Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Historical Challenges to the Infallibility of the Church, Part Three: Pope Honorius

For the whole series, see here.

In a few places, I try to give some translations of some technical Greek and Latin phrases as these occur in my sources.  I'm no expert at that, so please take my translations with a grain of salt!

The Story of Pope Honorius

It all started (at least for our purposes) when Sophronius, a monk who would later become Bishop of Jerusalem, advocated that Christ had "two energies" and not just "one energy."  He advocated this to Sergius, Bishop of Constantinople, who didn't like it at all.  Sergius felt that this kind of language made it sound like Christ's person is divided, as if there are two Christs, a human one and a divine one, engaging in different activities (different energies).  So Sergius told Sophronius not to talk that way.  He told him to try to stay away from the issue altogether, not talking about "one energy" or "two energies," since both phrases could be misleading.  Sergius explained all of this in a letter to Pope Honorius of Rome, asking for his confirmation of his ideas:

The expression μία ἐνέργεια [one energy] should not be employed, since, although it was used by some of the Fathers, it seemed strange to many, and offended their ears, since they entertained the suspicion that it was used in order to do away with the two natures in Christ, a thing to be avoided. In like manner, to speak of two energies gives offence with many, because this expression occurs in none of the holy Fathers, and because there would follow from thence the doctrine of two contradictory wills (θελήματα) in Christ (a false inference!), as though the Logos had been willing to endure the suffering which brings us salvation, but the manhood had opposed it. This is impious, for it is impossible that one and the same subject should have two and, in one point, contradictory wills. . . . 
Yet, having regard to the alarm which had already been caused by this matter, we represented to the Emperor the difficulty of the subject, and recommended that there should be no more minute discussion of the question, but that we should abide by the known and the universally acknowledged doctrine of the Fathers, and confess that the one and the same only begotten Son of God worked both the divine and the human, and that from the one and the same Incarnate Word all divine and human energy proceeded indivisibly and inseparably (ἀμερίστως καὶ ἀδιαιρέτως). . . .  We held it then as suitable and necessary to make your fraternal Holiness acquainted with this matter, enclosing copies of our letters to Cyrus and the Emperor, and we pray you to read all this, and to complete what you find defective, and to communicate to us your view of the subject in writing.  (Bishop Sergius of Constantinople to Pope Honorius, found in Charles Joseph Hefele, A History of the Councils of the Church, Volume V, translated and edited by William R. Clark [Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1896], 25-27, italics in original, brackets are my own.  I had help in copying the text from the e-Catholic 2000 website, which has the whole work online, while checking back also with the original and adapting my own text.  All of this applies to all the quotations from Hefele throughout the article.)

Pope Honorius, obligingly, wrote a couple of letters back to Bishop Sergius, explaining to him his own point of view and telling him what he should and should not confess:

Of this letter of yours to Sophronius we have received from you a copy, and, after having read it, we commend you that your brotherliness has removed the new expression (μία ἐνέργεια) [one energy], which might give offence to the simple. For we must walk in that which we have learned. By the leading of God we came to the measure of the true faith, which the apostles of the truth have spread abroad by the light (Lat. rule) of the Holy Scriptures, confessing that the Lord Jesus Christ, the Mediator between God and man, worked the divine works by means (μεσιτευσάσης) of the manhood, which was hypostatically united to Him, the Logos, and that the same worked the human works, since the flesh was assumed by the Godhead in an unspeakable, unique manner, ἀδιαιρέτως, ἀτρέπτως, ἀσυγχύτως, τελείως. . . .  Whence, also, we confess one will of our Lord Jesus Christ (ὅθεν καὶ ἓν θέλημα ὁμολογοῦμεν τοῦ κυρίου Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ = unde et unam voluntatem fatemur Domini nostri Jesu Christi), since our (human) nature was plainly assumed by the Godhead, and this being faultless, as it was before the Fall. For Christ, coming in the form of sinful flesh, took away the sin of the world, and assuming the form of a servant, He is habitu inventus ut homo [found in the garb of a man]. As He was conceived by the Holy Ghost, so was He also born without sin of the holy and immaculate Virgin, the God-bearer, without experiencing any contamination of the vitiata natura [corrupted nature]. . . .  
It is this, as we said, not the vitiata natura [corrupted nature] which was assumed by the Redeemer, which would war against the law of His mind; but He came to seek and to save that which was lost, i.e. the vitiata natura [corrupted nature] of the human race. In His members there was not another law (Rom. vii. 23), or a diversa vel contraria Salvatori voluntas [diverse or contrary will to the Savior's], because He was born supra legem [above the law] of human condition; and if He says in the Holy Spirit: ‘I came down from heaven not to do Mine own will, but the will of Him that sent Me’ (S. John vi. 38), and (S. Mark xiv. 36): ‘Nevertheless, not what I will, but what Thou wilt,’ and the like, these are not expressions of a voluntas diversa [diverse will], but of the accommodation (οἰκονομίας, dispensationis) of the assumed manhood. For this is said for our sakes, that we, following His footsteps, should do not our own will, but that of the Father. . . .   
That the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son and the Word of God, by whom all things were made, the one and the same, perfectly works divine and human works, is shown quite clearly by the Holy Scriptures; but whether on account of the works of the Godhead and manhood (opera divinitatis et humanitatis) it is suitable to think and to speak of one or two energies (operationes) as present, we cannot tell, we leave that to the grammarians, who sell to boys the expressions invented by them, in order to attract them to themselves. . . .  We, however, wish to think and to breathe according to the utterances of Holy Scripture, rejecting everything which, as a novelty in words, might cause uneasiness in the Church of God, so that those who are under age may not, taking offence at the expression two energies, hold us for Nestorians, and that (on the other side) we may not seem to simple ears to teach Eutychianism, when we clearly confess only one energy. We must be on our guard lest, after the evil weapons of those enemies are burnt, from their ashes new flames of scorching questions may be kindled. In simplicity and truth we will confess that the Lord Jesus Christ, one and the same, works in the divine and in the human nature. . . .  This will you also, my brother, proclaim with us, as we do it with one mind with you; and we exhort you that you, fleeing from the new manner of speech of one energy or two, with us proclaim one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, true God, in two natures working the divine and human.  (First Letter of Pope Honorius to Bishop Sergius, found in Hefele 28-32) 
Moreover, with regard to the ecclesiastical dogma, and what we ought to hold and teach, on account of the simplicity of men and to avoid controversies, we must, as I have already said, assert neither one nor two energies in the Mediator between God and men, but must confess that both natures are naturally united in the one Christ, that each in communion with the other worked and acted (operantes atque operatrices; Greek, ἐνεργούσας καὶ πρακτικάς); the divine works the divine, and the human performs that which is of the flesh (these are the well-known words of Leo I.), without separation and without mixture, and without the nature of God being changed into the manhood, or the human nature into the Godhead. For one and the same is lowly and exalted, equal to the Father and inferior to the Father … Thus keeping away, as I said, from the vexation of new expressions, we must not maintain or proclaim either one or two energies, but, instead of one energy which some maintain, we must confess that the one Christ, the Lord, truly works in both natures; and instead of the two energies they should prefer to proclaim with us the two natures, i.e. the Godhead and the assumed manhood, which work what is proper to them (ἐνεργούσας τὰ ἴδια, propria operantes) in the one Person of the only-begotten Son of God, unmingled and unseparated and unchanged.  (Second Letter of Pope Honorius to Bishop Sergius, found in Hefele 50)

Thus began the trouble.  Honorius confesses "one will of our Lord Jesus Christ," whereas the Church will eventually dogmatically side with the profession of Christ as having "two wills," a human will and a divine will.

The Church's reasoning is basically thus:  Christ is one person in two natures.  He possesses both of those natures entirely.  That is, he's not half-God or half-human or something like that, but fully God and fully human.  If that is the case, then everything that is essential to both natures he must have.  But it is essential to both natures to have a will.  Obviously, God has a will, so the divine nature must possess a will.  But just as obviously, human nature contains will, so Jesus's human nature must have a human will.  This would give Jesus two wills--a human will and a divine will.  However, speaking for myself at least, I can see why this issue was confusing.  To be honest, the verbage of Christ having "two wills" strikes me as a little jarring, because, at least to me, it seems to sound like it is saying that Christ is two persons.  When I think of a will, I think of a person willing; so when I think of two wills, I tend to think of two persons willing.  But that, of course, is not the Church's doctrine.  Christ is one person.  His two wills, and his two natures in general, are tied together in total union under the identity of a single person.  When the human will of Jesus works, it is the work of the one person of Jesus Christ.  When the divine will works, it is the work of the one person of Jesus Christ.  It can help to think of how this plays out with other aspects of the two natures, such as mind.  Jesus has both a human mind and a divine mind.  That is, he can think and perceive as God and he can think and perceive as a human.  We must talk of two minds, for otherwise we will end up erasing either some aspect of Jesus's humanity or some aspect of his divinity.  But this doesn't mean that we have two persons.  There is one person, but that one person can think and perceive in a human mind or in a divine mind.  Similarly, Jesus is one person, but when he wills, he can exercise his human willing capacity as well as his divine willing capacity.  Two wills, one person.

