Dogma: Popes Can Never Teach or Commit Heresy

It is a teaching of the First Vatican Council, the Sixth Ecumenical Council, and the perennial teaching of the Church that every Roman Pontiff has the charism of never-failing faith and that therefore he can never teach or commit heresy.

While some errors are possible in the non-infallible teachings of the Pope, divine assistance is given to him even when his decisions on doctrine or discipline are not infallible.

Cardinal Ratzinger, prefect of CDF, Donum Veritatis, 1990: “Divine assistance is also given to the successors of the Apostles teaching in communion with the successor of Peter, and in a particular way, to the Roman Pontiff as Pastor of the whole Church, when exercising their ordinary Magisterium, even should this not issue in an infallible definition or in a ‘definitive’ pronouncement but in the proposal of some teaching which leads to a better understanding of Revelation in matters of faith and morals and to moral directives derived from such teaching.” [1]

The ordinary teaching of the Pope, even when not infallible, has Divine assistance. Such teachings lead to a better understanding of Revelation on faith and morals.

Cardinal Ratzinger, Donum Veritatis: “It is also to be borne in mind that all acts of the Magisterium derive from the same source, that is, from Christ who desires that His People walk in the entire truth. For this same reason, magisterial decisions in matters of discipline, even if they are not guaranteed by the charism of infallibility, are not without divine assistance and call for the adherence of the faithful.” [2]

This Divine assistance is given to the Roman Pontiff even when his decisions are a matter of discipline or prudential judgment and are non-infallible. And in both doctrine and discipline, these non-infallible decisions require the ordinary assent of the faithful.

Cardinal Ratzinger, The Primacy of the Successor of Peter in the Mystery of the Church, 1998: “Thus, in the early Christian communities, as later throughout the Church, the image of Peter remained fixed as that of the Apostle who, despite his human weakness, was expressly assigned by Christ to the first place among the Twelve and was called to exercise a distinctive, specific task in the Church. He is the rock on which Christ will build his Church; he is the one, after he has been converted, whose faith will not fail and who will strengthen his brethren; lastly, he is the Shepherd who will lead the whole community of the Lord’s disciples.” [3]

Can the Roman Pontiff teach heresy or otherwise err gravely in doctrine or discipline? No, for the Lord Jesus Christ promises that each Pope would be the Rock on which the Church is founded. If he could teach or commit heresy, he would not be that Rock. And then the Lord also promised that Peter and his successors would have the gift of never-failing faith, so that he could then confirm the faith of the body of Bishops. Finally, since the Pope is the Shepherd over the whole flock, he cannot teach or commit heresy, for then the whole flock would be led astray and the Church would lose Her indefectibility. This doctrine of the never-failing faith of the Roman Pontiff has been taught throughout the history of the Church.

Pope Saint Lucius I, Martyr, 253-254: “The Roman Apostolic Church is the mother of all Churches and has never been shown to have wandered from the path of Apostolic tradition, nor being deformed, succumbed to heretical novelties according to the promise of the Lord himself, saying, ‘I have prayed for thee, etc.’ [Lk 22:32]” [4]

The Roman Pontiff, the Roman Church, and the Apostolic See are three terms used to refer to the Pope when he exercises his authority over doctrine and discipline as the visible Head of the whole Church on earth. Notice what Pope Saint Lucius teaches: the Roman Church has never gone astray from Tradition, nor succumbed to heresy. And the reason for this is that Jesus gave Peter and his successors the gift of never-failing faith. So it is not the Roman Church in the sense of the people or clergy of Rome, but rather the head of that Church and of the whole Church, the Roman Pontiff who has this gift.

The direct statement by the Pope that the Roman Church has never succumbed to heresy means that the Roman Pontiff has never and can never be a heretic, nor teach heresy. For if the head of the Roman Church were to teach or commit heresy, then the Church would have succumbed.

