Robert J. Siscoe

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 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.”

This 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”) against those who contradict what they mistakenly think the doctrine means.

Two Privileges

The Church has never taught that Christ’s promise to St. Peter that his "faith will fail not," means a successor of St. Peter is unable to fall into personal heresy and lose the faith.  On the contrary, theologians have always distinguished between two distinct privileges that St. Peter receive, namely, one that prevented him from falling into personal heresy, and another that prevented him from erring when he taught ex cathedra – and they have consistently taught that the second privilege is what was passed on to Peter’s successors. For example, in In De Romano Pontifice (bk 4, ch. 2), Bellarmine wrote:

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 Pope’ [i.e., teaching ex cathedra], 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.” (De Romano Pontifice, lib IV, cap. 3, Translated by Ryan Grant)

       The first privilege is a habitual operating grace (gratia gratum faciens)[1] 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. [2]  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 he defined a doctrine, ex cathedra.   When St. Peter died, the second privilege remained attached to the Petrine office (for the good of the Church) to be enjoyed by his successors.   The second privilege (inability to err when teaching ex cathedra), is the dogma of papal infallibility that was solemnly defined during the First Vatican Council.  

In his book, On the Word of God, Bellarmine explains that the Popes themselves have always understood that Christ's promise of unfailing faith applied to St. Peter's successors in such a way that they were unable to error when they taught ex cathedra.   He writes:

“'I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have been converted, strengthen your brethren’ (Luke 22:31).  From this text St. Bernard in letter 90 to Pope Innocent deduced that the Roman Pontiff, teaching ex cathedra, cannot err; and before him the same was said by Pope Lucius I in letter 1 to the Bishops of Spain and France, by Pope Felix I in a letter to Benignus, Pope Mark in a letter to Athanasius, Leo I in sermon 3 … Leo IX in a letter to Peter, Patriarch of Antioch, Agatho in a letter to the Emperor Constantine IV which was read at the sixth council (act. 4 and again act 8) and approved by the whole Council, Pope Paschal II at the Roman Council … Innocent III in the chapter, Majores on Baptism and its effect.  Therefore, if the Roman Pontiff cannot err when he is teaching ex cathedra, certainly his judgment must be followed (…).  For we read Acts ch.15 that the Council said, ‘It has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us;’ such also now is the Pontiff teaching ex cathedra, whom we showed is always directed by the Holy Spirit so that he cannot err.” (Bellarmine, On the Word of God, lib. 3, cap 5.)

       Suarez provides a lengthy explanation Christ’s promise of unfailing faith in his book Against the Anglicans, and makes the same distinction between the two privileges. In Chapter five, he begins by explaining that the Promise of Christ was given primarily for the office of St. Peter, which was to remain in the Church forever:

“Hence, just as this office [i.e., that of an infallible teacher] is necessary in the Church for the preservation of the true faith, so those words [i.e., ‘Feed my sheep’] were said to Peter by reason of a pastoral office that was going to flow perpetually into the Church and remain there always; therefore too the (…) promise, that ‘thy faith fail not,’ was made, not merely to the person [of Peter], 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 were convinced that certain popes had fallen into personal heresy, and believed this proved that Christ’s promise of unfailing faith was not passed on to St. Peter’s successors. Here is Suarez reply:

“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 an individual believer.

“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 for 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 person; but to the others it only descended by succession, and therefore it was communicated to them as successors of Peter.”

        Once again, we see that only the second privilege was guaranteed to Peter's successors.  In another place Suarez says the first privilege might have been passed on to St. Peter's successors, but as the above quotation shows, he did not hold it as a certainty.   Bellarmine, as well as other Jesuits, also posited that the first privilege might have also been passed on, but the all qualified the proposition as merely "probably," which is the lowest degree of certainty. 

