this is why Catholic Answers, while claiming to be in
the "forefront" of Catholic Apologetics, refuses to
engage in public debate against those they know are prepared
and ready. Who knows? But one thing is for sure:
the new article by Steven O'Reilly in the October, 2000 This
Rock magazine rivals the sad attempts of the Watchtower
Society to completely and utterly misrepresent the facts of
Church History. Steven O'Reilly, who has recently been
attempting to do what Catholic Answers won't do in
public (respond to Protestant apologists, though, of course,
as it is part of the editorial policy of CA, they refuse
to refer to Protestant apologists, but instead choose the much
more emotionally useful phrase "anti-Catholic"),
again plies the trade of the defender of Rome's a-historical
modern doctrines. But this time he reaches new lows in
misrepresenting history and truth. The article is
titled, "Guilty Only of Failure to Teach" and is
subtitled "The Case of Pope Honorius Doesn't Disprove
Papal Infallibility." It begins on page 28 of the
10/2000 issue of This Rock magazine.
recently had the opportunity of twice debating leading Roman
Catholic apologists on the subject of Papal
Infallibility. The first debate, with Timothy Staples,
took place in Fullerton in July, and the second, with Robert
Sungenis, took place in early October in Clearwater,
Florida. In both debates the issue of Honorius took
center stage. In fact, in the second debate with Mr.
Sungenis, the second round of the debate was limited to the
topic of Honorius' condemnation as a heretic by the 6th
Ecumenical Council, and that by pre-arrangement.
looking at O'Reilly's attempt to save Honorius, a few
background issues should be addressed. First, I would
like to present the basic facts of the issue as I presented
them in my opening statement on Honorius in the debate with
Robert Sungenis. Then, I will comment on the fact that
the defense used by Staples and O'Reilly is directly
contradictory to that used by Sungenis: that is, if Staples
and O'Reilly are correct, Sungenis is in error, and vice
versa. Finally, I will respond to the horrifically
partial presentation made by O'Reilly as yet another
documented instance of the kind of apologetic offered by Catholic
The Facts About
was the bishop of Rome from 625 to 638.
In 634 Sergius, the patriarch of Constantinople, wrote
to Honorius concerning Sergius’ attempts to bring the
monophysites, those who asserted that there was only one
nature in Christ, into the catholic fold.
Sergius was a monothelite, one who believed that while
Christ was indeed one person with two natures, He had but one
will, since the will was a function of the one person, not a
function of the two natures.
Honorius, in responding to Sergius, provides the single
clearest example of Papal error that violates the definition
of infallibility as given by Rome itself.
Honorius agreed with Sergius, clearly, in his first
He wrote to Sergius as
the bishop of Rome, not as a private theologian.
He responded as
the bishop of Rome to an official inquiry to the See of
Rome regarding a matter of faith
He wrote to a fellow bishop of the church, and in
speaking of the very issue of whether Christ had one will or
two, he wrote, e}n
sure you note the use of the plural, “we confess.”
Honorius did not say, “Oh, I think maybe it’s like
He employed the very same plural that Roman bishops use
today to refer to their representation of the church as a
Now we surely can safely admit that Honorius was not
the leading theologian of his day.
He made an error based upon ignorance of the issues
The biblical standard of the elder or bishop in the
church is not, thankfully, infallibility.
And surely no one in that day believed in papal
infallibility, so to judge Honorius on the basis of modern
standards is without merit.
His case is famous for no other reason than the glaring
and obvious anachronism of Rome’s modern teaching.
Rome proclaims her bishop infallible when teaching as
the pastor of all Christians on matters of faith and morals.
Obviously, it was the intention of the Vatican decree
to say that the bishops of Rome have always
had this “charism of infallibility,” which would mean it
is the Roman Catholic position that this teaching was valid in
Honorius’ day just as much as it is today.
