Say there’s a moral issue, and The Church needs to look towards it’s Pope for an answer to this. He proclaims by a definitive act a doctrine of faith or morals, giving his faithful direction in regard to this issue.
Fast forward ten years, and the new Pope has something to say on this issue. He also proclaims by a definitive act a doctrine of faith or morals, only his proclamation goes the exact opposite direction of the previous one.
Which Pope should we agree with in this situation?
Different Popes have disagreed on various issues of prudential judgement but not on doctrine. As this has never happened in the two thousand year history of the Church, there is no reason to suspect that it may happen in the future.
Well since you are asking strictly hypothetically, I will answer you hypothetically.
At the moment the heretical Pope promulgates his false doctrine, a small electric car will arrive at the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. The door opens, and out pours an unending stream of clowns, who swarm down the mountainside and into every nook and cranny of the known world. They vomit reptiles from their mouths and the reptiles proceed to shoot lasers from their eyes, vaporizing the clowns. Then the reptiles moult about a dozen times, growing to the size of Godzilla. They stomp all over the place, terrorizing the population, who barely notice the spacecraft descending from hyperspace and landing in populated city centers. The spacecraft declare war on the reptiles and they do battle with many futuristic weapons until a chain of supervolcanoes erupts and puts them out of business. The new Pope, suitably chastened, recants of his heresy and the world continues as normal.
To my knowledge, it came short of happening in the 14th century. Pope John XXII did not believe that the deceased saints enjoyed the beatific vision until the end of the times (undermining the communion of saints), but he seemingly never taught this publicly, though it was notorious that he held this position. His successor, Benedict XII, corrected his predecessor by proclaiming the dogma that the saints enjoy the beatific vision now dogmatic.
Neither, because in both cases (“definitive”), they both would have engaged infallibility. If they contradict each other, then infallibility has been proven false.
In which case, it’s pointless to remain Catholic, because the Church would have been proven to be a fraud. If the first Pope survived his definitive pronouncement, then he has infallibly defined something. Therefore, if a second Pope attempts to also infallibly define something to the contrary, he would be attempting to define error. Infallibility ensures this does not happen. Therefore, if it does happen, then infallibility is a sham, as is Catholicism.
And given Catholicism’s lofty claims about itself, there is no middle ground. Catholicism, if it’s right, is of divine origin. If it’s wrong, it’s diabolical.
Elizium, I like this. Have you sold the rights to a producer yet? I know a screenwriter who could do a great job on it. I’d add a host of heavenly angels descending at the end of the movie. We’d need a romance angle – maybe the dispute between the past and future pope could relate to gay marriage, or marriage after divorce, and the couple involved provide the love interest.
“Let’s do lunch. I’ll have my people call your people.”
I’m sorry that most responses were pious knee-jerks at papal infallibility. It seems to me that such an attitude is demeaning to the Holy Spirit for it disregards human freedom, as if the Holy Spirit needed to do away with that from the person of the pope in order to exercise His protection of the Church. I do think that the pope is free to proclaim error and the fact that one has never done so, and possibly one even came close to, just shows how awesome God is.
Infallibility is a real thing, and the OP’s original situation is precisely the thing infallibility prevents.
Infallibility is a negative protection; it is preventative. A Pope cannot definitively proclaim, pronounce and define error to be held by the faithful. It does not violate his free will, because God can work through many ways to enforce this infallibility: through grace such that the Pope can freely change his mind, through illness such that he becomes incapable of teaching anything, or even through death.
In the OP’s original example, he used the word “definitively”. This engages infallibility because the OP was clear in that the universal teaching office is being exercised. Therefore, if the first Pope was correct, the second Pope would by definition be promulgating error, which would be prevented by infallibility. If the second Pope was therefore successful despite the first Pope, thereby contradicting him, infallibility is a sham, and so is the Catholic Church.
Therefore, the only logical answer, assuming the OP’s scenario happened as stated, is “neither”, because clearly, the Church had discredited itself as the pillar and foundation of the truth, and neither Pope, and any other, would be worth anyone’s time.
Pope John 22 was expressing the minority theological opinion on a question not yet answered definitively by the Magisterium. He was clear that it was only an opinion, and he permitted theologians to argue publicly to the contrary. No one expects every mere opinion of the Pope to be infallible.
To answer the OP question, it is impossible for an infallible teaching of the Church to err at all, and so two infallible teachings cannot contradict one another. If they seem to contradict, then you have misunderstood.
A Pope can disagree with the theological opinion, or even with a non-infallible teaching of a past Pope, but this is relatively rare.
The Truth of the Faith is not defined by the Church, but preserved by her. Her laws cannot define it, just recognize the Truth as handed on to her. John XXII held a heretical belief and held on to it to his death, yet seemingly he did not teach it. The fact that such belief had not been declared dogmatically yet is imaterial, especially when about the pope. Otherwise, one falls in a legalistic view position that betrays the Truth and the mission of the Church.
Pope John 22 did not commit heresy, since the Magisterium did not definitively teach on the subject until his successor Benedict 12.
“In the last years of John’s pontificate there arose a dogmatic conflict about the Beatific Vision, which was brought on by himself, and which his enemies made use of to discredit him. Before his elevation to the Holy See, he had written a work on this question, in which he stated that the souls of the blessed departed do not see God until after the Last Judgment. After becoming pope, he advanced the same teaching in his sermons. In this he met with strong opposition, many theologians, who adhered to the usual opinion that the blessed departed did see God before the Resurrection of the Body and the Last Judgment, even calling his view heretical. A great commotion was aroused in the University of Paris when the General of the Minorites and a Dominican tried to disseminate there the pope’s view. Pope John wrote to King Philip IV on the matter (November, 1333), and emphasized the fact that, as long as the Holy See had not given a decision, the theologians enjoyed perfect freedom in this matter. In December, 1333, the theologians at Paris, after a consultation on the question, decided in favour of the doctrine that the souls of the blessed departed saw God immediately after death or after their complete purification; at the same time they pointed out that the pope had given no decision on this question but only advanced his personal opinion, and now petitioned the pope to confirm their decision. John appointed a commission at Avignon to study the writings of the Fathers, and to discuss further the disputed question. In a consistory held on 3 January, 1334, the pope explicitly declared that he had never meant to teach aught contrary to Holy Scripture or the rule of faith and in fact had not intended to give any decision whatever. Before his death he withdrew his former opinion, and declared his belief that souls separated from their bodies enjoyed in heaven the Beatific Vision.”