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Sylvester Hunter, S.J. - Seat & Scope of Infallibility
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Author:  Admin [ Sat Mar 22, 2008 1:33 am ]
Post subject:  Sylvester Hunter, S.J. - Seat & Scope of Infallibility

Sylvester Hunter, S.J., Outlines of Dogmatic Theology, Benziger, New York, 1895. pp. 304-314.

208. Seat of Infallibility.— The subject of the seat of infallibility in the Church cannot be adequately discussed until we have established the doctrine concerning the Roman Pontiff, which forms the subject of our next Treatise. A few remarks may, however, he made. The Church has been shown to be infallible in the work of teaching (n. 203); and the work of teaching belongs to the governing body of the Church, the Hierarchy (n. 206); it follows from this that the governed, the Church as Learners, is not the seat of infallibility but that nevertheless we have an assurance that the Learners will never as a whole fall from the faith, for this would imply the failure of the Teachers in their work. Hence these Teachers are the Proper seat of infallibility, but not the whole of them, for history and experience prove that not only do individuals among them make shipwreck of the faith, but at times a large part of the clergy of entire provinces have lapsed, as happened in the days of the Donatist schism, in southern France in the twelfth century, and in various parts of northern Europe at the time of the Reformation. History further shows that simple priests, whether charged with the care of parishes or not, have never been considered as ranking with Bishops as judges of the faith; and the doctrine according to which they have in virtue of their ordination a right to judge, is condemned as at least erroneous by Pope Pius VI. (Auctorem Fidei, 10; Denz. 1373.)

It remains that the Catholic episcopate, whether dispersed or united in a General council, are a seat of infallibility, and it will be shown in the next Treatise that one condition of the status of each individual Catholic Bishop is that he is in communion with the See of Rome. When this has been established, something more will be said about General Councils (n. 297); but it may be useful to add in this place that no school of Catholic theology has ever doubted that the morally universal agreement of the Catholic Bishops is a voice of the infallible Church.

209. Extent of Infallibility.— Having established that the Church is infallible in its teaching, and having said something as to the seat of this privilege, we now come to the interesting question of its extent, and for the answer to this question we must look to the words and actions of the Church herself. Every supreme tribunal of whatever kind must necessarily have authority to define the limits of the matter with which it is competent to deal, for by supposition there is no one to set the tribunal right if it exceed due limits; the Church therefore, being supreme in spiritual matters, has authority to teach what are the bounds of her authority, just as in the English system of law the House of Lords is competent to declare what are the matters with which it is competent to deal; and since her teaching is infallible, she is infallible in declaring the bounds of her own infallibility. Were it otherwise, the supreme tribunal might be mocked by any delinquent who questioned its competence to deal with his case.

We must then look to the matters on which the Church has taught the Christian world, and we observe that this teaching may be done by action no less than by word of mouth. We are not concerned with the prudence of all her actions, though we believe that on the whole she is prudent in a degree which cannot but be supernatural; nor do we hold that she can be said to teach doctrine by every act of administration, so that if a certain privilege or dispensation was granted in a few stray instances these would not necessarily prove that this grant was within the competence of the Church; but if these grants were made habitually, as often as a proper case came before the courts, we should have proof that the grant was not beyond the scope of ecclesiastical power.

210. Faith and Morals.— In the first place then, the Church is infallible in defining points of faith or morals; for the revealed doctrine which is the object of faith is the direct matter which she is placed on earth to teach, and the distinction of morals from faith is made for convenience only, for the unlawfulness of certain conduct is as much a matter of belief as are the articles of the Creed. This teaching may be exercised in the affirmative way, as when the Council of Nice defined that the Word of God is consubstantial with the Father, and when Pope Pius IX defined that our Lady was conceived without being subject to original sin; or in the negative way, by condemning certain propositions, which condemnation, at least if the note of heresy be affixed, amounts to an infallible definition that the contradictory is true; this method has been in frequent use since the early part of the fifteenth century, as may be seen in Denzinger. So far there is agreement among all who profess to be Catholics, although there is much difference of opinion concerning the precise effect of some of the notes of condemnation which have been used from time to time. (See n. 328.)

But the infallibility of the Church is not confined to those matters which have been revealed; it extends to other truths without assurance of which it would be impossible or very difficult to preserve the deposit of faith; and the Vatican Council (Sess. 3. can. 4), pronounces an anathema against all who maintain that branches of human learning may be pursued with liberty to maintain the truth of assertions, even if opposed to revealed doctrine, and that the Church is powerless to condemn these assertions (Denz. 1664); the reason being that a proposition of philosophy, for instance, may be so closely connected with revealed doctrine that a true act of faith in what is revealed will be impossible for one who errs in the natural science.

