17 July 2021

Does Traditionis Custodes possess Auctoritas?

Apologies to those who carefully read each day everything I write. I wrote this piece some time ago, and republished it only a few days ago, in the knowledge of PF's imminent declaration of war upon Holy Tradition.

I wonder how far PF's power to obstruct his Predecessor's legislation extends. And exactly where he would cross the boundary into the ultra vires.

A defence of a pope's capacity to do what PF claims to have done would find its strongest support in Legalism; in canonical enactments about papal authority. But, curiously, the rigidities of Legalism have sometimes elicited critical observations from the Holy Father's mouth!!

However, to advocate a chaotic free-for-all is not the answer. I think it is important for us better to understand the concept of AUCTORITAS. Which does not always have same parameters as Canonical Lawfulness.

So what is this auctoritas?

A liturgical form can have full canonical status; and when it does, it is clear that a cleric is (for example) fulfilling his obligation to the Divine Office by using it. 

But the Latin term auctoritas has a more subtle sense than mere canonical liceity. It might suggest the personal influence which a player in Roman politics had, quite distinct from any imperium which he might enjoy as a result of a magistracy which he held. Or a sense of authoritativeness or impressiveness, of personal prestige or repute; we all know the sort of person who, perhaps in a committee or gathering, is listened to the moment he opens his mouth and whose interventions invite a respect out of all proportion to his merely legal status. (It is a characteristic of the Good Woman in Proverbs 31 that her husband is great among the elders at the gate; when such people are moved to utterance, other people put their hands to their mouths!) In our modern secular politics, the policies which were embodied in the manifesto of a government which has won power by a sweeping majority have auctoritas greater than the ideas dreamed up last night by a premier who is holding onto power by his fingertips ... although the constitutional power may be formally the same in each case.


Auctoritas as opposed to mere canonical liceity has always had a place in Liturgy. When manualists such as the admirable O'Connell wrote about a custom which is even contra legem enjoying, by virtue of its longevity, not merely liceity but even prescription above the letter of the rubric, it is in a way auctoritas that they are talking about. 

But I contend that the radical changes that followed Vatican II raise the question of auctoritas in new, difficult, and acute forms. One reason for this is the most striking novelty involved in post-Conciliar liturgical texts: multiple choices facing a celebrant or a worshipping community as they prepare to celebrate a rite. 

Previously, what every celebrant had said daily at every altar of the Roman Rite throughout the world for centuries obviously had enormous auctoritas. A novel formula which has just been put on some menu from which choices are to be made, manifestly has very much less. Whereas, before the Council, something that auctoritas urged one to do was broadly in line with what was canonically licit, after the Conciliar 'reforms' auctoritas and liceity, lawfulness, might find themselves standing further and further apart from each other.


I strongly agree with Joseph Ratzinger's strongly expressed view that there is something highly questionable about the idea that a Roman Pontiff can "do anything especially if backed by a mandate of an ecumenical council". I would contend that what is wrong with that idea is, among other things, its forgetfulness of liturgical auctoritas. And my inclination is to believe that, in many and important respects, the 'reforms' went beyond the conciliar mandate of Sacrosanctum Concilium (praeter concilium) and, even more problematically, in some cases directly contradicted it (contra concilium). In my view, changes praeter Concilium have less auctoritas than those which do rest on a conciliar mandate. 

Vatican II was an Ecumenical Council (albeit, a pastoral Council), just as much as all the other Ecumenical Councils. What it mandated, possessed auctoritas. What it did not mandate, but what subsequent committees put in place, has much less claim on our consciences. And where a clear instruction of the Council was categorically contradicted by committeee-men only two or three years later, I think we have duties of discernment.

So changes contra Concilium raise, as Benedict XVI perceived, extremely acute difficulties with regard to their auctoritas.

The Catholic Church, more than many ecclesial bodies, has a deeply ingrained sense of Law. This makes it easy for Roman Catholics to underestimate the force of auctoritas. But Benedict XVI was appealing directly to auctoritas when he wrote "What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful"

In so teaching, in so using the word "cannot", he was not speaking in terms of canonical or legislative details; he was arguing theologically and ecclesiologically.

And Benedict was right.

And ... as PF forces us to face new Liturgy Wars ... this has practical implications.


PM said...

Medieval canonists and theologians used a slightly different terminology (also inherited from the Romans), pondering the distinction between auctoritas and potestas. Auctoritas was the higher of the two, and in some respects its source.