So it is Rome that has placed the spotlight upon all
the Popes of history, not Protestants.
there is absolutely, positively no question that Honorius was,
in fact, condemned as a
heretic by the 6th Ecumenical Council which met
in Constantinople in 680-681 for a teaching he promulgated in an official letter sent to Sergius as
the bishop of Rome.
His condemnation is found in the Acts in the 13th Session,
near the beginning.
His two letters were ordered to be burned at the same session
as being “hurtful to the soul.”
This includes the letter that contains the phrase e}n
(hen thelema homologoumen).
In the 16th Session the bishops exclaimed “Anathema to the
heretic Sergius, to the heretic Cyrus, to the heretic Honorius,
In the decree of faith published at the 18th Session it is
stated that “the originator of all evil... found a fit tool
for his will in... Honorius, Pope of Old Rome, etc.”
Further, this Ecumenical Council said that Honorius taught the heretical doctrine.
They said that Satan had “actively employed them in
raising up for the whole Church the stumbling-blocks of
one will and one operation in the two natures of Christ our
true God, one of the Holy Trinity; thus disseminating, in
novel terms, amongst the orthodox people, an heresy
The Papal legates, representatives of Pope Agatho, made
no attempt to stop the burning of the letters, and subscribed
to every anathema placed upon Honorius, as well as to the
statement that Satan himself had used the bishop of Rome as a
“tool for his will.”
The report of the Council to the Emperor says that
“Honorius, formerly bishop of Rome” they had “punished
with exclusion and anathema” because he followed the
In its letter to Pope Agatho the Council says “We have
destroyed the fort of the heretics, and slain them with
anathema, in accordance with the sentence spoken before in
your holy letter, namely,
Theodore of Paran, Sergius, Honorius, Cyrus, etc.”
Note that the Council believed its actions to be in
full accord with Agatho’s wishes and Agatho’s letter!
The imperial decree speaks of the “unholy priests who
infected the Church and falsely governed” and mentions among
them “Honorius, the Pope of Old Rome, the confirmer of
heresy who contradicted himself.” The Emperor goes on to
anathematize “Honorius who was Pope of Old Rome, who in
everything agreed with them, went with them, and strengthened
Pope Leo II confirmed the decrees of the Council and
expressly says that he too anathematized Honorius.
So strong was Leo’s confirmation that Baronius
rejected it, saying it had to have been spurious, and even
Cardinal Bellarmine tried to say it had been corrupted.
Neither saw in Leo’s words any softening of the
Council’s act, though some modern Catholic apologists have
attempted to find in Leo’s sentence a ray of hope: Leo
anathematizes Honorius “who did not illuminate this
apostolic see with the doctrine of apostolic tradition, but
permitted her who was undefiled to be polluted by profane
That Honorius was anathematized by the Sixth Council is
mentioned in the canons of the Council of Trullo which met
less than two decades after Constantinople (Trullan Canons No.
1). This shows that the condemnation of Honorius was accepted
by the wider church immediately after the Council, and amongst
those who were familiar with Leo’s letter.
So too the Seventh Council declares its adhesion to the
anathema in its decree of faith, and in several places in the
acts the same is said.
Honorius’s name was found in the Roman copy of the Acts.
This is evident from Anastasius’s life of Leo II. (Vita
This means that in Rome itself the condemnation with anathema as a heretic was embraced and accepted.
The Papal Oath as found in the Liber Diurnus taken by each new
Pope up to the eleventh century, states in no uncertain terms,
“smites with eternal anathema the originators of the new
heresy, Sergius, etc., together with Honorius, because he
assisted the base assertion of the heretics.”
Every single Pope who took to the chair of Peter for
three hundred years did so by anathematizing his predecessor,
In the lesson for the feast of St. Leo II in the Roman
Breviary the name of Pope Honorius occurs among those
excommunicated by the Sixth Synod, and the name remains there
until the sixteenth century!