211. Dogmatic Facts.— But besides these speculative truths, there are certain matters of fact concerning which the Church can judge with infallible certainty. These are called by many writers dogmatic facts, although others use this expression only of one class among them, which was much discussed in the course of the controversy with the Jansenists in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. These heretics were anxious to keep the name of Catholic, and finding their doctrine on grace condemned by the Church, endeavoured to escape from the condemnation by showing that the Church had misunderstood their writings, to which it was replied that the infallibility of the Church extended to the determination of the true sense conveyed by a form of words; and the phrase “dogmatic fact” was little heard of except in regard to such determinations.

We will proceed to mention some dogmatic facts, in the wider sense, adding the reason why we hold that they come within the infallible authority of the Church. But it must be remembered that if the Church speak on any of these matters, it does not follow that she has exercised her infallibility; she may have intended to exert a merely disciplinary authority alone (n. 203), regulating the outward conduct only, but not touching men’s inward belief. The doubt that may sometimes arise in particular cases must he solved by considering the terms and circumstances of the utterance. In this part of the subject we are not writing controversially, at least as regards those who do not acknowledge the authority of the Holy See; we are merely stating the Catholic doctrine.

First, then, the Church is infallible when she declares what person holds the office of Pope; for if the person of the Pope were uncertain, it would be uncertain what Bishops were in communion with the Pope; but according to the Catholic faith, as will be proved hereafter, communion with the Pope is a condition for the exercise of the function of teaching by the body of Bishops (n. 208); if then the uncertainty could not be cleared up, the power of teaching could not he exercised, and Christ’s promise (St. Matt. xxviii. 20; and n. 199, II.) would be falsified, which is impossible.

This argument is in substance the same as applies to other cases of dogmatic facts. Also, it affords an answer to a much vaunted objection to the claims of the Catholic Church, put forward by writers who think that they find proof in history that the election of a certain Pope was simoniacal and invalid, and that the successor was elected by Cardinals who owed their own appointment to the simoniacal intruder; from which it is gathered that the Papacy has been vacant ever since that time. A volume might be occupied if we attempted to expose all the frailness of the argument which is supposed to lead to this startling conclusion; but it is enough to say that if the Bishops agree in recognizing a certain man as Pope, they are certainly right, for otherwise the body of the Bishops would be separated from their head, and the Divine constitution of the Church would be ruined.

In just the same way the infallibility extends to declaring that a certain Council is or is not ecumenical; that certain systems of education are, or are not, injurious to faith and morals; that the principles of certain societies are immoral; and that certain ways of life, especially in Religious Orders, are not merely free from moral evil, but are laudable. Unless the Church could judge upon these matters, she could not exercise her office of guiding and instructing her members.

The matters of Beatification and Canonization require a few words more of explanation. The great authority on the whole subject is the work of Pope Benedict XIV. De Canonizatione, from which the late Dr. Faber took the matter of the Essay which served as a kind of preface to the Oratory series of Lives of the Saints. (Faber, Essay on Beatification, &c.) It is enough to say here that sometimes the Holy See, after suitable investigation, pronounces a solemn judgment that the virtue of a deceased person was heroic (n. 231), and that God has testified to his sanctity by miracles worked by his intercession; and then it is accustomed to declare that the person may be publicly allowed the title of ‘‘Blessed,’’ and that Mass and Office may be said in his honour within certain limits of place, or by certain classes of persons. If after an interval it is judged that God has been pleased to show by further miracles His approval of what has been done, then a further decree may he issued by which the Pontiff defines that the person is a “Saint,” and is to be honoured as such in the whole Church with public worship. No writer of repute doubts that this last decree of Canonization is an exercise of the infallible authority of the Church, for were it mistaken, the whole Church would be led into offering superstitious worship; but there is a controversy as to whether this same can he alleged of Beatification, for this decree is in a manner reviewed in the subsequent process. We have no space to enter into the arguments on both sides of this question, and will only remark that on every view the decree of Beatification commands at least the respect of all the faithful, as being the deliberate judgment of the common Father. If any one be inclined to scoff at the process by which the miracles are established in these cases, he may be referred to the records of the causes, where he will see the scrupulous care with which the evidence is scrutinized. (See n. 255.)

