'For thirteen centuries an incomprehensible silence on this article [i.e. the primacy of the Pope - Acro.] reigned throughout the entire church and her literature. None of the ancient confessions of faith, no catechism, none of the patristic writings composed for the instruction of the people, contain a syllable about the Pope, still less any hint that all certainty of faith and doctrine depends on him. For the first thousand years of church history not a question of doctrine was finally decided by the Pope. The Roman bishops took no part in the commotions which the numerous Gnostic sects, the Montanists and Chiliasts, produced in the early Church, nor can a single dogmatic decree issued by one of them be found in the first four centuries, nor a trace of the existence of any. Even the controversy about Christ kindled by Paul of Samosata, which occupied the whole Eastern Church for a long time, and necessitated the assembling of several councils, was terminated without the Pope taking any part in it. So again in the chain of controversies and discussions connected with the names of Theodotus, Artemon, Noetus, Sabellius, Beryllus and Lucian of Antioch, which troubled the whole Church and extended over nearly 150 years, there is no proof that the Roman bishops acted beyond the limits of their own local Church, or accomplished any dogmatic result.
…In the Arian disputes, which engaged and disturbed the Church beyond all others for above half a century, and were discussed in more than fifty Synods, the Roman see for a long time remained passive. Through the long episcopate of Pope Sylvester (314-335) there is no document or sign of doctrinal activity, any more than from all his predecessors from 269-314. Julius and Liberius (337-366) were the first to take part in the course of events, but they only increased the uncertainty. Julius pronounced Marcellus of Ancyra, an avowed Sabellian, orthodox at his Roman synod; and Liberius purchased his return from exile from the Emperor by condemning Athanasius and subscribing an Arian creed.'
‘Janus’ (Johann Joseph Ignaz von Döllinger (1799-1890), Catholic historian and priest, German academic in the University of Munich), in The Pope and the Council
A Roman Catholic may well respond to von Döllinger's critique with the defence that papal infallibility does not mean that a pope cannot ever err, but only that he cannot err when he speaks ex cathedra; therefore, if the errors von Döllinger cites are true, then ipso facto the Popes were not speaking ex cathedra when they rendered those decisions. This response does, however, smack of equivocation, does it not?
It seems to me that the only possible recourse a Catholic who wishes to defend papal primacy and infallibility in the cold light of history can have is either to assert a theory of doctrinal development whereby early historical facts which contradict the later dogma are reconciled to it on the grounds that the 'seed' of the dogma had not yet sprouted and taken root, or to simply baldly assert the absolute primacy of dogma over history itself (cf. Pope Pius IX: "Tradition? I am Tradition!"). In the years since Vatican I, both paths have been taken by Roman Catholic apologists, sometimes simultaneously!