Madrid, in his book Pope Fiction, erroneously asserts
that Pope Leo “redefined” the language of the 6th
He writes that Leo “confirmed the council’s decree
but redefined its language regarding Pope Honorius, making it
clear that Honorius had not
endorsed the Monotheletism of Sergius, but had failed in his
duty to condemn it.
Officially, therefore, Honorius was condemned for his
negligence, but not for heresy” (p. 160).
This is truly imaginative, but it is also utterly
Leo did not alter any wording of the council.
He never said the Council had erred in its
condemnation, nor did he dream he had the authority to over
rule it even if it did!
Madrid is referring to the letter of Leo to the Emperor
I cited above: he uses the anathema and says that Honorius
“permitted her who was undefiled to be polluted by profane
It is self-evident that Madrid’s forced reading is in
error for two reasons: first, the 6th Ecumenical
Council specifically said that Honorius and the others taught
Was the Council wrong?
Did Leo say
it was wrong?
No, he did not.
Secondly, it was not Leo’s alleged “correction”
that appears in the 7th and 8th
Ecumenical Councils, but the words of the 6th,
where Honorius is condemned as
Madrid follows this with a glorious example of
anachronistic interpretation of ancient church history in the
light of modern Roman beliefs when he quotes Warren
fact remains that no decree of a council has effect in the
Catholic Church unless and until it is confirmed by the
reigning Pope, and only
in the form that he confirms it.
There is no “supreme law” prescribing how the Pope
shall designate his confirmation.
Pope Honorius, therefore, was never condemned for
heresy by the supreme Church authority, but only for
negligence in allowing a heresy to spread and grow, when he
should have denounced it.
is utterly without historical merit.
The universal church at that time did not believe in
the idea that a council had to await the approval of the
bishop of Rome.
That concept had to wait to find its universal
expression in the Pseudo-Isidorian Decretals almost 200 years
yet in the future from the time of the 6th
Ecumenical Council and Pope Leo.
That a belief, first introduced by fraudulent means in
the middle of the 9th century would have to be read
back into the context of the clear and obvious condemnation of
Honorius in the 7th century, in a vain attempt to
save him as well as rescue a dogma defined in the 19th
is clear evidence of the impossible task facing the
defender of papal infallibility.
the fact that every possible defense has been offered for
Honorius’ condemnation proves one thing: none of those
offered are compelling.
Thus we see why Newman feared the prospect of having to
defend decisions which may “...be most difficult to maintain
logically in the face of historical facts.”
Newman understood that the unbiased observer could not
help but conclude that the definition of the Vatican Council
was proclaimed without any concern for the truths of history
would be wise to consider as well that during the
deliberations prior to the announcement of Papal Infallibility
at the First Vatican Council, the Pope, while excluding those
who opposed the definition of infallibility from publishing in
Rome, allowed those who supported the definition to print
their books and have access to the newspapers in the city
One of those works that the Pope allowed to be printed
in Rome, and in fact had distributed amongst the members of
the Council (while all replies were disallowed), was that of
Pennachi firmly advanced the assertion that Honorius’
letters were ex cathedra,
that they were orthodox, and that the Council erred, being
made up primarily of Orientals, not Westerners.
Bishop Hefele, a member of the Vatican Council, a
historian of whom Schaff said, “Hefele has forgotten more
about the history of Councils than the infallible Pope ever
knew,” an opponent of infallibility prior to the Council,
but one who submitted thereafter, not only refuted Pennachi
fully, but had to completely revise his own writings on
Honorius after the decree came out, much like Newman.
I heartily recommend the narrative provided by Philip
Schaff of how Pope Pius IX utilized everything short of the
barrel of a gun to obtain the definition of his own
infallibility, and how completely different was this allegedly
ecumenical Council in comparison with that of Nicea.
