Falsification Criteria of Catholicism – St. John Henry Newman


“I grant that there are ‘bishops against bishops in Church history, Fathers against Fathers, Fathers against themselves’, for such differences in individual writers are consistent with, or rather are involve in the very idea of doctrinal development, and consequently are no real objection to it; the one essential question is whether the recognized organ of teaching, the Church herself, acting through Pope or Council as the oracle of Heaven, has ever contradicted her own enunciations. If so, the hypothesis which I am advocating is at once shattered; but till I have positive and distinct evidence of the fact, I am slow to give credence to the existence of so great an improbability” (An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, pg. 134)

9 thoughts on “Falsification Criteria of Catholicism – St. John Henry Newman

  1. “the one essential question is whether the recognized organ of teaching, the Church herself, acting through Pope or Council as the oracle of Heaven, has ever contradicted her own enunciations. If so, the hypothesis which I am advocating is at once shattered”

    Yes, by a Pope, here-

    Pope Vigilius” Constitutum is exactly worded as an ex cathedra statement which defends the Orthodoxy of the three chapters.

    Now, this is problematic not on ONE front, but TWO. It is problematic in the order of Ex Cathedra statements, but also in the order of dogmatic facts.

    1. As an ex cathedra statement, it is formally and consistently clearly phrased in accord with the criteria of Vatican I-

    “when the Roman pontiff speaks EX CATHEDRA,
    that is, when,
    in the exercise of his office as *shepherd and teacher of all Christians,*
    in virtue of his *supreme apostolic authority,*
    he *defines* a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the *whole church,*
    he possesses,
    by the divine assistance promised to him in blessed Peter,
    that infallibility which the divine Redeemer willed his church to enjoy in defining doctrine concerning faith or morals.”

    Now consider the first Constitutum of Vigilius-

    “Now that this had been determined by ourselves with all and
    every care and caution, so as to preserve inviolable both reverence towards
    the above-mentioned synods and also their venerable decrees, we, remembering
    that it is written that we should not transgress the bounds of our
    fathers, *enact and decree* that *no one* with ecclesiastical dignity and rank
    is permitted to hold or write or produce or compose or teach anything about
    the oft-mentioned Three Chapters contrary to what we have *declared and
    enacted* in this present decree, or to raise any further inquiry subsequent to
    the present definition. But if in the name of anyone with ecclesiastical
    dignity and rank there has been, or will have been, done, said and written,
    by whomsoever and wheresoever it so transpire, anything in breach of what
    we have here declared and enacted concerning these Three Chapters, this
    we totally annul with *the authority of the apostolic see* over which by the
    grace of God we preside.”

    Clearly the scope of Vigilius Enactment is within the scope of an ex cathedra statement. It is directed to all the Hierarchs of the Church, it is on a matter related to faith and morals, it clearly enacts and decrees that none teach anything contrary (implying what has gone before is a teaching) to what has been enacted, and it is sealed by apostolic authority, annulling every act to the contrary.

    Now, this is either a direct substantial refutation of Newman’s thesis and the infallibility of ex cathedra statements, OR it is at least a refutation of the infallibility of dogmatic facts. And that alone opens a whole can of worms. For if dogmatic facts are not infallible, they are not irreformable, and such things such as canonizations, the identity of ecumenical councils, the personal identity of heretics, the identity of works containing heretical writings, the identity of the popes, the NUMBER of ecumenical councils (which Rome has been inconsistent on in the past with regard to the Constantinople IV’s) and really in a sense the practical functionality of HAVING dogma, is completely destabilized.

    Moreover, Vigilius’ enactment stated here is an example of how a Pope can err in the use of his official apostolic authority while determining at LEAST a matter of dogmatic fact, if not faith and morals. In fact, it would be interesting Eric if you could conceive of an object of dogmatic fact that is not equally, at least POTENTIALLY, the proper object of an ex cathedra statement.

    P.S. Eric, I have read your accounts of Vigilius and his actions, and they seem pretty much legit. I have NOT though seen you address THIS DOCUMENT and THIS MOST CRUCIAL PORTION in any detail. So that’s why I bring it up.

      • Besides not analyzing and extracting his reasoning from the TEXT, he ends the article with this paragraph, which I think is very unserious-

        “However, since it is clear that Vigilius himself was continuing to learn and reflect throughout the course of the controversy and that he didn’t intend his statements as the final word on the subject but rather as a reflection of how things looked to him to the extent of his current knowledge, I don’t think we need to assume that the submission required to his decrees would have ruled out intelligent researchers and observers during the time period continuing to reflect upon how best to view what was going on and even to contribute new information and new interpretations to Vigilius if they thought they had something worth considering.”

        It is absolutely clear that in his moments of error regarding at LEAST dogmatic fact (if not dogma) Pope Vigilius certainly DID consider his decisions binding and irreformable. It wasn’t like he was writing experimentally for a bunch of modernists. He was writing as head of the Apostolic Church from whence episcopal unity takes its source to settle a controversy related to ALL the bishops in a final and irrevocable manner.

        Now, we know what Pope Pius XII says about such things in Humani Generis. When the Pope sets out to determine the end of a controversy, the determination is irreformable, regardless of the precise form or content, whether apostolic constitution or encyclical, so long as it OFFICIALLY occurs in the name of the Apostolic See-

        “But if the Supreme Pontiffs in their official documents purposely pass judgment on a matter up to that time under dispute, it is obvious that that matter, according to the mind and will of the Pontiffs, cannot be any longer considered a question open to discussion among theologians.”

