Chapter 70

Student: As presently appears to me, we have discussed a number of issues concerning a heretic pope, and the believers, abettors, defenders, and receivers of a heretic pope. But now I would ask that you scrutinize the seriousness of the danger which would arise in the time of a heretic pope, if some pope should ever deviate from the catholic faith, namely, whether, in the time of a heretic pope, a serious danger would threaten Christians.

Master: Your question, in the form in which you put it, contains both an assumption and a query. For it assumes that someone will become a heretic pope. And it asks what danger will then threaten Christians. As to what it assumes there were various opinions, some saying that there would be a future heretic pope, others retorting that is was and is foolhardy to state that there would be a heretic pope, but just as reckless to deny it. And with respect to what your question specifically asks, there also exist diverse opinions. There is the view that, if some pope ever became a heretic, no grave danger would threaten the faithful, because the cardinals, the prelates, and the doctors would immediately resist him, and kings and princes and other secular authorities would give them powerful assistance, and therefore they would immediately root out the heretic pope's treachery. But there is another opinion which holds that one should not make guesses as to future events. Indeed, those who propound this opinion think it arguable that should there ever be a heretic pope, catholics will be exposed to extreme danger; and they fear that a greater peril will threaten Christians if some pope should long prevail as a heretic than if the whole of Christendom were to be conquered by Saracens or by other non-believers.

Student: I am astonished that some feel this to be an arguable point, for if the Saracens were to conquer by force all the Christian lands, they would eradicate or enslave all the Christians. A heretic pope, on the other hand, would hardly attempt this, and thus this second opinion appears to lack rational foundation. However I would like to hear from you the motive of this opinion.

Master: If you wish to know what motivates the thinkers who advance this opinion, you should first understand the substance of the opinion.

Student: I believe I do.

Master: This is not apparent, for you appear to understand it as referring to temporal danger. They, on the other hand, are primarily thinking of spiritual danger, although they also, secondarily, include physical peril in their understanding, since they feel it arguable that a heretic pope, unless restrained by his fear of catholics, will plan to eradicate all Christians or force them to adopt another religious persuasion.

Student: Outline their reasoning, understanding that it applies to spiritual danger.

Master: Their reasoning is as follows. To the extent that someone attempts to attack someone else by using a number of methods, none of which obstructs the other, but each of which is rendered more effective by convergence, to that extent will the attacker triumph more quickly over the enemy, or it is arguable that he will so triumph. But the pope, if he becomes a heretic, will attempt to conquer and spiritually destroy the Christian people by methods more numerous than those of the Saracens, which we assume that the whole of Christendom would be unable to physically resist. And the methods of attack the heretic pope would use would be just as effective or more effective than those of the Saracens. Each and every method of the pope would in no way obstruct the other, but each would rather make the other more effective. Therefore the pope, if he were to become a heretic, would spiritually triumph over the Christian people more swiftly than the Saracens, or it is arguable that he would. But it is more dangerous, indeed worse, to be defeated spiritually, and to have one's soul crucified, than to succumb to physical death. Therefore a more serious danger will threaten, or might threaten, the Christian people if the pope should become a heretic than if the Saracens were to subject the whole land of the Christians to their rule.

Student: What would be the methods by means of which the pope, if he were a heretic, would attack the catholic and Christian peoples.

Master: The answer is that he would perhaps provide for a physical assault on catholics and on those resisting him no less cruel than that of the Saracens. For he would issue a command to bishops and to inquisitors of heretical wickedness, that they strive to capture such opponents wherever possible, and hand them over to the secular arm unless they recanted their conviction; and these papal agents, in order to please the heretic pope and to obtain some benefice from him, would, like the most cruel of beasts, attempt to effectively carry out the heretic pope's mandate with all the powers at their disposal. Secondly, the pope, if he were a heretic, would attack Christians with Scriptural citations twisted in support of his interpretation, and would win over many to his will, in that, not having a proper understanding of the Scriptures, they would not know how to grasp their true meaning. Thirdly, he would attack Christians by an illusion of truthfulness and religious devotion, not to support which would seem to many a mark of foolishness or madness. Fourthly, he would attack catholics by relying on ecclesiastical authority, not to obey which would be thought by some to be a commission of the crime of disobedience.

Student: It seems probable to me that the pope, if he were a heretic, would attempt to subjugate Christians to his errors by these and by other methods, and to destroy them spiritually. But Christians would in no way yield to him, indeed they would hardly tolerate him, but would immediately subject him to the final process of justice. Therefore, since the heretic pope would be but a single individual whom all Christians would resist, while the Saracens would be quite numerous, in no manner would it be possible for a similar peril to arise if the pope became a heretic, as would be the case if the Saracens conquered the land of the Christians.

Master: The answer is that if Christians wanted to stand up to a heretic pope, they would not be faced with as great a spiritual danger as they would have to deal with if the Saracens were to conquer the Christian territories. But these thinkers consider it arguable that the multitude of Christians would not in fact stand up to a heretic pope, indeed that it would rather participate in his errors, and voluntarily support him.

Student: How might it come to pass that the multitude of Christians would join the cause of a heretic pope.

Master: They say that this would perhaps happen for a variety of causes. Some would join him for one reason, others for another.

Student: List some of the causes which might lead to this situation.

Master: It is said that one cause whereby some would join the camp of a heretic pope is the false and erroneous conviction which many have concerning the papal status.