But the medievals, even an apologist for Boniface VIII's claims to plenitudo potestatis such as Giles of Rome, understood the difference between, as our American friends would say, between 'can do' and 'should do'. Giles devotes a chapter to arguing that the pope indeed possess the power to override the rights of others in the Church, but that he should, in the interests of prudence and justice, do so only sparingly and with good reason.

frjustin said...

“the most striking novelty involved in post-Conciliar liturgical texts: multiple choices facing a celebrant or a worshipping community as they prepare to celebrate a rite.”

Already in 1932, Edward Craddock Ratcliff, commenting on the CoE's proposed Prayer Book, wrote:

“One of the alleged advantages of the use of a fixed Liturgy was protection from the discretion of the minister. In this and in similar provisions...the revisers of 1927-28 would have opened the door to all the confusions of ministerial idiosyncrasy and experiment from which the fixed Liturgy of the Book of Common Prayer at its last revision was intended as a safeguard. That the confusions would have been supported or desired by Parochial Church Councils is neither a recommendation nor a mitigation of an evil. Here as in other respects the plan of the new Book was revealed as different from that of the old. The principle of one Use for the whole realm was to have been exchanged for that of 'Quot ecclesiæ tot liturgiæ'" (essay on The Choir Offices for "Liturgy And Worship", p. 287)

Mutatis mutandis, the plan of the Novus Ordo is revealed as different from that of the Usus Antiquior.

E sapelion said...

Fortunately P.Paul VI did not entirely forbid the TLM, in England&Wales he expressly allowed bishops to authorise priests to celebrate it with a congregation. And of course he allowed priests everywhere to celebrate it without a congregation.
In the same paragraph from Papa Ratzinger which you quote, I read "Needless to say, in order to experience full communion, the priests of the communities adhering to the former usage cannot, as a matter of principle, exclude celebrating according to the new books."
I am not sure what he suggests by 'not if full communion', perhaps it is just an emollient way of sayng 'in schism'.

Grant Milburn said...

"...personal influence...authoritativeness or impressiveness...personal prestige or repute"

"Mana", I said to myself from my home on the Pacific rim.

Then I thought, no, that's glib, if patriotic.

Then I thought, no, run with that for a moment. Get away, for the time being, from questions of validity and liceity which leave you in stalemate. Consider a somewhat idealized chief of yesteryear (summoning up paintings of 19th Century Māori chiefs on my computer). A person of great presence, dignity, wisdom, authority and experience. A great fighter, a great orator. Consider the mana such a chief possesses. Now which Mass corresponds to that mana?

I go to the Novus Ordo if I cannot get to the Usus Antiquior. Then I get irritated despite myself because the ersatz quality is palpable. People use words like banal. And yet it's licit and valid, so…

But now I can see what's missing.

Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

Dear Father. Vatican II was an Ecumenical Council (albeit, a pastoral Council), just as much as all the other Ecumenical Councils.

If all previous ecumenical councils had been called to identify and correct heresies/errors whereas V2 was not called for that purpose, perhaps it would be more useful to think of it as a Synod (Ecumenical Councils used to be called that).

The Synod of 1961-1965 took decision X .. and then professors like Professor Monsignor Brunero Gherardini would not have been thought scandalous to publicly ask Pope Benedict XVI (Pg 296-300 "The Ecumenical Vatican Council II A MUCH NEEDED DISCUSSION) to stop simply claiming there exists continuity with previous ecumenical councils and to demonstrate it.

The Thomist Professor never received an answer to his direct question to the Holy Father:

APPEAL TO THE HOLY FATHER: ...For the good of the church - and more specifically for the accomplishment of the "salus animarum" which is her primary and "supreme lex" - after decades of free exegetical, theological, liturgical, histographical, and pastoral creativity in the name of the Ecumenical Council of Vatican Two (emphasis in original appeal) it seems to me that it is urgent that you offer some clarity by responding in an authoritative manner to the question about the Council's continuity with other Councils - not with declamation, but demonstration -and about its fidelity to the ever vigorous Tradition of the Church.

By identifying V2 as a Synod, rather than an Ecumenical Council, it would tend to make its claims of being binding less persuasive because it was unlike every previous ecumenical council.

frjustin said...

