Papal Documents: Judging Their Infallible Nature and Assent They Are Due

© Copyright 2010, T. Stanfill Benns (All emphasis within quotes is the author’s.)


As the lay canonist Dr. Cyril Andrade observed in 1975, “A question arises out of the reversal of Encyclical teachings: Whether or not popes exercise the supreme teaching authority when they expound in Encyclical Letters? In his Encyclical, Humani Generis (Aug 12, 1950), Pope Pius XII declared that ‘… such matters as treated in Encyclicals are taught with the ordinary teaching authority, of which, it is true to say: ‘He that heareth you heareth Me.’ Generally what is expounded and inculcated in Encyclical Letters, already for other reasons, appertains to Catholic doctrine. But if the Supreme Pontiffs 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 same pontiffs, cannot be any longer considered open to discussion among theologians.

“So, Encyclicals, Bulls, Decrees, Constitutions, etc., all come under the mantle of the Magisterium, the teaching authority, guided and protected by the Holy Ghost from teaching anything of faith-and-morals harmful to the faithful. What is puzzling is that Pope Pius XII wrote (Mediator Dei) in 1947, yet, within less than eighteen years, the very things he officially deplored have since been officially embraced by the ‘Church.’ What really happens to the Magisterium in such cases? Such vacillation could never be attributed to the Holy Ghost. Scripture says: “For I am the Lord and I change not.” (Matt. 3:6.) The problem is compounded by the words of the Encyclical, Humani Generis, of Pope Pius XII when he declares: ‘… that such matters that are treated in Encyclicals are taught with the ordinary teaching authority, of which it is true to say: ‘He that heareth you heareth Me,’(Luke 10:16).” (“Is There a Time Limit to Encyclical Teaching?”)

The new Catholic Dictionary by Revs. Conde Pallen and John Wynne tells us that the Acta Apostolica Sedis (AAS) was established in 1908 by Pope St. Pius X as a monthly publication “by the Constitution ‘Promulgandi’ as the official journal of the Holy See; its authoritative and official character is reasserted in Can. 9 of the Code. Decrees and decisions published therein are thereby officially promulgated and become effective three months from date of issue.” Official documents are always recorded in the Acta, (AAS). Probably the clearest and most authoritative assessment of those documents entered into the AAS can be found in Msgr. J.C. Fenton’s “Infallibility in the Encyclicals,” (American Ecclesiastical Review, March 1953). Fenton writes: “Documents…promptly entered into the Acta of the Holy Father are thus indirectly sent, as normative documents, to the entire world…Those allocutions and other papal instructions, which, although primarily directed to some individual or group of individuals, are then printed in the Acta Apostolica Sedis as directives valid for all of the Church Militant. We must not lose sight of the fact that, in the encyclical ‘Humani Generis,’ the Holy Father made it clear that any doctrinal decision printed in the pontifical Acta must be accepted as normative by all theologians. This would apply to all decisions made in the course of the Sovereign Pontiff’s ordinary magisterium.”

So given that there is no doubt that theologians writing in Pope Pius XII’s day held such pontifical pronouncements as at least acts of the ordinary magisterium, as Msgr. Fenton duly notes, why would anyone today dare question something that was authoritatively proclaimed and firmly held during this same pope’s pontificate? As Dr. Andrade points out, we know that the action of the Holy Ghost is positively absent anytime such previous papal proclamations are either minimized or disregarded in any way, as they have been since the death of Pope Pius XII. And this is just as true of self-proclaimed (false bishops and) popes today as it was when Dr. Andrade applied it to the false V2 popes several decades ago. What those wishing to be counted as true Catholics today must understand is that the enemy never sleeps; a perpetual shape-shifter, Satan and his demons forever assume new forms and invent new ruses to continue deceiving the elect.

In the past 50 years, some of the elect have been moved from rejecting the V2 imposters to believing that certain laymen, or clerics of some description created outside the Church of Pope Pius XII could assume ascendancy in the Church. Over and over again it has been proven that because of “Humani Generis” and previous infallible teaching, any attempts at this time to re-establish apostolic succession are impossible. And any pretending to occupy the Holy Seat, by casting down “Humani Generis” and other infallible declarations issued by Pope Pius XII, are only a continuation of that vast Great Apostasy, the deception even of the elect, so long ago foretold in Holy Scripture.