Lastly, the Church’s infallible authority extends to determining the true sense conveyed by forms of speech, whether solitary words, or propositions, or books; and this without reference to the meaning intended by the author, of which in general the Church does not judge. This is the class of cases to which the name of dogmatic facts is more particularly applied. The exercise of this power by the Church has in all ages been most distasteful to all who have wished to retain the character of being Catholic, at the same time that they are wanting in the spirit of hearty interior submission to the living teacher; and statesmen who care little about truth and much about peace, join in protesting against what they represent as undue insistence on mere words. Thus the Arians of the fourth century, in conjunction with the Emperor Constantius, protested against the Catholics who insisted on their acceptance of the word ‘‘consubstantial,’’ which the Council of Nice had used in defining the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity; they wished, they said, to use no words not found in Scripture, novel words; but the Catholics replied by asking whether newly-discovered poisons might not render necessary novel drugs as antidotes (St. Hilar. Contra Constantium, n. 15, 16; P.L. 10, 594); and since that day the disputed word has held its place in the Catholic Creed. In the same way, the Council of Trent (Sess. 13, can. 2; Denz. 764) defined that the word Transubstantiation was most fit to apply to the change of the elements in the Eucharist; and the Synod of Pistoia, which raised objections similar to those just quoted from the Arians, and would have omitted the word, was condemned by Pope Pius VI. (Auctorem Fidei, prop. 29; Denz. 1392) on the ground that the word was consecrated by the Church for the defence of the faith against heresies. The controversy with the Jansenists turned partly on the question whether the Church had authority to declare that the famous five propositions were contained in the book written by Jansenius; this was felt to be the central point of the whole matter, for if the Church could not determine the meaning of language she would be powerless to teach: her only medium of instruction is human language. For an account of this mortal contest, the reader must go to the historians. (See Jungmann, Diss. in Hist. Eccles. Diss. XL.) At the present day, Jansenism as a heresy no longer exists, at least in any conspicuous form; but the spirit of Jansenism, which wishes to claim Catholic communion without submission of mind and will to the hierarchical Church, still shows itself frequently in various forms.

212. Recapitulation. - . In this long chapter we have shown that there is in the Church by Divine appointment a hierarchy of governors, who have, among other functions, authority to teach the members of the Church, and this with Divine guarantee that they will not err. The difficulties that are raised against this doctrine were discussed; it was shown that though the laity are not the teachers, yet from the faith of the laity the faith of the teachers may be inferred; that the seat of the infallible authority cannot be fully explained until the doctrine concerning the Roman Pontiff has been established; and finally it was shown that the authority extended to certain matters which though not actually revealed, are yet closely connected with Revelation.

Author:  Admin [ Sat Mar 22, 2008 1:41 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Sylvester Hunter - Seat & Scope of Infallibility

Readers' attention is drawn to two conclusions which may be drawn from this presentation.

1. Bishop Williamson is quite mistaken in casting doubt upon the infallibility of canonisations.

2. The judgement that the See of Rome is presently vacant is an extraordinary judgement, only formed because of the dogmatic impossibility of accepting the claims of the Vatican II popes, despite the fact that the acceptance of their claims by the entire episcopate of the Church ought to be an infallible sign that they are in fact true popes. Keeping this truth firmly in view at all times ought to inspire a proper diffidence (i.e. distrust of self) in sedevacantists, and a more just assessment of those who have not formed the same extraordinary judgement. We speak often of charity towards the erring; in this case the point is one of pure justice.

Author:  paxus [ Sat Mar 22, 2008 7:17 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Sylvester Hunter, S.J. - Seat & Scope of Infallibility

John, if you don't mind my asking, what kind of scanner do you use to produce these lengthy documents? You (and others) seem to do it with such ease.

Author:  Admin [ Sat Mar 22, 2008 9:35 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Sylvester Hunter, S.J. - Seat & Scope of Infallibility

paxus wrote:
John, if you don't mind my asking, what kind of scanner do you use to produce these lengthy documents? You (and others) seem to do it with such ease.

I use a Canoscan N67OU, and the Microsoft Office document scanning OCR function. The scanner is slow, but the software is extremely good, despite it being a free inclusion with Office. It still takes a long time to scan and OCR a document of any length, but it is a lot quicker than it used to be a few years ago! The reason you're seeing more documents lately is that it has become clear to me that this is a very high value exercise. The one thing which people will believe most readily is an authorised theological manual or article, and it is the one thing they have never had access to. They have had to try and evaluate the credibility of people like me, who write articles full of quotes, not knowing whether we are perhaps quoting out of context deliberately or accidentally. Think how powerful a Monsignor Fenton or Van Noort document is to a sedeplenist, when the alternative is to read and believe some untrained amateur like me!

