6 April 2018

The Pope's Necessary Obedience to the Church

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.


E sapelion said...

Fulsome? "cloying, nauseous, offensive, gross, rank, disgustingly fawning"?
I doubt you have the mot juste there Father.

Jhayes said...

Every pope is as tightly bound in obedience to the Magisterium as you are. He can no more set aside a syllable of it than I can.

But he gets to define how the Magisterium shall be understood.

In Benedict's 2005 Christmas Address to the Curia, he pointed out that it is necessary do distinguish between "principles" and "contingent matters" in prior decisions of the Church.

In this process of innovation in continuity we must learn to understand more practically than before that the Church's decisions on contingent matters - for example, certain practical forms of liberalism or a free interpretation of the Bible - should necessarily be contingent themselves, precisely because they refer to a specific reality that is changeable in itself. It was necessary to learn to recognize that in these decisions it is only the principles that express the permanent aspect, since they remain as an undercurrent, motivating decisions from within.

On the other hand, not so permanent are the practical forms that depend on the historical situation and are therefore subject to change.

Basic decisions, therefore, continue to be well-grounded, whereas the way they are applied to new contexts can change....

The Second Vatican Council, with its new definition of the relationship between the faith of the Church and certain essential elements of modern thought, has reviewed or even corrected certain historical decisions, but in this apparent discontinuity it has actually preserved and deepened her inmost nature and true identity.

If it were not so, priests would still be required to take the Oath Against Modernism (rescinded by the CDF in July 1967)

Others may remonstrate with the Pope as to which parts of past decisions are "principles" and which are "contingent matters", but only he can decide.

Christopher Boegel said...

In response to Jhayes - no - too much slight of hand there. Principles are so because they are by definition not contingent - and the Pope is bound to them - just like you and I are bound. Men do not get to say from one day to the next - this is now a principle, and that is not. Which is why the Pope errs with Cdl. Kasper in trying to reject the words of Jesus on marriage. He rejects certain principles.

Christopher Boegel said...

No man, no Pope, has authority to decide what the principles are. He only has authority to defend these principles.

Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

Dear Jhayes

The text [of the document Instruction on the Theologian's Ecclesial Vocation] also presents the various types of bonds that rise from the different degrees of magisterial teaching. It affirms - perhaps for the first time with this clarity - that there are decisions of the magisterium that cannot be the last word on the matter as such, but are, in a substantial fixation of the problem, above all an expression of pastoral prudence, a kind of provisorial disposition. The nucleus remains valid, but the particulars, which the circumstances of the times influenced, may need further correction.

In this regard, one may think of the declarations of Popes in the last century [19th century] about religious liberty, as well as the anti-Modernist decisions at the beginning of this century, above all, the decisions of the Biblical Commission of the time [on evolutionism]. As a cry of alarm in the face of hasty and superficial adaptations, they will remain fully justified. A personage such as Johann Baptist Metz said, for example, that the Church's anti-Modernist decisions render the great service of preserving her from falling into the liberal-bourgeois world. But in the details of the determinations they contain, they became obsolete after having fulfiled their pastoral mission at their proper time.

Well, so much for former Popes and their authoritative decisions which everyone thought permanent; however, the then Cardinal was serving as his own sapper of Magisterial Authority was he not?

If he can zap what everyone thought were irreformable teachings then what is putatively permanent about V2 decisions which are pastoral, not dogmatic, decisions?

Albrecht von Brandenburg said...

JHayes that is a typical example of the ultramontanist positivism/subjectivism rotting the church - and the m8nds of catholics.

John Vasc said...

"but only he can decide."

But that remark of Pope Benedict - typically thoughtfuly framed, but itself an entirely personal, *contingent* view of history, and clearly in no way intended to be regarded as 'magisterial' - nowhere implies that the decision on what is to be defined as contingent is a) unalterable or b) a decision reserved to the Pope.
As for VII's conclusions on 'practical forms of liberalism': the very phrase, like the Council itself, is a child of its ecclesial time, with its blind belief in progress and lust for ecumenism, its curiously avid acceptance of mundane values, eager readiness for unilateral concessions, and inbuilt postwar left-wing bias. Pope Benedict (may God bless and keep him ad multos annos) so frequently and fondly harks back to that one Council with the nostalgia of an erstwhile youthful participant: entirely understandable in his case, but as VII now fades into the backdrop of history, those of us less protected against its harmful consequences can see its markedly incidental and even transient character more clearly.

