Church Fathers on Purgatory

Carracci-Purgatory


This is a small compilation of citations from the early Fathers on the purgatorial process after death for those whose virtue did not expiate all of their sins. You will notice there is representation from the See of Alexandria, the Catechetical school of Jerusalem, , Thmuis (Egypt), Cyrus (Greece), North Africa, France (Gaul), and Rome. I purposefully chose these selections as they prove the doctrine was universal.

** Most English Translations from William Jurgens “Faith of the Early Fathers” (Vol I-III)

St. Clement of Alexandria (150-+215) – “Accordingly the believer, through great discipline, divesting himself of the passions, passes to the mansion which is better than the former one, viz., to the greatest torment, taking with him the characteristic of repentance from the sins he has committed after baptism. He is tortured then still more— not yet or not quite attaining what he sees others to have acquired. Besides, he is also ashamed of his transgressions. The greatest torments, indeed, are assigned to the believer. For God’s righteousness is good, and His goodness is righteous. And though the punishments cease in the course of the completion of the expiation and purification of each one, yet those have very great and permanent grief who are found worthy of the other fold, on account of not being along with those that have been glorified through righteousness.” (Stromata 6.14)

St. Cyril of Jerusalem (315-+386) in his 23rd Catechetical lecture describes the various prayers offered during the sacred liturgy. He comments on that which is for the dead: Then, after the spiritual sacrifice, the bloodless service, is completed, over that sacrifice of propitiation we entreat God for the common peace of the Churches, for the welfare of the world ; for kings; for soldiers and allies; for the sick; for the afflicted; and, in a word, for all who stand in need of succour we all pray and offer this sacrifice.Then we commemorate also those who have fallen asleep before us, first Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, Martyrs, that at their prayers and intercessions God would receive our petition. Then on behalf also of the Holy Fathers and Bishops who have fallen asleep before us, and in a word of all who in past years have fallen asleep among us, believing that it will be a very great benefit to the souls , for whom the supplication is put up, while that holy and most awful sacrifice is set forth. And I wish to persuade you by an illustration. For I know that many say, what is a soul profited, which departs from this world either with sins, or without sins, if it be commemorated in the prayer? For if a king were to banish certain who had given him offense, and then those who belong to them should weave a crown and offer it to him on behalf of those under punishment, would he not grant a remission of their penalties? In the same way we, when we offer to Him our supplications for those who have fallen asleep, though they be sinners, weave no crown, but offer up Christ sacrificed for our sins , propitiating our merciful God for them as well as for ourselves.” (Catechetical Lecture #23)

St. John Chrysostom (349-+407) –  “Not in vain was it decreed by the Apostles that in the awesome mysteries remembrance should be made of the departed. They knew that here there was much gain for them, much benefit. For when the entire people stands with hands uplifted, a priestly assembly, and that awesome sacrificial Victim is laid out, how, when we are calling up God, should we not succeed in their defense? But this is done for those who have departed in the faith, while even the catechumens are not reckoned as worthy of this consolation, but are deprived of every means of assistance except one. And what is that? We may give alms to the poor on their behalf” (Homily #4 Philippians – Patrologia Graeca 66.295 or NewAdvent)

St. Serapion, Bishop of Thmuis, Egypt (+370) – In an 11th century manuscript found in the Mouth Athos Laura by an A. Dimitrijewsky which was determined to be a Euchologion (Missal) and whose authorship is attributed to Serapion of Thmuis. It consists of 30 unique prayers, and dates back to 350 A.D. The Liturgy of Divine Service resembles the so-called Liturgy of St. Mark. F.E. Brightman put the prayers in proper sequence in a published text for the Journal of Theological Studies, Vol. 1 (1900), pp. 880113 and 247-277. The standard text, however, is F.X. Funk’s Didascalia Et Constitutiones Apostolorum, Vol. 2, and can be accessed here in both Greek and Latin. I will quote an English translation found in William Jurgens Vol. II, page 132: “Full also is this Sacrifice, with your strength and your communion; for to You we offer this living sacrifice, this unbloody oblation…we beeseech You also on behalf of all the departed, of whom also this is the commenoration — after the mentioning of their names — Sanctify these souls, for you know them all; sanctify all who have fallen asleep in the Lord and count them all among the ranks of Your saints and give them a place and abode in Your Kingdom.” (Anaphora of the Eucharistic Sacrifice)

St. Epiphanius of Salamis (310-+403) – “Furthermore, as to mentioning the names of the dead, how is there anything useful in that? What is more timely or more excellent than that those who are still here should believe that the departed do live, and that they have not retreated into nothingness, but that they exist and are alive with the Master? And so that this most august proclamation might be told in full, how do they have hope, who are praying for the brethren as if they were but sojourning in a foreign land? Useful too is the prayer fashioned on heir behalf, even if it does not force back the whole of guilty charges laid to them. And it is useful also, because in this world we often stumble either voluntarily or involuntarily, and thus it is a reminder to do better. For we make commenoration of the just and sinners; of sinners , begging God’s mercy for them; of the just and the Fathers and Patriarchs and Prophets and Apostles and Evangelists and martyrs and confessors, and of bishops and solitaries...” (Panarion 75.8)

St. Augustine of Hippo (354-+430) – “There is an ecclesiastical discipline, as the faithful know, when the names of martyrs are read aloud in that place at the Altar of God, where prayer is not offered for them. Prayer, however, is offered for other dead who are remembered. For it is wrong to pray for a martyr, to whose prayers we ought ourselves be commended” (Sermo 159.1)

But by the prayers of the Holy Church, and by the salvific sacrifice, and by the alms which are given for their spirits, there is no doubt that the dead are aided, that the Lord might deal more mercifully with them than their sins would deserve. For the whole Church observes this practice which was handed down by the fathers: that it prays for those who have died in the communion of the body and blood of Christ, when they are commemorated in their own place in the sacrifice itself; and the sacrifice is offered also in memory of them, on their behalf. If, then, works of mercy are celebrated for the sake of those who are being remembered, who would hesitate to recommend them, on whose behalf prayers to God are not offered in vain? It is not at all to be doubted that such prayers are of profit to the dead; but for such of them as lived before their death in a way that makes it possible for these things to be useful to them after death”  (Sermo 172.2)

We read in the book of Maccabees that sacrifice was offered for the dead. But even if it were found nowhere in the Old Testament writings, the authority of the universal Church which is clear on this point is of no small weight, where in the prayers of the priest poured forth to the Lord God at His altar the commendation of the dead has its place” (The Care to be had for the Dead)

Temporal punishments are suffered by some in this life only, by some after death, by some both here and hereafter; but all of them before that last and strictest judgment. But not all who suffer temporal punishments after death will come to eternal punishments, which are to follow after that judgement.” (City of God, Book 21-Ch. 13)

For some of the dead, indeed, the prayer of the Church or of pious individuals is heard; but it is for those who, having been regenerated in Christ, did not spend their life so wickedly that they can be judged unworthy of such compassion, nor so well that they can be considered to have no need of it. As also, after the resurrection, there will be some of the dead to whom, after they have endured the pains proper to the spirits of the dead, mercy shall be accorded, and acquittal from the punishment of the eternal fire. For were there not some whose sins, though not remitted in this life, shall be remitted in that which is to come, it could not be truly said, They shall not be forgiven, neither in this world, neither in that which is to come” (City of God, Book 21- Ch. 24/2)

During the time, moreover, which intervenes between a man’s death and the final resurrection, the soul dwells in a hidden retreat, where it enjoys rest or suffers affliction just in proportion to the merit it has earned by the life which it led on earth. Nor can it be denied that the souls of the dead are benefited by the piety of their living friends, who offer the sacrifice of the Mediator, or give alms in the church on their behalf. But these services are of advantage only to those who during their lives have earned such merit, that services of this kind can help them. For there is a manner of life which is neither so good as not to require these services after death, nor so bad that such services are of no avail after death; there is, on the other hand, a kind of life so good as not to require them; and again, one so bad that when life is over they render no help. Therefore, it is in this life that all the merit or demerit is acquired, which can either relieve or aggravate a man’s sufferings after this life. No one, then, need hope that after he is dead he shall obtain merit with God which he has neglected to secure here. And accordingly it is plain that the services which the church celebrates for the dead are in no way opposed to the apostle’s words: “For we must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he has done, whether it be good or bad” ; for the merit which renders such services as I speak of profitable to a man, is earned while he lives in the body. It is not to every one that these services are profitable. And why are they not profitable to all, except because of the different kinds of lives that men lead in the body? When, then, sacrifices either of the altar or of alms are offered on behalf of all the baptized dead, they are thank-offerings for the very good, they are propitiatory offerings for the not very bad, and in the case of the very bad, even though they do not assist the dead, they are a species of consolation to the living. And where they are profitable, their benefit consists either in obtaining a full remission of sins, or at least in making the condemnation more tolerable.” (The Enchiridion on Faith, Hope and Love – #109-110)

