Warren H Carroll
It is true that St. Athanasius was condemned by Pope Liberius though he was the leader of the defenders of orthodoxy against Arianism at the time. Pope Liberius was a weak man (the first Pope after St. Peter never honored as a saint) and he was imprisoned and probably had been tortured to force him to support the Arian heresy, at the time he condemned St. Athansius. He was therefore obviously acting under duress, as St. Athanasius pointed out when he refused to accept the validity of the excommunication. Though Pope Liberius did condemn St. Athanasius under heavy pressure from his captors, he refused to sign a clearly Arian statement of faith, but did sign an equivocal statement which could be interpreted either in an orthodox or an Arian sense.The infallibility of the papacy was therefore preserved even under Liberius’ weak leadership. But Popes are not infallible when making excommunications, or any disciplinary judgment, for they are limited by the information they have on the individual or situation in question. They are only infallible in making doctrinal pronouncements ex cathedra. It is vitally important always to remember that the Pope has two kinds of authority, magisterial (when he is speaking ex cathedra, that is, in a way intended to be binding on the faithful), in which he is infallible; and administrative, as head of the Church appointed by Christ to govern it (which would include excommunications).
The Pope is not infallible when exercising his governing authority, but still must be obeyed when he does so, as long as his orders apply clearly to the Church rather than to temporal affairs (as obviously they do in the Lefebvre case), for the Pope’s authority over the Church is God-given and there is no appeal from it on earth. The circumstances of the case of St. Athanasius are fully explained in the first chapter of the second volume of my history of Christendom, The Building Of Christendom, which may be obtained from Christendom Press, 134 Christendom Drive, Front Royal VA (tel. 1-800-877-5456).
I deny that any Pope was ever a heretic, have researched each case where that is claimed, and will be glad to answer and refute any claim that any Pope ever committed himself or called upon the faithful to hold any heretical belief.
The followers of Lefebve have no more right to appeal to their personal interpretation of “apostolic traditions” over and against the authority of the Pope than Martin Luther and his followers had the right to appeal to their personal interpretation of Scripture over and against the authority of the Pope. The state of the Church today is bad, but no worse (and in some ways not even as bad) as it was at the height of the Arian heresy in the fourth century, of the Monophysite heresy in the East in the fifth and sixth centuries, and of Protestantism in every European country but Spain, Portugal, and Italy in the sixteenth century.
No recent Pope has said anything in his doctrinal pronouncements to encourage the present evils. Many argue that he should have disciplined the dissidents and heretics more firmly and comprehensively, but that is a prudential judgment on which we are at least as likely to be wrong as the Pope.
In the sixteenth century, for example, the Popes did denounce and attempted to discipline Protestant and other dissidents and heretics in Germany and England, to little effect.
Pope St. Pius V excommunicated Queen Elizabeth and called on her people to rise against her, and it only seemed to strengthen her. I’m not saying they shouldn’t have taken these actions—I think, in fact, they were worth trying—but only pointing out that such condemnations and denunciations are no automatic cure for major challenges to truth and authority in the Church. We must cling to the Pope especially in all such crises, remembering that Christ Himself said that Peter was the Rock against which the gates of Hell shall never prevail.—Dr. Carroll

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  1. Pope Honorius I (625-38) was posthumously condemned as a heretic and excommunicated from the Church by the ecumenical Council of III Constantinople (680-1). He promoted the heresy of the Monothelites, who taught that there is only one will in Christ; the orthodox doctrine is that Christ has separate wills in his human and divine natures.
    Honorius actively maintained the heresy in official papal letters written to Sergius I, patriarch of Constantinople in reply to a formal consultation and to several other individuals. He did this at a crucial time, when Sergius was backing off before the objections of St. Sophronius. Thus began a tragedy that would afflict the whole Church. The Monothelites were able to argue that all the teachers of the orthodox faith had confessed their doctrine, including Sergius of Constantinople and Honorius of Rome.
    III Constantinople condemned Honorius in his official papal capacity as the bishop of Rome, not as a private theologian. The council specifically stated that Honorius had advanced heretical teachings, approved of them, and in a positive sense was responsible for disseminating them (and was not merely negligent, as some apologists still lie.) It condemned him by name as a heretic, anathematising him as such and excommunicating him.
    To give a brief summary from the Council’s acts, which are quoted more fully later where it is clear that Honorius is being spoken of:
    “We find that these documents [including those of Honorius] are quite foreign to the apostolic dogmas, to the declarations of the holy Councils, and to all the accepted Fathers, and that they follow the false teachings of the heretics…there shall be expelled from the holy Church of God and anathematized Honorius who was some time Pope of Old Rome, because of what we found written by him to Sergius, that in all respects he followed his view and confirmed his impious doctrines…To Honorius, the heretic, anathema!… [The devil] has actively employed them [including Honorius]…we slew them [including Honorius] with anathema, as lapsed from the faith and as sinners, in the morning outside the camp of the tabernacle of God. &c.”

  2. A better explanation regarding Pope Honorius I that is not anti-Catholic can be found at
    The Sixth Ecumenical Council (681) posthumously anathematized Pope Honorius for his responses to Sergius. Not surprisingly, this case has attracted considerable attention and is alleged by some to disprove the doctrine of papal infallibility. Anti-Catholic William Webster claims Honorius “officially embraced the heresy of monothelitism” and was condemned by the council as a heretic “in his official capacity as pope.” (All Webster quotes are taken from his book The Church of Rome at the Bar of History and from his article “An Ecumenical Council Officially Condemns a Pope for Heresy” posted online at

  3. True, honorius was condemned because his act promoted the heresy of the monothelites. But remember, his wrtings promoting such heresy was not pronounced ex cathedra and it was not made as binding to all christians. Though he used the pronoun “we” in his writings, the same was issued without the concensus of the bishops. In short, regardless of the nature of his letters as written in “official capacity”, it was still based on a personal belief of Honorius and not based on the deposit of faith handed down by the apostles. Therefore, no Pope was ever condemned or excommunicated because of his statement made ex cathedra. Note, not all statement, letters or writings made by a Pope are issued ex cathedra. Please research as to when a statement of a Pope qualifies as ex cathedra statement.

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