PAPAL INFALLIBILITY BECOMES DOGMA
By Michael Whelton
On September 8th, 1713, Pope Clement XI issued a Bull, Unigenitus, which
among other things condemned the proposition that "reading of the bible is
for everyone," 1 and seemed to exalt the efficacy of grace to the point of
destroying liberty. It also appeared to "limit the Church to the predestined
only."2 The storm of protest that arose against it proves conclusively that
18th century Catholic Europe had little notion of Papal Infallibility. This
Papal Bull almost brought France to the brink of schism 3 and "the Austrian
Emperor forbade the Bull Unigenitus in his territories."4 This Bull sparked
a debate as to the limits of papal authority. Sicilian seminaries were
teaching their students that "General Councils were supreme over the Pope"
and were using Unigenitus "to show how Popes could err."5 "Everywhere, the
battle over Unigenitus caused a decline in the reputation of the See of Rome
as a teacher of doctrinal truth." 6
In 1789 the Protestation of the English Catholics was signed by all the
vicars-general and "all the Catholic clergy and laity in England of any
note," and solemnly declared before Parliament that "we acknowledge no
infallibility in the pope."7 Even in 19th century England and Ireland, Papal
Infallibility was still denied as an article of Catholic belief. In 1822,
Bishop Baines, Vicar Apostolic in England, wrote that "Bellarmine and some
other divines, chiefly Italians, have believed the Pope infallible, when
proposing ex cathedra an article of faith. But in England or Ireland I do
not believe that any Catholic maintains the infallibility of the Pope"8 In
1825, a British Parliamentary Royal Commission was established in view of
the forthcoming Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829. Some of the questions put
to Roman Catholic Bishops are as follows:
Question to Bishop Doyle
Q: Is the authority of the Pope in spiritual matters absolute or limited?
A: It is limited.
Questions to Bishop Murray
Q: Is that (Papal) authority under the control of General Councils?
A: That authority is limited by the councils and canons of the Church; he is
the executive power of the Church, appointed to preside over it and enforce
its canons or laws. Those canons vest in individuals, for instance in
Bishops, certain rights, which of course is the duty of the Pope to protect
and not violate; his authority is thus limited by those canons.
Q: Does it justify an objection that is made to Catholics that their
allegiance is divided?
A: Their allegiance in civil matters is completely undivided.
Question to Dr. Oliver Kelley
Q: Do the R.C. clergy insist that all the Bulls of the Pope are entitled to
A: The Roman Catholic doctrine in respect to Bulls from the Pope is that
they are always to be treated with respect; but if those Bulls or Rescripts
proceeding from the Pope do contain doctrines or matters which are not
compatible with the discipline of the particular Church to which they may be
directed, they feel it their duty then to remonstrate respectfully, and not
to receive the regulations that may emanate from the Pope.
Question to Bishop Doyle
Q: Can you state in what respect the national canons received in Ireland, or
any particular construction put upon the general canons, differ from those
which are received in other countries?
A: For instance, a particular church, or the canons of a particular church,
might define that the authority of a general council was superior to that of
the Pope: Such canon may be received, for instance in Ireland or France, and
might not be received in Italy or Spain.
Question to Bishop Murray
Q: Is the decree of the Pope valid without the consent of the Council?
A: A decree of the Pope in matters of doctrine is not considered binding on
Catholics, if it have not the consent of the whole Church, either dispersed
or assembled by its Bishops in Council. 9
In 1826, the "declaration of the Archbishops and Bishops of the Roman
Catholic Church in Ireland," was endorsed by the signatures of 30 bishops,
declaring that "The Catholics of Ireland declare on oath their belief that
it is not an article of the Catholic faith, neither are they required to
believe that the pope is infallible."10 Archbishop Kenrick of St. Louis
pointed out in his undelivered speech, which he had published in Naples,
that for two hundred years a book had been in circulation entitled Roman
Catholic Principles in Reference to God and the King . It enjoyed such a
wide circulation that from 1748 to 1813 it underwent 35 editions and the
Very Reverend Vicar Apostolic Coppinger in England had 12 printings of it.
On the question of Papal Infallibility it states: It is no matter of faith
to believe that the Pope is in himself infallible, separated from the
Church, even in expounding the faith: by consequence of Papal definitions or
decrees, in whatever form pronounced, taken exclusively from a General
Council, or universal acceptance of the Church, oblige none, under pain of
heresy, to an interior assent.11
Papal Infallibility - A Protestant Hoax?
One of the most popular catechisms circulating in 19th century England was
the Controversial Catechism by the Reverend Stephen Keenan. The one I have
is the third edition of 1854, published by Marsh and Beattie of Edinburgh
and Charles Dolman of London and Manchester. On page 112 we find the
following question and answer:
Q: Must not Catholics believe the Pope in himself to be infallible?
A: This is a Protestant invention; it is no article of the Catholic faith;
no decision of his can oblige, under pain of heresy, unless it be received
and enforced by the teaching body; that is, by the bishops of the Church.
This catechism carries the enthusiastic approbation of four bishops:
By The Right Rev. Bishop Carruthers: A concise summary of arguments,
authorities, and proofs, in support of the doctrines, institutions and
practices of the Catholic Church, is here presented in a very convenient
form, as an additional antidote against the unceasing effusions of
antagonistic Ignorance and MisrepresentationSThe work I trust will meet with
the notice it deserves, and the good be thus effected which the zealous and
talented author has had in view of its publication.
