Discussion of the Heretical Pope Fallacy article

This article by Emmett O’Regan is an excellent read. The Title is “The Heretical Pope Fallacy” and the meaning is that Popes cannot teach or commit heresy. Please give it a read, and perhaps we can discuss it on this blog.


This entry was posted in commentary. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Discussion of the Heretical Pope Fallacy article

  1. David says:

    A good article, thank you for sharing Mr. Conte, I’ll spread it as well. It does present a more “sober” view so-to-speak of what exactly was dogmatized at V1 than what I had originally believed. For I had thought that Bishop Gasser in the section quoted was saying that the opinion of Pighius was not a strange opinion and that St. Bellarmine had shared it, so they were dogmatizing it. On the contrary the article says:

    “St. Robert Bellarmine’s ‘fourth opinion’, which the Relatio states was formally dogmatized in the First Vatican Council, thus automatically precludes the idea of an heretical pope who would bind the entirety of the Faithful to error in matters related to faith or morals in the authentic papal Magisterium.”

    The “fourth opinion” being: “is that in a certain measure, whether the Pope can be a heretic or not, he cannot define a heretical proposition that must be believed by the whole Church in any way. This is a very common opinion of all Catholics.”

    So it is not definitively settled (as I had previously thought) that the Pope could in no way be a heretic, even materially, for the article states: “St. Bellarmine did not mean that a Roman Pontiff could not hold to material heresy in his capacity as a private teacher through ignorance (since we have noted that this reality was widely accepted).” Now it is a great comfort on it’s own that the Pope in no act of his authentic magisterium can bind the whole Church to error, but it is lesser than what I had thought the gift was (namely that they would not even hold a materially heretical idea, not simply not be able to teach any heretical idea even materially).

    Although, perhaps my misunderstanding is based on how I define material heresy, which is: any unwittingly held idea that contradicts whatever is presented for the divine Faith of the Church in that era.

    As a side-note: it seems to me that this recognition of what V1 teaches is becoming more popular online. I know that this article is from 2017, but still, I’ve generally been seeing these teachings pop up more and more online. Perhaps the schismatic tide will turn? May it do so swiftly Lord!

    May God bless you and may God bless you all.

    • Ron Conte says:

      May God correct you!

      You said: “So it is not definitively settled (as I had previously thought) that the Pope could in no way be a heretic, even materially, for the article states….”

      There is no such thing as a “material heretic”. If you were to inadvertently hold to material heresy, you would not be any kind of heretic. You also misunderstand what “in the fourth place” means.

      There are TWO places in Bellarmines book where he enumerates using the term “fourth”. Gasser is NOT citing the text you gave, for he states the reference as “Book IV, Chapter VI”, which says exactly this:

      CHAPTER VI: On the Pope as a Particular Person THE FOURTH proposition.
      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? Certainly God can wrench the confession of the true faith out of the heart of a heretic just as he placed the words in the mouth of Balaam’s ass. Still, this will be a great violence, and not in keeping with the providence of God that sweetly disposes all things.

      2) It is proved ab eventu. For to this point no [Pontiff] has been a heretic, or certainly it cannot be proven that any of them were heretics; therefore it is a sign that such a thing cannot be.

      [Bellarmine, Robert. On the Roman Pontiff, vol. 2: Books III-V (De Controversiis) (p. 171). Mediatrix Press. Kindle Edition.]

      Also, Gasser quoting Bellarmine: “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.” This is clearly the above Fourth Proposition, and not the “fourth opinion” of others that you gave.

      Whether or not a Pope can inadvertently (i.e. by ignorance) hold to material heresy as a private person is irrelevant to the accusations against Pope Francis, as no one accuses him so lightly. He is accused of leading the Church astray, of failing in faith by apostasy, heresy, and idolatry, and of very many grave errors on doctrine and discipline. Such claims are entirely refused by Bellarmine, Gasser, Vatican I, and the ordinary universal Magisterium.

      Also, the dogma of Vatican I is what is written in the documents approved by the fathers of the Council and by the Pope. Gasser’s comments cannot be used, in any case, to nullify or radically reinterpret what the Council teaches — which is what you are doing. Also the dogma of never failing faith has been taught under the ordinary and universal magisterium, in addition to Vatican I.

      So Vatican I does NOT teach that Popes are only protected from binding the entirety of the Faithful to error in matters related to faith or morals in the authentic papal Magisterium. Rather, no Pope can err gravely in doctrine or discipline, for then the Apostolic See would be blemished. This was also taught in the OUM. And no Pope can fail in faith, due to the charism of truth and never failing faith, and this was taught in Luke 22:32, Vatican I, and in the OUM.

      Note that when Bellarmine says that a Pope cannot err and Vatican I says the See is without blemish, this must be understood as grave error, not all error. For Bellarmine also says:

      “With these things being noted, all Catholics and the heretics agree on two things. Firstly, that the Pontiff, even as Pontiff, can err in particular controversies of fact, even together with a general Council, because these depend especially on the testimonies of men. Secondly, the Pope can err as a private teacher from ignorance, even in universal questions of law concerning both faith and morals, just as what happens to other teachers.

      “Next, all Catholics agree on two other things, but only amongst themselves and not with the heretics. Firstly, the Pope with a general Council cannot err when he issues decrees of faith or general precepts of morals. Secondly, the Pope, by himself or with a particular Council, while stating something in a doubtful matter, whether he could err or not, must be obediently heard by all the faithful.”