The Greek-Catholic Patriarch Maximos V Hakim became notorious for going even further than the professor cited by ABS. In the Eastern Churches Journal, Vol. 4 No. 2, for the summer of 1997, on p. 12, he states:

"It must be recognised that all the Councils after the first millennium, including Vatican I and II, cannot be described as ecumenical. For, the imposing group of bishops of the Eastern Church did not take part. Yet, even Rome has never ceased to acknowledge their episcopal validity. This inhibits us from attributing these Councils - even though they were approved by the Bishop of Rome - with the same portent as the Councils of the first centuries. They should be considered Councils of a particular Church, the Church of the West. The decisions taken in those assizes cannot regard the Eastern Churches which did not participate in them.

"It was Paul VI who in 1974, at the 700th anniversary celebrations of the Council of Lyons, lent credence to re-definition by describing this latter, not as an ecumenical council but as 'the sixth of the general synods held in the West'. He was explaining that all that the Church of Rome defined and established unilaterally cannot be imposed on the East. What holds for the Council of Lyons obviously holds for the Councils that came after."

Grant Milburn said...

Subsequently I was reading the entry for mana at maoridictionary.co.nz and noted the connection between mana and tapu (sacredness, taboo is from a cognate) and the origin of both in the atua (gods/God). There are elements of pre-Christian belief here, but also, I think, wisdom that can be baptized:

(noun) prestige, authority, control, power, influence, status, spiritual power, charisma - mana is a supernatural force in a person, place or object. Mana goes hand in hand with tapu, one affecting the other. The more prestigious the event, person or object, the more it is surrounded by tapu and mana. Mana is the enduring, indestructible power of the atua and is inherited at birth, the more senior the descent, the greater the mana. The authority of mana and tapu is inherited and delegated through the senior line from the atua as their human agent to act on revealed will. Since authority is a spiritual gift delegated by the atua, man remains the agent, never the source of mana…

So an ancient entity such as the Venerable Roman Rite possesses per se great Mana or Auctoritas as well as sacredness. This numinous power is real and means that the TLM has a life of its own, so to speak, and, as Benedict realized, cannot be abrogated by mere human power, not even by Papal authority.

Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

We could even call it The 60s Synod

Grant Milburn said...

In the movie Lilo and Stitch, young Lilo has a sign on her bedroom door: Kapu. This is the Hawai'ian cognate of Tapu, and in this context means Keep Out, No Trespassing.

Can we affix a similar sign to the Ancient Roman Liturgy? Meaning hands off, this is not a plaything.

Grant Milburn said...

So if we follow Patriarch Maximos, we can reduce Vatican II to the status of a general synod, at the cost of also reducing Trent to the status of a general synod.

Pulex said...

ABS wrote: "all previous ecumenical councils had been called to identify and correct heresies/errors"

It appears that Lateran I, II, III, as well as Lyons I did not deal with dogmatic matters and, therefore, were purely pastoral councils.

frjustin said...

The expression "the sixth of the General Synods held in the West" was used with regard to the Second council of Lyons by St Paul VI: "Hoc Lugdunense Concilium, quod sextum recensetur inter Generales Synodos in occidentali orbe celebratas" ("Epistula", AAS 66 (1974) 620-625; see p.620). He qualified it as a general synod of the West rather than as an ecumenical council.

Similarly, Paul VI's predecessor Pope Eugenius IV had wanted the Council of Florence (1439-1445) to be qualified as the eighth ecumenical council, thus negating ecumenicity to the four Lateran Councils (1123, 1139, 1179, 1215), the two Councils of Lyons (1245, 1274) and the Councils of Vienne (1311-1312) and of Constance (1414-1419).

The full import of such qualification by these two popes, Eugenius IV and Paul VI, has generally passed unnoticed. It would affect the standing of the other councils held in the West after Florence, namely the Fifth Council of Lateran (1512-1517), the Council of Trent (1545-1563), and the two Vatican Councils (1869-1870, 1962-1965).

Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

Dear Puex.

ABS had in mind the assertion made by Msgr. Hughes

It is hardly possible to write the history of these twenty General Councils as though they were sections hewn from the one same log. They are not a unity in the sense in which successive sessions of Congress are a unity. Each of the twenty councils is an individual reality, each has its own special personality. This is partly due to the fact that each had its origin in a particular crisis of Church affairs, partly to the fact that they are strung out over fifteen hundred years of history, and that, for example, the human beings who constitute the council can be as remote from each other as the victims of the persecution of Diocletian in the fourth century from the victims of Bismarck in the nineteenth.


Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

Dear Pulex: Pope Benedict XVI: So we went to the Council not only with joy, but with enthusiasm. There was an incredible anticipation. We hoped that everything would be renewed, that a new Pentecost would truly come, a new era of the Church...And we knew that the relationship between the Church and the modern period was a bit in conflict, beginning with the error of the Church in the case of Galileo Galilei; we thought we could correct this wrong beginning and find the union between the Church and the best forces in the world in order to open up the future of humanity, to open true progress. So we were full of hope, of enthusiasm, and of the will to do our part for this thing

One notes that one cause of an ecumenical council is for The Catholic Church to correct the errors and heresies of the world, not the other way around.

Who can even imagine an Catholic feeling excited about going to a council to declare to the world that the Church he represented had made a profound error ?

And he thought the world would respect The Catholic Church for confessing the Church had made an error? Lord have mercy. Does he have any idea how much the World hates the Catholic Church?

The ancient enemies of the Catholic Church are, in order, The World, The Flesh, the Devil.

It is quite sad (mad really) to feel excitement and joy about an ecumenical council confessing error but what its worse is that The Catholic Church had made the absolute right decision about the heresy of Galileo.

ABS lives on earth but not a planet.

Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

Dear Fr. Justin The proposal by ABS to refer to The 60s Synod is based on several sources. Here is just one:

The holy Synod enjoins on all bishops, and others who sustain the office and charge of teaching.. Council of Trent.

ABS recalls you live in Orlando which means you may have visited Disney and, perhaps, chosen to ride on Space Mountain.

That ride has the passengers riding in the dark with flashing lights, sudden sharp turns and rapid descent and in that way it resembles the ecclesiastics ride the 60s Synod has taken us on with the difference being that ABS chose to take his family on the Space Mountain Ride and it was a limited ride - it ended.

The 60s Synod has taken the family of ABS on a ride that he wanted no part of and it is never ends.

In referring to the 60s Synoda, ABS is putting it in its place - an endless ride for children, a sort of " It's a small world ecclesiastic sempiternal nightmare that ABS has awakened from and wants no part of.

ABS has left the park...

Anonymous said...


Will you fr Professor give us an explanation of the above article? I AM NOT TRYING TO TRAP YOU. Far be it. I remember the opening homily of Vatican 2 whereby John 23rd made a statement about the pastoral bent of the Council. Never did understand how the Bishops and their hunger for power seemed to drift along on the path. I also remember some daft priest turning up to lecture our parish in Bristol in the time before the council was opened. I do not think he was impressed by what he had to say. I understand this happened in every parish.

Rubricarius said...

What has the Second Vatican Council to do with the rite of Mass promulgated by Paul VI?

Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

Dear Rubricarius

Pope Paul VI; General Audience at Castelgandolfo, 13 August 1969 (DOL 45)

Through an intense and prolonged religious movement, the liturgy, crowned, and, as it were, canonized by Vatican II, has gained a new importance, dignity, accessibility, and participation in the consciousness and the spiritual life of the people of God and, we predict, this will continue even more in the future.


Pope Paul VI, who rescued the corrosive enlightenment philosophical orientation borne by the experts of Vatican Two by appealing to Romanticism as a corrective

See the great Gherardini and his You Tube talk on The 60s Synod… https://youtu.be/xizTWwoaKAM

said it was.

So there:)

Ansgerus said...

Who am I to judge whether PF has any auctoritas, but for sure he has some powers by being the bishop of Rome. Now comes my question, dear experts reading this blog: Art. 5 of TC states

"Priests who already celebrate according to the Missale Romanum of 1962 should request from the diocesan Bishop the authorization to continue to enjoy this faculty."

Does this mean that Benedict XVI, without question being a priest reading regularly the Mass in the diocese of Rome, will need the authorization by PF - his diocesan bishop - to continue to enjoy his faculty to celebrate acc. to the Missale Romanum of 1962? And what if Benedict decides instead to celebrate acc. to an elder edition of the Missale Romanum, f.i. the edition he used in the beginning of his priesthood, or the MR of 1965? If SP and any other indult etc. is abrogated, then also the restrictions of these various decrees reg. the use of editions of the MR issued prior or after 1962 are not in force anymore.

Anonymous said...