St. Caesar of Arles (470-+543) – ““Although the Apostle has mentioned many grevious sins, we nevertheless, lest we seem to promote despair, will state briefly what they are. Sacrilege, murder, adultery, false witness, theft, robbery, pride, envy, avarice, and, if it is of long standing, anger, drunkenness, if it persistent, and slander are reckoned in their number. For if anyone knows that any of these sins dominates him, if he does not do penance worthily and for a long time, if such time is given him, and if he does not give abundant alms and abstain from those same sins, he cannot be purged in that transitory fire of which the Apostle spoke [1 Cor 3], but the eternal flames will torture him without any remedy. But since the lesser sins are, of course, known to all, and it would take too long to mention them all, it will be necessary for us only to name some of them. As often as someone takes more than is necessary in food or drink, he knows that this belongs to the lesser sins. As often as he says more than he should or is silent more than is proper; as often as he rudely exasperates a poor beggar; as often as he wills to eat when others are fasting, although he is in good physical health, and rises too late for church because he surrendered himself to sleep; as often as he knows his wife without a desire to have children….without a doubt he commits sin. There is no doubt that these and similar deeds belong to the lesser sins which, as I said before, can scarcely be counted and from which not only all Christian people, but even all the Saints, could not and cannot always be free. We do not, of course, believe that the soul is killed by these sins; but still, they make it ugly by covering it as if with some kind of pustules and, as it were, with horrible scabs, which allow the soul o come only with difficulty to the embrace of the heavenly Spouse, of whom it is written: ‘He prepared for Himself a Church having neither spot nor blemish’…If we neither give thanks to God in tribulations nor redeem our own sins by good works, we shall have to remain in that purgaotrial fire as long as it takes for those above-mentioned lesser sins to be consumed like wood and straw and hay. But someone is saying: ‘It is nothing to me how long I stay there, so long as I go finally to eternal life’. Let no one say that, beloved brethren, because that purgatorial fire itself will be more difficult than any punishments that can be seen or imagined or felt in this life” (Sermon 179)

St. Gregory the Great (+604) – “Peter: ‘Desirous I am to be informed, whether we ought to believe that after death there is any fire of Purgatory‘. Gregory: ‘But yet we must believe that before the day of judgment there is a Purgatory fire for certain small sins: because our Saviour saith, that he which speaketh blasphemy against the holy Ghost, that it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, nor in the world to come.66 Out of which sentence we learn, that some sins are forgiven in this world, and some other may be pardoned in the next: for that which is denied concerning one sin, is consequently understood to be granted touching some other. But yet this, as I said, we have not to believe but only concerning little and very small sins, as, for example, daily idle talk, immoderate laughter, negligence in the care of our family (which kind of offences scarce can they avoid, that know in what sort sin is to be shunned), ignorant errors in matters of no great weight: all which sins be punished after death, if men procured not pardon and remission for them in their lifetime: for when St. Paul saith, that Christ is the foundation: and by and by addeth: And if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble: the work of every one, of what kind it is, the fire shall try. If any man’s work abide which he built thereupon, he shall receive reward; if any mans work burn, he shall suffer detriment, but himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire.6For although these words may be understood of the fire of tribulation, which men suffer in this world: yet if any will interpret them of the fire of Purgatory, which shall be in the next life: then must he carefully consider, that the Apostle said not that he may be saved by fire, that buildeth upon this foundation iron, brass, or lead, that is, the greater sort of sins, and therefore more hard, and consequently not remissible in that place: but wood, hay, stubble, that is, little and very light sins, which the fire doth easily consume. Yet we have here further to consider, that none can be there purged, no, not for the least sins that be, unless in his lifetime he deserved by virtuous works to find such favour in that place.” (Dialogues – Book 4, Ch 39)

 

 

The Epistle to the Romans – A Tridentine Catholic Interpretation (Part 1)

 

Concilio-di-Trento-pittore_Olandese_XVII_sec

Council of Trent (1545-1563)

I remember when I was a Protestant examining the Catholic doctrine of justification as outlined by the Council and Trent and seeking my best to get past the very clear statements in the Book of Romans, which I had grown so attached to over years and years of reading the Great Protestant commentaries, which stated in such clear terms that a “man is justified by faith apart from works” and that “to the one who works [for justification], the wages are not counted as grace, but as debt” and “to the one who does not work [for justification], but rather has faith in God who justifies the ungodly, [as opposed to working for it], his faith is credited as righteousness“. All of this still seems to indicate that Paul really did have in mind the exclusivity of faith without any works in the attainment of the grace of justification. I also remember growing increasingly doubtful when listening to or reading scholarly works done by Catholics who were interpreting the text of Romans. There was either a reduction of Paul’s “justification” to some purely initiatory grace, where thereafter one is saved by works, or there was a reduction of “Law” or “Works” to that of the external Jewish boundary-markers. Even if emphasis might have been on circumcision or table fellowship with the unclean were to be given, it seems clear to me that even “Works” of the moral kind (properly qualified) Peter_Paul_Rubens_-_The_Crucified_Christ_-_WGA20190are excluded from justification , after all, it is stated by St. Paul that “by the deeds of the Law shall no man be justified, for by the Law comes the knowledge of sin“, and likewise, “if it were not for the Law, I would not have known sin“, and again, “for if the Law had not said ‘You shall not covet’, I would not have known coveting“, and lastly, “But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire. For apart from the Law sin was dead. I was alive once without the Law, but when the commandment came, sin came to life and I died“. I take “by the Law comes the knowledge of sin“, therefore, not as intellectual cognition of a moral prohibition, but “knowledge” as in experiential knowledge. St. Paul came to experience sin through the Law since it was through the Law that sin, personified here as a power which overtakes, seized opportunity to tempt the body to give way to breaking the commandment. Thus, it is for this reason, namely, the weakness of the flesh, that man cannot be justified by Law. And if that is the case, then it is all encompassing. It is on account of the weakness of fallen humanity that the Law could never fulfill its telos (goal), and therefore the content of “Law” must exceed purely external Jewish boundary markers. On the other hand, Paul seems to believe that, upon becoming “justified”, one has the “hope of eternal life”, and rejoices is hope “of the glory of God”. How can a purely initiatory grace secure such a thing if it were not of some permanent application ? For these reasons, and many more, the Catholic who upholds Trent will have to provide better reasoning from the text of Romans on how its decrees and canons are truly Pauline, and thus an accurate reflection of the God-inspired teaching. How then can a Catholic, who is bound by the decrees and definitions of the Council of Trent, avoid the accusation that he or she is contradicting the word of God?

Rather than do a very detailed exposition of the text of Romans, for which I recommend Dr. Levering or Aquinas, I thought I would just summarize the major parts of the epistle which span from the beginning to the marker ending chapter 4, which seems to be the most controversial in the debate between Protestants and Catholics. I’ve added “Part 1” to the title of this post since I want to eventually move into Romans 5-8, and then 9-10 on a future point of time.

Romans 1:18-3:20 – Having opened up his epistle by introducing himself as the divinely appointed Apostle for the mission of God in bringing all nations into the “obedience of faith” in the crucified and risen Lord Jesus, who transitioned in Himself the old creation to the new, St. Paul states the crux of the gospel and the reason for which he is dedicated to the mission. The gospel of Christ carries with it the power of God for the salvation of mankind, since in it the “righteousness of God” is revealed for all and everyone who are believing in Jesus Christ. Following this, he goes into the reason why this salvation is so desperately needed. Humanity has plumbed the depths of sin by evil deeds, and are

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Fr. Martin Luther

consequently standing under the righteous judgment of their God and Creator. A fixed day there is wherein God will reveal the secrets and deeds of men, and each individually will receive his merited destination, whether that is the tortures of eternal damnation via the guilt of sinning, or the happiness of eternal life via the quality of good works. However, both Jews and Gentiles are both alike under the dominion of sin, and therefore the Law and Commandments of God have no utility in providing a way to clean up the situation of man. In fact, it only serves a revelatory purpose, i.e. to expose man as those who have violated the will of God, whether encoded in the Law of Moses or on the conscience by nature. St. Paul concludes that, given the nature of things, mankind is indicted and falls guilty before God, completely disabled from obtaining liberation from the shackles of condemnation. This is precisely what the Synod fathers of Trent saw on January 13th, 1547 when, in the 1st chapter on the “Decree of Justification”. They wrote that humanity is “so far the servants of sin, and under the power of the devil and of death, that not the Gentiles only by the force of nature, but not even the Jews by the very letter itself of the law of Moses, were able to be liberated, or to arise, therefrom; although free will, attenuated as it was in its powers, and bent down, was by no means extinguished in them.

