Ken Temple, Pope Honorius, St. Francis de Sales & Papal Infallibility

On a post from a while back, Protestant apologist Ken Temple brought up the issue of the heretic Pope Honorius and how he supposedly disproved the Catholic doctrine of Papal infallibility.  I referred him to the 2000 debate between Robert Sungenis and James White.  He then responded via comment:

Amazing that you think Sungenis made a good argument for Papal infallibility and amazing that you think Sungenis was able to show that Honorius did not violate the infallibility dogma. He clearly did when the history says, “Satan raised up for the whole church these heretics – Honorius, Sergius, etc. . . .”


A section From Dr. White’s article on the issue, which he used in this debate: article: Failure to Document:
Catholic Answers Glosses Over History

“The Facts about Honorius:
Honorius was the bishop of Rome from 625 to 638. In 634 Sergius, the patriarch of Constantinople, wrote to Honorius concerning Sergius’ attempts to bring the monophysites, those who asserted that there was only one nature in Christ, into the catholic fold. Sergius was a monothelite, one who believed that while Christ was indeed one person with two natures, He had but one will, since the will was a function of the one person, not a function of the two natures. Honorius, in responding to Sergius, provides the single clearest example of Papal error that violates the definition of infallibility as given by Rome itself. Honorius agreed with Sergius, clearly, in his first letter. He wrote to Sergius as the bishop of Rome, not as a private theologian. He responded as the bishop of Rome to an official inquiry to the See of Rome regarding a matter of faith and morals. He wrote to a fellow bishop of the church, and in speaking of the very issue of whether Christ had one will or two, he wrote, e}n qevlhma oJmologou`men tou` Kurivou j Ihsou Cristou. Make sure you note the use of the plural, “we confess.” Honorius did not say, “Oh, I think maybe it’s like this.” He employed the very same plural that Roman bishops use today to refer to their representation of the church as a whole. 

Now we surely can safely admit that Honorius was not the leading theologian of his day. He made an error based upon ignorance of the issues involved. The biblical standard of the elder or bishop in the church is not, thankfully, infallibility. And surely no one in that day believed in papal infallibility, so to judge Honorius on the basis of modern standards is without merit. His case is famous for no other reason than the glaring and obvious anachronism of Rome’s modern teaching. Rome proclaims her bishop infallible when teaching as the pastor of all Christians on matters of faith and morals. Obviously, it was the intention of the Vatican decree to say that the bishops of Rome have always had this “charism of infallibility,” which would mean it is the Roman Catholic position that this teaching was valid in Honorius’ day just as much as it is today. So it is Rome that has placed the spotlight upon all the Popes of history, not Protestants. 

Now, there is absolutely, positively no question that Honorius was, in fact, condemned as a heretic by the 6th Ecumenical Council which met in Constantinople in 680-681 for a teaching he promulgated in an official letter sent to Sergius as the bishop of Rome.