There is nothing in the history of the First Vatican
Council that will cause any person to be anything but
distrustful of the allegedly infallible pronouncement that
should also realize that to expect the men of the past, who
manifestly did not
believe the modern formulation of this doctrine, to conform to
any kind of specific “formula” for a teaching to be
infallible likewise, is to completely gut history of its
It is a common defense to say, “Look, Honorius did
not teach this ex cathedra, so it does not violate the
The problem is, no one back then operated on such a
modern platform, therefore, to act as if they did is to
violate all logical standards of historical inquiry.
Further, it is likewise to render every single Papal
statement of the past “safe” from the allegation of error.
That is, if you insist that a certain “formula” be
used, you can simply dismiss all papal errors as not having
been pronounced “ex cathedra,” and all is well.
The serious investigator, however, will look at the
Vatican council’s declaration and ask, “Do the facts of
history support this claim?”
finally, I remind us all: Honorius died forty years prior to
the Council of Constantinople.
For four decades his letters existed, teaching what
would later be identified as a heresy by an ecumenical
No Pope of Rome uttered a word in condemnation during
those four decades.
It would be like having a Pope teach heresy in 1960,
and having to wait till this very year for there to be a
“correction,” and then only from a gathered council, not
from the Pope himself.
For forty years those letters existed, and if
you had looked to the bishop of Rome’s teachings during
those years, you would have been led into formal heresy
How, then, can we know that the recently promulgated
Papal statement Dominus Iesus will not, twenty, forty, or a hundred years from now,
likewise be burned as “hurtful to the soul” at some future
The fact is, we cannot, and hence the uselessness of
the idea of Papal Infallibility.
What a contrast, then, between this, and the
unchanging, and unchangeable, infallibility of God’s Word,
was noted above, every possible explanation has been offered
by Roman Catholic controversialists regarding the issue of
Honorius. The fact that Rome has to multiply its
excuses shows that none of them are compelling or historically
consistent. IF Honorius' letters were orthodox, then
there is no reason to worry about whether they were ex
cathedra or not; IF they were not ex cathedra, then it doesn't
matter if they were orthodox. IF Leo "changed"
the decisions of the Council, then none of the other
considerations are relevant. The fact that Roman
apologists are forced to pile excuse upon excuse upon excuse
shows that they know that no single argument is
compelling. It seems that they are more concerned about
keeping their constituency happy (i.e., providing excuses for
those who want to believe) than providing meaningful
defense of the modern dogma in a historical setting.
reason for the multiplicity of conflicting excuses is
easily discerned in this quotation from John Meyendorff, found
in the article O'Reilly is allegedly responding to (he ignores
it in his reply), found at http://www.christiantruth.com/pope.html,
This step into Monotheletism,
which he was first to make, is the famous fall of Honorius,
for which the Sixth ecumenical council condemned him (681) a
condemnation which, until the early Middle Ages, would be
repeated by all popes at their installation, since on such
occasions they had to confess the faith of the ecumenmical
councils. It is understandable, therefore, that all the
critics of the doctrine of papal infallibility in later
centuries. Protestants, Orthodox and antiinfallibilists at
Vatican I in 1870 would refer to this case. Some Roman
Catholic apologists try to show that the expressions used by
Honorius could be understood in an orthodox way, and that
there is no evidence that he deliberately wished to proclaim
anything else than the traditional faith of the Church. They
also point out quite anachronistically that the letter to
Sergius was not a formal statement, issued by the pope ex
cathedra, using his charisma of infallibility, as if
such a concept existed in the seventh century. Without
denying the pope's good intentions which can be claimed in
favor of any heresiarch of history, it is quite obvious that
his confession of one will, at a crucial moment and as
Sergius himself was somewhat backing out before the
objections of Sophronius, not only condoned the mistakes of
others, but actually coined a heretical formula, the
beginning of a tragedy from which the Church (including the
orthodox successors of Honorius on the papal throne) would
suffer greatly (John Meyendorff, Imperial Unity and
Christian Division (Crestwood:St. Vladimir's, 1989), p.