ANDREW, BISHOP OF CERAMIS,
Vicar Apostolic of Eastern Scotland.
Edinburgh, 10th April, 1846.
By The Right Rev. Bishop Gillis:
I have much pleasure in adding my name to the above Approbation by my
Venerable Predecessor, and in earnestly recommending the study of the
CONTROVERSIAL CATECHISM to the Faithful of the Eastern District of
ScotlandSBut there are many, it is to be hoped, sincere in their pursuit of
Truth; and to all such, the CONTROVERSIAL CATECHISM must ever prove a
welcome and highly useful guide. The fact that nine thousand copies having
already been exhausted in two editions in this country, besides a third
edition printed in America, is evidence sufficient of the favour with which
the Catechism has been received by the Catholic Public...
JAMES, BISHOP OF LIMYRA,
Vicar Apostolic of the Eastern District in Scotland.
Edinburgh, 14th November, 1853.
By the Right Rev. Bishop Kyle: I have read, with much pleasure, a work
entitled Controversial Catechism, by the Rev. Stephen Keenan. As it contains
a well-reasoned defense of the Catholic faith, and clear and satisfactory
solutions of the usual objections adduced by separatists, I deem that the
study of it will be most useful to all Catholics; and, therefore, I
earnestly recommend it to the Faithful in the Northern District of Scotland.
JAS. KYLE, V.A. N.D.S.
Preshome, 15th April, l846.
By the Right Rev. Bishop Murdoch:
Glasgow, 19th November, 1853
My Dear Mr. Keenan,
I am exceedingly delighted to learn that a third edition of your excellent
Controversial Catechism is about to be printed. You request my approbation
of this New Edition. Most willingly and most heartily do I give it. But it
is really altogether unnecessary, for the work has amply approved itself.
The rapid exhaustion of the last two editions is more than sufficient proof
of the value and worth of the Catechism. I know not, indeed, if we possess a
better volume adapted to the wants of the time;...As long as the
Controversial Catechism is to be had, it is entirely the fault of all
Catholics - be their rank however humble - if they be not ready on all
occasions to give a reason of the faith and hope that are in them. I am,
Rev. Dear Sir, yours sincerely in Christ, JOHN MURDOCH, V.A. W.D.
The Rev. Stephen Keenan, Dundee.
PREFACE TO THE SECOND EDITION.
The rapid sale of the former edition - its approbation by many Clergyman in
Scotland and by several in Ireland and England - the fact of its appearing
in a very elegant American edition, approved by the Right Rev. Dr. Hughes of
New York, and by the American Catholic Clergy and Catholic press - combined
with the antipathy of modern religionists to its publication or circulation,
and the unwilling testimony wrung from them as to its efficacy in supporting
truth, - all these motives, strengthened by a desire to put down error and
establish truth, have induced the Author to give the public a second
edition... Thus here in mid-nineteenth century Britain and America we have a
very popular Catholic Catechism claiming the notion of Papal Infallibility
as evidence of Protestant deceit or ignorance. As we have seen, this was not
an article of faith that the universal church has always confessed. Pius had
already tested infallibility when, in 1854, he declared the doctrine of the
Immaculate Conception of, "which some of them (bishops) dreaded and some
opposed, but which all submitted when he had decreed without the
intervention of a Council."12
Pope Pius IX -
The Infallible Instrument of God
Count Giovanni Maria Mastai-Ferretti, the future Pius IX was born in 1792,
being the last of nine children, to a family of the lesser nobility. In his
youth and well into his thirties he suffered epileptic seizures. For a while
he was allowed to celebrate mass only on the condition that another priest
or deacon was present. Nothing more is heard of this condition in his later
life, however, according to his contemporaries the traces of the Pope's
epilepsy were visible, in that the right side of his body was slightly less
developed than the left. "This could be seen even in his face which was
asymmetric, with lips awry and a head that inclined to the right."
Pius IX was the longest reigning pope, possessing personal charm and
enjoying great popularity. He was also considered highly impressionable,
capricious, impulsive and unpredictable. These characteristics were
attributed to his epilepsy. 13 It is this Pope Pius IX who was absolutely
determined to have his office dogmatically defined as the infallible
instrument of God by a council of the Church.
At the First Vatican Council the approval of the passing of Papal
Infallibility was almost guaranteed from the beginning. First, by the
incredibly unequal representation which was highlighted during the Council
by a pamphlet, whose author was believed to be Georges Darboy, Archbishop of
Paris entitled, The Liberty of the Council and the Infallibility . This
pamphlet claimed that while Italy had two hundred and seventy bishops, the
rest of Europe had only two hundred and sixty-five. Closer scrutiny reveals
that twelve million German Roman Catholics were represented by nineteen
bishops while seven hundred thousand inhabitants of the Papal States were
represented by sixty-two. Three anti-Infallibilist Bishops of Cologne, Paris
and Cambrai represented five million souls. It is little wonder that the
German bishops who formed the backbone of the anti-Infallibilist complained
of being overwhelmed by Italian and Sicilian bishops.
(Part II in an other post)