Pope Saint Felix I, 269-274, speaking on the Roman Church: “As it took up in the beginning the norm of the Christian Faith from its authors, the Princes of the Apostles of Christ, She remains unsullied according to what the Lord said: ‘I have prayed for thee, etc.’ [Lk 22:32]” [5]

This same quote from Jesus in Luke 22:32 is repeated again and again in Church teaching: “But I have prayed for you, so that your faith may not fail, and so that you, once converted, may confirm your brothers.” And the interpretation of the Magisterium is always the same, that each Pope is prevented absolutely from ever failing in faith. This necessarily implies that no Pope can teach or commit heresy. And heresy is specifically mentioned, in teaching after teaching, as being excluded from the Roman Pontiff, the Apostolic See, and the Roman Church.

In what sense is the Roman Church unsullied? She can never fall into heresy because Her head is one of the Princes of the Apostles, the Popes. Any grave error in doctrine or discipline would sully that See.

Pope Saint Leo the great (Leo I) 440-461: “The special care of Peter is received from the Lord; he prayed for the faith of Peter in particular in as much as the state of the others would be more certain if the mind of the Prince were not conquered. Therefore, in Peter the strength of all is fortified and the help of divine grace is so ordered that the strength which was given to Peter through Christ would be conferred through Peter to the remaining Apostles.” [6]

If the Pope could fall into heresy, the his mind would have been conquered. But by the help of divine grace, “the faith of Peter in particular” and that of each successor has the strength of Christ so that Peter can strengthen the other Apostles, and so that each Pope can strengthen the body of Bishops. But if any Bishops falls away, opposing the Roman Pontiff at every turn, he loses the source of his own strength in faith and that unfaithful Bishop can fail in faith. So while Peter and his successors are guaranteed by Christ to never fall into heresy, individual Bishops and groups of Bishops can fall away.

Saint Bernard: “It is fitting that every danger and scandal of the kingdom of God be referred to your Apostolate and especially these which touch upon the faith. For I regard it worthy that there, above all, dangers to the faith are mended, where one cannot think the faith is lacking. For to what other See was it ever said: ‘I have prayed for thee, that thy faith not fail?’ [Lk 22:32]” [7]

What are the dangers to the faith? They are apostasy, heresy, schism, and grave errors on doctrine and discipline. These are mended and the danger avoided by the Papal Apostolate. For no one should ever think that the faith would ever be lacking the the Apostolic See. The reason is given, just as in so many sources, that Peter and his successors have the prayer and promise of Christ to never fail in faith.

Saint Cyril: “According to this promise of the Lord, the Apostolic Church of Peter remains pure and spotless from all leading into error, or heretical fraud, above all Heads and Bishops, and Primates of Churches and people, with its own Pontiffs, with most abundant faith, and the authority of Peter. And while other Churches have to blush for the error of some of their members, this [Apostolic Church of Peter] reigns alone, immovably established, enforcing silence, and stopping the mouths of all heretics; and we, from the necessity of salvation, not drunken with the wine of pride, confess, together with it, the formula of truth and of the holy apostolic tradition.” [8]

The very same promise of the Lord Jesus keeps the “Apostolic Church of Peter” from every grave error, and certainly from every type of heresy. But this See of Peter, this Roman Church, would not be called “pure and spotless” or free from “all leading into error” and free from “heretical fraud” if it were possible for any Pope to teach or commit heresy.

Then how would the Roman Pontiff fulfill his role to rebuke the heretics, if he himself could become a heretic? He could not. And that is why the Lord gives each Pope the charism of never-failing faith. For it is from the necessity of salvation that all the faithful be subject to the Roman Pontiff. This requirement only makes sense in view of the promise of the Lord to keep the Pontiff never failing in faith and free from every grave error.

Pope Saint Gregory the Great, 590-604: “Who does not know that the whole Church was strengthened in the firmness of the Prince of the Apostles, to whom it was said, ‘Upon this rock I will build my Church … and thou, being converted, confirm thy brethren?’ [Mt 16:18; Lk 22:32]” Saint Bellarmine: “There Gregory clearly teaches the strength of the Church depends upon the strength of Peter, and hence Peter is less able to err than the Church herself.” [10]

Saint Robert Bellarmine, Doctor of the Church, comments on the teaching of Pope Saint Gregory, that Peter is less able to err than the Church. For if the Rock on which the Church is founded were to err to the extent of heresy, then the Church would lose Her foundation. The strength of the Church depends on the strength of Peter, and Her indefectibility depends upon his.