simple fact of the matter is that no one in the days of
Honorius believed in "Papal Infallibility" as it is
defined today. In reality, no papal statement of the
past is liable to be proven in error since it can always be
argued that they "did not intend it to be a binding
statement upon the entire church." So, through the
wonderful use of hindsight, any errant Papal teaching can be
considered non-binding, and any Papal teaching that is still
in vogue can be said to be consistent with the "universal
faith of the Church." It's truly a wonderful system
that actually means nothing at all, since you can never know
if a current Pope's teaching will get the stamp of
approval of future generations, or will end up on the
scrap-heap of "he didn't mean that infallibly"
pronouncements. But this very anachronistic element of
the belief results in all sorts of conflicting and
self-contradictory explanations for past papal
misstatements. Since the modern construct has no
connection to the ancient situation, Roman apologists are
forced to pick and choose from among the ancient circumstances
to come up with their defense. As each may put more
weight on this circumstance or that, they end up contradicting
each other. So while Staples and O'Reilly defend
Honorius as orthodox, Sungenis can admit his error and his
condemnation. If the first position is right, the second
is in error, and vice-versa. Such is the quandary of the
apologist who must defend an anachronism.
of Failure to Honestly Represent History
was most interesting, then, to encounter the attempt on the
part of Steven O'Reilly (who is authoring a book on the
Papacy, according to the article) to do some "damage
control" on the Honorius issue in the October edition of This
Rock magazine. Bill Webster had quite properly
pointed out the particularly shallow attempt on the part of
Karl Keating to address Honorius in his book, Catholicism
and Fundamentalism, in an article on his webpage
but make sure to see http://www.christiantruth.com/articles.html
as well). O'Reilly, who seemingly has taken up the
banner of Catholic Answers in attempting to respond to
historical issues (see my two previous rebuttals of his
attempts, Whitewashing Church History
and Serving Up Circular Arguments),
carefully crafts a presentation that would make Bill Clinton
or Al Gore proud. By carefully spinning a few facts,
making grand conclusions before even admitting the most
damaging evidence into the mix, and ignoring all sorts of
other factual matters, O'Reilly presents a lopsided (to those
who know the facts) defense that surely sounds good if
there is no interaction or rebuttal from anyone who might be
able to push down his house of cards (making the Catholic
Answers unwillingness to enter the public arena against
meaningful opposition all the more glaring).
For example, long before O'Reilly admits that Honorius
specifically said, "We confess one will in our Lord Jesus
Christ" in his letters to Sergius (hence their being
burned at the Council, a fact he conveniently forgets to
mention), he instead weaves a very unfair (and pretty much
undocumented) story of how Honorius was actually orthodox, how
he merely failed to teach, etc., in words that make it sound
like the facts of history are on his side, when they are not.
When he finally introduces the actual words of Honorius
presenting monotheletism, he has already presented the
"spin" he needs to get Honorius out of
trouble. But let's look at the major problem with
O'Reilly's attempt to rescue Honorius from the facts of
The majority of the facts presented above
never appear in O'Reilly's article. He never relates the
words of the Council. Instead, we find the majority of
space dedicated to Agatho's letter, Leo's letter after the
Council, etc. But not a whisper about the actual words
and actions of the Council. How in the world can
one expect to honestly deal with the Council's actions when
you utterly ignore what they said and did? This is
why I said above that this is very much like how the
Watchtower has manhandled patristics in the past, especially
their incredible attempt to deny Ignatius' testimony to the
deity of Christ by conveniently forgetting to ever cite
Ignatius himself, preferring to only site the pseudo-Ignatian
epistles (2/1/92 Watchtower). This comes to a
grand climax when O'Reilly produces a paragraph that, if it
represents the nature of the book he is intending to publish,
will put it right up there with the "silence speaks
volumes" arguments of Stephen Ray. Here is the
context: Agatho wrote a pompous, arrogant letter to the
Council (something Roman pontiffs became adept at doing since
the days of Stephen in the 3rd century). In it he speaks
glowingly of his apostolic authority, and, according to George
Salmon, for the first time puts pen to paper in using Luke 22
in defense of papal primacy and authority. In the
process he speaks of the consistency of the Roman see in
theological truth, etc. O'Reilly writes that in his
letter Agatho "asserted the infallibility of the
apostolic see and stated that he and all of his
predecessors, thus inclusive of Honorius, 'have never
ceased to exhort and warn them (i.e. the monothelites) with
many prayers, that they should, at least by silence,
desist from the heretical error of the depraved dogma.' " Ignoring the Council's reply to Agatho,
which I noted above, O'Reilly then writes one of the most
amazing paragraphs I've read in a while:
The council professed its agreement with
Agatho's letter, anathematized any who rejected it, and said
its condemnations were in accordance with it.
