Can an Apostolic Letter contain error?


I need help on this one.

Basically, can we have an Apostolic letter or Papal Bull that later is determined to contain something contrary to Catholic Doctrine/Dogma?

Also on a side note can there be error in Unam Sanctum from 1302 AD Papal Bull?


“Yes”, to both.

What is not possible, is that the defining part of a dogmatic definition should contain formal error - the rest of the document may be open to criticism in all sorts of ways. But the whole purpose of the grace of infallibility is to protect the Pope from defining as a revealed truth something that is not.

AFAI’m aware, Unam Sanctam teaches no error, even if its arguments are not necessarily sound. IMHO, it’s not formally infallible anyway.

Or were you thinking of things like misquotations & other such things ?


You hit the nail on the head.

I could use a little more clairification on this; “the rest of the document may be open to criticism in all sorts of ways”.


I do have a question about another letter from a Pope that wrote torture would be acceptable during the Protestant Reformation.


The arguments from Tradition & Scripture & reason can be defective in various ways - but even if they are, that does not affect the definition itself.


I do have a question about another letter from a Pope that wrote torture would be acceptable during the Protestant Reformation.

Are you thinking of:

*]the authorisation of torture
*]in the proceedings of the Inquisition
*]by Innocent IV
*]in 1254
*]in Ad Extirpanda[/LIST]Hope that helps :slight_smile:


Yes, the authorization of torture.



If you’re concerned about Unam Sanctum, I have a piece which will help you out, and which I will be able to post when I get home.

In regards to papal teaching, we must believe it. It may prove to be erroneous, but whatever it is at the time, we are bound to give it “religious submission of mind and will,” which so far as I can tell means to believe it without having to believe God has said it.

Faith is to believe in something for no reason other than that God said it. Now we may have other reasons, but ultimately, the foremost reason is God said it. So for example, when one believes in the Immaculate Conception - which is infallibly defined - with Divine and Catholic Faith, one believes it merely on the basis that God has said it. The individual might well also have Biblical, historical, or theological reasons that make it easy to accept the truth of the dogma, but these are not the reason for his belief, only a support. The reason for his believe is simply that God has revealed it.

Now we can believe stuff to be true without necessarily believing God has revealed it. I believe in atoms, but not because God has said it. Thus, I do not believe in atoms with Divine and Catholic Faith.

Anything that the pope has taught must be given religious assent of mind and will, meaning that we believe it to be true, while not being required to believe God has revealed it. It’s a complete and total belief, but does not qualify as Divine and Catholic Faith.

Now, this does not apply to disciplinary matters. So far as I know, most papal statements regarding slavery or torture involve authorizing particular people to do these things, rather than teaching anything about it, so what I have just said does not apply.



I will look for the Unam Sanctum stuff you have. :smiley:


Of course, just as they may also contain Infallible teaching.


It depends on the Apostolic Letter. The designation of papal documents into different categories is relatively new, yet the charism of infallibility has always been possessed by the successor of St. Peter. If the Pope definitively confirms some doctrine to be a truth of that faith or of morals that must be held or believed by the whole Church, it is protected from error. This could be in a Bull, an Apostolic Letter, or anything–it can even be done orally.

As for Unam Sanctam, it is a definitive papal confirmation of the truths that “outside the Church there is no salvation” and the Church it refers to is the one entrusted to the Roman Pontiff as the successor of St. Peter. This truth is taught also by the universal magisterium and multiple ecumenical Councils. Despite what certain people embarrassed of Catholic dogma might say, it is not contradicted by current teaching. Being united to the Church is still absolutely necessary for salvation. Being a subject must be understood in the terms of the time–one who lived in the region governed by a sovereign was subject to the sovereign, even if they were a rebellious subject or one ignorant of the sovereign. Thus, someone united to the Church, even if they are expressly not Catholic, are subjects of the Roman Pontiff even if they are only united to the Church by their implicit desire (and especially if they are Baptized, which is the door by which we enter the Church).

There is also some time and place specific political discussion in the Bull, but the definition that outside the Church there is no salvation, and therefore, being subject to the Roman Pontiff is necessary for salvation, is a solemn confirmation of a truth of the faith directed to the whole Church.


Just in case anyone was wondering, Pope Benedict reaffirmed the truth in Unam Sanctam in his audience teaching about St. Cyprian:

[LEFT]He never wearied of repeating that “if a man deserts the Chair of Peter upon whom the Church was built, does he think that he is in the Church?” (cf.* De unit. [On the unity of the Catholic Church], *4). [/LEFT]
Cyprian knew well that “outside the Church there is no salvation”, and said so in strong words (Epistles 4, 4 and 73, 21); and he knew that “no one can have God as Father who does not have the Church as mother” (*De unit., *6).

