The Alleged Fall of Pope Liberius, His Alleged Excommunication of St. Athanasius, and other Anti-Papal Libels


by John S. Daly

Taken from Chapter 10 of
Michael Davies – An Evaluation
New Edition (2015)

used with permission

Chapter Ten: The Alleged Fall of Pope Liberius, His Alleged Excommunication of St. Athanasius, and other Anti-Papal Libels

“Glory not in the dishonour of thy father: for his shame is no glory to thee.”
(Ecclesiasticus 3:12)

Davies’s Comments on Liberius

The following extracts from Michael Davies’s writings all concern the same subject. They all say much the same thing. Indeed some readers will find them unbearably repetitive. My aim in reproducing so many almost identical passages is precisely to highlight the almost unbelievable frequency with which Davies adverts to the alleged fall of Pope Liberius into heresy and his alleged excommunication of St. Athanasius. Even this lengthy series represents a mere sample selected at random from a far greater number available, for Davies never misses the opportunity to drum these allegations into his readers’ minds.

  • (i) From Pope John’s Council, page xiv:
    “Athanasius made his stand not so much against the world, ‘contra mundum’, as against the bishops of the world – even to the point of having his excommunication confirmed by Pope Liberius – but it was the Pope who subsequently retracted and repented.”
  • (ii) From Pope John’s Council, p. 174:
    “Those who base their defence of the faith on the axiom that whatever the pope decides must be right would find themselves in a hopelessly indefensible position once they began to study the history of the papacy. They would have to maintain that St. Athanasius was orthodox until Pope Liberius confirmed his excommunication; that this excommunication made his views unorthodox; but that they became orthodox again when Liberius recanted.”
  • (iii) From Pope Paul’s New Mass, p. 280:
    “This Instruction [The General Instruction on the Roman Missal, Paul VI’s decree instituting the Novus Ordo in place of the Mass] must surely be one of the most deplorable documents ever approved by any Supreme Pontiff, not excluding the examples of Popes Liberius, Vigilius, and Honorius I.”
  • (iv) From Apologia Pro Marcel Lefebvre, Vol. I, p. 118:
    “There is, in fact, a very striking comparison between Archbishop Lefebvre and St. Athanasius. Pope Liberius subscribed to one of the ambiguous formulæ of Sirmium, which seriously compromised the traditional faith, and he confirmed the excommunication of St. Athanasius. It is true that Liberius acted under pressure and later repented – but it is equally true that it was Athanasius who upheld the faith and was canonized.”
  • (v) From Apologia Pro Marcel Lefebvre, Vol. I, pages 369-371:
    “On 17th May 352, Liberius was consecrated as pope. He immediately found himself involved in the Arian dispute.
    “‘He appealed to Constantius [the Roman emperor] to do justice to Athanasius. The imperial reply was to summon the bishops of Gaul to a council at Arles in 353-354, where, under threat of exile, they agreed to a condemnation of Athanasius. Even Liberius’s legates yielded. When the pope continued to press for a council more widely representative, it was assembled by Constantius at Milan in 355. It was threatened by a violent mob and the emperor’s personal intimidation: “My will,” he exclaimed “is canon law”. He prevailed with all save three of the bishops. Athanasius was once more condemned and Arians admitted to communion. Once more papal legates surrendered and Liberius himself was ordered to sign. When he refused to do so, or even to accept the emperor’s offerings, he was seized and carried off to the imperial presence; when he stood firm for Athanasius’ rehabilitation, he was exiled to Thrace (355) where he remained for two years. Meanwhile, a Roman deacon, Felix, was introduced into his see. The people refused to recognize the imperial anti-pope. Athanasius himself was driven into hiding and his flock abandoned to the persecution of an Arianizing intruder. When he visited Rome in 357, Constantius was besieged by clamorous demands for Liberius’s restoration ….’ [1]
    “The opposition to the anti-pope Felix made it imperative for Constantius to restore Liberius to his see. But it was equally imperative that the pope should condemn Athanasius. The emperor used a combination of threats and flattery to obtain his objective. Then followed the tragic fall of Liberius. It is described in the sternest of terms in Butler’s Lives of the Saints:
    “‘About this time Liberius began to sink under the hardships of his exile, and his resolution was shaken by the continual solicitations of Demophilus, the Arian Bishop of Beroea, and of Fortunatian, the temporizing Bishop of Aquileia. He was so far softened by listening to flatteries and suggestions to which he ought to have stopped his ears with horror, that he yielded to the snare laid for him, to the great scandal of the Church. He subscribed to the condemnation of St. Athanasius and a confessionor creed which had been framed by the Arians at Sirmium, though their heresy was not expressed in it; and he wrote to the Arian bishops of the East that he had received the true Catholic faith which many bishops had approved at Sirmium. The fall of so great a prelate and so illustrious a confessor is a terrifying example of human weakness, which no one can call to mind without trembling for himself ….’ [2]
    “According to A Catholic Dictionary of Theology (1971) [edited by Fr. J.H. Crehan – J.S.D.] ‘this unjust excommunication [of St. Athanasius – M. Davies] was a moral and not a doctrinal fault.’ Signing one of the ‘creeds’ of Sirmium was far more serious (there is some dispute as to which one Liberius signed, probably the first). The New Catholic Encyclopædia (1967) describes it as a ‘document reprehensible from the point of view of the faith’. Some Catholic apologists have attempted to prove that Liberius neither confirmed the excommunication of Athanasius nor subscribed to one of the formulæ of Sirmium. But Cardinal Newman has no doubt that the fall of Liberius is a historical fact. This is also the case with the two modern works of reference just cited and the celebrated Catholic Dictionary, edited by Addis and Arnold. The last named points out that there is ‘a fourfold cord of evidence not easily broken’, i.e., the testimonies of St. Athanasius, St. Hilary, Sozomen, and St. Jerome. It also notes that ‘all the accounts are at once independent of and consistent with each other.’
    “The New Catholic Encyclopædia concludes that:
    ‘Everything points to the fact that he [Liberius] accepted the first formula of Sirmium of 351 …. It failed gravely in deliberately avoiding the use of the most characteristic expression of the Nicene faith and in particular the homo-ousion. Thus while it cannot be said that Liberius taught false doctrine, it seems necessary to admit that, through weakness and fear, he did not do justice to the full truth.’
    “It is quite nonsensical for Protestant polemicists to cite the case of Liberius as an argument against papal infallibility. The excommunication of Athanasius (or of anyone else) is not an act involving infallibility, and the formula he signed contains nothing directly heretical. Nor was it an ex cathedra pronouncement intended to bind the whole Church, and, if it had been, the fact that Liberius acted under duress would have rendered it null and void. “However despite the pressure to which he was submitted, Liberius’s fall reveals a weakness of character when compared with those such as Athanasius, who did remain firm.”
  • (vi) From an article by Davies in the November 1985 issue of The Angelus, enthusiastically entitled “God Bless Archbishop Lefebvre!”:
    “In the fourth century, Pope Liberius showed lamentable weakness in the face of the Arian heresy. He signed an ambiguous semi-Arian formula and excommunicated St. Athanasius, defender of Our Lord’s divinity. … Liberius was the first Roman Pontiff not to be canonized whereas St. Athanasius was raised to the honours of the altar.”
  • (vii) From The Divine Constitution and Indefectibility of the Catholic Church, a supplement to No 93 of the periodical Approaches:
    “During the Arian heresy the weak Pope Liberius capitulated under pressure, signed a formula of doubtful orthodoxy, and excommunicated the heroic Athanasius. But at no time did St. Athanasius claim either that Liberius had ceased to be Pope or that the hierarchy had ceased to exist, even though most of the bishops had either succumbed to the Arian heresy or had condoned it through cowardice.”
  • (viii) Also from The Divine Constitution and Indefectibility of the Catholic Church, supplement to Approaches No 93, p. 35:
    “In the days of the Arian persecution, when St. Athanasius was a hunted fugitive excommunicated by the Pope, who could have imagined that the day was drawing near when the true Catholics who had been forced to worship outside their parish churches would be able to return to them in triumph?”
  • (ix) From Archbishop Lefebvre – The Truth, p. 32:
    “ … it is clear that there has been no crisis comparable to the present one since the Arian heresy, and during that heresy St. Athanasius, who made an almost solitary stand for the traditional faith, had to undergo the anguish of having his excommunication confirmed by Pope Liberius. But it was the pope who recanted and Athanasius who was eventually canonized.”
  • (x) And finally, from The Goldfish Bowl: The Church Since Vatican II, p. 4:
    “In the fourth century, Pope Liberius showed lamentable weakness in the face of the Arian heresy. He signed an ambiguous semi-Arian formula and excommunicated St. Athanasius, defender of Our Lord’s divinity …. Liberius was the first Roman Pontiff not to be canonized whereas St. Athanasius was raised to the honours of the altar.”

The inevitable tedium involved in these repetitive citations might have been worse, for readers have been spared further quotations from an article by Davies called “Arianism” in the January 1987 issue of The Angelus and numerous other sources too, in which all the points made so often in the passages just quoted are repeated yet again, and at length. But enough is enough. It is now time to embark on one last repetition by summarizing the conclusions which any reader of those passages cannot very well fail to have reached.

The Inevitable Conclusions

These conclusions are, it will be agreed, as follows:

  1. At the time of the Arian heresy most of the Catholic bishops fell into error, leaving St. Athanasius as almost the sole defender of the true Faith.
  2. At first St. Athanasius was defended, though inadequately, by Pope Liberius, who took his side against the Arianizing Roman emperor, Constantius.
  3. Subsequently, however, Pope Liberius, having been subjected to threats and exile, capitulated, and at least implicitly denied the Faith,
    (a) by signing a formula designed to favour heresy; and
    (b) by excommunicating St. Athanasius.
  4. Since that time, there has been a certain amount of scholarly dispute over exactly which formula was signed by Pope Liberius, but one thing about which there is no doubt is that all serious scholars – led by Cardinal Newman – have been and are in agreement that both the signing of a heterodox document and the excommunication of St. Athanasius are historically certain, notwithstanding arguments to the contrary which have been put forward by certain best-forgotten apologists for the papacy whose zeal exceeded their erudition.
  5. Despite his fall into, or close to, heresy, Liberius continued to be recognized as the true pope, and eventually recanted his errors and revoked the decree of excommunication against St. Athanasius. (Davies in fact refers to this recantation three times.)

Such, in summary, are the conclusions which are imposed on the reader of the above passages written by Michael Davies about Pope Liberius – unless … unless … unless the reader has learned by hard experience to be a little cynical about Davies’s scholarship. For, as on so many other matters, the reader cynical enough to submit Davies’s claims to independent verification will be rewarded by the discovery that the truth is very different from Davies’s representation.

The exact history of the Liberius-Athanasius episode is not easy to get to the bottom of. Indeed it is fraught with many pitfalls for the unwary. But there can be no excuse for presenting even doubtful matters – let alone long-exploded myths – as certain facts, as Davies so often has. Nor can there be any excuse for selective choice of tendentious or out-dated sources, [3] or for the suppression of material evidence.

Unfortunately, it is not possible adequately to counter Davies’s distortions and replace his self-serving misrepresentations of history with reality except by detailed analysis. But the subject is far too important for the truth to go undefended.

And of course it is also of great importance in Michael Davies’s view, which is why he writes of it so often. Why this is so is shown most clearly in his pamphlet entitled The True Voice of Tradition, published by the Remnant Press as a reprint of an article by Davies in The Remnant of 30th April 1978. This pamphlet, although not among those quoted above, offers yet another treatment of the same subject – in fact Davies fills no fewer than fifteen pages of it with repetitions of his allegations that Pope Liberius subscribed to the Semi-Arian heresy and excommunicated St. Athanasius. Using as his main source Cardinal Newman’s work The Arians of the Fourth Century, he first gives a history of that era, and then uses this history as a parallel to our own situation today, a parallel from which he can argue that, even if the “popes” of Vatican II have fallen into heresy, they should not be rejected, just as St. Athanasius did not reject Pope Liberius as a valid pope. Rather – he maintains – we should all take courage from the fact that a single bishop, standing alone against all his brother bishops and the pope, can nevertheless be vindicated and even canonized.

The intended parallel with Archbishop Lefebvre is of course obvious.

The Facts

It must now be shown that Davies’s representation of history, unfortunately both for the arguments he seeks to base on it and for the cause of truth in itself, is very far from reality. First, I shall list a few very clear facts which are strongly suggestive – to say no more – that the story of a fall from orthodoxy on the part of Pope Liberius is no more than a myth. This done, it will be possible to examine in more detail the great mass of evidence which, taken collectively, raises this conclusion from probability to certainty .