Therefore, any conciliar condemnation of Honorius must be
understood in light of such agreement. Consequently,
since Agatho counted Honorius among his orthodox
predecessors, so too did the council.
Writing like this truly amazes me. I
would enjoy getting to cross-examine Mr. O'Reilly in a
moderated debate regarding such an assertion. Here's how
it might go:
W: Mr. O'Reilly, did Pope Agatho
mention Honorius by name in his letter to the Council?
O: Well, not specifically, but he did
mention his predecessors, which would include Honorius.
W: But he never once says, "Honorius
was orthodox" in his letter, correct?
O: Not in those words.
W: Agatho died before the Council's
decisions arrived in Rome, correct?
W: You said in your presentation that
the Council counted Honorius as orthodox, correct?
O: That is the logical conclusion of
their acceptance of Agatho's letter, yes.
W: Then could you explain why the
Council had Honorius' letters burned as hurtful to the soul?
O: Well, they were hurtful because
they did not promote the full truth. They failed to
W: Could you then explain these words
of the Council, which you failed to note in your presentation:
"Anathema to the
heretic Sergius, to the heretic Cyrus, to the heretic Honorius,
And could you explain why in the 18th
session they taught that Satan
“the originator of all evil... found a fit tool
for his will in... Honorius, Pope of Old Rome" and why they went on to say that Honorius and the others had taught
this false doctrine? Does that sound like the words of a
Council that counted Honorius as orthodox?
have no idea how Mr. O'Reilly would respond, since he chose to
ignore these facts in his presentation.]
And is it not true, Mr. O'Reilly, that when the Council wrote
to Agatho they said, "We have
destroyed the fort of the heretics, and slain them with
anathema, in accordance with the sentence spoken before in
your holy letter, namely,
Theodore of Paran, Sergius, Honorius, Cyrus, etc.”?
How can you tell us that the Council counted Honorius as
orthodox when they said they slew him with the anathema as a
heretic? And finally, Mr. O'Reilly, how in the world can
you make presentations like this, knowing full well the
Council said these things, and yet utterly ignore these
facts in your presentation?
have no idea how Mr. O'Reilly would respond. I would
love to find out, in person, in debate, if he'd be willing to
so what do we learn from this kind of writing? Aside
from the normal truths that we must always check sources,
etc., the main thing we learn is something about the mindset
of the apologists for Catholic Answers. Aside
from the seemingly obligatory "anti-Catholic"
rhetoric, Mr. O'Reilly is proving himself to be a faithful son
of Rome: just as Rome did not hesitate to get full benefit of
such things as the Donation of Constantine and the Pseudo-Isidorian
Decretals, so too her modern defenders are not at all hesitant
to use partial truths to promote their cause. A full
review of the facts shows that the defenses he offers are
utterly untenable: yet, since these "apologetics"
publications refuse to engage the other side in one-on-one
debate, they seem to feel they can get away with this kind of
activity. By God's grace, we continue to point out this
consistent deceptive behavior, and pray for the deliverance of
those who have been entrapped by it.