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Paul IV's Fallible Papal Bull
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"For, professing themselves to be wise, they became fools." (Romans 1:22)


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The Inquisitor-General Pope Paul IV's 1559
Fallible "Cum ex Apostolatus officio"
The Election of a Heretical Pope

Before delving into the issue of the Papal Bull itself let’s first take a closer look at Pope Paul IV to gain an understanding of the type of man he actually was.

Pope Paul IV was born Giovanni Pietro Carafa on June 28, 1476. He became the 221st Pope who reigned from May 23, 1555 until his death in August 18, 1559.

Peter De Rosa states in his book “Vicars of Christ: The Dark Side of the Papacy”:

“The Romans said of him that had his mother foreseen his career she would have strangled him at birth.”

As a Cardinal, Giovanni Carafa conjured up the idea of establishing the Sacred Roman Congregations, which was approved by Pope Paul III in 1542 and gave birth to the infamous Roman Inquisition.

The Pope rewarded Cardinal Carafa with a position as one of the Inquisitor-Generals; which authorized him to imprison anyone on suspicion of heresy, confiscate their property and execute the guilty.

At his own expense, he immediately bought and equipped a house with instruments of torture that were state-of-the-art.

“No man”, he said, “may demean himself by tolerating heretics.”

Another of his dicta was:

“If my own father were a heretic, I would personally gather the wood to burn him.”

Cardinal Carafa loved his job … and went so far as to order all books burned that he considered pernicious.

How an Inquisitor-General standing guilty before God for the crimes of aggravated assault, false imprisonment, torture, and murder could end up occupying the Chair of Peter is a question that Rome has still not answered.

Cardinal Carafa, elected Pope Paul IV in 1555, became free to spread his own brand of religious fanaticism. He hated Jews and shut them in ghettos, hated sodomites whom he burned, hated women whom he forbade to darken the doors of the Vatican, and officially established “The Index of Forbidden Books.”

Tall, bald, spare, elected at 79 Pope Paul IV was tormented by rheumatism, but still had an elastic stride. His gestures, sudden and fierce, often knocked down nearby aides to the ground. The Florentine ambassador described him as a man of iron who struck sparks off the very stones he walked on. His massive head was shaped like Vesuvius spewing out destruction and death. His shaggy beard and craggy brow gave him a savage look; his cratered eyes, red and blotchy, shone like burning lava. His cracked voice, seldom free from catarrh, rolled and thundered, demanding instant, blinding obedience.

Even the papal historian Pastor found it hard to say anything charitable about Paul IV. A foul mothed southerner, he was “so carried away”, Pastor remarked, “as to make use of expressions which would seem incredible if they were not vouched for by witnesses above suspicion.”

Completely Catholic in his execrations, he was as likely to dress down a cardinal as a lackey. He kept ambassadors waiting from 4 to 7 hours, as though this was becoming in Peter’s successor. He never admitted them without shouting in their ear that he was superior to all princes. As Christ’s Vicar, he was able, he claimed, by wagging a finger, to change all earthly sovereigns.

In the year 1557, Paul published the Bull "Cum ex Apostolatus officio". He claimed to be Pontifex Maximus, God’s representative on Earth. As such, he had unlimited power to depose every monarch, hand over every country to foreign invasion, deprive everyone of his possessions without legal process. Anyone offering help to one deposed … even basic human kindness … would be excommunicated.

In short Paul IV was more an Inquisitor-General, a “sadistic tyrant”, than what one would commonly expect a true Pope to be. He was never considered for canonization (Sainthood) for a multitude of obvious and “criminal” reasons.

It is claimed by "Sedevacantists" that Pope Paul IV's "Cum ex Apostolatus officio" is infallible, dogmatic and was written in order to safeguard the purity of the Papacy from Heretics.

The Dimond Brothers write that "the Catholic Church teaches that it’s impossible for a heretic to be elected pope, since a heretic is not a member of the Catholic Church. This was defined in Pope Paul IV's Apostolic Constitution Cum ex Apostolatus Officio."

These same individuals vigorously belittle and condemn as heretics those who oppose and/or reject their presumptuous conjecture surrounding this Papal Bull’s infallibility.

Nevertheless, it is an error to refer to the Bull as being infallible or dogmatic for it is merely a disciplinary statute.

The Canonist, Church historian, and first Cardinal-Prefect of the Vatican Archives, Dr. Joseph Hergenrother, on pages 41-45 in his 1876 book, “Catholic Church and Christian State”, makes it clear that Cum ex Apostolatus officio is not an infallible decree, but concerns only penal sanctions:


Appeal is also made to the Bull of Paul IV, “Cum ex Apostolatus officio” on 15th Feb. 1559, to which our opponents are most eager to attach the character of a dogmatic ex-cathedra decision, saying that if this Bull is not an universally binding doctrinal decree (on the point of the Papal authority), no single Papal decree can claim to be such.

But none of the exponents of dogmatic theology have as yet discovered this character in the Bull, which has been universally regarded as an emanation of the spiritual penal authority, not a decision of the doctrinal authority.

We see the tactics of the Church's opponents have been reversed: formerly the Jansenists and lawyers of the French parliament denied that the Bull “Unigenitus” was dogmatic, though all Catholic theologians regarded it as such; now the Janus party and jurists who protest against the Vatican Council assert that the Bull of Paul IV is dogmatic, though all Catholic theologians deny it to be such.

