Pope Honorius and Roberto de Mattei – Part II: “Undoubtedly Magisterial Acts”?

We shall resume our study of Professor Roberto de Mattei’s treatment of Honorius, the so-called “heretic pope” Honorius. I have previously discussed how interpretations of history shape theological principles regarding the crisis in the Church. I hope that this study will, in de Mattei’s own words, overcome “the many misunderstandings that often divide the forces of good people.” [0]

To recap, here is Ludwig Ott’s compressed account of Honorius’s narrative:

“There is no doubt but that Pope Honorius I (625-638) was personally orthodox. However, through his prohibition against speaking of two modes of operation [“two wills” in Christ] he unwittingly favoured the Monothelite error [“one will in Christ”]. The Sixth General Council wrongly condemned him as a heretic. Pope Leo II (682-683) confirmed his anathematisation but not for the reason given by the Council. He did not reproach him with heresy, but with negligence in the suppression of the error.[1]

This is an ongoing study.

Introduction considers general principles and the problems of “historical theology.”
Theology & History I addresses the relationship between the liturgy and history.
Theology & History II addresses the relationship between theology and history.

Pope Honorius and Roberto de Mattei is an in-depth analysis of an example of “historical theology” in practice.
Part I: The History addresses de Mattei’s historical narrative.
Part II: Undoubtedly Magisterial Acts? considers the nature and status of Honorius’s letters.
Part IIIa: Magisterial Heresy? The Rule of Faith
Part IIIb: Magisterial Heresy? Trust in the Church
Part IV considers the implications of a so-called “heretical pope.”
Part V will assess this “historical theology” in light of Pascendi Dominici Gregis.

Photo: Another view of the mosaic in the church of St Agnes, Rome, which includes Pope Honorius holding the church. If the anti-Honorius myths were true, would this not be very strange? Source

The first part addressed Honorius’s letters and his condemnation. I do not claim to have proven that the letters were orthodox or that Honorius was not condemned as a heretic – but to have at least shown, through the weight of Catholic authorities, the complete uncertainty of the claims against him.

As de Mattei’s subsequent theological principles depend on his historical claims as their foundation, and as I have shown this foundation to be unsound, our study could have ended there.

But tribal myths do not die easily. In the wake of Traditionis Custodes, various commentators have resurrected the anti-Catholic myth of Honorius to support very flawed conclusions. This gives an impetus to continue the critique, for our response to the crisis in the Church must be based on the truth and on sound doctrine, and not on anti-papal myths adopted to support a priori conclusions.

The claim to be analysed

We shall turn to another assertion, which de Mattei presents as certain. He claims, with no indication that he is aware of any controversy:

“[Honorius’s letters] are undoubtedly magisterial acts, but in the non-infallible ordinary Magisterium there may be errors and even, in exceptional cases, heretical formulations.[2]” [These and all subsequent emphasese are our own unless otherwise noted.]

This essay focuses on whether the letters were “magisterial acts.”

Far from being “undoubtedly magisterial”, the public or private nature of these letters is at best a debated subject. But as with the previous claims, de Mattei sets himself against two doctors of the Church and very many Catholic authorities, who hold that they were private letters which did not engage his papal authority.

Both this claim and the article as a whole exhibit “Döllingerist historical theology” at work, although I do not wish to judge how far this is a conscious effort.[3] This approach presumes to purify theology by subjecting it to the findings of history: in reality, it seeks to justify a priori principles (here around the idea of resistance to the pope) against the received theology of the Church. Both the premise and the reality are unacceptable to Catholics.

Uprooted from true theology, historical theology leads to irrelevant parallels and neglects true distinctions. This makes the precedents and principles it establishes liable to contradict received, traditional Catholic theology.

Argumentative etiquette

We should begin by noting that de Mattei does not provide authorities for his assertion of the “undoubtedly magisterial” quality of the letters, and that argumentative etiquette entitles us to refute assertions offered without evidence with a simple denial.

We further note that laymen who find themselves writing about theology must thoroughly reference their material. It is one thing to report what the Church and her theologians have said and apply it to contingent data. It is another thing to start “doing theology,” by making theological points on one’s own authority, or by arguing with theologians on intrinsic grounds. Without references, one is acting as a theological authority in one’s own right – which is obviously not the case for a lay professor of history.[4]

In any case, de Mattei provides authorities for uncontroversial points, and so his omission of evidence in support of controversial points is noticeable.

Is it pedantic to hold a popular column to such a level of rigour? No, because it is not treated as a mere column. It has been widely syndicated in several languages, and is given weight by de Mattei’s reputation. It is therefore appropriate to hold its debatable claims to this standard.

