All through the History of the Church, Popes seldom felt the necessity of issuing “ex-cathedra” documents. Not all dogmas of Catholic Faith were formally and solemnly proclaimed; for example, in the Creed there are 12 Articles of Faith that did not have to be formally proclaimed because the Apostles themselves passed these articles of faith on to Christianity.
Let us formalize the list of Pontiff Definitions in chronological order, according to Dom Estevão Bettencourt in “Pergunte e Responderemos” Magazine (“Ask and we shall Answer You” Magazine, 1994 # 381 pages 67 to 72).
- Pope Saint Leo Magnus wrote a letter to Flavian, Bishop of Constantinople in the year 444 A.D. In that letter, the Pope formalized the healthy doctrine on the mystery of Incarnation, by affirming that: “Christ is one only Person (the Divine Person) with two natures (Divine and Human natures). The Pope also sent that letter to the Ecumenical Council of Calcedonia in the year 451 A.D. and the Clergy present at the Council considered it a definite and obligatory document of Christianity. That Document represented the Papal reaction to a heretic movement called Monophysicism.
- Pope Saint Agatho wrote a letter “to the emperors” in 680 A.D., affirming in definite character that Christ had two different wills, human and Divine wills, though his human will was totally subject to the Divine Will. By doing so, the Pope rebuked the heretic movement of Monothelitism, which affirmed that Christ only had one will, His Divine Will. The Pope sent that document to Constantinople Council III (680/681 A.D.) and the Council accepted and welcomed it with applause.
- Pope Bonifacius VIII wrote the Bull “Unam Sanctam” in the year 1302. In that document, the Pope declares, affirms, defines and proclaims that: “each and every human being is subject to the Supreme Roman Pontiff.” This sentence must be understood in the historical context of its proclamation and it means that the Pope has jurisdiction over each and every human creature “ratione peccati”, i.e. insofar the activities of an individual concern eternal life; it does not apply to administrative activities of civil governments and so on.
- Pope Benedict XII approved the Constitution “Benedictus Deus” in the year 1336. This Document defined that: pure souls can behold God’s essence face to face immediately after their physical death.
- Pope Leo X wrote the Bull “Exsurge Domine” in the year 1520, in which he condemned the 41 propositions made by Martin Luther as heretic.
- Pope Innocent X approved the Apostolic Constitution “Cum Occasione” in the year 1653. In this document, the Pope rebuked the 5 propositions of the book “Augustinus” by Cornelius Jansenius and declared these 5 propositions heretic. Jansenism (from Cornelius Jansenius) was a heresy influenced by Martin Luther’s ideas on the original sin: it supported a pessimistic concept on human nature that, according to their ideas, was enslaved to concupiscence and sin; consequently, they accepted that human beings can only do good deeds under the irresistible influx of God’s Grace. Jansenist pessimism was reinforced by the thesis that Christ did not redeem the whole of mankind but only pre-destined individuals. Pope Innocent X condemned all these heresies.
- Pope Innocent XI approved the Constitution “Caelestis Pastor” in the year 1687. In this Constitution, the Pope condemned as heretic the 68 propositions made by Miguel de Molinos (died 1696) about the Quietism, a mystical movement that associated spiritual perfection with total passiveness and tranquility of soul. According to this movement, Christians should not even desire eternal bliss or strive to achieve virtues: in that state of total passiveness, any personal trait or desire should be totally extinguished in their souls. Souls in this total state of annihilation should not sin anymore and they would not experience any further necessity of praying, of doing deeds of piety or fighting against temptation.
- Pope Innocent XII approved the Constitution “Cumm alias” in 1699. In this Constitution, the Pope condemned 23 propositions in the book “Explications des maxims des Saints sur la vie interieure” by François de Salignac Fènelon, who tried to revisit Quietism and present it as the purest love human creatures can have for God.
- Pope Clement XI approved the Constitution “Unigenitus” in 1713. In this document, the Pope condemned 101 articles of the book “Reflexionis Moralis” by Pascassio Quesnel (died 1719). This author supported Jansenism and their pessimistic ideas about human nature. It is worth noticing that during the Jansenist crisis the world witnessed the Visitation of Jesus, in the Apparitions of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (1673-1675) and the apparition of Saint Marguerite Mary Alocoque: these Apparitions reminded the world, above all, about God’s Mercy and Christ’s Love in opposition to the pessimistic view of the Jansenism.
- Pope Pius VI approved the Constitution “Auctorem Fidei” in 1794. In this document, the Pope condemned 85 heretic theses approved by the Pistoria Synod in Tuscany, 1786. These theses were an expression of the radical nationalism and despotism of the State that had thrived since the times of Phillip IV the Fair in France. Encouraged by false concepts, many French Catholic Kings pretended they were creating regional Churches but mad these churches totally independent of the Pope and subject to the King. That made the Church subject to the State in these regions. Among other things, the Pistoria Synod advocated the ban of the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the ban of processions, images, indulgences, priest’s fees of the Mass and other religious services and the abolishment of different religious Orders and Congregations, that should be reduced to just one order, a Jansenist order.
- Pope Pius XI wrote the Bull “Ineffabilis Deus” in 1854, in which he proclaimed and defined the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of Mary.
- Pope Pius XII approved the Constitution “Munificientissimus Deus” in 1950, in which he defined and proclaimed the dogma of the Assumption of Our Lady to Heaven in body and soul.
It is worth noticing that all further Documents issued by the Ministry of the Church, in especial by the Pope, belong to the common Ministry of the Church and all Christians must respect and follow them, even though they are not “ex-cathedra” Documents. Vatican Council II affirmed that:
“Among the principal duties of bishops the preaching of the Gospel occupies an eminent place. For bishops are preachers of the faith, who lead new disciples to Christ, and they are authentic teachers, that is, teachers endowed with the authority of Christ, who preach to the people committed to them the faith they must believe and put into practice, and by the light of the Holy Spirit illustrate that faith. They bring forth from the treasury of Revelation new things and old, making it bear fruit and vigilantly warding off any errors that threaten their flock. Bishops, teaching in communion with the Roman Pontiff, are to be respected by all as witnesses to divine and Catholic truth. In matters of faith and morals, the bishops speak in the name of Christ and the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent. This religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra; that is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will. His mind and will in the matter may be known either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking” (Lumen Gentium 25).
Prof Felipe Aquino
Professor Felipe Aquino is a widower, father of five children. On TV Canção Nova he presents the program “Escola da Fé” [School of faith] and “Pergunte e Responderemos” [Ask and respond], on Radio he presents the program “in the heart of the Church”. On weekends he preaches deepening meetings throughout Brazil and abroad. He wrote 73 books of Catholic background by publishers, Loyola and Cleopas and Canção Nova. His teacher’s page:www.cleofas.com.br Twitter: @pfelipeaquino