Also, John Paul II said it was authoritative:

Since Christ brings about salvation through his Mystical Body, which is the Church, the way of salvation is connected essentially with the Church. The axiom extra ecclesiam nulla salus"–“outside the Church there is no salvation”–stated by St. Cyprian (Epist. 73, 21; PL 1123 AB), belongs to the Christian tradition. It was included in the Fourth Lateran Council (DS 802), in the Bull Unam Sanctam of Boniface VIII (DS 870) and the Council of Florence (Decretum pro Jacobitis, DS 1351).


Here is what I had written about Boniface VIII. I wrote this an awfully long time ago, so it could probably be tidied up. I did tidy it up a little, but I’m tremendously exhausted right now so who knows how it ended up. Note that I was only focusing on Protestants when I wrote this, but I could change it around to fit any non-Catholic.

I wrote it in reference to Boniface’s statement: “Furthermore, we declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff.” If you were referring to something else, sorry, my bad.

The Church teaches the following:

  1. There is no salvation outside the Catholic Church - various places
  2. It is necessary to be subject to the Roman Pontiff for salvation - Unam Sanctum
  3. Protestants can be saved because though it is imperfect, they do have a communion with the Catholic Church - various places

There is no contradiction amongst these.

The question that seems to be raised is, how can Protestants be saved if they are not subject to the Roman Pontiff? The answer is they can’t. There is something very important to note here.

The Roman Pontiff is the leader of the Catholic Church. By definition, all those who are in the Catholic Church are subject to the Roman Pontiff, just like all those who are citizens of England are subject to the Queen, even if for some reason they never become aware that they are in fact her subjects or even mistakenly think they are not. Remember - there is one baptism, which baptizes people into one body of Christ, and that one body of Christ is the Catholic Church, which is subject to the Roman Pontiff. Any person who has been baptized is a member of the body of Christ and by the very fact that he is, is subject to the Roman Pontiff, even if he doesn’t know it. A 3 year old baptized Catholic is a member of the body of Christ even though he has no idea he is subject to the Roman Pontiff.

Now people can either stay in the body of Christ or leave it, and once they have left it they can return. They leave the body by committing mortal sin, and they return by repentance. Mortal sin requires 3 things: 1) grave matter, 2) full knowledge, and 3) full consent of the will.

Now a Protestant who gains the knowledge that he be Catholic and chooses not to commits mortal sin, and ceases to be a living member of the body. In fact, he ceases to be a member at all insofar as he is rejecting the Church with the knowledge of its veracity. Now a Protestant who never gains the knowledge of the Church’s truth remains a living member of the body, barring some mortal sin which would cause him to be a dead member of the body. Either way, he remains subject to the Roman Pontiff even if though doesn’t know it.

If a Protestant does become aware at some point that the Catholic Church is God’s true Church, he will do one of two things. He will either obey, which will involve becoming Catholic, or he will refuse to obey. If he refuses to obey, he will be committing a sin of grave matter with the necessary knowledge and presumably with full consent of the will. Therefore, he ceases to be a living member of the body, and because he has rejected the Church altogether, he ceases to be a member at all. He is no longer be subject to the Roman Pontiff because he is outside of the body. If he repents of this sin, he will join the Church and make himself once more to the Roman Pontiff.

So what it comes down to is that all Protestants who know of the truth of the Catholic Church are outside of the body and cannot be saved, whereas all Protestants who do not know of the truth may still be members of the body, which is the Church, and since the Church is subject to the Roman Pontiff, so are these Protestants, even if they don’t know it.

My difficulty with the Church

This is going to sound evasive :o - but what is the exact issue about it that we’re discussing:

*]Whether torture was wrong both then & now ?
*]or whether the teaching was wrong then ?[/LIST]


So, are you saying that non-Catholics who are also not Protestants are all doomed? Such persons would not be in communion with the Catholic Church. How can *Unam Sanctam *apply to them?



I originally wrote this particular piece about a year and a half ago as part of a particular discussion. The piece wasn’t intended to attack the issue of non-Christians. It’s easier to describe the situation of Protestants because most of them have a valid baptism, making the possibility of Protestants being in the state of Grace and members of the Church an easy one to assume.

People who are not Christian altogether can be saved, but it takes a little more of an explanation to get there.


Awesome! I will be using these quotes.:thumbsup:


That was the line I was speaking of and this write up was very informative. Thanks! :thumbsup:


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