The First Vatican Council appears to have taken the 6th paragraph of chapter 4 in Pastor Aeternus from the Letter of Pope Saint Agatho to the Sixth Ecumenical Council. Agatho was writing in defense of Pope Honorius I, saying that the Roman Pontiff cannot lead the Church astray: “under whose protecting shield, this Apostolic Church of his has never turned away from the path of truth in any direction of error,” and further asserting that the Lord and Savior of all promised that Peter’s faith should not fail.
But the fact that Vatican I relied on the wording of Pope Saint Agatho means that the Council fathers were well aware that Honorius was accused of heresy. They knew that Pope Saint Agatho exonerated Honorius with his letter that was accepted into the acts of the Sixth Council. Now some of the fathers of that Sixth Council did not seem to see the contradiction between the teachings of Agatho and the accusation against Honorius. Even so, Agatho’s position, adopted and taught by the First Vatican Council as dogma, proves that Pope Honorius I was innocent of the charge of heresy, as a dogmatic fact.
And since it is the Holy Spirit who is teaching through the Popes and Councils, it does not matter if some Council fathers misunderstood one point or another. The teaching is as the teaching stands. In other words, whatever teaching is found in Sacred Scripture or in the acts of an Ecumenical Council approved by the Pope is that truth found in writing, not whatever the writers may have thought or believed. Saint Paul in writing his Epistles may have believed that Christ would return in a generation or two; but only what the text of Scripture actually says is the teaching, is the Word of God.
The bolded sections in the quote from Vatican I have the same or similar wordings in the Letter of Agatho:
First Vatican Council: “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].”
“because 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, 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…. the firm rock of this Church of blessed Peter, the Prince of the Apostles, which by his grace and guardianship remains free from all error”
“For this is the rule of the true faith, which this spiritual mother of your most tranquil empire, the Apostolic Church of Christ, has both in prosperity and in adversity always held and defended with energy; 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 Saviour 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.” 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….”
“Who does not hate, and rage against, and avoid such blind errors, if he have any desire to be saved and seek to offer to the Lord at his coming a right faith? Therefore the Holy Church of God, the mother of your most Christian power, should be delivered and liberated with all your might (through the help of God) from the errors of such teachers, and the evangelical and apostolic uprightness of the orthodox faith, which has been established upon the firm rock of this Church of blessed Peter, the Prince of the Apostles, which by his grace and guardianship remains free from all error, [that faith I say] the whole number of rulers and priests, of the clergy and of the people, unanimously should confess and preach with us as the true declaration of the Apostolic tradition, in order to please God and to save their own souls.”
“On this account the inventors of the new dogma have been shewn to have taught things mutually contradictory, because they were not willing to be followers of the Evangelical and Apostolic faith. Wherefore since the truth has shone forth by the observations of your God-inspired piety, and falsity which has been exposed has attained the contempt which it deserved, it remains that the crowned truth may shine forth victoriously through the pious favours of your God-crowned clemency; and that the error of novelty with its inventors and with those who follow their doctrine, may receive the punishment due their presumption, and be cast forth from the midst of the orthodox prelates for the heretical pravity of their innovation, which into the holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church of Christ they have endeavoured to introduce, and to stain with the contagion of heretical pravity the indivisible and unspotted body of the Church [of Christ].”
“the heretical pravity of their innovation, which into the holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church of Christ they have endeavoured to introduce, and to stain with the contagion of heretical pravity the indivisible and unspotted body of the Church.”
Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Please consider reading my new book, Reply to the Papal Accusers: Volume One, available in print and in Kindle formats.