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July 21, 2010

The Infallibility of the Bishop of Rome and the Comical Case of Pope Sixtus V

By Presbyter Basil A. Georgopoulos

On July 18, 1870 at the fourth conference[1] of the First Vatican Council – considered as the Twentieth Ecumenical Council by Roman Catholics – after a long historical gestation,[2] and amidst opposition,[3] Pope Pius IX read the decree Pastor aeternus[4], by which he recognized the infallibility of himself and all his predecessors and successors as a truth of faith revealed by God.

Of course, for Orthodox theology,[5] the infallibility of the bishop of Rome belongs to the sphere of papal mythology. Not only does it lack the mark of a dogma but at the same time it constitutes an arbitrary and blasphemous appropriation of a distinctive trait and characteristic of the theanthropic body of Christ, the Church.

A true testimony to the above is the verdict of ecclesiastical history. One of the many examples of how infallible the predecessors of Pope Pius IX were, is the comical case of Pope Sixtus V (1585-1590) and his edition of the “Vulgata” in 1590.

Pope Sixtus V, encouraged by the decision of the Synod of Trident[6] where the “Vulgata” was recognized as an authentic article of the Roman Catholic Church, issued and distributed a new edition, historically known as the “Sixtina” edition.[7] In the papal decree in which Pope Sixtus V announced the edition, he mentioned that the said text would be the only authentic text, seeing as this text had been corrected “by the same hand grounded on the authority of the abundance of apostolic power.”[8] He also ruled that every other publication of the Holy Scriptures lacked value and whoever tried to overturn the new text would automatically be excommunicated.

Two years later, Pope Clement VII (1592-1605) retracted the edition of Sixtus V because it was full of deceit and errors in “translation, expression and teaching.”[9] In fact, the Jesuit Cardinal Robertus Bellarminus [Robert Bellarmine] – one of the greatest papist theologians to date, a saint to the Roman Catholics and great supporter of papal primacy – characterized the article of Sixtus V “as a labyrinth of deceits of every kind.”[10]

The same Bellarmine in fact mentions in his autobiography that he had asked Pope Gregory XIV (1590-1591) to protect the reputation of Sixtus V from derision. How? By re-issuing his 1590 edition corrected and with the addition of a prologue by Bellarminus in which he would explain to the faithful that Sixtus V was not to blame for the errors but the “printers and others."[11]

This event itself, as well as the actions of Bellarmine, reveal how infallible Pope Sixtus V, a predecessor of Pius IX, was. As a final comment in this short article, by what is shown in the case of Sixtus V in relation to the infallibility of the bishop of Rome, we wish to mention the perspective of the Patriarch of Jerusalem, Chrysanthos Notaras (1707-1731). He attests to “the innovations of the Western Church, and the present new and recent monarchless monarchy and sinful sinlessness of his colleague (if I can call him such) in Rome, which the Holy Fathers of both East and West neither knew, nor even imagined, as they are novel and strange seeds, and inventions of the Western Church, sown and planted with a spirit of pride, and immoral arrogance, and having taken root for an extended time have brought forth rotten fruit.”[12]


1. Acta Sanctae Sedi 6 (180) 40-47

2. Lott, Grundrib der Dogmatik, Freiburg-Basel-Wein 1965, pg 346-349; L. Koesterw, “Unfehlbarkeit”, LTHK 10 (1938) pg 378-380

3. H. Kung, Unfehlbar? Eine Anfrage Zurich – Einsiedein – Koln 1980, pg 101-108; H. Jedin, Kleine Konzieliengeschichte, Freiburg in Breisgau 1978, pg 124-126; P. Trembela, Our responsibilities after the work of the Vatican synod, Athens 1967, pg 33-39

4. DENZIGER – HUNERMANN, Enchiridion Symbolorum (19919), 3065-3075. H. Kung, pg 75-81

5. Fr. Justine Popovits, Man and Godman, publication ASTIR, Athens 1981, pg 145-162; Delikostopoulou, The ecclesiological positions of the Roman-Catholic Church as a dogmatic problem of the theological dialogue, Athens 1969, pg 124-148

6. Sessio IV, 2 (8 April 1546). Denziger – Hunermann, Enchiridion Symbolorum, 1506-1508

7. H. Vogels, “Bibellubersetzungen II”, LTHK (1931) pg 306; A. Hastoupi, Introduction to the Old Testament, Athens 1986, pg 617

8. Paul Fr. Ballester Convalier, My turn to Orthodoxy, Athens 1954, pg 33, 34.

9. O.P. pg 34.

10. O.P. pg 34

11. O.P. pg 34

12. Dositheos of Jerusalem, Dodecabiblos, Books A and B, publication B. Rigopoulos, Thessaloniki 1982, pg 11.

Source: Journal “Theodromia”, Issue 3, July-September 2001.