1. His condemnation is found in the Acts in the 13th Session, near the beginning.
2. His two letters were ordered to be burned at the same session as being “hurtful to the soul.” This includes the letter that contains the phrase e}n qevlhma oJmologou`men (hen thelema homologoumen).
3. In the 16th Session the bishops exclaimed “Anathema to the heretic Sergius, to the heretic Cyrus, to the heretic Honorius, etc.”
4. In the decree of faith published at the 18th Session it is stated that “the originator of all evil… found a fit tool for his will in… Honorius, Pope of Old Rome, etc.” Further, this Ecumenical Council said that Honorius taught the heretical doctrine. They said that Satan had “actively employed them in raising up for the whole Church the stumbling-blocks of one will and one operation in the two natures of Christ our true God, one of the Holy Trinity; thus disseminating, in novel terms, amongst the orthodox people, an heresy …”
5. The Papal legates, representatives of Pope Agatho, made no attempt to stop the burning of the letters, and subscribed to every anathema placed upon Honorius, as well as to the statement that Satan himself had used the bishop of Rome as a “tool for his will.”
6. The report of the Council to the Emperor says that “Honorius, formerly bishop of Rome” they had “punished with exclusion and anathema” because he followed the monothelites.
7. In its letter to Pope Agatho the Council says “We have destroyed the fort of the heretics, and slain them with anathema, in accordance with the sentence spoken before in your holy letter, namely, Theodore of Paran, Sergius, Honorius, Cyrus, etc.” Note that the Council believed its actions to be in full accord with Agatho’s wishes and Agatho’s letter!
8. The imperial decree speaks of the “unholy priests who infected the Church and falsely governed” and mentions among them “Honorius, the Pope of Old Rome, the confirmer of heresy who contradicted himself.” The Emperor goes on to anathematize “Honorius who was Pope of Old Rome, who in everything agreed with them, went with them, and strengthened the heresy.”
9. Pope Leo II confirmed the decrees of the Council and expressly says that he too anathematized Honorius. So strong was Leo’s confirmation that Baronius rejected it, saying it had to have been spurious, and even Cardinal Bellarmine tried to say it had been corrupted. Neither saw in Leo’s words any softening of the Council’s act, though some modern Catholic apologists have attempted to find in Leo’s sentence a ray of hope: Leo anathematizes Honorius “who did not illuminate this apostolic see with the doctrine of apostolic tradition, but permitted her who was undefiled to be polluted by profane teaching.”
10. That Honorius was anathematized by the Sixth Council is mentioned in the canons of the Council of Trullo which met less than two decades after Constantinople (Trullan Canons No. 1). This shows that the condemnation of Honorius was accepted by the wider church immediately after the Council, and amongst those who were familiar with Leo’s letter.
11. So too the Seventh Council declares its adhesion to the anathema in its decree of faith, and in several places in the acts the same is said.
12. Honorius’s name was found in the Roman copy of the Acts. This is evident from Anastasius’s life of Leo II. (Vita Leonis II.) This means that in Rome itself the condemnation with anathema as a heretic was embraced and accepted.
13. The Papal Oath as found in the Liber Diurnus taken by each new Pope up to the eleventh century, states in no uncertain terms, “smites with eternal anathema the originators of the new heresy, Sergius, etc., together with Honorius, because he assisted the base assertion of the heretics.” Every single Pope who took to the chair of Peter for three hundred years did so by anathematizing his predecessor, Honorius.
14. In the lesson for the feast of St. Leo II in the Roman Breviary the name of Pope Honorius occurs among those excommunicated by the Sixth Synod, and the name remains there until the sixteenth century! “

The next portion is addressed specifically to Mr. Temple;

Hello Ken Temple,  I didn’t wish to respond in the comments section on that last post so I’m going to respond to it here.  I also think that this is an important issue for all to see.

Absolutely none of the 14 points that Dr. White brought up refute Papal infallibility. They prove that Pope Honorius was condemned as a heretic, had his letters burned, was condemned over the centuries as a heretic by Popes and in feasts, and other things. If Papal infallibility is to be disproven then his one letter to Patriarch Sergius must be shown to be infallible.  It all comes down to that.  Nothing more and nothing less.  Upon examining the letter, we find that it does not meet the criteria for infallibility. The letter is addressed to Sergius alone. It has other lacking elements as well that Sungenis brought up.

You are correct that it was said: “Satan raised up for the whole church these heretics – Honorius, Sergius, etc. . . .” The actions of the heretic Honorius wound up affecting the whole Church. That is for sure, but he didn’t teach anything infallibly to the whole Church.  He wrote a letter to one Bishop expressing an erroneous theological opinion.  This Bishop started to preach the heresy and it infected others until the whole Church was in turmoil.  It can all be traced back to the non-infallible letter of Pope Honorius.  That is all that is meant by this phrase.

