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.