Romans 3:21-26 – After consigning all to sin and, consequently, the condemnation which goes with it, Paul returns to this thematic phrase of the “righteousness of God” and its being “made known” by the revelation of Jesus Christ. Whereas the sin of man would be the cause of self-ruin, it is the righteousness of God that would undo and overturn that ruin. This righteousness is a saving righteousness, meant to deliver man from sin and replant him as a righteous child of God. Luther got it right, borrowing from St. Augustine, when he understood this righteousness is not that by which God is Himself righteous, but that righteousness with which, by bestowing it as a gift to man, God makes human beings righteous. It is then stated by Paul that this righteousness is communicated to man “through faith in Jesus Christ”. Thus far, it is clear that by believing in Jesus Christ, man receives this righteousness from God as a gift. The reception of this righteousness is tantamount to the justification of the recipient. And thus, Paul says we are

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St. Augustine of Hippo

“justified freely by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood“. Now, the idea of “redemption” comes into play here, and it fits the context perfectly. For redemption language in the 1st century was that of freeing something from bondage, servitude, or slavery (i.e. from the slave market). Human beings have been described as such slaves, and their destiny in that state was condemnation and death. It stands to reason, therefore, that the path of reversal unto justification and life would be by an act of setting man free, breaking his chains, and purchasing his liberation from that bondage. The redemption which is in Christ is effected by a “propitiation by His blood”. There it is. The cause of redemption is the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ. It is the payment, as it were, which buys the human race out of its enslavement to sin, its influential power, and the reign of death which inevitably exists as consequence. By “propitiation“, Paul means that the justice of God which demands retributive punishment against sinners has been averted by Christ’s death. Another way to put it is that the death of Jesus removes from us the guilt we deserve to carry for committing sins, and thus reconciles us to God. In sum, the fallen human race, devoid of the righteousness needed in order to live in a salvific state with God forever, is shown the way of achieving life-giving righteousness by believing in Jesus Christ, whose death secures man’s liberation from the slavery of sin. The Law of God, therefore, is no way for man to become justified before God. Only by this intervention of the Creator in Jesus Christ where a divine Savior takes upon Himself the means to end our dreadful condition. Human works played no role in this. It was, from beginning to end, a work of divine operation. It was He who humbled Himself to become Man, to throw Himself down under the weight of crucifixion while bearing our sins in His own body, and who raised Himself out of the grave and returned to heaven. Kryie Eileson.

Romans 4:1-25 Having described the salvific process of justification from this divine action in the dying and rising Lord, man is left as a recipient of an insurmountable gift which excludes all appeals to human merits for its achievement. It would be by a latter allusion to an Old Testament passage that St. Paul would say something like “Do not say in your heart ‘who will ascend into heaven’, (that is to bring Christ down), or ‘who will descend into the abyss’, *that is to bring Christ up from the dead)”, but rather these divine actions have already been accomplished by the power of almighty God. It was Christ who was sent by God the Father, and was made man, and it was God who raised Him from the dead. No man can ascend into heaven to bring Christ down, nor can any man go into the depths of the tomb and resurrect Christ from the dead. These actions are Christ_on_the_cross_(1631),_by_Rembrandtinfinitely outside the purview of human ability. They are performed and done by God, and we are left as recipients of its bounty, and thus our mouths are sealed shut from boasting any contributory effort on our part in this glorious redemption. This was, after all, God’s intention – “that no flesh would glory in His presence”. It is for this reason that St. Paul compared the justifying activity of God to the birth of Isaac. It was another death-to-life transition outside the purview of human ability. Sarah’s womb being dead, and Abraham’s body being around 100 years old, the birth of a baby is unthinkable. But it was for the purpose of showing by whose hand that child is born that God waited that long. In the same way, St. Paul is showing us that sinful and fallen humanity is so far outside the sphere of righteousness and life that it was God alone, acting supernaturally in Christ-made-man, that could restore him to the purposes of eternal life originally revealed to our first parents, albeit prototypically. The Law comes and demands from the human being that which he cannot give, namely, righteousness. The cross and resurrection of Christ, indeed, set aside the works of man, and opens the treasure chest of God’s grace to be opened and released upon the believing community.

Now, to the text. Paul says “What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited unto him as righteousness’. Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace, but as a debt [owed]. But to him who does not work but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness” (4:1-5)

When he writes “according to the flesh”, I take it as “according to human nature”, or that which is within the boundary of human capacity and ability. Has Abraham, then, performed anything in said capacity which earns his right-standing with God? Paul answers in the negative by stating an “if-then” which would be impossible in light of God’s purposes. If Abraham was justified by works [in the flesh], he would have something to boast about. A perfect unpacking of this concept is in Philippians 3, where Paul describes his fleshly pedigree as fully authentic Benjamin Israelite, a Pharisee of the elite, sworn in compliance with the Law, and circumcised on the proper 8th day. What has Paul found according to the flesh before God? Paul answers –  ζημίαν and σκύβαλα. Tridentinum2That is, loss and dung (i.e. excrement or animal waste).  That last word only comes up once in the New Testament, and squarely to describe what man might be able to surmount as worthy for his salvation before God. That should be informative, to say the least. Needless to say, therefore, that Paul found nothing according to the flesh by which he could be justified, and neither Abraham. And yet, we know that Abraham and Paul were justified before God. On what account?

“Abraham believed God”, and consequently, he was justified. Rather, it says “faith was credited for righteousness”. His believing in the word of promise, “Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them…so shall your descendants be” (Gen 15:5), was calculated, imputed, reckoned, or credited as righteousness. Again, this reflects the intention of God to Himself come and bring life from the dead. To establish a nation from one man who will be God’s priestly people, and through whom the world would find blessing (Gen 12:1-3) would be, in God’s plan, a supernatural and divine work outside the scope of human ability. Now, Abraham himself may have entertained some natural solutions to that end, i.e. Hagar, but it was soon squashed by the divine will, “In Isaac shall your descendant[s] be called”. God won’t have helpers, in other words. Truly, “not him who runs, but God who calls“. So Abraham’s believing in the divine word is credited as righteousness. Now, is this another way of showcasing the flesh? After all, could not Abraham say “I boast in my faith! I have faith and you don’t. I am righteous”. Not by any means. Faith is a gift from above. Abraham had to renounce his resolve to depend on what is natural, and rather to trust in divine operation. What God promises will come true, and that is that. But this faith which God worked into Abraham’s life is the result of a sanctifying work. It was ordered unto God, and God deemed it as righteousness. Now, this has to be an act of grace, otherwise the whole argument collapses. So what do Catholics do at this point? We first understand that Abraham’s believing in God is itself a gift, and not a work. We would not say that this faith is a mere intellectual recognition, but it is formed by devotion and a heart which seeks the will of God. Now, one might object – “But if faith is anything but a mere open hand of the ungodly to receive an alien righteousness, then we are destroying the argument since faith must be mutually exclusive to works, and by you saying ‘faith formed by devotion and a heat which seeks the will of God’ you are merging faith and works together, and thereby causing collapse of the context“. I am afraid that this objection, though wonderfully welcomed, will not stand up to a consideration of what Paul says elsewhere in Romans. My rebuttal follows.

In Romans 2, Paul says “For circumcision is indeed profitable if you keep the Law; but if you are a breaker of the Law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. Therefore, if an uncircumcised man keeps the righteous requirements of the Law, will not his circumcision be counted as circumcision? And will not the physically uncircumcised, if he fulfills the Law, judge you who, even with your written code and physical circumcision, are a transgressor of the Law? For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men, but from God” (Rom 2:25-29). In some Protestant circles, this hypothetical man who fulfills the Law is just that, hypothetically. As such, Paul is only entertaining a fiction for the sake of argument. And this commitment to interpret as hypothetical is rooted in the fact that, from a Protestant vantage, a man, even uncircumcised, who fulfills the Law is a man who is justified by his works, and can therefore boast before God. In fact, what Paul describes here about the man who fulfills the Law would be, in some schools of Protestant interpretation of Romans, only realized historically in Jesus Christ. But that certainly would be news to Paul who elsewhere says that we, by the power of the Spirit, can and do fulfill the “righteous requirement of the Law” (8:3-4), when we walk in the power of that Spirit. But even then, some Protestant interpreters have managed to squeeze even into the 8th chapter of Romans the idea that this is merely putative, that Christ’s fulfillment of the Law is imputed to us and thus becomes our fulfilling of the Law Sarpi_Historia(i.e. by an act of transfer from a substitute). But that this is truly manipulative should be seen how in both Romans 8:3-4 and Romans 2:25-29, there is this referring to the Spirit of God who transforms the inner man so that he might serve God in obedience. Another text where this transition from serving by the Letter versus the Spirit is Romans 7:1-5. There we are told that prior to union with Christ, we were enslaved to the passions of the body, and that the Letter of the Law would serve the purpose of increasing our debt to death. But by being united to Christ, we’ve become dead to the Law, alive to God, and now serve in the newness of the Spirit, and not in the oldness of the Letter. And finally, another passage in Paul would be 2 Cor 3:1-18, and there he compares the Letter vs. Spirit dichotomy with the Old Covenant vs. New Covenant reality, and further describes the latter dichotomy with the Old/Letter being the external inscription of the Law on tablets of stone and the New/Spirit being the internal inscription of the Law on the heart [i.e. the inward, a la Rom 2:28-29]. For these reasons, Paul in 2:25-29 envisions Gentiles who have been inwardly sanctified by the Spirit, and not the Letter, and who “fulfill the righteous requirements of the Law”, but nevertheless have no place for boasting (i.e. whose praise is not from men, but from God-v29). This is extremely crucial for understanding those passages of Romans where Paul speaks of the justifying of fallen humanity by faith apart from the Law, and thus by grace apart from works. It does not simply refer to the initiatory moment of justification-at-conversion, but is a more general process beginning with baptism (6:1) and continuing in our struggle against the flesh (8:11-13). The idea that we are “justified by faith and sanctified by struggle” is therefore miles away from Paul.