Here is an argument that neither Sungenis nor White brought up in the debate. One of the top pre-Vatican I theologians to have his works used in support of Papal Infallibility was St. Francis de Sales(1567-1622). In his book “The Catholic Controversy”(which I’m sure you have in your library so you can check the references) in Article VI, Chapter XIV which is page 225 in the 2011 TAN edition St. Francis says:

“Thus, we do not say that the Pope cannot err in his private opinions, as did John XXII, or be altogether a heretic, as perhaps Honorius was.”

Saint Francis has no trouble admitting that Honorius was a heretic, and this is the specific section(Article VI) that the Vatican I Fathers used in support of Papal Infallibility. In fact, later down on the page St. Francis continues:

“So everything the Pope says is not canon law or of legal obligation; he must mean to define and to lay down the law for the sheep, and he must keep the due order and form. Thus we say that we must appeal to him not as to a learned man, for in this he is ordinarily surpassed by some others, but as to the general head and pastor of the Church. And as such we must honour, follow, and firmly embrace his doctrine, for then he carries on his breast the Urim and Thummin, doctrine and truth. And again we must not think that in everything and everywhere his judgement is infallible, but then only when he gives judgement on a matter of faith in questions necessary to the whole Church, for in particular cases which depend on human fact he can err, there is no doubt, though it is not for us to control him in these cases save with all reverence, submission and discretion. Theologians have said, in a word, that he can err in questions of fact, not in questions of right, that he can err extra cathedram, outside of the chair of Peter, that is, as a private individual, by writings and bad example. But he cannot err when he is in cathedra, that is, when he intends to make an instruction and decree for the guidance of the whole Church, when he means to confirm his brethren as supreme pastor and to conduct them into the pastures of the Faith.”

I recommend reading all of Article VI in that book. St. Francis does a great job explaining the doctrine. He clearly understood the doctrine later defined in Vatican I and at the same time knew that Honorius was perhaps a heretic. It didn’t affect anything because St. Francis knew that the letter of Honorius to a single Bishop didn’t affect Papal Infallibility at all.

Mr. Temple, I think you need to read the writings of the great Saints of the Church to understand the Catholic faith more. Don’t learn about Catholicism through the writings of James White. Should I learn about Calvinism through anti-Calvinist polemics written by Catholic writers? No, you’d want me to read Calvin and other Calvinists which I do. Please extend my faith the same courtesy.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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6 thoughts on “Ken Temple, Pope Honorius, St. Francis de Sales & Papal Infallibility

  1. To borrow from Fr. Brian Harrison and Bp. Gasser, we can boil papal infallibility down into four requirements. They are: 1) the pope speaks in his office of pastor and teacher of all Christians 2) he must teach a doctrine of faith or morals 3) he is requiring assent of the universal Church 4) he must define said doctrine (i.e. proclaim by a definitive act). All four conditions must be met. If they are met, a doctrine has been taught infallibly.

  2. I am interested in understanding the Catholic view on papal infallibility.

    I am not sure if I got this right but it seems like you are saying Pope Honorius letter does not meet the criterion for infallibility because he did not preface it by saying it is meant for the entire church.

    Is this correct?

    • Hello Fawaz,

      Thank you for your interest in this very important doctrine. The debate I linked to above presents both sides and covers a lot of issues but it’s three hours.

      Yes, that is correct, Pope Honorius only addressed it to the Patriarch of Constantinople. The letter has other deficiencies as well, but they are more complex. The fact that it wasn’t to the whole Church disqualifies it immediately though.

      If you look at the above comment by Chris Loftson, he gives the four criteria needed for infallibility.

      Although this doctrine has always been understood by Christ’s Church, it was only formally defined in 1870 at the First Vatican Council. Here is the link to the documents:

      They’re very short and won’t take long to read.

      God Bless,

  3. The Infallibility dogma of 1870 –
    1. The whole thing is anachronistic – forcing the parameters of 1870 back onto the 600s AD and earlier history. For 300 years + the RC kept condmening Honorius as a heretic, so at the time, it was not viewed as what the modern RC apologists are saying.

