26 January 2022

The extent of Papal authority

Few theologians shaped Anglo-Papalism in the twentieth century more than Dom Gregory Dix. In 1938 he published a scintillating succession of articles explaining, to his fellow Anglicans, the Vatican I teaching about papal power. Near his conclusion came the following:

"The language of the Vatican [I] decrees on the Roman Pontiff is admittedly formidable at a first reading. ..."A primacy of jurisdiction, ordinary, immediate and episcopal" in every diocese in Christendom ... It is so unlike the powers we Anglicans concede to a Primacy. But is it? [Dix next apparently refers to the episode when the Bishop of Exeter refused to institute a clergyman, Mr Gorham, to a benefice and excommunicated latae sententiae anybody who should do so; the institution was done by a Commission from the Archbishop of Canterbury. Dix goes on:] That was an act of jurisdiction in another man's diocese. It was an act of "ordinary" jurisdiction, since the Archbishop had an indisputable right, in the circumstances, to do it. It was an act of "immediate" jurisdiction, since he did not act as the bishop's delegate but against his protests. It was an act of "episcopal" jurisdiction, since it conveyed cure of souls. In other words, the whole Vatican definition of a primacy is latent in the harmless Anglican conception, for use when needed."

In our own time, when the Bishop of Chichester, Eric Kemp, refused to ordain or license women, these acts were performed within the Chichester Diocese by Commission from Archbishop Carey, thereby providing another example of Dix's point.

When English Anglican Canon Law was revised in the 1960s, the powers of the Archbishops were clearly laid out: "The archbishop has throughout his province at all times metropolitical jurisdiction, as superintendent of all ecclesiastical matters therein, to correct and supply the defects of other bishops, and, during the time of his metropolitical visitation, jurisdiction as Ordinary ..." A later codification made clear that, during a visitation "the jurisdiction of all inferior Ordinaries is suspended ..."

The gist of Dix's broader argumentum ad hominem was: If you say that the early popes did not "exercise jurisdiction over the whole Church", I will agree, but with the proviso that this was a period when Bishops didn't exercise jurisdiction either ... because the whole concept of canonical jurisdiction only came later and so is anachronistic. 

The sort of authority which early popes did exercise in the Universal Church, so Dix argued, was exactly the same sort of authority that contemporary bishops exercised in their local, Particular, Churches. 

When Vatican I defined the Petrine Ministry, it did so in the juridical/canonical language of its own period (just as the first four Ecumenical Councils framed their Christology in the terms of the Greek metaphysics of their own time; although, as Dix puts it, the Gospel writers had not been Greek metaphysicians). Swallow episcopal jurisdiction, you can't avoid swallowing papal jurisdiction. Swallow the anachronisms of Nicea, and you'll be hard put to avoid swallowing those of Vatican I.

Sic Dixit.

Where Dix would indeed, I strongly suspect, dissent from the exercise of the Papacy as it happens during this present disordered pontificate is in his explanation: "It is, by implication a 'reserve power' in the constitution of the Church, which presupposes an emergency in the local church." 

This seemed, in 1938, fairly obvious. The Pope may have had ordinary, immediate, and episcopal jurisdiction, but he did not normally compose and issue the annual diocesan list whereby Father X was moved from parish Y to parish Z. He did not write each Pastoral Letter. Nor did the pope lay down in a personal communication to Mrs Murphy which decades of the Rosary she was to say when she nipped out to do her shopping, or exactly whereabouts the parish vacuum cleaner was to be stored.

Or how often the heating system was to be serviced. Even though lives could be at stake ...

There can be really profound implications in whether the junior curate in a parish takes his Day Off on Tuesday or Wednesday. Since the Roman Pontiff has Immediate Jurisdiction over all Catholics ... every single one in all the world ... it is clearly his right ... and duty ... to check up on which day each junior cleric throughout the world puts his feet up. And how far up he puts them.

Whenever there is angry controversy or violent disorder about such matters, and even if there isn't, the Holy Father would certainly have the right ... and duty ... to leap nimbly on to Eurostar and to come and sort things out ... Holy Father, how badly we need you ... come and be ordinary, immediate, and episcopal among us ...


That's not how it works.

That's not how it's meant to work.

Bishops are not "mere Vicars" of the Pope ... well, they weren't supposed to be according to Vatican II, anyway. 

And not until the Era of PF have they been treated as such. Incredibly, this is an era in which a pope, so he believes, has the authority to 'phone up a parishioner anywhere in the world and to give her pastoral directions ... without any reference to her bishop or pastor. An era in which each bishop is to be surrounded by minute regulations about his liturgical arrangements in his own diocese.

This is not a 'normal' period of Church history. It is a manic aberration. Its 'papacy' is an absurd parody of the Ministry granted by the Lord to S Peter.

You think I'm exaggerating matters? Get this:

Some Roman functionary, acting, so he claims, on the authority of PF, has recently attempted to lay down exactly what factual information each parish priest may or may not divulge in his parish newsletter!!

Do the nouns 'fool' and 'bully' spring unbidden to your mind? Or the adjectives 'pompous' and 'risible'?

That is why this current tyranny is too thoroughly ridiculous to survive; and too totally preposterous to demand any sort of respect or compliance.




G. Mancz 滿償喬治 said...


Dear Father,

Would you be so kind as to consider granting a somewhat unusual claim to your leasure by writing to me at the following address ( georgy.mancz@gmail.com ) and thus enabling this struggling Hyperborean to contact you and avail himself of your Latinity in order to solve an interpretative conundrum regarding a certain Tridentine canon?

I apologise for this intrusion, but the issue I'm pondering, mirabile dictu, may have possibly important implications for this very discussion.

Many greetings from Moscow,



Matthew F Kluk said...

Thank you Father Hunwicke, and thanks also for sharing Father Fix! Perfect! How does one get a job at the Congregation for the Reading of Parish Bulletins?

E sapelion said...

I recall that the guard on a train had the duty of enforcing the regulations, including that no "certified lunatic" traveled on a train without a "keeper". And it was suggested by the Trade Union during a "work to rule" that the guard should therefor, at each station go from compartment to compartment inquiring in each whether there were any certified lunatics without a keeper in that compartment, before permitting the train to proceed..

Joe Stenson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

The same Roman Functionary who asserts that Paul VI abrogated the Roman Rite, when he did no such thing.