In their relentless efforts to confuse and mislead, those whose “authority” is threatened by the infallible decision on encyclicals and other documents made by Pope Pius XII in “Humani Generis” have again raised numerous and specious objections to the binding nature of this encyclical. In what follows below, Msgr. Fenton’s evaluation of this great encyclical will shatter those objections.

The necessary earmarks of infallibility

In his “Infallibility in the Encyclicals,” (American Ecclesiastical Review, March 1953), Msgr. Fenton asks: “[Can] a statement contained in an encyclical letter, and proposed in an authoritative manner in no other document of the Church’s magisterium, be accepted as not only authoritative but infallible in character?” Now keep in mind that those protesting loudly that that such an exercise of infallibility is impossible have condemned other Trad sects for holding that infallibility is reserved only to infrequent, ex cathedra statements. This is one of the objections Fenton cites to the question he poses. He answers it by observing that “A good number of theologians hold firmly that there is no such thing as an infallible pontifical statement which is not an ex cathedra pronouncement. To me it seems that their position is absolutely correct. I do not believe that the Vatican Council’s description of an ex cathedra pronouncement in any way excludes the possibility of such a statement in an encyclical letter or in any other act of the Holy Father’s ordinary magisterium.”

Msgr. Fenton then cites DZ 1839 concerning the earmarks necessary for infallibility. He states that a definition can be considered ex cathedra when the Holy Father fulfills the following conditions:

  • (A) He speaks in his capacity as the ruler and teacher of all Christians.
  • (B) He uses his supreme apostolic authority.
  • (C) The doctrine on which he is speaking has to do with faith and morals.
  • (D) He issues a certain and definitive judgment on that teaching.
  • (E) He wills that this definitive judgment be accepted as such by the universal Church.
  • Fenton next observes that it is obvious that (A) is fulfilled in the encyclical letters, since the episcopate receives encyclicals either directly or indirectly. He goes on to comment that this also is true of other documents — allocutions and other papal instructions — even though directed to some individual or group of individuals, because they then are “printed in the Acta Apostolica Sedis as directives valid for all of the Church militant.”

According to “Humani Generis” then, “Any doctrinal decision printed in the Acta must be accepted as normative by all theologians. This would apply to all decisions made in the course of the Sovereign Pontiff’s ordinary magisterium.” Article (B) is likewise verified, he says, in the case of encyclicals. These documents can be classified as ex cathedra and can contain infallible definitions. He writes: “The supreme apostolic doctrinal authority which can be exercised only by the Holy Father himself or by the apostolic collegium of which he is the divinely constituted head, is the power to issue an irrevocable and definitive doctrinal judgment on matters of faith and morals, which decision the faithful are bound to accept with an irrevocable assent.

Infallible and authoritative statements: both are binding

“If that supreme power is exercised within the field of dogma itself, that is, by declaring that some particular truth has been revealed by God and is to be accepted by all men as a part of revelation,” Fenton continues, “then the assent called for by the definition is that of divine faith itself. If, on the other hand the Holy Father, using this supreme apostolic authority, does not propose his teaching as a dogma, but merely as completely certain, then the faithful are bound to accept his teaching as absolutely certain. They are, in either case, obliged in conscience to give an unconditional and absolutely irrevocable assent to any proposition defined in this way.” Msgr. Fenton makes it clear in another article (“Humani Generis and the Holy Father’s Ordinary Magisterium,” American Ecclesiastical Review, July 1951) that a dogma of faith can be found contained in “either of the two sources of Divine revelation,” meaning Scripture or Tradition. The Holy Father can declare (in encyclicals, instructions and allocutions) such dogmas as de fide or as a theologically certain Catholic doctrine, (“which, however, is not presented precisely as revealed,” Fenton comments) and in both cases his teaching must be accepted with a firm and irrevocable assent whenever these papal documents are entered in the Acta Apostolica Sedis.

Based on this observation, Msgr. Fenton then concludes that in actuality, condition (B) is present any time that the other four conditions exist. In other words, anytime that the Holy Father “speaks precisely as the spiritual ruler and the supreme authoritative teacher of the universal Church militant, dealing with matters concerning faith or morals, and definitely settling some point hitherto controverted or subject to controversy, in such a way that the faithful are bound to accept this definitive decision for what it is, then certainly he is using the supreme apostolic doctrinal power he has received from the divine Head of the Church.” Likewise if any of the other four elements are lacking, Fenton says, then (B) also is lacking. At one time, Msgr. Fenton notes in his 1951 article, universal teaching was considered as the teaching of bishops scattered throughout the world. But since the Vatican Council defined that the Roman Pontiff enjoys the same infallibility that is enjoyed by all the bishops united with him, he himself also can define a dogma either solemnly (ex cathedra) or less solemnly, i.e., in his ordinary magisterium. And so it was that “Humani Generis” was written to define precisely the nature of this universal magisterium, and to point out that that magisterium indeed becomes universal anytime that a pontifical decree of any kind is published in the Acta Apostolica Sedis.

