Regis Martin, professor of theology at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, wrote an article titled, “The Infrequency of Infallibility“, published at Crisis Magazine (April 26, 2022). In this post, I will argue that professor Martin’s positions on Papal Infallibility, on the authority of the Roman Pontiff, and on the teachings of Pope Francis are not in conformity with the teaching of the Church, nor with the obedience to the papal magisterium required of all the faithful.
Martin begins with a stunning rejection of Catholic faith. He asserts that formerly, “it was widely assumed among Catholics … that when the pope spoke on matters of faith and morals … the faithful were expected to listen and obey. He was the Chief Shepherd, after all, and the sheep instinctively understood this, which is why belonging to the Church included, as an axiom of membership, a necessary assent of mind and heart to all her teachings.” What is wrong with that? Nothing except Martin rejects this duty to listen and obey, this necessary assent to all that the Church teaches. His point in citing the constant practice of the faithful throughout the centuries is to reject that constant practice and stand with countless heretics and schismatics who have fought against the teachings of Popes and Councils in every age.
Martin narrows the requirement of assent to what is infallible, then he claims that the use of Papal Infallibility is not only infrequent, as the title of his article implies, but rare. He therefore develops a theological position that allows Catholics to judge and utterly reject almost any teaching with which they disagree. Christ entrusted the Church to the successors of Peter, while Martin entrusts the Church to each individual person’s judgment.
What The Church Teaches
The Second Vatican Council teaches that the faithful must accept not only the infallible teachings of the Roman Pontiff, when he is speaking ex cathedra, but also his non-infallible teachings under the ordinary magisterium.
“Bishops, teaching in communion with the Roman Pontiff, are to be respected by all as witnesses to divine and Catholic truth. In matters of faith and morals, the bishops speak in the name of Christ and the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent. This religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra; that is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will.” [Lumen Gentium 25]
Notice that individual Bishops, even though (as the text later asserts) “the individual bishops do not enjoy the prerogative of infallibility”, teach with the authority of Christ and His Gospel, and so we faithful must “accept their teaching… with a religious assent”. And this is true “in a special way” of the non-infallible magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, “even when he is not speaking ex cathedra”. Therefore, it is not the case, as Regis Martin clearly implies and as others have openly stated, that we are judges over the non-infallible teachings of the Pope and the body of Bishops, to condemn or contradict whatever is contrary to our own minds. Instead, we must submit our minds and wills to the teaching of the Roman Pontiff and the body of Bishops, as they are guided by the Holy Spirit so as to keep the Church and Her teaching from ever going astray or leading astray.
Now the Catechism of the Catholic Church also teaches the same, that the Pope’s infallible teachings require the full assent of faith, while his non-infallible teachings require religious assent (the religious submission of mind and will). We are not free to ignore whatever is non-infallible. Note that the term “non-infallible” refers only to what the Church, the Pope, or the Bishops decide under doctrine or discipline, and not to the personal opinions or off-the-cuff remarks of the Pope (or anyone else). A magisterial teaching is either infallible or non-infallible. An opinion of the Pope outside of an exercise of the magisterium is not binding under even lesser standard of religious assent.
Catechism of the Catholic Church: “891 ‘The Roman Pontiff, head of the college of bishops, enjoys this infallibility in virtue of his office, when, as supreme pastor and teacher of all the faithful — who confirms his brethren in the faith he proclaims by a definitive act a doctrine pertaining to faith or morals…. the infallibility promised to the Church is also present in the body of bishops when, together with Peter’s successor, they exercise the supreme Magisterium,’ above all in an Ecumenical Council. When the Church through its supreme Magisterium proposes a doctrine ‘for belief as being divinely revealed,’ and as the teaching of Christ, the definitions ‘must be adhered to with the obedience of faith.’ This infallibility extends as far as the deposit of divine Revelation itself.”