So it makes sense.  But it can still be confusing.  It seems to have confused Sergius (and many others), and it may have confused Honorius as well.  But what exactly was Honorius trying to say?  Was he really affirming the full Monothelite ("one will") doctrine that would later be condemned, or was he using language in a bit of a different way?  Charles Hefele, the great Catholic historian, thinks he was using language in a bit of a different way, and I'm inclined to agree with him.  Listen closely to how he couches his affirmation of "one will" in Christ:

Whence, also, we confess one will of our Lord Jesus Christ, since our (human) nature was plainly assumed by the Godhead, and this being faultless, as it was before the Fall. For Christ, coming in the form of sinful flesh, took away the sin of the world, and assuming the form of a servant, He is habitu inventus ut homo [found in garb as a man]. As He was conceived by the Holy Ghost, so was He also born without sin of the holy and immaculate Virgin, the God-bearer, without experiencing any contamination of the vitiata natura [corrupted nature]. . . .  It is this, as we said, not the vitiata natura [corrupted nature] which was assumed by the Redeemer, which would war against the law of His mind; but He came to seek and to save that which was lost, i.e. the vitiata natura [corrupted nature] of the human race. In His members there was not another law (Rom. 7:23), or a diversa vel contraria Salvatori voluntas [diverse and contrary will to the Savior's], because He was born supra legem [above the law] of human condition; and if He says in the Holy Spirit: ‘I came down from heaven not to do Mine own will, but the will of Him that sent Me’ (S. John vi. 38), and (S. Mark xiv. 36): ‘Nevertheless, not what I will, but what Thou wilt,’ and the like, these are not expressions of a voluntas diversa [diverse will], but of the accommodation (οἰκονομίας, dispensationis) of the assumed manhood. For this is said for our sakes, that we, following His footsteps, should do not our own will, but that of the Father.

This echoes what Sergius had said, when he warned about "the doctrine of two contradictory wills (θελήματα) in Christ (a false inference!), as though the Logos had been willing to endure the suffering which brings us salvation, but the manhood had opposed it. This is impious, for it is impossible that one and the same subject should have two and, in one point, contradictory wills."

When Honorius affirms one will in Christ, he says that it is because Christ didn't assume a fallen, sinful will in opposition to his divine will.  So we might read Honorius as denying that there are two opposing wills in Christ.  In other words, he may have been answering a different question from the one that actually became the subject of the Monothelite controversy.  This is even more likely if we consider what he says to Sergius in his second letter:

Moreover, with regard to the ecclesiastical dogma, and what we ought to hold and teach, on account of the simplicity of men and to avoid controversies, we must, as I have already said, assert neither one nor two energies in the Mediator between God and men, but must confess that both natures are naturally united in the one Christ, that each in communion with the other worked and acted; the divine works the divine, and the human performs that which is of the flesh (these are the well-known words of Leo I.), without separation and without mixture, and without the nature of God being changed into the manhood, or the human nature into the Godhead. . . .  instead of one energy which some maintain, we must confess that the one Christ, the Lord, truly works in both natures; and instead of the two energies they should prefer to proclaim with us the two natures, i.e. the Godhead and the assumed manhood, which work what is proper to them in the one Person of the only-begotten Son of God, unmingled and unseparated and unchanged.

So Honorius acknowledges that there is one person of Christ, and this one person "works in both natures," "the divine works the divine, and the human performs that which is of the flesh."  This seems to suggest pretty strongly the very "two wills" idea that the Church would eventually formally affirm.  But he doesn't use that language.  And his use of the "one will" language ended up giving aid to a position that ended up being condemned as heretical.

Here is how Hefele views Honorius's position:

The two letters of Pope Honorius, as we now possess them, are unfalsified, and show that Honorius, of the two Monothelite terms ἕν θέλημα [one will] and μία ἐνέργεια [one energy], himself used (in his first letter) the former; but the latter, and also the orthodox expression δύο ἐνέργειαι [two energies], he did not wish to be used. If, in his second letter, he repeated the latter (the disapproval of the expression δύο ἐνέργειαι [two energies]), yet here he himself recognised two natural energies in Christ, and in both letters he so expressed himself, that it must be admitted that he did not deny the human will generally, but only the corrupt human will in Christ; but although orthodox in his thought, he did not sufficiently see through the Monothelite tendency of Sergius, and expressed himself in such a way as to be misunderstood, so that his letters, especially the first, seemed to confirm Monothelitism, and thereby practically helped onward the heresy. . . .  Honorius gave assistance to the heresy, not merely by requiring silence, but much more by the unhappy expression, unde unam voluntatem fatemur Domini nostri Jesu Christi [where we confess one will of our Lord Jesus Christ], as well as by his disapproval of the orthodox term δύο ἐνέργειαι [two energies]. The Monothelites rested upon this, and not upon the silence enjoined. . . .  [the letters] contain, at least in their literal meaning, erroneous teaching.  (Hefele 56, 58-59)

So how did all this go down as the controversy developed?  Honorius died before the controversy really got going, and never did issue any clarification.  Once the controversy picked up, Honorius's successors in the Apostolic See immediately and unswervingly took the Dyothelite ("two wills") side (that is, the orthodox side) against the Monothelites.  However, the Monothelites began to use Honorius's letters to bolster and promote their own opinion.  This irritated the later popes.  The second pope after Honorius, Pope John IV (who reigned from 640 to 642), complained about this and defended Honorius, taking a line of defense similar to the one Hefele and I have taken above, though without any criticism:

The whole West is scandalised by our brother, the Patriarch Pyrrhus [the Bishop of Constantinople at this time, who took the Monothelite position], proclaiming, in his letters which are circulated in all directions, novelties which are contrary to the rule of faith, and referring to our predecessor, Pope Honorius of blessed memory, as of his opinion, which was entirely foreign to the mind of the Catholic Father (quod a mente Catholici patris erat penitus alienum). The Patriarch Sergius communicated to the said Roman bishop that some maintained two contrarias voluntates [contrary wills] in Christ. When the Pope learnt this, he answered him: As our Redeemer is monadicus unus [one alone], so was HE miraculously conceived and born above all human way and manner. He (Honorius) taught that HE was as well perfect God as perfect man, born without sin, in order to renew the noble origin (originem) which had been lost by sin. As second Adam, there was in Him no sin, either by birth or through intercourse with men. For when the Word was made flesh, and assumed all that was ours, He did not take on the vitium reatus [guilty defect] which springs from the propagation of sin. He assumed, from the inviolate Virgin Mary, the likeness of our flesh, but not of sin. Therefore had Christ, as the first Adam, only one natural will of His humanity, not two contrarias voluntates [contrary wills], as we who are born of the sin of Adam, … In such wise our predecessor Honorius answered Sergius, that there were not in the Redeemer two contrariæ voluntates [contrary wills], i.e. also a voluntas in membris [will in the members], as HE had assumed nothing of the sin of the first man. The Redeemer did indeed assume our nature, but not the culpa criminis [fault]. Let, then, no unintelligent critic blame Honorius, that he speaks only of the human and not also of the divine nature, but let him know that he answered that concerning which the patriarch inquired. Where the wound is, there the healing is applied. Even the apostle has sometimes brought forward the divine, and sometimes the human nature of Christ alone.  (Pope John IV, in a letter to Emperor Constantine, found in Hefele 52-53)

"When Honorius said that Christ had only one will," says John IV, "he meant that he didn't have two conflicting wills.  He wasn't denying a metaphysical distinction of any sort between the divine and the human wills of Christ.  He was answering a different question, the one that Sergius had asked him specifically."

The great Eastern saint, Maximus the Confessor, who was a martyr for the Dyothelite cause, made the same basic defense of Honorius when pressed by the Monothelite Bishop Pyrrhus of Constantinople:

As second defender of Honorius, the Roman abbot, Joannes Symponus, is brought forward, and first by S. Maximus in his disputation with the Patriarch Pyrrhus of Constantinople . . .  Honorius had made use of Joannes in the composition of his letter. When Pyrrhus offered the objection: “What have you to answer for Honorius, who quite plainly traced out to my predecessor one will in Christ?” Maximus answered: “Who is the trustworthy interpreter of this letter, he who composed it in the name of Honorius, or those who spoke in Constantinople what was according to their own mind?” To which Pyrrhus replied: “He who composed it.” Then Maximus: “He, then, has expressed himself on the subject, in the letter to the Emperor Constantine, which he prepared by commission of Pope John IV. (the reference is to the above letter, the contents of which are repeated here substantially, although not verbally), as follows: We have (in that letter) maintained one will in Christ, not of the Godhead and manhood together, for we spoke of the one will of the manhood alone. Since Sergius had written that some were teaching two contradictory wills in Christ, we answered, that Christ had not two mutually contradictory wills, of the flesh and of the Spirit, like us men after the Fall, but only one will, which φυσικῶς χαρακτηρίζει [characterized the nature of] His manhood. If, however, any one would say: “Why have you, treating of the manhood of Christ, been quite silent respecting His Godhead?” We reply: “In the first place, Honorius answered that about which Sergius inquired; and, in the second place, as in everything so also here, we have kept to the custom of Holy Scripture, which sometimes speaks of the Godhead, and sometimes of the manhood alone.”  (Hefele 53-54)

Joannes Symponus had been employed by both Honorius and John IV in the drafting of their letters, and so St. Maximus appeals to him as providing testimony as to what Honorius really meant.

Subsequent popes continued to strongly oppose Monothelitism and to defend Honorius from the charge that he was a Monothelite.  Pope Martin I (who reigned from 649 to 655) held the Lateran Council of 649 which condemned Monothelitism.  Because of this, he was arrested by the Emperor Constans II, imprisoned, and exiled, dying as a martyr in exile.