The Magisterium

It is unclear exactly what de Mattei means by “undoubtedly magisterial acts,” as he does not define his terms or refer us to any authorities. For this reason we must ask: how do we actually define “magisterium”? And when is it exercised?

Parente (Source)

Fr Pietro Parente (consecrated bishop in 1955 and made a cardinal in 1967) defines the magisterium in his 1951 text as follows:

“The power conferred by Christ upon His Church and strengthened with the charism of infallibility, by which the teaching Church (Ecclesia docens) is constituted as the unique depository and authentic interpreter of divine revelation to be proposed authoritatively to men as the object of faith for their eternal salvation. […]

“The means, therefore, established by Christ, for the propagation of his teaching is not writing, but oral preaching, living magisterium, to which he assures his personal assistance to the end of the world.”[5]

It is then, properly speaking, a permanent power to teach, which is exercised by the act of teaching, by those who have received it. The word “magisterium” can be used analogously to refer to those who exercise the power, or to the doctrine which they teach. Those who have received this power are the Apostles and their successors (bishops with ordinary jurisdiction) – and not auxiliary bishops, priests or laymen.[6] I suggest that it is comparable to the Roman concept of imperium, the supreme power of command conferred upon certain magistrates.

By calling Honorius’s letters “magisterial,” de Mattei implies that they are exercises of this power and as such public acts. Are we to assume therefore that Honorius exercised his teaching authority, as the successor of St Peter and teacher of the universal Church?

This idea contradicts the very many authorities, who hold these letters to be private, and not engaging his papal authority at all. De Mattei does not acknowledge this opinion, nor does explain his reasons for rejecting what is taught even by two Doctors of the Church.[7]

In order to address the letters, we must consider when the magisterium is exercised.

When does the pope act as pope?

In the late nineteenth century, the American Ecclesiastical Review was asked whether a pope could teach heresy.

First, the answer considers it to be an “altogether futile” and hypothetical question, as “history has hitherto furnished no example of such an occurrence.”[8]

But the answer continues:

“… The admission that the Pope, whilst personally peccable, yet in his office as supreme teacher and moderator of the Church is infallible, covers the whole case; nor is there any more difficulty here than there is in distinguishing between the official acts of a sovereign and his private deeds, not as a private man but as sovereign.[9]

This is a clear expression of the principle. Theologians differ in their terminology regarding his official teaching acts when they start to become more precise, but their distinctions between public and private acts are clear. One example is Cardinal Louis Billot SJ, one of the most important theologians of the twentieth century,[10] who explains this idea further:

“It is important to know that we can speak of the pope in three different ways.

“Firstly, as a private person, or as a theologian among others, in which case he can err in matters of faith and morals, just like anyone else: this is a fact that cannot be disputed.”[11]

He points to examples such as Benedict XIV’s work as a private theologian on the canonization of saints as an example of this – not that he is suggesting that this respected work is erroneous. But when acting as a private person, his actions are no more magisterial than a sovereign’s private actions are monarchical.

He continues:

“Secondly, the pope may be considered as pope, but not as using the fullness of his apostolic power to define something that the whole church should hold.”[12]

Billot gives the examples of acts that either do not concern the universal Church, or do not constitute a “definition.” He continues:

“Thirdly, the pope can be seen as ‘discharging his office as pastor and doctor of all Christians, in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals as to be held by the whole church.”[13]

The essence of this third way of acting is the definition, which as we will see is not necessarily the same thing as a solemn definition.

With Billot’s division, we have three ways in which the pope can act.

  1. A private person, who can err.
  2. A public teacher, exercising his office by teaching the whole Church or some part of her, but not defining anything.
  3. A public teacher, teaching definitively, whether that be explicitly addressed to the universal Church or not.

These general distinctions are clear, even if there are some grey areas. When a schoolteacher acts outside of his post (such as tutoring or writing a textbook) he acts as a private individual. When he teaches his class, he is exercising his teaching office in the act of teaching. Within this act of teaching, he will sometimes define things, in the sense of giving an exact statement to which his pupils must assent. Such definitions may be in the ordinary course of his teaching, or he may emphasise them with degree of solemnity – but a definition is a definition, however it occurs.[14]

We could also summarise it like this:

  • “Private acts” are those which do not engage the pope’s authority as pope. “Private” does not mean “secret,” as this even the pope’s public acts can be as a private teacher – e.g. as the author of a theological text, intending to exclude his papal authority.
  • The pope acts as pope, and as a public teacher, when he exercises his magisterium, to whatever degree. These acts are, therefore, magisterial.
  • Neither his public acts as pope, nor his magisterium are limited to solemn judgements or to definitions – and it is also not clear that definitions are necessarily solemn judgments.[15]

While Billot’s division may not be the only legitimate one, the differences are concerned with the categorisation of magisterial acts and the nature of the assent which they are owed. The theologians distinguish clearly between the pope acting publicly and privately. The same sort of distinction is taught by Salaverri,[16] Berry[17] and others.