    2. The whole thing is impractical as what it promises and is deceptive (after all is said and done, you don’t have any thing left) in that Roman Catholic apologists say things like “we have a living voice that can walk into the room and say “Thus says the Lord”. (Tim Staples) and my friend Rod Bennett – “the Pope is an umpire and is able to solve all the disunity problems between Protestants” – “just come under his authority” (he always implied this was the key to the disunity within Protestant churches – Presbyterians vs. Lutherans vs. Baptists vs. Methodists, vs. modern independent churches and vs. Charismatics, etc.

    3. After one goes through all history and applies the 1870 dogma anachronisticially, you are left with nothing except for 1854 (Immaculate conception and sinlessness of Mar), 1870 (papal Infallibility), and 1950 (Bodily Assumption of Mary) dogmas (some claim this) or maybe 12-16 other dogmatic statements all through history – (Leo’s Tome on 2 natures of Christ, Transubstantiation as dogma, Trent as dogma, Mary’s Theotokos, and perpetual virginity, Purgatory, all early and later RC Ecumenical Councils as dogmatic and right, RC and Papal understanding of Matthew 16:16-18. Which are all man-made traditions added to Scripture, except for the right/original understanding of Theotokos (as about Jesus as Deity)and Leo’s Tome on the 2 natures of Christ was right, only because it was Biblical; and that the 4 four Ecumenical councils were right on the doctrines of Jesus’ person, 2 natures and the Trinity. All the other things are unBiblical.

    • 1. I think you’re confusing the issue. The dogma of papal infallibility means that under certain conditions, the pope speaks infallibly. This dogma does not say the pope is immune from uttering heretical statements. The reason is that certain conditions are required for infallibility. This teaching has been understood both today, in 1870, and in the sixth century. There is no contradiction between what an apologist says today and what the fathers of the sixth ecumenical council said. Your assertion that they viewed the papacy different than today is false. Pope Agatho, the very same pope that approved the condemnation of Honorius, said that the Apostolic (Roman) Church had never yielded to heresy. Even if Honorius had given in to heresy personally, he had not attempted to impose that heresy with his authority.
      “For this is the rule of the true faith, which this spiritual mother of your most tranquil empire, the Apostolic Church of Christ, has both in prosperity and in adversity always held and defended with energy; which, it will be proved, by the grace of Almighty God, has never erred from the path of the apostolic tradition, nor has she been depraved by yielding to heretical innovations, 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, according to the divine promise of the Lord and Saviour himself, which he uttered in the holy Gospels to the prince of his disciples: saying, “Peter, Peter, behold, Satan has desired to have you, that he might sift you as wheat; but I have prayed for you, that (your) faith fail not. And when you are converted, strengthen your brethren.” Let your tranquil Clemency therefore consider, since it is the Lord and Saviour of all, whose faith it is, that promised that Peter’s faith should not fail and exhorted him to strengthen his brethren, how it is known to all that the Apostolic pontiffs, the predecessors of my littleness, have always confidently done this very thing”

      2. The pope certainly can and does solve disunity problems and doctrinal disputes. Nothing stated above calls that into question.

      3. This is a very common misunderstanding. There’s a lot of nuance to the theology of infallibility so I’m not surprised. Bishop Gasser was the spokesperson of a commission at Vatican I that was responsible for writing the dogma at the council. Basically, if you want to know what the fathers at Vatican I understood the dogma to mean, Bishop Gasser explains it. He gave a speech at the council saying, “Already thousand and thousands of dogmatic judgements have gone forth from the Apostolic See.” This is likely hyperbole on his part, but the point is that many infallible statements exist. A few more examples of infallible statements are: Unam Sanctam of Boniface VIII, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis of John Paul II, and probably Humanae Vitae of Paul VI. These are simply well known papal decrees to me as a layman. There are many more papal decrees that can be parsed through for infallible statements.

  4. Perhaps the most important thing to be noted regarding rulings backed up by papal infallibility is that they are so rare.

    I am not in favour of the doctrine myself, but I can see the good sense in it and if you’re in a club you are obliged to go along with the rules.