But what if an evil conspiracy were to elect a manifest heretic to the Roman See of Saint Peter? What if evil persons succeeded in making a teacher of heresy who had promised to those who helped him become Roman Pontiff, that he would teach their errors and place heretics in high positions in the Church? That did happen. The deacon Vigilius conspired with the heretical Roman emperor and empress to force the true Pope, Silverius, into exile and place Vigilius on the See of Peter. He promised to teach heresy and put a heretic on the See of Constantinople.

So Vigilius became an antipope, who ruled and taught from Rome. The true Pope was sent into exile. The antipope taught heresy. But everyone knew that the true Pope was Silverius, not Vigilius. Then, when Silverius died, something wonderful happened, as related by Saint Bellarmine:

“It happened a little afterward, that [Pope] Silverius died and Vigilius, who to that point sat in schism, now began to be the sole and legitimate Pontiff for certain through the confirmation and reception by the clergy and the Roman people. From this time neither error nor feigning of error was discovered in Vigilius, but rather, supreme constancy in the faith even to death, as it shall appear. For he received with the pontificate the strength of faith and he was changed from a weak chaff into the most solid rock.” [11]

Vigilius became the true Pope. The grace of God vanquished all heresy within him. He refused to carry out the wicked plan he made with the emperor and empress. He did not place a heretic on the See of Constantinople. The Bishops at the Second Ecumenical Council at Constantinople sought his approval, which they eventually obtained. Pope Vigilius published two Constitutions, condemning the heresies of his day. Even Vigilius, a heretic and antipope, did not fall into heresy as true Pope. Even Vigilius was given the charism of never-failing faith. So no conspiracy theory about Vatican II or Pope Francis or any other Pope or Council can contradict the dogma and promise of Christ on the never-failing faith of the Pope and on his freedom from heresy.

Pope Pelagius II, 590 AD, writing to the Bishops of Istria: “For you know how the Lord in the Gospel declares: ‘Simon, Simon, behold Satan has desired you that he might sift you as wheat, but I have prayed to the Father for thee, that thy faith fail not, and thou, being converted, confirm thy brethren.’ See, beloved, the truth cannot be falsified, nor can the faith of Peter ever be shaken or changed.” [12]

This charism of never-failing faith is also, at the same time, a charism of truth. For faith is adherence to the truths of Divine Revelation. Without truth, there is no faith. Without faith, the truths that are beyond the reach of reason alone — and many other truths that are accessible to reason, but which fallen reason often fails to attain — would be lost from our lives.

In the Roman Pontiff, the truth cannot be falsified, and faith cannot be shaken or changed. This teaching certainly excludes all heresy from each Pope. For heresy is a falsification of the truths of faith; and whoever falls into heresy has had their faith in Christ shaken or changed.

Pope Saint Agatho, 678-681, Letter accepted in the acts of the Sixth Ecumenical Council:
“the true confession thereof, for which Peter was pronounced blessed by the Lord of all things, was revealed by the Father of heaven, for he received from the Redeemer of all himself, by three commendations, the duty of feeding the spiritual sheep of the Church; under whose protecting shield, this Apostolic Church of his has never turned away from the path of truth in any direction of error….” [13]

The Apostolic Church has never fallen into heresy, for if the Pope had ever taught or committed heresy, His Church of which he is the head would have turned away from the path of truth, toward error. Pope Saint Agatho wrote this letter to the fathers of the Sixth Council and to the Roman emperor (as emperors in those days involved themselves in Church matters) in order to dissuade them from accusing Pope Honorius of heresy. The letter specifically defends the truth on the two natures, two energies (or operations), and two wills of Christ. And yet Agatho did not believe Honorius to have been guilty of heresy. This was based not only on Agatho’s knowledge of Honorius’ letters, but also on the dogmatic truth that each Pope has the gift of never-failing faith.

Agatho: “whose authority, as that of the Prince of all the Apostles, the whole Catholic Church and the Ecumenical Synods have faithfully embraced and followed in all things; and all the venerable Fathers have embraced its Apostolic doctrine, through which they, as the most approved luminaries of the Church of Christ, have shone; and the holy orthodox doctors have venerated and followed it, while the heretics have pursued it with false criminations and with derogatory hatred. This is the living tradition of the Apostles of Christ, which his Church holds everywhere, which is chiefly to be loved and fostered, and is to be preached with confidence….”

