The Church Cannot Defect or Err

Quotes from St. Bellarmine selected by: Tony Capobianco

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Artistic attribution: Viviano Codazzi. Title: St. Peter’s Rome. Date: Circa 1630. This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 100 years or less. {{PD-US}} 

Can the Church defect? Can the Church err? In the third and final part of this three part series on the Church, St. Bellarmine answers these questions as it will be shown that the Church cannot err and that the visible Church cannot defect. Once again, this article will exclusively call upon the monumental book De Controversiis: Tomus II, On The Church, written by Doctor of the Church, St. Robert Bellarmine and translated by Ryan Grant from the original Latin into English. The errors refuted by St. Bellarmine during his time are sorrowfully still pervasive today. The diabolical error of believing and promoting that the Church can defect and err is the focus of this article. These errant ideas, based on private judgement, abysmal theology and ecclesiology are frequently promoted by Protestants and Sedevacantists. St. Bellarmine dissects and dismantles these lamentable errors while providing the good, true, and beautiful teaching of Holy Mother Church. St. Bellarmine applies Sacred Scripture, the writing of the Church Fathers, and reason to solidly make his case. The remainder of this article will consist entirely of excerpts from St. Bellarmine’s De Controversiis: Tomus II, On The Church.

The Visible Church Cannot Defect.

Now it can be easily proven that this true and visible Church cannot defect. Moreover it must be observed that many waste their time when they try to show that the Church cannot defect absolutely, for Calvin and the other heretics concede that, but they say it ought to be understood about the invisible Church. Therefore, we mean to show the visible Church cannot defect, and by the name Church, we do not understand one thing or another, but the multitude gathered together, in which there are Prelates and subjects.
1) It is shown from the Scriptures where the Church is clearly named, ‘Upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.’ What is said in 1 Timothy is similar to this, ‘That you might know how you ought to live in the house of God which is the Church of the living God, the pillar and firmament of truth.’ In both it is a question of the visible Church, as we see and still hear the very truth asserted that the gates of hell are not going to prevail against that Church.

2) The promise is clear from other passages without the name Church, such as in the last chapter of Matthew: ‘Behold I am with you even to the consummation of the age.’ Such words were spoken to a visible Church, evidently to the Apostles and the remaining disciples, whom the Lord spoke to on the day of his ascension. And since these men were not going to remain in the body even to the end of the world, it was necessary to say this promise pertained to their successors. Therefore St. Leo I and Leo II understand this on the perpetual duration of the Church.
Moreover, in Ephesians we read, ‘And he gave some as Apostles, others Prophets, others Evangelists, others Pastors and Teachers to the consummation of the Saints in the work of ministry, in the building of the body of Christ until we all run in the unity of faith, and the recognition of the Son of God, in the completion of strength and the measure of the age of the fullness of Christ.’ There the Apostle teaches that the ministry of pastors and teachers is going to remain in that Church for the continual building of the body of Christ, and hence the visible Church, even to the day of Judgement. Were there only an invisible Church in the world, that ministry could not be found which cannot be exercised unless shepherds and sheep recognize it. It must be noted that although the Fathers understand this passage on the spiritual measure of the mystical body, more recent authors understand it on the corporal measure of the body of the blessed which they say is going to be of such a magnitude, as things were or had been in its perfect state of age. Nevertheless, all understand this passage on the last days, when the number of the elect will be filled.
3) Next come the testimonies from parables in which the Church is meant by the consensus of all, for the sand in which there are grains and chaff; the net in which there are good fish and bad; the field in which there is grain and cockle; the dinner party in which there are the good and evil reclining; the sheepfold in which there are sheep and goats mean the visible Church, as even the heretics affirm. For an invisible Church does not have wicked and good, but only the good, according to their opinion. But the same parables teach that the Church, visible Church is never going to perish even to the Day of Judgement. In Matthew it is said, ‘ He will clean his field, and he will gather the wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn in the inextinguishable Fire,’ which certainly will happen before the day of judgement. And again, ‘Permit each to rise even to the harvest. The harvest will be the end of the world... Thus the angels will go out in the consummation of the age, and will separate the wicked from the midst of the just. Etc.’