In addition to all of this, there are widely respected Protestant New Testament scholars who interpret the “uncircumcised Gentile” (v. 25-27) who “fulfills the righteous requirements of the Law” as members of the New Covenant who have had the Spirit of God write the Law on their hearts, and thus, as Jeremiah and Ezekial put it, walk in the commandments and statutes of the Lord. Senior lecturer in New Testament at the Melbourne School of Theology, Dr. Colin Kruse, in his commentary on the epistle to the Romans (The Pillar New Testament Commentary Series edited by D.A. Carson) argues for this view (p. 155); Dr. Thomas Schreiner, Professor of New Testament Interpretation at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS), argues for the same position, contra Moo (p. 171) and Fitzmyer (p. 322), in his commentary on Romans (pgs. 139-41). He also refers readers to Garlington’s “Faith, Obedience, and Perseverance: Aspects of Paul’s Letter to the Romans” (pgs. 58, 62-63, 68). Interestingly enough, Schreiner recently revised his interpretation of an earlier passage (Romans 2:14-15) on Paul’s saying that “when Gentiles, who do not have the Law, by nature do the things in the Law“, now interpreting this as Gentiles who are members of the New Covenant and thus “do the law“. Dr. Michael F. Bird blogs on this, and refers to an interview-podcast (Episode 41) where Schreiner gives account for it. And last but not least, the popular Romans Commentary by Cranfield (p. 174) also argues the same interpretation I am giving here.

Now, going back to the justification of Abraham. His faith in the promise was reckoned as the righteousness by which he is justified before God. I want to focus our attention on the question of why faith was reckoned for righteousness. If you read Protestant commentaries on Romans 4 and Abraham’s justification, the focus is put on how faith has to be wholly dichotomous from works in order for Paul’s gift versus debt dichotomy; and rightly so. But the conclusion they often come to is that faith, in itself, cannot consist of anything in the person possessing it other than an empty-hand by which to receive the merits of Christ. “Not the labors of my hands, Can fulfill thy law’s demands….Nothing in my hand I bring, Simply to thy cross I cling” is how the Rock of Ages goes. This is very true so far as it goes. But if we keep our finger on the text of Romans, we have some additional information on how Paul himself understands this transaction of Abraham’s faith and the righteousness which was imputed to him.

In verses 16-22, Paul further describes the rationale for his appeal to Abraham. He is the father of all who believe, an thus, his justification is likewise the pre-eminent example of the justification of all. As the father is justified, so also the sons [of Abraham]. Paul writes: “..Abraham, who is the father of us all (as it is written, ‘I have made you a father of many nations’) in the presence of Him whom he believed — God, who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did; who, contrary to hope, in hope believed, so that he became the fathers of many nations, according to what was spoken, ‘So shall your descendants be’. And not being weak in faith, he did not consider his own body, already dead (since he was about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah’s womb. He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform. And therefore, ‘it was accounted to him for righteousness’“. Notice there, at the end, the “therefore”. Righteousness was imputed to Abraham’s faith because of a reason, and the reason he gives here is not a conversion-moment in the life of Abraham where he got on his knees and prayed a prayer for the reception of Christ’s alien righteousness (or even in a way that this might look in the Patriarchal context, to avoid anachronism) , but rather a progressive life-style which, though having a beginning (Gen 12:1-3), continues on and overcomes challenges. This is why Paul goes into detail of mentioning the obstacles that would normally have constituted a blockade in the progressive life of Abraham. Where some might grow weak in unbelief, he was strengthened in faith. Where one might succumb to the lack of evidence, Abraham persevered contrary to hope (i.e. the unlikely exception from a human stand-point). Where one might waver and desist from continuing with God’s plan in obedience to God by suffering unanswered questions, lack of earthly prosperity, wandering in deserts and mountains, dens, and caves of the earth, as the author to Hebrews says (11:38), Abraham continued to follow and trust the divine word of promise. All of this constitutes the reason for why Abraham’s faith was credited for righteousness. So where Protestants might want to work at chopping down the merits of faith, albeit by the power of God, in order to sustain the grace versus works dichotomy, Paul doesn’t see the need to do so. He can, in fact, add great value and merit to Abraham’s faith, and even base this as a reason for its accreditation as righteousness, and still see in there no debt-to-wages consequent. This is because, for Paul, the life of faith in the divine promise hinges off a totally different dynamic than the Letter of the Law. Where the Letter, confronting fallen and unredeemed humanity, commands and threatens death upon all non-compliance (i.e. cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the Law to do them – Gal 3:10) , the New Covenant, standing in front of a redeemed saint who is joined ontologically with the glorified Christ, establishes the gift of eternal life from the get-go, and states that one must co-operate with this possession of life by living out its implications (i.e. give up the old man who was crucified, put on the new man who is renewed in the image of God). This can be well reflected by the indicative-imperative relationship. The grace of Christ in the New Covenant indicates an already present and accomplished reality, namely, that via one’s initial baptism into Christ, one is is en-grafted into the post-death resurrection life (which implies the forgiveness promised by the New Covenant in Jeremiah/Ezekiel), and is imperatively called to live out this practically.  Whereas the former indicative-imperative lacked the indication of being redeemed, and nevertheless imposed Laws which would never be able to be kept.

In this way, Abraham’s justification is the example of all, both Jews and Gentiles. But that hardly means we can reduce the justifying act to a mere moment of conversion whereby a single transaction comes into permanence, such as the imputation of alien righteousness which alone is received by the empty-hand of faith. This sort of concept clashes with Paul’s robust grounding of Abraham’s imputed righteousness in the progressive and persevering journey of faith. And even if one wished to say that all Paul was doing was describing the “type of faith” which proves to be the type which, at origin, received the imputed righteousness, that one is still in conflict with the fact that this momentary justification is nowhere described or stated by Paul. The passage where Moses writes Abraham’s faith was imputed for righteousness is in fact some time of his life after he initially believed in Genesis 12. And neither in Genesis or Romans, nor in any other verse of the New Testament, are we directed to pay any attention to Abraham’s momentary justification in Genesis 12.

One couldn’t escape criticism if they did not comment something on the issue of sola fide. At times, Catholics have responded to Protestant exegesis by saying that Paul does not say “faith alone” , therefore leaving room for “faith plus works”. Well, Paul does sort of exclude works from faith altogether. But here is the key to understanding. When Paul says works, he does not mean all activity and obedience performed from whatever frame of reference. For instance, Paul does not think that our works done “in Christ” and “in the Spirit” are a fruit of human nature and thus something which puts God in strict debt. They are the work of God in and through us. A passage from an ancient Pope of the 6th century, St. Gregory the Great (+604), speak beautifully to this concept:

“If whatever good there is in us is a gift of Almighty God, so that in our virtues there is nothing of our own, why do we seek an eternal reward, as if for our merits? But if such goodness as we have is not the gift of Almighty God, why do we give thanks for it to Almighty God? It must be understood that our wickedness are entirely our own, but our goodnesses pertain both to Almighty God and to ourselves; for He anticipates us with His inspiration so that we may will, and He follows us with His support, so that we do not will in vain, but may be able to carry out what we will. By prevenient grace, therefore, and by subsequent good will, that which is a gift of Almigthy God becomes our merit.” (Homilies on Ezekiel, 1.9.2)

And two from St. Prosper of Aquitaine (390-+455), a disciple of St. Augustine :

Indeed, a man who has been justified, that is, who from impious has been made pious, since he had no antecedent good merit, receives a gift, by which gift he may also acquire merit. Thus, what was begun in him by Christ’s grace can also be augmented by the industry of his free choice; but never in the absence of God’s help, without which no one is able either to progress or to continue in doing good” (Responses to Objections raised in Gaul, Resp. Ad. Obj. 6)

Since there can be no doubt that perseverance in good even to the end is a gift of God, — which , it is clear, some , from the very fact that they have no persevered, never had, — it is in no way a calumniation of God to say that these were not given what was given to others; rather, it is to be confessed both that He gave mercifully what He did give, and He withheld justly what He did not give, so that, although the cause of man’s falling away originates in free choice, the cause of his standing firm does not likewise have its origins in himself. If falling away is done by human effort, standing firm is accomplished b means of a divine gift” (Resp. Ad. Obj. 7)

Therefore, when Paul excludes works, he means works done by the capacity of human nature, wherefrom anything done to merit salvation *would* allow boasting. However,  the working unto eschatological salvation, after having been saved by the Holy Spirit through the cross and resurrection of Christ, is not done by human capacity, it leaves no room for boasting; and that was proven from the Gentile law-fulfiller the Paul described in Romans 2:25-29 which even Protestants scholars have admitted is the case.  This is the logic which undergirds the grace versus works paradigm in Paul.