The whole Church, the Ecumenical Councils, and all the fathers and orthodox teachers of the Faith have always embraced Apostolic doctrine from the Princes of the Apostles, the Roman Pontiffs. And, on the other side, the heretics have always opposed that Apostolic doctrine. So it is clear that the Roman Pontiffs do not teach heresy, but rather they rebuke the heretics with sound doctrine. And this cannot be otherwise, due to the grace of God.

Agatho: “which, it will be proved, by the grace of Almighty God, has never erred from the path of the Apostolic tradition, nor has she been depraved by yielding to heretical innovations, but from the beginning she has received the Christian faith from her founders, the princes of the Apostles of Christ, and remains undefiled unto the end, according to the divine promise of the Lord and Savior himself, which he uttered in the holy Gospels to the prince of his disciples: saying, ‘Peter, Peter, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he might sift you as wheat; but I have prayed for thee, that (thy) faith fail not. And when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.’ [Lk 22:32] Let your tranquil Clemency therefore consider, since it is the Lord and Savior of all, whose faith it is, that promised that Peter’s faith should not fail and exhorted him to strengthen his brethren, how it is known to all that the Apostolic pontiffs, the predecessors of my littleness, have always confidently done this very thing: of whom also our littleness, since I have received this ministry by divine designation, wishes to be the follower, although unequal to them and the least of all.” [13]

Pope Saint Agatho specifically teaches that the grace of God does not allow any Pope to stray from the path of Apostolic tradition, nor yield to heresy, but rather he remains undefiled due to the promise of never-failing faith. This letter was accepted into the acts of the Sixth Ecumenical Council, and therefore it is the teaching of the Council, not only of the Pope. So again, we see that the never-failing faith of the Pope keeps him from all heresy and from going astray or leading astray.

Pope Saint Leo IX, 1049-1054, Epistle to Peter of Antioch: “Without a doubt, it was for him alone, whom the Lord and Savior asserted that he prayed that his faith would not fail, saying, ‘I have prayed for thee, etc.’ [Lk 22:32]. Such a venerable and efficacious prayer has obtained that to this point the faith of Peter has not failed, nor can it be believed that it is ever going to fail in his throne.” [14]

The faith of each successor of Peter has not failed and can never fail. Heresy is a failure of faith, so Popes cannot fail in faith by heresy.

Pope Saint Leo IX: “By the See of the Chief of the Apostles, namely by the Roman Church, through the same Peter, as well as through his successors, have not the comments of all the heretics been disapproved, rejected, and overcome, and the hearts of the brethren in the faith of Peter — which so far neither has failed, nor up to the end will fail — been strengthened?” [15]

The Roman Pontiff keeps the lambs of the flock of Jesus Christ safe from the gates of Hell by disapproving, rejecting and overcoming the claims of all heretics. And this role is due to his gift of never-failing faith. Pope Saint Leo IX (1049-54) taught that the faith of Peter had never failed up to that point in time, and would never fail up to the end of time. And this Saint Leo IX lived after Honorius, and after the so-called “bad Popes” of John XII and Benedict IX.

Pope Innocent III, 1198-1216, Epistle to the Bishop of Arles: “The Fathers, for the sake of the Church, understood especially in regard to articles of faith that those words [Lk 22:32] refer to the See of Peter, who knew the Lord had prayed for him, lest his faith would fail.” [16]

The See of Peter, meaning the Roman Pontiff acting under either of his keys, can never fail in faith. This is particularly true in his role as the guardian of the articles of faith, which are specifically those teachings and truths which are opposed to heresy.

Saint Robert Bellarmine, on Lk 22:32: “Therefore, the true exposition is that the Lord asked for two privileges for Peter…. 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.” [17]

Saint Robert Bellarmine believed that no Pope could ever teach something against the faith, meaning heresy. And he attributed this to the promise of Christ in Luke 22:32.

