16 September 2015

The limits of Papal authority over the Sacraments (2)

Can a Roman Pontiff by an administrative act so override the sacramental structures of the Church as to delegate to a presbyter the right to ordain to Major Orders?

After that admirable Council, Vatican I, which so happily defined (set the limits of) the infallible teaching authority of the Bishop of Rome, the German Episcopate replied to Bismarck's attacks on the Council thus: "The pope cannot be called an absolute monarch, since he is subject to Divine Law and is bound to those things which Christ set in order (disposuit) for His Church. He cannot change the constitution (constitutionem) of the Church which was given to it by its Divine Founder ... the constitution of the Church in all essential matters is founded in the divine arrangement (ordinatione) and is therefore immune from every arbitrary human disposition."

Was this an early example of Liberalism from the German Bishops? Do we have here the meanderings of a ProtoKasper or of an UrMarx? Not so. Blessed Pius IX praised most fulsomely this Germanic declaration as containing "the genuine sense of the definitions of the Vatican Council". (Denzinger 3114 and 3117.) It is this exchange, of course, that Cardinal Ratzinger had in mind when he famously wrote "In fact, the First Vatican Council had in no way defined the pope as an absolute monarch. On the contrary, it presented him as the guarantor of obedience to the revealed Word. The pope's authority is bound to the Tradition of faith ..." Ratzinger was engaged in criticising the gross post-Vatican II notion that "the pope really could do anything".


It is, I think, important to maintain the principle, which theologians before the 1950s found comparatively unproblematic, that a Bishop of Rome can, except when teaching ex cathedra in accordance with the limitations defined in Pastor aeternus of Vatican I, be deemed to act ultra vires. The maxim quoted with approval by Journet from Lennerz, "the Pope has done it therefore the Pope can do it", completely subverts the defined doctrine of Vatican I because, quite simply, it renders the entire definition of infallibility ex cathedra completely unnecessary. If any papal enactment is exempt from the test "Is it ultra vires?", then, indeed (contrary to the teaching of B Pius IX) the Church does have an Absolute Monarch who can change the Divine Constitution of the Church. If a pope can set aside the sacramental ministerial structure of the Church as it emerged from the early days, then he could also remove certain texts from the Canon of Scripture (which was finalised rather later than the sacramental structures of ministerial ordination).

The Church would have an Absolute Monarch.

I am not surprised that the exaggerated notion of papal authority which we surveyed in the first part of this post erupted in the 1950s, during the papacy of Pius XII, the decade before the disorders of the 1960s well described by Joseph Ratzinger.

I share the views of the Pope Emeritus that Vatican I gives no basis for the maximalised idea of papal Magisterium which has now bedevilled the church for more than half a century.

I think that the decrees of Vatican I deserve to be heard, read, marked, learned, and inwardly digested, as our Anglican Patrimony so neatly puts things.

9 comments:

Ann said...

But where is the "constitution of the Church which was given to it by its Divine Founder" actually set out? Offhand, I can remember the bit about binding and loosing, but it seems that everything beyond that amounts to an elaboration which, no matter how intelligibly advanced or infused by he Holy Spirit, will contain a human element, more or less. And the question is: who gets to determine the extent of that more or less, and whether whoever does get to do so gets to do so absolutely? I can imagine that even an earthworm may be an absolute monarch in its own domain.

Americas Cup said...

Hooray for Father Hunwicke. Are not his findings a joy and a comfort?
An officer in the British Army, who not long before had fought in the 2nd World War, wrote to a friend of his - as it became apparent the Rhine was flowing into the Tiber - “I think it a great cheek of the Germans to try and teach the rest of the world about religion. They should be in perpetual sackcloth and ashes for all their enormities from Luther to Hitler.” It is by contrast salutary to learn there have been times when the Germans have been so wonderfully on the side of the angels. Thank you Fr Hunwicke for your helicopter gunship of a disclosure. I hope the Cardinals currently on the side of the angels are in the habit of reading your contributions.

GOR said...

Well there was the ancient case of the Abbess who required that all entering her presence – the ‘lesser clergy’ not excepted – should genuflect to her. However, I doubt that she had a Papal Rescript to equate her person to that of the divinity. More likely, she was of noble lineage and assumed that ‘bowing and scraping’ was her right of birth rather than office.

It’s hard to understand that anyone should believe that a Pope has the authority to “do what he likes” either liturgically or doctrinally. Our Lord’s command to Peter was: “confirma fratres tuos” and only “ut non deficiat fides tua et…aliquando conversus…”.

To ‘confirm’ implies handing on faithfully what has been already revealed, not creating something new.

And on a more ‘local’ level, I’m not happy with bishops delegating the celebration of the Sacrament of Confirmation to local PPs either.

Eliseus said...