“892 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 bishop of Rome, pastor of the whole Church, when, without arriving at an infallible definition and without pronouncing in a ‘definitive manner,’ they propose in the exercise of the ordinary Magisterium a teaching that leads to better understanding of Revelation in matters of faith and morals. To this ordinary teaching the faithful ‘are to adhere to it with religious assent’ which, though distinct from the assent of faith, is nonetheless an extension of it.” [Catechism of the Catholic Church 891-892]
Infallible teachings — Papal Infallibility, Conciliar Infallibility, ordinary universal Magisterium — require “the obedience of faith” while magisterial teachings which are non-infallible (i.e. exercises of the ordinary magisterium) require only “religious assent”. The latter is an extension of the former. Both therefore exercise the infused theological virtue of faith, but in a different way and to a different degree.
Which teachings are infallible? Not only definitions, but also definitive teachings, fall under infallibility, if they meet the criteria for infallibility. In reference to non-infallible teachings, the Catechism states that these are neither a definition, nor a definitive teaching: “without arriving at an infallible definition and without pronouncing in a ‘definitive manner….’ ” Thus, an Ecumenical Council teaches infallibly not only in its formal definitions, but also in its definitive teachings, as when the body of Bishops with the Roman Pontiff binds the whole Church to a definitive teaching or definition on faith or morals. So the definitive teachings of Vatican I, for example, are all infallible. Not only the definition on Papal Infallibility, but also the other definitive teachings of Vatican I, such as the teaching on the charism of truth and never-failing faith, are infallible and require the full assent of faith. We may not stand in judgment over those teachings, label them “ultramontanist” and thereby substitute our own ideas for the dogmas of the Faith.
However, non-infallible teachings are not dogma and can err. This difference between the full assent of faith versus religious assent, along with the clear implication that non-infallible teachings are not guaranteed to be entirely free from error, allows the possibility of “licit theological dissent”, as the U.S. Bishops taught in “Human Life in Our Day” (n. 49ff). However, this possibility of licit disagreement with the Roman Pontiff’s non-infallible teachings (or any non-infallible magisterial teaching) is just as extensive and just as limited as that possibility of error. God does not bind us to error, and so the non-infallible teachings of God’s Church do not require the full assent of faith.
Neither does God abandon His Church when She teaches in Her ordinary non-infallible magisterium. For “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 bishop of Rome,” even when they are not teaching infallibly, the Catechism teaches. This divine assistance, in the case of the Roman Pontiff, limits the possibility of error, just as the ordinary universal Magisterium has always taught.
The charism of truth and never-failing faith, confirmed by the First Vatican Council (Pastor Aeternus, chapter 4, n. 7), is the ancient and constant teaching of Popes, Saints, Fathers, Doctors, and Councils from the earliest days to the present. This charism is given to each and every Roman Pontiff, and it prevents the Roman Pontiff from teaching heresy, as this would be contrary to truths of the faith, and from committing heresy, as this would be a grave failure of faith. Moreover, the charism extends to prevent every grave error, in the exercise of the Keys of Blessed Peter over both doctrine and discipline, for the sake of the Church. The indefectibility of the Church is necessarily secured by the indefectibility of the Roman Pontiff. For if the Pope — who is both the Rock on which the Church is founded and Her head — were to go astray or lead astray, then the Church Herself would have gone astray or led astray. Accusing the Roman Pontiff of defecting from the faith in his beliefs or teachings is contrary to the dogma of the charism of truth and never-failing faith. It is also the height of pride to assume that when the teachings or decisions under discipline of the Roman Pontiff seem gravely erroneous to your own mind, that you cannot possibly be wrong and so the Vicar of Christ must have defected, contrary to the promises of Christ in Mt 16:18 and Lk 22:32. And, certainly, Luke 22:32 has always been interpreted by the the ancient and constant teaching of Popes, Saints, Fathers, Doctors, and Councils as a promise from Christ that Peter and each of his successors would never fail gravely in truth or faith.
Did Peter fail gravely in faith when he denied Christ? Peter was not the Roman Pontiff at that time. For his Pontificate began at the Ascension, as the first Council of Lyons and Pope Pius XII each teach.
Did the Sixth Ecumenical Council condemn Pope Honorius I for heresy? No. For nothing is “of a Council” unless confirmed by the Roman Pontiff. Pope Saint Agatho rejected the accusation of heresy against Honorius in his letter to the Council, which was accepted into the Council’s acts: “the paper and the ink were seen, and Peter spoke through Agatho” [Actio xviii]. Then Pope Saint Leo II, in his three letters confirming the teachings and decisions of that Council, changed the charge against Honorius from heresy to negligence.