“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,’ [Lk 22:32] that is, that at least the preaching of the true faith shall not fail in thy throne.” [18]

“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.” [19]

“2) It is proved ab eventu [from events]. 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.” [20]

The above “Fourth Proposition” is exactly that reference which Bishop Vincent Gasser discusses in the Relatio of Vatican I. The common error is to claim that Gasser was speaking about the fourth opinion (in book 4, chapter 2, that Popes cannot err when defining a doctrine with a Council). In fact, he specifies book 4, chapter 6, quoted above in its entirety, and not book 4, chapter 2.

The reason that no Pope can ever be a heretic, nor teach contrary to the true faith, is that he has the charism of truth and never-failing faith. This opinion of Bellarmine, already taught so many times by many Popes before him, was confirmed as dogma by the First Vatican Council, as follows:

Vatican I, Pastor Aeternus, chapter 4, n. 6: “Indeed, their Apostolic teaching was embraced by all the venerable fathers and reverenced and followed by all the holy orthodox doctors, for they knew very well that this See of St. Peter always remains unblemished by any error, in accordance with the divine promise of our Lord and Savior to the prince of his disciples: ‘I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren’ [Lk 22:32].” [21]

Pastor Aeternus, chapter 4, n. 7: “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, and so that the whole flock of Christ might be kept away by them from the poisonous food of error and be nourished with the sustenance of heavenly doctrine. Thus the tendency to schism is removed and the whole Church is preserved in unity, and, resting on its foundation, can stand firm against the gates of Hell.” [22]

What the First Vatican Council teaches above is exactly what had already been taught many times in the past. It was in no way a new teaching. The See of Peter is “unblemished by any error” meaning any grave error. For the same Council taught that the Roman Pontiff is only infallible, free from all error, when certain conditions are met; this necessarily implies error is possible in what is non-infallible: teachings that are not infallible, and judgments or disciplines that are not dogmatic facts. However, the perennial teaching that the See is unblemished, unstained, unsullied, has never wandered from tradition, etc. does imply that such errors as are possible in the non-infallible are less than grave.

In particular, that the whole flock is kept from “the poisonous food of error” implies that the Roman Pontiffs are always free from teaching or committing heresy. Otherwise, the gates of Hell would have prevailed, if a Council or Pope could teach heresy.

Then the second paragraph quoted above specifically teaches the dogma of that “charism of truth and of never-failing faith” which is divinely-conferred by grace. And this teaching also is not new, but is found in so many past teachings (only some of which are presented in this article). But heresy is certainly a failing in faith. So this teaching excludes all manner of heresy from the Roman Pontiff. Then other grave failings of faith, such as apostasy and idolatry, are also excluded absolutely by this charism.

Cardinal Manning, one of the fathers of Vatican I, 1870: “The application of the promise ‘Ego rogavi pro te,’ [“I have prayed for you”] etc. to the infallible faith of Peter and his successors, is made by St. Ambrose; St. Augustine; St. Leo; St. Gelasius; Pelagius II; St. Gregory the Great; Stephen, Bishop of Dori in a Lateran Council [of 649, not Ecumenical]; St. Vitalian; the Bishops of the IV Ecumenical Council AD 451 [Chalcedon]; St. Agatho in the VI AD 680 [Constantinople III]; St. Bernard AD 1153; St. Thomas Aquinas AD 1274; St. Bonaventure AD 1274; that is, this interpretation is given by three out of the four Doctors of the Church, by six Pontiffs down to the seventh century. It was recognized in two Ecumenical Councils. It is expressly declared by the Angelic Doctor, who may be taken as the exponent of the Dominican school, and by the Seraphic Doctor, who is likewise the witness of the Franciscan; and by a multitude of Saints.” [23]

Cardinal Manning: “In these two promises [Lk 22:32, Mt 16:18] a divine assistance is pledged to Peter and to his successors, and that divine assistance is promised to secure the stability and indefectibility of the Faith in the supreme Doctor and Head of the Church, for the general good of the Church itself.” [24]

Manning calls the never-failing faith of Peter the “infallible faith”; another good term would be indefectible faith. This charism of faith is one of the mainstays of the indefectibility of the Church. And though many persons mistakenly think that the teachings of the Pope only have divine assistance when infallible, in truth is it one and the same charism, applied in two different ways, such that what is infallible has no errors at all, and what is non-infallible has no grave errors at all. The faith of Peter can never fail by heresy, nor by grave errors in doctrine or discipline.