Legitimism, not absolutism, is the correct Catholic understanding of monarchy of all sorts. Kings and bishops alike are under God's law. Sadly there is often an absolutist creep, and that could be a danger for papacy just as it was for the French monarchy. I hope the Church is spared the spirit of 1789.

I understand Athonite abbots once ordained their subjects to the priesthood, but no more.

mark wauck said...

In his 9/8/15 article in Osservatore Romano, Msgr. Pinto, the Dean of the Roman Rota, makes some--to me--remarkable statements in the context of Francis' most recent administrative act: the letter motu proprio Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus. Pinto presents himself repeatedly as providing authoritative insight into Francis' thinking and, given the forum (OR) and his official status, I think we need to take him at his word in that regard.

Pinto represents Francis as asking the bishops to undergo a "true conversion" which will allow them to follow Christ's call to address the nullity of the marriages of an "immeasurable number" of "unfortunates" (una “conversione” ... che li convinca ... a seguire l’invito di Cristo ... di passare ... a quello smisurato di infelici). This would tend IMO to imply that Francis sees at least some significant number of bishops as in need of such conversion. The faithful are said to be looking forward "with love" (attendono con ansia e amore) to the conversion of their shepherds.

Francis is then represented as asking the bishops--no, wait, I misspeak--the Jubilee Year of Mercy is said to be waiting for this sign of obedience on the part of the shepherds: obedience to the Spirit who speaks to the bishops through Francis (obbedienza da parte dei pastori delle Chiese allo Spirito che parla loro attraverso Francesco). So, it appears that Francis sees himself as mediating the Spirit to the bishops through his administrative acts. I find that problematic from several points of view.

Also notable in this article is that Francis appears to be addressing all the bishops of the world directly (through Pinto), having apparently kept the CDF and other important offices of the Curia Romana utterly in the dark throughout the preparation of Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus. The implied view (as I take it) of the pope's relation to the Curia Romana, as well as to his brother bishops, is also problematic.

mark wauck said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Matthew Roth said...

But, it seems to me that safeguarding the sacraments as a matter of faith and morals is something that is a part of the Petrine office and the church’s divine constitution. It is terrifying to think that the Pope could allow ordination by someone who in fact could not do it. Thus, the Pope would not err theologically if he were to “unlock” the power of ordination in a simple presbyter. It doesn’t mean it is prudent or in any way something to be construed as the norm.

The situation is similar, in my mind, to Paul VI introducing the novus ordo missae.

On the other hand, this is precisely why John Paul II declared definitively that women cannot be ordained priests. It has never been done because it is not in the church’s constitutions. I also think that the objections raised in the post above need further consideration by me those who would be inclined to agree with my defense...

Matthew Rose said...

I am surprised that nobody has mentioned Ott (and likely other manualists) with regards to Priests conferring Major Orders.

He writes: "In regard to the sacramental Order grades of diaconate and presbyterate, most theologians, with St. Thomas, hold the opinion that a simple priest cannot validly administer these, even with plenary power from the Pope. But there are grave historical difficulties with regard to this opinion: Pope Boniface IX, in agreement with numerous medieval canonists, by the Bull "Sacrae religionis" of the 1st February 1400, conferred on the Abbot of the Augustine Monastery of St. Sytha at Essex (Diocese of London) and his successors, the privilege of administering to those subject to them both the Minor Orders and those of the subdiaconate, diaconate, and priesthood. The privilege was withdrawn on 6th February 1403, on the instance of the Bishop of London. But the Orders conferred on the ground of the privilege were not declared invalid. Pope Martin V, by the Bull "Gerentes ad vos" of 16th Novemeber , 1427, conferred the privilege on the Abbot of the Cistercian Monastery of Altzelle (Diocese of Meissen) of promoting all his monks and others subject to him for the term of five years, to the higher Orders also (Sub-diaconate, Diaconate, and Presbyterate). Pope Innocent VIII, by the Bull "Exposcit tuae devotionis" of 9th April, 1489, conferred on the four Proto-Abbots of the Cistercian Order and their successors the privilege of ordaining their subordinates to the Sub-diaconate and the Diaconate. The Cistercian Abbots were still using this privilege in the 17th century without hinderance.

Unless one wishes to assume that the Popes in question were victims of erroneous theological opinions of their times (this does not touch the Papal infallibility, because an ex cathedra decision was not given), one must take it that a simple priest is an extraordinary dispenser of the Orders of Diaconate and Presbyterate, just as he is an extraordinary dispenser of Confirmation. In this latter view, the requisite power of consecration is contained in the priestly power of "potestas ligata." For the valid exercise of it a special exercise of Papal power is, by Divine or Church ordinance, necessary."

Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, Book IV, Appendix, No. VI, Para. 6, pp. 459.

So apparently changing the Divine constitution of the Church by Papal fiat is a practice well-established!

Matthew Rose said...

Apologies on my last comment. I did not see that there was a Part I. Feel free of course to delete the comment, Father.