FR. KRAMER'S ERROR CONCERNING "THE UNFAILING FAITH OF PETER"

Fr. Kramer:   “Pastor Æternus teaches explicitly that the Lord's prayer was for
the Roman Pontiff, that his faith may not fail. Pastor Æternus applies this teaching as a premise to its definition of Papal Infallibility. It does not apply it to the question of whether or not the pope can personally become a heretic, because; as Gasser explained, it was the intention of the Council only to define the point of the infallibility of the pope's definitions, and NOT to define on the question of whether or not the pope could become a heretic. So, although the Council did not define on this latter point, it follows by strict logical implication, that since the Council taught that the efficacious prayer of Christ to His Father that Peter's faith not fail was also for Perer's successors, like Peter, THEIR FAITH CANNOT FAIL, and THEREFORE, they cannot fail in their faith and fall into formal heresy. Since this point was not defined, it is not de fide, but since it is strictly implied by the Council's teachingit is proxima fideiThe Salza/Siscoe belief that a pope can become a formal heretic is, therefore, proximate to heresy.  The teaching of Vatican I, therefore, vindicates and underscores Bellarmines argument that the pope cannot become a formal heretic.”
  

Siscoe: This argument is a perfect example of what one finds constantly in Sedevacantist writings: private interpretation of doctrine (backed up by nothing), followed by accusations of heresy (or “proximate to heresy”) for contradicting what they think the doctrine means. 

As we will see, Christ’s promise to St. Peter that his "faith will fail not", does not mean a Successors of St. Peter is unable to fall into personal heresy and lose the faith.

In De Romano Pontifice (bk 4, ch. 2), Bellarmine explains that in answer to Christ’s prayer, St. Peter received two distinct privileges: 1) that he would never fall into personal heresy; and 2) that when acting ‘as Pope’, he would never teach anything contrary to the faith. He then explains that only the second privilege (infallibility in teaching) was passed on to St. Peter’s Successors: 

Bellarmine: “… the promise of the Lord in Luke XXII, as we find it in the Greek: ‘Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has asked for you that he might sift you like wheat, yet I have prayed for thee that thy faith would not fail…’ (...)  the true exposition is that the Lord asked for two privileges for Peter. One, that he could not ever lose the true faith insofar as he was tempted by the Devil (…) 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.”


As Bellarmine explains, only the second privilege was passed on to St. Peter's Successors, not the first.

The first privilege is a habitual operating grace (gratia gratum faciens) given for the perfection of the person of St. Peter; the second is a charism (gratia gratis data) given for the good of the Church.[1] The first privilege prevented St. Peter from falling into formal heresy and losing his personal faith; the second prevented him from erring (even materially) when exercising his office as Supreme Pontiff by definitively teaching a doctrine to be held by the universal Church.[2] The first privilege was for St. Peter alone, as Bellarmine explained, while the second remained attached to his office, and was to be enjoyed by those who succeeded him. 

Suarez discusses the promise of unfailing faith it at length in Defensio Fidei Catholicae Adversus Anglicanae Sectae Errores, and his explanation is identical to that of Bellarmine.  In Chapter five, he writes:

“the promise, that ‘thy faith fail not,’ was made, not merely to the person, but to the office and See of Peter. For that is why Christ specially prayed for him and gained that privilege for him, because the office of strengthening the brethren required that help on the part of God; therefore, as the office was going to be perpetual in the See of Peter, so also the privilege.”

In chapter six, he uses the distinction between the two privileges to refute the heretics of his day, who contended that certain popes in the past had been heretics, and then uses their assertion to  proved that the promise of unfailing faith was not passed on to St. Peter’s successors.  Instead of arguing that no pope had ever fallen into heresy, Suarez replied as follows:

“There is open to view a received distinction between the Pontiff as believer, as a private person, and as teacher, as he is as Pontiff. For we say that the promise of Christ pertains to him as taken in the second way; (…) when considering the person of the Pontiff in the first way, even Catholics are in disagreement about whether a Pontiff could be a heretic, and the quarrel is still undecided whether some Pontiff was [a heretic], not by presumption alone, but really such. (…) So for the sake of avoiding controversy we easily grant that it is not necessary for the promise of Christ to extend to the person of the Pontiff as he is one of the individual believers.

“But if someone insists that the person of Peter as individual believer could, for the same reason, have defected from the faith, notwithstanding the promise of Christ, we reply first that the reasoning is not the same about Peter, because to him was the promise immediately made, and therefore it was made to him not only as to his office but also as to his personbut to the others it only descended by succession, and therefore it was communicated to them as successors of Peter.”

As we can see, Suarez’ teaching concerning the unfailing faith of St. Peter and how it applies to his Successors is identical to that of Bellarmine: only the second privilege, which is attached to the Petrine office, was passed on to Peter''s Successors, and not the first, which prevented a Pope from losing his personal faith.  The famous biblical commentary by Cornelius a Lapide, S. J., offers an identical explanation of the two privileges, and likewise notes that only second (infallibility in teaching) was passed on to St. Peter’s successors.[1]

The renowned canonist, Fr. Paul Laymann, S.J., explains why the first privilege is not enjoyed by St. Peter's Successors:

“It is more probable that the Supreme Pontiff, as concerns his own person, could fall into heresy, even a notorious one (…) The proof of the assertion is that neither Sacred Scripture nor the tradition of the Fathers indicates that such a privilege [i.e., immunity from falling into personal heresy] was granted by Christ to the Supreme Pontiffs; therefore the privilege is not to be asserted.  The first part of the proof is shown from the fact that the promises made by Christ to St. Peter cannot be transferred to the other Supreme Pontiffs insofar as they are private persons, but only as the successors of Peter in the pastoral office of teaching, etc.  .”[2]

Here is John of St. Thomas' explanation of the unfailing Faith of St. Peter and how it applies to the Pope:  

“ The fact that the Pope cannot fail in this faith means that, even if he were personally a heretic, yet insofar as he teaches ex cathedra he cannot teach anything contrary to the faith.  It is in this faith, therefore—which is the faith of the papacy, and not of the person, and which was the faith of Peter and his confession—in this alone the papacy is founded, and not in the personal faith even of the very person of the Pope. [3]


The unfailing faith of Peter means a Pope cannot err when he exercises the office of St. Peter by defining a doctrine, ex cathedra - even if he has personally lost the faith. 

In response to Fr. Kramer's assertion (back up by nothing) that Vatican I taught that "the efficacious prayer of Christ to His Father that Peter's faith not fail, was also for Peter's successors, [so that] like Peter, THEIR FAITH CANNOT FAIL", we provide the following quotation from Cardinal Camillo Mazzella, who held the chair of theology at the Gregorian in the decade following the Council.  In De Religione et Ecclesia (1905), the Cardinal explains what Vatican I defined, and what it "said nothing" about.


“[I]t is one thing that the Roman Pontiff cannot teach a heresy when speaking ex cathedra (what the Vatican Council defined); and it is another thing that he cannot fall into heresy, that is become a heretic as a private person. On this last question the Council said nothing (De hac questione nihil dixit Concilium); and the theologians and canonists are not in agreement among themselves concerning it.”[4]

The Jesuit theologian, Horatius Mazzella, confirms the same in Praelectiones Scholastico-Dogmaticae (1915):

“By virtue of the gift of infallibility, the Pontiff cannot fall into heresy when he speaks ‘ex cathedra’: this was defined in the Vatican Council. But the theologians dispute whether he can, as a private person, become a true heretic, adhering publicly and pertinaciously to an error against faith.” (Praelectiones Scholastico-Dogmaticae (1915).[5]

In his celebrated book, The Church of Christ: An Apologetic and Dogmatic Treatise (1955), Fr. E. Sylvester Berry likewise confirms that Vatican I “left untouched” the question of whether a pope could fall into heresy or teach heresy, even in an official capacity:

“The Council declared the Roman Pontiff personally infallible when speaking officially as head of the universal Church, but left untouched the question whether the Pope in his private capacity, or in his official capacity as bishop, primate or patriarch, can fall into heresy or teach heresy.  Some theologians maintain that he can. Straub cites Hadrian II and Innocent III as favoring this opinion.”[6]

In Institutiones Iuris Canonici (1950), Coronata writes:

“It cannot be proven however that the Roman Pontiff, as a private teacher, cannot become a heretic — if, for example, he would contumaciously deny a previously defined dogma. Such impeccability was never promised by God.  Indeed, Pope Innocent III expressly admits such a case is possible.[7] 


In Elements of Ecclesiastical Law, which was published 25 years after the close of Vatican I, Fr. Smith said it remained “the more probable opinion” that a pope could fall into personal heresy. [1]  Five decades later, A. Vermeersch confirmed that the common opinion had not changed: “At least according to the more common teaching,” he wrote in Epitome Iuris Canonici (1949), “the Roman Pontiff as a private teacher can fall into manifest heresy.” [2]  

Finally, in an article published in 1974 - more than a century after the close of Vatican I – Cardinal Sticker said no theologian of the day denied that a Pope could fall into formal heresy. “No theologian today,” wrote the Cardinal, “even if he accept unconditionally the infallibility of the Roman pontiff, asserts thereby that the pope, speaking in the abstract, cannot personally become a heretic….”[3]  

Now what seems more likely, that all these real theologians held to an opinion that was “proximate to heresy,” or that Fr. Kramer  - who is not a theologian  - has entirely misunderstood the teaching of Vatican I?

More quotations could be provided, but these suffice to show that Vatican I did not teach, directly or indirectly, that a Pope is unable to fall into personal heresy, nor is it “strictly implied” by a “logical necessity", as Fr. Kramer imagines. 






[1] Cornelius a Lapide, Commentary On The Four Gospels, Luke 22:31-32.
[2] Moral Theology, bk. 2, tract 1, ch. 7 (the quotations Fr. Laymann cited were removed for the sake of space)
[3] Cursus Theologici II-II De Auctoritate Summi Pontificis, Disp. II, Art. III, De Depositione Papae.
[4] Card. C. Mazzella, De religione et Ecclesia, Sixth Edition, (Prati: Giachetti, filii et soc., 1905), p. 817, n. 1045 (emphasis added).
[5] H. Mazzella, Praelectiones Scholastico-Dogmaticae, Vol I, Torino,1915, p. 545.  
[6] The Church of Christ, p. 273
[7] Coronata, Institutiones Iuris Canonici (Rome: Marietti, 1950), vol. 1, p. 3I6.


[8] Fr. Smith, Elements of Ecclesiastical Law, 9th edition  (1895)
[9] A. Vermeersch, I. Creusen: Epitome Iuris Canonici, Rome: Dessain, 1949, 340)
[10] The Catholic Historical Review, Vol. 60, No. 3.



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