La pandemia ha fatto esplodere la sana informazione a grandissimi strati della popolazione mondiale di tutti e cinque i continenti dell’esistenza e della non abrogazione della Messa cattolica pre innovazioni conciliari sui quali non oso pronunciarmi certo io, che sono alla ricerca della verità e non sono in grado di donarla ad alcuno. Certamente ho professato in modo aperto e leale perchè pubblico il mio compiacimento per la scoperta della libertà di recarmi ad una Messa in latino appena finite le proibizioni alla deambulazione nel mondo reale, sopportando di dover resistere davanti ad un pc. Scoprire di essere stata prevenuta con un Motu Proprio per fermare ogni possibile richiesta al Vescovo è vera e propria persecuzione artata traendo informazioni per rivoltarle contro a chi non tradisce e agisce nell’oscurità. Un massone deve riunirsi in segreto; perchè opera con il male, un cattolico agisce come figlio della Luce davanti agli altri affinchè risplendano le sue opere buone e sante..

PM said...

Sadly, the Pope Emeritus can no longer stand for long enough to offer the Holy Sacrifice on his own. He is reduced to concelebration ( in the new rite) from a wheelchair, according to Mgr Ganswein. Moreover, I understand that his voice is now very weak. (Do those who berate him for resigning really think he could discharge the petrine office in that state?)

But, although Benedict is physically very weak, Mgr Ganswein reports that his mind is unimpaired. That must make the latest developments especially galling for him.

PM said...

Not quit. The admirable and recently deceased Cardinal Brandmuller (one of the four authors of the dubia and a formidable historical scholar) pointed out that Galileo was one sense the better theologian in that he wasn't infected by the crude literalism that seeped in from Protestantism. Medieval theologians knew perfectly well that some (indeed many) scriptural passages spoke metaphorically, and that their meaning was the thing signified by the metaphor, not the surface or 'naked' meaning (see St Thomas's treatment of metaphor if you don't believe me.). But, Brandmuller added, Bellarmine was, by the standards of his day, the better scientist. Science in those days meant, as for Aristotle, logical demonstration from first principles, and that was something Galileo lacked. His theory about the tides was wrong (we now know that are due to the gravitational pull of the moon). Conclusive proof of heliocentrism came only in the eighteenth century.

There are more complexities to the story. Copernicus was never condemned, and Mersenne expounded heliocentrism at eh Sorbonne without censure. Many historians now think that the condensation of Galileo had more to do with Italian politics, and with Galileo's habit of insulting those who disagreed with him, than with the merits of the issue. Moreover, we should note that the condemnation was a judicial act of a tribunal, not a magisterial teaching by the pope.

All that aside ( you will probably guess that I read history), you can't seriously be propounding geocentrist cosmology? If you are, might I remind you that one of the few things that would disturb the Angelic Doctor's serene composure was foolish arguments that brought the Faith into disrepute.

DP said...

For me, the essential problem with reducing the "Western Councils" (forgive the neologism) to synodal status is that it leaves us even more at sea with a papal office that is nothing short of totalitarian in its current conception and scope.

"But Vatican I would be a synod, too!"

Vatican I is problematic more for the effect on the Church's culture than for what it said. The effect was to supercharge the concept of the pope as *the* bulwark of the Faith in the minds of all of the Faithful. Including the men who took office afterwards.

And from that, our current crisis follows. We received a code of canon law which enshrined absolute power, including the appointment of all bishops by the pontiff. And around the same time, the popes began tinkering with the liturgy, beginning with the breviary and concluding with what was foisted on the Church in 1970. Which now includes a rewritten "Our Father" at the "request" of the pope.

There is the story (unverified, but it sounds like him) that Pius IX rejected adding Saint Joseph to the Roman Canon because he simply could not do so--he was only the pope.

In 1970, Paul VI promulgated a mass where the Roman Canon never needs to be said.

If that doesn't describe the horrific mission creep of the papal office, I don't know what will.

Rubricarius said...


The structure of what would be termed the Pauline Mass is apparent a decade earlier as the formulations and desires of 'experts' participating in the first three International Liturgical Congresses of 1951, 1952 & 1953. Their ideas and model is most easily accessible in:

Reinhold, H.A., 'Bringing the Mass to the People', Helicon, 1960 and in much more detail in:

Agustino, L. & Wagner, G.,'Partecipazione attiva alla Liturgia', Lugano, 1953 and

Schmitt, S., 'Die internationalen liturgischen Studienstressen 1951-1960 - Zur Vorgeschichte der Liturgiekonstitution', Paulinus-Verlag Trier, 1992.

The vast majority of Council Fathers had little idea of the detail of the planned reform and gave their approval to a general view of modest outline.