It may be that a Pope may want to dictate what selective 'principles' the Church is to have - in much the same way as Urban VII tried to ban smoking in the universal church. Such personal and transient whims will never prevail over the Immaculate Heart of the One who is the Seat of Wisdom.

John Vasc said...

P.S. Urban VII's ban was not against all smoking everywhere, but a more 'contingent' prohibition against smoking, chewing or snuff-taking *actually in or near a church* - tobacco being the smartphone selfie of its day.

Tony V said...

I'm no authority on Ratzinger, but I get the sense that sometime what he says is a polite and nuanced commentary on his predecessors. When he said the Tridentine Mass was never 'abrogated', we all know that's exactly what Paul VI tried to do, and thought he had the authority to do. When he said 'the First Vatican Council had in no way defined the pope as an absolute monarch,' we all know that's exactly what Pius IX intended--recognising the temporal power of the papacy was slipping away, he moved heaven and earth to get himself declared infallible. And Ratzinger knows very well the work of his colleagues Küng and Hasler on that subject.

I can't speak for the behaviour of the German bishops as a whole--I think a number of them were among those who slunk off rather than
sticking around to vote non placet. And the archbishop of Munich (von Scherr) didn't cover himself in glory by excommunicating Döllinger, either.

Fr H is no doubt familiar with Jalland's 1942 Bampton lectures, published back in the day by the SPCK and now available to all via the Internet Archive.

Fr John Hunwicke said...

Dear Tony V

I am happy to assure you that I am 'familiar' with Dr Jalland and his 1942 Bampton lectures. The search engine attached to my reveals that I have alluded to him no fewer than 23 times.

Tony V said...

...So familiar, in fact, that one strongly suspects he was in the audience, perhaps even on the dais.

Hans Georg Lundahl said...

"The Second Vatican Council, with its new definition of the relationship between the faith of the Church and certain essential elements of modern thought"

What new definition was he speaking of?

John Vasc said...

HGL - well spotted. There wasn't one. 'Gaudium et Spes', the 'Pastoral Constitution' which is condemnatory of 'modern atheism', describes its own contents in fn 1 as follows: "In the first part, the Church develops her teaching on man, on the world which is the enveloping context of man's existence, and on man's relations to his fellow men. In part two, the Church gives closer consideration to various aspects of modern life and human society; special consideration is given to those questions and problems which, in this general area, seem to have a greater urgency in our day."
The document contains no mention at all of any definition, and is largely sceptical about the effects of modern life on the family and the individual.

Modern *philosophical* thought was certainly hotly discussed during the Council, more so on its fringes. The German philosopher-theologians at VII were mad keen to get Kant and Hegel recognized as teachable at Catholic universities.

Robert John Bennett said...

"The Pope's Necessary Obedience to the Church"?

That idea doesn't suit Bergoglio at all, but like all those who refuse to obey any higher authority, he of course demands complete obedience from his subordinates.

Funny how that works.

Peter Aiello said...

The primary obedience of all Christians should be to Christ and not the organization. The parts of the Body of Christ need to be in communication with the head which is Christ. The purpose of the organization is to promote that, and not to present itself as a substitute for Christ. It can never be.

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Anna said...

Why are all these comments from June of last year?

Liam Ronan said...

Who knows who may cover oneself with a devilishly overarching cloak of infallibility and to what purpose. To my mind, it is akin to declaring oneself to be God.

"This is the rebel who is to lift up his head above every divine name, above all that men hold in reverence, till at last he enthrones himself in God’s temple, and proclaims himself as God." 2 Thessalonians 2:4-5

erick said...