Cardinal Franzelin (Source)

For example, Cardinal Franzelin quotes Melchior Cano: the popes “often respond to private questions of this or that bishop, by explicating [their] opinion concerning the matters proposed to them, [and] not by imposing a judgment in which they mean the faithful to be obliged to belief.”[18] In fact, Franzelin cites Honorius’s letters as an example of such private actions. Of course, such private questions may also receive public, magisterial answers from the pope as pope: but whether this occurs will turn on the facts.

Does de Mattei accept a general division like this?

Elsewhere in his anthology of articles on resisting the Roman Pontiff, de Mattei makes these surprising claims:

“[…] the expression “private doctor” does not refer to the Supreme Pontiff’s acts of a private nature, but to his “public” function as “supreme pastor of the Church.”[19]

He clarifies:

“[…] at the First Vatican Council, Monsignor Vincenzo Gasser (1809–1879), representative of the Deputation of the Faith […], stated precisely that the pope is considered a “public person” only if he is speaking ex cathedra, with the intention of binding the Church to his teaching. [Our emphasis][20]

In other words, he is claiming that ex cathedra statements – which he considers narrowly as solemn judgements – are the only occasions in which the pope is a public person. Encyclicals, motu proprios, apostolic exhortations: de Mattei claims that these are all the works of the pope as a private doctor, and as such may include heresy. As I will show in the next part, this is deleterious to Catholic theology.

For his first claim, de Mattei cites an Italian work by Umberto Betti on the First Vatican Council. Betti (1922-2009) was involved in the preparation of Vatican II, contributed to Dei verbum and Lumen gentium, and was made a cardinal by Benedict XVI. I have not been able to locate this text.

However for the second claim, the paraphrase of Mgr Gasser at Vatican I is grievously misleading. This, below, is the text, originally in Latin, which de Mattei gives in the footnote to claim that “the pope is considered a “public person” only if he is speaking ex cathedra”:

“[…] The supreme Pontiff speaks “ex cathedra,” not, first of all, when he decrees something as a private teacher, nor only as the bishop and ordinary of a particular See and province, but when he teaches as exercising his office as supreme pastor and teacher of all Christians.”[21]

This text in no way whatsoever even suggests that the pope is only a public person “if he is speaking ex cathedra.” It simply asserts that he does not speak ex cathedra when acting as a private teacher or as the teacher of particular churches. Considerably more evidence would be needed to prove de Mattei’s interpretation.

But it is quite unbelievable that this Latin text could be cited, which most cannot understand or verify, in support of such a point.

If encyclicals are the acts of a “private” teacher, then the word “private” has no meaning. If the pope’s ordinary magisterium is reduced to that of a private teacher, then we may take or leave his “opinions” as we judge them to be true. So much for what Pius XII said of “the ordinary teaching authority, of which it is true to say: ‘He who heareth you, heareth me.’”[22]

If true, these ideas would rule out the divisions above. The destruction of meaning and reason are emblematic of an arbitrary, magical religion, detached from theology and from the ordinary use of words and common sense. Where this leaves the “proximate rule of faith” will be addressed in the next part.

By contrast, this study is resting on proper authorities, who speak clear and common sense, and are reported accurately. The working divisions above stand.

Any remaining ambiguities only prove the rule

These divisions make it possible to categorise most of the pope’s acts, and so determine whether they are magisterial or not. Nonetheless, there may be some acts about which it is harder to say that they are public or private, or definitive or otherwise.

This does not undermine the basic divisions. Billot addresses uncertainly defined points, “which only probably belong to the definite truths.”[23] Such cases, he says, are subject to “the general principle, that a doubtful obligation is void precisely insofar as it is doubtful.”[24] Uncertainly defined points are not to be treated as undoubtedly defined; and uncertainly magisterial acts are not to be treated as undoubtedly magisterial.

As noted, the various divisions all assume the existence of private acts, but are mainly concerned with categorising the magisterial acts. They hold that the faithful are bound to give (at least) a firm, true and internal assent to all exercises of the papal magisterium. This is a truly standard doctrine taught by magisterium,[25] canon law[26] and is the very common teaching of theologians.[27]

In this sense, whether a true teaching act is ex cathedra, a definition or something else is an interesting question, but (in some ways) a moot point for us laymen. We are required to assent to all that we are clearly taught by the papal magisterium: we can leave further categorisations to theologians.