Student: What is this false and erroneous conviction.

Master: The answer is that it is multifarious. For instance, some people think that the pope cannot sin, as certain Sergians claimed on behalf of pope Sergius, a contention I read in a very old book. Hence there are some, as I have heard, who are publicly stating in these times of ours that the pope is a God on earth, indeed not in the sense in which all priests are said to be gods (who nevertheless may commit sins), but with the implication that he can in no way do wrong, and that he may do on earth everything that he wants. Others believe that the pope cannot err against the faith. Still others believe that although the pope may sin and err against the faith, we must nevertheless assume that all the things that he has done have been done well, and that nothing that he does may we judge as having been done wrongly. Some think that although we may consider that some things done by the pope are bad and done badly, nevertheless no Christian is allowed to question or to judge the pope, to rebuke him, or to pass legal sentence against him. And from these four false convictions about the papal status, or from any single one of them, it might happen that some Christians would join the camp of a pope who had become a heretic.

Student: The first two convictions appear to me to be false, while the fourth has been dealt with earlier. [Cf. 1 Dial. 6.1ss] State therefore in what way, according to these thinkers, the third conviction deviates from the truth.

Master: The answer is that this conviction contradicts the truth with respect to all things which cannot be done with a good conscience. For whatever the pope will have done which cannot be done with a good conscience or with right intention, anyone who knows this is permitted to judge as having been done wrongly and criminally on the part of the pope, and as constituting the pope in a state of mortal sin. Hence, were I to see the pope involving himself in fornication, or committing simony, or lying about religious doctrine, or lying with harmful consequences to his neighbour, or defaming some innocent person, or uttering some command against God or something of this kind, I would have both the right and the duty to judge that the pope had committed a mortal sin, and while my judgement would not carry legal effect it would possess indubitable cognitive consequences.

Student: According to this principle, I would be allowed to constantly pass judgement on the pope's misdeeds as much as on those of any other Christian.

Master: The reply is negative, because many things are permitted to the pope which are known to be forbidden to others. And therefore if the pope were to do such things, it would not be permitted to judge that he is doing wrong, while it would be permissible to make such a judgement with respect to others. On the other hand, because there are matters which are forbidden to the pope while allowed to others, it is permitted with respect to such matters to judge that the pope is sinning, but it is not permitted to make such a judgement of other people.

Student: It seems that these theorists have little regard for the person of the pope, although perhaps they think highly of the papal office.

Master: They believe the pope to be a mortal man, capable of committing sins, and exposed to countless spiritual dangers. They further believe that many supreme pontiffs of past ages were the most heinously criminal of men, worthy of every retribution. They think that it is permitted to state this fact, and to feel it, and thus that one is allowed to feel this reaction specifically concerning any pope, whenever he does anything (and it stands to reason that he is capable of doing this) which can in no way be done with a good conscience. Hence they consider the contention stating that we must believe well done whatever the pope has done to be a heresy most pernicious and most dangerous.

Student: Are there any other false and erroneous convictions which would influence many to join the camp of the heretic pope.

Master: The answer is affirmative. Some, for instance, think that the forcible suppression of a heretic pope pertains only to a general council. Others, however, believe that the forcible suppression of a heretic pope pertains only to clerks, and in no way to laymen, unless they were requested to do this by prelates of the church. And some think that suppression (and similarly avoidance) of the heretic pope is strictly the affair of cardinals. Some think that this only pertains to the major prelates of the church, such as patriarchs and bishops. Some think that the unlearned and the laymen must do nothing about spiritual matters except what they have been enjoined to do by their bishops, and therefore they must not become involved in the matter of a heretic pope except to follow the instructions given to them by their bishops. Some believe that no one should in any fashion oppose a heretic pope so long as he is tolerated by the multitude of Christians. Some believe that the multitude is to be followed in all things, and therefore he is to be recognized as pope whom the multitude of Christians holds to be so. From all of these convictions, and from any one of them in particular, as well as from other most numerous false and erroneous convictions, it might well happen that if a pope were to become a heretic, very many would firmly place themselves in his camp.

Student: You have stated one cause, divided into particulars, wherefore it might happen that were a pope to become a heretic, many Christians would join his camp. Proceed, therefore, to mention other causes which might lead to the same eventuality.

Master: According to these theorists, another cause or opportunity which might prompt many Christians to join the camp of the heretic pope, is wordly or human fear mingled with the lack of confidence whereby one Christian distrusts another. And this cause is rooted in a lack of zeal for the catholic faith. For since many would not want to experience any injury affecting body or property because of the catholic faith (or at least no great injury), and not knowing whether other Christians would be prepared to assist them against a heretic pope, they would totally refrain from opposing such a pope and would join his camp along with others, at least until some other powerful individual began to attack the heretic pope. Indeed those who hold the opinion we are discussing believe that if the pope was a heretic and some powerful king made war on him with all his might, many who had previously joined the heretic pope's camp would also oppose him most strongly. And this is one reason, according to these theorists, why kings and princes and other potentates unafraid of the heretic pope's temporal power, would sin more seriously than others if they knowingly supported the heretic pope, because their negligence would provide very many with the opportunity of joining the camp of the heretic pope. Another cause or opportunity which might prompt many to join the camp of the heretic pope is greed and ambition. For the lustful yearning to acquire riches, and monies, and ecclesiastical benefices and honours from the heretic pope would drive many to acquiesce in his legitimacy.