4) Fourthly, it is proven from the Scriptures, which speak on the reign of Christ. The Psalmist says, ‘His throne is as the sun in my sight, and just as the moon completed forever, and a faithful witness in the sky... and I will place his seed in age upon age and his throne as a day of heaven.’ ‘In the days of those kingdoms God will raise the kingdom of heaven which will never be destroyed: and his kingdom will be handed to another people.’ ‘And for his kingdom there will be no end.’ These passages cannot be understood except about the fact that the true and visible Church of Christ is not going to perish. For the Kingdom of Christ, without a doubt, is his true Church. One cannot call a few secret men dispersed and separated from each other a kingdom, where one does not know the other such as the invisible Church of the Lutherans. For the kingdom is a multitude of men gathered who know one another.
5) It is proven from the testimonies of the Fathers. Origen and Chrysostom affirm it in the places we cited, but Augustine and Bernard express it more clearly. St. Augustine, disputing on Psal. 101 against the Donatists, (who said the whole visible Church had perished and only remained among the just in Africa) said, ‘But that Church, which was of all nations, no longer exists, it perished, yet those who are not in it say this. O impudent voice, just because you are not in it does not make it so. See to it lest you might were to be no more, since it will continue to be, even if you do not.’ Further on, he introduces the Church speaking in this way: ‘How long will I be in this world? Tell me, on account of those who say the Church did exist but does so no longer, that it apostatized and perished from all nations; yea it announced and that voice was not empty. Who announced it to me, unless it was on the road? When did he announce it? Behold, I am with you even to the end of the age.’ He says similar things on Psalm 147 and his work On The Unity Of The Church, chapter 13, 20, and in other places.

The response cannot be made that Augustine speaks about the invisible Church since that does not perish nor is it going to, as the Donatists admitted, when they tried to apply the verse ‘I am with you even to the end of the age,’ to themselves, as Augustine related above.

On that verse in the Canticles, ‘I held him, nor will I let him go until I lead him into the house of my mother,’ St. Bernard explains, ‘Then and thereafter, the Christian race is not going to defect, not faith from the earth nor charity from the Church; the rivers came, the winds blew and dashed against her, and she did not fall, to the extent that she was founded upon the rock, and the rock was Christ. Therefore, neither the verbosity of the philosophers nor the jeering of heretics nor the swords of persecutors could or will be able to separate her from the love of God.’ These cannot be understood on the invisible Church, for the swords of tyrants will not pursue her, nor the verbosity of philosophers or the jeering of heretics; therefore, the visible Church does not defect. Vincent of Lérin agrees, who rebukes the opinion of Nestorius as a grave error which taught the whole Church erred in the mystery of the Incarnation, to the extent that it followed blind teachers.

Lastly, it is proved by natural reason. Firstly, if at some time only an invisible Church remained in the world, then at some point salvation world be impossible for those who are outside the Church. They cannot be saved unless they enter the Church, just as in the time of Noah they perished who were not added to the ark. Yet, they could not enter a Church which they were ignorant of, therefore they have no remedy.

Besides that, it is also shown from the plan of the one true Church that it is visible, therefore if the visible Church were to perish then no true Church would remain.

Next, either those hidden men who constituted an invisible Church openly profess their faith and abstain from the worship of idols or not; if they profess it, then the Church is not invisible, but particularly visible just as it was in the time of the Martyrs; if they do not profess it, then there is no Church since the Church is not the true Church if there are no good men in it who are saved. Moreover they are neither good nor saved who do not confess the faith, but instead, after they restrain it in their heart, profess treachery and idolatry outwardly, since in Romans the Apostle says, ‘For the man who believes in heart to justice, let confession be made by his mouth unto salvation,’ and again, ‘Everyone who denies me before men, I will deny before my Father.’ Consequently, it involves a contradiction for there to be a Church that altogether lacks a visible form, unless one were to place it outside the world where it will never be necessary to confess the faith.
— (Bellarmine and Grant. 2017. P.P. 315-320)

The Arguments Whereby our Adversaries try to Show the Church can Defect are Answered by St. Robert Bellarmine.