Because there is no non-obligatory magisterium, at least with reference to clear papal teaching.

This is because the primary fact, which all these theologians seek to explain, is this: We really can trust the Church. Our Lord has given us a safe, simple rule of faith – the preaching of the living and perpetual magisterium.[28] No doubt, this may seem surprising in our day, and even impossible to reduce to act. But this is the teaching of the Church, and I will not deny it. I shall explore it further in next part.

Cardinal John Henry Newman – would he be accused of so-called “papolatry” today? (source)

To summarise this point, let us consider the words of Cardinal John Henry Newman – often cited as an authority for “papal minimalism” – from The Idea of a University, discussing Pius IX’s approval for the controversial Catholic University of Ireland. He is adressing papal authority in general – not just his own situation and definitely not just solemn definitions.

I do not apologise for giving this long, magnificent quote.

“Ecclesiastical authority, not argument, is the supreme rule and the appropriate guide for Catholics in matters of religion. It has always the right to interpose, and sometimes, in the conflict of parties and opinions, it is called on to exercise that right. […] Its decision must be heartily accepted and obeyed, and that the more, because the decision proceeds, [from] the highest authority on earth, from the Chair of St. Peter.

“Moreover, such a decision not only demands our submission, but has a claim upon our trust. It not only acts as a prohibition of any measures, but as an ipso facto confutation of any reasonings, inconsistent with it. It carries with it an earnest and an augury of its own expediency. [Doubts about a Catholic University] would be decisive even with the boldest and most capable minds, but for one consideration. In the midst of our difficulties I have one ground of hope, just one stay, but, as I think, a sufficient one, which serves me in the stead of all other argument whatever, which hardens me against criticism, which supports me if I begin to despond, and to which I ever come round, when the question of the possible and the expedient is brought into discussion. It is the decision of the Holy See; St. Peter has spoken, it is he who has enjoined that which seems to us so unpromising. He has spoken, and has a claim on us to trust him.

“He is no recluse, no solitary student, no dreamer about the past, no doter upon the dead and gone, no projector of the visionary. He for eighteen hundred years has lived in the world; he has seen all fortunes, he has encountered all adversaries, he has shaped himself for all emergencies. If ever there was a power on earth who had an eye for the times, who has confined himself to the practicable, and has been happy in his anticipations, whose words have been facts, and whose commands prophecies, such is he in the history of ages, who sits from generation to generation in the Chair of the Apostles, as the Vicar of Christ, and the Doctor of His Church.

These are not the words of rhetoric, Gentlemen, but of history. All who take part with the Apostle, are on the winning side. He has long since given warrants for the confidence which he claims.”[29]

So much, incidentally, for Newman as “papal minimalist.”

Essay continues below.

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What actually happened with Honorius’s Letters

Having established our principles, let us turn to Pope Honorius.

His letters were addressed to Sergius alone. This does not necessarily mean that they are not magisterial. In recent times, papal addresses to small groups (e.g. midwives, newlyweds) were sometimes promulgated to the whole Church through inclusion in the Acta Apostolica Sedis.[30]

As such, Berry and others teach that a private letter like this could only really be considered magisterial if it were intended for the universal Church. How would we know if it were so intended? In his discussion of ex cathedra pronouncements, Berry quotes Cardinal Mazzella:

“‘[…] it should be noted for whom, rather than to whom the Pope speaks. [It may be] evident from the nature of the matter treated, from the manner of treatment, or from any other circumstance, that he speaks for all […]’”[31]

Does this apply to Honorius’s letters?

De Mattei could have cited the arguments of Fr Hartmann Grisar SJ, whom he cites elsewhere:

“A private person is not consulted in the way that Sergius consulted Honorius; nor does he write letters like those that Honorius sent to Sergius, and, with similar force of expression, to [others], and clearly with the purpose that they should be a standard for the whole church.”[32]

Fr Emile Amann, another of de Mattei’s sources, argues that a request from the Patriarch of Constantinople for the highest authority to settle a controversy cannot be reduced to private letters between two individuals.[33] He argues that the letters purport to teach and impose this teaching, and as such are magisterial acts.