The main facts are these:

  1. Pope Liberius was in reality a staunch opponent, not only of the Arians, but also of the Semi-Arians.
  2. He was sent into exile by the Semi-Arian Emperor Constantius precisely because of the failure of the attempts of that emperor and his toady bishops to influence him to excommunicate St. Athanasius and accept as orthodox a compromised Semi-Arian statement of Catholic doctrine concerning Our Lord’s Divinity. [4]
  3. Constantius appointed Felix to replace the absent Liberius in the See of Rome, but Felix was not at that time accepted as pope by the Romans.
  4. Felix himself did not in fact subscribe to Arianism, but he did acknowledge ecclesiastical communion with arianisers, for which reason, the fifth century historian-bishop Theodoret informs us, “none of the citizens of Rome entered into the church while he was inside.” [5] (History of the Latin Church, Bk. II, c. 17)
  5. The people of Rome remained loyal to Liberius and protested to the emperor at his detention.
  6. Eventually their peaceable protests gave way to rioting, and as a result Liberius was permitted by Constantius to return to Rome.
  7. On his return he was received as a victor there by the populace.
  8. His reign in Rome then continued for a few years more, during which time he remained entirely orthodox, refused to compromise in the slightest degree on the orthodox doctrine of the Council of Nicæa, and was in full communion and friendship with St. Athanasius.
  9. Some extant historical texts apparently of that period assert that the immediate reason for his return to Rome was that he had subscribed to a Semi-Arian formula. But many others favour the contrary view.
  10. The weight of subsequent scholarship is strongly in favour of Liberius’s orthodoxy, and orthodox Catholic scholars in particular – and it is they who have studied the subject in greatest depth and are most reliable – are overwhelmingly of the view that Liberius never fell, remained orthodox throughout his exile, and always remained in full communion with St. Athanasius.

The Historical Evidence Concerning the Excommunication of St. Athanasius

Let us begin our analysis of the historical evidence by looking at the assertion, which Davies makes repeatedly and as though it were a matter of no doubt, that Pope Liberius excommunicated St. Athanasius. Since two works of St. Athanasius provide the most commonly used evidence that Liberius subscribed to a Semi-Arian formula, anyone coming fresh to the question would be bound to expect Athanasius also to have provided testimony to the fact of his own excommunication by Pope Liberius; for he refers to Liberius in many places in his writings, he had known him well, and, as all admit, for at least most of the time none of the other bishops had given him (Athanasius) more valiant support.

But St. Athanasius gives no testimony that Pope Liberius excommunicated him. Indeed, not only is such a thing nowhere hinted at in the writings of Athanasius; the assertion is not made in historical discussions by any other writerwho was contemporary with the events either. The alleged excommunication of St. Athanasius found its way into subsequent history – which it entered only as a fact of doubtful authenticity – purely on the basis of two letters attributed to Liberius himself and which must now be examined.

The first of the two letters, beginning with the words “Studens paci”, is addressed to the bishops of the Eastern Roman Empire and in it Liberius asserts that he maintains communion with them and with the universal Church, but that he has excluded Athanasius from this communion. The second, “Pro deifico timore”, is also addressed to the Eastern bishops and in it the pope says that he is in communion with them, but that he has excluded Athanasius. He also says that he, Liberius, has subscribed to the [Semi-Arian] formula of faith drafted at Sirmium.

Scarcely any further discussion of these letters is needed, because both of them may be dismissed at once as palpable forgeries. On the first it is sufficient to quote the immensely scholarly Canon Bernard Jungmann who, in his Dissertationes Selectæ in Historiam Ecclesiasticam (6th dissertation, Vol. II, pages 69-70), tells us:

All critics since Baronius have held that it was not written by Liberius, even those who hold the other letters as genuine …. It is obvious that the letter is the work of a forger.

As to the second letter, its authenticity is maintained only by certain non-Catholic scholars who are known to be animated by hostility to the Holy See; and the renowned von Hefele and Dom John Chapman, for instance, have comprehensively exploded any possibility that Liberius could have written it.

In fact it is clear to any honest enquirer that this second letter must be the work of an inept forger too. One of its most obvious contradictions is that in it the supposed Liberius openly and shamelessly admits to having accepted Arianism and having condemned Athanasius, while at the same time incongruously saying that he is still in exile – ignoring, in other words, the well-known fact that the whole point of his having been sent into exile by the emperor was his refusal to do these very things. There is no escaping from the fact that this is a contradiction, for all the writers who maintain that Liberius did subscribe to a heretical formula agree that it was immediately upon doing so, and as a result of this, that Constantius authorized his return to Rome.

Thus the only two pieces of evidence on which the allegation that Liberius excommunicated St. Athanasius are based are both entirely worthless. By contrast, on the other side of the scales there are the obviously significant facts that:

  • (a) not a single other contemporary writer refers to it, and
  • (b) Athanasius himself, even in one of the two passages where he [6] refers to Liberius as having yielded to the sufferings which he underwent through his banishment, goes out of his way to praise Liberius for having remained faithful to communion with him. (Apologia Against the Arians – Migne, Patrologia Græca, Vol. XXV, col. 409)

Such is the historical basis for this allegation, which Davies regards as sufficiently proven to be rammed down his readers’ throats at every available opportunity in his writings.

The Historical Evidence Concerning Liberius’ Subscription to Heresy

Distinct from this charge, however, is the twin allegation that Pope Liberius yielded to the emperor’s pressure to the extent of putting his name to the Semi-Arian heresy. Certainly he could have done this without excommunicating St. Athanasius, but whether he in fact did so is what must now be considered. And once again I shall begin by setting down once more a few facts upon which all are agreed and concerning which there is no doubt. These undisputed facts are:

  1. Pope Liberius was elected pope, as successor to Pope Julius, in the year 352, two years after Constantius had become sole emperor and had begun his campaign to unite all Christians – orthodox, Arian and Semi-Arian – in a compromised creed. The defect of this creed was that it carefully excluded the word homoousios [7] which was the touchstone of orthodoxy in all the disputes arising from the Arian heresy. Meaning consubstantial or “of one substance”, it had been included by the Council of Nicæa (325 A.D.) in that Council’s profession of faith on the grounds that it was a clear and unambiguous word which could be accepted only by those who believed that God the Father and God the Son possess the same Divine nature, this being the truth which the Arians denied and the Semi-Arians fought shy of.
  2. Pope Liberius began by taking a firm stand for strict orthodoxy. Thus:
    (a) He refused to countenance the Arian heresy when stated straightforwardly; that is, in the assertion that the Son is “of different substance” from the Father.
    (b) He refused to accept the defective Semi-Arian compromise that the Son is “of like substance” to the Father.
    (c) He refused to accept any profession of faith which did not include the Nicene “homo-ousios”.
    (d) He upheld the acquittal of Athanasius from charges of heterodoxy which had been brought before his predecessor Julius.
    (e) When the legates whom he sent to the Emperor Constantius in Gaul were bamboozled into condemning Athanasius, he wrote both to Bishop Hosius of Cordova and to St. Eusebius that he deplored the actions of his legates and would himself rather die than incur the imputation of having thus agreed to injustice and heterodoxy.
  3. At the council which the emperor summoned at Milan, without the approval or attendance of Liberius, all of the Western bishops other than the pope (nearly three hundred) subscribed fully to the wishes of the emperor – the rejection of communion with St. Athanasius and the adoption of a formula of faith which did not include the word “homo-ousios”.
  4. Pope Liberius wrote a letter to the faithful bishops (in the East) in which he said:
    Make mention of me to the Lord in your prayers with the intention that, overcoming the assaults, … I may be able to withstand and that the Lord may deign to make me your equal, with inviolate faith and without prejudice to the well-being of the Catholic Church. (Jaffé, n. 216)
  5. In 353 Pope Liberius wrote to the Emperor Constantius stating that it was impossible for him to condemn Athanasius, and refusing to enter into communion with Arians or with those who were themselves in communion with Arians. And in Athanasius’s Apologia Against the Arians, he himself tells us that Pope Liberius was aware of the fact that various slanders were being spread about himself (Athanasius) in order to bring about his condemnation so that Arianism might flourish the better without his opposition. These are his significant and unambiguous words:
    He [Pope Liberius] knew the secret of the machination mounted against us. (Migne, Patrologia Græca, Vol. XXV, col. 409)
  6. Eventually, in the year 355, Liberius was seized and taken to Milan, where, according to Theodoret, he refused to denounce Athanasius.
  7. In the course of this confrontation between the supreme secular power – the emperor – and the supreme spiritual power – the pope – Constantius rebuked Liberius for standing up for Athanasius against the world – pro Athanasio contra mundum. Hence, ironically, the famous phrase “Athanasius against the world”, so often quoted as indicating that Athanasius was not even supported by the pope, and which indeed is sometimes wrongly attributed to St. Athanasius himself, was in fact originated in a context which itself makes it clear that the pope was the very person – virtually the only person – by whom Athanasius was supported against the rest of the world.
  8. At this time Liberius also refused to subscribe to a Semi-Arian formula and, as already mentioned earlier, was consequently exiled on the orders of the emperor, who attempted to impose Felix as bishop of Rome in place of him. We are informed both by St. Athanasius and the famous preface to the “Liber Precum” that Liberius’s exile lasted two years, so that his return must have taken place in the year 357.
  9. We have no first hand account of what took place during Pope Liberius’s exile in Thrace during those two years, but we do know, thanks to St. Jerome, that it was as a hero that he was welcomed back to Rome by the citizens who had clamoured for his return (St. Jerome: Chronicon – Migne, Patrologia Latina, Vol. XXVII, col. 501), and we also know that his orthodoxy was certainly not subject to suspicion at any point from then on until his death in the year 366.
  10. We also know that after returning from his exile he annulled the acts of the Semi-Arian Council of Rimini on the very grounds that, although it had nowhere positively affirmed a theological error, it had tendentiously avoided the use of the crucial word “homo-ousios”. Concerning this omission, Liberius commented:
    The impious and sacrilegious Arians have succeeded in assembling the bishops of the West at Rimini [this council took place in 359 with the approval of the Emperor Constantius], with a view to deceive them by false discourses, and to force them, by means of the imperial authority, either to strike out or openly to condemn a term very wisely inserted in the profession of faith.
  11. Although there were only eighty Arians among the four hundred bishops from the Western Roman Empire who had met at the Council of Rimini, the orthodox Fathers of that council had eventually been deceived by the heretics into accepting as orthodox a formula which excluded the word “homo-ousios”, and because of this they too – that is, even those who had remained inwardly orthodox in belief – were summoned by Pope Liberius to make a formal recantation of their error if they wished to be recognized as Catholics. A little later, the judgement of Liberius, confirmed by his successor Pope St. Damasus, was published in a synodal letter by a council of 90 bishops. Damasus insisted on outward reparation as well as inward orthodoxy. “We believe,” he thundered, “that those whose weakness prevents them taking this step must be separated as soon as possible from our communion and deprived of the episcopal dignity so that the people of their dioceses may find respite in safety from error.” [8]
  12. One final relevant fact is that in the year 366, shortly before his death, Pope Liberius received a deputation of Semi-Arians led by Eustathius, and treated them just as if they were full Arians, insisting on their adopting the Nicene Creed before he would receive them to communion.

Clearly, in the light of this last episode, certain conclusions force themselves on the investigator even before he has examined such character testimony as there may be in support of Pope Liberius. The most obvious, I suggest, are these:

  1. It is simply beyond credence that the pope, had he been known to have accepted the Semi-Arian heresy himself, would have made no public recantation; and not even the most determined of his opponents suggest that such a recantation was made, with the single exception of Davies himself. [9]
  2. It is also beyond credence that if he had accepted the Semi-Arian heresy he would, in his subsequent behaviour, have made no distinction between the Semi-Arians and the Arians.
  3. Still more absurd is the notion that he subscribed to the Semi-Arian formula having regard to the fact that, subsequent to his supposed subscription, he issued a decree permitting the bishops who had lapsed into Semi-Arianism – the very crime of which he himself is charged – to be restored to their offices if they were especially zealous against the Arians, and in that decree made no mention of himself. Naturally, if the charge against him were true, it would have been necessary to include in that decree some reference to his own fall and subsequent repentance, and some indication that he too was exercising himself with energy against the Arians in order to atone for his fall. Not even hypocrisy could account for such an omission if his fall was publicly known as is alleged by his opponents; for he could not possibly have got away with such treatment of those who had sinned no more gravely than himself. The decree would have been greeted by a howl of rage and execration which would scarcely have stopped reverberating today.
  4. In addition to Liberius’s own attitude to Semi-Arians after his return from exile, there is plentiful other evidence that is quite inexplicable if we accept the allegation that he had fallen into Semi-Arianism. For instance, there is the fact that there was at no time and in no context whatever any outcry about any such fall on the part of Liberius, whereas there was no shortage of outcry concerning the fall of Bishop Hosius, who was of course of far less significance than the pope. Why did the world fall silent when – or rather if – Pope Liberius also fell? And why did Emperor Constantius make no attempt to make capital out of the fall?