Since the exercise of the Keys of Saint Peter cannot err to a grave extent, neither in doctrine nor in discipline, the faithful cannot licitly accuse the Roman Pontiff of grave error in doctrine or discipline. Such an accusation against any Roman Pontiff is prideful, heretical, and schismatic.
Frequency of Infallibility
Martin states: “Ordinary papal teaching, of which there has been no end in recent years, does not qualify; the charism of infallibility simply will not apply.” Then he adds that, unless you are an ultramontanist, “you’re probably grateful for the infrequency of its exercise,” that is, the exercise of infallibility.
Martin notes the only exercise of Papal Infallibility since the definition at Vatican I was the 1950 definition of the Assumption. He ignores Papal Infallibility prior to Vatican I, as in the definition of the Immaculate Conception. He also ignores the definitive teachings of the Roman Pontiffs throughout the centuries, which are also infallible if they meet the same conditions. Papal Infallibility has five criteria.
1. “the Roman Pontiff”
2. “speaks ex cathedra” (“that is, when in the discharge of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, and by virtue of his supreme apostolic authority….”)
3. “he defines”
4. “that a doctrine concerning faith or morals”
5. “must be held by the whole Church”
1. “the Roman Pontiff”
2. “in virtue of his office, when as the supreme shepherd and teacher of all the faithful, who confirms his brethren in their faith (cf. Lk 22:32),”
3. “by a definitive act, he proclaims”
4. “a doctrine of faith or morals” (“And this infallibility…in defining doctrine of faith and morals, extends as far as the deposit of revelation extends”)
5. “in accordance with revelation itself, which all are obliged to abide by and be in conformity with”
Most analyzes of Papal Infallibility list 4 criteria. They are simply combining #1 and 2 above. The reason for separating them is so that the same criteria, with minor modifications, can be applied to Conciliar Infallibility and the ordinary universal Magisterium. In that case, the first criterion is the Pope and the body of Bishops, and the second is each exercising his office as the successor of Peter or as the successors of the other Apostles, that is to say, the Apostolic College with the Roman Pontiff as its head.
Considering all three modes of infallibility of the Magisterium, the Church teaches infallibly frequently. And the Pope exercises Papal Infallibility, not only in definitions, but also in definitive teachings on faith and morals binding on the whole Church. As Bishop Vincent Gasser states in the Relatio of Vatican I: “Already thousands and thousands of dogmatic judgments have gone forth from the Apostolic See; where is the law which prescribed the form to be observed in such judgments?” [n. 030]. Throughout the history of the Church, Roman Pontiffs have taught infallibly, by their sole authority, thousands of times. And this is true because not only teachings having the form of a definition are infallible, but also any definitive act proclaiming a teaching of faith or morals to the whole Church. (Now the Church can teach from natural law, but all the truths of natural law on faith or morals are also found, at least implicitly, in Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture.)
As Martin correctly states: “The pope’s views, say, on climate control or immigration policy, may be interesting and worth hearing, but they are hardly infallible, which means it is not obligatory for Catholics to believe them.” That is certainly true, as only matters of faith or morals quality to be a teaching under the magisterium, whether infallible or non-infallible. Teachings on morals certainly have application to every area of human endeavor, but this application in complex circumstances is usually left to the judgment of the faithful. Even so, intrinsically evil acts are always immoral, regardless of the circumstances.
A Need for Consultation?
What Martin says next on teachings under Papal Infallibility is heretical: “And, more to the point, they ought not to be uttered unilaterally, as though the pope were himself the Church and not the chief witness to her faith. The definition laid down at the Council did not authorize the pope to teach apart from or over against the Church but precisely alongside her. Not to believe that had been the extreme ultamontanist position, in which the pope need not consult or take counsel with anybody.”