Fortunately, Constans II's son and successor as emperor, Constantine IV, who came to power in 668, was of a different mind, and decided to call a General Council to deal with the controversy.  Pope Agatho (678-681) responded favorably to this idea.  He sent a letter to the Emperor which was read at the Council, which became the Sixth Ecumenical Council.  In his letter, Pope Agatho affirms strongly the Dyothelite position and also confirms it by the authority of the Apostolic See of St. Peter, which, according to Christ's promise to Peter, he affirms has always held fast the true faith and has never swerved into any error:

And briefly we shall intimate to your divinely instructed Piety, what the strength of our Apostolic faith contains, which we have received through Apostolic tradition and through the tradition of the Apostolical pontiffs, and that of the five holy general synods, through which the foundations of Christ's Catholic Church have been strengthened and established; this then is the status [and the regular tradition ] of our Evangelical and Apostolic faith, to wit, that as we confess the holy and inseparable Trinity, that is, the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, to be of one deity, of one nature and substance or essence, so we will profess also that it has one natural will, power, operation, domination, majesty, potency, and glory. And whatever is said of the same Holy Trinity essentially in singular number we understand to refer to the one nature of the three consubstantial Persons, having been so taught by canonical logic. But when we make a confession concerning one of the same three Persons of that Holy Trinity, of the Son of God, or God the Word, and of the mystery of his adorable dispensation according to the flesh, we assert that all things are double in the one and the same our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ according to the Evangelical tradition, that is to say, we confess his two natures, to wit the divine and the human, of which and in which he, even after the wonderful and inseparable union, subsists. And we confess that each of his natures has its own natural propriety, and that the divine, has all things that are divine, without any sin. And we recognize that each one (of the two natures) of the one and the same incarnated, that is, humanated (humanati) Word of God is in him unconfusedly, inseparably and unchangeably, intelligence alone discerning a unity, to avoid the error of confusion. For we equally detest the blasphemy of division and of commixture. For when we confess two natures and two natural wills, and two natural operations in our one Lord Jesus Christ, we do not assert that they are contrary or opposed one to the other (as those who err from the path of truth and accuse the apostolic tradition of doing. Far be this impiety from the hearts of the faithful!), nor as though separated (per se separated) in two persons or subsistences, but we say that as the same our Lord Jesus Christ has two natures so also he has two natural wills and operations, to wit, the divine and the human: the divine will and operation he has in common with the coessential Father from all eternity: the human, he has received from us, taken with our nature in time. This is the apostolic and evangelic tradition, which the spiritual mother of your most felicitous empire, the Apostolic Church of Christ, holds. . . . 
And therefore I beseech you with a contrite heart and rivers of tears, with prostrated mind, deign to stretch forth your most clement right hand to the Apostolic doctrine which the co-worker of your pious labours, the blessed apostle Peter, has delivered, that it be not hidden under a bushel, but that it be preached in the whole earth more shrilly than a bugle: because the true confession thereof for which Peter was pronounced blessed by the Lord of all things, was revealed by the Father of heaven, for he received from the Redeemer of all himself, by three commendations, the duty of feeding the spiritual sheep of the Church; under whose protecting shield, this Apostolic Church of his has never turned away from the path of truth in any direction of error, whose authority, as that of the Prince of all the Apostles, the whole Catholic Church, and the Ecumenical Synods have faithfully embraced, and followed in all things; and all the venerable Fathers have embraced its Apostolic doctrine, through which they as the most approved luminaries of the Church of Christ have shone; and the holy orthodox doctors have venerated and followed it, while the heretics have pursued it with false criminations and with derogatory hatred. This is the living tradition of the Apostles of Christ, which his Church holds everywhere, which is chiefly to be loved and fostered, and is to be preached with confidence, which conciliates with God through its truthful confession, which also renders one commendable to Christ the Lord, which keeps the Christian empire of your Clemency, . . .  For this is the rule of the true faith, which this spiritual mother of your most tranquil empire, the Apostolic Church of Christ, has both in prosperity and in adversity always held and defended with energy; which, it will be proved, by the grace of Almighty God, has never erred from the path of the apostolic tradition, nor has she been depraved by yielding to heretical innovations, but from the beginning she has received the Christian faith from her founders, the princes of the Apostles of Christ, and remains undefiled unto the end, according to the divine promise of the Lord and Saviour himself, which he uttered in the holy Gospels to the prince of his disciples: saying, "Peter, Peter, behold, Satan has desired to have you, that he might sift you as wheat; but I have prayed for you, that (your) faith fail not. And when you are converted, strengthen your brethren." Let your tranquil Clemency therefore consider, since it is the Lord and Saviour of all, whose faith it is, that promised that Peter's faith should not fail and exhorted him to strengthen his brethren, how it is known to all that the Apostolic pontiffs, the predecessors of my littleness, have always confidently done this very thing: of whom also our littleness, since I have received this ministry by divine designation, wishes to be the follower, although unequal to them and the least of all.   (Translated by Henry Percival. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 14. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. [Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1900.] Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/3813.htm>.  Embedded links removed.)

As the Council proceeded, the Monothelites brought forward the letters of Honorius to Sergius and tried to use Honorius to defend their own position.  "We have not invented these new expressions, but have only taught what we have received by tradition from the holy Œcumenical Synods, the holy Fathers, from Sergius and his successors, and from Pope Honorius and from Cyrus of Alexandria, in regard to the will and the energy, and we are ready to prove this” (Hefele 152)  The Council Fathers thus read Honorius's letters and all the other relevant documents.  Finally, after considering everything, the Council Fathers made this response:

After we had read the doctrinal letters of Sergius of Constantinople to Cyrus of Phasis and to Pope Honorius, as well as the letter of the latter to Sergius, we find that these documents are quite foreign to the apostolic dogmas, also to the declarations of the holy Councils, and all the Fathers of repute, and follow the false teachings of the heretics; therefore we entirely reject them, and execrate them as hurtful to the soul (hasque invenientes omnino alienas existere ab apostolicis dogmatibus et a definitionibus sanctorum conciliorum et cunctorum probabilium Patrum, sequi vero falsas doctrinas hæreticorum, eas omnimodo abjicimus, et tamquam animæ noxias exsecramur). But the names of these men must also be thrust forth from the Church, namely, that of Sergius, who first wrote on this impious doctrine; further, that of Cyrus of Alexandria, of Pyrrhus, Paul, and Peter of Constantinople, and of Theodore of Pharan, all of whom Pope Agatho rejected in his letter to the Emperor. We anathematise them all. And along with them, it is our unanimous decree that there shall be expelled from the Church and anathematised, Honorius, formerly Pope of Old Rome, because we found in his letter to Sergius that in all respects he followed his view and confirmed his impious doctrines (Cum his vero simul projici a sancta Dei catholica ecclesia simulque anathematizari prævidimus et Honorium, qui fuerat Papa antiquæ Romæ, eo quod invenimus per scripta, quæ ab eo facta sunt ad Sergium, quia in omnibus ejus mentem secutus est, impia dogmata confirmavit). We have also examined the synodal letter of Sophronius, and have found it in accordance with the true faith and the apostolic and patristic doctrines. Therefore we received it as useful to the Catholic and apostolic Church, and decreed that his name should be put upon the diptychs of the holy Church.  (Hefele 166-167)

Finally, the Council Fathers put forward their definition of faith, which "was subscribed by the papal legates, by all the bishops and episcopal representatives, 174 in number, and, last of all, also by the Emperor" (Hefele 173-174).  In it, Monothelitism is condemned as heretical, and all its supporters anathematized, and Honorius is named as a supporter.  Then, the Fathers addressed the Emperor, praising him and Pope Agatho for carrying forward the whole affair, and asking the Emperor to ratify their conclusions:

But the highest prince of the Apostles fought with us: for we had on our side his imitator and the successor in his see, who also had set forth in his letter the mystery of the divine word (θεολογίας). For the ancient city of Rome handed you a confession of divine character, and a chart from the sunsetting raised up the day of dogmas, and made the darkness manifest, and Peter spoke through Agatho, and you, O autocratic King, according to the divine decree, with the Omnipotent Sharer of your throne, judged. 
But, O benign and justice-loving Lord, do this favour in return to him who has bestowed your power upon you; and give, as a seal to what has been defined by us, your imperial ratification in writing, and so confirm them with the customary pious edicts and constitutions, that no one may contradict the things which have been done, nor raise any fresh question.  (New Advent)

Afterwards, the Council sent a letter to Pope Agatho informing him of what the Council had decided.  Once again, the Council affirms plainly that Honorius, among others, was condemned, but it also, once again, reflects in the letter many of the same sentiments regarding the place and authority of the Apostolic See which Pope Agatho had put forth in his earlier letter (and which are commonly asserted by Fathers of both the East and the West, by the way, throughout the First Millennium of the Church):

