The 1P5 article claims that Gasser’s relatio is proof that Vatican I in no way answers the question as to whether a Roman Pontiff can teach or commit heresy. Gasser supposedly excluded such an idea as being merely an extreme opinion by theologian Albert Pighius, and not what the text of the document meant.

Which text? The section in question was not, as some claim, the definition of Papal Infallibility. That section clearly has a narrow application, only to teachings of the Roman Pontiff which meet certain criteria. Rather, it was the earlier text, chapter 4, n. 7 (not 4, 9, which defines Papal Infallibility) which is at issue. That text is an interpretation of Luke 22:32. In the sections of the relatio numbered 32 and 36, Luke 22:32 is discussed. And this of course relates to the text of chapter 4, sections 6 and 7, of Pastor Aeternus. Section 6 has the quote from Luke 22:32, and then section 7 has it authoritative interpretation on the infallible faith of the Pope.

Now certainly, the ability of the Pope to teach infallibly is consonant with his infallible faith. For if his faith failed, such that he fell into heresy, should we then rely on his teaching to be infallible? An heretical Pope who teaches infallibly is a contradiction. Instead, the gift of Papal Infallibility and the gift of a never failing faith are two gifts, two different dogmas, but they are in harmony with one another.

Thus, the two dogmas are related, but distinct. In any case, the section on Pighius and Bellarmine refers to whether or not the Pope’s faith can fail, and obviously this relates to section 7, on the “never failing faith” of the Pope. So the idea that Vatican I “only” taught on Papal Infallibility, and did not also teach that the Pope’s faith cannot fail, is false.

Now let’s look at the specific claims of the One Peter Five article, by its author Pauper Peregrinus:

Pauper: “What is the meaning of papal infallibility? It does not mean that a pope can never err when speaking about religion. Nor even, contrary to the opinion of some who publish their thoughts on theological matters today, does it mean that a pope can never commit the sin of heresy. This last point was expressly touched on at the Council of 1870 by Bishop Vincent Gasser, the Relator charged by Pope Pius IX with answering any questions and objections raised by the conciliar fathers about the text on which they had to vote.”

Right. Papal Infallibility does not refer to whether or not the Pope can commit the sin of heresy. But Vatican I does ALSO teach that Popes have the one charism of truth and never failing faith, which necessarily implies that a Pope can neither teach material heresy, nor commit the sin of formal heresy. It’s just that the particular dogma of Papal Infallibility does not include that other dogma.

So it is a poor theological argument to say that Papal Infallibility does not include X, and therefore Vatican I did not teach X. The Council certainly did teach that idea, as Cardinal Manning explains. See my previous post. Papal Infallibility is not the only dogma of Vatican I.

Pauper: “In a speech to the assembled bishops, Gasser described as “extreme” the opinion put forward by the 16th-century author Albert Pigghe, that a pope could never fall into heresy.”

False. Bishop Gasser instead explained that this opinion that the Pope can never fall into heresy was Bellarmine’s opinion, and therefore not extreme. In fact, it happened to be a point of agreement between Pighius and Bellarmine. So Gasser defends the opinion of Bellarmine, which also happened to be a belief of Pighius as well.

Gasser: “As far as the doctrine set forth in the Draft goes, the Deputation is unjustly accused of wanting to raise an extreme opinion, viz., that of Albert Pighius, to the dignity of a dogma. For the opinion of Albert Pighius, which Bellarmine indeed calls pious and probable, was that the Pope, as an individual person or a private teacher, was able to err from a type of ignorance but was never able to fall into heresy or teach heresy. To say nothing of the other points, let me say that this is clear from the very words of Bellarmine, both in the citation made by the reverend speaker and also from Bellarmine himself who, in book 4, chapter VI, pronounces on the opinion of Pighius in the following words: “It can be believed probably and piously that the supreme Pontiff is not only not able to err as Pontiff but that even as a particular person he is not able to be heretical, by pertinaciously believing something contrary to the faith.” From this, it appears that the doctrine in the proposed chapter is not that of Albert Pighius or the extreme opinion of any school, but rather that it is one and the same which Bellarmine teaches in the place cited by the reverend speaker and which Bellarmine adduces in the fourth place and calls most certain and assured, or rather, correcting himself, the most common and certain opinion.”

Note well what Gasser says:
“the doctrine in the proposed chapter…is one and the same which Bellarmine teaches…. which Bellarmine adduces in the fourth place and called most certain and assured, or rather, correcting himself, the most common and certain opinion,”

namely, what Bellarmine says:
“It can be believed probably and piously that the supreme Pontiff is not only not able to err as Pontiff but that even as a particular person he is not able to be heretical, by pertinaciously believing something contrary to the faith.”