These internal contradictions in the allegations made against Liberius stand out immediately, and already suffice to render the two main charges against Liberius – namely, his having excommunicated St. Athanasius and his having subscribed to a Semi-Arian formula – highly improbable. In other words, the difficulty in reconciling the universally admitted facts about Liberius with the two disputed allegations against him is so great that only clear and inescapable evidence from contemporary historical sources would constrain us to admit the truth of these charges. However, as history does record occasional instances of behaviour by otherwise venerable figures that is highly improbable or even inexplicable, we cannot entirely dismiss these accusations, even against such a heroic and revered pope as Liberius, without considering the evidence of the historians who wrote close to his time. We shall do this by systematically considering the evidence furnished on the subject by each of these historical sources. That is to say, I shall look at all the historians of the period, and record whether they say anything to support the accusations against Liberius which Davies has so enthusiastically retailed to his readers, or whether they oppose it, either explicitly, by affirming Liberius’ unsullied orthodoxy and unbroken communion with Athanasius, or implicitly, by omitting any mention of these alleged lapses on Liberius’s part – lapses so grave that had they actually occurred it would have been impossible for any disinterested historian to overlook them.

I begin with the catalogue of those writers who favour Liberius’s orthodoxy.

The Testimony of Socrates

The first of these is the ecclesiastical historian Socrates [10] (379-c. 445 A.D.) who, in his Historia Ecclesiæ, brought Eusebius’s ecclesiastical history up to date and, of interest for our purposes, recounts the battle between orthodoxy and Arianism. Although he makes no direct reference in this account to the anti-Liberian allegations, of which he seems to know nothing, he includes some information which bears upon the incidents involved and is certainly incompatible with the version of events, popularized by anti-Catholic historians, which Michael Davies subscribes to. Let us look at the relevant sections of his work:

But the emperor [Constantius] … gave to Ursacius [and Valens] and their associates full authority to take any action they chose against the Churches. He had the profession of faith which had been read at Rimini sent to the Churches of Italy, commanding that anyone who did not subscribe to it be expelled from the Church and others substituted in their places. And first of these, Liberius, bishop of the Roman city, when he had refused to give his agreement to that Faith, was sent into exile; and the party of Ursacius put in his place one Felix who had been deacon of the Roman Church until he embraced the Arian perfidy and was elevated to the episcopate – though some say that he did not accept the Arian view, and accepted Ordination only under force.
So at that time in the Western regions there was nothing but revolution and tumult, some of the clergy being thrust out and exiled, others being substituted for them. And all these things were taking place by the authority of imperial edicts which were also sent to the East. But not long afterwards, Liberius was recalled from exile and resumed his see; the Roman populace had revolted and driven Felix out of the Church so that the Emperor had grudgingly yielded to them. The party of Ursacius, however, left Italy and, moving East, came to a town of Thrace called Nike. (Historia Ecclesiæ 2, 37)


Now as those who held the ‘homo-ousios’ [i.e. the orthodox belief concerning the nature of Christ] were at that time severely troubled and had been put to flight, the persecutors began afresh their efforts against the Macedonians, who, yielding to fear rather than to actual violence, sent envoys hither and thither through all their cities with their message that refuge must be sought from the emperor’s brother and from Liberius, the bishop of the Roman city, and that they should embrace their faith rather than communicate with Eudoxios. So they sent Eustathius the bishop of Sebastia, who had already been very frequently deposed, together with Silvanus from Tarsus in Cilicia and Theophilus, from another Cilician town called Castabala, instructing them not to disagree with Liberius in faith, but to enter communion with the Roman Church and confirm by agreement their faith in [the word] ‘consubstantial’. So those who had differed from Seleucia [Eudoxius] came to Rome with their letters; and though they were not able to approach the emperor himself, as he was detained under arms in Gaul owing to the war against the Sarmatians, they presented their letter to Liberius.
Liberius at first refused to admit them, saying that they belonged to the Arian party and could not be received by the Church, as they had forsaken the Nicene Faith. But they replied that they had long repented and recognized the truth and had long since abjured the doctrine of the Anomians and confessed the Son to be in all respects like to the Father, the word “like” being, as they understood it, in no way different from ‘consubstantial’. When they had said this, Liberius insisted on having a written statement of what they professed and they presented him with a memorandum which included the very words of the Nicene Faith …. When the envoys had committed themselves to the memorandum by way of security, Liberius received them in communion, and giving them …. letters dismissed them. (Historia Ecclesiæ 4, 12)

These extracts can be found in Greek in Migne’s Patrologia Græca, Vol. LXVII, and in Kirch’s Enchiridion Fontium Historiæ Ecclesiasticæ Antiquæ in Greek with a Latin version. What they show is that a learned and respected Catholic writer, who was of an age to have been able to acquire his information from contemporaries and eyewitnesses of the events he recounts, and who had clearly conducted a close investigation of Liberius’s role in the battle of the orthodox Catholic Church with Arianism favoured by the emperor, either (a) had never encountered a suggestion that Liberius ever fell, subscribed to heresy or excommunicated St. Athanasius, or (b) had utterly dismissed such suggestions if he had met them. They also show that an account of what took place which includes nothing not of the highest credit to Pope Liberius is completely plausible and was taken seriously by the learned Catholics of the capital of the Roman Empire. [11] Socrates reports Liberius’s staunch refusal to countenance even semi-Arianism or to be bullied by the emperor, and makes it clear that his return from exile could not be construed as evidence of any compromise on his part because it is satisfactorily accounted for by the turbulence of the Romans at being deprived of their respected bishop. [12] Finally, he presents to us a picture of Liberius after his return from exile, behaving not as temporizer, nor even as a chastened penitent, but with the confidence and firmness, in insisting on even the finer points of doctrinal orthodoxy, which could belong only to a heroic confessor of the true Faith.

The Historian Theodoret

Another witness of the highest value in favour of the orthodoxy of Liberius is the scholarly Theodoret (c. 393-458), of whom the 1913 Catholic Encyclopædia (Vol. IX, p. 222) says:

To Theodoret, Liberius is a glorious athlete of the Faith; he tells us more of him than any other writer has done, and he tells it with enthusiasm. It is Theodoret who has preserved for us the minutes of the inspiring interview between Liberius and Constantius at Milan to which reference was made earlier; and he both refers to the seditions excited in Rome by the absence of the pope and affirms that it was owing to them that ‘the admirable Liberius returned to his beloved city.’

But the feature of his treatment of the subject of Liberius which is most noteworthy from the point of view of the question we are looking at is that, although the treatment is a lengthy one, there is no reference in it whatever to the charge against Liberius, not even in order to refute or dismiss it, any more than there was in Socrates’s accounts. For this there can be but one explanation: that the allegation either had not by then, nearly a century after the fall had allegedly occurred, been made at all, or, at the very least, had not received sufficient circulation to be taken seriously. And neither of these alternatives, it hardly needs saying, could be possibilities if Liberius in fact had fallen; for such a unique and dramatic event would have been widely known within a very short time, and Theodoret would have been forced, if not necessarily to accept the truth of the allegations, at least to refer to them. (Historia Ecclesiastica, II, XIV/XVI; Migne Patrologia Græca, Vol. LXXXII, coll. 1033-1040)

Sulpitius Severus

Another important witness is Sulpitius Severus; for he was a historian, his life overlapped with that of Pope Liberius, and his piety puts him beyond all suspicion of partisanship and dishonesty. His Historia Sacra was written soon after 400, and in it, although he was certainly aware of an allegation that Liberius had fallen into heresy that was to be found attributed to St. Jerome, in passages the meaning and authenticity of which will be examined shortly, he too makes no mention at all of any such fact, which he had obviously dismissed as unfounded.

And the reason he gives for the restoration of Pope Liberius to Rome from his Thracian exile?

… ob seditiones Romanas – on account of unrest in Rome.  (Migne: Patrologia Latina, Vol. XX, col. 151; Vol. II, 39).


Of great interest are the words of the historian Rufinus. Let us turn to the four-volume General History of the Catholic Church of Fr. J.C. Darras, a work the publication of which in the middle of the nineteenth century was greeted by a chorus of authoritative praise, including a special commendation from Pope Pius IX. [13] On p. 461 in Vol. I, Fr. Darras writes:

In the words of Rufinus written about fifty years after this period, we perhaps see the first dark spots on the horizon, foreboding the storm of calumny which was soon to break upon the head of Liberius. [Darras considers the oblique reference of Rufinus the first hint because he rightly, as we shall see, rejects the allegations found in some editions of the writings of Saints Athanasius and Jerome as certainly erroneous and very probably interpolated. – J.S.D.] He [Rufinus] says: ‘Liberius, Bishop of Rome, had returned while Constantius was still alive; but I cannot positively state whether it was that he had consented to subscribe, or that the Emperor would please the Roman people who, at his departure, had begged this favour.’ Rufinus was a priest of Aquileia; in his youth he may have known Liberius; he had certainly known Fortunatian, Bishop of Aquileia, to whom [responsibility for] the fall of Liberius is imputed. And yet Rufinus knows nothing of it, undoubtedly because the calumny was only beginning to spread abroad; for if Liberius had actually signed an Arian formula, had he actually penned the pitiful letters of defection ascribed to him, the Arians, who were all-powerful, would have left no one in ignorance of the fact. [Emphasis added – J.S.D.] It would have been impossible for Rufinus to retain any doubt upon the subject. (Darras: General History of the Church, following Rohrbacher: Histoire Universelle de l’Église Catholique, tom. XI, pp. 430-2. The extract from Rufinus is taken from his Historia Ecclesiastica, I, 28; Migne: Patrologia Latina, Vol. XX, col. 498.)

This was written in 402-5 A.D.

St. Ambrose

St. Ambrose, one of the four great Latin Doctors of the Church, is a witness for the defence of Pope Liberius of obviously very great weight and value. He had known Pope Liberius personally and remembered him as an exceedingly holy man, and, far from making reference to any lapse from orthodoxy, refers to him as being “of holy memory” and “of very venerable memory.” (Migne: Patrologia Latina tom. XVI, coll. 219 et seq.)

The Greek Menology

The next authority to be quoted is the Greek Menology – the Eastern equivalent to the martyrologies of the Western Church. Although compiled (by Symeon Metaphrastes) in the tenth century, the information it contains is much older, being based on the earliest available records of the individuals it commemorates. Considerable light is shed on Liberius by the following brief life of him:

The Blessed Liberius, defender of the Faith, was Bishop of Rome under the empire of Constantius. Burning with zeal for the orthodox Faith, he protected the great Athanasius, persecuted by the heretics for his bold defence of the truth, and driven from Alexandria. Whilst Constantine and Constantius lived, the Catholic Faith was supported; but when Constantius was left sole master, as he was an Arian, the heretics prevailed. Liberius, for his vigour in censuring their impiety, was banished to Beroea in Thrace. But the Romans, who always remained true to him, went to the emperor and besought his recall. He was therefore, on this account, sent back to Rome and there ended his life, after a holy administration of his pastoral charge.

This passage is quoted from Darras: General History of the Church, Vol. I, p. 462, where it is referenced to Rohrbacher: Histoire Universelle de l’Église Catholique, tom. XI, p. 374. It would be superfluous to point out that this account is entirely incompatible with any known dereliction of his duty on the part of Pope Liberius. “Burning with zeal for the orthodox Faith, he protected the great Athanasius ….” Such is the Liberius commemorated by the Greeks in their menology, which constitutes an official liturgical work. A starker contrast to the Liberius that Davies presents to his readers could hardly be imagined.

St. Hilary

St. Hilary, bishop of Poitiers, was another contemporary of Liberius who had known him and been united with him in defence of the true Faith against Arianism. He is sometimes claimed as a witness to the fall of Liberius, but the only passage from his undisputed works adduced by the opponents of Liberius to support their claim proves nothing of the kind, while, on the other hand, the writings attributed to him in which Liberius is stated to have fallen were patently not written by him. Hence it follows that St. Hilary is silent on the subject of any fall of Liberius and must therefore have known nothing of it, which makes him an important indirect witness in Liberius’s favour, for he would certainly have known of the event if it had had any foundation in fact.

Here are the very words which some writers have deemed adequate evidence of St. Hilary’s agreement with the tale of Liberius’s collapse into heresy.

Then thou [the Emperor Constantius] didst bring thy war to Rome, whence thou didst snatch the bishop [Liberius]: and, wretched man that thou art, I know not whether thy wickedness was greater in restoring him than in abducting him! (Contra Constantium, II, 5-8; Migne: Patrologia Latina, Vol. X, 588 et seq.)