Finally, I want to point out that Paul has another example of the imputation of righteousness apart from works, and thus the justification (3:24) that comes through Christ, in the cited Pslam of King David. Following Abraham’s justification, Paul continues with the following:

“But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness,  just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works: ‘Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; Blessed is the man to whom the Lord shall not impute sin'”

Much ink has been put to parchment and paper over the significance of this passage. I want to save many the difficulty by saying that all the King here is describing is a person who has the guilt of their sins forgiven. Some commentators, usually from the Protestant camp, have stressed over the fact that while Paul is seeking to defend the positive imputation of righteousness, he appeals to a negative [non] imputation of sin. The solution is very simple. Where Paul reads that a man has his sins *not* counted against him, that man is being counted as sinless, i.e. righteous.  Now, this passage comes from the Old Testament Pslams, all of which know that the Lord God only forgives those who repent and turn back from their wicked ways. Repentance, therefore, is assumed behind the text. One thinks of the famous 18th chapter of Ezekiel where God says that only “when a wicked man turns away from the wickedness which he committed, and does what is lawful and right, he preserves himself alive. Because he considers and turns away from all the transgressions which he committed, he shall surely live; he shall not die” (v. 27-28) . Not to put the focus on repentance as if that is the justifying righteousness of God, but I mention that here only to show that the inward cleansing is not divorced from the act of forgiveness. In any case, what interests me the most about this passage is that it is strikingly different than the example of Abraham. In Genesis 15:6, Abraham is not confessing his sins to God in order to be pardoned and forgiven, but is rather hearing and believing the promise of God. And yet, from either passage, Paul sees the “imputation of righteousness apart from works”. This may be because the first audience that Paul has in mind is the questioning Israelite who, in the Jew & Gentile relations which constitute the historical background, would have bickered about the fact that male Gentile-converts to Christianity, under Paul and others, were not receiving circumcision, nor were they all, both males and females, being instructed to obey the laws of festivals, sabbaths, and food restrictions. Here is a case where two pre-eminent Saints of the Isralite patrimony who are not only justified by faith and repentance, but one of them is so justified *prior to circumcision*.  But even aside from this, one may continue to wonder, given all the systematic detail on imputation that Reformed scholars have adduced from the Scripture, and particularly this very chapter in Romans, just why it is that an example of forgiveness and faith in a promise would be used as examples of the imputation of righteousness apart from works. I think the answer to this question is best put by drawing on to a more Catholic, and thus historic, understanding of salvation; where emphasis in the Reformed is put on the moment of conversion and the immediate transference of Christ’s once-for-all and fully-completed righteousness (active/passive obedience) to the believers account, in the Catholic tradition the justification of fallen humanity only begins with the initial washing away of sin and the internal renovation of the inward man by the Holy Spirit, but continues on in life, and even is not complete until we are one-day made fully perfect in glory. Perhaps this would make the most sense of another passage where Paul distinctively, and curiously, sets the imputed righteousness in eschatological framework – “ For we through the Spirit eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love.” (Gal 5:5-6).  And, perhaps a following passage in the same epistle [to the Galatians] would be a corresponding analogy which more fully describes justification in its progressive and eschatological reality: “ Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.  For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.  Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.” (Galatians 6:7-10). Once again, this “sowing to the Spirit” and “doing good”, i.e. living in obedience and fulfilling the righteous requirements of the Law (Rom 8:3-4), is still a condition for the ultimate and future enjoyment of eternal life, and yet in the previous passage, the whole of life is characterized by “For we through the Spirit eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness by faith”. 

Concluding Remarks –  The Catholic who wants to be able to joyfully ,and with intellectual rigor, interpret the text of Romans in a way which reflects the canons and decrees of the Holy Council of Trent should, by the above commentary, be given a gloss to start off from. But the Protestant might still be left scratching his head, reviewing texts which further disprove the Catholic interpretive breadth on faith,works, grace, and the Spirit. Only by a one-on-one dialogue can all questions and concerns be answered, but I thought I would add something to wrap up what I’ve said here and tie together the event of the cross and resurrection with the imputation of righteousness. In Romans 3:21-26, we are told that it is the sacrifice of Jesus which effects propitiation (and this was defined as the abrogation of contention between humans and God because of the punishment, in justice, due to sin) which in turn constitutes the redemptive ransom or payment through which we are set free from the bondage of sin. Both Abraham and David are examples used of persons who have been, through their faith and commitment to God, were set free from sin and brought into a Spiritual relationship with God. Of course, this could only be so by a timeless application of the Spirit’s grace before Christ, but which nevertheless is merited by the His death which was to come in the future. Since the example of King David’s Psalm on the forgiveness of sins and that of Abraham’s faith and persevering faithfulness to God were the examples used to describe “imputed righteousness apart from works” (Abraham’s faithfulness not being a product of works done in the flesh, but in the grace of the Spirit, thereby based entirely off a different dynamic which would make Abraham putting God in debt), we can say with confidence that justification, for Paul, is both the washing away of the guilt of sins, the internal renewal of the human person to live in obedience to God, and one’s perseverance in the difficult which comes with the journey of faith. But here’s the kicker. That is precisely the definition of justification given by the Council of Trent. I close with the relevant citation.

“Of this justification the causes are these: the final [cause] indeed is the glory of God and of Christ, and eternal life; while the efficient cause is the merciful God, who gratuitously washes and sanctifies, sealing, and anointing with the holy Spirit of promise, who is the earnest of our inheritance; but the meritorious cause is His most beloved only-begotten, our Lord Jesus Christ, who, when we were enemies, for the great charity wherewith he loved us, merited justification for us by His most holy Passion on the wood of the cross, and for us made satisfaction unto God the Father; the instrumental cause, moreover, is the sacrament of baptism, which is the sacrament of faith, without which justification never befall any man; lastly, the sole formal cause is the justice of God; not that by which He himself is just, but that by which He maketh us just, that, to wit, with which we, being endowed by Him, are renewed in the spirit of our mind, and we are not only reputed, but are truly called, and are, just, receiving justice within us, each one according to his own measure, which the Holy Ghost divides to every man severally as He will, and according to each one’s proper disposition and co-operation. For, although no one can be just, but he to whom the merits of the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ are communicated, yet is this brought to pass in this justification of the impious, when, by the merit of that same most holy Passion, the charity of God is shed abroad, by the Holy Ghost, in the hearts of those who are justified, and is inherent in them; whence man, in the said justification through Jesus Christ, into whom he is ingrafted, receives, together with the remission of sins, all these things infused at once, faith, hope, and charity. For faith, unless to it be added hope and charity, neither unites [man] perfectly with Christ, nor makes him a living member of His body. For which reason it is most truly said, that Faith without works is dead, and idle; and In Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but faith which worketh by charity. This faith catechumens beg of the Church, agreeably to a tradition of the apostles, previously to the sacrament of baptism; when they beg for the faith which bestoweth life everlasting, which, without hope and charity, faith cannot bestow. Whence also do they straightway hear that word of Christ: If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. Wherefore, when receiving true and Christian justice, they, immediately on being born again, are commanded to preserve it pure and spotless, as the first rabe, given unto them through Jesus Christ, instead of that which Adam, by his disobedience, lost for himself and for us, that so they may bear it before the tribunal of our Lord Jesus Christ, and may have life everlasting.” (Chapter 7, Decree on Justification)

St. Caesarius of Arles (465-542) – A Western and Eastern Saint Teaches Beautifully on Purgatorial Fire and Penitential Satisfaction

Césaire_d'Arles_retable_de_la_cathédrale_Saint-Siffrein_de_Carpentras

St. Caesarius of Arles (+AD 468-542) , born in Chalon-sur-Saône Eastern France, a very able and well-known Bishop in Merovingian Gaul,a strong proponent of asceticism in the West, having been greatly influenced by St. John Cassian, St. Julius Pomerius, and St. Augustine, and, according to Church historian William Jurgens, was the most influential Bishop in Gaul of his time. As monk of the monastery of Lerins he was a deep contemplative, as well as committed to poverty and distribution to the poor. However, he was also a vigorous opponent of semi-Pelagianism, and even presided over the 2nd Council of Orange in AD 529, which received Papal approval thereafter. His life impacted so many that a 2-volume biography was made of him by 5 close friends. His feast is August 27th, and he is venerated equally by the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches.

So much could be adduced from his writings to demonstrate the Patristicity of Catholic doctrine, but I wanted to pull from one of his sermons (Sermo 179) which speaks beautifully to the doctrine of  post-mortem purgatorial fire, the need to perform penance, and the danger of hoping for purgatory . He writes:

“Although the Apostle has mentioned many grevious sins, we nevertheless, lest we seem to promote despair, will state briefly what they are. Sacrilege, murder, adultery, false witness, theft, robbery, pride, envy, avarice, and, if it is of long standing, anger, drunkenness, if it persistent, and slander are reckoned in their number. For if anyone knows that any of these sins dominates him, if he does not do penance worthily and for a long time, if such time is given him, and if he does not give abundant alms and abstain from those same sins, he cannot be purged in that transitory fire of which the Apostle spoke [1 Cor 3], but the eternal flames will torture him without any remedy. But since the lesser sins are, of course, known to all, and it would take too long to mention them all, it will be necessary for us only to name some of them. As often as someone takes more than is necessary in food or drink, he knows that this belongs to the lesser sins. As often as he says more than he should or is silent more than is proper; as often as he rudely exasperates a poor beggar; as often as he wills to eat when others are fasting, although he is in good physical health, and rises too late for church because he surrendered himself to sleep; as often as he knows his wife without a desire to have children….without a doubt he commits sin. There is no doubt that these and similar deeds belong to the lesser sins which, as I said before, can scarcely be counted and from which not only all Christian people, but even all the Saints, could not and cannot always be free. We do not, of course, believe that the soul is killed by these sins; but still, they make it ugly by covering it as if with some kind of pustules and, as it were, with horrible scabs, which allow the soul o come only with difficulty to the embrace of the heavenly Spouse, of whom it is written: ‘He prepared for Himself a Church having neither spot nor blemish’…If we neither give thanks to God in tribulations nor redeem our own sins by good works, we shall have to remain in that purgaotrial fire as long as it takes for those above-mentioned lesser sins to be consumed like wood and straw and hay. But someone is saying: ‘It is nothing to me how long I stay there, so long as I go finally to eternal life’. Let no one say that, beloved brethren, because that purgatorial fire itself will be more difficult than any punishments that can be seen or imagined or felt in this life” 

Pope Honorius the Heretic! – Achilles Heel for Catholicism and the Papacy?