When Manning references the Council of Chalcedon, he means this text: “He [Peter] derived the stability of both his goodness and his name from the original Rock,” and the original Rock is of course Christ, just as the Apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians:
{10:2} And in Moses, they all were baptized, in the cloud and in the sea.
{10:3} And they all ate of the same spiritual food.
{10:4} And they all drank of the same spiritual drink. And so, they all were drinking of the spiritual rock seeking to obtain them; and that rock was Christ.

Pope Leo XIII, 1890: “And since all Christians must be closely united in the communion of one immutable faith, Christ the Lord, in virtue of His prayers, obtained for Peter that in the fulfilment of his office he should never fall away from the faith. ‘But I have asked for thee that thy faith fail not’ [Luke 22:32], and He furthermore commanded him to impart light and strength to his brethren as often as the need should arise: ‘Confirm thy brethren’ [ibid.]. He willed then that he whom He had designated as the foundation of the Church should be the defense of its faith. ‘Could not Christ who confided to him the Kingdom by His own authority have strengthened the faith of the one whom He designated a Rock to show the foundation of the Church?’ [St. Ambrose, De Fide, bk. 4, n. 56].” [25]

Pope Leo XIII teaches that the Roman Pontiffs could never fall away from the Faith. And this implies necessarily that no Pope can be a heretic. But what purpose would be accomplished, and what good would be done, if a Pope could avoid heresy personally, by the infused virtue of faith, made never-failing faith by the prevenient grace of God, and then go on to teach heresy, leading astray his whole flock? Certainly, by the very purpose of this gift, the never-failing faith of the Pope must extend to protect his teachings from heresy at all times, even materially. For material heresy harms the faithful as much as formal heresy, the error being the same to the minds of the faithful.

And how would the Roman Pontiff confirm his brethren, the other Bishops, if he could teach or commit heresy? He could not. The purpose of this gift of never-failing faith reveals its extent: infallible teachings that never fail by any error; non-infallible teachings that never fail by grave error. And in this way, never-failing teachings proceed from the never-failing faith.

Pope Saint Pius X: “The Pope is the guardian of dogma and morals; he is the depositary of the principles that form an honest family, great nations, holy souls; he is the counselor of princes and peoples; it is the head under which no one feels tyrannized, because it represents God himself; he is the father par excellence who in himself brings together everything that can be loving, tender, divine. It seems incredible, and it is also painful, that there are priests to whom this recommendation should be made, but unfortunately we are in our days in this hard, unhappy condition of having to say to priests: love the Pope!” [26]

What Pope Saint Pius X says cannot be true if a Pope can teach or commit heresy. As the guardian of dogma and morals, it is the role of the Roman Pontiff to rebuke heresies. And since he is the head of the Church and the representative of God himself (being the Vicar of Christ), the grace of God guards him at all times, not only when he teaches infallibly. “Love the Pope!” These are excellent words for all who accuse Pope Francis of grave error and grave failings of faith. Stop pretending to be judge over every Pope and Council. Be little. Love the Pope and the Church. Otherwise, you will find yourself unable to love Christ.

Pius X: “And how is the Pope to love him? No verb neque lingua, sed opera et veritate [Not in words only, but in works and truth]. When you love a person you try to conform in everything to his thoughts, to carry out his wishes, to interpret his wishes. And if our Lord Jesus Christ said of himself: si quis diligit me, sermonem meum servabit [if anyone loves me, he will keep my words], so to show our love for the Pope it is necessary to obey him. Therefore when one loves the Pope, there is no discussion about what he disposes or demands, or how far obedience must go, and in what things one must obey; when one loves the Pope, one does not say that he did not speak clearly enough, as if he were obliged to repeat in the ear of everyone that clearly expressed will many times, not only verbally, but with letters and other public documents; his orders are not questioned, citing the easy pretext of those who do not want to obey, that it is not the Pope who commands, but those who surround him; the field in which he can and must exercise his authority is not limited; The authority of the Pope is not preceded by that of other people, however learned who disagree with the Pope, who, if they are learned, are not saints, because whoever is holy cannot disagree with the Pope.” [26]

The papal accusers do not love the Roman Pontiff. The attack him out of pretended love for the Church. But what they love is nothing other than their own misguided notions about the Church. They disobey the Pope and the recent Council. They disobey every decision of doctrine and discipline that is contrary to their own understanding. They accept nothing on authority or on faith. They say that the Pope does not speak clearly enough, calling his teachings ambiguous. They question his every order. They claim he is manipulated by those around him, supposedly by modernists or freemasons or others. So it is that the papal accusers of today fit exactly the description given by Pope Saint Pius X of the modernists who were troubling the Church in his day. Yes, the conservatives and traditionalists who attack Pope Francis are acting no different from the modernists that Pius X condemned.