One cannot dismiss the dogmatic teaching of the First Vatican Council on Papal Infallibility, and later teachings confirming the absence of a need for consultation and counsel, by merely labeling that dogma as “ultramontanist”. As for the definition of the Council, it clearly states the supreme authority of the Roman Pontiff to teach infallibly, without consultation or counsel.
First, Vatican I teaches clearly and emphatically the supreme authority of the Roman Pontiff over the whole Church and over doctrine and discipline. This is repeated again and again, with various wordings, so that it is very clear. In just one of many such teachings, Vatican I cites the definition of a previous Ecumenical Council:
“Then there is the definition of the Council of Florence: ‘The Roman Pontiff is the true vicar of Christ, the head of the whole Church and the father and teacher of all Christians; and to him was committed in blessed Peter, by our lord Jesus Christ, the full power of tending, ruling and governing the whole Church.’ ” [Pastor Aeternus, chap. 4, n. 2]
Such full supreme authority to teach would not be supreme or full if it required consultation and counsel before teaching with that full authority. And what if those who are consulted or who give counsel do not agree? Is the Roman Pontiff therefore bound not to teach infallibly? That is the implication of what Martin discusses. For if the Pope could simply ignore the burden of consultation and counsel that Martin puts upon Papal Infallibility, then what would be the necessity of that burden?
Instead, here is the teaching of Vatican I:
Pastor Aeternus, chap. 4, n. 9: “Therefore, faithfully adhering to the tradition received from the beginning of the Christian faith, to the glory of God our savior, for the exaltation of the Catholic religion and for the salvation of the Christian people, with the approval of the Sacred Council, we teach and define as a divinely revealed dogma that when the Roman Pontiff speaks EX CATHEDRA, that is, when, in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole Church, he possesses, by the divine assistance promised to him in blessed Peter, that infallibility which the divine Redeemer willed his Church to enjoy in defining doctrine concerning faith or morals. Therefore, such definitions of the Roman Pontiff are of themselves, and not by the consent of the Church, irreformable.”
Papal Infallibility occurs when “the Roman Pontiff” — not the body of Bishops with the Roman Pontiff, as at an Ecumenical Council or as in the ordinary universal Magisterium — rather, when the Pope himself exercises his supreme apostolic authority. And the other Bishops, while they hold apostolic authority, they do not hold the supreme authority given to Peter and his successors. Then the definition goes on to say “he defines”, and not “they define”. And the office exercised is that of Shepherd and Teacher of all Christians, a term derived from the above-cited definition of the Council of Florence, and given only to the Bishop of Rome, not the other Bishops.
Further, the dogmatic definition states that this authority to teach under Papal Infallibility is possessed by the Pope due to the divine assistance promised to Peter and his successors, and therefore not promised to the successors of the other Apostles. This is the will of “the divine Redeemer” says the dogmatic definition, and these definitions are “of the Roman Pontiff”, not of the Church more generally and not of the Apostolic College.
Finally, the dogmatic definition explicitly states that these infallible teachings are irreformable “not by the consent of the Church”.
These aspects of the definition of Papal Infallibility utterly destroy the claim of professor Regis Martin that: “Not to believe that had been the extreme ultamontanist position, in which the pope need not consult or take counsel with anybody.” To the contrary, Martin’s position is contrary to the definition itself of Papal Infallibility, and therefore falls under the anathema of the Council: “So then, should anyone, which God forbid, have the temerity to reject this definition of ours: let him be anathema.”
Therefore, when the Roman Pontiff exercises Papal Infallibility, not only is his teaching necessarily free from all error, but he exercises that authority to teach infallibly without any oversight or participation from the body of Bishops or any of the faithful. He need not consult with anyone on earth before issuing a teaching under Papal Infallibility. He in fact is not teaching with the body of Bishops, nor with anyone else on earth, when he issues a teaching under Papal Infallibility. That is why it is called “Papal Infallibility,” and not “Church Infallibility”. That is why Papal Infallibility is distinct from the infallibility of the ordinary universal Magisterium, and of Ecumenical Councils. Whether or not the body of Bishops agrees with a teaching under Papal Infallibility is irrelevant, as the Holy Spirit ensures that, after the Roman Pontiff issues such a teaching, the consent of the Bishops and the rest of the faithful will not be lacking, as Vatican II teaches: “To these definitions the assent of the Church can never be wanting, on account of the activity of that same Holy Spirit, by which the whole flock of Christ is preserved and progresses in unity of faith.” [Lumen Gentium 25].
