The High Stakes of Wielding Papal Magisterium

Today is the 399th anniversary of an event which some deem a fanciful datum in the question of "How does God prevent the Pope from teaching error?"

Pope Clement VIII was vexed by the Molina-Banez debate, since it was causing endless feuding between the Dominicans and the Jesuits. First, he called the congregatio de auxiliis (a theological commission) to argue the case before a group of Cardinals in Rome in 1597. Six years passed, and the debates only waxed fiercer. Clement then decided to preside over the congregatio in person.

Three years later, on this day, Clement had grown tired of the interminable controversy. Resolving to settle the matter by a definitive teaching, he stayed up late into the night drafting a bull which many believe would have condemned several Molinist propositions. Before he could sign it, however, he dropped dead.

His successor, Leo IX, upon assuming the throne, believed that the severity of the debates had so taxed the previous pontiff's heart that he resolved to bring the controversy swiftly to a close as his first papal order of business. Leo, too, dropped dead shortly thereafter.

Leo's successor, Paul V -- perhaps discerning the hand of providence -- immediately put an end to the debate. He halted the publication of controversial literature on both sides, insisting that both sides tolerate each other's opinions as legitimate theological positions within Catholic orthodoxy. He subjected any dissent from these disciplinary matters to the Inquisition, and ruled that debate must cease until the Holy See decided that it would rule on the matter. In light of his two dead predecessors, Paul V never did. He left the matter open, which is the state of the question to the present day.

Two unfortunately-timed pontifical deaths within a few weeks of each other -- just chance? Perhaps. John Paul I's super-short reign is a modern example.

Or, does the Lord have His own way of preventing high-level debates from reaching an incorrect resolution?

--Old Oligarch on 3/04/2004