         Dominic Banez, on the other hand, is clear that only the second privilege was passed on. He writes:

“a privilege of this sort contains two things. One that pertained to the personal excellence of Peter, namely, that his own faith would not fail. The other that pertained to the office of the supreme pontiff and Vicar of Christ, namely, that in proposing a doctrine of the faith to the whole church and in the strengthening of the brethren, the public faith of Peter would not fail. Therefore, we say that the successors of Peter follow him in the latter privilege, insofar as it pertains to the office of the supreme pontiff and the common governance of the Church; but they are not heirs of the former privilege in those things that pertain to the personal dignity of Peter.” (Scholastica Commentaria in Secundam Secundae Angelici Doctoris D.Thomae (Venice, 1587), Question 1, article 10)

       The famous biblical commentary by Cornelius a Lapide, S. J., offers an identical explanation of the two privileges, and likewise affirms that only the second (infallibility in teaching) was passed on to St. Peter’s successors.[3]  The renowned canonist, Fr. Paul Laymann, S.J., explains why the first privilege was not passed on:

“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..” (Moral Theology, bk. 2, tract 1, ch. 7)

       John of St. Thomas likewise teaches that the unfailing faith of St. Peter means a Pope cannot err when he defines a doctrine, ex cathedra, even if he has fallen into personal heresy:

“The authority of the papacy is not founded upon the personal faith of any individual…  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." (Cursus Theologici II-II De Auctoritate Summi Pontificis, Disp. II, Art. III, De Depositione Papae.)

                                                    Definition of Papal Infallibility

       As note above, the second privilege (infallibility when teaching ex cathedra) was defined by the First Vatican Council defined in 1870.  The following is the dogmatic definition as found in Chapter IV of Pastor Aeternus:

“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.
“But since in this very age when the salutary effectiveness of the apostolic office is most especially needed, not a few are to be found who disparage its authority, we judge it absolutely necessary to affirm solemnly the prerogative which the only-begotten Son of God was pleased to attach to the supreme pastoral office.
“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.”

       The Council only defined that a Pope cannot err when he defines a doctrine, ex cathedra. Nowhere does it teach that a Pope is unable to fall into personal heresy, or even that he is unable to publicly teach heresy when he is not defining a doctrine.  

       As Cardinal Manning explains, the definition of Papal Infallibility only applies to solemn papal definitions, while excluding all else:

“The definition, therefore, carefully excludes all ordinary and common acts of the Pontiff as a private person, and also all acts of the Pontiff as a private theologian, and again all his acts which are not in matters of faith and morals; and further, all acts in which he does not define a doctrine, that is, in which he does not act as the supreme Doctor of the Church in defining doctrines to be held by the whole Church.  The definition includes, and includes only, the solemn acts of the Pontiff as supreme Doctor of all Christians, defining doctrines of faith and morals, to be held by the whole Church.” (Petri Privilegium: Three Pastoral Letters to the Clergy of the Diocese, p. 86-87).

       During the famous four-hour relatio that Bishop Vincent Gasser, official spokesman for the Deputation de fide, delivered to the Council Fathers before their vote on Papal Infallibility, Gasser addressed what he called a “grave objection” that had been raised by one of the Bishop.  The objection was based on a misunderstanding of what the Church was intending to define concerning papal infallibility.  The following is Gasser's rely to the objection:

“Now before I end this general relatio, I should respond to the most grave objection that has been made from this podium, namely, that we wish to make the extreme opinion of a certain school of theology a dogma of Catholic Faith. Indeed, this is a very grave objection, and when I heard it from the mouth of an outstanding and most esteemed speaker, I hung my head sadly and pondered well before speaking. Good God, have you so confused our minds and our tongues that we are misrepresented as promoting the elevation of the extreme opinion of a certain school to the dignity of dogma…?”