Martin tries to defend his position on consultation and counsel for Papal Infallibility by stating that: “the Council thus rejected the fanciful notion that it is an inspired pope in his very person who manifests the charism of infallibility not the Office.” But Vatican II also teaches that this charism of infallibility “is individually present” in the Roman Pontiff, and that this charism of infallibility resides in the Roman Pontiff. Infallibility as a charism resides also in the body of Bishops, only when they exercise infallibility with the Roman Pontiff, in an Ecumenical Council or in the ordinary universal Magisterium, as Vatican II goes on to explain:
Vatican II: “And this infallibility with which the Divine Redeemer willed His Church to be endowed in defining doctrine of faith and morals, extends as far as the deposit of Revelation extends, which must be religiously guarded and faithfully expounded. And this is the infallibility which the Roman Pontiff, the head of the college of bishops, enjoys in virtue of his office, when, as the supreme shepherd and teacher of all the faithful, who confirms his brethren in their faith, by a definitive act he proclaims a doctrine of faith or morals. And therefore his definitions, of themselves, and not from the consent of the Church, are justly styled irreformable, since they are pronounced with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, promised to him in blessed Peter, and therefore they need no approval of others, nor do they allow an appeal to any other judgment. For then the Roman Pontiff is not pronouncing judgment as a private person, but as the supreme teacher of the universal Church, in whom the charism of infallibility of the Church itself is individually present, he is expounding or defending a doctrine of Catholic faith. The infallibility promised to the Church resides also in the body of Bishops, when that body exercises the supreme magisterium with the successor of Peter. To these definitions the assent of the Church can never be wanting, on account of the activity of that same Holy Spirit, by which the whole flock of Christ is preserved and progresses in unity of faith.” [Lumen Gentium 25]
Notice the bolded text above. It is the Roman Pontiff as supreme shepherd and teaching of ALL the faithful who exercises Papal Infallibility. He would not be supreme in teaching if he were required to obtain consultation and counsel (implying the necessity of agreement or consent from those who are consulted) before exercising that supreme authority. Moreover, Lumen Gentium directly states that these definitions or definitive acts of the Roman Pontiff under Papal Infallibility are “of themselves, and not from the consent of the Church, are justly styled irreformable, since they are pronounced with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, promised to him in blessed Peter”.
The claims of Regis Martin that the Roman Pontiff must teach “alongside” the Church is directly contradicted by Vatican II. Papal Infallibility does not require “the consent of the Church”, precisely because such teachings are of the Holy Spirit, due to the promise of Christ to Peter and his successors.
The three types of infallibility of the Magisterium, that is to say, the one threefold divinely-conferred gift of infallibility, is given to the Church, but does in fact reside in the Pope as well as in the Bishops as a body. However, this charism is individually present only in the Roman Pontiff, not in each of the Bishops. Therefore, this charism resides in the Roman Pontiff in a threefold fullness, as Papal Infallibility, Conciliar Infallibility, and the ordinary universal Magisterium. But it resides in the Bishops only in the latter two of the three modes, only in the Bishops as a body, and only when they are teaching with the Roman Pontiff and never without or apart from him.
The Second Vatican Council clarifies the teaching authority of the body of Bishops relative to the Roman Pontiff:
“But the college or body of bishops has no authority unless it is understood together with the Roman Pontiff, the successor of Peter as its head. The pope’s power of primacy over all, both pastors and faithful, remains whole and intact. In virtue of his office, that is as Vicar of Christ and pastor of the whole Church, the Roman Pontiff has full, supreme and universal power over the Church. And he is always free to exercise this power. The order of bishops, which succeeds to the college of apostles and gives this apostolic body continued existence, is also the subject of supreme and full power over the universal Church, provided we understand this body together with its head the Roman Pontiff and never without this head. This power can be exercised only with the consent of the Roman Pontiff. For our Lord placed Simon alone as the rock and the bearer of the keys of the Church, and made him shepherd of the whole flock….” [Lumen Gentium 22]
The entire body of Bishops, apart from the Pope who is both a member and the head of that body, “has no authority” except with the Roman Pontiff. The Pope’s authority to teach is “full, supreme and universal” and he is “always free to exercise this power”. Then the Bishops have supreme and full power (e.g. in Conciliar Infallibility and the ordinary universal Magisterium), but only “together with” the Pope and “never without” him as their head. They can only exercise their supreme teaching authority “with the consent of the Roman Pontiff” and never in opposition to his authority.
