I wrote this on September 3 2010, when we were still in the Church of England. Although I say so myself, it seems to me eerily prescient of what needs to be said now, in a time when, once again, the old and evil maximalising notion of the Papacy ("the Pope can do anything") has raised its exceedingly ugly head; a time when many good people are very fearful (however wrongly) that a pope might act on the ultra vires assumption that he has competence to override the Tradition, to shove the very words of Christ Himself into the fridge.
But "nenikeka ton kosmon". Her immaculate Heart will prevail.
I have preserved an interesting comment from the old thread.
"The language of the Vatican [I] decrees on the Roman Pontiff is admittedly formidable at first reading". So wrote Dom Gregory Dix (and he proceeded, in a brilliant and witty tour de force, to demonstrate their congruity, not only with "the second century", but also with "the New Testament"). I think he was right; the language of those degrees does rather give the impression of having been written with a deliberate intention of upsetting the horses. Yet John Henry Newman, despite his earlier apprehensions about what the Ultramontanes (particularly England's own dangerously ultramontane cardinal) were getting up to in Rome, sighed with relief when he saw this wording ... and memorably commented "Nothing has been passed of consequence".
What can look so intimidating if you lack a certain sort of background, can seem matter-of-course or even inconsequential when one does have a sense of context. What one might call the body-language of the Vatican I decrees can seem frightening. They can appear to suggest that the Pope can, at will, impose new dogmas, and directly manipulate the life of any individual Catholic. Those who see them in this way do have some excuses for their anxieties; Wilfred Ward was but one of the Ultras who did believe something frighteningly like that. But Ward's dotty excesses were not what the decrees mean or, indeed, even come anywhere near to saying.
Newman and Ratzinger are strikingly similar in their approach to what the Papacy intrinsically is. Newman, from his "old, Anglican, patristic, literary" background, found himself writing "It is one of the reproaches urged against the Church of Rome, that it has originated nothing, and has only served as a sort of remora or break in the development of dogma." He goes on "And it is an objection which I embrace as a truth; for such I conceive to be the main purpose of its extraordinary gift". The heart of the role which the Roman Church plays within the Universal Church is, in other words, negative; to be a barrier against the encroachment of novelties.
It is important to grasp this because the two high-profile actions of Roman Pontiffs which in most minds have been associated with the idea of Infallibility-in-action are the two "Marian dogmas". Non-Catholics therefore tend to judge the purpose of the Roman Magisterium in the light of these two manifestations of it. This is unfortunate. Those two definitions are side-issues, not typical of what "Rome" has meant through two millennia. What is typical, as Newman says, is a caution, a conservatism, a sense of the dangers of being daring and clever. The need to be 'creative' is not often found in the writings of S Leo et al.! A patristic scholar less remembered nowadays than he deserves, my distinguished predecessor [at the Church of S Thomas the Martyr in Oxford] Dr Jalland, wrote of Rome's "strange, almost mystical, faithfulness to type, its marked degree of changelessness, its steadfast clinging to tradition and precedent".
Papa Ratzinger comes at the question in exactly the same way as Newman and Jalland. This cautious sense of his essentially negative role is at the heart of his wise discharge of his Pontificate. And nobody should have been surprised at this who had read his words. "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".
I think this is finely put. The Revealed Word; the Sacred Tradition.