        So, WHY did this Charism apparently FAIL in the case of Vigilius’ first Constitutum?

        This is the question we need to occupy ourselves with, for it is probably the most glaring example of substantial contradiction of ex cathedra statements OR the infallibility of dogmatic facts or both. And either OR both having fallen, the Roman Church cannot rise above this fall. All it takes is one fall to show fallibility where infallibility OUGHT to have taken place in order to display the falsehood. And thus Cardinal Newman’s conclusion is shown to have been right AND the reality.

      • I am many miles away from home, but when I do return, I will be able to review the judicatum and the constitutorum that were subsequently published. But based on my own memory (which I only jog here for the sake of conversation), it was my understanding that the argument of Vigilius was that both Chalcedon and Ephesus (i.e. cyril) were dogmatic, and that most/some statements in the respective writings of both Theodore’s and Ibas were reconciliable with both councils. Secondly, the form of the constitutum may only have as its aim no “further” judgments concerning the said Chapters. But as you probably know, things made “irreformable” by Papal decree do not necessarily bar the same from being reformed by the Pope who made the decree. This, of course, does not work in the case of dogmatic definitions, but so far as I can see, no doctrinal definition was in process under the pen of Vigilius.

        You mention “dogmatic fact” (i.e. things pertinent and substantial to doctrine but which are not the dogma), and this is a good point to bring up. I’ve brought it up before in previous exchanges with Mark Hausam. But once again, the Constitutum here doesn’t seem to have as its aim the irreformability of the “dogmatic facts” which come up in Vigilius’s wading through the three chapters. Rather, the force of the decree is one *no one changing what’s been already decided*. As you know, the principal dogma of the decree are the references to the Ecumenical Councils, and the question is whether the Three Chapters sufficiently reflect the logic of said Councils. To *think* that the Three Chapters are Cyrillian/Leonine (Ephesine/Chalcedonian) would be to utilize the dogma of the Church as the “rule” of comparison. This much is not heresy of the first order. But to actually be in error on what the Three Chapters *intends* to say would be to err on a matter of fact, as you point out. But as you also know, the Infallibility of the Roman Pontiff on dogmatic facts has to have as its object the dogmatic fact, and so far as the citation you gave is concerned, the object is simply to make the Three Chapters investigation *closed* from the review of any ecclesiastical official.

        A similar case may be found in the examination of Pelagius (or Celestius, I forget off the top) by Pope St. Zosimus (417). His predecessor had condemned Pelagius/Celestius for denying original sin, but Zosimus thought that Pelagius, based on the latter’s testimony, was not actually denying original sin. The Council of Carthage under Aurelius protested against this, and Zosimus stood his ground in preparing to exonerate Pelagius. Of course, the Pope was not erring in matter of faith here, but in whether someone violated said faith.

  2. A clarification Erick- whether Vigilius proclaimed officially a false Ex Cathedra stement, OR Contradicted a matter of dogmatic fact, the Church of Rome still falls.

    An analogy- Gunfire.

    There are three discernible parts to the firing of a gun. The aiming, The firing, the bullet impact.

    Now, the dogma of Vatican I states the conditions for properly aiming and firing the “Gun” of an ex cathedra statement. Dogmatic Fact ensures the bullet doesn’t drift, but hits the target.

    For example, the Jansenist controversy was about dogmatic facts. The Jansenists were verbally agreeing with the Pope’s condemnation of the “Augustinus” of Bishop Cornelius Jansen. But they were simply saying the condemned content wasn’t ACTUALLY present in the book. An error was made, not in the “aim” of the Pope, nor in his attempt to make the condemnation, his “firing”, but simply that the bullet of condemnation drifted onto the wrong target- “Augustinus.” The Pope rightly said that the Church doesn’t err in condemning error OR determining who holds the error. What good is a gun that aims and fires perfectly, but the bullets have a tendency to drift?

    The point with what I write above about Vigilius is that, regardless of whether his condemnation has the quality of proving the “Artillery” of Papal pretensions is false and doesn’t even function (a substantial contradiction to ex cathedra pronouncements) OR that the enactment of Vigilius proves that sometimes the bullets drift off course and land the wrong target (dogmatic facts are not infallibly known by Rome, e.g. Vigilius declared certain persons improper subjects of anathema in respect to their heresies), the point is that FUNCTIONALLY Rome does not have the quality of dependability we would wish for it, and therefore it does not possess the reliability that it claims is necessary for the knowledge of the truth.

    Perfect Aim and Perfect trigger control coupled with misfires does not make a reliable weapon.

    • Vigilius’s doctrinal content was that Chalcedon and Ephesus were dogmatic and irreformable, and he judged that the Three Chapters were partially in defense of that, and partially against that. Was he right or wrong? Particularly about Ibas’s letter, his apologia on behalf of Ibas was Chalcedonian, and not heretical. So your argument here only works if the entire faith of the Church depends on whether Ibas’s letter *actually* taught Chalcedonian Christology or Nestorian Christology. But in point of fact, what Vigilius is binding upon all, doctrinally speaking, is Chalcedon

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