Evidently St. Hilary is indicating that the emperor may have been guilty of wickedness in restoring Liberius to Rome, just as he was in snatching him from Rome. But in the first place St. Hilary is not certain about the matter – “I know not …” – and, secondly, the nature of the wickedness in question is by no means apparent. Conceivably a compromise on Liberius’s part could have accounted for the words – though surely this wickedness would more properly be ascribed to Liberius than to Constantius – but countless other explanations are equally or more plausible. For instance, if Constantius, angry at having to yield to the demands of the Roman populace and return their unflinching pope to them to avoid a revolution, had spitefully inflicted some terrible indignity on Liberius on the occasion of his return to Rome, this would perfectly well account for Hilary’s words. Such an action would be thoroughly consistent with the character of Constantius, for bullies often descend to vindictiveness when they are thwarted, and it would account for St. Hilary’s words quite adequately without necessitating the assumption that St. Hilary is referring to the alleged fall of Liberius, which has already been shown to be in the highest degree improbable and to which nowhere else in his copious writings does he make any reference. The Catholic Encyclopædia (1913) concludes that it would be gratuitous to understand the words we have been considering to refer to a fall of Liberius – see Vol. IX, p. 220.

A few of the more virulent opponents of Liberius have even dared to attribute to St. Hilary certain other fragments attacking Liberius which, in the style of their Latinity, sensibility of feeling, dignity of expression and charity are not only unworthy of any Catholic (let alone a saint and a Doctor of the Church!), but even of any pagan with any pretence to education or self-respect.

Pope St. Anastasius I

Highly relevant to St. Hilary’s attitude to Liberius is the fact that Pope St. Anastasius I, writing in the year 400, placed Pope Liberius in the same category as St. Hilary among the three most valiant defenders of the Faith in the time of Arianism, adding that he (Liberius) “would have preferred to be crucified rather than blaspheme Christ with the Arians.” See his letter to Venerius, Bishop of Milan. It is worthy of note that this papal letter was regarded as sufficiently definitive and authoritative, in its denial of the fall of Liberius, to justify its inclusion in Denzinger’s Enchiridion Symbolorum (§93) – the collection of “definitions and declarations concerning matters of faith and morals” widely used by Catholic theologians – and to be introduced therein by the title “Concerning the Orthodoxy of Pope Liberius”.

Pope St. Siricius

Another early pope who wrote of Liberius was Pope St. Siricius, who reigned 384-398 A.D. He records the fact that Liberius annulled the decrees of the Council of Rimini-Seleucia because of their omission of the word “homo-ousios”, and mentions that he forbade at the same time the re-Baptism of those who had been baptised by the Arians. He also refers to him as being “of venerable memory” and, like the others already cited, offers no hint of any lapse from orthodoxy or compromise with unorthodoxy. (Migne: Patrologia Latina, Vol. XIII, col. 1133)

Other Saints and Historical Writers

In the year 432 A.D., St. Prosper re-edited one of the few early historical sources to record a supposed fall into heresy on the part of St. Liberius, St. Jerome’s Chronicon (“Chronicle”). Whether the Latin Doctor and great translator of the Vulgate Bible was genuinely responsible for this reference to the fall of Liberius – perhaps as a result of his notorious carelessness in historical matters or owing to his having been misinformed by others – or whether the true explanation of the reference to an event so utterly at odds with all the evidence in St. Jerome’s work should rather be attributed to a corruption of the text by a later hand is a question we shall shortly be looking at, but at this stage it should be observed only that St. Prosper unhesitatingly omitted from his text of Jerome the passages which suggested that Liberius had subscribed to heresy. He at least, therefore, who was in a much better position to judge than any later scholar, had no doubt that they were inauthentic.

In the sixth century were compiled the Gesta Liberii (“Deeds of Liberius”), a historical account of the principal events of the pope’s life. Its unknown Latin author descends to considerable detail and furnishes us with much useful information about Liberius and his times – information which, though not corroborated by any other early writers, is nonetheless in the highest degree credible because it dovetails so well with what has come down to us from other sources. Hence its author must have been a learned man with access to copious information about Liberius – more information than was available to those who accuse Liberius of consenting to heresy – and yet he too is pointedly silent about the alleged fall of Liberius. On the contrary, he eulogizes him as “constantly fixed on the Trinity, preaching the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, and praising the God from God and light from light, the whole from whole, entirety from entirety, not created but begotten, not out of nothing, but out of the Father, being the same substance with the Father … ” [14] In other words, the Liberius presented to us by this writer is “constant” in, and especially conspicuous for, his devotion to the very doctrine he is said to have temporized over and allowed to be distorted, obscured or neglected. (See Migne: Patrologia Latina, Vol. VIII, col. 1390b.)

Also worthy of mention are the great St. Basil (329-379), Doctor of the Church, who refers to Liberius as “the most blessed bishop” in his Epistle No 363 (Migne: Patrologia Græca, Vol. XXXII, col. 980a), and St Epiphanius (315-403), who was such a stickler for orthodoxy that he suspected St. John Chrysostom of heresy (Origenism), but who has nothing but praise for the pope, whom he refers to as “Liberius of holy memory” (see Darras, ibid., pp. 457, 501).

Other Tributes to the Holiness of Liberius

Another fact which Davies does not mention, even if only to try to explain it away, is that Pope Liberius is honoured as a saint in the ancient Latin Martyrology. Although Davies says repeatedly that Athanasius was canonized and Liberius was not, this is in fact quite false. Neither was formally canonized, as the formal procedure of canonization did not exist at the period that the Church began to revere them (which was immediately after their deaths); but both benefited from the Church’s official recognition as saints in the form which did then exist, by their inclusion in the martyrologies of West and East.

In fact evidence in further support of the testimonies already given could be multiplied almost indefinitely, for instance from the historians Cassiodorus (490-583) and Theophanes (IXth century). But after such conclusive testimonies to Pope Liberius’s sanctity and unfailing orthodoxy, what can be the need?

Instead, let us move on to an examination of such early sources as can be adduced in favour of the allegation of his having subscribed to heresy. It need hardly be said that, even if these sources might appear to be conclusive, the testimony of the authors just cited would oblige us to pause long for thought and to make us in the highest degree reluctant to accept the conclusion they tend towards. But in fact no such dilemma would occur to anyone who looks at the evidence attentively, for the miserable clutch of references from which the opponents of Liberius and enemies of the Holy See attempt to construct an adamantine case against Liberius are no sooner scrutinized than they fall away as probably inauthentic and certainly erroneous – as will now be shown.

The Writings of St. Athanasius

The most important testimony in favour of the thesis espoused by Davies according to which Liberius subscribed to Semi-Arianism is, as all opponents of Liberius’s orthodoxy recognize, found in two passages from works of St. Athanasius himself, and these I shall now quote. The first is found in his Apologia Contra Arianos, Nos 89, 90; Migne: Patrologia Græca, Vol. XXV, col. 409.)

Now if those bishops worthy of the name had opposed only with words those scheming enemies of ours who were striving to subvert whatever efforts were made on our behalf, or if they had been mere common men and not the bishops of such outstanding cities and the heads of such great churches, there would admittedly be grounds for suspicion that they might have taken our side under the influence of some gift or favour. Since, however, they not only defended my cause with words but even underwent exile, and since Liberius, the bishop of Rome, was of their number – for even if he did not tolerate the sufferings of exile until the end, nonetheless, because he was well aware of the conspiracy launched against us, he remained in the place of his banishment for two years – and since their number also included the great Hosius, with bishops of Italy, the Gauls and others from Spain, Egypt and all the bishops from Pentapolis in Libya – for although for a short time, terrified by the threats of Constantius, he [Hosius] appeared not to oppose them, nonetheless the great might and tyrannical power of Constantius, not to mention his verbal and physical assaults, make it clear that the reason for his [Hosius’] yielding for a time was not that he considered us guilty but that he was unable to stand such treatment on account of the infirmity of his age – it would indeed be just for everyone, as having been apprised thereby of the injustice and injury done to us, to hate it and shrink from it the more, and especially in this connection to recognize what is most evident: namely, that we suffered these ills for no reason except because of the wickedness of the Arians. Should anyone therefore wish to find out the true facts about us and the sycophancy of the Eusebians, let him read those things which have been written on our behalf and accept as witnesses not one or two or three, but so great a multitude of bishops. Again let him take as witnesses Liberius and Hosius and their companions, who, when they discovered the crimes being committed against us, preferred to suffer extremities than to betray either the truth or the judgement granted in our favour ….

Readers will doubtless have found this extract, with its long and awkward parentheses, exceeding laborious to follow. The reasons for this will shortly be referred to.

The second paragraph from St. Athanasius’s writings that is invoked to prove the capitulation of Liberius is taken from his Historia Arianorum ad Monachos. Having in chapters 35 to 40 of this work recounted enthusiastically the courageous resistance made by Liberius to the Emperor Constantius, he then, in chapter 41 (Migne: Patrologia Græca, Vol. XXV, col. 741), writes as follows:

Now Liberius was sent into exile, and after two years eventually he was broken, and being terrified by threats of death he subscribed.

In themselves these passages appear to present a strong case against Liberius, readers may be thinking at this point. Let us turn to the Abbé Rohrbacher’s famous and excellent Histoire Universelle de l’Église Catholique, Vol. XI, pp. 431-2, where the case against those passages is succinctly put in the following terms:

It may be objected that St. Athanasius refers to the fall of Liberius both in his Apology Against the Arians and in his History of the Arians, which latter work was addressed to the hermits; but it is universally granted that the Apology Against the Arians was written at the very latest in A.D. 350, two years before Liberius became pope. The passage which speaks of his fall is, then, evidently a subsequent addition made by a strange and unskilful hand; for, far from giving any force to the Apology, it only makes it pointless and ridiculous. The History of the Arians was also written at a period prior to that of the supposed fall of Pope Liberius. This unfavourable passage is, then, another interpolation, equally unconnected with what precedes and what follows. But by whom could these interpolations have been made? We know that even during the lifetime of St. Athanasius the Arians forged a letter, in his name, to Constantius. What they could do whilst he was still alive was certainly easier of accomplishment after his death. Did not the Donatists invent a similar account of a fall on the part of Pope St. Marcellinus which was long received, but which all critics now acknowledge as false? Besides, the Arians were not the only enemies of Liberius; the Luciferian schismatics [15] were quite as eager to defame him.

The Trustworthiness of the Excerpt from the Apologia Contra Arianos

Now let us go back to the first passage quoted, the extract from the Apologia Contra Arianos. It has for some time been accepted by all, Pope Liberius’s calumniators as well as his defenders, that this work was completed by the year 352 at the latest, so, since neither the fall of Liberius nor that of Hosius was even supposed to have taken place until after that year, [16] the passage quoted referring to their falls could not then have formed part of the Apologia. There is of course only one hypothesis which could meet this objection, and some anti-Liberian scholars, determined to believe that this evidence that the pope fell is authentic, have recourse to it: St. Athanasius updated his works at a later date. [17] Although there is no trace of any other evidence to support this convenient hypothesis, that does not in itself prove that it is false, and indeed it is generally difficult to prove the negative in the case of such a hypothesis. But there are nevertheless a number of arguments which militate against it very strongly, and these I now briefly summarize:

  • (i) Two of the leaders of the heretical Arian bishops attached to the court of the Emperor Constantius, Valens and Ursacius, had recanted their heresies and returned to the Catholic Faith at the time that it is accepted that the earliest edition of Apologia Contra Arianos had been completed. Now although shortly after this they “returned to their vomit” [18] and became Arians once more, every extant text of the Apologia Contra Arianos represents them as being still Catholics. And how can this be if the hypothesis that Athanasius updated his work in order to make special reference to the supposed fall of Liberius and the actual fall of Hosius is correct? Would St. Athanasius not have been obliged also to update his reference to the orthodoxy of these well-known bishops? Indeed would he not, in their case, have been if anything even more obliged? After all, Hosius returned permanently to the Faith immediately after his fall (which had taken place under great pressure and in extreme old age), and even the worst enemies of Liberius are forced to admit that he was vehemently orthodox between the years 358 and 366 when he died. Neither of them, therefore, could have led others into error, whereas Valens and Ursacius would certainly have constituted a great danger to souls if Athanasius’s readers had supposed on the authority of the holy Patriarch that they were still orthodox.
  • (ii) Although St. Athanasius’s Apologia Contra Arianos was frequently used as source material by the historians Socrates and Theodoret, neither of them makes any mention of the fall of Liberius, even as an allegation to be denied, which omission clearly indicates that neither of them was aware that such allegations had been made. Moreover, Sozomen also used this work as source material, and although this historian does refer to the fall of Liberius, his account is quite different from the account given in St. Athanasius. Had the text of Athanasius which Sozomen used contained any reference to the fall of Liberius he would have
    (a) certainly used it as source material and made reference to it to support his allegations, and
    (b) needed to justify the difference between his account and that of Athanasius.