      Limited error is possible in matters of prudential judgment, never to the extent of leading the Church astray (for then the Church would not be indefectible). Also, Popes can err in private opinion, but not to the extent of failing in faith, as the charism of never failing faith is the infused virtue given to the person, not the office alone. In addition, God would never allow a Pope, even in his personal theological teachings, to harm the path of salvation of the faithful. For the charism of never failing faith might extent to exclude private mere material heresy, or it might not. This point is not settled by Vatican I openly. However, it seems clear to me that God, in His mercy and generosity, has no reason to limit His gift to exclude such an error. No Pope is known to have ever expressed heresy as a private opinion. And so, this, too “is proved ab eventu.” Thus, the more probably opinion is that God extends his charism of never failing faith to the full, so that even private mere material heresy is excluded.

      What is not included in this protection is that a Pope would privately express an opinion that is contrary to a future dogma — for no one expects any member of the faithful on earth to adhere to future teachings. A law is not a law until it is propagated, and the same for teachings.

    • David says:

      Thank you for correcting me Mr. Conte, as it seems I have had several misunderstandings from the article, although to make sure I hold the right understanding now (as I do not even think I did before) I do have some follow-up questions:

      1) On the definition of heresy: “mere material heresy” would simply be a person happening to hold an idea that is against the Faith but not being aware of it, so they would not be a “heretic” in any sense because they have not chosen that act. Is this true? The argument you have provided that a Pope could not do this (as I don’t think any have either) makes sense to me, although now I know specifically what was not explicitly said in V1 if my understanding here is now correct.

      2) On the fourth proposition and the Gasser quote: now that I know what he is quoting and that proposition is my opinion, is what he essentially saying in that section (“As far as the doctrine set forth in the Draft goes…” and down to paragraph 41 in this link: https://sites.google.com/site/thetaboriclight/official_relatio) essentially in a rephrasing: “we have been accused of elevating the extreme opinion of Pighius to dogma, but in fact the opinion we are raising to dogma is St. Bellarmine’s fourth proposition, and so it is clear that this opinion is not extreme or strange.” If that my understanding of that section is correct then now it makes sense. I had not noted that he was quoting this proposition before and not simply the fourth opinion of others, thank you for clarifying this to me.

      3) For my overall understanding of the dogma now after reading your comment and reviewing the article again: the Pope can not fail in faith (teach or bind the Church to heresy or be a heretic at all as a particular person), gravely (that is leading the Church away from Christ and harming it’s mission in the world) err on dogmas or disciplines, and (this part is not explicitly said but is probable) most likely can not privately fall into mere material heresy. Is this more accurate?

      Thank you for illuminating this issue for me. God bless.

    • Ron Conte says:

      1. Yes, this is true. I think you’ve understood is correctly.
      2. Thanks. Glad that’s clear now.
      3. Good. The Pope cannot fail in faith in any grave way, such as by apostasy, heresy, idolatry; he also cannot err gravely even in non-infallible doctrine or discipline. And it’s my opinion that he cannot hold a private opinion which is mere material heresy, or at least cannot teach that opinion, even as his personal teaching (non-magisterial).

  2. Thank you for sharing Ron, great article. If a Pope can teach heresy, then Christ wouldn’t have built His Church on the Rock but on sand, and the Church would be defectible. If that would be the case, then we wouldn’t have one visible head to follow, but we would be scattered throughout the world as sheep without shepherd (which is contrary to God’s will (Mathew 9:26). Not having one head to guide us, but instead having many heads going to different directions like a monster is not the way Jesus intended for His Church. If that were the case, who should we follow? the papal accusers who don’t even agree with each other? It is a dogma of faith that the Holy Spirit constantly guides the Church and She will never be defectible (CCC # 79, 85, 100).

    • Ron Conte says:

      Well said. Unam Sanctam uses that same expression, that if the Church had two heads (or more of course), She would be a monster. 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.” [Mystical Body of Christ 40]

  3. Emmett O'Regan says:

    Thanks for sharing my article Ron! I noted that there was a glaring omission of any discussion of this article in Vatican Insider in the recent book edited by John Lamont and Claudio Pierantoni (“Defending the Faith Against Present Heresies”), despite the fact that they address other articles on a similar vein published on Vatican Insider by Prof. Robert Fastiggi and Dr. Dawn Eden Goldstein. I know for a fact that several of the contributors are fully aware of this article and its implications – Fr. Brian Harrision, Prof. Mike Sirilla, as well as Steve Skojec who hosted several of the articles contained in this book on his website One Peter Five. None of them have ever attempted to engage with the contents of this article, because they know that it deals a death blow to the idea of a heretical pope. Instead, they have chosen to ignore it and hope that they can starve it of any publicity. Little do they know that I have recently won a Ph.D scholarship, and that this is going to be the subject of my doctoral thesis:

    They won’t be able to ignore this much longer. I have already completed a follow-up article which I hope to have published soon on a peer-reviewed academic journal.

    • Ron Conte says:

      Great news about your Ph.D. scholarship, Emmett! And oh, yes, the other side of this debate ignores the articles and points they can’t refute. I look forward to reading your follow-up article article.

Comments are closed.