So Gasser is saying that what is in the text (which was later approved) is the same as the doctrine of Bellarmine and it means precisely this: that the Pope cannot err as Pontiff (i.e. cannot teach heresy or grave error) and that even as a private person he cannot commit the sin of formal heresy (i.e. cannot be a heretic).

Pauper: “Pighius, had argued that while a pope could err as a private person, and could from ignorance teach something incorrect while acting as a “private doctor” — for example, in a book published under his pre-papal name — he would never fall into heresy or teach a heresy.”

Pauper wrongly attributes the opinion of Bellarmine to Pighius only. Pauper ignores the clear repeated assertions of Gasser that this opinion was that of Bellarmine and therefore ought to be accepted by the Council. And, finally and most importantly, Pauper ignores the fact that this teaching was accepted by the Council and became a dogma of Vatican I.

Pauper: “Gasser noted that some of the council Fathers were upset with the proposed dogma, since they were under the impression that it was identical to Pigghe’s view. Gasser, however, repudiated this suggestion and stated that the document on which they were being asked to vote by no means taught this “extreme” position:”

False. Gasser repudiated only the claim that this idea, which they were asked to vote on, was solely of Pighius. Gasser pointed out that it was also the opinion of Bellarmine and was the common opinion at the time of Bellarmine. Pauper’s assertions are simply false, and a plain reading of the relatio here [especially 040] refutes what he claims.

Pauper than quotes Gasser:

“The Deputation [that is, the group of bishops charged with drafting the document] is unjustly criticised, as if it wished to raise an extreme opinion, that of Albert Pigghe, to the rank of a dogma. The opinion of Albert Pigghe, which Bellarmine indeed describes as ‘pious and having some plausibility’, was that while a pope as an individual man or a private teacher could err from some kind of ignorance, he could never fall into heresy or teach heresy. … It is obvious that the doctrine contained in the schema is not that of Albert Pigghe.”

And here is the above quote, in full. Notice the portions that Pauper omitted, which are presented in bold below:

“the Deputation is unjustly accused of wanting to raise an extreme opinion, viz., that of Albert Pighius, to the dignity of a dogma. For the opinion of Albert Pighius, which Bellarmine indeed calls pious and probable, was that the Pope, as an individual person or a private teacher, was able to err from a type of ignorance but was never able to fall into heresy or teach heresy. To say nothing of the other points, let me say that this is clear from the very words of Bellarmine, both in the citation made by the reverend speaker and also from Bellarmine himself who, in book 4, chapter VI, pronounces on the opinion of Pighius in the following words: “It can be believed probably and piously that the supreme Pontiff is not only not able to err as Pontiff but that even as a particular person he is not able to be heretical, by pertinaciously believing something contrary to the faith.” From this, it appears that the doctrine in the proposed chapter is not that of Albert Pighius or the extreme opinion of any school, but rather that it is one and the same which Bellarmine teaches in the place cited by the reverend speaker and which Bellarmine adduces in the fourth place and calls most certain and assured, or rather, correcting himself, the most common and certain opinion.”

Pauper omits the section where Gasser states that Bellarmine pronounced judgment in favor of the opinion of Pighius (who predated Bellarmine by a generation), and that Bellarmine called the idea probable and pious that Popes cannot teach error or be a heretic.

Pauper’s last omission is particularly harmful. He removes the portion that says the opinion of Pighius is “one and the same” with the opinion of Doctor of the Church, Saint Robert Bellarmine, and that the idea is common and certain. Gasser is clearly defending this wording in the text and is openly stating that the wording does in fact imply that the Pope can neither teach nor commit heresy.

Then the rest of the article by Pauper goes on to talk about Papal Infallibility.

In summary, the Relatio of Vatican I by Bishop Vincent Gasser in no way opens the door to accusations of heresy against Pope Francis, nor against any other Pope. Gasser clearly sides with Bellarmine in saying that the Pope cannot teach or commit heresy.

Notice that Pauper himself refers to the idea as a “proposed dogma”. Yes, and it was accepted by the Council and became part of the Council’s teachings. So now it is a dogma. Thus, the opinion of Bellarmine, that the Pope can neither teach nor commit heresy is a dogma of the Catholic Faith. And those who accuse the Pope of heresy contradict the dogma of the First Vatican Council.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.

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