EB1911_Greek_Art_-_Fight_over_the_Body_of_Achilles

Fight over Achilles’s Body

Following the Council of Constantinople III (A.D. 681), Pope St. Leo II confirmed the decrees of the Council in his letter to the Byzantine Emperor Constantine IV. Dated May 7, 682, the central paragraph includes the following pertinent information:

My predecessor, Pope Agatho of apostolic memory, together with his honorable Synod, preached this norm of the right apostolic tradition. This he sent by the 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 favor 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 Pope_Leo_IIdiscovering 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 Apostles (whose office we unworthily hold) also reverently receives, therefore we, and by our ministry this reverend Apostolic See, wholly 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” (The Condemnation of Pope Honorius, John Chapman – ch. 24)
This was the formal recognition of the Pope on the condemnation of Pope Honorius. I can’t think of how the words “but by profane treachery permitted its purity to be polluted” could more clearly portray that Honorius is being accused of heresy. Now, mind you, Honorius might well not have affirmed the doctrine that Sergius and Heraclius were intending (some have argued in this way), and still others have argued that Honorius’s letters don’t seem to pin down a particular view dogmatically (fair enough). But, however true that is, that is quite besides the point here since my specific interest lie in what the Pope and the Council thought about Honorius, and it is clear what they thought. In the 13th session, the bishops agree thusly:
And with these we define that there shall be expelled from the holy Church of God and anathematized Honorius who was some time Pope of Old Rome, because of what we found written by him to Sergius, that in all respects he followed his view and confirmed his impious doctrines.”
and , in the 16th session:
To Theodore of Pharan, the heretic, anathema!
To Sergius, the heretic, anathema!
To Cyrus, the heretic, anathema!
To Honorius, the heretic, anathema!
To Pyrrhus, the heretic, anathema!
To Paul the heretic, anathema!
To Peter the heretic, anathema!
To Macarius the heretic, anathema!
To Stephen the heretic, anathema!
To Polychronius the heretic, anathema!
To Apergius of Perga the heretic, anathema!
To all heretics, anathema! To all who side with heretics, anathema!
May the faith of the Christians increase, and long years to the orthodox and Ecumenical Council!
and, in the Prosphoneticus to the Emperor:
Therefore we declare that in him there are two natural wills and two natural operations, proceeding commonly and without division: but we cast out of the Church and rightly subject to anathema all superfluous novelties as well as their inventors: to wit, Theodore of Pharan, Sergius and Paul, Pyrrhus, and Peter (who were archbishops of Constantinople), moreover Cyrus, who bore the priesthood of Alexandria, and with them Honorius, who was the ruler of Rome, as he followed them in these things.”
And, in the letter of the Council to Pope St. Agatho (who died just prior to its arrival, having thus fallen into the lap of his successor St. Leo II) :

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.”

Synaxis_of_the_Twelve_Apostles_02

It is clear, therefore, that the successor of St. Agatho did not attempt to overturn the findings of the Council, but confirmed them. Some have thought that the language of Leo’s condemnation of Honorius, being visible in the one letter written to the Emperor quoted above, and four to Spain, shows he did not think the Pope was even in theological error, much less heresy. Church historian William H. Carroll, in the 2nd volume of his Christendom series, writes the following:

“Writing in Latin to the Spanish bishops he declared that Honorius was condemned for not at once extinguishing the flames of heresy, but rather fanning them by his negligence. To King Erwig he wrote that Honorius was condemned for negligence in not denouncing the heresy, and for using an expression which the heretics were able to employ to advance their cause, thereby allowing the faith to be stained (taking his material from Hefele). By these careful redefinitions, Pope St. Leo II substantially modified the sense of the Council’s decrees on Honorius…Pope Honorius, therefore, was never condemned for heresy by the supreme Church authority, but only for negligence allowing a heresy to spread and grow, when he should have denounced it..” (p. 254)

And still, other historians have either sought to defend the orthodoxy of Honorius’s letters, or to try and doubt their authenticity. But another Patristic historian, the Benedictine Abbot, John Chapman, thinks that both Carroll’s take in trying to interpret Pope St. Leo II as failing to condemn Honorius for heresy and those who either question the veracity of Honorius’s letters or prove their orthodoxy are flat out wrong. Chapman says that we should abandon all three of these routes. He writes:

“Therefore just as today we judge the letters of Pope Honorius by the Vatican definition [on Papal infallibility], and deny them to be ex cathedra, because they do not define any doctrine and impose it upon the whole church, so the Christians of the 7th century judged the same letters by the custom of their own day, and saw that they did not claim what papal letters were wont to claim, viz., to speak with the mouth of Peter, int he same of Roman tradition. The grounds of both judgments are in reality the same, viz., that the Pope was not defining with authority and binding the [whole] church.” (The Condemnation of Pope Honorius, ch. 23)

It is also interesting to note that in the next two Ecumenical Councils, that of Nicaea II (787) and Constantinople IV (869), where both Popes Hadrian I and Hadrian II confirming, the anathema of Honorius was confirmed twice more. Moreover, from the 8th to 11th centuries, the oath for entering Papal office included the following words: “Together with Honorius, who added fuel to their wicked assertions”.  And lastly, Honorius was anathematized as a heretic in the lessons of the Roman Breviary (not all versions) for June 28th, the feast of Pope St. Leo II, until the 18th century.  What right thinking and rationally minded Catholic could ignore all of this? Sure, according to Tiara-and-keystoday’s standards, the Pope would have been considered just as much a heretic as Theodore of Mopsuestia and Origen of Alexandria, in other words, post-humously (after death). One could even say that St. Thomas Aquinas, alongside many others, by their rejection of the Immaculate Conception of our Lady, were “heretics” in the same manner as Honorius. But it is still theological and doctrinal error, nonetheless. And the persistence of thought from the 7th to 18th centuries which believed a Pope could in fact teach error, and even be condemned as a heretic (says the Council confirmed by the Pope) makes it clear that this was not found scandalous by our forefathers in the Catholic Church. Although, it does merit the moment of reflection that Honorius, thus condemned, did not have the chance of recanting, nor having a trial to confirm his heresy, which means that he probably was not a formal heretic, neither having had the definition on two-wills formally given just yet nor the element of obstinate refusal to believe what the Church teaches. One, therefore, even considering the material situation of Honorius, could try to argue that a Pope cannot become a formal heretic. However, this does not seem to be the consensus of belief throughout history.

Why then does the mention of Pope Honorius by our Protestant and Eastern Orthodox interlocutors make for such a problem for Catholics, if it was not a problem for Catholics for nearly over 1,000 years! Was it that the decrees of Vatican I seem to smack hard against this historical data? Well, I can’t see how. The decree on Papal infallibility was not to encourage the idea that the Pope is generally, perpetually, and continuously infallible in his teaching acts. Rather, the charism of infallibility, as is widely known, applies when the Pope, with free deliberation, teaches on a matter of faith and morals by using his authority as supreme pastor and teacher of souls, with the intention of binding all Christians in the world to it. Honorius’s letters were to Constantinople at best were erroneous answers to questions which had come from Constantinople, and one may further dispute the intention to produce dogma by his words.

But still, what good is a Pope to bring security and support to the universal Catholic religion if there is the potential of theological error or heresy? This is what we are asked, and we Catholics should give a fair answer. There are many ways to answer, and many besides myself are more qualified to do so. But here I try.  I will begin with some indirect statements, followed by direct.

