1 June 2017

The Pope's Necessary Obedience to the Church

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, 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". (Papa Montini submitted.)

Indeed he is. Indeed, they can't.


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.

15 comments:

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.

Amateur Brain Surgeon 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.