Now, our adversaries attempt to show that the Church can defect and at some time did defect with these arguments.

1) In the beginning of the world Adam and Eve alone constituted the whole Church at least in power; but each lost the faith and apostatized from God, as is clear from Genesis III and from the Fathers.
— (Bellarmine and Grant. 2017. P. 333)

St. Bellarmine responds to the first objection as follows:

If that our first parents sinned was for the Church to defect then not only the visible but even the invisible Church defected which is against our adversaries’ point. Secondly, I say there was no Church then, nor only two human beings in the Church, rather it was only the beginning of the Church and the beginning was both material and formal. Adam was the material beginning of the Church because he was the first of all in the Church; he was also the formal principle because he was the head or teacher and ruler of the people of God so long as he lived. Consequently the head of the Church cannot err by teaching false doctrine, nevertheless he can err by living badly and even by thinking badly as a private man. We see this happened in Adam since at one time he lived badly and perhaps even thought badly about God, nevertheless he did not teach badly.
— (Bellarmine and Grant. 2017. P. 335)

A Second Objection is as follows:

It was foretold that the Church would be in visible inactivity. ‘The hosts will cease, and the sacrifice.’ ‘When the son of man will come, do you think he will find faith on earth?’ ‘Unless the great dispersal will happen first, and the man of sin will have been revealed.’ Therefore, Calvin thinks that what we read in Jeremiah has been said to us, ‘Do not trust in the words of the lie, saying the Temple of the Lord,’ namely these ancient Jews did not believe the prophets’ warnings about the desolation because they saw they had the temple of the Lord, and external ceremonies; so Calvin thinks we boast that we have the ancient Churches, the succession of Bishops, the Apostolic See and meanwhile we do not attend to the Scriptures, which clearly foretell desolation to us.
— (Bellarmine and Grant. 2017. P. 334)

This Second Objection is eruditely refuted by St. Bellarmine:

I say that we do not boast in temples and of the succession of Bishops and the Apostolic See in themselves, but on account of the promise of Christ who said, ‘You are Peter and upon this rock,... and the gates of hell will not prevail.’ The Jews never had such a promise. Nor is it true that the ruin of the Church was foretold in the Scriptures, rather the opposite is true everywhere. Hence, to that passage of Daniel, even if Hilary, as well as even Hypolitus and Appollinarius who are cited by Jerome understand that prophecy on the time of Antichrist, still it is beyond doubt that they were deceived. For Daniel speaks on the overturning of Jerusalem and the end of the sacrifice of the Jews. This is how Chrysostom and Theophylactus, and Jerome, Augustine, as well as Eusebius, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, and the common opinion of the Jews as we also see cited by Jeromein his commentary on Daniel 9.

And the heretics are compelled to admit this answer; for they say that now is the times of Antichrist and has been for many centuries, and nevertheless the sacrifices and the sacrifice has not ceased, therefore they ought to understand this passage of Daniel not on the time of Antichrist but on the overturning of Jerusalem, which is evidently gathered from the Gospel. ‘When you will see the abomination of desolation which was spoken of by the Prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place, he who reads shall understand, then those who are in Judea should flee to the mountains. Likewise he explained the same thing in Luke, ‘ when you see Jerusalem surrounded by an army, then know that its destruction approaches, then those in Judea, let them flee to the mountains.’

Now, to that which we find later in Luke, ‘Do you think he will find faith on the earth?’ I say that the Lord does not speak on faith simply, but on the outstanding faith that is found in only a few, and in the last days among a very few. This is how Jerome explains it, and Augustine, or we could say with Theophylactus that the Lord speaks on faith absolutely and means few faithful are going to be left in the time of Antichrist, but still not be none, nor so few that they could not make the Church.

