Student: Although those arguments seem difficult to me I can not agree with their conclusion. So would you tell me how they may be replied to.
Replies to arguments that a pope cannot become a heretic
Master: The reply to the first of them is that there can be sure judgement about doubtful matters in that community which has not been left to itself but has been kept safe by someone who can not err, even if any member at all of that community singly can err - and that because none of them individually is kept safe from being able to err as the community is kept safe. It is thus with the church militant, because any individual in the church militant is left to the power of his own counsel, so that he can with the help of divine grace remain in the faith or he can turn away from the catholic faith, according to the judgement of his own will. The community of Christians is kept safe in such a way by God, however, that if one of them turns away from faith another will by divine gift remain strong in the faith. So if the pope errs against faith there will be another Christian, man or woman, who will not withdraw from faith.
Student: Is such a mode of arguing valid? Any Christian can err against faith; therefore the whole community of Christians can err against faith.
Master: Many people say that such a mode of arguing is not valid but is a fallacy of a figure of speech, because it is a common fallacy of a figure of speech [to move] from a noun which is not collective to a collective noun. One example is this: any one of the people can be sustained by one piece of bread a day, so the people can be sustained by one piece of bread a day; and another is this: either part of a contradiction can be true, so the contradiction can be true.
Student: I am not happy that you are branching out to the science of reasoning, so would you report how reply can be made to the other arguments.
[See Significant Variants, para. 29.] Master: The reply to the second argument is that although questions of faith should not be brought to a heretic, they should nevertheless be brought to someone who can become a heretic before he becomes a heretic. And therefore although a pope can fall into heretical wickedness, questions of faith should be brought to him before he so falls; but if he has incurred heretical wickedness there should from then on be no question of faith brought to him. Therefore, a question of faith should be brought not to him who does err but to him who can err against faith.
It is said to the third argument that those papal writings and decretals which are not found to be opposed to divine Scripture and to the sacred teachings of the holy fathers should be accepted as canonical writings, that is as authoritative and worthy of veneration. And it is about papal decrees, writings and letters of this kind that Augustine, Pope Agatho and other holy fathers speak. Papal writings and letters, however, that contradict the sacred page or sacred teachings should be rejected by all believers. Gratian attests to this at dist. 19, para. Hoc autem where he says [col.62], "But this,' namely that decretals are of equal authority with the canons, 'should be understood of those decrees or decretal letters in which nothing is found which is opposed to the decrees of earlier fathers or to gospel teachings." And in the same distinction at para. Quia ergo he says [col.64], '"Therefore because he," that is Anastasius II, "issued these rescripts impermissibly and not canonically but against decrees of his predecessors and successors - as Felix and Gelasius, who excommunicated Achacius before Anastasius, and Hormisda, third in line after Anastasius, who later condemned the same Achacius, prove - he was as a result repudiated by the Roman church and, as we read, was slain by God." We gather from these words that a pope can write decretals which should not be accepted by catholics. Indeed they try to prove this by an example. For on matters pertaining to the teachings of faith the decretals or rescripts of John XXII oppose and are contrary to decretals and rescripts of Gregory IX, Innocent IV, Alexander IV, Nicholas III, Clement V and some other highest pontiffs. However, contraries should not be accepted by catholics. Either the writings of John XXII, therefore, or the writings of the aforesaid highest pontiffs should be rejected by catholics.
The reply to the fourth argument is that under the old law it was proper for everyone to obey the highest priest and judge in difficult and doubtful questions when he was declaring the truth of his judgement according to divine law. If he had ordered something against divine law, however, he ought not to have been obeyed, as we evidently gather from chapters 13 and 17 of Deuteronomy. However, that the highest priests under the old law and also the chief judges could make orders against the law of God and err against the truth of faith is certain from the fact that many of them turned aside from the truth of judgement and faith, as could be shown by many examples, because many highest priests around the time of the Maccabees abandoned the law of the Lord. Indeed the priest Urias in obedience to King Achaz erected an altar against the law, as we find in 4 Kings 16. The highest priests in the time of Christ also erred against the law in many ways. Some of the judges of the Hebrews after Joshua also acted against the law and all the kings except for David, Hezechiah and Josiah committed idolatry. So even the highest priests and supreme judges under the old law could make an order against the law and in that case they should not have been obeyed. And similarly we should deem that the highest pontiff can err against divine law. Yet if he does not err we should abide by his judgement.