The same question could be asked to the Eastern Orthodox on what good a Bishop is to the local church if he can be in error or heresy. To this he may say that recourse to security is had in an Ecumenical Council. Well, to this I say that it has not been generally admitted by all Orthodox Christians on just what that would look like in a post-Roman Empire contemporary context. Some would say that elder Rome would need to confirm its decrees, in light of the Petrine authority divinely invested in the Roman bishopric. In this case, one would ask just why such “Petrine” authority is needed if there was not something uniquely attributed to it in the vein of authoritative teaching. And if so, what is that attribute? The answers to this from the East are not clear. But how few in the Orthodox world take this sort of high Petrine perspective? There are even those who would say that what is needed is the participation of the historic Pentarchy (Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem) as well as the bishops representing the consensus of the episcopate. Well, how possible is this given the current state of Orthodox affairs? And seeing as how the prospect of achieving this is so far off,  even observably impossible, the Orthodox who comes with this question of what worth the Papacy has in light of the potential of Papal error, we can turn and ask what good is the Eastern Orthodox recipe for infallible Councils? Most, I dare to say, would abandon all of this talk of divine Primates and prefer to say that all bishops, whether Pope or the Patriarch of Constantinople, all have the authority and charism of Peter when they are orthodox and confess the right faith, and that an Ecumenical Council need not the Pope, but merely the consensus of bishops which represent the Orthodox churches globally.  Still the question of when and how lurks especially since the convening of the recent Synod of Crete 2016, which seems to be piling up dissent and repudiation, as well as hopeful acceptance to one day be universally recognized. The truth is, this question of what worth does the Papal office have if it is not guaranteed perfect and perpetual infallibility would be answered in a way similar to the way the Orthodox who vest worthiness in the office of Bishop. On certain conditions, the Bishops can gather into Council and speak and deliberate with supreme and infallible authority. In the same way, the infallible charism of Peter and his authority to confirm Councils is also potential, and thus help to the Church from the Papacy is not altogether falsified. The office of Bishop, in the Orthodox model, does not render the person holding office invincible from heresy, and yet they still believe the office to be of divine origin. In the same way, then, the Papal office does not render the person holding office invincible from heresy, but yet, this does not mean the Church has a right to dispense with it.

To the Protestants, I am not sure how  helpful their objection is to their side seeing that all of their teachers are admitted to be potentially erroneous. But still, it is not as if the Pope can’t ever teach infallibly. It is just that he does not enjoy a native and continuous gift which forbids him from ever teaching error. That is all. So there is still the security offered by the fact that, while error is potential, there is also the potential to speak with an Apostolic voice the infallible teaching of Peter, which is meant to establish and strengthen the brethren. I understand this begs many questions, but it is my reply for the moment.

Now, the rebuttals above still beg questions. I will address one of them. Is it actually true that the Pope can speak infallibly? It is only if we answer in the affirmative that there is a function to the Papal magisterium which can potentially help the Church by securing doctrine in a way which establishes certainty versus human opinion. What I find most interesting is that even in the letter of Pope St. Leo II which confirms the condemnation of Honorius , there is still this unrelenting referencing to the “authority of the See of Peter”. For some, an admission of a Papal failure entails doing away altogether with any notion of an authoritative Petrine Papacy.  But as noted above, there is no sign of this in the 18 centuries of Christianity prior to the Protestant and Eastern Orthodox polemics against the Papal definition given in 1870. So how could it be that the Papacy survives even in light of these historical situations such as Honorius, and the corresponding fact that even in the future, a Pope has the potential to be in error. The key to the answer is determining whether it was the will of Christ for the Papacy to exist. If the Scripture and the Fathers all testify to this doctrine, then we must work it in despite the historical challenges. And, it also means that whichever Christian body exists today in the world, only that body which retains this Papal-element is truly in continuity with our ancestors in the Christian faith.

In the first place, we must ask whether there is Scriptural support for the doctrine of Papal infallibility. This is no space for a thorough treatment of this, but I do have some points to offer. The first is that Christ established St. Peter as the head of the Apostles and the rock of the universal Church by entrusting to him the very Keys of the kingdom of heaven. Now, whatever we say about these Keys, we should first observe that in the Apocolypse, St. John records our Lord saying : “I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death” (Rev 1:18). In another place, he records our Lord saying similarly: “He who is holy, who is true, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, and who shuts and no one opens, says this:” (Rev 3:7). In the context, to have the Key of Hell is be the doorkeeper which can open to usher in and close to keep locked away. He has the power over who goes to hell and who does not, and is thus delivered from eternal death. In giving the Keys to St. Peter, then, just after saying he would be the foundation rock upon which the Church would be built, Christ is making Peter a doorkeeper with the authority to open and shut, include and exclude, i.e. to determine the conditions of communion and non-communion, to remit or retain sins, to teach and to discipline, etc,etc. Peter is therefore given a prominent role in the Apostolic college. Because of a lack of space, I want to provide only some citations from the writings of the holy fathers, particularly those where the East engaged with the West, which confirm this prerogative uniquely given to Peter over the rest of the Apostles, and that said prerogative continues on after the life of Peter is taken up from his dead body, and lives on in the Papal succession of bishops in the Roman see; and that said prerogative is divinely ordained to perpetually assist and support the Church in her mission to sustain and protect the holy deposit of faith given by Christ to the Apostles. More importantly, I will demonstrate how the Eastern bishops of the Council which condemned Honorius maintained their belief in the Papal office despite the goings on with Honorius in the Council, as opposed to the reaction today which is often just a total dismissal of Papal claims.

In a sermon preached by Pope St. Leo I (450), to whom the contemporary Eastern Orthodox chant as a “..champion of orthodoxy, and teacher of holiness..” (Troparian – 8th Tone) , he says the following:

There is further reason for our celebration: not only the Apostolic but also the episcopal dignity of the most blessed Peter, who does not cease to preside over his see and obtains an abiding partnership with the eternal Priest. For the stability which the rock himself was given by that Rock, Christ, he conveyed also to his successors.” (Sermon 5)

Leo  comments to this in his  51st sermon on the Holy Transfiguration:

” To strengthen, therefore, their most wholesome knowledge of this belief, the Lord had asked His disciples, among the various opinions of others, what they themselves believed, or thought about Him: whereat the Apostle Peter, by the revelation of the most High Father passing beyond things corporeal and surmounting things human by the eyes of his mind, saw Him to be Son of the living God, and acknowledged the glory of the Godhead, because he looked not at the substance of His flesh and blood alone; and with this lofty faith Christ was so well pleased that he received the fullness of blessing, and was endued with the holy firmness of the inviolable Rock on which the Church should be built and conquer the gates of hell and the laws of death, so that, in loosing or binding the petitions of any whatsoever, only that should be ratified in heaven which had been settled by the judgment of Peter.

and:

“though He has delegated the care of His sheep to many shepherds, yet He has not Himself abandoned the guardianship of His beloved flock. And from His overruling and eternal protection we have received the support of the Apostles’ aid also, which assuredly does not cease from its operation: and the strength of the foundation, on which the whole superstructure of the Church is reared, is not weakened by the weight of the temple that rests upon it. For the solidity of that faith which was praised in the chief of the Apostles is perpetual: and as that remains which Peter believed in Christ, so that remains which Christ instituted in Peter. For when, as has been read in the Gospel lesson , the Lord had asked the disciples whom they believed Him to be amid the various opinions that were held, and the blessed Peter had replied, saying, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God, the Lord says, Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona, because flesh and flood has not revealed it to you, but My Father, which is in heaven. And I say to you, that you are Peter, and upon this rock will I build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto you the keys of the kingdom ofHerrera_mozo_San_León_magno_Lienzo._Óvalo._164_x_105_cm._Museo_del_Prado heaven. And whatsoever you shall bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever you shall loose on earth, shall be loosed also in heaven. The dispensation of Truth therefore abides, and the blessed Peter persevering in the strength of the Rock, which he has received, has not abandoned the helm of the Church, which he undertook. For he was ordained before the rest in such a way that from his being called the Rock, from his being pronounced the Foundation, from his being constituted the Doorkeeper of the kingdom of heaven, from his being set as the Umpire to bind and to loose, whose judgments shall retain their validity in heaven, from all these mystical titles we might know the nature of his association with Christ. And still today he more fully and effectually performs what is entrusted to him, and carries out every part of his duty and charge in Him and with Him, through Whom he has been glorified. And so if anything is rightly done and rightly decreed by us, if anything is won from the mercy of God by our daily supplications, it is of his work and merits whose power lives and whose authority prevails in his See. For this, dearly-beloved, was gained by that confession, which, inspired in the Apostle’s heart by God the Father, transcended all the uncertainty of human opinions, and was endued with the firmness of a rock, which no assaults could shake. For throughout the Church Peter daily says, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God’, and every tongue which confesses the Lord, accepts the instruction his voice conveys. This Faith conquers the devil, and breaks the bonds of his prisoners. It uproots us from this earth and plants us in heaven, and the gates of Hades cannot prevail against it. For with such solidity is it endued by God that the depravity of heretics cannot mar it nor the unbelief of the heathen overcome it.”

and:

Already and from the beginning, in the synods which have been held, we have received such freedom of speech from the most holy Peter, chief of the Apostles, as to have the power both maintain the truth in the cause of peace, and to allow no one to disturb it from its firm position, but at once to repel the mischief” (Letter XLIII)

Writing to Emperor Theodosius II, just prior to the Council of Ephesus 449, Leo writes:

The devout faith of our most clement prince, knowing that it especially concerns his glory to prevent any seed of error from springing up within the Catholic Church, has paid such deference to the Divine institutions as to apply to the authority of the Apostolic See for a proper settlement: as if he wished it to be declared by the most blessed Peter himself what was praised in his confession, when the Lord said, whom do men say that I, the Son of man, am ? and the disciples mentioned various people’s opinion: but, when He asked what they themselves believed, the chief of the apostles, embracing the fullness of the Faith in one short sentence, said, You are the Christ, the son of the living God : that is, You who truly is Son of man is also truly Son of the living God: You, I say, true in Godhead, true in flesh and one altogether , the properties of the two natures being kept intact. And if Eutyches had believed this intelligently and thoroughly, he would never have retreated from the path of this Faith. For Peter received this answer from the Lord for his confession. Blessed are you, Simon Barjona; for flesh and blood has not revealed it unto you, but My Father which is in heaven. And I say unto you, that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church: and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it  . But he who both rejects the blessed Peter’s confession, and gainsays Christ’s Gospel, is far removed from union with this building; for he shows himself never to have had any zeal for understanding the Truth…” (Letter 33)

In writing to Bishops in Sicily, Leo writes:

By God’s precepts and the Apostle’s admonitions we are incited to keep a careful watch over the state of all the churches: and, if anywhere ought is found that needs rebuke, to recall men with speedy care either from the stupidity of ignorance or from forwardness and presumption. For inasmuch as we are warned by the Lord’s own command whereby the blessed Apostle Peter had the thrice repeated mystical injunction pressed upon him, that he who loves Christ should feed Christ’s sheep, we are compelled by reverence for that see which, by the abundance of the Divine Grace, we hold, to shun the danger of sloth as much as possible: lest the confession of the chief Apostle whereby he testified that he loved God be not found in us: because if he (through us) carelessly feed the flock so often commended to him he is proved not to love the chief Shepherd.”