Bishop Hefele – another of his sources, whose anti-papal sentiments we noted previously – also claims that these letters were implicitly intended to teach the whole Church.[34]

On the one hand, his source Dom Chapman holds that “Honorius addresses Sergius alone and not the whole Church,” and that the letter had “less publicity than a modern Encyclical” and “does not define or condemn [or] bind the Church.”[35] Nonetheless, he also says that “the letter cannot be called a private one, for it is an official reply to a formal consultation.”[36]

Private letters

Against these sources and de Mattei’s uncited claim, most authorities believe that Honorius’s letters were private, and as such did not engage his papal authority. For example:

  1. St Robert Bellarmine – Doctor of the Church – says that “all that Honorius is accused of [is] that he fostered heresy in private letters.[37a] He does not hold him to have expressed or taught heresy, nor even to have fostered it as accused. In fact, he praises him for the prudence in advising silence, “For then it was the beginning of this heresy, and nothing on these terms was yet defined by the Church.”[37b]
  2. St Alphonsus Liguori – another Doctor of the Church – writes that “he only wrote them as a private doctor, and in no wise stained the purity of the faith of the Apostolic See” and also, “there is no open heresy in the private letter of Honorius to Sergius.”[38]
  3. As noted, Cardinal Franzelin is so clear on the private nature of Honorius’s letters that he uses them as an example of a pope acting as a private person.[39]
  4. Fr (later Cardinal) Hergenröther – the great historian who refuted the historical theology of the excommunicate Döllinger in his work Anti-Janus – cites another writer (Habert) approvingly, saying that “the letters of Honorius were private letters.”[40]

Again, I do not need to prove that they were private: this is a critique of historical theology, rather than the building of theories of my own. Given the logic of de Mattei’s case, which depends necessarily on his premises being certain, all that I need to do is establish uncertainty on this point.

Why is this question important? The idea that these letters were “undoubtedly magisterial” is itself harmful to Catholic doctrine, as are the further theories derived from this claim. As we keep repeating, this historical-theological approach is used to bolster a particular interpretation of our crisis which is incompatible with the received theological tradition.

The arguments in favour of their official quality may appear compelling, despite being contradicted by two Doctors of the Church and other authorities. But Fr Paul Bottalla SJ – the author of an important work on Honorius – addresses these arguments decisively:

“[The letters] were not intended for the instruction of the whole Church. Far from this, they were not even destined for circulation among all the Bishops of either East or West; still less were the Bishops required to sign them. […] No record whatever exists from which we learn that the letters of Honorius were communicated to the Oriental Bishops. Sergius, who was principally interested in the matter, did not put them in circulation, nor did he even mention them in the Ecthesis, which was his own composition.”[41]

Cardinal Manning, Archbishop of Westminster (Source)

Cardinal Manning quotes a similar argument from another bishop. The letters “were not published, even in the East, until several years later,” and Sergius had managed to keep his letter concealed for eight years, even from the Emperor – and this was “probably because its contents, if published, would not have suited his wily purpose of secretly introducing, under another form, the Eutychian heresy.”[42]

Manning concludes that “his letters were not addressed to a general council of the whole Church and were rather private, than public and official.”[43]

Berry – the respected pre-conciliar seminary professor cited elsewhere – states that the letters were “not issued for the universal Church.”[44] They were “private letters” and were “merely a matter of personal advice requested by Sergius.”[45] “But,” he observes, “even as such they contain no error of doctrine.”[46]

Dom Prosper Guéranger – whom de Mattei calls a “great theologian of history”[47] – describes the events between Honorius’s death and his condemnation, referring to the various saints and prelates that appealed to Rome for aid against the monothelitist heresy. He writes:

In all these letters [engaging in the Monothelite controversy after Honorius’s death], there is not the slightest mention of Honorius, nor of his having forbidden reference to one will, or of two wills. Everywhere the same confidence in the unbreakable fidelity of the See of Rome to the true faith, everywhere the conviction that this See has not yet pronounced on the question.[48]

What can we conclude from this apparent ignorance of Honorius’s letters, Guéranger asks?

Honorius’s letter to Sergius remained unknown in the Church in its capacity as a private writing; or that if it was known to a certain extent, no one recognized in this document the characteristics of an apostolic judgment. [It] was not addressed by him to the Church [and that] it never had any other character than that of a private writing.[49]

He concludes that “those conditions which would take the letter out of the character of a private writing and elevate it to the importance of a general law […] are totally lacking here.”[50]

Can private letters, as described here, be called “undoubtedly magisterial”?

Further, even if we were to believe them to be so, can documents whose very status is so debated be called “undoubtedly magisterial”?

Concluding reflections

We have already seen Billot’s truism, that “a doubtful obligation is void precisely insofar as it is doubtful.”[51] As I said above, uncertainly magisterial acts are not to be treated as undoubtedly magisterial.

The question, therefore, turns on the facts. Can private letters, unknown to most bishops at the time, addressed to a single Patriarch, not published in a form indicating a magisterial character, which were concealed for years, and which weighty authorities from the time and since have treated as mere private letters – can such things really be called “undoubtedly magisterial acts”?