The holy and ecumenical council which by the grace of God and the pious sanction of the most pious and faithful Constantine, the great Emperor, has been gathered together in this God-preserved and royal city, Constantinople, the new Rome, in the Secretum of the imperial (θείου, sacri) palace called Trullus, to the most holy and most blessed pope of Old Rome, Agatho, health in the Lord. 
Serious illnesses call for greater helps, as you know, most blessed [father]; and therefore Christ our true God, who is the creator and governing power of all things, gave a wise physician, namely your God-honoured sanctity, to drive away by force the contagion of heretical pestilence by the remedies of orthodoxy, and to give the strength of health to the members of the church. Therefore to you, as to the bishop of the first see of the Universal Church, we leave what must be done, since you willingly take for your standing ground the firm rock of the faith, as we know from having read your true confession in the letter sent by your fatherly beatitude to the most pious emperor: and we acknowledge that this letter was divinely written (perscriptas) as by the Chief of the Apostles, and through it we have cast out the heretical sect of many errors which had recently sprung up, having been urged to making a decree by Constantine who divinely reigns, and wields a most clement sceptre. And by his help we have overthrown the error of impiety, having as it were laid siege to the nefarious doctrine of the heretics. And then tearing to pieces the foundations of their execrable heresy, and attacking them with spiritual and paternal arms, and confounding their tongues that they might not speak consistently with each other, we overturned the tower built up by these followers of this most impious heresy; and we slew them with anathema, as lapsed concerning the faith and as sinners, in the morning outside the camp of the tabernacle of God, that we may express ourselves after the manner of David, in accordance with the sentence already given concerning them in your letter, and their names are these: Theodore, bishop of Pharan, Sergius, Honorius, Cyrus, Paul, Pyrrhus and Peter. Moreover, in addition to these, we justly subjected to the anathema of heretics those also who live in their impiety which they have received, or, to speak more accurately, in the impiety of these God-hated persons, Apollinaris, Severus and Themestius, to wit, Macarius, who was the bishop of the great city of Antioch (and him we also stripped deservedly of his pastor's robes on account of his impenitence concerning the orthodox faith and his obstinate stubbornness), and Stephen, his disciple in craziness and his teacher in impiety, also Polychronius, who was inveterate in his heretical doctrines, thus answering to his name; and finally all those who impenitently have taught or do teach, or now hold or have held similar doctrines. 
Up to now grief, sorrow, and many tears have been our portion. For we cannot laugh at the fall of our neighbours, nor exult with joy at their unbridled madness, nor have we been elated that we might fall all the more grievously because of this thing; not thus, O venerable and sacred head, have we been taught, we who hold Christ, the Lord of the universe, to be both benign and man-loving in the highest degree; . . . Thus, illuminated by the Holy Spirit, and instructed by your doctrine, we have cast forth the vile doctrines of impiety, making smooth the right path of orthodoxy, being in every way encouraged and helped in so doing by the wisdom and power of our most pious and serene Emperor Constantine. . . . we have set forth clearly with you the shining light of the orthodox faith, and we pray your paternal sanctity to confirm our decree by your honourable rescript; through which we confide in good hope in Christ that his merciful kindness will grant freely to the Roman State, committed to the care of our most clement Emperor, stability; and will adorn with daily yokes and victories his most serene clemency; and that in addition to the good things he has here bestowed upon us, he will set your God-honoured holiness before his tremendous tribunal as one who has sincerely confessed the true faith, preserving it unsullied and keeping good ward over the orthodox flocks committed to him by God.  (New Advent)

Pope Agatho is acknowledged as "most blessed father," the "venerable and sacred head."  To him is attributed the health of the Church.  His is "the first see of the Universal Church," to whom the Council Fathers "leave what must be done, since you willingly take for your standing ground the firm rock of the faith."  His letter was "divinely written as by the Chief of the Apostles."  The Council Fathers, "instructed by your doctrine," had defeated the heretics "in accordance with the sentence already given concerning them in your letter."  They have "set forth clearly with you the shining light of the orthodox faith," and they request confirmation from the Pope of their decree, that his "paternal sanctity" would "confirm our decree by your honourable rescript."  They close by praying that Christ "will set your God-honoured holiness before his tremendous tribunal as one who has sincerely confessed the true faith, preserving it unsullied and keeping good ward over the orthodox flocks committed to him by God."

And yet, for all this, Honorius was condemned.

How did the Popes respond to this?  Pope Agatho died before the Council could communicate their results to him.  So the Council informed his successor, Pope Leo II.  The Emperor sent him a letter, telling him "how all the members of the Synod had assented to the doctrinal letter of Pope Agatho, with the exception of Macarius of Antioch and his adherents. These had been deposed by the Synod, but had requested in writing that they should be sent to the Pope, which the Emperor now did, and left the decision of their affair to his Holiness" (Hefele 179).

Here is Pope Leo II's response, in a letter to the Emperor:

Agatho of apostolic memory, together with this honourable Synod, preached this norm of the right apostolic tradition. This he sent by letter ... to your piety by his own legates, demonstrating it and confirming it by the usage of the holy and approved teachers of the Church. And now the holy and great Synod, celebrated by the favour of God and your own, has accepted it and embraced it in all things with us, as recognizing in it the pure teaching of blessed Peter, the prince of the apostles and discovering in it the marks of sound piety. Therefore the holy and universal sixth Synod, which by the will of God your clemency summoned and presided, has followed in all things the teaching of the apostles and approved Fathers. And because, as we have said, it has perfectly preached the definition of the true faith which the Apostolic See of blessed Peter the apostle (whose office we unworthy hold) also reverently receives, therefore we, and by our ministry this reverend Apostolic See, whollv and with full agreement do consent to the definitions made by it, and by the authority of blessed Peter do confirm them, even as we have received firmness from the Lord Himself upon the firm rock which is Christ" . . . 
And in like manner we anathematize the inventors of the new error, that is, Theodore, Bishop of Pharan, Sergius, Pyrrhus, Paul, and Peter, betrayers rather than leaders of the Church of Constantinople, and also Honorius, who did not attempt to sanctify this Apostolic Church with the teaching of apostolic tradition, but by profane treachery permitted its purity to be polluted."  (Dom John Chapman, The Condemnation of Pope Honorius [London: Catholic Truth Society, 1907], 113-114, italics in original)

Leo II communicated this decision in other letters as well.  Dom John Chapman gives us snippets from a couple of these, to provide a feel for how Leo II tended to express what Honorius had done:

[Leo,] in his letter to the Spanish King Erwig, [says]: "And with them Honorius, who allowed the unspotted rule of Apostolic tradition, which he received from his predecessors, to be tarnished." To the Spanish bishops he explains his meaning: "With Honorius, who did not, as became the Apostolic authority, extinguish the flame of heretical teaching in its first beginning, but fostered it by his negligence."  (Chapman, John. "Pope Honorius I." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 7. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. 28 Jul. 2019 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07452b.htm>)

The condemnation of Pope Honorius was reiterated routinely many times in subsequent Church history:

The anathemas on Pope Honorius have been again and again confirmed. A few years later he is included in the list of heretics by the Trullan Synod, a Council whose canons were not, however, and could not be received by Rome and the West. But the seventh and eighth oecumenical Councils did the same, although the eighth Council formally declared that the Church of Rome had never erred. (Chapman, Condemnation of Pope Honorius, p. 115)

Also, "The Papal Oath as found in the Liber Diurnus [338] taken by each new Pope from the fifth to the eleventh century, in the form probably prescribed by Gregory II., 'smites with eternal anathema the originators of the new heresy, Sergius, etc., together with Honorius, because he assisted the base assertion of the heretics'" ("Excursus on the Condemnation of Pope Honorius," from Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 14. Translated by Henry Percival. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. [Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1900.], taken from the plain text version found on the website of the Christian Classics Ethereal Library)

So, to sum up the most salient points, Pope Honorius made comments in letters to Sergius, Bishop of Constantinople, in which he used language that lent itself to being interpreted in such a way as to give sanction and support to what would later be called the Monothelite heresy--the idea that Christ did not have a fully human will and a fully divine will but only one will.  The Fathers of the Sixth Ecumenical Council condemned and anathematized him as one who endorsed and promoted the Monothelite error.  This conclusion was endorsed and supported by Pope Leo II and by subsequent popes and councils--while, at the same time, the conviction continued to be maintained by those in both the East and the West that the Apostolic See of Rome, as the successor of St. Peter, has the primacy and is kept free from error by the promise of Christ.


So what do we make of all of this?  Is there a defeater here to the idea of papal reliability and infallibility, as Catholic doctrine defines these?

First of all, what exactly did Honorius do?  Did he endorse the Monothelite heresy?  This is a somewhat complex issue, as we've seen.  When Honorius wrote to Sergius, the terms of the Monothelite controversy had not yet been fully defined, and he may not have understood the full implications of the questions under discussion.  He also used language in those letters that make it sound like he did understand that there are, in a sense, two kinds of "acting" done by the one person of Christ--the acting done by the human nature and the acting done by the divine nature.  So I don't think there is enough evidence in the record to convict Honorius of the full-blown Monothelite position, or to say that he would have supported that position if he had lived long enough to see the full development of the controversy.  However, he undoubtedly used language that lent itself to Monothelite interpretation and, by doing so, certainly lent credibility to and promoted the progress of that heresy.

While earlier popes had defended Honorius from the charge of Monothelitism, the Fathers of the Sixth Ecumenical Council certainly condemned him as following and therefore aiding the Monothelite opinion.  Pope Leo II did not dispute the Council's conclusions regarding Honorius, but instead enthusiastically endorsed them, even adding his own words of criticism.  Honorius "did not attempt to sanctify this Apostolic Church with the teaching of apostolic tradition, but by profane treachery permitted its purity to be polluted."  He "did not, as became the Apostolic authority, extinguish the flame of heretical teaching in its first beginning, but fostered it by his negligence."  Later popes and councils reaffirmed these criticisms.  All of this is compatible, I think, with affirming that Honorius was not a full-blown Monothelite.  But even if he wasn't, he did indeed, by his words, follow and confirm Bishop Sergius's opinions and thus promoted what grew into the full-fledged Monothelite heresy.

Did Honorius give an ex cathedra, definitive, infallibly unchangeable opinion in his letters to Sergius?  I don't see that there is enough evidence to conclude that he did.  Remember, the Church tells us that "no doctrine is understood as defined infallibly unless this is manifestly evident."  Although Honorius certainly gave his opinion to Sergius and intentionally encouraged him to go in certain directions in terms of what he should affirm and say, it is not manifestly evident that Honorius was intending to issue an unchangeable, infallible decree for the entire Church.