Any mention of the Pope's inability to change doctrine is greatly welcomed. Vatican I explicitly stated that the divine assistance given to the Pope was not granted, in fact never granted, in order that he might make known new doctrines. Full stop. However, who gets to determine what is new and what is traditional? That's the question of the schools now, and I've not seen any of the Cardinals or Bishops who have offered critique of Pope Francis come to this question. If the answer to the question of who determines what is new vs traditional must, by divine organization, resort back to the deliberative supremely authoritative choice of the Roman Pontiff....well, then, it seems difficult to know upon what principles and conditions any non-Pope is supposed to gauge, measure, and even test whether a particular doctrine coming from any particular Pope is new or traditional. Sure, we might find look to St. Vincent's canon of universality, antiquity, and consensus, but there are a variety of minds who engage in such a task and find all sorts of Papal teachings to fail that test. Those scholars who find this must either decide to withdraw their disagreement and give in by faith to the Spirit-guided magisterium, which tells us that the Pope is guaranteed unchanging perpetuity, or they find themselves just disagreeing. So also, those who are in the fold of the Church who find themselves in disagreement with a particular Pope's teaching are faced with the option of either using their own intellect to challenge the integrity of the Pope's teaching, or they release themselves into submission out of faith that, somehow and in someway, the guarantee is going to hold.

Marko Ivančičević said...

There is a certain epistemological problem in this whole thing.
It seems that we have two supreme authorities and a sort of circular reasoning.
The Revelation and the pope.
He's supposed to be the guardian of the purity of the Revelation, but sometimes he fulfills this duty by defining what that pure Revelation is, and he sometimes does this without the consensus of the Church.

If he were to deviate, who is to know? Us? If so, if we can know without him that he himself has deviated and stained the Gospel, and if we can easily reject novelty, then he seems not to be necessary. Truth of the Gospel, in that case, seems to be knowable to us without him.
Someone could rebut: "Well, we can know the basic stuff, like the divinity of Christ.".
But, obviously there was a time when even that, now a given doctrine, was so undefined and unclear that a significant number of Christans fell for Arius' novelty. Why is that? How did they not know better? "Development of doctrine"?

But then how can it be that that, which was being given to the Apostles for 30 years and more (depending on the timing of a death of an Apostle) by the Holy Spirit himself and that which the Apostles themselves handed over to the succeeding generations, was so unclear and so susceptible to corruption and misunderstanding? Was it unclear to the Apostles that the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit share the same Divine Nature? Why was it unclear to them? How were they unable to "get it" after decades of having God himself as their teacher, help and refuge? If it was clear to them, why was that clarity lost?

On the other hand we have commands Christ has given to st. Peter, i.e., "confirm thy brethren" and "feed my lambs". So, we should believe that the faith which Peter professed is safely guarded in the Roman Church by the Roman bishop, and thus in the times of crises, we don't need to turn to antiquity and Tradition, but solely to the Roman bishop, and thus, appeals to Tradition itself seem unnecessary since it would seem Tradition is where Peter is.

How do we resolve these conundra?

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Peter Aiello said...

Marko Ivančičević: Vatican II, in Dei Verbum 21 says: "Therefore, like the Christian religion itself, all the preaching of the Church must be nourished and regulated by Sacred Scripture."
Nowadays, we have easy access to the Bible that was not always available. We can read it for ourselves and use it to form our consciences. We don’t have to wait for the preacher to come around.
Scripture was written thousands of years ago by people who actually participated in the events that they wrote about or were close to the events. Today, when we read what they wrote, we try to understand what they meant. Sometimes it is obvious what they meant; at other times it isn’t. When we read it for ourselves in order to be instructed, we rely on the guidance of the Holy Spirit for helping us along. This guidance in the Church isn’t only reserved only for the hierarchy. It applies to any Spirit-filled person. Vatican II's Lumen Gentium 12 says: "The entire body of the faithful, anointed as they are by the Holy One,(111) [cf. 1 Jn 2:20, 27] cannot err in matters of belief. They manifest this special property by means of the whole peoples' supernatural discernment in matters of faith when "from the Bishops down to the last of the lay faithful" (8*) [Cf. 1 Cor. 10: 17] they show universal agreement in matters of faith and morals. That discernment in matters of faith is aroused and sustained by the Spirit of truth." This is quite a statement coming from the magisterium.

