January 18, 2021

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The Limits of Papal Authority

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The Limits of Papal Authority

Most Catholic Laity do not know the limits of Papal Authority. The pope only right when he defines dogma, Laity. Otherwise, it is prudential judgment (hopefully prayerful guesswork). With Francis, often, he gets things wrong.

Doctrinal Limits

The Pope cannot override Dogma (Scripture, Tradition, Infallible Definitions). He is bound to Heaven (see Matt 16:19) like even the Apostles themselves, including the first Pope, the Apostle Peter.

His judgments on day-to-day matters are not binding (Excommunications, War, etc.). His non-infallible (non-dogmatic) teaching can be overturned if it conflicts consistent Catholic practice (see Pastor Aeturnus Chapter 4, Section 9).

Example: If a pope were to teach that Muhammad was a prophet of God, he would not have authority, since Muhammad denied Christ’s Divinity. The pope would be immediately in Apostasy (total repudiation of the faith) since he denies the teachings of Christ, that he is Divine, the Truth, and sole Mediator (see 1 Timothy 2:5).

Practical Limits

Whatever the pope says is not dogma.

Earlier popes set tight restrictions on the Charism of Papal Infallibility. Paragraphs 891 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church & section 25 of Lumen Gentium from the Council of Vatican II.

Limits. It has to be:

  • About faith and morals.
  • Defined.
  • As supreme pontiff (not private opinion), i.e. ex-cathedra.
  • Binding on all the Faithful (not just a person or group).
  • Publically disseminated.

Heresies in the Papal Past

Two examples:

Pope John the XXII taught heresy (denial of immediate entrance to the Beatific Vision, immediate admittance to beholding the face of God). He recanted on his death bed.

Pope Honorious I taught heresy about Monothelitism (that Christ’s divinity and humanity were separate – he was not one Person). He did not recant and was condemned dogmatically by Lateran Council I, which was approved by Pope St. Martin I.

What Are We To Believe?

Holding fast to the Twenty-One Ecumenical Councils. The dogmas in these Councils are a sure foundation of Truth (infallible).

Hold fast to the Two Papal Dogmas (Immaculate Conception, Assumption of Mary). Also to the consistent teaching of the Church as promulgated by Vatican Council I (Pastor Aeternus, Chapter 4, Section 9).

If Papal Teaching ever contradicts these teachings, it is heresy and perhaps Apostasy.

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