It is very difficult to see in what sense they could be called magisterial, public or official teaching. I do not believe that I can settle this question – although to some extent, to ask it is to answer it. Given the certainly private aspects of the letters and the debate around their actual status, we cannot conclude that are undoubtedly public or magisterial teaching in the sense defined above.

However, it is a serious mistake to compare this to our present situation. Amoris Laetitia, Fratelli Tutti and various documents of Vatican II cannot be compared to Honorius’s private letters. Amoris Laetitia, for example, is addressed universally, “to bishops, priests and deacons, consecrated persons, Christian married couples and all the lay faithful.”[52] These documents have been issued universally, and are held by all to be official. The idea that the presence of dangerous error automatically reduces these official documents to the level of private acts is not tenable. These truly are “undoubtedly ‘magisterial’ acts” of the so-called conciliar church – but they cannot have come from the Catholic Church, as we shall see in the next part.

Thus, even if Honorius’s private letters did contain some error or heresy, the situation is completely different. They do not provide any precedent for the apparent spectacle of a heretical magisterium, or for the scandalous Francis pontificate. They are far from being “undoubtedly” anything – and so cannot be the foundation for anything, either. False parallels cannot form the basis for us all “uniting around tradition,” as de Mattei desires; nor can they be a theoretical basis to assist us at this most dreadful hour of history. We must unite around the truth, both in fact and in principle.

The next stage of analysis

We have now seen that the best authorities hold Honorius’s letters to have been orthodox, but also private, and thus not exercises of the magisterium.

We have seen that de Mattei widens the boundaries of the magisterium to include even secret, private acts – and that elsewhere he constricts the boundaries of public acts to ex cathedra statements. These dubious boundaries allow him to suggest that the magisterium has previously taught dangerous errors and heresy with public acts.

Against this, we have seen that any historical parallels here with our crisis are utterly unsound, and these letters have no points of comparison with the “undoubtedly ‘magisterial’ acts” of the conciliar church.

However, conclusions can be true, even if the premises used to defend them on occasion are false. What are we to make of de Mattei’s theological principle, that the “non-infallible ordinary Magisterium” can contain errors and even heresy?

Does it stand up to scrutiny? Or is it more historical theology, doing violence to received Catholic doctrine?

This will be the subject of my next part.

This is an ongoing study.

Introduction considers general principles and the problems of “historical theology.”
Theology & History I addresses the relationship between the liturgy and history.
Theology & History II addresses the relationship between theology and history.

Pope Honorius and Roberto de Mattei is an in-depth analysis of an example of “historical theology” in practice.
Part I: The History addresses de Mattei’s historical narrative.
Part II: Undoubtedly Magisterial Acts? considers the nature and status of Honorius’s letters.
Part IIIa: Magisterial Heresy? The Rule of Faith
Part IIIb: Magisterial Heresy? Trust in the Church
Part IV considers the implications of a so-called “heretical pope.”
Part V will assess this “historical theology” in light of Pascendi Dominici Gregis.

Don’t forget!

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[0] Roberto de Mattei, Love for the Papacy and Filial Resistance to the Pope in the History of the Church (henceforth LPFR), Angelico Press, Brooklyn NY, 2019. iii

[1] Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, Roman Catholic Books, Fort Collins CO, 1854 edition. 160.

[2] LPFR 23-29. 28.

[3] Dr Ignaz von Döllinger was an opponent of papal infallibility, and was eventually excommunicated for his rejection of the Vatican I definition.

[4] De Mattei claims to recognise this in the summary given of a 2014 address in Poland: “De Mattei is clear, he is speaking as an historian, not a theologian.” https://www.robertodemattei.it/2014/02/13/roberto-de-mattei-the-unspoken-history-of-vatican-ii/

[5] Cardinal Pietro Parente, Dictionary of Dogmatic Theology, Bruce Publishing Company, Milwaukee 1951. 170.

[6] Berry notes: “Priests, catechists, parents, and other are simply witnesses to the teachings of the Church.” (258) Cf. also the discussion on “successors of the apostles,” page 232. E. Sylvester Berry, The Church of Christ, Wipf Stock and Publishers, Oregon, dated 1955.

[7] It is not clear that de Mattei necessarily sees “magisterial” and “private” to be opposed, due to his unusual idea of a private ordinary magisterium, which we address in this essay.

[8] ‘Question and Answer’, American Ecclesiastical Review, Vol. XVII 1897, pp. 312 -314. The response also refers to Honorius, as merely accused of heresy, and not a heretic or teacher of heresy himself.

[9] Ibid.