Now to that of Paul I say that by the name dispersal either Antichrist himself is understood, as Chrysostom, Theodoret, Oecumenius, Theophylactus and Augustine explain. They argue it should be called a dispersal as a metonym, because it will cause many to leave Christ; or it means the defection from the Roman Empire, as Ambrose, Sedulius and Primasius explain, which is a very probable opinion, or at length will mean a going out from the Church that is not general, i.e. not of all but of many, or at least of all secret heretics, as some of the Fathers beautifully explain it. In the same way that many who were in the Church for a long time with a feigned spirit, at length clearly leave through the profession of manifest heresy, so when Antichrist comes nearly every secret heretic who then will be discovered in the Church will leave it, and join themselves to Antichrist.
— (Bellarmine and Grant. 2017. P.P. 337-339)

The Third Objection is as follows:

The General Council of Basel deposed Eugene as a heretic and all those adhering to him and chose Felix, thereupon after the Council was concluded and dispersed, again Eugene crept into the See without any canonical election and from him were born as many as were Popes, Cardinal and Bishops afterward, therefore at least from that time the Church adhering to the Roman Pontiff was not the true Church and since there was no other visible body, the visible Church perished. Calvin places this argument in the preface of his Institutes and again in the last place as though it were his strongest argument, adding, ‘ This is discovered that it is necessary for them to adhere or to define the Church otherwise, or else we hold all to be schismatics.’
— (Bellarmine and Grant. 2017. P. 334)

This Third Objection is adroitly answered by St. Bellarmine:

I say that the Council of Basel was at first legitimate, for even the legate of the Roman Pontiff was present, as well as a great number of Bishops, but in the time that it ‘deposed’ Eugene and elected Felix, it was not a Council of the Church but a schismatic Council, seditious and of altogether no authority. Thus it is called in the last Lateran Council, sess. 11, and hence Eugene was always a true Pope and this clearly another lie of Calvin when he says that this Council preserved its authority and dignity to the end.

In the first place, at the time the Council dared to pronounce sentence, there was no legate of the Pope present and all the Bishops had left, but a certain Cardinal from Arles usurped the office of president and because the Bishops were very few, they introduced into the Council a multitude of priests so that it became contrary to the form of ancient Councils, being composed not of Bishops but of priests.

Next, in the same time another Council was held in Florence in which the Supreme Pontiff presided and since the Latin and Greek Bishops who sat there without comparison many more than were at Basel, and together with the Bishops the Greek Emperor and the legate of the Latin Emperor were present, so that it could not be doubted which of the two was a true general Council of the Church.

Thirdly, God willed to show what he thought by afflicting Basel with a plague so horrible that a greater part of the Fathers who were there either were killed or were compelled to withdraw. Aeneas Sylvius (the future Pius II) related all of this in his history of the Council of Basel as well as what the heretics there had recently published as if favoring them on account of the condemnation of Eugene, when really he did them a great deal of harm. Add that the Council of Basel was continued at Lausanne and it subjected itself to Pope Nicholas V, as is clear from his epistle.
— (Bellarmine and Grant. 2017. P.P. 339-340)

A Fourth Objection is as follows:

They advance the testimony of the Fathers and first of all of Hilary. ‘The love of walls gave you a beginning; you venerate the Church of God badly in buildings, you badly heaped under them the name of peace; to me mountains, lakes, prisons and deep holes are safer.’ There he says the true Church was so obscured in his time that it could only be found in catacombs and caverns. Then Jerome, speaking in the same time, says, ‘The whole world groaned and marveled that it was Arian.’ St. Basil says the same thing, and St. Bernard, so deplore the vices of the prelates of their times that they sufficiently show everyone had gone their own way and there was no visible Church. Then Chrysostom teaches that sometimes there is no visible sign by which the true Church could be recognized, and therefore the only recourse is to return to the Scriptures.
— (Bellarmine and Grant. 2017. P.P. 334-335)

The Fourth Objection is masterfully refuted by St. Bellarmine:

Now we come to the citations of the Fathers. To the one from Hilary, firstly I respond in the way Augustine once did to the Donatists, who objected with the same testimony, that the Church was at one time obscured by a multitude of scandals, still it stood out in its most loyal members, just as it did in the time which Hilary spoke. The Church stood out in Pope Julius I, Athanasius, Hilary, Eusebius Vercellensis, and in Pope Damasus, Ambrose, Basil, Gregory Nazanzien and many others who were steadfast pillars of the Church.