In addition, the internal evidence is also strongly opposed to the passage quoted being the work of Athanasius.

  • (iii) For a start, the reference to the fall of Liberius is in no way coherent with its surrounding context and has all the characteristics of a later interpolation – for if it were omitted, far from there appearing to be missing something, the text would gain in coherence.
  • (iv) Secondly, in each case the reference to the fall of Liberius is included in a parenthetical aside which disturbs the continuity of the whole passage and makes it, as the reader will have noted, extremely difficult to follow.
  • (v) Stylistically, the whole passage quoted is extremely poor and does not bear comparison with those writings of Athanasius which are of undoubted authenticity. The Greek particles are clumsily used and the vocabulary appears in places to be deficient, neither of which weaknesses is by any stretch of the imagination likely to have marred the writing of a native Greek speaker who was also a scholar, both of which the great Patriarch of Alexandria was.
  • (vi) Most strikingly of all, the whole of the passage is quite illogical. For instance, Athanasius is made to use the “argument from numbers” – his position must be right because a large number of bishops support him. But St. Athanasius was the last man to overlook that the truth is in no way dependent on, or proved by, the number of people who happen to believe it. He knew very well – indeed this is one of the principles on which the entire edifice of the Catholic religion rests – that if the truth did so depend, those who voted for Our Lord’s crucifixion on Good Friday must have taken overwhelmingly the right decision. Furthermore, in the year 360, which is when, on the hypothesis that the passage was included as a subsequent updating by St. Athanasius himself, it must have been written, it was far from true that a large number of bishops supported him. This was still the period when it was almost as difficult to find a truly orthodox bishop as it is today. Finally, the passage invokes as the most credible witnesses in favour of Athanasius’s orthodoxy the testimony of Liberius and Hosius, both of whom, it asserts, had themselves subscribed to formulæ of doubtful orthodoxy, which would be as absurd as for John S. Daly to apply to John-Paul II for an imprimatur to confirm the orthodoxy of the statement that the said John-Paul II is neither pope nor even a member of the Catholic Church. It is on these grounds that Stiltingus writes:
    I cannot attribute these additions to Athanasius, but rather incline to the view that the whole of this fragment was written later by a man with an imperfect knowledge of Greek and a still less perfect knowledge of logic. (Dissertatio de Liberio, c. 8, n. 125).

The Trustworthiness of the Excerpt from The Historia Arianorum

The authenticity of the second passage quoted, which comes from St. Athanasius’s Historia Arianorum ad Monachos, is subject to similar objections:

  • (i) The completion of this work must be dated about Easter 357 at the latest, since:
    (a) no part of the historical account which it contains goes beyond Lent of that year, and
    (b) in one place there is a reference to Leontius, the bishop of Antioch, as alive; and he died early in the year 357. (See Socrates, Historia Ecclesiastica, II, 37)
    Hence this work also was finished before the events which it purports to relate took place (if indeed they ever didtake place), and those, such as von Hefele, who wish to maintain the authenticity of this passage, are forced to suggest that it too was updated by St. Athanasius at some stage before his death in 373.
  • (ii) This last suggestion is not credible in view of the fact that Athanasius was still in exile at the time that he must have written the questionable passage, if he did write it. In that circumstance he would scarcely have been in a position to know with certainty of the fall of Liberius even it if had taken place, particularly in view of the fact that this fall remained a matter of doubt to a scholar like Rufinus, and to many others, much later.
  • (iii) If Athanasius updated this work after the year 357, why did he also not update the reference to Leontius as being alive?
  • (iv) Once again, many other historians of this period used this work of St. Athanasius as source material, but give no indication in their writings of being aware of the charge that Liberius had capitulated to the Arians.
  • (v) At least one of the allegations contained in this passage is historically highly improbable since, although it is well known that Constantius used various methods to gain the consent to his plans of the orthodox bishops, it is nowhere else suggested that he threatened them with physical violence. Despite his Arianizing, he did not question standard Christian morality which forbad hands to be laid upon one consecrated to God, all of which makes it most unlikely that he would have dreamt of making a death threat to a venerable bishop as is alleged.
  • (vi) Finally – and this applies to both the passages we have been examining – if our texts are indeed both updated second editions, why did not Athanasius say so somewhere in them, as had been the practice of all authors throughout history in updating their works, to avoid confusion between one text and another? This would have been an even more obvious course in his day than today, for the attribution of forged works to authors who had had nothing to do with them and the alteration of existing works by unauthorized hands were both at that time commonplace.

All these considerations together – and most of them even individually – leave no doubt that both of the passages found in the writings of St. Athanasius which refer to the fall of Liberius must be dismissed as inept forgeries, included without the saint’s knowledge after his death – doubtless the work of the enemies of Liberius and the Catholic Church: either the Arian heretics, who were notorious for their dishonest history and for distorting the works of orthodox writers, or the Luciferian schismatics, who distorted the writings of St. Hilary in this period and were especially hostile to Pope Liberius. And finally, for the benefit of anyone who remains unconvinced by these considerations and still thinks it possible that St. Athanasius did indeed write the passage in question, there is another awkward fact to get over. This is that St. Athanasius was in a very poor position at the time to ascertain what was happening at a considerable distance away from his place of exile, and in view of the other evidence of Pope Liberius’s unfailing orthodoxy that we have seen, there is no alternative other than to conclude that, even if written by his own hand, the extracts are completely erroneous and were included on account of his having been deceived by Arian propaganda.

The Writings of St. Jerome

Next in importance after these extracts from Athanasius as historical testimony in favour of the fall of Liberius are two extracts from the writings of St. Jerome. Once again let us begin by quoting in full the two passages in question before analysing them.

In St. Jerome’s Chronicon, which was written about the year 380, the following occurs:

In the 282nd Olympiad [19] Liberius was ordained as the 34th bishop of the Roman Church, and when he had been thrust into exile on account of the Faith all the clerics swore that they would receive no other in his place. But when Felix had been substituted in his priestly office by the Arians, very many of them broke their oath, and a year later they were expelled with Felix because Liberius, being overcome by the weariness of exile, had subscribed to heretical perversity and entered Rome as a victor.

And in c. 97 of his Catalogue of Writers, in treating of the early Christian bishop and writer Fortunatianus, St. Jerome writes as follows:

Fortunatianus, an African by nation, and bishop of Aquileia when Constantius was emperor, wrote commentaries on the Gospels in orderly sequence in a brief and rustic style. He is held as detestable on account of the fact that, when Liberius, the bishop of the city of Rome, was travelling into exile for the Faith, he [Fortunatianus] was the first to solicit him, break his will and impel him to subscribe to heresy.

Before beginning to analyse these intriguing excerpts, the following comment by Jungmann (op. cit., p. 77) is worthy of inclusion in full:

We begin by warning that in historical matters the assertions of St. Jerome when they are finding fault with others cannot always be considered as well-founded. This is because throughout his works Jerome tends to be somewhat carried away by his hatred for heretics and likewise by his naturally vehement character, so that he is too quick to judge or falls into some exaggeration. It was therefore possible that at the time that he wrote these works, while resident in the East, he also believed the rumours spread about the fall of Liberius, especially if he had come across evidence of this which had been forged by the Arians. But it is of greater moment that the passages quoted are found in short works which it is known have been subject to interpolation throughout and that the texts in question bear all the hallmarks of such interpolation.

The Trustworthiness of the Excerpt from the “Chronicon”

First, the passage quoted from the Chronicon. The following points are relevant:

  • (i) The manuscripts of the Chronicon are extremely corrupt and have been subject to numerous additions and interpolations, as is readily admitted even by authors hostile to Liberius such as Tillemont.
  • (ii) The whole of this account as quoted is evidently a summarised version of the account found in the preface to the Liber Precum, to which reference will be made later, and it is evident that whoever was responsible for this passage, whether Jerome or some later interpolator, based what he wrote entirely on this source. And the Liber Precum is well-known to have been written by Luciferians, who were the enemies of Liberius and of other orthodox Catholics. Moreover, the very passage in which the alleged fall of Liberius is described also contains shocking libels against St. Damasus, who later became pope and at whose request Jerome translated the Vulgate Bible; and this is of special significance in that Damasus was a personal friend of Jerome’s and it is in the highest degree unlikely that Jerome would have given any credence to allegations made about Liberius in a document which proved its own untrustworthiness by making such obviously false assertions concerning such a good friend of his.
  • (iii) It is worthy of note that St. Jerome was an especially conspicuous defender of the prerogative of the Holy See by which its incumbents, the Roman pontiffs, are preserved from every error against the Faith, as he maintains in his famous letters to Pope Damasus on the questions of faith. How could he have reconciled this position with a belief that Pope Liberius, Damasus’s immediate predecessor, had subscribed to heresy, and how could he record this subscription as a historical fact which called for no explanation or justification?
  • (iv) The passage is quite unhistorical in suggesting that Liberius was in exile for a period of only one year, and appears very confused in what it says about the position of Felix. The credibility of what is said in the same passage concerning Liberius is therefore obviously open to the gravest reservations for this reason alone.
  • (v) The final sentence is absurd and paradoxical in its statement that Liberius was overcome by weariness in exile and subscribed to heresy and was thereupon received as a victor when he returned to Rome. Why should the Romans, about whose fervent faith St. Jerome so often and emphatically tells us, give a hero’s welcome to a pope who had been able to return to them only by virtue of lapsing into heresy?
  • (vi) Hardly less paradoxical is the statement that the clergy who had compromised with Arianism were expelled from Rome when Liberius was allowed to return as a result of subscribing to heresy. Evidently, if Liberius was permitted to return only because he had capitulated to the Arian heresy, he would scarcely have expelled from Rome those who had shown no greater weakness than himself!
  • (vii) In the most ancient extant text of St. Jerome’s Chronicon, the Codex Vaticanus, the extract concerning the fall of Liberius is not to be found.
  • (viii) In the text of the Chronicon edited by St. Prosper of Aquitaine (in the early fifth century) the following version is found instead of the words quoted above:
    Liberius was ordained, the 34th [bishop] of the Roman Church, and when he was thrust into exile for the Faith in the 9th year of his episcopate, all the clergy swore that they would receive no other in his place. But when Felix was substituted in his priestly office by the Arians, very many of them broke their oath, and when Liberius returned to the city a year later, they were ejected with Felix.

Surely no disinterested scholar could argue that the version relied on by the anti-Liberians has a greater claim to authenticity than this version.

The Trustworthiness of the Excerpt from “De Viris Illustribus”

Let us now move on to the second passage attributed to St. Jerome and quoted above, the section about Fortunatianus in his De Viris Illustribus or Catalogue of Writers. The following objections to its authenticity present themselves:

  • (i) Most obviously, the statement that Liberius yielded and subscribed to heresy at the solicitation of Fortunatianus, bishop of Aquileia, does not even approach being plausible; for, of those authors who address the subject, not a single one, even among those who maintain that Pope Liberius eventually capitulated, hesitates to agree that he went into exile with no intention whatsoever of submission. Even the other passage attributed to St. Jerome, the one from the Chronicon, says that the pope yielded as a result of the weariness of exile, which could hardly be so if the cause of his fall was something said to him when he was setting off for exile. Indeed if he had capitulated to Arianism at the instance of Fortunatianus, while on his way to exile, there would have been no further cause for his exile and the two years of desolation which he spent in the East would have been inexplicable.
  • (ii) No other author refers to this meeting between Liberius and Fortunatianus, not even St. Jerome’s contemporary, Rufinus, who, as we have seen, makes it clear that, although he is aware of the allegation that Liberius capitulated to Constantius, he does not accept that it is true, and indicates that he is unaware of any foundation for it. This would certainly be remarkable if the allegation was true; for Rufinus lived for a long time at Aquileia, the episcopal city of Fortunatianus, and it is of course there that his solicitation of Liberius must have taken place if it took place at all.
  • (iii) It is clear that the attribution of the blame for the fall of Liberius to Fortunatianus is based on letters attributed to Pope Liberius himself which are today universally acknowledged as spurious.
  • (iv) One important fact concerning the supposed fall of Pope Liberius which must now be mentioned is that those who believe it to have taken place allege that it occurred in the presence of the Emperor Constantius and of legates of the bishops of the East and the West, as well as of Africa. What follows from this is that, if the fall had really happened, there could be no possible doubt as to its having happened, and therefore the bare existence of doubt (and the testimony of Rufinus alone is sufficient for this) proves the fall to be utterly impossible.

