At the First Vatican Council, just before the Council fathers were to vote on the document Pastor Aeternus, the delegation sent from Blessed Pope Pius IX, gave an explanation and defense of the teaching in that document. The Bishop presenting that “Relatio” was Bishop Vincent Gasser. But this document, especially in the section on Saint Robert Bellarmine and the charism of truth and of never-failing faith, is often misrepresented.
I covered this topic previously here. But I wanted to reply specifically to an erroneous article on the topic. Here is the second part of a couple of articles by Eric S. Giunta refuting the position taken at the website Where Peter Is, a position similar to my own.
In this post, I will refute the false claims made by Giunta on the Relatio and Saint Robert Bellarmine.
Like many others who present the same error, Giunta does not give the full quote from Bishop Gasser’s Relatio. Here it is:
Bishop Gasser: “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:
[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.”
[Gasser] 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.”
First, notice the citation in the quote above “book 4, chapter VI”. Giunta contradicts this citation:
Giunta: “Though Grasser doesn’t give a specific citation, Bellarmine’s characterization of the teaching proposed to the fathers for dogmatization is the fourth one discussed in book 4, chapter II of his Disputationes de Controversiis.”
False!! Bishop Gasser (not “Grasser”) does give a specific citation, which is Book 4, Chapter VI — not book 4 Chapter II. So Giunta is playing a shell game here. He substitutes the “fourth opinion” in chapter II, for the “fourth proposition” in chapter VI of the same book by Saint Robert Bellarmine. This allows Giunta to change the meaning of what Bellarmine is saying, thereby distorting severely what Gasser was saying about the teaching of Vatican I. The result is a grave error in Giunta’s claims about the teachings of Vatican I.
The four opinions of Bellarmine in chapter II are quoted and explained at length by Giunta. But we need not cover that here, since Gasser does not mention that chapter or those four “opinions”. Instead, Gasser refers specifically to chapter VI.
Saint Robert Bellarmine: “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.”
Gasser was saying that the meaning of the text of Pastor Aeternus, in the section on the charism of truth and of never-failing faith, not in the section on Papal Infallibility, is that of Saint Robert Bellarmine in the fourth proposition — that a Pope cannot be a heretic “even as a particular person” — for he has the charism of truth and of never-failing faith, as Vatican I infallibly taught.
The other common grave error in presenting the Relatio is the claim that Gasser was rejecting the opinion of Albert Pighius, because it was extreme. Not so. Read the quote again:
“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: “
Gasser is saying that Pighius’ opinion is not extreme, because it is the same as that of Saint Robert Bellarmine. For the Saint calls that opinion “pious and probable”, therefore it is not extreme. And the Saint pronounces on the opinion of Pighius by agreeing with it, that a Pope cannot become a heretic even as a private person. Thus, Gasser is not rejecting Pighius’ opinion, but rather he is saying that the opinion is not extreme, since it was approve by Doctor of the Church Saint Robert Bellarmine.
Now in one place, Bellarmine says the Pope is able to err to some extent, but in another place, that as Pontiff he is not able to err. This should be interpreted such that, when teaching infallibly, the Pope cannot err at all, and when teaching otherwise, he cannot err gravely, such as by teaching or adhering to heresy.
Giunta switches the Fourth Proposition in chapter VI for the Fourth Opinion of chapter II, thereby watering down the dogma of Vatican I, from asserting the never-failing faith of the Roman Pontiff — a constant teaching of the Church from the time of the Gospel passage in Luke 22:32 — to merely asserting that Popes cannot define heresy as required belief. This change is of course absurd, for it contradicts the last dogma of Pastor Aeternus, that of Papal Infallibility — which instead asserts that when a Pope defines a matter of faith or morals to be believed by the whole Church, he cannot err AT ALL. So it is ridiculous to claim the meaning is that the Pope is merely protected from asserting heresy in his dogmatic definitions. He is then protected from all error. The protection from heresy refers to all his teachings, even those that are non-infallible, and to his person, since he has the charism of truth and of never-failing faith.
Conservatives used to complain about liberal theologians who would water down the teachings of the Magisterium. And now, what a difference a day makes, it is the conservative Catholics who are watering down the Faith — all so that they can open the way to accuse Pope Francis of teaching or committing heresy. But such a claim is contrary to the opinion of Saint Robert Bellarmine:
“The second privilege is that he, as the Pope, could never teach something against the faith, or that there would never be found one in his See who would teach against the true faith. From these privileges, we see that the first did not remain to his successors, but the second without a doubt did.” [Bellarmine, Robert. On the Roman Pontiff, vol. 2 (De Controversiis) (p. 156). Mediatrix Press. Kindle Edition.]
“Without a doubt” the successor of Peter have the “second privilege” given to Peter, which is that they would “never teach something against the faith”. Therefore, no Pope can teach heresy. And then we have the other assertion of Bellarmine, for which he gives two proofs, and which Vatican I dogmatized, that no Pope can fall into heresy, even as a private person. It is clear then, from the words themselves of Vatican I, the Relatio properly understood, and the teaching of Bellarmine that no Roman Pontiff can teach or commit heresy, regardless of whether they are teaching infallibly or non-infallibly.
Giunta then goes on to promise further opinions from “Church-approved canonists and theologians down the centuries.” Yeah, there’s always a priest here or a theologian there who will tell you what you want to hear. Instead, here is a long list of Church teachings from the Magisterium itself teaching on the never-failing faith of the successors of Peter and on their preservation from grave error.
Everyone who wishes to open the door to accuse Pope Francis of teaching or committing heresy has Vatican I as the obstacle. And that is why they misrepresent the teaching of that Ecumenical Council, and the Relatio, and the teaching of Saint Robert Bellarmine. But after reading the many past teachings of the Magisterium on these same questions, it is abundantly clear that Popes and Councils are always protected from grave error, and that Popes have the charism of never-failing faith.
Ronald L. Conte Jr.