While the Council Fathers and Pope Leo II are clear in condemning Honorius, yet, as I mentioned, they and subsequent Fathers, Councils, and Popes continue from this point on to affirm what they had affirmed before--the primacy, authority, and infallibility of the Apostolic See of Rome.  At no point during the First Millennium is there ever, to my knowledge, any attempt by anybody to explain how these two positions can be harmonized.  And yet these Fathers clearly did not see their affirmations as being in conflict.  Therefore, whatever we say about Honorius or about papal reliability, if we are to be faithful in representing the position of these Fathers, we must not attempt to pit the one against the other.  And it so happens that once we examine the issue with careful scrutiny and an accurate understanding of Catholic doctrine, we can see that there is indeed no conflict between, on the one hand, affirming the reliability and infallibility of the Roman See, and, on the other hand, affirming that Pope Honorius, by his unorthodox and misleading language, promoted and abetted the Monothelite heresy and so was justly condemned for doing so.  Catholic teaching does not hold that Popes will always act wisely or ethically, or that they will not cause scandals, or that they will not be negligent in their duties, and be worthy of condemnation for any of these things.  (Just think of Peter, the first Pope!)  What it does say is that God has promised that the Pope will be protected from actually authoritatively teaching error to the Church and binding them to it.  The Pope might lead people into error or evil by his bad example, by not responding effectively to heresy, or by not standing up for truth.  He might non-definitively teach incomplete truths, or positions that require further clarification, or even positions that should be accepted provisionally but which may require augmentation or correction when new information comes to light or when the Church makes further doctrinal progress in understanding certain implications of divine revelation.  But, according to the promise of Christ, the Pope will never use his authority to teach the Church to embrace a position that rather ought to be rejected as false.  It cannot be shown that Honorius did that.  His crime was not that he taught definitively the full-blown Monothelite heresy (if he had done that, that would have been fatal to the idea of papal reliability and infallibility).  His crime, so it appears to me from my best reading of the evidence, was that he endorsed a position that was in fact true--Christ did not have two conflicting wills--but in a way that failed to clarify that position from one that was false, and so his words had the effect of promoting the spread of that false view and so aiding the development of a full-blown heretical position.  Instead of nipping the heresy in the bud, in his negligence he ended up promoting it with what he said.  This was his objective guilt, however subjectively culpable he might have been.

In conclusion, then, while I grant that the issues are nuanced and subtle, upon careful examination I don't see anything in this incident that could legitimately be used to disprove Catholic teachings regarding papal reliability or infallibility.

Published on the feast of St. Peter Chrysologus, Doctor of the Church

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Historical Challenges to the Infallibility of the Church, Part Two: Pope Liberius

For the whole series, see here.

Especially when compared to the complexity of the Three Chapters controversy discussed in Part One, this case is a fairly easy one to examine, I think.  There is a lot of history here (you can get all you want of it here, and the same information can be verified in many different places), but I'll just summarize the salient points and then make a brief analysis.

Reigning as Pope from 352-356, Pope Liberius was an ardent supporter of the Nicene cause and of St. Athanasius, who promoted that cause at great cost to himself against the Eastern Arianizing bishops.  The Emperor Constantius, who was a supporter of the Semi-Arian position, persecuted those who supported the Nicene position, and eventually he sent Pope Liberius into exile for refusing to comply with his demands.

While he was there, it is possible that, broken eventually by his exile, he signed some statement which condemned Athanasius, or which embraced Semi-Arianism, or which put forth some ambiguous language which might be interpreted in a Nicene or a Semi-Arian way.  The fact is, no one really knows for sure what Liberius did or didn't do during his exile.  There are historians who have defended all the different possibilities, based on conflicting information from ancient times.

It is noteworthy that St. Athanasius himself, at least at one point, believed that Pope Liberius had fallen and had betrayed the truth, though some think that this is because Athanasius believed rumors that were going around at that time which later turned out to be groundless.  But here is how St. Athanasius himself described what he thought happened to Liberius:

Thus they endeavoured at the first to corrupt the Church of the Romans, wishing to introduce impiety into it as well as others. But Liberius after he had been in banishment two years gave way, and from fear of threatened death subscribed. Yet even this only shews their violent conduct, and the hatred of Liberius against the heresy, and his support of Athanasius, so long as he was suffered to exercise a free choice. For that which men are forced by torture to do contrary to their first judgment, ought not to be considered the willing deed of those who are in fear, but rather of their tormentors. They however attempted everything in support of their heresy, while the people in every Church, preserving the faith which they had learnt, waited for the return of their teachers, and condemned the Antichristian heresy, and all avoid it, as they would a serpent.  (St. Athanasius, History of the Arians, Part V, #41, from the plain text version found on the website of the Christian Classics Ethereal Library)

Whatever happened during his exile, when Pope Liberius eventually returned to Rome, he continued to be a steadfast supporter of the Nicene cause.

So is this a problem for papal reliability and infallibility?  No, because Catholic doctrine teaches that Popes are reliable to the extent that they intend their statements to be accepted and binding.  If Pope Liberius said anything false during his exile (and no one really knows if he did), it was obviously under duress, and so did not express his free intention, and so of course was not authoritative or binding, much less definitively infallible.  It is ironic that Liberius is portrayed by critics as betraying Athanasius, when it is Athanasius himself who gives the answer to the critics:  "For that which men are forced by torture to do contrary to their first judgment, ought not to be considered the willing deed of those who are in fear, but rather of their tormentors."

The very fact that this is one of a handful of what are usually considered by critics to be the greatest historical examples supposed to disprove papal infallibility says something, I think, and not something good, about the strength of the critics' case.

Free Speech and Transgenderism

Free Speech and Academic Freedom vs. Protection of Public Respect and Dignity: A Terribly Difficult Balance to Maintain

Politics is always an art of balance.  Things are seldom so simple that we have merely one value which we need to think about how to protect.  Almost always, there are several values which vie against each other for protection, and political wisdom involves the very delicate, complex, and dangerous art of trying to balance their claims in a just manner.

One area where we can see this conflict and need for balance is in the contest between free speech and academic freedom on the one hand and the protection of the rights and dignity of persons in society on the other.  This comes up, for example, in arguments over hate speech laws.  On the one hand, we value a society where, for example, people of various races are protected from having to face constant insults and hostility; on the other hand, we want a society where people can speak their mind and voice their opinions, even when those opinions are controversial and offensive to some, and can act publicly on those opinions.  So do we allow Nazis to put on exhibitions in public view where they defame and insult Jews?  In such a case, do we put more value on the protection of the public expression of the Nazis, or on the desires of Jews not to be publicly defamed and have their dignity assaulted?  Which concern takes precedence here--the concern over the dangers of restriction of public expression and opinions by those in power, or the concern over the dangers of a society where the dignity of members of society is not publicly protected?  This is not at all a simple issue.

What brought this subject to my mind most recently was reading about arguments about how to deal with transgenderism in academic discourse.  This discussion has been going on for some time.  Just in the past few weeks, the academic online publication Inside Higher Ed has published or linked to several articles dealing with this subject.  There have been all sorts of controversies of late over whether professors ought to be allowed to voice dissent from the mainstream view of transgenderism that is current in modern culture--the mainstream view being that gender and sex can and should be defined by a person's subjective personal sense of identity rather than by their biological characteristics.  Fortunately (in my view), there are still some in mainstream academia who are skeptical of the mainstream paradigm and willing to publicly question it.  But should they be allowed to do so?  Should their "free speech" and "academic freedom" be protected, or should they be silenced out of a concern to protect a "safe space" in academia for transgender people so that they can feel that their identity has public support and is not subject to serious public criticism?

Some have advocated very loudly on the side of protecting the public recognition of transgender identity and therefore silencing or marginalizing public dissent.  A good, recent example is a graduate student who recently published a letter explaining why she was leaving the field of Philosophy which she loves because of public toleration of "transphobic" views.  You can read her statement here and an article about her (and the broader debate) here.  Here is a sample of her language:

Secondly, I do not feel safe or comfortable in professional settings any longer. . . .  Not only do I have to sit with the knowledge that people who are supposed to be my colleagues actively deny my gender identity, I might even encounter these people in a public space. . .  How can I be expected to attend professional events where people deny and question such an integral part of my identity and act like that is tolerable or normal? . . . 
My gender is not up for debate. I am a woman. Any trans discourse that does not proceed from this initial assumption — that trans people are the gender that they say they are — is oppressive, regressive, and harmful. It comes at a huge cost to me and other trans people both mentally and emotionally to engage with transphobes, whereas it’s easy for transphobes to write transphobic arguments. So, trans people shouldn’t have to engage with transphobes and constantly attempt to legitimize their existences. (t philosopher, "I am leaving academic philosophy because of its transphobia problem," published on Medium on May 30, 2019, bold-type in original)

Here is another example (arising out of the same specific controversy) of such language from a joint statement by Minorities and Philosophy UK and Minorities and Philosophy International:

The right to promote hateful ideas is not covered under the right to free speech. Thus, we resist the charge that this is simply an attempt to silence and stifle philosophical debate. Nobody is entitled to unlimited and unopposed speech in academic philosophy - and we need to identify and call out forms of speech that target, oppress, and silence marginalised groups.  
Not every item of personal and ideological obsession is worthy of philosophical debate. In particular, scepticism about the rights of marginalised groups and individuals, where issues of life and death are at stake, are not up for debate. The existence and validity of transgender and non-binary people, and the right of trans and non-binary people to identify their own genders and sexualities, fall within the range of such indisputable topics.  ("Joint statement in response to the Aristotelian Society talk on 3rd June 2019," published on the website of MAP UK on June 3, 2019)

I personally find this kind of talk frightening.  What they are saying, basically, is that views that disagree with the current mainstream view on transgenderism don't have a right to exist and should be excluded from academic free speech as those in power only allow the "orthodox" view to be voiced and promoted.

