Pope Struck Dead before Teaching Error?

I have heard from at least two somewhat authoritative sources that somewhere back in history, a Pope drafted and prepared to release a formal teaching that would have, apparently under any interpreation, constituted error. The story goes that just before the “point of no return,” such as perhaps approving the document for release, he suddenly died. Any truth to this, or is it an urban legend? If true, who was this pope?

Pope Sixtus V, 1585 - 1590 was, in most repects, a very successful pope. He eliminated lawlessnes in northern Italy, re-filled the Vatican treasury by the use of good business sense and gained control of a rambunctious college of cardinals.
What he was not was a Latin scholar. Nevertheless, he re-translated the Vulgate. The result was a Bible of errors.
He had already issued the bull on his new Vulgate and had it printed. The night before it was to be issued, he died, apparently of natural causes.
St. Robert Bellarmine re-re-translated the Vulgate, correctly, and it was issued properly.
newadvent.org/cathen/14033a.htm
This is a great example, which I have used, to illustrate the protection the Holy Spirit exerts over the Church and the pope, to protect them from error in faith and morals.

It is true, it concerns a translation of the Bible by Pope Sixtus V:

The Council of Trent having stamped the Vulgate as “authentic,” ordered that a correct edition of the authentic, authorized Vulgate Bible should be published. Pope Sixtus V undertook this task. In his preface he claims supremacy over the group of translators, because he had authority as successor to Peter. He tells of the endless hours he spent reading the opinions of others and judging the validity of their arguments. When the work was printed he corrected the press-proof personally. Most certainly, then, we should expect the Latin Vulgate translation of the Bible to be totally error-free, right? After all, it was a work approved and published by an infallible Pope. Pope Sixtus’s edition appeared in 1590. In the front matter, Sixtus affirmed the plenary authority of the edition for all future time in these words: “By the fullness of apostolic power we decree and declare that this edition, approved by the authority delivered to us by the Lord, is to be received and held as true, lawful, authentic, and unquestioned, in all public and private discussion, reading, preaching, and explanations.” The infallible Pope Sixtus pronounced that all readings in other editions and manuscripts, which might vary from these of this Vulgate edition, should have no credit or authority for the future. It was forbidden to alter the version in the smallest particle; and anyone who thought or did otherwise was condemned to excommunication. Here was an ‘ex-cathedra’ declaration on a matter of faith, from an infallible Pope.
Linguists and scholars who were really competent to judge that the edition found it full of errors. Yet they could say or do nothing for fear of being excommunicated.

Something like a week before the formal document was to be published along with the Bible, he died suddenly - a man of good health. Many believe this was the work of the Holy Spirit.

So God will kill a Pope, but can’t seem to cure my friend’s cancer.

That’s just awesome theology. :rolleyes:

Your friend’s cancer isn’t an impediment to salvation, nor does its existence in some way contradict the Word of God.

So why didn’t God strike done Honarius I before he affirmed the Monothelite heresy? (If you are unfamiliar with the incident, Honarius’s ‘mistake’ is considered a simple error due to his lack of appreciation of a nuanced point of theology which was exploited by the Monothelites, and was not an ex cathedra statement.)

At any rate, you have it backwards. Sixtus V published an error filled translation of the Vulgate just BEFORE his death. The Church simply recalled and corrected it after his death. He was a good Pope, perhaps not a good translator. I don’t think there is any truth to the idea that God had to strike him down to prevent an wrong infallible decision. God prevents wrong infallible decisions through the influence and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, not by wacking Popes.

Here is the Catholic Encyclopedia on the Sixtus V which mentions the incident at the end:

newadvent.org/cathen/14033a.htm

Pope Honorius did not attempt to define anything.

At any rate, you have it backwards. Sixtus V published an error filled translation of the Vulgate just BEFORE his death. The Church simply recalled and corrected it after his death. He was a good Pope, perhaps not a good translator. I don’t think there is any truth to the idea that God had to strike him down to prevent an wrong infallible decision. God prevents wrong infallible decisions through the influence and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, not by wacking Popes.

Actually, yes, wacking Popes can be part of infallibility. Infallibility does not ensure the Pope is correct. It means that the Pope cannot define error. Death is one way of ensuring that.

The key point was not the publication of the error-filled Bible, but the Papal Bull defining it as the only authoritative Bible. Publishing an error-filled Bible is not the ex cathedra act.

Porthos, do you have any authority for that? I’m not saying its not true, but it certainly runs completely against my understanding of papal infallibility. Are there other Popes that God has had to have bumped off over the years?

God, Almighty and All knowing, may have allowed your friend’s cancer because He knew that, if he remained healthy, your friend would have committed grave sins and died unrepentant. God, in His Infinite Wisdom, allows us to suffer when it is for our good, or the good of others. He really, really, wants us to get to Heaven! Awesome!

