Christ Alone Has the Power

Christ might indeed have chosen to select another form of government, and to institute the visible Church either as a democracy or as an aristocracy. Either of these is a conceivable and a possible form of government, and either is compatible with the existence of a governed society. Both of them have actually existed as forms of government in the civil order. The practical question, however, and with that alone we have concern, is not as to what Christ might have done, but as to what Christ actually did.

Christ instituted the visible Church neither as an aristocracy, nor as a democracy, but as a monarchy.

In an aristocracy ruling power is vested in several different men, who are regarded as being the best men, as chiefs or elders or otherwise. The power of each of these is an equal power. It is equally exercised by all of them, although it is exercised by all as if all were one, and formed one moral person, one ruling body. Hence in an aristocracy, the consent of a majority or, what is equivalent thereto, the prevailing might of a considerable minority, is required and suffices for exercise of ruling power. Christ did not institute the visible Church as an aristocracy, for Christ did not give to all of His Apostles an equal power, or to all of them supreme power.

In a democracy both legislative power and executive power rest with the people, and are exercised by the representatives and ministers of the people. It is self government. The people govern themselves. Christ did not institute the visible Church as a democracy, for over His Church Christ set rulers.

In a constitutional or representative government, which is a monarchy tempered with democracy, legislative power rests with the representatives of the people, and executive power with the king and his ministers. Christ did not institute the visible Church as a constitutional government, for He did not give to the Christian people, or to the representatives of the Christian people, the power of making the laws by which the Christian society was to be governed.

In a monarchy one person and one alone is in possession of supreme power, and thus has plenitude of power. One person has direct and immediate rule over all subjects within his kingdom, both singly and collectively, whether as individuals or as a body. It was as a monarchy that Christ instituted the visible Church. He so far tempered, however, this monarchy with aristocracy that it should not be in the power of the supreme ruler to abolish those inferior rulers whose power was equally of Christ’s institution, and therefore of Divine right. The supreme ruler was nevertheless not to be merely the ministerial head of the inferior rulers, and to exercise a power which flowed to him from them. He was to be in possession of supreme power, and of the plenitude of power, as his own power.

Pontificate and Episcopate are therefore equally of Divine right, as instituted by Christ. Both belong to the intestinal constitution of the visible Church. Neither of them can be abolished, nor can either cease to exist, if that Church is to endure in its identity as instituted by Christ. Pontificate without Episcopate would not constitute that Church; still less would Episcopate without Pontificate.

The kingdoms of a world the fashion of which passeth away may be altered into aristocracies, and so cease to be kingdoms. Aristocracies may be altered into democracies or into kingdoms, and so cease to be aristocracies, in the one case as in the other. Democracies may develop into aristocracies, and these again into monarchies, and in either case they cease to be democracies. With all such changes there is a change of intestinal constitution. There is radical change, and the society, in its altered constitution, has ceased to be that society which it was in its beginning. In a visible society of Divine institution, which is to endure in the living oneness of its identity to the end of time, the alteration of its constitution is an absolute impossibility. For such an alteration the Pontiff with his supreme power is in the plenitude of his power as powerless as are the Bishops; and the whole body of the Bishops is as powerless as is the Christian people. Christ alone has power to alter the constitution of that visible Church which the same Christ instituted. All save Christ must say Non possumus, We are destitute of power.

— William Humphrey, S. J., Urbs et Orbis, London: Thos. Baker, 1899.

Author: Christian Clay Columba Campbell

Christian Clay Columba Campbell is a Roman Catholic of the Anglican Use. As Senior Warden of the Cathedral of the Incarnation (Orlando, FL), he organised the process by which the parish accepted the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus, petitioning to join the Catholic Church. The Anglican Cathedral is now the Church of the Incarnation in the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter. Personal queries should be directed to me at eccentricbliss dot com.

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