The Doctor of the Papacy refutes the Neo-Trads…

Papal Error?

St. Robert Bellarmine’s Defense of Popes said to have Erred in Faith

The folks at Mediatrix Press have released another gem of St. Robert Bellarmine, the great 17th-century Jesuit cardinal who is the Church’s foremost single theologian on the papacy. For the first time now available in English, Papal Error? A Defense of Popes said to have Erred in Faith is an excerpt from Cardinal Bellarmine’s larger treatise De Romano Pontifice (“On the Roman Pontiff”), Book IV. The translator is Mr. Ryan Grant, and the English-speaking world owes him a tremendous amount of gratitude.

From the official book description as released by the publisher:

St. Robert Bellarmine again takes up his pen to defend Popes who historically were said to have erred in faith.

This little work is an excerpt from Bellarmine’s larger treatise On the Roman Pontiff, book 4, which follows after the assertion of what was already universally taught at that time, but not completely understood nor decreed by the Church’s solemn magisterium, that the Pope was infallible in his teaching on faith and morals when teaching the whole Church. These chapters then, being 8-14 of that work, follow to test and prove this claim historically, wherein he posits exculpatory evidence against claims that 40 Popes had grievously erred in matters of faith.

Much as with the doctrine of Papal infallibility itself, St. Robert Bellarmine does not endeavor to show the impeccability of Popes, rather that in matters of faith, where the Popes are actually authoritative, they did not err. Some matters treated here are the objection of certain Protestants, while others are even of Catholics who are confused on the decrees or behavior of certain Popes.

These chapters were used as a blueprint at Vatican I by the fathers of that Council to further scrutinize these cases and be sure of the limits and nature of papal authority.

Bellarmine thus lays out four basic propositions; two of these Catholics must believe with divine faith per the subsequent decree of Vatican I (which was no less incumbent upon the believer in Bellarmine’s time, though then it were the universal teaching of all theologians), namely that the Pope is infallible when judging matters of Faith and Morals and defining these as matters that must be believed by all the faithful. This particular distinction is important, for the Pope, outside of this very narrow category, does not enjoy infallibility, thus in private letters, private teaching, their acts, behavior, etc., Popes can give scandal, they can give opinions that are in fact false, but they cannot teach the whole Church and bind it to believe error.

To quote Bellarmine himself: “For to this point no Pope has been a heretic, or certainly it cannot be proven that any of them were heretics; therefore it is a sign that such a thing cannot be.” (On the Roman Pontiff, book 4, ch. 6.)

In this treatise Bellarmine endeavors to show that this is the case.

(Source: Mediatrix Press, Oct. 31, 2015)

Paperback copies of this invaluable book, Papal Error?, are now available from Amazon, through the following link:


Papal Error?: A Defense of Popes said to have erred in Faith
by Cardinal St. Robert Bellarmine, S.J.

Available in Paperback and Kindle edition

This book can also be purchased from the publisher directly, here.

St. Robert’s full work, De Romano Pontifice, is also being made available by Mediatrix Press in English. So far, only Volume 1 is available (encompassing Books I & II), although Volume 2 (Books III, IV & V) will be relased very soon. Please see our prior blog post for more information and to purchase a copy:

Cardinal Robert Bellarmine was a member of the Society of Jesus, a Jesuit. He was declared a Saint by Pope Pius XI in 1930, and a Doctor of the Church by the same Pope in the following year. His feast day is May 13, the same day Our Lady of Fatima first appeared in 1917. He is the patron saint of catechists and has been called the “Doctor of the Papacy”, and for good reason. His writings were a most reliable guide during the proceedings of the First Vatican Council (1869-70), which, by authority of Pope Pius IX, defined the dogma of papal infallibility and issued eloquent teaching on the Papacy, the Church, and the Magisterium. In his decree declaring St. Robert a Doctor of the Church, Pope Pius XI extolled his keen mind, his strong morals, his great learning, and his brilliant teaching, and highlighted in particular Bellarmine’s teaching authority with regard to the papacy:

But it is an outstanding achievement of St Robert, that the rights and privileges divinely bestowed upon the Supreme Pontiff, and those also which were not yet recognised by all the children of the Church at that time, such as the infallible magisterium of the Pontiff speaking ex cathedra, he both invincibly proved and most learnedly defended against his adversaries. Moreover he appeared even up to our times as a defender of the Roman Pontiff of such authority that the Fathers of the [1870] Vatican Council employed his writings and opinions to the greatest possible extent.

(Pope Pius XI, Decree Providentissimus Deus declaring St. Robert Bellarmine a Doctor of the Church, Sept. 17, 1931)

It is no surprise that when the question was raised at the Council what would happen if a Pope were to become a heretic, it was the teaching of St. Robert Bellarmine that informed the bishops’ answer:

As the idea of the possibility of a “heretical Pope” is currently very much in vogue again, inasmuch as Francis obviously does not hold the Catholic Faith, we encourage you to review the following posts:

May our dear Lord, through the intercession of His Immaculate Mother, deign to grant us once more a true Catholic Pope and hasten to bring about the full restoration of Holy Mother Church.

Pope Saint Pius X, pray for us!

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