The Church also can command internal assent

Msgr. Fenton points out that Christ’s Vicar speaks to the faithful “in a way that they can understand.” Therefore, it is obvious that if the pope is proposing something that is only morally certain, he will make it clear by the very nature of his statement that what he says is conditional. Likewise, when he makes an absolutely unqualified statement on any matter, the definitive and irrevocable nature of such a statement is equally obvious. Really, Fenton notes, there is “no such thing as a teaching issued by the Holy Father in his capacity as the spiritual ruler and teacher of all the followers of Jesus Christ which is other than authoritative.” He cites Pope Pius IX’s “Quanta Cura” to demonstrate that the Church condemns the teaching that “without sin and without any damage to a man’s profession as a Catholic, assent and obedience can be refused to those judgments and decrees of the Apostolic See which have as their object a reference to the general good of the Church and its rights and discipline, as long as this refusal does not affect dogmas of faith and morals.” Msgr. Fenton relates this to the Vatican Council teaching in “Dei Filius” that not just heresy is to be avoided but also those errors which more or less approach it, (DZ 1820). Pope Leo XIII also taught in “Immortale Dei”: “It is necessary to hold whatever the Roman Pontiffs have taught or are going to teach as accepted with firm assent and to profess these things openly whenever the occasion requires it.” And this is something that Catholics should take to heart.

Msgr. Fenton concludes that the Church can definitely command the faithful to accept its judgments and condemnations with an internal assent, (“Lamentabili sane exitu”). In addressing the statement by others that Canon Law declares that “Nothing is to be understood as declared or defined dogmatically unless this be manifestly certain,” (Can. 1323), Msgr. Fenton observes that Catholic scholars accept the unqualified and authoritative judgments or decisions expressed in the encyclicals (and other documents) as absolutely true, not just as morally or practically certain. In way of example, Fenton points to the fact that prior to the issuance of “Mystici Corporis,” Cardinal Ottaviani held as only a probable opinion that bishops receive their jurisdiction directly from the Roman Pontiff. When “Mystici Corporis” was released in 1943, Ottaviani immediately changed his teaching to reflect the definition of Pope Pius XII, that the bishops may exercise their jurisdiction only through the Roman Pontiff.

• Pope Pius IX, Tuas Libentur, 1863: “It is not sufficient for learned Catholics to accept and revere the aforesaid dogmas of the Church…It is also necessary to subject themselves to the decisions pertaining to doctrine which are issued by the Pontifical Congregations, and also to those forms of doctrine which are held by the common and constant consent of Catholics as theological truths and conclusions, so certain that opinions opposed to these same forms of doctrine, although they cannot be called heretical, nevertheless deserve some other censure,” (DZ 1684).

• Pope Pius IX’s Syllabus, 1867: “The decrees of the Apostolic See and the Roman Congregations hinder the free progress of science,” (DZ 1712).

• Pope Leo XIII, Immortale Dei, 1885: “As regards opinion, whatever the Roman Pontiffs have taught or shall hereafter teach must be held with a firm grasp of mind and, as often as occasion requires, must be openly professed. Especially in regards to the liberties so-called, which are sought after in these days — all must stand by the judgment of the Apostolic See and think as she does…and let the past be redeemed by a special obedience of all to the Apostolic See,” (DZ 1880).

• Condemned by the decree Lamentibili, Pope St. Pius X, 1907: “They are to be considered free of blame who consider of no account the reprobations published by the Sacred Congregation of the Index or by other sacred Roman Congregations,” (DZ 2008).

• From Pope St. Pius X’s motu proprio, “Praestantia Scripturae, 1907: “All who impugn such decisions (of the Biblical Pontifical Commission and the decrees of the Sacred Congregations) which pertain to doctrine and have been approved by the Pontiff; and all who impugn such decisions as these by word or in writing cannot avoid the charge of disobedience, or on this count be free of grave sin; and this besides the scandal by which they offend, and the other matters for which they can be responsible before God, especially because of other pronouncements in these matters made rashly and erroneously,” (DZ 2113).

