Catholics who insist that the faithful are duty-bound to submit to a pope whose teachings clearly contradict previous popes and even the Bible inadvertently fulfill the “crude protestant caricature of papal authority,” wrote Catholic academic Dr. Edward Feser.
“Protestants sometimes accuse Catholics of believing that a pope has the authority to make up new doctrines or even to contradict Scripture,” wrote Feser, Associate Professor of Philosophy at Pasadena City College in California, in an articlepublished in Catholic World Report October 30.
According to the “crude protestant caricature of papal authority,” if a pope “decided one day to add a fourth Person to the Trinity, or to declare abortion morally permissible, or to delete the Sixth Commandment, then – so the idea goes – Catholics would be duty bound to salute crisply, bark an enthusiastic ‘Yes, sir!,’ and fall in line robotically with the new doctrine du jour.”
Feser said the reverse is actually true, namely that the Church “puts the pope in a doctrinal box.”
“Even when he is speaking ex cathedra [authoritatively from the chair], he must stay within the parameters he has inherited,” he said.
“He can draw out implications implicit in earlier doctrine, but he cannot make up new doctrines out of whole cloth. And what he teaches must be consistent with the entire body of past binding teaching. He is not permitted to contradict past doctrine and he cannot pit one doctrine against another,” he added.
The professor in his article was responding to arguments made by Dr. Robert Fastiggi in support of the Pope Francis’s recent move to seemingly overturn Catholic teaching on capital punishment by declaring “contrary to the Gospel.”
The professor quoted from recent Vatican Councils to demonstrate how the pope is tasked by God to, in the words of the First Vatican Council, “not…make known some new doctrine, but…religiously guard and faithfully expound the revelation or deposit of faith transmitted by the apostles.”
He also quoted the Second Vatican Council’s teaching that the Church cannot teach contrary to Scripture.
“[T]he living teaching office of the Church… is not above the word of God, but serves it, teaching only what has been handed on, listening to it devoutly, guarding it scrupulously and explaining it faithfully,” Feser quoted of Dei Verbum [Word of God].
The professor said that a pope is not permitted to “work around these restrictions by coming up with novel reinterpretations of Scripture or of past binding doctrine.”