Ken uses Textbridge Pro 11 to perform OCR and he says it is amazing. I'm not sure how it compares with the MS Office one, but you might try it.

We've got some nice surprises under way too. :)

Author:  Bill [ Mon Mar 24, 2008 5:18 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Sylvester Hunter, S.J. - Seat & Scope of Infallibility


You stated that the episcopacy's approval "ought to be an infallible sign that they are in fact true Popes." Hunter says that it definitely "is". Are you saying he was mistaken? Is it not true that all the Bishops recognized John XXIII? Those Bishops in turn recognized Paul VI, and then John Paul I.....and so on? At what point does your "ought" come into the picture? By the way John, your posting of these texts is a godsend. Thank you and may God bless you in your continued efforts.

In Christ,

Author:  Admin [ Mon Mar 24, 2008 10:07 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Sylvester Hunter, S.J. - Seat & Scope of Infallibility

Dear Bill,

Thank you. The next major text is Scheeben's Mariology (2 vols). If anybody wishes to assist, please let me know.

To answer your question, I agree that your understanding of Hunter is accurate - I understand him the same way. This is one reason why really excellent traditional Catholics (including our own very holy and learned priest here) remain sedeplenists. They think that they simply must recognise the man that every bishop recognised. They don't feel that they have a choice in the matter.

My own position is that if Paul VI remained pope when he promulgated Dignitatis Humanae, then we have a Church in which the bishops may teach the faithful with moral unanimity, in union with the Roman Pontiff, on a matter of faith or morals, and err. But we know that this is impossible. Ergo.

Now, to reconcile the two problems we have to find a flaw in the application of one of the principles. That is, we have to see why one of them does not really apply as we think. Everybody serious does the same thing - but some pick one principle, and some pick the other.

The sedeplenists pick the infallibility-of-councils principle and point out that the fathers, led by Paul VI, openly refused to act as solemn teachers and thereby attract the protection of the Holy Ghost. Instead, they insisted that they acted only “pastorally” and that they defined nothing. I think we have to grant that this argument has some degree of theological probability. There has never been a council with this essential feature before, so the theologians don’t say anything about it.

We sedevacantists pick the infallibility-of-unanimous-recognition principle and point out that the moral unanimity regarding Paul VI did not persist, in that even though no bishop openly rejected his claim, several such as Lefebvre and de Castro Mayer ceased to treat him as pope and even openly doubted his claim. Lefebvre made the striking comment circa 1976 that we are much more certain of the truths of our faith than we are of Paul VI’s legitimacy. And in any case, these men openly refused as blasphemous the liturgy promulgated by Paul VI. That is most certainly not the way that one recognises and submits truly to the Roman Pontiff.

In addition to the problem with a general council promulgating error, we sedevacantists also now can point out that the New Church does not possess the Four Marks of the Catholic Church, especially her visible unity of faith. The identity of the New Church as a creature distinguishable from the true Church continues to become clearer, giving more probability to our position.

Author:  paxus [ Wed Mar 26, 2008 4:17 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Sylvester Hunter, S.J. - Seat & Scope of Infallibility

John Lane wrote:

I use a Canoscan N67OU, and the Microsoft Office document scanning OCR function...

Thanks, John

Author:  paxus [ Wed Mar 26, 2008 4:44 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Sylvester Hunter, S.J. - Seat & Scope of Infallibility

John Lane wrote:

The sedeplenists pick the infallibility-of-councils principle and point out that the fathers, led by Paul VI, openly refused to act as solemn teachers and thereby attract the protection of the Holy Ghost. Instead, they insisted that they acted only “pastorally” and that they defined nothing. I think we have to grant that this argument has some degree of theological probability. There has never been a council with this essential feature before, so the theologians don’t say anything about it.

Apart from the infallibility-of-councils or unanimous approval options, is it sufficient to argue as follows?

1. At the time of the respective elections each likely became Pope but as soon as their attachment to heresies became manifest they fell from the papacy and were reduced to "pope" (in quotes, by which I mean highly dubious)?

2. The contradictions between pre and post Vatican II teaching has been admitted even by Conciliarists like Walter Abbott, S.J., John Courtnay Murray, Schillexeeckx, and others, including none other than Joseph Ratzinger (V2="anti-syllabus," etc).

3. Or, in the alternative, if the dramatic sweeping contradictions were only apparent or unintended wouldn't the Church be obligated to correct the appearance, fix the problem, so we could all go Home? But they don't and thus show possible or probable malice toward tradition?

Is this fair and / or sufficient?

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