A Pope's Will

Is is possible for a pope to receive the guidance of the Holy Spirit on issues of dogma and still exercise his own will on the issue. How does the infallibility of the pope on dogmatic issues interact with the exercise of his free will regarding his own opinions on the matter? I know for us, we can know what God wants, but choose to do something else. Could a pope have the same option?

Privately, the pope may hold his own opinions even if they are in error.

In his capacity as the head of the universal Church, the pope cannot teach error in matters of faith and morals. God actively prevents this.

Theologians have debated this. St. Robert Bellarmine held that if a pope defined heresy, he would cease to be pope; however, he also held that God would not allow this to happen (see On the Roman Pontiff II, 30). I believe St. Alphonsus Liguori also held that God would never allow it to happen.

As to how God would prevent the Pope from teaching error without violating free will, I don’t know the answer (or what the best theologians have said about it), but there was a pope–someone else will remember his name–who died before supposedly defining a heresy he was planning to define. That would be one way that Providence could work.

I would think a pope’s free will could prevent him from delivering truth from the Holy Spirit, yet Jesus’ free will prevents the pope from delivering heresy. :wink:

What if a pope taught heresy, thus ceasing to be pope, bu kept living in the Vatican, and while a new, authentic pope was elected, the secular media and all the nations accepted the heretical pope as authentic. Thus, a sort of “abomination of desolation” but not really…


(modified slightly)

I’m joining this discussion a little late, I know. I just saw this thread.

Cardinal Henry Edward Manning, a Bishop participating in the First Vatican Council, wrote a book discussing papal infallibility. In one section, he covers the opinion of Saint Robert Bellarmine:
(link is to Google Books)

Bellarmine’s views are often misstated. He condemned the idea that a Pope could teach heresy with an Ecumenical Council as an heretical idea. He called the idea that a Pope could be a heretic and teach heresy, apart from a Council, “altogether erroneous and proximate to heresy”.

Bellarmine called the opinion that the Pope “cannot in any way be heretical, or publicly teach heresy” probable, but not certain.

And he called the opinion that the Pope could never define heresy as a truth to be believed by the whole Church “most certain and to be asserted”. But this last opinion is asserted without deciding the question as to whether or not a Pope could fall into heresy. In other words, Bellarmine thought it probable that the Pope could never fall into heresy, nor teach heresy at all, and he thought it certain that the Pope could never define a heresy as something to be believed by the whole Church.

As for how God accomplishes protecting the Pope from falling into heresy or from teaching heresy, I suggest that it is a special act of the grace of God. This grace does no violence to the free will of the Pope, since he freely accepts his office when elected, and he can always freely resign.

Thanks for the clarification.

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