Pope no longer has free will to teach in error?

A question was posed to me, does a Pope no longer have free will to teach in error?

Quick and to the point thread, how does one refute this?


He could but shall not.

The Pope has free will, completely. But there are a number of factors which God has influence over where He doesn’t have to override free will in order to prevent the Pope from teaching error:

  1. Who is elected Pope- The Holy Spirit calls some to the Priesthood, and then all the way up. If God saw a Pope would be elected who would freely choose to teach error, God would stop that man from becoming Pope.

  2. After the election, God influences but does not ovveride the free will of the Holy Father.

  3. God can get rid of a Pope at any point by allowing him to die before he can teach error.

In the end God is in control, just because a certain action can’t happen, doesn’t mean the Pope doesn’t have the freedom to do such a thing.

I’ve never head this sort of response before.

Remember: a Pope can still teach in error, just not when proclaiming something ex cathedra or in an Ecumenical Council. Not everything that comes out of Pope’s mouth is infallible. This distinction is essential to ending the schism with the Orthodox and the Old Catholics.

I would not presume to know how God does prevent false teaching from the Pope. One interesting similar account from the Bible is when Caiaphas says from the High Priest’s Chair of the Sanhedrin saying:

“You know nothing at all, nor do you take account that it is expedient for you that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not.”

The inspired writer adds:

“Now this he said not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for the nation; and not for the nation only, but that he might also gather together into one the children of God that are scattered abroad” (Jn. 11:49-52).

There are several important points here.

In his own inexplicable fashion, God was able to use the mouth of a corrupt ruler to declare a divine truth. Caiaphas meant his utterance for evil, but Jehovah so ordered the words that they expressed a magnificent truth (cf. Gen. 50:20).
The statement heralded the doctrine of the atoning death of Jesus. It was said that “one man should die for (huper) the people….” The Greek preposition huper literally means “over.” Out of that concept grew the sense of protection or defense (Robertson, 630). Thus, Jesus was to die “on behalf of,” or “for the benefit of,” others. Without him, there is no salvation.
John also notes that the Lord’s death would result in redemption being offered universally, i.e., to the Jewish “nation,” and to “the [potential] children of God that are scattered abroad” (Gentiles).
Finally, all who submit to Christ (Heb. 5:8-9) are to be “gathered together into one” (i.e., body, church —Eph. 4:4; 1:22-23).

Therefore, even a corrupt Pope could likewise have error in his own understanding and still be used as a fountain of truth and knowledge by God.

In what way?
Remember a Pope can sin, he just can’t proclaim a falsehood truth due to divine assistance

By accepting the papacy* through their own free will*, the popes choose to give up their free will in matters that concern the limited charism of infallibility.

And that charism is indeed quite limited – popes can teach any amount of error they like, as long as they don’t (a) use their authority as pope to (b) declare and define a © doctrine of faith or morals that is (d) binding on all Catholic faithful (not just the faithful from a Particular Church or rite).


Catechism of the Catholic Church, pg 235, para 890,891,892.


These paragraphs cover Papal infallibility briefly. How the personal will of the Pope, Bishops, Priests, layity are free and at the same time can make no error in faith and morals is a question that should be ignored as it is absolutely unimportant. It is only the facts that are important. The facts are that the entire Church under the head of the Pope and Bishops are infallible in faith and morals yet all exercise totally free wills. Call it a miracle of the Holy Spirit who has promised to be with the Church unto the end, to protect it and preserve it in all truth. I personally know of no learned explanation on how the wills involved maintain their freedom. Sounds like one of those " …I’ve got you…" questions. Just ignore it. It is meaninless anyway.


I have heard a couple of Theologians try to explain it- all the major explanations I’ve heard sound a little dodgy. I think it is one of the questions we like to avoid so we don’t cross that thin line between orthodoxy and heterodoxy ^^

I don’t think this is true. I think there a have certainly been errors, but, were they uttered under the infallibility doctrine? I found a little list:

  1. Vigilius (553) - public wavering over Christology
    1. Honorius I (634) - initiates heresy of monothelitism
    2. John XXII (1331) - states that beatific vision must wait
      until last judgment
    3. Boniface VIII (1302) - declares that it is
      necessary for salvation for every human person to
      be subject to the bishop of Rome.
    4. Sixtus V (1590) - declaration that the 1590 version of
      the Vulgate - which was riddled with errors - was
      forever valid and unalterable.

Things change as our understanding expands, a Pope said that! They are human and only very infrequently infallible.

When I said “teach” i meant using their infallible Papal infallibility. The personal opinions of Popes or even statements that don’t carry full authority aren’t protected and therefore not really the center of this discussion.

I think the example of Vigilius is one of the most amazing demonstrations of the power of the Holy Spirit acting through the papacy. Quite the opposite of what you’re claiming. Vigilius, a very political and venal priest arose to power with the aid of a powerful and charismatic heretic (the Empress Theodora), became an anti-pope he was installed in office after the actual pope was arrested and imprisoned, and upon the death of the real pope, was elected in a valid election, going from anti-pope to Pope. The price of Theodora’s support was clearly that Vigilius publicly support her heresy. The Bishop of Rome, alone among all patriarchs with apostolic succession, has never taught heresy, and the legitimacy of the office of the Pope was hanging by a thread. Vigilius had previsouly displayed all the ethics of a Chicago ward-heeler, had never shown any examples of strength of character, but upon his legitimate ascension, refused to support Monophytism and publicly refused to do so. He had everything to lose and nothing to gain - except the Grace of the Holy Spirit. The office changed the man.

Vigilius was arrested while saying Mass, imprisoned and tortured for years, yet never wavered.

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