Bishop Athanasisus Schneider: teacher of heresy

Over at Bishop Athanasisus Schneider: On the Question of a Heretical Pope.

1. First, Pope Honorius I was never condemned by any Ecumenical Council for heresy. He was anathemized for having failed to do enough to stop the spread of heresy. So Honorius was not guilty of committing or teaching heresy.

The Third Council of Constantinople (6th Council overall) was about to condemn Honorius for heresy. But the Pope who oversaw the Council, Saint Agatho, wrote a letter to them on the immunity from error (I would say grave error) of the Roman Pontiff and his See. He died without approving of the Council’s acts. The next Pope, Saint Leo II, within the very letter approving of the acts of the Council, made one change, making the charge against Honorius, for which he was anathemized, negligence in defending the faith, not the sin of teaching or committing heresy. The Catholic Encyclopedia says this about this decision of Pope Leo II: “At the same time he was at pains to make it clear that in condemning his predecessor Honorius I, he did so, not because he taught heresy, but because he was not active enough in opposing it.” [New Advent]

The next two Councils, Nicaea II and Constantinople IV, repeated the anathema against Honorius, but did not call him a heretic, nor accuse him of teaching or committing heresy.

Bishop Schneider: “Notwithstanding the fact that three successive Ecumenical Councils… and pope Saint Leo II in 682 excommunicated Pope Honorius I because of heresy….” What a wicked lie! Pope Leo II was clear that Honorious was not guilty of heresy, but of negligence, and the three Ecumenical Councils anathemaed Honorius, though not for heresy.

2. Second, the ordinary and universal Magisterium as well as the First Vatican Council infallibly teach that the Roman Pontiff has immunity from grave error in his teachings and a never-failing faith.

Vatican I: “This gift of truth and never-failing faith was therefore divinely conferred on Peter and his successors in this See so that they might discharge their exalted office for the salvation of all, and so that the whole flock of Christ might be kept away by them from the poisonous food of error and be nourished with the sustenance of heavenly doctrine.”

Pope Saint Leo IX: “By the See of the Chief of the Apostles, namely by the Roman Church, through the same Peter, as well as through his successors, have not the comments of all the heretics been disapproved, rejected, and overcome, and the hearts of the brethren in the faith of Peter — which so far neither has failed, nor up to the end will fail — been strengthened?” [In Terra Pax Hominibus, September 2, 1053; Denz. 351.]

Pope Pius XI: “Upon this Magisterium, Christ the Lord conferred immunity from error, together with the command to teach His doctrine to all….” [Divini illius magistri, December 31, 1929; Denz. 2204.]

Pope Saint Agatho: “For Peter himself received from the Redeemer of all, by three commendations, the duty of feeding the spiritual sheep of the Church. Under his protecting shield, this Apostolic Church of his has never turned away from the path of truth in any direction of error.”

“And his authority, as that of the Prince of all the Apostles, the whole Catholic Church and the Ecumenical Synods have faithfully embraced and followed in all things.”

“but from the beginning she has received the Christian faith from her founders, the princes of the Apostles of Christ, and remains undefiled unto the end….”

“…the evangelical and apostolic uprightness of the orthodox faith, which has been established upon the firm rock of this Church of blessed Peter, the Prince of the Apostles, which by his grace and guardianship remains free from all error….” [Letter to the Sixth Ecumenical Council]

The letter of Pope St. Agatho was submitted to the Third Council of Constantinople, which was the Sixth Ecumenical Council. And it was accepted by them, making this teaching infallible.

Pope St. Nicholas I: “If anyone condemns dogmas, mandates, interdicts, sanctions, or decrees, promulgated by the one presiding in the Apostolic See, for the Catholic faith, for the correction of the faithful, for the emendation of criminals, either by an interdict of threatening or of future ills, let him be anathema.” [Roman Council 860 and 863; Denzinger 326]

First Vatican Council: “Since the Roman Pontiff, by the divine right of the apostolic primacy, governs the whole Church, we likewise teach and declare that he is the supreme judge of the faithful, and that in all cases which fall under ecclesiastical jurisdiction recourse may be had to his judgment. The sentence of the Apostolic See (than which there is no higher authority) is not subject to revision by anyone, nor may anyone lawfully pass judgment thereupon. And so they stray from the genuine path of truth who maintain that it is lawful to appeal from the judgments of the Roman pontiffs to an Ecumenical Council as if this were an authority superior to the Roman Pontiff.”