Secondly, I say that Hilary spoke in that citation on the Church at Milan, in which many simple people venerated Auxentius as Catholic even though he was still an Arian, since Auxentius behaved with such a wonderful subtlety the Arians knew them as one of their own yet he was believed to be Catholic by many simple men. Hilary meant that no trust should be put in Auxentius even if he seemed to be a Bishop and preached in the Church and that it would be better to remain in prisons and caves with right faith than to be in the Church of God with heretics.

Nevertheless, what he said about one city, one Church and one Bishop cannot be applied to the universal Church. It can happen that one Bishop in one city and in one temple should teach heresy but still that all the Bishops in other cities and churches of the whole world would not do the same thing.

To that passage of Jerome I respond, there are two figures in his words, one of understanding, when he says, ‘The world groaned,’ for he calls the world a great part of the world, but not the whole world, the second of abuse, when he says, ‘and marveled to find itself Arian,’ For he calls the Arians improperly those who subscribe to heresy through ignorance. He speaks on that multitude of Bishops who throughout the world agreed with Ariminus and being deceived by the Arians decreed that the term homoousios (i.e. consubstantial) must be abolished, even though they did not know what it meant. Certainly they were not heretics, nor did they err at least materially, just as if some Catholics might advance a blasphemous opinion externally with the tongue thinking it is a pious prayer, such a man would not properly be a blasphemer. For that reason the same Bishops, as they were admonished and recognized the fallacy, immediately corrected their error and with tears did penance for the blasphemy, even though it was only advanced by the tongue, and it seemed the whole world marveled and groaned to find itself Arian.

To Basil I say that in the epistles he did not deplore the vices of Catholics but the misery of the Church on account of the infestation of heretics. What was said in that citation are against Bishops, not against Catholic Bishops as Brenz thought, but against Arian Bishops.

It is perfectly credible that Brenz erred from malice rather than ignorance. In the same place that he teaches that Catholic Bishops are not the true Church he he relates from the history of Ruffinus about the holy monk Moses, who refused in any way to be ordained by the Bishop of Alexandria, who was the primary Patriarch of Alexandria after the Roman Pontiff.

But in the same book and chapter, Ruffinus says that the Bishop of Alexandria was an Arian and savagely persecuted Catholics and for this reason Moses refused to be ordained by him in preference to a Catholic Bishop, thus there is no reason with which one could excuse or cover-up the fraud and impudence of Brenz.

To the quote from Bernard I say that he rebukes the vices of morals, but not of doctrine, and for that reason believed that those wicked Bishops were not truly Bishops. He himself refuted the heretics who said that the bad Bishops were not really Bishops from the Apostolic Institution.

To the quote from Chrysostom the response is above, those words were taken from an incomplete work which either has an Arian heretic for an author or was corrupted by heretics.
— (Bellarmine and Grant. 2017. P.P. 340-342)

The Church Cannot Err.

In chapter XIV of De Controversiis: Tomus II, On The Church, St. Bellarmine writes:

It remains that we prove the Church cannot err in any way, not even by apostatizing from God. Still, first place must be given to a little more careful explanation of our adversaries teachings and our own.

Calvin says that famous proposition, ‘The Church cannot err,’ is true with a two-fold restriction. 1) If the Church does not propose doctrines outside of Scripture, i.e. if it rejects traditions not written and only faithfully proposes what is contained in the Scriptures. Moreover, if you ask whether we might be certain that the Church always faithfully proposes those things that are in the Scriptures, Calvin responds by applying a second restriction, the Church always proposes faithfully what is contained in the Scriptures in matters necessary to salvation, still not in other matters and consequently some blemishes of error always remain in the Church.