On the other hand, another twelve scholars just put out another joint statement advocating the other side:

We, all scholars in philosophy at universities in Europe, North America and Australia, oppose such sanctioning. The proposed measures, such as censuring philosophers who defend these controversial positions or preventing those positions from being advanced at professional conferences and in scholarly journals, violate the fundamental academic commitment to free inquiry. Moreover, the consequent narrowing of discussion would set a dangerous precedent, threatening the ability of philosophers to engage with the issues of the day. . . . 
Policy makers and citizens are currently confronting such metaphysical questions about sex and gender as What is a man? What is a lesbian? What makes someone female? Society at large is deliberating over the resolution of conflicting interests in contexts as varied as competitive sport, changing rooms, workplaces and prisons. These discussions are of great importance, and philosophers can make an essential contribution to them, in part through academic debate. Philosophers who engage in this debate should wish for it to be pursued through rational dialogue, and should refuse to accept narrow constraints on the range of views receiving serious consideration.  ("Philosophers Should Not Be Sanctioned Over Their Positions on Sex and Gender," published on the Inside Higher Ed website, in the Views section, on July 22, 2019)

On the other hand, these twelve scholars recognize that there is a tension between the call to free speech and academic freedom and the call to public protection of the dignity of persons, but they believe that in this case, the real problem lies in the damage done to free speech and academic freedom:

We acknowledge that philosophical arguments can lead to pain, anxiety and frustration when they challenge deeply held commitments -- whether pertaining to gender identity, religious conviction, political ideology or the rights and moral status of fetuses or nonhuman animals. Moreover, some of us believe that certain extreme conditions can warrant restrictions of academic speech, such as when it expresses false and hateful attitudes or incites violence or harassment. 
Yet none of the arguments recently made by our colleagues can reasonably be regarded as incitement or hate speech. . . . 
Academic freedom, like freedom of thought more broadly, should be restricted only with the greatest caution, if ever. While the respect due to all people -- regardless of sex, gender, race, class, religion, professional status and so on -- should never be compromised, we believe that contemporary disputes over sex and gender force no hard choice between these commitments.  (Ibid.)

So these scholars acknowledge that there are times when speech should be restricted, such as when it "expresses false and hateful attitudes."  This is because "respect for all people . . . should never be compromised."

The Begging-The-Question Red Alert Sirens Are Going Wild

Now, here is where I find all of this discussion problematic.  I feel like there is an enormous amount of question-begging going on on both sides of this transgender debate, as well as in most public debates of this sort today.  Those who are advocating restriction of academic and other speech regarding transgender issues are assuming they've won the underlying debate over how we all ought to think about transgender issues.  Their position amounts to this:  "Look, we all know by now that the mainstream view of transgender identity is the right way to view things.  This is settled.  We're done with this.  So all opposition to this view is obviously nothing more than hateful opposition to reality.  Therefore, since such talk is obvious false, stupid, and hateful, it does much harm and no good and so should not be allowed."  But the other side, which apparently still represents a significant portion even of the mainstream academic world at this point, begs to differ.  Their position goes like this:  "Look, we all know that his whole transgender debate is not at all settled yet.  There are reasonable arguments still being made by both sides.  This is a legitimate field of current research and discourse.  People of good will and intelligence, with useful things to say, are on both sides.  Therefore, in spite of the fact that the continuing discourse is difficult for some people to handle, it needs to be allowed to go on, for we must not silence legitimate discourse and discussion over seriously controverted positions in academia only because of the difficulties experienced by some persons, even if those difficulties are great.  We don't want public authority stepping in and silencing legitimate debate.  The truth, and the right to use free speech to discuss it, is too important for that."

But here's the million dollar question:  How do we decide whose view of this controversy is correct?  Is this debate settled and done, with all rational people on one side and only hateful or ignorant bigots on the other?  Or is this a point on which rational people of good will do not agree because the issue has not yet been fully settled?

It seems to me like both sides would like to say that their view is the objective view, the neutral view, the view that all "good and intelligent people" can agree on.  The problem is that I don't think there is such a view or probably ever will be in this discussion, or in many of our other cultural disputes.  At the core of the transgender dispute, there is disagreement not only over scientific information--a disagreement that might be cleared up simply with a few more years of research, leading to an obvious, universal consensus based on clear empirical data--but there is disagreement over deeper, philosophical ideas about how we ought to define things like "sex" and "gender".  There are deeper worldview disputes involved in this controversy.  And therefore there will never be a purely "scientific" solution to this controversy that involves simply a straightforward reading of the empirical data apart from any commitment to deeper philosophical or religious beliefs and values.  We are a pluralistic culture--that is, a culture that self-consciously contains (and promotes) diversity amongst ourselves in terms of philosophical and religious viewpoints.  In such a culture, there can never be a neutral consensus over many things.  There may be a dominance in terms of numbers and power at any given time of one position over another, so that public attitudes and policies may tend more one way or another at particular times, but there will never be a "consensus" that actually achieves the agreement of everyone, that avoids marginalizing some view or another.

Even with something like racism--Certainly the "anti-racist" opinion has (fortunately) become by far the dominant position in our public life, and that position exercises most of the power, but there are still ideological racists in our society, people who hold their position because of philosophical or religious convictions that go beyond merely the obvious and agreed-upon empirical facts about human races and racial characteristics.  We like to think that all rational people are on our side on the race issues, but, if we are honest, we cannot claim to have won this cultural dispute in a way that has achieved universal consensus or that has avoided the endorsement of particular philosophical and theological views that disagree with the views of the minority positions.  In other words, we haven't won in an ideologically or philosophically or religiously neutral way.  We almost never do.  (Of course, that doesn't mean that our view isn't the most rational one or the best one, just that it is isn't neutral.  People approaching the question from different philosophical or theological viewpoints will not necessarily agree with us that our view is the most rational or the best one, and there is no philosophically-neutral way of achieving agreement.)

This fact--that our positions on the transgender question and other culturally disputed issues are not ideologically or philosophically or religiously neutral--gives to my ears a kind of fragility or tenuousness to all of these bold statements being made by people on all sides of these debates.  The twelve scholars may boldly and confidently state that free speech must take precedence here because, obviously, the transgender question is not a settled question, but this does not seem so obvious to the other side.  They think the issue is quite settled, just as much as questions of racism or homosexuality are settled, so that people who refuse to go along with the orthodox settled opinion should be treated no better than the racists who still won't acknowledge our settled cultural positions on racism.  And why are they wrong about this?  From the point of view of their own ideology and philosophy, the issue probably does look quite settled.  On the other hand, from the point of view of those who do not share all those ideological and philosophical opinions, the issue may appear far from settled, or even settled in the opposite direction.  Thus both sides make bold statements as if their position somehow followed from some neutral appraisal of the evidence all good and intelligent people accept, without recognizing that the controversy goes down deeper into the ideological crevices that divide members of our pluralistic society.

So, no matter how bold and confident the proponents of these positions come across, the victory as far as our culture is concerned will be decided by which ideological and philosophical positions can gain the greatest number of proponents--or the proponents with the most cultural power--and thus cn dominate public discourse and policy.  If the pro-mainstream view wins out, the twelve scholars will be labeled bigots and marginalized.  If the non-mainstream view wins out, those who promote limitations on speech to protect transgender people will be made out in public discourse to look like whiny fools who want reality and all people in it to bend truth, justice, and wisdom to their foolish and unjustified whims.  And no matter who wins, that side will be right and the other side will be wrong--depending on which ideological or philosophical viewpoint one chooses to view the issue from.

So I guess what I'm really getting at is:  Let's dig into the real, meaty, philosophical and theological issues that ground people's different viewpoints in this area and in other areas, and watch out strenuously for something that, despite our differences, we can all recognize as a danger--the begging of the question in our thinking and in our public discourse.  And, of course, let's always exercise empathy and compassion as we deal with topics that are truly painful and difficult for our fellow human beings, whatever their views may be.

For more thoughts on transgenderism, see here and here.  For some articles on the impossibility of religious neutrality in public discourse and policy and how some people try to get around that, see here and here.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Historical Challenges to the Infallibility of the Church, Part One: Pope Vigilius and the Three Chapters Controversy

For the whole series, see here.

The Infallibility of the Church and the Pope

Catholic teaching holds that the Church is indefectible.  She can never fall away into error, but will forever hold fast to the true faith.

Here is my summary of how the infallibility of the Church works, according to Catholic doctrine:

The teaching authority of the Catholic Church resides in the "Magisterium," which is simply the body of bishops who govern the Church in communion with the Bishop of Rome, the Pope.  God has given what I'll call the "gift of reliability" to the teachers of the Church, so that what they teach in terms of the doctrine of the church (whether of "faith" or "morals") is accurate and does not lead into error.  This gift is not given to individual bishops acting alone, but only to the body of bishops as a whole--so it is possible that individual bishops, or even bishops in groups smaller than the whole of the body of bishops, might teach error, but the body of bishops as a whole can never do so.  Also, the Pope, as the head of the church, has the gift of reliability given to him in his own unique office as well, so that he can never teach error when he is exercising his teaching office.