Martin: “The definition laid down at the Council did not authorize the pope to teach apart from or over against the Church but precisely alongside her.”
To the contrary, the teaching of the Roman Pontiff under Papal Infallibility is the teaching of Christ through the Holy Spirit, and as such certainly is the teaching of the Church Herself, which has Christ as Her Head and the Holy Spirit as Her soul. Then “Christ and His Vicar constitute one only head” of the one Church, just as Pope Pius XII taught (Mystical Body of Christ, 40, citing Unam Sanctam and the constant teaching of the Church since that time). So there is no sense to the attempt by Martin to oppose the Roman Pontiff to the Church, as if these were separate and contradictory things. Rather, the teaching of Papal Infallibility is the teaching of the Church, and the Roman Pontiff’s infallible teaching is certainly never apart from or against the Church, but rather is itself always a teaching of Christ, of the Holy Spirit, and of the Church.
Saint Cyprian, Bishop, 210-258: “Where Peter is, there is the Church”, an expression repeated by Saint Ambrose and Saint Boniface. Confirmed by Pope Benedict XV, in the encyclical In Hac Tanta.
Saint Cyprian: “If someone does not hold fast to this unity of Peter, can he imagine that he still holds the faith? If he desert the chair of Peter upon whom the Church was built, can he still be confident that he is in the Church?”
Saint Cyprian: “There is one God and one Christ, and one Church, and one Chair founded on Peter by the word of the Lord. It is not possible to set up another altar or for there to be another priesthood besides that one altar and that one priesthood. Whoever has gathered elsewhere is scattering.”
Saint Cyprian: There is “one Church founded by Christ our Lord on Peter, by the source and reason of unity”.
More teachings on the charisms of the Roman Pontiff here.
Regis Martin claims that the Roman Pontiff “may not pick or choose which doctrines to defend.” Really? Has every Roman Pontiff defended every doctrine of the Church? Implicitly, the Pope defends every doctrine, but explicitly he chooses which doctrines are most in need of clarification, emphasis, and dissemination. These types of expressions by those who accuse Pope Francis of grave error, the papal accusers, are schismatic — expressions which assert that the Roman Pontiff cannot exercise his Christ-given authority over doctrine and discipline according to his own mind, will, and judgment. To the contrary, the very reason that Christ instituted successors of Peter over the Church was to give that authority, discretion, and judgment to one individual Bishop, over all the other Bishops and faithful. In this way, by obedience to one Roman Pontiff, we are confirmed in faith and unity.
Catechism of the Council of Trent, 1566: “The Church has but one ruler and one governor, the invisible one, Christ, whom the eternal Father has made head over all the Church, which is his body; the visible one, the Pope, who, as legitimate successor of Peter, the Prince of the Apostles, fills the Apostolic chair. It is the unanimous teaching of the Fathers that this visible head is necessary to establish and preserve unity in the Church. This Saint Jerome clearly perceived and as clearly expressed when … he wrote: ‘One is elected that, by the appointment of a head, all occasion of schism may be removed.’ “94
Catechism of the Council of Trent, 1566: “Should anyone object that the Church is content with one Head and one Spouse, Jesus Christ, and requires no other, the answer is obvious. For as we deem Christ not only the author of all the Sacraments, but also their invisible minister — He it is who baptizes, He it is who absolves, although men are appointed by Him the external ministers of the Sacraments — so has He placed over His Church, which He governs by His invisible Spirit, a man to be His vicar and the minister of His power. A visible Church requires a visible head; therefore the Savior appointed Peter head and pastor of all the faithful, when He committed to his care the feeding of all His sheep, in such ample terms that He willed the very same power of ruling and governing the entire Church to descend to Peter’s successors.”