Credibility of the “Liber Precum”

Mention has more than once been made in the foregoing pages of the Liber Precum or The Book of Prayers of Faustinus and Marcellinus, to give its full title translated into English. Written in 384-5 A.D. by devotees of the schismatic Luciferian faction, who, it may be remembered, were possessed by “bitter zeal” and were determined to be more “Catholic” than the Catholic Church, it contained libellous allegations against various popes and bishops, including even St. Hilary, who had also, they alleged, lent support to heretics. As a source of information on Pope Liberius its complete unreliability is immediately evident, for it asserts that his fall had taken place before Emperor Constantius ever came to Rome. And even if what it says were taken as true, it would be of fairly insignificant help to the detractors of Pope Liberius, for it says of him merely that he “gave his hands to perfidy” which, taken alone, cannot constitute an assertion that he subscribed to any heretical formula, still less that he excommunicated St. Athanasius. (More information about this Luciferian tract can be found in Jungmann’s Dissertationes, Dis. 6, n. 88.)

Should We Trust Sozomen?

The final source alleged to make reference to Pope Liberius’s fall which is worthy of attention is the Historia Ecclesiastica of Sozomen, written about 450 A.D. It is of some interest in that it presents an account which is markedly different from that of the other early historians to whom reference has been made, and the most convenient way of conveying to readers the information they need about the relevant passage in it is to reproduce here the summary of it and the assessment of what weight should be given to it which are to be found in the article on Pope Liberius by Dom John Chapman in The Catholic Encyclopædia (1913), Vol. IX, p. 220:

Sozomen tells a story which finds no echo in any other writer. He makes Constantius, after his return from Rome, summon Liberius to Sirmium (357), and there the pope is forced by the semi-Arian leaders, Basil of Ancyra, Eustathius, and Eleusius, to condemn the “homo-ousion”; he is induced to sign a combination of three formulæ: that of the Catholic Council of Antioch of 267 against Paul of Samosata (in which “homo-ousios” was said to have been rejected as Sabellian in tendency), that of the Sirmium assembly which condemned Photinus in 351, and the creed of the Dedication Council of Antioch in 341. These formulæ were not precisely heretical, and Liberius is said to have exacted from Ursacius and Valens a confession that the Son is ‘in all things similar to the Father.’ Hence Sozomen’s story has been very generally accepted as giving a moderate account of Liberius’s fall, admitting it to be a fact, yet explaining why so many writers implicitly deny it. But the date soon after Constantius was at Rome is impossible, as the semi-Arians only united at the beginning of 358, and their short-lived influence over the emperor began in the middle of that year …. Further, the formula ‘in all things like’ was not the semi-Arian badge in 358, but was forced upon them in 359, after which they adopted it, declaring that it included their special formula ‘like in substance’. Now Sozomen is certainly following here the lost compilation of the Macedonian (i.e. semi-Arian) Sabinus, whom we know to have been untrustworthy wherever his sect was concerned. Sabinus seems simply to have had the Arian story before him, but regarded it, probably rightly, as an invention of the party of Eudoxius ….

In short, the account of Sozomen is incompatible with all other historical accounts, is evidently founded upon the writings of an untrustworthy heretic, errs grossly in its history concerning other matters taking place at the same time as the alleged fall of Liberius, and anyhow does not in fact assert either that Liberius subscribed to a heretical formula or that he excommunicated Athanasius.


I referred to Sozomen as the final source worth bothering with, but there is one other – and only one other – historian adduced by the enemies of Pope Liberius as support for this position; and he must therefore receive a mention, though scarcely more. This is Philostorgius, who was writing between the years 425 and 433 A.D.

All that need be said about him is that he was a member of the Arian sect, which, as many readers are doubtless already well aware, was renowned both for misrepresenting history and for falsifying the writings of others. Anyone who is prepared to accept the unsupported assertion, of a writer with this background, that a Vicar of Christ, to whom, in the person of St. Peter, Incarnate Truth Himself said “I have prayed for thee that thy faith fail not” had subscribed to the very heresy propounded by the writer’s own sect, brands himself as a member of the group of “historians” who study history, not to discover the truth, but to gather together, without regard for the strength of whatever evidence exists, as many allegations and rumours discreditable to the Catholic Church as they can. It is not in order to try to convince such people that this Evaluation has been written, and that is why what has been said here about Philostorgius is all that will be said.

Conclusions Concerning the Unsullied Orthodoxy of Pope Liberius

The time has come to summarize what has emerged from our examination of the allegations against Pope Liberius. This can fairly be done by simply reproducing the following passage from Jungmann’s 6th dissertation, n. 109:

Having weighed up everything, therefore, we reach the conclusion that the fall of Liberius is fictitious, and that Liberius neither fell into heresy nor lent his assistance to the perfidy of heretics; and that this pontiff in reality subscribed to no formula of Sirmium nor to any other document which shrank from the profession of the word ‘homo-ousios’ consecrated by the fathers of Nicæa; nor did he condemn St. Athanasius or enter into communion with the Arians.

Conclusions Concerning the Gravely Sullied Scholarliness and Integrity of Michael Davies

Having established that Michael Davies has been purveying falsehood as truth and libels against the papacy in his purported defence of the Catholic Church, my task is not yet completed; for the question of his scholarly integrity cannot be evaded.

For instance it will be remembered that on three occasions when Davies makes reference to Pope Liberius’s alleged fall and excommunication of St. Athanasius he adds also that Pope Liberius subsequently made a recantation. And a recantation by Pope Liberius is asserted by no historian whomsoever, be he contemporary with Liberius or of any subsequent period, be he pro-Liberius or anti-Liberian, be he Catholic or Protestant or even Arian. It is simply an invention on the part of Davies to add credibility to his tale. [20] And in his article in The Angelus, January 1987, Davies threw in three more whopping fabrications for good measure. There he declared, first, that “in the fourth century the simple fact of communion with the Pope did not guarantee orthodoxy as the Arian bishops were in communion with Liberius” (which they most certainly were not); secondly, that “it was, for a time, communion with Athanasius rather than communion with the Pope which signified a true Catholic” (again, neither true nor claimed by any serious historian); and thirdly, that faithful Catholics “had … to worship outside the ‘official’ churches, the churches of bishops in communion with Liberius” – all flying in the face of the easily ascertainable fact that we have seen earlier: that not even St. Athanasius himself was stricter than Liberius in refusing even the appearance of being in communion with anyone of questionable orthodoxy.

So far so bad. But there is another area in which Davies displays even more blatant bad faith; that of the use he makes of references to scholarly authority on the matter under discussion. And this must be examined at somewhat greater length.

The Division of Scholarly Opinion

It would not be true to say that Davies never at all acknowledges that there is scholarly dissension on the question of the fall of Liberius and his excommunication of St. Athanasius; but such acknowledgements are very rare, and even when they are made they are formulated in terms which suggest that the dissenters are a small minority of overzealous fanatics whose historical learning is unworthy of serious consideration. Here, for instance, is what he writes in both Apologia Pro Marcel Lefebvre, Vol. I, p. 371 and The True Voice of Tradition, p. 9:

Some Catholic apologists have attempted to prove that Liberius neither confirmed the excommunication of Athanasius nor subscribed to one of the formulæ of Sirmium. But Cardinal Newman has no doubt that the fall of Liberius is an historical fact.

In other words, such is the measure of Davies’s contempt for these “Catholic apologists”, that he deems them worthy only of anonymous obscurity, and considers the weight of Cardinal Newman’s opinion alone sufficient to justify his readers in dismissing them as unworthy of further attention.

And what is the truth on this matter? It can easily be seen simply by comparing a list of those serious scholars who hold the theory that Liberius capitulated to Constantius with a list of those who defend his orthodoxy.

Anti-Liberian Writers

Let us begin with those who may broadly be regarded as on Davies’s side. They comprise Moeller, who was a Gallican; Barmby, who was a Protestant; Langen, who was an Old Catholic; Tillemont, whom Fr. W.H. Anderdon S.J. selects in his Britain’s Early Faith (p. 39) as the archetypal sceptic; Döllinger, the famous scholar who left the Church at the time of the declaration of Papal Infallibility in 1870 and became an Old Catholic; Cardinal Newman, in his Arians of the Fourth Century, written in 1833, twelve years before his conversion in a work in which he accuses the papacy of having apostatized altogether at the Council of Trent [21]; Renouf; Schiktanz; Fr. Alban Butler [22]; the infidel Gibbon, whose Decline and Fall is on the Index and who seems to have decided whether or not to accept allegations hostile to the papacy purely on the basis of whether they would be useful for bringing the Catholic Church into disrepute. I cannot bring myself to add the name of St. Robert Bellarmine to this list, for he was at best no more than a highly tentative anti-Liberian and appears to express contradictory views on the subject in two different places (De Romano Pontifice lib. IV, cap. 9 and lib. II, cap. 30, para. 2). Moreover he was writing at the dawn of critical historiography, before any question had been raised as to the authenticity of some of the patristic manuscripts he was using, and he emphasizes that any brief defection from his celebrated orthodoxy on the part of Liberius is a matter of doubt.

On the other hand I freely offer Michael Davies the support of E. Amman in the Dictionnaire de Théologie Catholique. Indeed special mention is called for in his case, because the Dictionnaire de Théologie Catholique is a justly famous work and generally reliable. What must never be forgotten, however, is that all encyclopædic works inevitably suffer from the defect that some of their contributors tend to be less reliable than others, for equality in this field, as in any other field, is simply not a characteristic of the human race – a fact which obstinately continues to apply no matter what rarefied levels of scholarship are reached, and a fact which no editor can overcome because no editor is competent to verify all his contributions. As regards Amann’s article as an example of this phenomenon, it is sufficient to note that he quotes in inverted commas – yes, quotes – what purport to be the passages from the writings of St. Athanasius in which the “capitulation” of Pope Liberius has been interpolated, and that in each case the true meaning is both grossly distorted and further corrupted with inventions of his own. In other words, not content with passing off, in defiance of the overwhelming evidence we have seen earlier, the contemporary pseudo-Athanasius as Athanasius, he falsifies even that corruption. A forgery is not sufficient for his purposes; he must embellish it with further forgeries of his own. (See Dictionnaire de Théologie Catholique, Vol. IX, column 638.)

Anyhow the foregoing writers are the most renowned historians of the anti-Liberian school.


There are also writers who hold the more moderate position, similar to that maintained by Sozomen among the ancients, that Liberius subscribed to a formula deliberately couched in ambiguous terminology, which, although it was in fact open to a heterodox interpretation, led him genuinely to believe that the formula was a statement of the Catholic Faith. These writers include Baronius, [23] von Hefele, who was a liberal, Funk, and Duchesne, a notorious Modernist, some of whose writings are on the Index of Forbidden Books.

Pro-Liberian Writers

The very least that can be said of the list of writers who have defended the orthodoxy of Liberius is that it is no less impressive than what we have seen so far. It comprises the Mediæval Byzantine historian Georgio Cedrenos (c. 1100), faithful relayer of the traditions of Eastern Christendom; Stilting; Zaccaria; Palma; Dom Guéranger (The Liturgical Year: Feast of St Eusebius); Cardinal Hergenröther, the famous vindicator of Catholic orthodoxy against the attacks of Döllinger at the time of the 1870 Vatican Council; Jungmann, whose work on the subject covers eighty pages of close argument and is in this writer’s opinion entirely conclusive alone; [24] Grisar; Freis; Flavio; Corgne; Rohrbacher, whose Histoire Universelle de l’Église Catholique has been justly hailed as “sublime” (Palme), “monumental” (Catholic Encyclopædia), and the finest history of the Church written since the sixteenth century and should be snapped up by anyone with the ability to read French [25] who comes across it; Dom John Chapman in his article in the 1913 Catholic Encyclopædia; Alzog in his Universal Catholic History, Vol. I, p. 542; Darras in his General History of the Catholic Church, p. 456 et seq.; Reinerding; Schneeman; Wouters; Barthélémy in his Erreurs et Mensonges Historiques which earned a papal accolade; Harrold in The American Catholic Quarterly Review, 1883; Fr. Luke Rivington in The Primitive Church and the See of Peter; Dumont; the renowned Scriptural exegete Menochius; the very learned historian and theologian Ballerini; Galland; the Roman Breviary itself (December 16th); and the famous Gallican bishop Bossuet, who originally argued in favour of the capitulation of Liberius but, according to his secretary, D. Ledieu, wished to have what he had written on this subject deleted from his works. Nor ought we to overlook the renowned Enchiridion Symbolorum first edited by Fr. Heinrich Denzinger and later appearing in more complete editions with various learned editors, for under No 93 it lists the letter of St. Anastasius vindicating Pope Liberius (referred to earlier) under the heading “De orthodoxia Liberii Papæ” – “Concerning the orthodoxy of Pope Liberius”.

