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Cardinal Merry del Val on the Authority of the Pope

The Truth of Papal Claims, by Raphael Cardinal Merry del Val, which Preserving Christian Publications has recently reprinted . . . is a worthy edition of an important Catholic work.” – Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke

“Hence Dr. Oxenham may learn, that by Infallibility we do not mean ‘impeccability’ or sinlessness in the person of S. Peter or of his successors, who are accountable to God for their own consciences and their own lives like every other human being; ... we do not mean that the Roman Pontiff receives special revelations from heaven, or that by a revelation of the Holy Spirit he may invent or teach new doctrines not contained in the deposit of Faith, though, when occasion offers, and especially in times of conflict, he may define a point which all have not clearly recognized in that Faith, or which some may be striving to put out of view. Nor do we mean that every utterance that proceeds from the Pope’s mouth, or from the Pope’s pen, is infallible because it is his. Great as our filial duty of reverence is towards whatever he may say, great as our duty of obedience must be to the guidance of the Chief Shepherd, we do not hold that every word of his is infallible, or that he must always be right. Much less do we dream of teaching that he is infallible, or in any degree superior to other men, when he speaks on matters that are scientific, or historical, or political, or that he may not make mistakes of judgment in dealing with contemporary events, with men and things” [pp. 18-19].

Cardinal Merry del Val The above statement in 1902 of Archbishop Rafael Merry de Val, future Cardinal and Secretary of State under Pope St. Pius X, was his answer to the Protestant theologian in Rome, F. Nutcombe Oxenham, who challenged Catholic teaching on the authority of the Pope. He summarized the Anglican chaplain’s position as follows: “…Dr. Oxenham imagines, like so many other Protestants, that the Catholic doctrine of the infallibility of S. Peter and of his successors implies impeccability, which no Pope, no Council, no Catholic theologian ever dreamt of asserting” [pp. 6-7].

“Does Dr. Oxenham imagine that even today a Bishop might not expostulate with a Pope, who, in his judgment, might be acting in a way which was liable to mislead those under his own charge . . . ? The hypothesis is quite conceivable, and in no way destroys or diminishes the supremacy of the Pope. And yet an individual Bishop does not occupy the exceptional position of S. Paul, a fellow-Apostle of the Prince of the Apostles. Even a humble nun, S. Catherine of Siena, expostulated with the reigning Pontiff, in her day, while fully acknowledging all his great prerogatives” [p. 74].

“We may conclude this argument with another text from S. Chrysostom, who again steps in to refute Dr. Oxenham’s views about S. Peter. ‘Observe his (Paul’s) prudence,’ writes that Father of the Greek Church, ‘he said not to him (Peter), thou does wrong in living as a Jew, but he alleges his (Peter’s) former mode of living, that the admonition and the counsel may seem to come, not from Paul’s mind, but from the judgment of Peter already expressed. For, had he said, thou dost wrong to keep the Law, Peter’s disciples would have blamed him, but now, hearing that this admonition and correction came, not from Paul’s judgment, but that Peter himself so lived, and held in his mind this belief whether they would or not, they were obliged to be quiet’ [Hom. in loc.]’ [pp. 74-75].


The Truth of Papal Claims

2012 xvi 129 xv pages
hardback $16 – #55743