Martin concludes his article with a series of attacks on the teachings and decisions of Pope Francis. These accusations against the Vicar of Christ simply assume that Pope Francis is wrong whenever he has spoken contrary to the mind of Regis Martin. No theological argument is presented in his diatribe by Martin.
Martin: “At the end of the day, the highest honor we can pay to the pope is to tell him the truth. Most especially, one would think, when he is not speaking it himself. But, as always, to do so in charity.”
No, the highest honor paid to the Roman Pontiff is to treat him as the Vicar of Christ, and as the Shepherd and Teacher of all Christians. The expression “to tell him the truth” assumes an implicit infallibility held by Martin and other papal accusers. They assume that the Pope must have erred gravely whenever he speaks contrary to their own mind, rather than submitting their minds to the teaching of the Roman Pontiff, as the Church requires. The understanding of fallen sinners is not necessarily “truth”, while the non-infallible teachings of the Roman Pontiff are protected from grave error at all times, and the infallible teachings of the Magisterium are protected from all error.
Martin claims to be able to judge when the Pope is not speaking the truth himself, and to have the role to tell the Pope what the truth really is — in contradiction to the magisterial teaching of the Vicar of Christ. And that is not charity. For where there is no faith, there is no charity. A baptized Christian can have all three theological virtues — love, faith, and hope; or faith only, if love and hope are lost by actual mortal sin; or neither love, nor faith, nor hope, if that actual mortal sin is against faith. But anyone who lacks the theological virtue of faith also necessarily always lacks love and hope.
This assumption by the papal accusers that Pope Francis has erred gravely in his exercise of the Keys of Blessed Peter is contrary to the charism of truth and never-failing faith. It is also the grave sin of pride. A Pope can teach infallibly under Papal Infallibility, Conciliar Infallibility, or the ordinary universal Magisterium. But the papal critics cannot teach infallibly at all. They do not have the role to judge when the Roman Pontiff is supposedly contradicting the truths of the faith gravely, and to substitute their own judgment and understanding for magisterial teaching.
Martin says: “I am not St. Catherine of Siena.” Indeed. For she supported the Roman Pontiff, rather than attacking him.
She, with humility: “I Caterina, servant and slave of the servants of Jesus Christ and your poor wretched unworthy daughter, am writing to you in his precious blood.”
She, with submission to Papal authority: “For you know that God has placed in your hands the giving and the taking away of this inheritance as your kindness pleases. You hold the keys, and to whomever you open it is opened, and to whomever you close it is closed. This is what the good gentle Jesus said to Peter, whose place you take: ‘Whatever you shall loose on earth will be loosed in heaven, and whatever you shall bind on earth will be bound in heaven.’ ”
She, taking the side of the Roman Pontiff: “I am confident that by God’s measureless goodness you will win back the unbelievers and [at the same time] correct the wrongdoing of Christians, because everyone will come running to the fragrance of the cross, even those who have rebelled against you most.”
She, rebuking the sinful clergy: “So by the fragrance of their virtue they would help eliminate the vice and sin, the pride and filth that are rampant among the Christian people — especially among the prelates, pastors, and administrators of holy Church who have turned to eating and devouring souls, not converting them but devouring them! And it all comes from their selfish love for themselves, from which pride is born, and greed and avarice and spiritual and bodily impurity. They see the infernal wolves carrying off their charges and it seems they don’t care. Their care has been absorbed in piling up worldly pleasures and enjoyment, approval and praise. And all this comes from their selfish love for themselves. For if they loved themselves for God instead of selfishly, they would be concerned only about God’s honor and not their own, for their neighbors’ good and not their own self-indulgence.”
She, supporting the Pope, trusting that God will help him: “Ah, my dear babbo, see that you attend to these things! Look for good virtuous men, and put them in charge of the little sheep. Such men will feed in the mystic body of holy Church not as wolves but as lambs. It will be for our good and for your peace and consolation, and they will help you to carry the great burdens I know are yours. It seems to me, gracious father, that you are like a lamb among wolves. But take heart and don’t be afraid, for God’s providential help will always be with you. Don’t be surprised even though you see a great deal of opposition, and see that human help is failing us, and that those who should be helping us most disappoint us and act against us.”