Sometimes the Church teaches a doctrine definitively--that is, she teaches a doctrine as certainly and irrevocably the correct opinion.  This might happen when the bishops come together in an ecumenical council and make definitive decrees or statements, or it might happen as all the bishops in the ordinary exercise of their office agree in teaching a doctrine definitively throughout the world.  The Pope might teach a doctrine definitively either by formally defining a doctrine as a dogma (this is the famed ex cathedra declaration) or simply by affirming that a doctrine is the definitive teaching of the Church.  When the Church teaches something definitively, since she has the gift of reliability, Catholics are obligated to receive and accept it definitively.  Sometimes, however, the Church might teach a doctrine non-definitively--that is, she might teach a doctrine in such a way that it is claimed to be true, or accurate, or good to believe or hold or practice, etc., but not in such a way that it is claimed that the final, unchangeable word on the subject has been given.  The doctrine is not claimed as definitely certain or true or unchangeable in its current form.  For example, the bishops or the Pope might say, "X is the best way to think about this right now," or "We should think X right now," or "So far as we can see at this point, X appears to be true," or "We should do things in this way right now," etc.  There could be lots of ways such a non-definitive teaching could be given and a variety of degrees of certainty in such pronouncements--context would determine how to interpret any particular statement or teaching.  A non-definitive teaching must be accepted and adhered to by Catholics as well.  It must be accepted in the way and to the degree it was intended by the Church--again, interpreted by context.

Here is a little bit more on the distinction between definitive and non-definitive Magisterial teaching and the difference between the two:

The teaching of the Catholic Church is that the Pope, and the bishops as a whole, can teach with various levels of definitiveness, but that Catholics are bound to submit with mind and will to all magisterial teaching according to the intention of the magisterial teacher.  So if the Pope teaches something and intends it to be a definitive pronouncement, Catholics are to submit to it as the final word on the subject and irreformably and forever true.  If the Pope teaches something which he intends the people to believe, but it is not intended as necessarily the final word on the subject, then Catholics are bound to accept that teaching, but not necessarily as the final word on the subject.  All magisterial teaching is to be regarded as inherently reliable, for it all comes with the authority of Christ and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  We can never be led astray by following magisterial teaching, although non-definitive teaching can lead us to provisional conclusions that may later turn out to be augmented or even corrected.  The fact that non-definitive teaching is not necessarily irreformable is not contrary to its reliability, for the reformable nature of such teaching does not come from any unreliability in the teaching but in the non-definitiveness of the magisterial intention.  If the Pope teaches us that X is the best position to hold right now and that we ought to hold position X, but that this is not necessarily the final word on the subject, if later on we find that X is false we cannot be said to have been led astray by the Pope's teaching, for that teaching did not teach us that X would never be overturned.  But the reliability of the Pope's ordinary teaching obviously precludes that teaching from including heresy--that is, from including ideas that contradict what the Church has previously affirmed definitively to have been revealed by God.  For we already know that such teachings cannot be true and that we should not hold them.  It would be contrary to the justice and truth of God for legitimate authority appointed by him to legitimately bind us to teaching that it would be wrong to hold.

With regard to definitively infallible teaching, the Code of Canon Law tells us that we are not to assume that any teaching of the Magisterium has been defined infallibly "unless this is manifestly evident" (Code of Canon Law #749.3

To see the foundations of the above summaries in the Church's own testimony, see here (the shorter version) and here (the longer version).

In this article and some subsequent articles, I am going to address some classic historical challenges that have been made to the Catholic doctrine of papal infallibility.  We will start with Pope Vigilius and the affair of the Three Chapters.

The Three Chapters Controversy

In the sixth century, a controversy arose in the Church over the proper response to some writings alleged to be heretical.  Pope Vigilius was intimately involved in the whole affair, and critics of Catholic ideas about papal authority and infallibility have often alleged that his actions in this controversy provide historical evidence against those ideas.

This is a subject I've wanted to write about for a long time, but I've somewhat dreaded approaching it because the history here is very convoluted and complex and difficult to follow and explain.  Following especially Dom John Chapman's account of the affair in his Studies on the Early Papacy (London: Sheed and Ward, 1928) as well as Bishop Hefele's account in his History of the Councils of the Church, Volume IV (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1895), two excellent and well-respected resources on early Church history, I will try to give a succinct and accessible account of the main outline of what happened and how it relates to papal infallibility.

The Council of Chalcedon had occurred in 451 and had condemned Monophysitism (the idea that Christ did not have truly distinct human and divine natures).  The previous Ecumenical Council, that of Ephesus in 431, had condemned Nestorianism (which exaggerated the distinction of the two natures and, in effect, divided the person of Christ).  There were some in the Church who felt the condemnation of Nestorianism needed to be advanced a little further by the condemnation of writings from three men of the previous century who were felt by some to have had some Nestorianizing tendencies.  The three men were Theodore of Mopsuestia, Ibas of Edessa, and Theodoret of Cyrus.  Both Ibas and Theodoret had been accepted ultimately by the Council of Chalcedon as orthodox (not guilty of Nestorianism), but some since that time had raised questions about the orthodoxy of some sections of their writings.  So the Emperor Justinian, in 544, condemned extracts from the writings of these three men--the extracts became known as the "Three Chapters"--while adding that no disrespect was intended towards the Council of Chalcedon or its decrees.

Justinian pressured the bishops to sign this condemnation, and, under some protest, the leading Eastern patriarchs did so.  Justinian wanted Pope Vigilius to sign as well, but the Western Church strongly opposed the condemnation.  Like the Eastern bishops, they saw it as an affront against Chalcedon.  Pope Vigilius refused to sign the condemnation, so Justinian had him kidnapped and brought forcefully to Constantinople.  (The relationship between the Byzantine emperors and the popes is a complex one, full of many contradictions.  The emperors recognized the authority of the Pope as head of the Church, but they often acted in ways that were inconsistent with that recognition.  But it is beyond my scope to go into this now with any thoroughness.)  After a year and four months of much pressure, as well as further opportunity for studying the issue, Pope Vigilius changed his mind and wrote a document called the Judicatium in which he moderately condemned the Three Chapters.  This was in 548.  This document has been lost, but, according to Hefele, fragments of it are found in other documents.  Vigilius agrees to condemnations, but he insists that all condemnations be consistent with continuing to affirm all the decrees of Chalcedon.  Three years later, commenting on the Judicatium, Vigilius said that "in order to remove present offense, he had condescended, in order to quiet men's minds, he had relaxed the severity of right, and in accordance with the need of the time had ordered things medicinally" (Hefele 257-258, emphasis in original).  This seems to suggest that Vigilius didn't really want to condemn the Three Chapters, but that he had come to the conclusion that, in order to deal with the present controversies and concerns, he could concede to their condemnation provided that they were condemned in a way that avoided any criticism of the decrees of the Council of Chalcedon.

Part of the problem here is that the writings of the Three Chapters could appear somewhat ambiguous, with some reading them in a more Nestorian sense and others reading them in a more orthodox sense.  Also, in some cases, the writers had affirmed the condemnation of Nestorianism at and in response to the Council of Chalcedon and had perhaps rejected some of what they had previously said.  So there is also a distinction between what is in the writings themselves, considered by themselves, and the overall orthodoxy of the writers.  Justinian, accordingly, in his condemnation of the Three Chapters, had been willing to condemn the person of Theodore of Mopsuestia (who had not been dealt with at Chalcedon) as well as his writings, but he had not condemned the persons of Theodoret or Ibas, but only a fragment of their writings.  A great deal of the confusion in the Three Chapters controversy, and a great deal of Vigilius's hesitating and waffling in particular, was owing to these nuances and the difficult question of how to best respond to the writings themselves and the men who wrote them (considering that they had died in full communion with the Church).

Vigilius's Judicatium caused much controversy, especially in the West.  It led to a number of Western churches withdrawing from full communion with Vigilius under the concern that by his Judicatium he had failed to defend Chalcedon.  Some of these schisms lasted for many years.  But the state of schism did not imply that these Western churches had abandoned their sense of the authority of the papacy.  The Illyrian Church, for example, rejected communion with Vigilius on the grounds that "they obeyed St. Leo and the former Popes, and 'must ever hold with the Apostolic Church of the Romans'" (Chapman 236).  Sometimes Protestant and other critics of Catholic doctrine regarding the papacy try to use historical examples like these to argue that the early Church did not accept the doctrine of the papacy, but they fail to take into account the inconsistencies of human beings and how their actions do not always line up with their own principles.  Even today, there is an entire organization, the Society of St. Pius X, which, in theory, is very committed to papal authority and infallibility, but which, inconsistent with this, refuses openly and defiantly to accept the papally-ratified teachings of the Second Vatican Council and most of the teaching of popes subsequently.

Meanwhile, Vigilius remained imprisoned in Constantinople.  Two years after issuing his Judicatium, he withdrew it.  He had once again rethought his response to the controversy.  He decided that no one should make a ruling on the Three Chapters until a General Council could meet to discuss the issue.  During this period, Vigilius continued to endure much persecution, but Justinian did agree to call a General Council.  But this did not end the strife.  Pope Vigilius said he would need to go back to Italy to consult with the other Western bishops before the Council, and he also demanded that an equal number of Westerns as well as Easterns should be allowed to sit at the Council.  Justinian denied both requests, and so Vigilius refused to come to the Council.  Justinian went ahead and had the Council anyway (in 553), but it was mostly attended by Easterns without much Western presence or support.

