Reevaluating The Origins of Papal Infallibility: Understanding papal authority in the bulls of the Franciscan poverty controversy (1230–1329)
In The Origins of Papal Infallibility, 1150–1350, Brian Tierney argues that the notion of papal infallibility does not extend to the days of the early Church but rather is a concept that emerged during the Franciscan poverty controversy. In John XXII and Papal Teaching Authority, James Heft argues that the roots of the doctrine of papal infallibility extend to New Testament times. In making their arguments, both Tierney and Heft focus extensively on only one of John XXII's bulls: Quia quorundam mentes. Neither Tierney nor Heft adequately develops the historical context for the pursuit of the object of their study: papal infallibility.
In order to develop a more complete historical context for examining papal attitudes of the period of the Franciscan poverty controversy, I examine the attitudes of six of John's predecessors towards their own authority as reflected in bulls Quo elongati (Gregory IX), Ordinem vestrum (Innocent IV), Exiit qui seminat (Nicholas III), Exultantes in Domino (Martin IV), and Exivi de paradiso (Clement V). I also examine all of John's major bulls dealing with the Franciscan poverty controversy and the poverty of Christ (Quorumdam exigit, Quia nonnunquam, Ad conditorem canonum, Cum inter nonnullos, Quia quorundam mentes, and Quia vir reprobus). I assert that (1) John believed it was appropriate to rule contrary to the decree of a predecessor if it was practical to do so and was not initially caught up in distinguishing between matters of faith and matters of discipline, (2) John consistently accepted that papal decrees, by their very nature, carried a certain level of irrevocability with them while at the same time accepted that papal decrees might be revoked under certain circumstances if it was practical to do so, and (3) John's understanding of papal authority is best understood in terms of irrevocability rather than infallibility. Finally, I demonstrate that the conclusions regarding the understanding of papal authority as found in the bulls of John and his predecessors both undermine and support the argument that the notion of papal infallibility can be found in the thought of the popes of this period.