In the spirit of this weekend's Conference in Rome in which two distinguished speakers are listed as due to speak on the limits of Papal authority, I here reprint, with its original thread, a piece from last year. I'll add two other relevant pieces tomorrow, including one which brings in the testimony of Blessed John Henry Newman.
Is the pope above the Church? Depends what you mean. There is, of course, no doubt that the Roman Pontiff is the supreme law-giver of the whole state of Christ's Church Militant here in earth. But he is a member of, therefore within, the Church. He is therefore also a subject of the Church. (This does indeed mean that he qua Jorge Bergoglio is subject to the Church and therefore to the Pope qua Supreme lawgiver.) He is not the one person upon earth who is solutus ab omni lege.
Regular readers will recall my repetitious quotation from the writings of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger: " ... 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 ... The authority of the pope is not unlimited; it is at the service of Sacred Tradition."
Although not thus footnoted by its author, this phraseology is clearly based upon a statement by the German bishops after Bismarck had attacked the Definition of Papal Infallibility agreed at Vatican I. Bismarck had alleged that it made the pope "an absolute monarch". The German bishops replied that Papal Infallibility, being an instance of the Infallibility of the Church, is bound to the doctrine contained in Holy Scripture and in Tradition and definitions already promulgated by the Church's Magisterium. The pope, they explained, is bound (obstrictus) to those things which Christ set in place in His Church. He cannot change the constitution given by the Church's Divine Founder, and the constitution of the Church is founded in all essential things in the divine arrangement (ordinatione) and is free (immunis) from every arbitrary human arrangement.
Blessed Pius IX praised, in fulsome language, this explanation of the German bishops.
The question of the limitations upon the papal office came up again at Vatican II. In Lumen Gentium paragraph 22 (at the end), Blessed Paul VI, laudably anxious that papal authority should not be given away on his watch, wished to add the words uni Domino devinctus. In the old Abbott translation, this would have made part of the last sentence read "provided that the pope himself, bound fast to the Lord alone [or bound fast to one Master], calls them to collegiate action." But the Council's Theological Commission refused the pope's request on the grounds that it represented an excessive simplification (nimis simplificata); "the Roman Pontiff is bound to observe Revelation itself, the fundamental structure of the Church, the Sacraments, the definitions of previous Councils, etc. [sic]. All of these cannot be counted".
Indeed he is. Indeed, they can't.
Every pope is as tightly bound in obedience to the Magisterium as you are. He is no more allowed to set aside a syllable of it than I am.