The second restriction is that ‘The Church cannot err,’ is understood on the universal Church alone, it is not extended to the Bishops who are representatives of the Church, as it is said on the Catholic side. Every Bishop manages the person of his particular Church and therefore all Bishops manage the person of the whole Church. So Calvin holds of the greater institution, while in the lesser institution, he fraudulently and mendaciously explains our opinion, saying we advance that the Church cannot err whether it uses the Word of God or not, since still he does not know we do not speak on the word of God absolutely, but only on the written word, and to say the Church cannot err whether it proposes that which is contained in the Scriptures, or doctrines outside of the Scriptures.
— (Bellarmine and Grant. 2017. P.P. 321-322)

Here St. Bellarmine explains what the Catholic Church actually teaches:

Next, our teaching is that the Church absolutely cannot err, neither in matters absolutely necessary, nor in others which must be believed or proposed that we must do, whether they are expressly held in the Scriptures or not, and when we say the Church cannot err, we understand that both on the universality of the faithful and on the universality of the Bishops, so that the sense might be of this proposition that the Church cannot err, i.e. that which all faithful hold as de fide is necessarily true and de fide, and likewise that which all Bishops teach as pertaining to the faith necessarily is true and de fide.

Since these have been explained this truth must be proved. 1) From the universal Church as it contains all the faithful and especially from that we read in 1 Timothy 3:15, ‘The Church of God is a pillar and firmament of truth.’ Calvin responds that the Church is called a pillar and firmament of truth because, like a most trusty guardian, it preserves the preaching of the written word of God, not because it cannot err in any matter.

On the other hand, in this manner the offices of copyists were the pillars of truth because they very carefully safeguard all Scriptures, then the Apostle mentions Scriptures here, but he simply says the Church is the pillar and firmament of truth. Besides, how much more is a pillar than a simple guard? For the house rests upon the pillar and without that it falls. Thus when the Apostle calls the Church the pillar of truth, he means the truth of faith, in regard to us, rests upon the authority of the Church and the Church sanctions whatever is true and rejects whatever is false. Add that the Church was a pillar when there were no Scriptures, from which it follows that it is not called a pillar on account of protection of the Scriptures. Next, if it were a question of protection, then it would be better if Paul had compared the Church to a strong-box than to a pillar, for strong-boxes preserve books.
2) Besides, the Church is governed by Christ just as a spouse by her head, and by the Holy Spirit just as by the soul, which is clear from Ephesians, ‘He gave it a head over every Church, which is his body,’ and, ‘One body, one Spirit,’ and ‘A man is the head of a woman just as Christ is the head of the Church.’ Therefore, if the Church could err in doctrines of faith or morals, error would be attributed to Christ and the Holy Spirit. For that reason, the Lord said, ‘The Spirit of truth will teach you all truth.’

Calvin responds that Christ and the Holy Spirit teach the Church all truth that is simply necessary, but still some blemish is always left behind. It doesn’t follow that error would be attributed to Christ or the Holy Spirit, just as ignorance, which is beyond doubt in the Church, is not attributed to them.

Again St. Bellarmine responds to Calvin:

I respond: Just as a man who is head of a woman is not held to remove all ignorance from his wife, still he is held to remove all error from which some great evil might arise, although the wife may be excused by ignorance; so also Christ is held to remove all error from the Church, from which great evil arises, such is all error in regard to faith. For it is a great evil because the Church would worship God with a false faith, since divine worship consists in Faith, Hope and Charity, as Augustine teaches.

3) We are obliged under the penalty of anathema to believe the Church in everything, as is clear from Scripture, ‘But if he will not listen to the Church, let him be to you as a heathen and a tax-collector.’ Councils impose every anathema on those not assenting to the decrees of the Church, but it would be wicked to oblige under so grave a penalty to assent to uncertain and false matters.
— (Bellarmine and Grant. 2017. P.P. 322-323)
Calvin responds: Christ commanded that we listen to the Church because he knew the Church was going to teach nothing outside of the written word of God. On the other hand, so as to omit a great many things which we said in the disputation on traditions, the true Church teaches that the epistle to the Romans is the word of God, but the epistle to the Laodiceans is not, and likewise the about the Gospel of Mark and of Nicodemus and other things that can be said, which were never written, consequently, it is not true that the Church teaches nothing outside the written word of God.
4) The Apostles’ Creed teaches that the Church is holy and this holiness properly consists in the profession of doctrines, therefore, Christian profession contains nothing but what is holy, i.e. what is true in regard to a doctrine of faith and just in regard to precepts of morals, and in this it really excels all the professions of the Philosophers, Heathen, Jews and heretics. For all have some false doctrines mixed with true ones.