The Eastern fathers of the Council of Chalcedon, in their letter to Leo, describe the effect of his holy Tome which was set as the standard of orthodox christology contra Eutyches:

Our mouth was filled with joy and our tongue with exultation.  This prophecy grace has fitly appropriated to us for whom the security of religion is ensured. For what is a greater incentive to cheerfulness than the Faith? What better inducement to exultation than the Divine knowledge which the Saviour Himself gave us from above for salvation, saying, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, teaching them to observe all things that I have enjoined you  . And this golden chain leading down from the Author of the command to us, you yourself have steadfastly preserved, being set as the mouthpiece unto all of the blessed Peter, and imparting the blessedness of his Faith unto all. Whence we too, wisely taking you as our guide in all that is good, have shown to the sons of the Church their inheritance of Truth, not giving our instruction each singly and in secret, but making known our confession of the Faith in conceit, with one consent and agreement.”  (Letter 98)

After the Eastern fathers had read the letter of Pope St. Agatho at the Council of Constantinople III, where Honorius was indeed condemned, these Eastern fathers wrote the following to the Byzantine Emperor, as was their custom to do at the wrapping up of Synods:

“…Therefore, in accordance with the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, and in agreement with one another, and assenting to the letter of our most blessed Father and most high Pope Agatho, addressed to your Majesty, and also to that of his holy Synod of 125 bishops, we glorify our Lord Jesus Christ. ….with us fought the Prince of the Apostles, for to assist us we had his imitator and successor to his chair, who exhibited to us the mystery of theology in his letter. The ancient city of Rome proffered to you a divinely written confession and caused the daylight of dogmas to rise by the Western parchment. And the ink shone, and by Agatho Peter spoke” (Mansi 11.658)

Another letter of the same Eastern bishops to the Pope himself writes:

“The greatest diseases require the greatest remedies, as you know, most blessed one. Wherefore, Christ, our true God, has revealed your holiness as a wise physician, mightily driving away the disease of heresy by the medicine of orthodoxy, and bestowing health St._Peter_(portrayed_as_a_Roman_consul)on the members of the Church. We therefore leave to you what is to be done, since you occupy the first See of the universal Church, and stand upon the firm rock of the faith, after we have dwelt with pleasure upon the writings of the true confession from your paternal blessedness to the most pious king, which also we recognize as pronounced by the chiefest Head of the Apostles, and by which we have put to flight the dangerous opinions of the heresy which lately rose….Those who erred concerning the faith we have slain by our anathemas in the morning without the precincts of the courts of the Lord (to speak like David), according to the previous condemnation pronounced on them in your holy letters — we mean Theodore of Pharan, Sergius, Honorius, Cyrus….etc, etc” (Mansi 11.683)

A brief note on this here – the Bishops of this Ecumenical Council refer to the Pope as the “greatest remedy”. That should entail something of what they believed about who was held supreme authority in the matter of doctrine.

The Emperor himself wrote in return [to the Council] giving his own consent to the decrees of the Council:

“These are the teachings of the voices of the Gospels and Apostles, these the doctrines of the holy Synods, and of the elect and Patristic tongues; these have been preserved untainted by Peter, the rock of the faith, the head of the Apostles; in this faith we live and reign… (Mansi 11.698)

In a letter of Emperor Constantine IV to Pope St. Leo II (who by this time just succeeded the demising Agatho of blessed memory), his Majesty writes:

“The letter of Pope Agatho, who is with the Saints, to our Majesty having been presented by his envoys…we ordered it to be read in the hearing of all, and we beheld in it as a mirror the image of sound and unsullied faith. We compared with the voice of the Gospels and Apostles , and set beside it the decisions of the holy ecumenical Synods, and compared the quotations it contained with the precepts of the Fathers, and finding nothing out of harmony, we perceived in it all the words of the true confession unaltered. And with the eyes of our understanding we saw it as it were the very ruler of the Apostolic choir, the chief Peter himself, declaring the mystery of the whole dispensation, and addressing Christ by this letter: Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God…. We received it willingly and sincerely, and embraced it, as though it were Peter himself, with the arms of our soul. Macarius alone, who was prelate of Antioch, with those whom he dragged after him, divided from us, and drew back from the yoke of Christ, and leapt out of the sacerdotal circle [i.e. unity]; for he refused altogether to agree to the all -holy writings of Agatho, as though he were even raging Pope_Agathoagainst the Head Peter himself…And since he so hardened his heart and made his neck a cord of iron, and his forehead of brass, and his ears heavy that they should not hear, and set his heart unfaithful that is should not obey the law, for the law goeth forth from Zion , the teaching of the Apostolic height, for this cause the holy ecumenical Synod stripped him, Macarius, and his fellow heretics, of the sacerdotal office. In a written petition all of one accord begged our serenity to send them [i.e. the heretics] to your blessedness [for judgement]. This we have done…committing to your fatherly judgment all that concerns them….Glory be to God, who does wondrous things, who has kept safe the faith among you unharmed. For how should He not do so in that rock on which He founded His church, and prophesied that the gates of hell , all the ambushes of heretics, should not prevail against it? From it, as from the vault of heaven, the word of the true confession flashed forth, and enlightened the souls of the lovers of Christ, and brought warmth to frozen orthodoxy. This we have completed happily by God’s help, and have brought all the sheep of Christ into one fold, no longer deceived by false shepherds and the prey of wolves, but pastured by One good Shepherd, with whom you have been appointed to join in pasturing them, and to lay your life down for the sheep…” (Mansi 11.713)

In a letter to the Roman synod, the Emperor writes:

“You yourself were present with your ecumenical chief Pastor [Agatho], speaking with him in spirit and in writing. For we received, besides the letter from his blessedness [Agatho], also one from your sanctity. It was produced, it was read, and it detailed for us the word of truth and painted the likeness of orthodoxy…..We did not neglect to compare them with care. And therefore, in harmony of mind and tongue we believed with the one and confessed with the other, and we admired the writing of Agatho as the voice of divine Peter, for nobody disagreed, save one [Macarius]” (Mansi 11.721)

Therefore, just as Pope St. Leo II, in his letter of address to the Emperor Constantine IV first quoted at the beginning of this article, the erroneous teaching of Pope Honorius in no way abrogated the divinely fixed primacy of the Roman see as the See of Peter, the head of the Apostles. Indeed, Leo II assumed the right of the Apostolic See to confirm the vatican-assemblee-1870-119120_2Council on the basis of Peter’s authority, which somehow is maintained by his office as Bishop of the Apostolic See.  Nor did it strip or nullify the authoritative capacity of Rome to teach and discipline with supreme authority even in Eastern eyes, since the letters of the Council and the Emperor show that not only did they submit the decrees to the ratifying authority of the Pope, they also moved to condemn the heretics based on the writings of the Pope, and to which they all attributed the ground as Petrine authority. Thus, far from flushing out the doctrine of the Papacy, the situation of Honorius only proves that an erring Pope does not obliterate this institution, since it is founded upon divine origin. Indeed, the Eastern lights of St. Theodore of Studium and St. Maximos the Confessor both attributed the charim of infallible teaching to the Popes, and, in the case of the former, he had lived 100+ years after the condemnation of Pope Honorius.

In conclusion, it would seem as though the historical record presents evidence, from both Eastern and Western fathers, for the idea that when the Pope speaks as the head of the whole universal church to confirm the brethren, i.e. when Peter speaks through the Pope, it is then when he is infallible and is the highest authority on the matter of doctrine. However, that does not mean there are not times when the Pope is not speaking as this head and rather speaks from something less, in which case we’d have an explanation of Pope Honorius. What we do know is that despite the situation of Honorius, neither the East nor the West gave up on the Papal doctrines, as is clear by the Eastern bishops and their reference and dependence on the Pope for the ecumenical condemnation of monotheletism, and the letter of Pope St. Leo II confirming the Council which appealed to the supreme authority of Peter even in condemning one of his Papal predecessors.