For what is at issue is not whether the point of view is liberal or conservative, but that they disobey the Roman Pontiff and the recent Council. Pius X would never tolerate such a grave rejection of Church authority. For he clearly says that the authority of the Pope — any Pope — is not preceded by those who are learned, or who consider themselves to be holy. For whoever disagrees with the Pope falls under the above rebuke by Pius X.

It is a mistake to think that Pope Saint Pius X was correcting the modernists for being liberal, or that by being conservative one would necessarily have the support or praise of Pius X. To the contrary, he clearly states that what faithful Catholics owe to God is obedience to the Roman Pontiff. No one who disobeys the Pope can also say that they love the Pope. For the Pope is the Vicar of Christ, and Christ says, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” (Jn 14:15).

The Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) are the Nicolaitans of today. The Nicolaitans used the name of one of the first Deacons, Nicholas, for their group, which taught utter sexual promiscuity, and which falsely attributed that behavior to the teaching of the holy Deacon. Nicholas was never a member of the Nicolaitans, and he never taught their errors. Similarly, the SSPX uses the name of Saint Pius X, who was never a member, and who never would have approved of their rebellion against the Popes and the Council. Pope Saint Pius X did not teach conservatism or traditionalism; he taught obedience to the Pope and to the Church.

Pope Benedict XV: “The ancient Fathers, especially those who held the more illustrious chairs of the East, since they accepted these privileges as proper to the pontifical authority, took refuge in the Apostolic See whenever heresy or internal strife troubled them. For it alone promised safety in extreme crises. Basil the Great did so, as did the renowned defender of the Nicene Creed, Athanasius, as well as John Chrysostom. For these inspired Fathers of the orthodox faith appealed from the councils of bishops to the supreme judgement of the Roman Pontiffs according to the prescriptions of the ecclesiastical Canons.” [27]

The only way that the Apostolic See can be a refuge against heresy is if the never-failing faith of the Roman Pontiff protects him at all times from every type of heresy. And Pope Benedict XV says that the Apostolic See alone can guarantee safety from spiritual crises. And this can only be true if the Supreme Pontiff is free from heresy and every grave error in doctrine and discipline.

Theologian should no longer argue about whether or not the Roman Pontiff can ever teach or commit heresy. It is already clear in the perennial teaching of the Church and the teachings of the Sixth Ecumenical Council and the First Vatican Council. Every Roman Pontiff has the charism of truth and of never-failing faith, which certainly prevents him from committing heresy, teaching heresy, failing gravely in faith in any other way, teaching any other grave error, or even from erring in discipline or prudential judgment gravely. This is not an open question. The never-failing faith of Peter and his successors is dogma. Then the teachings about the Apostolic See throughout the history of the Church also establishes this protection from grave error at all times.

The following expressions are from numerous different teachings of Popes and Saints:

The Apostolic See of the Roman Pontiff:
+ always remains unblemished by any error
+ has never wandered from the path of Apostolic tradition
+ has never succumbed to heretical novelties
+ remains unsullied
+ has neither stain nor blemish
+ Blessed Peter lives in his own See and presides there
+ whoever has gathered elsewhere is scattering
+ in charge of all those seeking the truth of faith
+ dangers to the faith are mended
+ there, one cannot think the faith is lacking
+ remains pure and spotless
+ free from all leading into error, or heretical fraud
+ enforces silence, stopping the mouths of all heretics
+ remains free from the heretical stench
+ polluted by no crack of depravity and no contagion
+ Peter is less able to err than the Church herself
+ the truth cannot be falsified
+ the faith of Peter can never be shaken or changed
+ pure from all stain of error
+ has never turned away from the path of truth in any direction of error
+ all the venerable Fathers have embraced its Apostolic doctrine
+ the holy orthodox doctors have venerated and followed it
+ has always held and defended the true faith
+ has never erred from the path of the Apostolic tradition
+ never yielded to heretical innovations
+ remains undefiled unto the end
+ whose authority there is none greater
+ is to be refused by no one
+ is to be judged by no one but God
+ holds perpetual and divinely rooted and planted privileges
+ the faith of Peter has not failed, nor can it be believed that it is ever going to fail
+ the faith of Peter, which so far neither has failed, nor up to the end will fail
+ whoever resists this authority, resists the ordination of God
+ this authority, given to a man and exercised by a man, is divine
+ every human creature is to be subject to the Roman pontiff
+ Peter is the pilot and navigator of the Ark of Salvation
+ could never teach something against the faith
+ the guardian of dogma and morals
+ the counselor of princes and peoples
+ that Christ and His Vicar constitute one only Head
+ guards with the greatest vigilance the deposit of the faith
+ the refuge from heresy and strife
+ it alone promises safety in extreme crises
+ refuge whenever heresy or internal strife troubles
+ perpetually assisted by the Holy Spirit
+ charged with guarding, teaching, explaining and spreading Divine Revelation
+ has divine assistance in the integral exercise of its mission
+ homage is most justly due to this Apostolic See
+ and finally: love the Pope.


1 Cardinal Ratzinger, Donum Veritatis, 17.
2 Donum Veritatis 17.
3 Primacy of the Successor of Peter in the Mystery of the Church 3.
4 Pope Saint Lucius I, Epist. I ad Episcopos Hispaniae et Galliae.
5 Bellarmine, Robert. On the Roman Pontiff, vol. 2: Books III-V (De Controversiis) (p. 157-158). Mediatrix Press. Kindle Edition.
6 Pope Leo the great, quotation from the book: Bellarmine, Robert. On the Roman Pontiff, vol. 2: Books III-V (De Controversiis) (p. 157). Mediatrix Press. Kindle Edition.
7 Saint Bernard, Epist. 190 ad Innocentium
8 Catena Aurea of St. Thomas on Mt 16:18; edited by the author
9 Saint Gregory the great; Lib. 7, epist. 37 ad Eulogium
10 Saint Gregory the great; quoted from the book: Bellarmine, Robert. On the Roman Pontiff, vol. 2: Books III-V (De Controversiis) (p. 161). Mediatrix Press. Kindle Edition.
11 Bellarmine, Robert. On the Roman Pontiff, vol. 2: Books III-V (De Controversiis) (p. 197). See also: Bellarmine, Robert. Papal Error?: A Defense of Popes said to have Erred in Faith. (p. 41). Mediatrix Press. Kindle Edition.
12 Manning, The Vatican Council and Its Definitions; p. 88.
13 Letter of Pope Saint Agatho to the Sixth Ecumenical Council.
14 Bellarmine, Robert. On the Roman Pontiff, vol. 2: Books III-V (De Controversiis) (p. 158). Mediatrix Press. Kindle Edition.
15 In Terra Pax Hominibus, September 2, 1053; Denz. 351.
16 Pope Innocent III, Epistle to the Bishop of Arles.
17 Bellarmine, Robert. On the Roman Pontiff, vol. 2: Books III-V (De Controversiis) (p. 156). Mediatrix Press. Kindle Edition.
18 Bellarmine, Robert. On the Roman Pontiff, vol. 2: Books III-V (De Controversiis) (p. 171). Mediatrix Press. Kindle Edition.
19 Ibid.
20 Ibid.
21 First Vatican Council, Pastor Aeternus, Chapter 4, n. 6.
22 First Vatican Council, Pastor Aeternus, chapter 4, n. 7.
23 Cardinal Manning, “The Vatican Council and Its Definitions: A Pastoral Letter to the Clergy”, p. 83-84.
24 Ibid.
25 Pope Leo XIII, Satis Cognitum 12.
26 Pope Saint Pius X, Speech, 18 November 1912; Address of the Holy Father Pius X to the Priests of the Apostolic Union on the Occasion of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Foundation;
27 Pope Benedict XV, Principi Apostolorum Petro, n. 3.

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