[10] As an indication of his singularity, Pius XII spoke of him in 1953 in an allocution to the Gregorian University: “Let us gladly recall our teachers such as Louis Billot, to name one, who, with spiritual distinction and intellectual acumen, incited us to venerate the sacred studies and love the dignity of the priesthood.” Quoted in Fr Dominique Bourmaud, An Anti-Liberal Theologian, TheAngelus May 2016, available at http://www.angelusonline.org/index.php?section=articles&subsection=show_article&article_id=3845

[11] Cardinal Louis Billot SJ, L’Église II – Sa constitution intime, trans. L’Abbé Jean-Michel Gleize SSPX, Courrier de Rome, no year given. Our translation. n. 980.

[12] Billot 982.

[13] Billot 984.

[14] Cf., as an example, the final chapter of J.M.A. Vacant, The Ordinary Magisterium of the Church and its Organs, Lyon 1887. Available here: https://wmreview.co.uk/2021/07/26/is-the-roman-pontiff-infallible-in-his-ordinary-magisterium-translation-from-theologian-j-m-a-vacant/   

[15] This is a debated subject, but not in the way that many think. This will be discussed in the next part.

[16] Fr Joachim Salaverri SJ, On the Church of Christ, in Sacrae Theologia Summa IB trans. by Kenneth Baker SJ, Keep the Faith 2015. Ns. 593, 657.

[17] Berry 271.

[18] Cardinal John Baptist Franzelin, On Divine Tradition, trans. Ryan Grant, Sensus Traditionis Press, 2016, pp 168-9 (Th XII Cor 4)

[19] De Mattei, “Resistance and Fidelity to the Church in Times of Crisis,” in LPFR 106

[20] De Mattei, LPFR 107

[21] Bishop Vincent Gasser, Draft and Final Text on Papal Infallibility and the “Relatio” of Bishop Vincent Ferrer Gasser, July 11 1870. Digitised by James McNally and available at: http://strobertbellarmine.net/viewtopic.php?f=11&t=1070

[22] Pope Pius XII, Encyclical Humani Generis 20, 1950, available at https://www.vatican.va/content/pius-xii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-xii_enc_12081950_humani-generis.html

[23] Billot 988.

[24] Billot 988, 614.

[25] “But since it is not enough to avoid the contamination of heresy unless those errors are carefully shunned which approach it in greater or less degree, we warn all of their duty to observe the constitutions and decrees in which such wrong opinions, though not expressly mentioned in this document, have been banned and forbidden by this Holy See.” Dei Filius, Vatican I Canon 4. Available at https://www.papalencyclicals.net/councils/ecum20.htm Similarly, it is a constant theme of the papal magisterium that the faithful are obliged to receive and assent to all that is taught by the Holy See. The most recent example is from Pius XII in Humani Generis 20, discussed elsewhere in this essay.

[26] Canon 1324 (1917) reproduces the text from Vatican I in more or less the same terms.

[27] We could quote various theologians, but we give the following long section from Salaverri, who provides an overview of the different schools. The commonality is that they are all explanations of the magisterial and canonical texts on our obligation to give a real assent. We do not wish to enter into a discussion of these texts here, as we intend to deal with this subject separately at a later date.

666. 2) The assent that is to be given to these decrees of the Holy See must be: a) Submission of the mind, and therefore the practical conformism is not sufficient of those who, even with a mind contrary to such submission, nevertheless in practice do not act otherwise than if they showed such submission; b) An act of intellectual judgment, and so obediential silence of the mouth is not sufficient of those who merely abstain from manifesting the contrary judgment they have; c) Internal, whereby a person positively adheres to the proposition of the Magisterium and truly thinks what the teacher thinks, and therefore the obediential silence of the mind is not sufficient for those who merely abstain from forming a different opinion; d) Certain, although not with the absolute certitude that excludes the  possibility of the opposite and which is due only to an infallible decree, but with a true relative certitude which excludes probability or the fear of the opposite, and conditioned, namely, under this condition—unless the Church decrees otherwise with a similar or greater authority. Such assent is called religious, because it is offered on account of the motive of religion or because of the reverence due to God who governs the faithful through the sacred and hierarchical authority of the Church.

667. We say in the thesis that an internal and religious assent of the mind is due to the doctrinal decrees of the Holy See, either formally published by the Supreme Pontiff or approved in the specific form by him, although they do not reach the grade of infallibility; and they are certain at least relatively and conditionally, as was explained in the definition of terms. Regarding the other doctrinal decrees, which we have called virtual decrees, the same thing consequently must be said, while preserving the necessary proportion.

