If I understand correctly, Cantate Domino is a papal bull by Pope Eugene IV which is in some way affiliated with the Council of Florence.

I have heard it claimed that the writing of Cantate Domino was an instance of papal infallibility, but if I understand correctly, there are very few instances in which it is widely agreed that a pope spoke ex cathedra, and Cantate Domino is not one of them.

That being said, the Council of Florence is an ecumenical council. My understanding is that some but not all aspects of ecumenical councils are infallible. Was the writing of Cantate Domino an instance of the infallibility of ecumenical councils? What is the precise relationship between Cantate Domino and the Council of Florence?

If not, is Cantate Domino nevertheless a product of the (infallible) Sacred Magisterium? Or is it merely a product of the (fallible but authoritative) Ordinary Magisterium?

1 Answer 1


Documents of ecumenical councils receive their authority from the Pope who solemnly approves them. Councils give council to a Pope, and it is by his authority alone that their documents can be infallible.

Conciliarism, which teaches that a general council of the Church has higher authority than the Pope, is a condemned heresy. The First Vatican Council's infallible document Dei Filius, ratified by Pope Pius IX, stated:

…they err from the right course who assert that it is lawful to appeal from the judgments of the Roman Pontiffs to an œcumenical Council, as to an authority higher than that of the Roman Pontiff.

We can judge whether a document is infallible based upon whether the Pope

  1. speaks for the whole Church,
  2. invokes all his authority,
  3. intends to definitively define dogma, and
  4. speaks regarding the faith and/or morals.

These conditions follow from the section of Dei Filius regarding papal infallibility:

…we teach and define that it is a dogma divinely revealed: that the Roman Pontiff, when he speaks ex cathedra, that is, when in discharge of the office of pastor and doctor of all Christians, by virtue of his supreme Apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine regarding faith or morals to be held by the universal Church, by the divine assistance promised to him in blessed Peter, is possessed of that infallibility with which the divine Redeemer willed that his Church should be endowed for defining doctrine regarding faith or morals; and that therefore such definitions of the Roman Pontiff are irreformable of themselves, and not from the consent of the Church.

The four conditions are indeed satisfied in Cantate Domino (1442) since Pope Eugune IV

  1. speaks for the whole Church: "The most Holy Roman Church firmly believes, professes and preaches…"
  2. invokes all his authority: The document is an authoritative papal bull.
  3. intends to definitively define dogma: In this case, he is not defining anything new; he's only relaying and reaffirming what has been said before him (like in Pope Boniface VIII's Unam Sanctam of 1302) regarding the necessity of the Church for salvation.
  4. speaks regarding the faith and/or morals: Yes. In this case, he speaks of both.

Cantate Domino is thus part of the Extraordinary Magisterium, which Fr. Hardon, SJ, defines as:

The Church's teaching office exercised in a solemn way, as in formal declarations of the Pope or of ecumenical councils of bishops approved by the Pope. When the extraordinary magisterium takes the form of papal definitions or conciliar decisions binding on the consciences of all the faithful in matters of faith and morals, it is infallible.

(cf. my answer here)

The famous 20th century Catholic theologian Msgr. Joseph Clifford Fenton, in his 1958 work The Catholic Church and Salvation: In the Light of Recent Pronouncements by the Holy See pp. 31-41, considered Cantate Domino an "official pronouncement of the Church" that "simply makes more explicit the lessons brought out in the Fourth Lateran Council and in the Bull Unam sanctam."

  • I realize that it is your opinion that Cantate Domino is an instance of papal infallibility, but my understanding is that this opinion is not shared by the majority of Catholic theologians. If I am wrong on that point, I would be glad to be corrected. Frankly, I am not qualified to judge arguments about whether the document was an instance of papal infallibility, so at this point in my education, I am essentially only interested in learning the consensus opinion of experts.
    – user22790
    Commented Dec 14, 2015 at 20:15
  • Conciliarism doesn't seem too relevant to me. If I understand correctly, Dei Filius is saying that when the pope does not speak ex cathedra, he is still authoritative, despite being fallible. Thus, absent any magisterial instruction to the contrary, Catholics would be obliged to assent to the contents of Cantate Domino, regardless of whether it was produced by the ordinary magisterium of the Church. But my question is not about obligation to assent. My question is: was the document produced by the ordinary magisterium? Please correct me if I have misunderstood your point about conciliarism.
    – user22790
    Commented Dec 14, 2015 at 20:24
  • @WilliamHoza A common opinion of theologians holds much less authority than a Pope's solemn pronouncements, as I mentioned in the section "The Church's Theological Notes or Qualifications" here.
    – Geremia
    Commented Dec 15, 2015 at 0:03
  • @WilliamHoza I mentioned the conciliarist heresy only to illustrate what the true relation of a general council with a Pope is.
    – Geremia
    Commented Dec 15, 2015 at 0:03
  • 1
    Yes, a Pope's solemn pronouncements have more authority than a common opinion of theologians. I absolutely do consider the Popes to be experts regarding their solemn pronouncements. But as far as I can tell, no pope solemnly pronounced that Cantate Domino was produced by the sacred magisterium of the Church. That is the only question I am trying to answer: was Cantate Domino produced by the sacred magisterium of the Church? The content of Cantate Domino seems irrelevant to me. Msgr. Fenton's book doesn't seem to explicitly discuss whether it was produced by the sacred magisterium.
    – user22790
    Commented Dec 15, 2015 at 0:30

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