So we have learned from Msgr. Fenton that normative documents very frequently bear all the marks of infallibility and can be binding even if not made on matters concerning faith and morals. What we must now determine is how what Msgr. Fenton has written applies to “Six ans se sont” and other documents issuing from the ordinary magisterium.

Humani generis and the assault on papal authority

There is a censure attached to the type of disregard shown for the definition concerning binding statements found in “Humani Generis,” and that censure is levied against doctrinal minimizing. It is truly ironic that the very individuals presenting themselves as upright champions of the papacy and papal authority so clearly show their true attitudes to previous teachings of the Roman Pontiffs by de-emphasizing and watering down the very teachings that bind every faithful Catholic. As Dr. Andrade noted, this is indeed an indication of affiliation with the heretical thinking that created the Novus Ordo church. It also is an open expression of the Gallicanist notion that we are not really required to take what the popes teach all that seriously after all, because the laity themselves have a share in the hierarchy. As Msgr. Fenton notes in his article “Humani Generis and the Holy Father’s Ordinary Magisterium,” the very first statement found in the paragraph treating the normative statements of the Holy See “condemn any minimizing of the papal encyclicals which might be based on the subterfuge that that Holy Father does not use the fullness of his doctrinal power in such documents,” and as, Msgr. Fenton points out elsewhere, even in papal allocutions and instructions.

Msgr. Fenton then goes on to explain in the article that teachings of the ordinary magisterium, (as stated in the Vatican Council documents and in Canon Law), are binding even when they are only indirectly addressed to the Church militant and even when they are only secondarily concerned with matters of faith and morals. “In other words, the Holy Father is empowered, not only to obligate the disciples of Jesus Christ to accept, on faith or as certain, statements within the sphere of the Church’s doctrinal competence, but also to impose the duty of accepting other propositions within the same sphere as opinions…Humani Generis reasserts the right of the Roman Pontiff to demand an opinionative assent. When, in his encyclicals or in any other documents or utterances of his doctrinal office, he imposes a teaching upon the members of the universal Church militant with anything less than his suprema magisterii potestas, he is calling for such an opinionative judgment…The theologians of the Catholic Church have always recognized the fact that an intention on the part of the Holy Father is requisite if the faithful are to be bound by the teaching contained in his official Acta. Hitherto, however, there has been too much of a tendency to consider that such an intention would have to be manifested by some sort of formula, as for instance, the use of such terms as ‘define’ or ‘declare.’ The Humani Generis has put an end to this dangerous minimism.”


Sadly, that very minimism Msgr. Fenton deplores above is very much alive today. The issue is not whether what the Roman Pontiff has to say on any given subject is de fide, doctrinally certain or temporarily binding in nature only; the issue is whether Catholics are prepared to firmly and irrevocably accept all these judgments on such matters as certainly binding. Therefore the matter at stake here is not the actual nature of the teaching; it is instead the infallible necessity of accepting the decisions of the continual magisterium, up to the death of Pope Pius XII, as an integral and binding whole. In this sense, primarily, can it be said that these judgments must unquestionably be recognized as the exercise of the infallible teaching magisterium. And failure to recognize the absolute need to accept and obey these statements and decisions is nothing less than the contradiction of the Vatican Council’s teaching concerning the Pope’s full and supreme power of jurisdiction over the Church as well as his ability to infallibly define matters of faith and morals. It is the denial of this infallible Vatican decree that is meant when it is said that to question the authority of any statement found in the Acta Apostolica Sedis is to deny a de fide teaching of the Catholic faith.

So in essence, those refusing to accept the decisions of past Roman Pontiffs refuse to be subject to their teaching and obey their directives. So much is bandied about today concerning absolute obedience to some pastor or another who deserves no obedience because he is either not a pastor at all and/or is outside the Church, yet none hesitate to disobey the pope and his teaching. Grave anathemas are threatened for such refusal to obey. And yet who have these “eminent” men themselves obeyed? Who has instructed them in the virtue of obedience and who has trained them up in the ways of the Church and her Divine Founder? Look closely and you will see that they have obeyed no superiors, as a rule, nor have they been required to serve others in any meaningful way. Therefore it should not be surprising that they cannot give that which they never received themselves and deny the existence of sacred truths they cannot understand. Those impudently engaging in such a denial either never left the Novus Ordo church, as Dr. Andrade observed, or have simply returned to their vomit.

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