674. […] in determining the nature of such assent, 1) the following authors say that it is morally certain either formally or equivalently: Franzelin, Palmieri, Pesch, Billot, De Groot, Hurter, Hettinger, Scheeben, Muncunill, Schultes, Dieckmann, Al. Barcena, and others. 2) Others say in addition that it is conditioned: Choupin, Wilmers, Straub, Maroto, Lercher, and others. 3) Schiffini calls it suppositional, which of course does not seem sufficient to others. In the state of the question we have given our opin­ion in this matter.

[He then gives the various opinions, including one that holds that interior assent can be suspended, but then responds:]

676 […] However, it seems to us that in this second case mere obediential silence is not sufficient; because, although the decree is fallible, and grave reasons are opposed to it, nevertheless the judgment of theologians can also be erroneous and weakened by difficulties. Therefore we think that even then one must accept the decree of the sacred Congregation, at least as probable, until either the Congregation itself or a higher tribu­nal has decreed something about the matter.”

[28] Van Noort addresses this clearly: The rule is easy, “even for the uneducated and unlettered. What could be easier than to give ear to a magisterium that is always at hand and always preaching?” It is safe, because it “is infallible in safeguarding and presenting Christ’s doctrine.” And it is living, able in all ages “to explain the meaning of doctrines and to put an end to controversies.” Mgr G. Van Noort, ‘Christ’s Church’, Dogmatic Theology II, Newman Press, Maryland 1957, 122.

[29] John Henry Newman, The Idea of a University, Longmans, Green, and Co. 39 Paternoster Row, London. 1907, pp 10-14. Available at https://www.newmanreader.org/works/idea/discourse1.html

[30] “Canon 9: Laws laid down by the Apostolic See are promulgated by publication in the official commentary Acta Apostolicae Sedis [Acts of the Apostolic See], unless in particular cases another mode of promulgation has been prescribed; and they take their force only upon the completion of three months from the day on which the number of the Acta [Acts] comes out, unless by the nature of the thing they bind immediately, or in the law itself a longer or shorter pre-enforcement period is specially and expressly established.”

[31] Ibid.

[32] Hartmann Grisar SJ, Analecta Romana, Vol I, Desclée Lefebvre e C. Editori, 1899, 399. Translation via DeepL. Available at https://archive.org/details/analectaromanadi00gris/page/399/mode/2up

[33] Emile Amann, “Honorius Ier”, Dictionnaire de Théologie Catholique Vol VII, Libraire Letouzey et Ane, Paris, 1922. 111.

[34] Karl Josef von Hefele, A history of the councils of the church, Vol V. Trans. Clarke. T&T Clark, Edinburgh 1896. 61. Available at https://archive.org/details/historyofcouncil05hefeuoft/page/n61/mode/2up

[35] Dom John Chapman, “Pope Honorius I” The Catholic Encyclopaedia. 1913.

[36] Ibid.

[37] On the Roman Pontiff, trans. Ryan Grant 2nd Edition, Mediatrix Press, 2017. 573. 37b: p 468 of ebook version of Vol II Books III-V.

[38] St Alphonsus Liguori, The History of Heresies and their Refutation, Vol I 2nd Edition, trans. Mullock, James Duffy, Dublin, 1857. 182, 187.

[39] Franzelin pp 168-9 (Th XII Cor 4).

[40] Fr (Later Cardinal) Josef Hergenröther. Anti-Janus, trans. Robertson, Burns, Oates & Company, 1870. 82.

[41] Fr Paul Bottalla, S.J. Pope Honorius Before the Tribunal of Reason and of History, Burns and Oates, 1868. 33. Available at https://archive.org/details/bub_gb_Xks7b6ynj64C

[42] Cardinal Henry Edward Manning, Petri Privilegium: Three Pastoral Letters to the Clergy of the Diocese, Longmans, Green, and Co, London 1871. 224.

[43] Ibid.

[44] Berry 285.

[45] Ibid.

[46] Ibid.

[47] Robert de Mattei, “New scenarios in the coronavirus era”, a video presentation from March 2020, included as a chapter (pp 11-30) in Punishment or Mercy? The divine hand in the age of Coronavirus, (henceforth PM) Calx Mariae Publishing, London, 2021. 22.

[48] The original French text of Dom Guéranger is available in Défense de l’Eglise romaine contre les accusations du R.P. Gratry, Victor Palmé, Paris, 1870, p 10-11. Available here: https://archive.org/details/dfensedeleglis00gu/page/n27/mode/2up?q=canonique 

[49] Guéranger 11.

[50] Guéranger 9, 11.

[51] Billot n. 614, p 218.

[52] Francis, Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia 2016, https://www.vatican.va/content/dam/francesco/pdf/apost_exhortations/documents/papa-francesco_esortazione-ap_20160319_amoris-laetitia_en.pdf

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