       What was the "extreme opinion" that the Bishop mistakenly believed the council intended to define? Gasser explains:

 As far as the doctrine set forth in the Draft goes, the Deputation is unjustly accused of wanting to raise an extreme opinion, namely, that of Albert Pighius, to the dignity of a dogma. For the opinion of Albert Pighius, which Bellarmine indeed calls ‘pious and probable,’ was that the Pope, as an individual person or a private teacher, was able to err from a type of ignorance but was never able to fall into heresy or teach heresy. (…) it is evident that the doctrine in the proposed Chapter is not that of Albert Pighius or the extreme opinion of any school…” (O’Connor, The Gift of Infallibility, p. 58.)

      The official explanation of Papal Infallibility, delivered to the Council Fathers before their vote on the dogma, explicitly states that the Council was not defining that a Pope is unable to fall into personal heresy or teach heresy (when he is not teaching ex cathedra).

Commentary of Theologians After Vatican I

       In response to Fr. Kramer's assertion (again, back up by nothing) that Vatican I taught that "the efficacious prayer of Christ to His Father that Peter's faith not fail (first privilege)" was passed on to his  successors, so that "like Peter, THEIR FAITH CANNOT FAIL", we provide the following quotations from theologians after Vatican I, all of whom confirm that Vatican I did not teaching that a Pope is unable to fall into personal heresy.

The first is 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.

Cardinal Mazzella: “[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.” (De Religione et Ecclesia, 1905)
Msgr. Van Noort likewise confirms that Vatican I did not rule out the possibility of a pope falling into formal heresy.  After providing a thorough explanation of the conditions for Papal Infallibility, as contained in the Conciliar definition, he wrote:

Msgr. G. Van Noort (1957): “… with regard to the pope when he is not speaking ex cathedra. All theologians admit that the pope can make a mistake in matters of faith and morals when so speaking: (…) some competent theologians do concede that the pope when not speaking ex cathedra could fall into formal heresy.”  (Christ’s Church. p. 294).

In Institutiones Iuris Canonici (1950), Coronata confirms the same:  

M. Coronata (1950): “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. (Coronata, Institutiones Iuris Canonici (Rome: Marietti, 1950), vol. 1, p. 3I6.)

The Jesuit theologian, Horatius Mazzella, comments as follows about Papal Infallibility in Praelectiones Scholastico-Dogmaticae (1915):

Horatius Mazzella, S.J. (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. (Praelectiones Scholastico-Dogmaticae, Vol I, Torino, 1915, p. 545.)

In his masterful book, The Church of Christ: An apologetic and Dogmatic Treatise, Fr. E. Sylvester Berry confirms that Vatican I “left untouched” the question of whether a Pope can fall into heresy, or whether he can teach heresy in a public capacity.

Fr. E. Sylvester Berry (1955): “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.”  (The Church of Christ: An Apologetic and Dogmatic Treatise, p. 273)

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.[4]  Eight decades after the close of Vatican I, A Vermeersch stated that it was “the more common teaching” that a Pope could fall into heresy, which would not have been the case if Vatican I excluded the possibility:

A. Vermeersch, I. Creusen (1949): “At least according to the more common teaching, the Roman Pontiff as a private teacher can fall into manifest heresy.” (Epitome Iuris Canonici, Rome: Dessain, 1949, 340)

Finally, in an article published in 1974 - more than a century after the close of Vatican I – Cardinal Sticker said no theologian believes a Pope is unable to fall into formal heresy.

“First of all it is necessary to say that the prerogative of infallibility of office does not prevent the pope as a person from sinning and therefore from becoming personally even a heretic. In fact, no theologian today, 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….” (The Catholic Historical Review, 1974, Vol. 60, No. 3)

 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 claims. 

[1] gratia gratum faciens = grace “that makes one pleasing” to God, i.e., grace, whether habitual or actual, that is directed immediately to the sanctification of the recipient.
[2] gratia gratis data = grace “gratuitously given,” i.e., charisms given for the sanctification of others, independently of the recipient’s merits.
[3] Cornelius a Lapide, Commentary On The Four Gospels, Luke 22:31-32.
[4] Fr. Smith, Elements of Ecclesiastical Law, 9th edition (1895)