In truth neither the wording of this last-named Bull, nor its contents as a whole, nor the rules universally received among theologians, allow it to be regarded as a dogmatic decision.

If there is to be a doctrinal decree binding on all, it is requisite that a doctrine to be held or proposition to be rejected be placed before the faithful in terms implying obligation, and be prescribed by the full authority of the Church's teaching office.

This is not the case with this Bull.

True enough in the introduction the Papal power is spoken of, and in accordance with the view of it held universally in the Middle-Ages.

But here, as in every other Bull, the rule already spoken of holds good, that not the introduction and the reasons alleged, but simply and only the enjoining (dispositive) portion, the decision itself, has binding force. Introductions quite similar are to be found in laws relating purely to matters of discipline, as any one may see who consults the Bullarium [the collection of papal bulls].

As to the enjoining portion of the Bull in question, it only contains penal sanctions against heresy, which unquestionably belong to disciplinary laws alone.

To deduce from the introduction a doctrinal decision on the Papal authority is simply ridiculous.

This has been seen by other opponents, who have not therefore, like Janus and Huber, deduced a dogmatic definition from the Pope's introductory words, but have deduced from the enjoining portion a definition as to morals:

“For how a Catholic should behave towards heretics and heretical rulers, whether an action be theft or lawful occupation, whether one is bound in conscience to recognize a claim for succession or other legal claims, — these and similar questions must be reckoned as belonging to Christian morality even by the most milk-and-water infallibilist.”

Such a statement in any one who has really read the Bull leaves us little hope that he understands at all what he is speaking about.

Paul IV renews the earlier censures and penal laws, which his predecessors, acting in concert with the emperors, had issued against various heresies; he desires that they be observed everywhere, and put in force where they have been unenforced.

The point, then, is about the practical execution of previous penal laws, which by their nature are disciplinary, and proceed not from divine revelation, but from the ecclesiastical and civil penal authority. Besides the renewal of old there is an addition of new punishments, which equally belongs to the sphere of discipline. Many sentences are entirely modelled on civil laws, e.g. those of Frederick II. (1220).

The Pope does not here speak as teacher (ex-cathedra), but as the watchful shepherd eager to keep the wolves from the sheep, and in a time when the actual or imminent falling away even of bishops and cardinals demanded the greatest watchfulness and the strongest measures.

The Bull of Paul IV may be perhaps considered too severe, injudicious, and immoderate in its punishments, but it certainly cannot be considered an ex-cathedra doctrinal decision.

No Catholic theologian has considered it as such, or placed it in a collection of dogmatic decisions; and to have done so would have only deserved ridicule; for if this Bull is to be considered as a doctrinal decision, so must every ecclesiastical penal law.

Papal Infallibility, it is most true, excludes any error as to moral teaching, so that the Pope can never declare anything morally bad to be good, and vice versa; but infallibility only relates to moral precepts, to the general principles which the Pope prescribes to all Christians as a rule of conduct, not to the application of these principles to individual cases, and thus by no means excludes the possibility of the Pope making mistakes in his government by too great severity or otherwise.

His infallibility, which is his only as teacher, preserves him indeed from falsifying the doctrines of the Church as to faith and morals, but is no security that he will always rightly apply these doctrines, and never personally commit any offence against them.


But it is said: “This Bull is directed to the whole Church, is subscribed by the Cardinals, and thus has been published in the most solemn form, and is certainly ex cathedra.” These characteristics, however, do not suffice for a dogmatic doctrinal decision.

Universally binding laws as to discipline have also been subscribed by the Cardinals, and solemnly proclaimed. Even the Bull “Cum Divina” of Alexander VII (26th March 1661), which imposed on all ecclesiastical property in Italy certain tithes to help the Venetians in their struggle against the Turks, was subscribed by the Cardinals.

And other Papal disciplinary laws have been issued “out of the fullness of power” (de plenitudine potestatis); the word “define” is used in other places also of judicial judgments; and laws designated as to be in force forever (constitutio in perpetuum valitura) have been soon afterwards repealed, because they were found to be of no service to the Church.

The sort of proofs our opponents bring forward in this matter show an entire ignorance of Papal Bulls.

Compare, for example, another Bull of the same Pope (Cum secundum Apostolum) directed against the ambitious endeavors of those who coveted the Papal dignity; this Bull has equally the agreement of the Cardinals, is published out of the plenitude of the Papal power, is declared to be forever in force, threatens equally all spiritual and temporal dignitaries without exception.

And yet it is undoubtedly not in the least a dogmatic Bull.

If it were, there would be scarcely any recent ecclesiastical laws (as opposed to dogmas) for canonists to discuss; while dogmatic theologians would have been all in strange ignorance of their province.

It should be noted that Dr. Joseph Hergenrother, as a renowned Canonist and Catholic theologian, was and is far from being alone in concluding that it is beyond certain that “Cum ex Apostolatus officio” is not infallible; and it is a ridiculous and a grievous error to entertain the idea that it could be otherwise.

Sedevacantists have duped themselves into believing that "Cum ex Apostolatus officio" is a sort-of "magic bullet" to be used in defense of their schism. Yet, what they fail to understand is that:

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion ... but no one is entitled to their own facts.


- Pax Tecum


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