In previous posts, I’ve detailed how the dogmas of the First Vatican Council, especially the charism of truth and of never-failing faith and that the Apostolic See is unblemished by error, prove the indefectibility of the Roman Pontiff. Specifically, each and every Pope is guarded, strengthened, and enlightened by the prevenient grace of God so that his decisions on doctrine or discipline are free from every grave error, and so that his infused theological virtue of faith never fails by heresy, apostasy, idolatry, or the like.
But other dogmas prove the same point, which itself is a dogma. Yes, the indefectibility of the Roman Pontiff is a dogma. See the proof of that here. In particular, this article will discuss a certain dogma on the nature of the role of Roman Pontiff as Vicar of Christ that also proves the indefectibility of the Pope.
Dogma: “Christ and His Vicar constitute one only Head”
The document Unam Sanctam by Pope Boniface VIII teaches that the Church, with Christ as her Head and the Roman Pontiff as the Vicar of Christ, has nevertheless not two heads, like a monster, but one head: Christ and his Vicar as One.
Unam Sanctam: “And so, the one and only Church is one body, one head, (not two heads like a monster), Christ certainly, and the vicar of Christ, [who is ] Peter and the successor of Peter.”
Unam Sanctam is often considered as an example of the use of Papal Infallibility. The claim that Papal Infallibility has only been used twice, for the Assumption and the Immaculate Conception, is patently false. The Relatio of Vatican I by Bishop Vincent Gasser, head of the deputation sent by the Roman Pontiff to the Council, asserts that past Popes had taught infallibly (outside of Councils) thousands of times. Even if you think that the number is not in the thousands, it is unreasonable to propose that Christ gave an important use of His own Authority to the Roman Pontiff so as to be used only twice in 2,000 years.
In addition, the Fifth Lateran Council confirmed the teaching of Unam Sanctam, thereby also confirming its infallibility. And this doctrine of the one head of the one and only Church was repeated by Pope Pius XII with an explanation:
Pope Pius XII, 1943: “But we must not think that He rules only in a hidden or extraordinary manner. On the contrary, our Redeemer also governs His Mystical Body in a visible and normal way through His Vicar on earth. You know, Venerable Brethren, that after He had ruled the ‘little flock’ Himself during His mortal pilgrimage, Christ our Lord, when about to leave this world and return to the Father, entrusted to the Chief of the Apostles the visible government of the entire community He had founded. Since He was all wise He could not leave the body of the Church He had founded as a human society without a visible head.
Nor against this may one argue that the primacy of jurisdiction established in the Church gives such a Mystical Body two heads. For Peter in view of his primacy is only Christ’s Vicar; so that there is only one chief Head of this Body, namely Christ, who never ceases Himself to guide the Church invisibly, though at the same time He rules it visibly, through him who is His representative on earth.
After His glorious Ascension into Heaven this Church rested not on Him alone, but on Peter, too, its visible foundation stone. 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; and his successors have never ceased to repeat the same.” [Mystici Corporis Christi, n. 40]
A solemn teaching of a Roman Pontiff, confirmed by the Fifth Lateran Council, which his successors have continued to teach, is an infallible teaching: dogma. And since “Christ and His Vicar constitute one only Head”, that head, the Roman Pontiff, can never teach or commit heresy. For then Christ Himself would be the Teacher of that error, and it would be His Faith which had failed, not that of the Roman Pontiff alone. Therefore, this dogma of Pope Boniface VIII and Lateran V and the other Roman Pontiffs necessarily implies the dogma of the First Vatican Council that Popes cannot teach grave error, nor fail in faith.
Yes, the never-failing faith of Peter and his successors is the Faith of Christ Himself. And that is true for each and all of us. The infused theological virtues of love, faith, and hope are supernatural; they are the love, faith, and hope of God-made-man.
One might argue that Christ did not have faith or hope, as these disappear with the Beatific Vision, which He had in His life. But it seems likely that Christ temporarily lost the Beatific Vision on the Cross, from which all graces flow, so that He would be able to suffer most fully for us. Then, too, faith and hope are not so much extinguished as they are transfigured into something greater, into knowledge of what was believed by faith and into reception of what one hoped to obtain. So there is a type of faith, even with the Beatific Vision in that we still believe in mysteries that are beyond complete comprehension even with the Beatific Vision, and there is a type of hope, as eternal life continues forever, such that we never reach its fullness or its end.
Notice that the Pontificate of Saint Peter the Apostle began when Christ Ascended to Heaven. When Christ is on earth, there is no Vicar needed. And the length of time of the Pontificate of this, the first Roman Pontiff, is, in my understanding, the same as the length of time of the life of Christ, from His virgin conception and Incarnation to His Crucifixion: 33 years and 6 weeks.
Pope Pius XII, 1943: “They, therefore, walk in the path of dangerous error who believe that they can accept Christ as the Head of the Church, while not adhering loyally to His Vicar on earth. They have taken away the visible head, broken the visible bonds of unity and left the Mystical Body of the Redeemer so obscured and so maimed, that those who are seeking the haven of eternal salvation can neither see it nor find it.” [Mystici Corporis Christi, n. 41]
Those who reject the Roman Pontiffs are harming the Body of Christ on earth, since their example leads many other souls along the same path to eternal punishment. The visible head of the Church on earth is the Pope. The error of rejecting loyalty to the Pope is to one’s own soul and the souls of others.
The papal accusers who reject various Roman Pontiffs make the same mistake as that of the Pharisees who rejected Jesus. They do not want to be followers of Christ. They want to decide what is and is not correct doctrine and correct discipline. They want to control the Faith and to lead others while following no one. Some of the Pharisees knew that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah, and they had Him put to death anyway (Lk 20:14). Some of the papal accusers know that the Roman Pontiff has the authority of Christ, and they reject his teachings and discipline still.
You cannot judge and condemn the Roman Pontiff, while at the same time following Christ. For Christ established the succession of Popes, leading the body of Bishops, as the structure of His own Body the Church, and of His beloved Bride. To reject a Roman Pontiff or the Bishops as a body is to reject Christ.
Here is the dogma:
Pius XII: “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; and his successors have never ceased to repeat the same.”
Since the Roman Pontiff is one Head of the one Church with Christ, the true Head of His own Body, it is not possible to separate the two such that the one, a Roman Pontiff, teaches heresy and fails in faith by apostasy or idolatry, and the other remains undefiled in truth. And the same is true for the indefectible Church of which the Roman Pontiff and Christ are the one Head. Since the Church cannot go astray, and Christ cannot go astray, then the Roman Pontiff, head of the indefectible body and one with Christ in that role as Teacher, Judge, and Guide, also is indefectible.
A solemn teaching of a Roman Pontiff, and the confirmation of Lateran V, and that “his successors have never ceased to repeat the same” prove that this teaching is irreformable and infallible. To hold either the contrary view, or related views which are incompatible with that dogma, is heresy.
Pius XII: “Christ, who never ceases Himself to guide the Church invisibly, though at the same time He rules it visibly, through him who is His representative on earth.”
The above teaching refutes the accusations of the papal accusers. Jesus NEVER ceases to guide the Church, to rule it visibly also through the Pope. Jesus is always keeping the Church indefectible, and not only when She teaches infallibly.
See also the post “The Worst Kind of Dissent” by Pedro Gabriel.
Ronald L. Conte Jr.