According to What Criteria Does Davies Select His Sources?

Very revealing and instructive is the bibliography to Davies’s booklet on Liberius and Athanasius, listing the six works which Davies has drawn on for the material used in the pamphlet. To offer a brief assessment of these works will not take long.

Two are “Catholic dictionaries”, one of them published as late as the 1970s and therefore obviously unreliable. One is a small book called A Handbook of Heresies by M.L. Cozens, which, though sound, devotes only seven pages to the entire topic of Arianism and Semi-Arianism and nowhere even mentions Liberius. Another, the only full-length book, is The Arians of the Fourth Century by Davies’s hero, Cardinal Newman. And the two remaining works are the 1913 Catholic Encyclopædia and the 1967 New Catholic Encyclopædia.

Bearing in mind how frequently and emphatically Davies has put forward his opinion on what is recognized by everyone else to be a very controversial subject, this bibliography is of course ludicrously short. But there is another feature of it which is of even greater interest. This, to which reference has already been made in this Evaluation, is that, whereas five of the works given in the bibliography are also cited in the text of the booklet – most of them more than once – the sixth, the 1913 Catholic Encyclopædia, does not feature in the text at all. It is in fact difficult to see why the 1913 Catholic Encyclopædia rates a mention in the bibliography, unless it is simply that Davies, who uses it as a reference work for many other purposes, was simply embarrassed to cite only the 1967 New Catholic Encyclopædiaand thus admit openly that he was ignoring everything in the more traditional and obviously more reliable work in favour of this inferior post-Vatican II substitute which itself stands under far heavier accusation of compromise with heresy than Pope Liberius ever did! As for why he did the opposite of what any true Catholic would do who wanted to consult an encyclopædia, and turned single-mindedly to the post-Vatican II version published under the umbrella of the Conciliar Church – that admits no difficulty whatever of explanation. The 1913 Catholic Encyclopædia, which Davies frequently quotes in his works on subjects other than Pope Liberius, contains an excellent and cogent article arguing that the various charges made against Liberius are entirely spurious, and for Davies this is sufficient to make it, in Orwellian terms, an un-encyclopædia.

Needless to say, the dreadful New Catholic Encyclopædia, like all such works which have emanated from the Conciliar Church in order to “update” and outdate their pre-Conciliar counterparts, seizes every opportunity that presents itself to undermine the Church and diminish the esteem which Catholics should have for the Holy See, by invariably siding with the enemies of the Vicar of Christ in the allegations which they bring against him. Davies stands revealed as a man who is prepared to turn to such a source as this to bolster up his prejudices while dismissing traditional and trustworthy authorities who contradict the thesis which he finds it convenient to champion.

Davies’s Other Papal Victims

Lamentably, Pope St. Liberius is not the only Vicar of Our Divine Redeemer whom Davies subjects to his odious calumnies. Far from it; he appears to revel in dredging up every scandal, true, false or doubtful, about the popes which he can locate.

Thus on p. 413 of Apologia Pro Marcel Lefebvre, Vol. I, he writes:

Pope John XXII actually taught heresy in his capacity as a private doctor. (Many papal utterances express no more than the personal opinion of the Pope and do not involve the teaching authority of the Church.) Pope John XXII taught that there was no particular judgement; that the souls of the just do not enjoy the beatific vision immediately [after death]; that the wicked are not at once eternally damned; and that all await the judgement of God on the Last Day.

And the same allegation is made on p. 21 of The Divine Constitution, where again he assures us that “this opinion [i.e. the error that the just do not enjoy the beatific vision between death and the General Judgement] was condemned as heretical;” though on this occasion he also takes the opportunity to give yet another example of his incompetence in handling even simple elements of Catholic theology, “informing” us just a few lines later that:

… belief in the Particular Judgement is not a teaching which must be believed ‘de fide divina et Catholica’ as it has not yet been promulgated as such.

How does this last question, taken in conjunction with its immediate predecessor, provide an example of Davies’s incompetence? Let us ask him a few questions, make a few observations, and see what emerges.

  • (i) If Pope John XXII was expressing “no more than [his] personal opinion”, [26] Mr. Davies, why do you use the word “taught” repeatedly, suggesting the contrary?
  • (ii) Where is the heresy in Pope John’s doctrine? Is it his denial of the Particular Judgement or in his denial that the just enjoy the beatific vision before the General Judgement?
  • (iii) At first sight, it appears that the denial of the Particular Judgement is where you see the crux of the heresy issue. But, of course, if, as you inform us, this doctrine is not “de fide divina et Catholica”, its contradiction cannotbe heretical. By definition, heresy is a proposition in contradiction to one which is proposed by the Church for belief “de fide divina et Catholica” – i.e. as Divinely revealed.
  • (iv) If, however, the alleged heresy lies in the denial that the beatific vision antedates the General Judgement, ought you not to have explained that the contrary proposition was not dogmatically defined until 1336, two years after Pope John XXII’s death, in the bull Benedictus Deus (Denzinger 530) so that Pope John’s opinion was not heretical at all at the time he voiced it?
  • (v) How is it, it must be extremely pertinent to ask, that you are so casual in branding the genuine popes of the authentic Catholic Church as heretics even when their errors were not contrary to a doctrine to be believed “de fide divina et Catholica”, [27] but so fierce in your defence of the godless usurpers who call themselves popes in the Conciliar Church? What sort of treatment, by contrast, would you have meted out to any traditional Catholic who had dared to suggest that John-Paul II had taught heresy, if the error in question had not been defined (or otherwise proposed) as Divinely revealed prior to the contradiction’s having been expressed?
  • (vi) Would not a serious theological writer, concerned with avoiding any possibility that his readers might be misled by him into error, have made it clear to them that, even though the Church does not teach that the Particular Judgement is Divinely revealed, she nevertheless does teach that it is theologically certain, and therefore to be believed by all Catholics under pain of mortal sin? Let us, anyhow, remedy this defect, turning for authority to the Redemptorist theologian praised by St. Pius X, Fr. J. Herrmann. In his Institutiones Theologiæ Dogmaticæ, tr. XVI, n. 1936, he tells us:
    … the proposition that the soul of every man is judged immediately after death, is not explicitly defined ‘de fide’, but is, however, implicitly contained in [other] definitions ….

More of the Same

It is now my unenviable duty to return to the same appendix to Apologia Pro Marcel Lefebvre, Vol. I, which contains this deplorable misrepresentation of Pope John XXII; for the passage that has just been examined is – alas ! – only one example among many that it contains of the same feature of Davies’s writing. In fact it is no exaggeration to say that in this appendix he indulges in a veritable orgy of anti-papalism. For six pages he does nothing but produce pope after pope, each of whom he accuses of various crimes until the reader receives the impression that the two hundred and sixty successors of St. Peter, far from being, as a group, more outstanding for holiness and wisdom than any comparable group of men in history – which is the reality – were in fact a collection of incarnate devils, specializing in every species of sin that can be thought of and defiling the highest dignity to which a man can be raised – the vicarship of Christ Himself – with their abominations.

But before looking at the catalogue of allegedly unworthy popes to assess its accuracy, let us remind ourselves of the principles applicable to the exposure of deplorable incidents in the lives of others, and in particular in the lives of the representatives of the Church. These principles [28] can be summarized as follows:

  • (i) Everyone, the dead as much as the living, has the right to his good reputation except where he is (or was) evidently bad. Thus the “benefit of the doubt” must be accorded where it is due, and apparently unworthy actions must be construed as charitably as is reasonably possible.
  • (ii) Even where crimes are certain, it is wrong to draw attention to them without good reason.
  • (iii) Certain categories of individuals – our parents and our prelates especially – are entitled to our special allegiance, so that we should be very slow to believe evil of them and slower still to publicize it. Indeed, as a generality, our duty to our parents, our bishops and especially to the popes is to spread their honour and to concealanything we may know that tends to their dishonour.
  • (iv) Nonetheless, where the interests of others would be seriously prejudiced by silence, it can be lawful and even obligatory to draw public attention to the misbehaviour even of popes, where this misbehaviour is definitely true.
  • (v) “The first law of history is not to dare to lie; the second is not to fear to tell the truth.” [29]

It will be apparent from them that whether [Davies] is guilty of grave offences against the Fourth and Eighth Commandments will depend on whether his allegations are true and whether there was proportionate reason for him to make them. If they are, or may well be, false, no necessity could justify publicizing them; and similarly, if making them public is liable to do more harm than good, their truth (if they are true) is no defence either. These points will be considered shortly, but it is now time to introduce the victims of Davies’s caustic attacks.

Among the spectres Davies raises are Pope Zosimus, who was, we learn, weak on discipline and too soft-hearted towards miscreant prelates; Pope Boniface II, who tried to nominate an allegedly unworthy deacon as his successor but was persuaded not to; Pope Vigilius (the allegedly unworthy deacon who eventually became pope nonetheless), who is said to have written heretical letters while pope – a charge long since exploded by the Church’s most erudite historians, but cheerfully repeated by Davies notwithstanding this easily ascertainable fact; Pope Honorius, who (it is widely believed) unwittingly wrote letters open to heterodox interpretation [30] and according to some failed to oppose heresy with due vigour; Pope Sergius, who was, if we are to believe certain contemporary accounts, a notorious blackguard; Pope John XII, whose pontificate by all accounts was a disgrace from the point of view of his personal morality; Pope Saint Gregory VII – yes, you did correctly read Saint Gregory VII – who in Davies’s judgement was wrong in his justly applauded crushing of the Emperor Henry IV; [31] Pope Gregory IX, who is said to have appointed an unworthy candidate as inquisitor in France; Pope Sixtus IV who was guilty of extravagant nepotism; and Pope Innocent VIII who “lacked the personality and intellectual capacity for the office of pope” and is said to have had illegitimate children (though in fact they were (a) legitimate and (b) begotten before he became a cleric).

Davies even throws in Pope Boniface IX, on the grounds that he apparently increased taxation and enriched the Church by offering indulgences to generous alms-givers. Try as he may, the present writer cannot see anything clearly reprehensible in Davies’s charges here, and doubts whether the most exacting moral theologian could either. But why worry about such a detail if you are Michael Davies? Why not include Boniface willy-nilly with the other presumed mis- creants just the same? Why hesitate to cast aspersions, founded or unfounded, on the reputation of long dead sovereign pontiffs? Of what importance is the honour of the Church and the Holy See, after all, and obeying, except where there is solid necessity to do otherwise, the Scriptural demand that we cover the nakedness of our fathers? [32]

The whole collection is both nauseating and pathetic, and can only leave readers wondering which of its many revolting features is to be most deplored. On the one hand there is the unapologetic enthusiasm with which Davies exposes to the common gaze the sins and weaknesses of those whom he should consider his spiritual fathers whose honour he is bound by the Fourth Commandment to preserve and defend rather than to attack. Then there is Davies’s naiveté and gullibility in plastering his pages with these hideous allegations, scarcely ever making the slightest attempt to justify them, never at any point mentioning that there is often a credible defence made by Catholic historians of his victims, assiduously ignoring one of the best attested general facts of history, which is that popes are often slandered by their contemporaries, and ignoring equally the duty not to bear false witness against our neighbour, which continues even after our neighbour’s death when no longer able to defend his good name. Finally there is the fact that in this purported work of traditional Catholic scholarship Davies unblushingly admits that his source material for the whole filthy catalogue was not one of the recognized great histories of the papacy, such as that of von Pastor, or one of the great histories of the Church, such as those of Baronius, Rohrbacher or Hergenröther, but … well, let us allow Davies himself to tell us his source and to describe it as he sees fit:

… the very scholarly one-volume work on the same subject, The Popes, edited by Eric John and published by Burns and Oates in 1964. It is only necessary to glance through the brief lives of the popes in this book to find literally hundreds of examples of ‘faults, stupidity, blunders, extravagances, and weaknesses’ among [i.e. on the part of] the Popes.

The present writer has no difficulty in believing this claim. What, after all, should we expect from a popularizing history whose commercial success would bear a direct ratio to its raciness and spiciness? Is it not evident that Mr. John’s book was not written, as were the Annals of the Venerable Cardinal Baronius, to vindicate the Holy See from the imputations of its enemies? [33] Given that there were several single-volume histories of the popes in English already, is it credible that Mr. John and the soi-disant scholars who contributed to the text he edited were making an urgently necessary contribution to historical scholarship?

I have not devoted much time to reading through Eric John’s work, but in the time I have spent I not only noticed that Davies in no way understates its tendency to criticize the popes, even on the flimsiest of evidence, but also failed to notice a single expression indicating that its editor and contributors were Catholics, rather than free-thinkers!