Marko Ivančičević said...

How do i know that i'm Spirit-filled? Do i feel warmth in my chest? Am i more convinced of matters than usual?

Also, taking into account that very large bodies of the faithful have fallen to heresy, and that many of them today don't believe or don't know even the fundamentals of the faith, one is bound to ask the question: "Whom exactly is the Spirit guiding and instructing and how?

Also, it is known (to you too, i presume - if you don't mind me presuming) that Scriptures themselves aren't the whole of the Word of God so i can't refer only to them.

Liam Ronan said...

@Marko Ivančičević:

You rightly say: "Scriptures themselves aren't the whole of the Word of God so i can't refer only to them."

Yes,and hence, Our Lord Jesus Christ founded His Holy Apostolic Church which is bound to "...teach ye all nations; baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you..." (Matthew 28:19-20) and assuring His Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church that "...behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world..."

"But there are also many other things which Jesus did; which, if they were written every one, the world itself, I think, would not be able to contain the books that should be written." John 21:25

"I have shewed you all things, how that so labouring you ought to support the weak, and to remember the word of the Lord Jesus, how he said: It is a more blessed thing to give, rather than to receive." Acts 20:35 (A saying of Jesus not found in the Gospels)

The Church, faithful witness to Christ from the time of the Apostles, fills in the gaps that Scripture does not record.


Marko Ivančičević said...


Ofc. I understand that. I'm a catholic. But judging by your previous comment, you don't believe that the Church which is faithful witness to Christ from the time of the Apostles is the one Church of which Francis is the pope.

If yes, which one do you believe is the Church you speak of?

Peter Aiello said...

Marko Ivančičević: "Whom exactly is the Spirit guiding and instructing and how?” Good question. Our job is to "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good" (1Thessalonians 5:21). Scripture, with the help of the Holy Spirit, is a good way for us to monitor what the Church teaches.
The New Testament church had divisions. This may be a continuing fact of life in this present world. Do we assume that everyone in the hierarchy is guided by the Holy Spirit, and not assume that for the lay Catholics; or do we assume that the Church, from top to bottom is mixed in this regard?
How do we decide which subsequent writings in Church history are part of tradition? There is no one book called “tradition”.
We can all contribute to tradition. There is an interesting quote from Vatican II's Dei Verbum 8 which states: "This tradition which comes from the Apostles develop in the Church with the help of the Holy Spirit. (5) For there is a growth in the understanding of the realities and the words which have been handed down. This happens through the contemplation and study made by believers, who treasure these things in their hearts (see Luke, 2:19, 51) through a penetrating understanding of the spiritual realities which they experience, and through the preaching of those who have received through episcopal succession the sure gift of truth".

Liam Ronan said...

@Marko Ivančičević,

You said of me: "But judging by your previous comment, you don't believe that the Church which is faithful witness to Christ from the time of the Apostles is the one Church of which Francis is the pope."

To be perfectly honest, I do not know whether Francis is pope or not. All I know is that Francis is the man who stepped out onto the balcony and who was introduced to the assembled as the one chosen by the cardinal-electors. Notwithstanding, what I do hold is that ever since he manifested himself as the supreme threat to Holy Mother Church and the salvation of souls.

I know that Judas was an apostle personally called by Our Lord. I know from scripture, Daniel, etc., that the Antichrist will present himself as God, i.e. 'infallible', changing customs, laws, seasons, and times. I know he will accomplish faux miracles as Pharaoh's magicians did in the presence of Moses.

My personal opinion, since you solicited it, is that Francis is literally possessed by that demon which he names as his 'God of Surprises' and that Francis is in need of a genuine exorcism.

I pray for 'the Pope' every day; however, whereas I would pray previously "For our Holy Father Pope so-and-so' I now pray simply for 'The Pope'.