Canon Law 1404: “The First See is judged by no one”

Pope St. Leo IX: “By passing a preceding judgment on the great See, concerning which it is not permitted any man to pass judgment, you have received anathema from all the Fathers of all the venerable Councils….”

“As the hinge while remaining immovable opens and closes the door, so Peter and his successors have free judgment over all the Church, since no one should remove their status because ‘the highest See is judged by no one.’ ” [In Terra Pax Hominibus; Denzinger 351-353.]

Even the entire body of Bishops and Cardinals put together cannot teach infallibly apart from the Roman Pontiff, nor can they gather as an Ecumenical Council and correct or rebuke the Roman Pontiff.

3. Bishop Athanasisus Schneider errs gravely in his article at 1P5.

His first error is speaking as if a Pope might possibly fall into heresy: “how to handle a heretical pope during the term of his office.” The dogmatic teaching of Vatican I and the teaching of Pope Saint Leo IX, Pope Pius XI, and Pope Saint Agatho indicate that the Pope cannot commit heresy, as if his faith had failed, and cannot teach heresy, as that would be contrary to the immunity from error and gift of truth divinely conferred on Peter and his successors.

His second error is to claim that Pope Honorius taught or committed heresy. It is dogma that this is not possible. And as shown above, Honorius was negligent in defending the faith against heresy, but did not teach or commit heresy. Bishop Schneider is not clear whether he is accusing Honorius of heresy here: “on the grounds that he supported the heretical doctrine of those who promoted Monotheletism, thereby helping to spread this heresy,” as this might be interpreted as negligence, short of heresy.

But this claim is absolutely false: “Pope Honorius was mentioned as a heretic in the lessons of Matins for June 28th, the feast of Saint Leo II.” The text in Latin which follows does not use the words heresy or heretic, but merely says that the Council of Constantinople condemned a list of persons, including Honorius. Bishop Schneider is falsely accusing Honorius of being a heretic — “he was a heretic” — contrary to the dogmatic teaching of the Church.

Next, Bishop Schneider attempts to make “a clear distinction between the error of a particular pope and the inerrancy in faith of the Apostolic See as such.” But no such distinction is possible, given the quoted teachings of the Magisterium above. Without the Roman Pontiff, what is the Apostolic See? Nothing but his assistants. It is absurd to claim that the Head of the Church would fall into heresy, but his mere assistants would not. And the dogma of Vatican I on the “gift of truth and never-failing faith” is based on Jesus’ promise in Scripture to pray that Peter’s faith will not fail, meaning Peter and his successors. To interpret this as Peter’s see being unfailing, while Peter’s own faith fails is ridiculous and contrary to the clear meaning of our Lord’s words.

So Bishop Athanasisus Schneider is committing heresy himself by rejecting the dogma of the First Vatican Council, which is the ancient teaching of the Church (infallible also under the ordinary and universal Magisterium), that the Pope himself has the gift of a never-failing faith from the prevenient grace of God. Bishop Athanasisus Schneider is a heretic and a teacher of heresy.

Bishop Schneider knows the teaching of the Church on this point. He quotes Pope Saint Agatho as well as the passage from the Gospel of Luke, on which the dogma of Vatican I is based. But he distorts that teaching severely, by imputing the immunity from error to the See, and not to the Vicar of Christ, as if, when our Lord said “Peter” he meant only Peter’s assistants and not he himself.