5) If Calvin’s opinions were true, then a great part of dogmas of faith could be called into doubt, for there are many de fide teachings which are not absolutely necessary to salvation. Duly, to believe in the histories of the Old Testament, or that of the Gospels of Mark and Luke are canonical writings, nay more any of the Scriptures, is not altogether necessary for salvation, since without this faith many were saved before the Scriptures were read; afterward, in the time of the New Testament, many barbarian nations were saved without them, as Irenaeus writes. But this is most absurd, nor would Calvin admit there can be any doubt about Scripture, therefore, it is not true that the Church cannot err only in those matters necessary for salvation.
Lastly it is proven from the Fathers who, as we noted in the Controversy On The Word Of God, on the question on the judge of controversies, all call upon the Church in whatever question of faith. Certainly they would not do this if they thought the Church could be deceived in some way. Tertullian says, ‘Well then, all Churches erred and the Holy Spirit looks to no one.’ Augustine said, ‘We hold the truth of the Scriptures since we do that which has already pleased the universal Church, which the authority of Scriptures itself commends, that because the Holy Scripture cannot be deceived, whoever fears to be deceived by the obscurity of this question, let him consult the Church about it, as Sacred Scripture points out without any ambiguity.’ And again, ‘He speaks of the most insolent madness to dispute against that which the universal Church senses.’

Now that the Church also can not err representatively is proven first from the fact that if all BIshops would err, the whole Church would also err, because the people are held to follow their own pastors, by what the Lord says in Luke, ‘He who hears you, hears me,’ and ‘Whatever they say, do.’ Secondly, from the epistle of the Council of Ephesus to Nestorius, where Nestorius is compelled if he would satisfy the Church he could swear an oath to attest that he believes just as the Bishops of the East and West do. Likewise we see that St. Augustine calls the decree of a general Council the consensus of the universal Church, and rightly so since the Church does not teach that it does not discern anything except through her pastors, just as any body you like through its head. For that reason, in Scripture a congregation of Priests and elders is called the assembly (ecclesia) of all Israel. Chrysostom explains what verse of Matthew XVIII, ‘Speak to the Church,’ that is, to a Prelate. But this has more to do with the tract on Councils.
— (Bellarmine and Grant. 2017. P.P. 323-325)

The three part series on the Church has concluded. I hope that this series will deepen people’s understanding of Catholic Ecclesiology and increase their desire to learn more about Catholic Tradition. I am thankful for Ryan Grant’s permission, as is granted in his copyright, to allow blogs to use excerpts from his translation and publication of St. Robert Bellarmine’s De Controversiis: Tomus II, On The Church. Studying the teachings of the Doctors of the Church is always efficacious but in this current time of diabolical disorientation, doing so has almost become a necessity as we navigate through the rough waters with our eyes focused on Christ. The previous two parts of this series are linked below.

Part 1 The Church, What is it? https://virgopotens.org/blog/2019/1/30/ugois5dp2gopmgnkxd1yccy5y1rs9y

Part 2 What are the Marks of the Church? https://virgopotens.org/blog/2019/2/8/clnzhheng9ozhlf6xz3rqwhhcg8d98

Citations:

1.) Bellarmine, Robert, and Ryan Grant. De Controversiis: Tomus II: On The Church. Mediatrix Press, 2017.

De Controversiis: Tomus II, On The Church by Robert Bellarmine with translation by Ryan Grant can be purchased from Mediatrix Press here: https://mediatrixpress.com/?p=1900

Related Virgo Potens articles:

Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus, What is it? https://virgopotens.org/blog/2019/1/18/pwqx5jnw0sl07qohay98nstdanrxw

Part 2 of the Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus series: Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus, Why Does it Matter? ://virgopotens.org/blog/2019/1/23/14xfi4x130aq7ahyeeduyo7rlpup2n