TMC, try this short page to get a better understanding of infallibility. It even mentions Honorius. catholic.com/library/Papal_Infallibility.asp

I think that much too much is made of this.

Michael

I must disagree. If you consider the implications of a pope promulgating an error-filled Bible that he himself produced, the timing of Sixtus’ death is providential. As I wrote in my first post, I believe that this is a clear example of the Holy Spirit preventing error by the Church in the area of faith and morals.
Again, this does not mean that God offed the pope. It means that God knew when Sixtus would die, He knew when the Bible would be distributed to the cardinals (as far as it got, I think) and put the two together.
The alternative would have been absolute evidence that the Catholic Church is not protected from error. That would lead to a line of reasoning that would put the lie to the words of Christ when He founded his Church.

Seems pretty important to me. :wink:

Rather interesting is that God had to resort to the death of the pope (whether by his own doing, or allowing another thing to come to pass) to protect his church. Apparently this pope was not praying and listening to the instruction of God, and was about to do something that was wrong.

Perhaps one might interpret this as God protecting his church, but more interestingly, it makes me wonder how you can have any sort of faith that the pope will remain in God’s will through much prayer, etc, if he hasn’t in the past.

I have given my reasons for not believing that God wacked poor Sixtus V, who really was a pretty good Pope as best I can tell. I don’t want to offend anyone, but I have to add that the whole concept seems a little silly. God is out there knocking off Popes? And he let some pretty bad ones go right along, but he knocked off poor Sixtus? Couldn’t he have just convinced him not to publish the thing, or caused the press to break down, or sent some wise man to talk him out of it? Is there any authority from any Vatican source for this idea? Cause I kinda doubt it.

He could but so could he do many things through human history. He didn’t. God has his reasons and in the very moment we place God under a microscope we deny the existence of God.

This is tricky business. The question that needs to be asked is “What activity counts as teaching authority?”

If Pope Sixtus V did write a papal document ex cathedra stating that his translation was the only “correct” translation, then was the mere fact that he wrote the document (even if it were never released to the public) mean that the Pope did engage his teaching authority ex cathedra?

Or does teaching authority only come into play when a document is released to the public?

The danger here is that it seems the only determination of whether a Pope is actually teaching correct doctrine ex cathedra is not whether what he teaches is consistent with Church Teaching, but whether he lives x number of days after writing a first draft of what he believes to be correct doctrine.

If you think it’s silly, that’s absolutely fine. Feel free to believe anything you want about the cause of Sixtus’ death. Yes, God let lots of bad popes go right along. He also didn’t let them teach error. Yes, Sixtus could have lived to 100 and God could have convinced him not to publish the thing. The point is Sixtus did not teach error.

And yet, there’s no evidence that God did any of those things (which, honestly, I would think would be his preferred method of action if Sixtus V were really a righteous follower of his). Not that I’m saying God definitely killed him – I’m just saying that I see no other indications that God did anything to stop Sixtus V from promulgating this errant translation via an “ex cathedra” declaration.

Wanting to understand God, or questioning whether or not God took certain action is to deny the existence of God? What? That sounds pretty crazy to me.

Here’s a more important point to consider – does God only guide the church through divine intervention such as this, and thus allow for bad popes to try to do whatever they want? It keeps with God’s allowance for us to have free will, certainly, but it makes the idea of the papacy untenable, as God could simply divinely act in other ways to ensure his truth comes out as he wants it to.

On the other hand, if it’s not strictly God’s divine intervention, then what is it? Does the pope need to listen to God, or doesn’t he?

The danger here is that it seems the only determination of whether a Pope is actually teaching correct doctrine ex cathedra is not whether what he teaches is consistent with Church Teaching, but whether he lives x number of days after writing a first draft of what he believes to be correct doctrine.

At the least, if Roman Catholics are right, then it’s clear that not everything a pope believes to be correct (ie, worthy of “ex cathedra” definition) is actually correct. Sixtus V was clearly in error over his belief that his translation was worthy of being the only valid one.

Cancer is a nasty disease which all too many have and all too many will die of. I am a healthcare worker , have taken care of many terminal cancer patients and my heart and prayers go out to your friend. For you, it`s not easy to watch someone you care about suffer. As you know suffering is part of the human condition and we all must eventually die. Look at it this way, for reasons known only to God this might be the best time for your friend to die as Joan said. Have faith, all works for our good.
Sorry I just realized this is probably derailing the thread.

First of all you must make sure your understanding of infallibility is correct. It does not ensure that the Pope is always able to pronounce what is true. If he doesn’t do his homework, he will not be able to define anything.

Infallibility is a negative/preventive protection. It means he cannot define error in his official capacity as teacher of the universal church. If he attempts to define error (i.e. “I pronouce, declare and define that Jesus was two persons”, he will be prevented from doing so. Death is one way of doing that. Or God could simply change the Pope’s mind.

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