Schneider also accuses Pope John 22 of heresy or “semi-heresy” (there’s no such thing). “The last case of a heretical or semi-heretical pope was the case of Pope John XXII (1316 – 1334) when he taught his theory that the Saints would enjoy the beatific vision only after the Last Judgment in the Second Coming of Christ.” So again, he errs gravely be falsely accusing a Pope of heresy. And this last case is most easy to defend. John 22 presented his idea as a theological opinion, and there was not contrary infallible teaching of the Magisterium. So his erroneous idea was not heresy. By comparison, the claims of Bishop Athanasisus Schneider are heresy, as there are past infallible magisterial teachings contradicting his claims. So Schneider is the heretic, not Pope Honorius, nor Pope John 22.

Bishop Athanasisus Schneider then puts forward the idea that a Pope who commits heresy can be judged and condemned by a future Ecumenical Council. But his example to support this claim is false. Honorius was not condemned by the Third Council of Constantinople. And the First Vatican Council condemned this very idea:

“And so they stray from the genuine path of truth who maintain that it is lawful to appeal from the judgments of the Roman pontiffs to an ecumenical council as if this were an authority superior to the Roman Pontiff.”

Bishop Athanasisus Schneider narrows the infallible teaching of the First Vatican Council in this way:

“It is a dogma of faith that the pope cannot proclaim a heresy when teaching ex cathedra. This is the Divine guarantee that the gates of hell will not prevail against the cathedra veritatis, which is the Apostolic See of the Apostle Saint Peter.”

He also distorts our Lord’s words and promise by narrowing it only to infallible teachings of the Pope. That is not what Jesus said. Our Lord promised that the gates of Hell would not prevail over the Church Herself, not only over infallible teachings of the Pope. And this is clear from the dogma of Vatican I, which says that Peter and his successors have the divinely conferred gift of a never-failing faith. But faith is a virtue infused in the person, not infused in a teaching. So this is another heresy taught by Bishop Athanasisus Schneider. The indefectibility of the Church is not limited to infallible pronouncements. The Roman Pontiff is the head of the Church, and he cannot err gravely in his teachings, nor can his faith fail.

Bishop Athanasisus Schneider then extends his heretical teaching further, claiming that the indefectibility of the Church is preserved, even if the Pope and the body of Bishops go astray, as long as a very small number of Bishops remain faithful:

“It is sufficient to have even a couple of bishops proclaiming the integrity of Faith and correcting thereby the errors of a heretical pope. It is sufficient that bishops instruct and protect their flock from the errors of a heretical pope and their priests and the parents of Catholic families will do the same.”

Heretic. Anathema sit.

Do you know what the Church calls that situation, described by Bishop Schneider? When a couple of bishops claim that they alone have retained the “integrity of Faith” and that they are correcting the errors of the Pope and the body of Bishops, those few Bishops are heretics and they have fallen into a schism. It is an heretical error to claim that a few Bishops can oppose the Roman Pontiff and the body of Bishops, and that the few Bishops are the ones who hold the indefectibility of the Church. The Magisterium has infallibly taught, just as Jesus taught, that the indefectibility of the Church is based on Peter and his successors, not on a few Bishops who exalt themselves above the Pope and the body of Bishops.

Bishop Athanasisus Schneider calls this dogma of the faith “the unhealthy attitude of a pope-centrism.” Oh, really? Well that is the teaching of Christ, and of His Church. The Pope is the single rock which secures the Faith of the Church. The idea that the Church would instead be founded on the many grains of sand of a “majority rules” approach to doctrine is rejected by the Lord’s parable on the house built on sand. But even more absurd is the parable of Bishop Schneider, of the great house, containing over a billion family members, built upon a few grains of sand.

Bishop Schneider uses the phrase “heretical pope” over 50 times in his article. This claim that a pope can teach or commit heresy is contrary to dogma, and so Bishop Athanasisus Schneider is a teacher of heresy. And, as he himself states: “The Church has always taught that even a heretical person, who is automatically excommunicated because of formal heresy….” Yes, Bishop Schneider, you are automatically excommunicated by the Church for this public formal heresy.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian
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