The Council, while it was going on, continued to summon Pope Vigilius to come, but he continued to refuse.  He agreed, however, to submit something in writing, and eventually he submitted a document that has come to be called the Constitutum.  In this document, Vigilius "refused to condemn the persons of Ibas, Theodoret or Theodore of Mopsuestia, but he does condemn 60 propositions taken from the writings of the latter" (Chapman 234).  Vigilius decided that, in accordance with the previous practice of the Roman See, people who had died should not be posthumously condemned, which is why he refused to condemn Theodore of Mopsuestia.  He noted that Theodoret had repudiated Nestorianism completely at Chalcedon, and so decided that it would be inappropriate to condemn a man for anything in his writings which he himself had condemned and abjured.  He did agree, however, to condemn Nestorian tendencies in any writings in general in which they might be found, without condemning anything in the writings of Theodoret by name.  With regard to Ibas of Edessa, Vigilius noted that the Fathers at Chalcedon had read Ibas's letter and vindicated it and Ibas himself as orthodox, and so he decided that no one should oppose Chalcedon's decision on this matter, noting that Pope Leo previously had condemned the idea of altering anything in the decrees of Chalcedon.  Vigilius closes his Constitutum with these words:  "We ordain and decree that it be permitted to no one who stands in ecclesiastical order or office, to write or bring forward, or undertake, or teach anything contradictory to the contents of this Constitutum in regard to the three chapters, or, after this declaration, begin a new controversy about them.  And if anything has already been done or spoken in regard of the three chapters in contradiction of this our ordinance, by any one whomsoever, this we declare void by the authority of the apostolic see" (Hefele 322-323).

Pope Vigilius sent this Constitutum to the Emperor, who refused to look at it, saying, "If it condemns the Three Chapters, it is useless, as the Pope has already condemned them.  If it defends them, then he is contradicting himself" (Chapman 234).  The Emperor then declared that, by contradicting himself and refusing to go along with the full condemnations of the Three Chapters, the Pope had excommunicated himself, and so he removed the Pope's name from the list of those bishops who are in communion with the Church (the diptychs).  "We have decided that it is not proper for Christians to recite his name in the diptychs, lest we should be found thus to be in communion with Nestorius and Theodore. . . .  But we preserve unity with the Apostolic See, and we are sure that you will preserve it" (Chapman 235, emphasis in original).  The reply of the bishops of the Council:  "The Emperor's view is in harmony with the labours he has undergone for the unity of the holy Churches.  Let us therefore preserve unity with the Apostolic See of the holy Church of Rome according to his letter" (Chapman 235).  Once again, we see the inconsistency of those who opposed Pope Vigilius.  They wanted to have their cake and eat it too.  They wanted to oppose Vigilius, but they knew they could not sever their communion with Rome because it is the head of the churches, so they tried to split a difference that didn't exist (indeed, again, like some dissenting Catholics do today).

The Council then concluded with the condemnation of the Three Chapters:  "We now condemn and anathematise, with all other heretics who have been condemned and anathematised at the four holy Synods, and by the holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, also Theodore, formerly bishop of Mopsuestia, and his impious writings, likewise that which Theodoret wrote impie against the true faith, and against the twelve anathematisms of Cyril, against the first Synod of Ephesus, and in defense of Theodore and Nestorius.  Besides this, we anathematise the impious letter which Ibas is said to have written to Maris, in which it is denied that God the Word became flesh and man of the holy Godbearer and perpetual Virgin Mary.  We also anathematise the three chapters named, i.e. the impious Theodore of Mopsuestia with his mischievous books, and what Theodoret impie wrote, and the impious letter which Ibas is said to have composed, together with their defenders who declare the three chapters to be right, and who sought or shall seek to protect their impiety by the names of holy Fathers or of the Council of Chalcedon" (Hefele 328).

After this, the Emperor exiled the Western bishops, including Pope Vigilius, who refused to submit to the Council's conclusions.

"Alone, seriously ill, after six years of banishment and coercion, all [Vigilius's] attempts at compromise had failed.  Was it best to placate the Emperor and stop the persecution?  After six months he had found a way of explanation.  He had already condemned Theordore of Mopseuestia, but had refused to condemn Ibas and Theodoret.  He issues a long document on February 23th, 554, condemning the extracts from Theodoret and not his person, and arguing diffusely, but not convincingly, that the letter of Ibas was a forgery, and was neither written by him nor approved at Chalcedon.  By this ingenuity he is finally able to condemn the Three Chapters and satisfy the Emperor" (Chapman 235-236).

Vigilius described his change of mind in various letters:  "The enemy of the human race, who sows discord everywhere, had separated him from his colleagues, the bishops assembled in Constantinople.  But Christ had removed the darkness again from his spirit, and had again united the Church of the whole world. . . .  There is no shame in confessing and recalling a previous error; this had been done by Augustine in his Retractations.  He, too, following this and other examples, had never ceased to institute further inquiries on the matter of the three chapters in the writings of the Fathers. . . .  Finally, we subject to the same anathema all who believe that the three chapters referred to could at any time be approved or defended, or who venture to oppose the present anathema.  Those, on the contrary, who have condemned, or do condemn, the three chapters, we hold for brethren and fellow-priests.  Whatever we ourselves or others have done in defense of the three chapters we declare invalid" (Hefele 347-348).

"He further, in the new edict, pronounces a full anathema on the letter in question [the letter to Maris purported to be from Ibas], and on all who maintain that it was declared orthodox by anyone at Chalcedon; he then proceeds to Theodore of Mopsuestia, whom, together with the writings of Theodoret against Cyril, he declares worthy of condemnation, and finally closes with an anathema on all the three chapters together, on their defenders, and on everyone who should maintain that that letter was declared to be orthodox by the Synod of Chalcedon, or by any member of it" (Hefele 351).

Vigilius died before he could ever return to Rome, and his successors in the papacy continued to uphold the validity of the Emperor's Council and its conclusions, which came to be recognized as the Fifth Ecumenical Council.

Do Pope Vigilius's Actions During the Three Chapters Controversy Contradict the Unfailing Reliability of Papal Teaching?

I think the answer to this question must be no.  The main argument that is usually made is that Pope Vigilius contradicted himself and waffled around a lot during the course of the controversy, and that this is incompatible with papal infallibility.  But it isn't.  Remember that the Catholic doctrine is that while all papal teaching is reliable as far as it goes, it is not all definitive or unchangeable.  If the Pope presents a position on something as the final word for all time, then it is to be accepted as precisely that.  But if a Pope presents a position, or makes a decree, and does not communicate that it is the final answer for all time, then no one is obliged to accept it as such (in fact, it would be wrong to accept it as such, because it would violate the Pope's intention in teaching it).  Non-definitive teachings and decrees are to be accepted and followed by Catholics to the extent and in the form required by the Pope, but there is no guarantee that they will not be augmented or even corrected in the future by reconsideration, further information, etc.  In the case of Vigilius and Three Chapters controversy, although at every step of the way Pope Vigilius issued statements with strong language in them, requiring people to submit to them, he never indicated that those statements were intended as definitive.  In fact, we know he didn't intend them as definitive, because, reflecting back upon them at the end of the controversy, he admits that he had learned a lot along the way and thus had changed his mind on some things, and he indicates that this is no more surprising or problematic than it was when St. Augustine did the same thing.  He indicates that throughout the course of the controversy he had "never ceased to institute further inquiries on the matter."

There is a reason why current canon law specifies that "no doctrine is understood as defined infallibly unless this is manifestly evident."  If the Pope commands us to accept or to obey something, we must submit, but, unless he clearly indicates otherwise, we are not thereby warranted to assume that we have the final word on the subject.  Even today, after millennia of reflection on how papal authority works, the Church still tells us not to rely on rigid formulas (like "he used the word 'anathema', or "he used strong language," or "he published his statement in a certain kind of document," etc.) for determining the degree of authority or definitiveness in papal teachings, but instead to rely on common sense and contextual reading (and to seek clarification if it is needed).  If we are to exercise caution in attributing definitive infallibility to the Pope's teaching today, how much more caution do we need when trying to evaluate papal statements we read about in reports made 1,500 years ago in a very alien cultural and historical setting, especially when we know from the benefit of hindsight that a number of those statements could not have been definitive?  For critics to try to latch onto Vigilius's statements during the Three Chapters controversy, insist that they must be understood as definitive, and then assert that by showing how Vigilius changed his mind papal infallibility has been disproved is really to make a spectacularly weak and question-begging argument that ignores all the relevant nuances.

"But," the critic may respond, "Isn't it obvious that Vigilius intended his statements and decrees to be accepted and obeyed, at least at the time that he made them?"  Yes, I think that's right.  Vigilius certainly intended his decrees to be accepted at the time they were made.  It was the duty of Catholics during that time period to follow Vigilius's take on the controversy.  However, since it is clear that Vigilius himself was continuing to learn and reflect throughout the course of the controversy and that he didn't intend his statements as the final word on the subject but rather as a reflection of how things looked to him to the extent of his current knowledge, I don't think we need to assume that the submission required to his decrees would have ruled out intelligent researchers and observers during the time period continuing to reflect upon how best to view what was going on and even to contribute new information and new interpretations to Vigilius if they thought they had something worth considering.  Without rebelling against Vigilius or refusing to assent to his decrees, such observers could have aided the process of Vigilius and all the bishops coming to a more complete understanding of the subject of the controversy and thus a more adequate final conclusion.  In fact, this is no doubt what actually happened.

In conclusion, then, I think we can rule out the Three Chapters affair as constituting any kind of substantial objection to the Catholic doctrine of papal reliability or infallibility.

Published on the feast of St. James the Greater, Apostle and Son of Zebedee