But when all is said and done, surely the most appalling aspect of his enthusiastic disloyalty lies in the fact that it was so unnecessary. Let us look very briefly at the ostensible purpose of the appendix in which the passages synopsized above occur.

Its title is The Right to Resist An Abuse of Power and the thesis defended in it is that in certain circumstances – namely when obedience would be clearly sinful – it is lawful to disobey even the highest authorities in the Church. Now let us set aside the fact that Davies hopelessly mis-states the clear teaching of the Church on when one may disobey lawful authority, and let us set aside also the fact that the entire discussion is irrelevant to the conciliar “popes” because they are demonstrably not “lawful authority”. Even so, why would it not have been fully sufficient to quote the teaching of the Church’s great theologians (extracts from Aquinas, Bellarmine and Suarez would have covered the topic quite adequately), perhaps with the addition of one or two appropriate historical instances of popes who gave orders compliance with which would have been sinful? To what possible end was it necessary to catalogue every allegedly questionable episode in the history of the papacy? How did it assist Davies in providing his thesis about obedience to remind us that Pope Sixtus V produced a bad version of the Vulgate or that more than one pope appears to have begotten illegitimate children at some point in his life?

As to the details in Davies’s catalogue, while some are true, many are exaggerated and others wholly fictitious. There can be no need to offer specific refutations of the allegations, because the time and space that would be required can be more usefully employed for other purposes.

Pope Leo XIII, that great friend of true historiography, has surely said what needs to be said, in the apostolic epistle Sæpenumero considerantes, 1883.

He notes, as if fresh from reading Davies’s works, that

Among the greatest Pontiffs, even those eminent for virtue have been accused and defamed as ambitious, proud and imperious.

And when he seeks to identify “… the main stratagems by which those who strive to render the Church and the Papacy suspect and odious win confidence …” he remarks that

… with great energy and duplicity they attack the history of the Christian centuries and especially the annals of the Roman Pontiffs.

Against this, he declares the simple truth:

The incorruptible records of history, when studied calmly and without prejudice, constitute a magnificent and spontaneous apology for the Church and the papacy …

And he issues a warning that Davies would have done well to heed: “[I]t is both dangerous and unjust to sacrifice historical truth to hatred of the papacy …”



1 This is a sub-quotation from Davies, taken from The Popes edited by E. John, p. 70.

2 This is Davies’s quotation taken with approval from The Lives of the Saints by Fr. Alban Butler, Vol. II, p. 10. Fr. Butler’s work is by far the best of its kind in English and, provided the revisions by Thurston and Attwater, and, more recently, by Walsh, are avoided, surely worthy of the very highest recommendation. But scholarly as Butler is, he doessometimes slip out errors which cannot easily be excused. Such at least is the view taken by Dom Gueranger in his Life of St. Cecilia, in which he is forced to take issue with Butler on a number of points. The French writings of Fr. Darras and Archbishop Darboy concerning St. Dionysius the Areopagite show that Fr. Butler erred also in connection with this great saint and apostle of Gaul.

3 Writers of the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were more likely to err on the subject, owing to the primitive state of the science of textual criticism which had led to the acceptance as authentic of certain early documents which are in fact, as we shall shortly see, undeniably spurious.

4 Reminiscent of today’s “Agreed Statements” [Joint Declarations] entered into by the Conciliar Church in England with the Protestant Church of England and other heretical bodies.

5 It is to be regretted that today so few of those who consider themselves to be Catholics recognize that it is sinful and abhorrent for those who have the Faith to take part in worships and sacraments of priests and bishops who, even if themselves orthodox, nevertheless recognize the heterodox as their fellow-members of the Church. One who is in communion with heretics is, of course, a schismatic and therefore outside the Church even if his own doctrine is sound: to participate in religious activities with such a one is therefore forbidden by the Divine law (as was recognized by the Roman layfolk of Pope Liberius’s day) and by the ecclesiastical law today enshrined in Canon 1258 of the 1917 Code.

6 Whether it was really Athanasius who wrote these passages will be considered later.

7 The First Council of Nicæa (325 A.D.) defined that Our Lord is consubstantial (“homoousios”) with the Father. Arius and his followers maintained that He was a created being and therefore not one substance (“homo-ousios”) with, but rather different from, or dissimilar (“an-omoios”) to, the Father. A compromising school of Semi-Arians arose who abandoned the strict Arian term “an-omoios” and favoured the proposition that Our Lord is “homoi-ousios” or of likesubstance with the Father. This compromise was condemned by the Church because, although it is, in one specific sense, true that Our Lord is of like substance with the Father, and although this differs from the orthodox expression “homo-ousios” only by a single letter (the smallest in the Greek alphabet), the choice of this expression rather than the Nicene term was evidently tantamount to a denial of the consubstantiality of Son and Father. Thus the Church utterly refused to countenance any attempt to find a formula of compromise acceptable to all conflicting parties (the practice now in favour in the Conciliar Church), and insisted on acceptance of the term most calculated to be unacceptable to all but the rigidly orthodox. Indeed when one group of Arians persuaded themselves that it was possible to interpret even the word “homo-ousios” in a manner compatible with Our Lord’s having been created in time by God the Father, the Church still refused to admit them to communion, despite strong pressure from the emperor, until they recanted all their errors, in terms admitting of not the slightest ambiguity.

8 See Catholic Encyclopædia (1913) Vol. IX, art. “Liberius”, p. 220; Pope Pius VI, brief of 10th March 1791 to Cardinal de la Rochefoucault, the Archbishop of Aix and the other Archbishops and Bishops of the Assemblée Nationale de France, concerning the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, decreed by the Assemblée Nationale.)

9 But see footnote 20, [below].

10 Who must not, of course, be confused with the pre-Christian Athenian philosopher of the same name.

11 Socrates wrote in Constantinople, to which the seat of government of the empire had been moved in 330 A.D.

12 Nor are we dependent on the testimony of Socrates for the fact that the Romans took this stand. Even the opponents of Liberius testify to it, the Arian writer Philostorgius, for instance, describing how eagerly the Romans were demanding the return of their pope. (The Catholic Encyclopædia, 1913, Vol. IX, p. 220)

13 The author (1825-1878) was later to write a much more complete Church history which finally appeared in 42 volumes after his death. Although of great value it has never been translated into English and the final volumes by his continuators, Frs. Bareille and Fèvre, display a less solid judgement than that of Darras himself.

14 The Latin word “consubstantialis”, corresponding to the Greek “homo-ousios” of the Nicene Creed, is often translated as “being of the same substance with” or “being of one substance with”, but in 1825 the Vicars Apostolic of England and Wales unanimously determined to expunge such renderings from the Catechism used in their territory and to replace them with the formula “being the same substance with”, which rules out more definitely any possibility of misinterpretation.

15 The Luciferians were a group of schismatics who followed the bishop of Cagliari whose name, remarkably, was Lucifer. This bishop’s breach with the Church was occasioned by a ruling of the Council of Alexandria, 362 A.D., presided over by St. Athanasius, that although bishops and priests who had spontaneously embraced heresy were deemed to have forfeited their offices and could be received, upon their repentance, only to lay-communion, nonetheless those bishops who had merely temporized through fear might, by an act of clemency, be permitted to retain their episcopal rank upon making an open profession of orthodox Catholic faith upon all the disputed points. Although this ruling was, of course, quite correct, Lucifer insisted on being “more Catholic than the pope”, obstinately maintaining that fear could not excuse from censures and that heretics could never be restored to office even upon their repentance. The Luciferians, with “bitter zeal” (James 3:14), launched violent attacks on St. Athanasius, Liberius and all those who, while retaining the Faith, were anxious to temper justice with mercy in their dealings with those who had fallen. For a balanced treatment of Lucifer and his followers, whose history is in many elements confused by discordant testimony, see the Annales Ecclesiastici of Ven. Cardinal Baronius, ad annum 362.

16 By contrast with the fall of Liberius, the fall of Bishop Hosius of Cordoba (256-359) is an established historical fact. This illustrious centenarian confessor was beguiled into signing a heterodox formula. Soon after he confessed his fault and died penitent.

17 Probably the most prominent of the scholars who have championed this hypothesis was the famous nineteenth century ecclesiastical historian von Hefele.

18 2 Peter 2:22.

19 I.e. during the four years from 349-353 A.D.

20 No, I am wrong. Since writing the above in my first draft, I have come across new information. There is in fact a single historian who has fallen into the same egregious trap as Davies has, by referring to a “repentance” on Liberius’s part. The author in question is the anti-Catholic Gibbon in his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol. II, p. 345; but as this work is on the Index of Forbidden Books it is to be hoped that Davies was not using Gibbon as a source and that Davies and Gibbon each invented the same fictional episode independently. So whereas my statement that nohistorian agrees with Davies is not strictly exact, it does not seem to be unfair. Writing in the American Catholic Quarterly Review, 1883, Fr. P.J. Harrold reproaches Gibbon with this falsification of history, remarking that “there is nowhere on record a ‘seasonable repentance’, nor anything approaching it in the career of Liberius.” Davies himself clearly merits the same reproach.

21 Newman does not for a second consider the likelihood that some of the patristic texts have been interpolated. He does admit that the heterodox text signed [i.e. alleged to have been signed] by Liberius cannot be identified. For his anti-Roman bias even after his conversion, see Richard Sartino, Another Look at John Henry Cardinal Newman.

22 Butler insists that the Sirmian formula signed by Liberius cannot have been a heretical one, and emphasizes Liberius’s valiant measures to defend orthodoxy both before and after the allaged “fall”, but, the possibility that he was relying on interpolated texts never having occurred to him, he cannot see his way to exculpating Liberius entirely.

23 It should be noted that Baronius, writing in the 1580s, was the first Catholic historian to attempt the laborious task of piecing together the full facts about Liberius from the often conflicting details scattered throughout the writings of earlier historians, and that he often relied on texts transcribed for him by others, being therefore unable to verify their authenticity personally. It is not therefore very surprising that, on the strength of the letters of Liberius himself, now universally recognized as inauthentic, he was deceived into accepting the fact of Liberius’s subscription to an ambiguous formula: certainly he does not regard Liberius as a heretic and no less certainly he is at pains to highlight the way in which his orthodox Catholic contemporaries eulogized Liberius even after the date of his supposed fall. The same applies to his close friend St. Robert Bellarmine who, however, holds that if Liberius subscribed to heresy, or was publicly believed to have done so, he thereby forfeited the papacy.

24 For readers who understand Latin, there can be no substitute for the direct study of this work to understand the whole historical episode.

25 The first volume is prefaced by a generous letter of approval from Pope Pius IX in which the pontiff declares that the work has “long been commended by the testimony and praise of wise men.” The saintly President Gabriel García Moreno of Ecuador (1821-1875) read its fourteen hefty volumes three times!

26 Which is true, as Pope John specifically stated this to be the case.

27 At least at the time in question.

28 See, for instance, McHugh and Callan, Moral Theology, No 2072 “Revelations About Historical Personages”.

29 Pope Leo XIII, Sæpenumero considerantes, 1883.

30 St. Robert Bellarmine denies that the incriminated letters in fact contain any offence against orthodoxy, however accidental, and he makes a surprisingly powerful case for believing that the Acts of the Third Council of Constantinople have been interpolated where they condemn Honorius (De Romano Pontifice, lib. II, cap. XXX).

31 This spectacular and egregious libel of a pope who is also a canonized saint, which Davies also included in an article in The Angelus, April 1979, moved French writer Jacques Tescelin, in an article entitled “Davies au pays des merveilles” (“Davies in Wonderland”) in the wholly outstanding Belgian Catholic periodical Didasco (May-June 1980), to pose himself the question: “Is Michael Davies a serious author?” His conclusion was straightforward and surely justified: “After his articles of April 1979 and April 1980 it is impossible for us to reply in the affirmative.”

32 See Genesis 9:20-27; Ecclesiasticus 3:12 (“Glory not in the dishonour of thy father, for his shame is no glory to thee.”).

33 Although, as has been said earlier, the obligation of honesty can at times require the admission of sin on the part of popes by even the most devoted Catholic historians, and Baronius is both a devoted Catholic historian and a historian who faces squarely up to his obligations to truth, no one would claim that “glancing through” his pages would swiftly bring to light “hundreds of examples of ‘faults, stupidity, blunders, extravagances and weaknesses’” on the part of the popes.

Source: John Daly, Michael Davies: An Evaluation, 2nd ed. (Saint-Sauveur de Meilhan: Tradibooks, 2015), pp. 427-481. Formatting largely identical to original, although modified slightly for better online reading.

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Michael Davies – An Evaluation (2nd ed.)

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John Daly is the owner of TRADIBOOKS, which specializes in reprinting rare Catholic books. Other articles written by John Daly can be found at his web site,

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