Still interested in contributing to the debate on the limits of papal authority, today I reprint two pieces with which I accompanied the Solemnity of SS Peter and Paul last year.
... as I look into the pre-Pius X breviary by my desk, I discover that in even earlier days, June 28, yesterday, was occupied by a great pope, S Leo II (681-683).
Did I say a great pope?
Our Holy Father Pope S Leo II was great because he undertook the unhappy but necessary duty of ratifying the condemnation, by the Sixth Holy Ecumenical Council, of his own predecessor, Pope Honorius I (625-638), as a heretic. As the Vicar of Christ wrote to the Spanish bishops, Pope Honorius "did not, as befits the Apostolic dignity, extinguish the fire of heretical teaching when it began, but by his negligence fostered it".
Some people believe the Petrine Ministry means that a Pope is set in place and guided by the Holy Spirit in order to give exciting new perspectives, perhaps even surprises, to the Church. Not so. Not in a month of Sundays. As Blessed John Henry Newman taught, in a memorable passage in his Apologia about which I will write more tomorrow, the ministry of the Roman Church, its "extraordinary gift", has always been negative, to be a remora, a barrier against novelty, innovation.
At the jagged and dangerous edge of a high and precipitous cliff, the Pope is the Council Workman whose very simple job it is to put up a notice saying
DANGER: KEEP AWAY.
'Negative', laconic, 'rigid', but, oh, so necessary. A mischievous or homicidal or mischievously homicidal pope who put up a notice reading
YOUR CONSCIENCE WILL TELL YOU WHEN TO JUMP
WE WILL ACCOMPANY YOU RIGHT UP TO YOUR JUMP
would be failing in the duty set him by his Master.
Through two millennia, it has been the duty of successive Bishops of Rome to resist, condemn, and extirpate novelty and any attempt to change the Faith.
That is why S Vincent of Lerins (circa 450?) quotes Pope S Celestine (422-432) as writing "Innovation should stop attacking what is ancient", and the next pope, S Sixtus III, (432-440) as writing "Innovation has no rights, because it is inappropriate to add anything to what is ancient; clearly, the faith and belief of our ancestors should not be stirred up by any mixture of filth". The great Anglican historian of the Papacy, Trevor Jalland, wrote of the "supernatual grandeur" of the Roman Church; "its strange, almost mystical faithfulness to type, its marked degree of changelessness, its steadfast clinging to tradition and precedent".
On this great feast of the Holy Apostles of the Church in Rome, we can do worse than listen to those powerful words of S Leo II. His predecessor Honorius had been Pope when a particular error arose; it had been his duty as domnus Apostolicus to extinguish the blaze; but he was negligent; he failed to do his (negative) duty of repelling innovation; and his negligence led to the growth of the error.
It therefore fell to an Ecumenical Council to condemn him, together with the leaders of the heresy he failed to extinguish, with the unambiguous noun heretics and the unambiguous verb anathematizomen.
There is more than one way of qualifying for the title of Heretic!