The reply to the fifth argument is that the office of the papacy does not necessarily confer the sanctity of innocence on the one receiving it. For many highest pontiffs committed enormous crimes while they were in office. For blessed Marcellin committed idolatry. Anastasius II fell into heresy and the supporting of heretics. Stephen VI wickedly persecuted Pope Formosus when he was dead by pronouncing that all his decrees were invalid. He even ordered that the body of Formosus, laid out in council and stripped of its papal vestments, be dressed in lay clothing and that his hands be cast into the Tiber after two fingers of his right hand were cut off. Sergius IV ordered that Pope Formosus be dragged out of his tomb, dressed in priestly garb in the pontifical see, impiously decapitated and cast into the Tiber, and he wickedly defrocked all those who had been ordained by him. John XII was a hunter and was lewd, publicly embracing women. He ordered that the nose of John, a cardinal deacon, and the hand of a certain sub-deacon be cut off. He was at length deprived of the papacy. Benedict VII tore out the eyes of the cardinal deacon John after he had first plundered the church of St. Peter. Sylvester II consulted demons while he was pope. It is clear, therefore, that the papacy does not confer the sanctity of innocence. [Cf. Nicolas Minorita: Chronica (ed. Gál and Flood, St Bonaventure, 1996), pp. 953-4.]
The reply to the decree of Symachus, however, is that Pope Symachus did not intend to argue that no one can be pope unless he is holy, since it is certain that many very wicked men have remained in the highest pontificate, but Pope Symachus wants to affirm that it should be presumed of someone raised to the office of the papacy that he is holy, even if he had been bad before, unless the contrary is clearly apparent. And so he does not say that 'he is holy' but 'who will doubt that he is holy?', as if to say that no one should doubt him by making evil conjectures but should presume that someone raised to the papacy is holy, unless the contrary is clearly the case. This is how the gloss on this point expounds it. It says [s. v. quis enim, col.193], "And if sometimes popes were perhaps not good, they are always presumed to be good;" and arguing to the contrary it says, "Are not dist. 19, Anastasius and dist. 21, Nunc autem opposed?" It says in reply to this objection, "But it is not said here that they are holy but that they are presumed to be holy until the opposite is certain ... when it is said here 'always to act well' it is understood of those things that can equally be twisted to good and to evil because always when ther is doubt a presumption is made in favour of his action, but certainly the same thing is so for any priest at all, as in 11, q. 3, Absit, dist. 41, c. 1 and 16, q. 1, Si clericatus. I reply that this is true but yet it is presumed more in the case of the pope, as in dist. 93, c. . So it would be a kind of sacrilege to dispute about his deed, as in , q. 4, para. Qui autem."
The reply to the sixth argument is, as to the first, that it is not universally true that if anyone at all from a college can err the whole college can err, because sometimes a college is specifically kept safe without any particular individual being specifically kept safe in such a way. In this way too some temporal lord could preserve some monastery by preventing everyone there except for one person from being killed at the same time, even if he were unwilling, as long as there were many of them, to defend any one particular person. But if it were to happen that all of them except one were killed at the same time he would defend that one until he was joined by someone else in the same monastery and from then on he would leave him to himself. Such a lord would be preserving the monastery and yet he would not be preserving anyone from the monastery, except in a certain situation for a while.
The reply to the seventh argument is that the pope should not be obeyed if he orders anything against the law of God or against good morals. For if he were to order someone to fornicate, to sacrifice to idols, to invoke demons, to deny faith in Christ or to do something wrong in itself he should not be obeyed. The sacred canons, however, speak of the case in which the pope orders something permissible and pertaining to his office.
The reply to the last is that in a certain situation the pope can be judged by man.