[Catherine of Siena: Letter 74 To Pope Gregory XI, in Avignon]
Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.
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Very well done as always. You are right to point out that this issue is most clearly a lack of faith on the part of the papal accusers. When they look at the Church they only see its humanity and do not believe in its divinity.
Thank you very much for this article. You had previously critiqued the position of Dr. Edward Peters who claimed that the Pope could not exercuse his ordinary magisterium without the consensus of the bishops:https://ronconte.com/2018/08/19/dr-edward-peters-heresy-against-the-ordinary-papal-magisterium/ Now Dr. Regis Martin apparently claims that the Pope cannot exercuse his extraordinary papal magisterium without the consensus of the bishops. Both positions are erroneous, but the error of Regis Martin seems to be even more serious. I don’t know where these ideas are coming from.
You are correct that popes teach infallibly when they pronounce definitively on matters of faith and morals in communion with the ordinary universal magisterium. I believe St. John Paul II taught infallibly in this way in Evangelium Vitae [EV], 57 (condemning the voluntary killing of an innocent human being); in EV, 62 (condemning direct abortion); and in EV 65 (condemning euthanasia). In EV, 57 and 62, John Paul II specifically draws upon the authority which Christ conferred upon Peter and his sucessors, and in EV, 65, he makes it clear that he is issuing a definitive judgment in communion with the bishops.
The teaching authority of the Roman Pontiff is a great gift and a dogma of the Catholic Church. it’s sad that some Catholic professors arte trying to minimize this teaching authority.
Question: I read today re. Sixtus IV who allegedly drew profits from prostitution. What about the clearly scandalous popes, is there also infallibility?
First, it is wrong to assume that every accusation against every Pope is true. We see today the many false accusations against Pope Francis, such as when he clearly stated that the will of God on the plurality of religions is the permissive will of God, and yet he was accused of heresy with the claim that he thinks God positively wills the plurality of religions. Also, the Magisterium has no infallible teaching on that point, so neither position can be heresy. Pope Francis is also accused falsely in many other ways. So we should learn from this example today that allegations of grave sins by Popes should not be assumed to be certainly true.
Popes who do commit personal mortal sins still have the prevenient grace of God protecting them from any error in what is infallible, and from any grave error in what is non-infallible. That is an act of the grace of God, independent of the personal holiness or sinfulness of the Pope.
How was Geocentrism not the consistent teaching of the Popes for the first eighteen centuries of the Church?
It perhaps does not fall under faith or morals. In any case, it was not an infallible teaching, as is clear from the response of Saint Robert Bellarmine to the Galileo controversy. Bellarmine considered that the interpretation of Biblical passages referencing the earth could be interpreted as figurative, allowing the position of Galileo and Copernicus, but since most scientists of that day rejected the position. So the Church sided with the majority view of scientists and the usual interpretation of Scripture, which were in agreement.
Why was the Copernicus/Galileo position rejected by scientists (of both generations)? Copernicus not only held, correctly, that the planets revolve around the sun, but also that their orbits were circular, and that “the fixed stars” were much closer than they really are. When scientists tried to confirm this scientific theory, the orbits of the planets seen in the sky did not follow the predicted path (since no one realized the complexity of the orbital paths). In addition, stellar parallax was not able to be confirmed at that time. When the stars are seen from the earth, six months apart in time, they are seen from two different positions of the earth, on opposite sides of the sun, which should result in parallax (differences in where the stars appear to be relative to one another). Hold your finger up at arm’s length and open only one eye; now do the same with the other eye open. Objects more distant than your finger will appear to be in different places relative to the closer object. That is parallax. But the stars are much further away than any scientists of Copernicus or Galileo’s day realized. So since the scientists of both generations could not confirm the position of Copernicus and Galileo, the Church sided with the majority scientific view and the usual interpretation of those Biblical passages.
Actually odd…the easiest interpretation is that each star is just like the sun. That would be wrong, of course, but it would give a good idea of their distance.