Location: Tulsa, Oklahoma, Tonga

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

A small query regarding papal infallibility

I must admit that my religious heritage offers little incentive to explore the issue of papal infallibility. More precisely, I don't believe in it, have no reason to want to try to believe in it, and cannot imagine how thinking people support such a doctrine. Usually, "papal infallibiity" enters my thoughts only as the punchline to a joke (and no, I won't tell you the joke here. Maybe some other time and place).

In the discussions and speculation centering around the new Pope Benedict XVI, though, some curious numbers and facts have emerged. AMERICAblog reported that CNN's Popewatch 2005 coverage included the statement that they were awaiting the name of the 256th pope. Michael in New York wrote:

CNN's Fact Error: "Awaiting Name of 265th Pope" -- Nope, It's The 263rd Pope
by Michael in New York - 4/19/2005 12:29:00 PM

This confusion arises because Benedict IX held the office of bishop of Rome on three separate occasions in the eleventh century. Therefore, there have been 264 pontificates, if you will, but only 262 Popes counting from Peter to John Paul II. So whomever is named today will be the 263rd man to become Pope. Just one quick way to impress your friends courtesy of Americablog. (MSNBC makes the same mistake and Fox News avoids naming a number, at least on its scroll.)

In the comments section, Mike31 thoughtfully included more detail and a link to the Poperoll.
143. Benedict VIII (1012-24)
144. John XIX (1024-32)
145. Benedict IX (1032-45)
146. Sylvester III (1045) -- Considered by some to be an antipope
147. Benedict IX (1045)
148. Gregory VI (1045-46)
149. Clement II (1046-47)
150. Benedict IX (1047-48)
151. Damasus II (1048)
152. St. Leo IX (1049-54)

[I need to read up to find out what an antipope is/was, how one becomes an antipope, and how one could be simultaneously both pope and antipope.]

For now, however, I will stick with my original puzzle. Notice that Benedict IX was unpoped for part of a year (in 1045) and then reinstalled, and then again bumped from office (this time for a two-year period) until he was-- once again--reinstalled.

Assuming that Benedict IX was appropriately infallible while in office, did he remain infallible when he was out of office? Would it make a difference if, while out of office, he was replaced by an antipope?

Are antipopes infallible? What if only some consider him to be an antipope (which was apparently the plight of poor Sylvester III)? Would his stature as a contested quasi-anti-pope limit his infallibility, allowing the previous pope's infallibility to be continued, although with lower wattage?

On the other hand, if Benedict IX lost his superpowers while out of office, and regained them only when he returned to the Fortress of Solitude-- oops, I mean the Papacy-- what about his insights or pronouncements during his brief fallibility interludes? Are they doomed because they came during his downtime? If AgainPope Benedict IX were to ratify his out-of-office insights and pronouncements once he returned to office, would they become fully powered?

Perhaps I should direct this to Enkidu, the Resident Theologian at Majikthise. He wrote a nice post illuminating the more recent Benedicts, especially those whose voodoo the FreshPope Benedict XVI might be trying to channel.

Daniel at The Bonassus noticed the inanity that is CNN. His post yesterday:

Pope Coverage Inanity
From's "Pope Benedict XVI" page, one of the stupidest headlines I've seen in some time: "Benedict a Popular Pontiff Name"

Really? Huh. I wonder how many there have been. I guess we'll never know.

Wonderful! Thank you, Daniel! Now, I really do hope that you get around to that infernal bookmeme. Sometime. Soon.