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.

Except the Three Sacred Fingers

"Sacrosancta Lateranensis ecclesia omnium urbis et orbis ecclesiarum mater et caput" ("Most Holy Lateran Church, of all the churches in the city and the world, the mother and head.") Inscription on the façade of the Papal Archbasilica of St. John Lateran, Rome.
“Sacrosancta Lateranensis ecclesia omnium urbis et orbis ecclesiarum mater et caput” (“Most Holy Lateran Church, of all the churches in the city and the world, the mother and head.”) Inscription on the façade of the Papal Archbasilica of St. John Lateran, Rome.

What Alanus Copus Nicholas Harpsfield and Father Henry Fitzsimons, of Dublin, have related about John Travers, an Irish doctor of sacred theology, who fell in Henry’s or Elizabeth’s time (I have not definitely ascertained which) is worth repeating. This man wrote something against the English heresy, in which he maintained the jurisdiction and authority of the Pope. Being arraigned for this before the king’s court, and questioned by the judge on the matter, he fearlessly replied — “With these fingers,” said he, holding out the thumb, index, and middle fingers, of his right hand, “those were written by me, and for this deed in so good and holy a cause I neither am nor will be sorry.” Thereupon being condemned to death, amongst other atrocious punishments inflicted, that glorious hand was cut off by the executioner and thrown into the fire and burnt, except the three sacred fingers by which he had effected those writings, and which the flames, — however piled on and stirred up, could not consume.

— Chapters towards a History of Ireland in the reign of Elizabeth, Chapter II,
Philip O’Sullivan Beare.

Receiving Authority There

St. Patrick poured forth to God the following prayer: ‘O Lord Jesus Christ, lead me, I beseech thee, to the seat of the holy Roman Church, that, receiving authority there to preach with confidence Thy sacred truths, the Irish nation may, through my ministry, be gathered to the fold of Christ.’ And soon after, being about to proceed to Ireland, this man of God, Patrick, went as he had wished to Rome, the head of all churches, and having asked and received the apostolic blessing, he returned, pursuing the same road by which he had journeyed thither.

— Probus, Vita S. Patricii.

Romana Ecclesia a Solo Domino Sit Fundata

St. Peter's Square, Vatican City.
St. Peter’s Square, Vatican City.
  1. That the Roman church was founded by God alone.
  2. That the Roman pontiff alone can with right be called universal.
  3. That he alone can depose or reinstate bishops.
  4. That, in a council his legate, even if a lower grade, is above all bishops, and can pass sentence of deposition against them.
  5. That the pope may depose the absent.
  6. That, among other things, we ought not to remain in the same house with those excommunicated by him.
  7. That for him alone is it lawful, according to the needs of the time, to make new laws, to assemble together new congregations, to make an abbey of a canonry; and, on the other hand, to divide a rich bishopric and unite the poor ones.
  8. That he alone may use the imperial insignia.
  9. That of the pope alone all princes shall kiss the feet.
  10. That his name alone shall be spoken in the churches.
  11. That this title [Pope] is unique in the world.
  12. That it may be permitted to him to depose emperors.
  13. That he may be permitted to transfer bishops if need be.
  14. That he has power to ordain a clerk of any church he may wish.
  15. That he who is ordained by him may preside over another church, but may not hold a subordinate position; and that such a one may not receive a higher grade from any bishop.
  16. That no synod shall be called a general one without his order.
  17. That no chapter and no book shall be considered canonical without his authority.
  18. That a sentence passed by him may be retracted by no one; and that he himself, alone of all, may retract it.
  19. That he himself may be judged by no one.
  20. That no one shall dare to condemn one who appeals to the apostolic chair.
  21. That to the latter should be referred the more important cases of every church.
  22. That the Roman church has never erred; nor will it err to all eternity, the Scripture bearing witness.
  23. That the Roman pontiff, if he have been canonically ordained, is undoubtedly made a saint by the merits of St. Peter; St. Ennodius, bishop of Pavia, bearing witness, and many holy fathers agreeing with him. As is contained in the decrees of St. Symmachus the pope.
  24. That, by his command and consent, it may be lawful for subordinates to bring accusations.
  25. That he may depose and reinstate bishops without assembling a synod.
  26. That he who is not at peace with the Roman church shall not be considered catholic.
  27. That he may absolve subjects from their fealty to wicked men.

Dictatus papæ, included in the register of Pope Gregory VII under the year 1075; translated in Ernest F. Henderson, Select Historical Documents of the Middle Ages, (London: George Bell and Sons, 1910), pp. 366-367.

Continue reading “Romana Ecclesia a Solo Domino Sit Fundata”

To Whom Should We Go?

Statue of the saint in St. Peter's Square.
Statue of the saint in St. Peter’s Square.

With demoralising “off-the-cuff” interviews emanating from Rome now seemingly every other week, it is good to be reminded… portæ inferi non prævalebunt adversus eam (St. Matt. xvi. 18.).

After this, many of his disciples went back to their old ways, and walked no more in his company. Whereupon Jesus said to the twelve, Would you, too, go away? Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom should we go? Thy words are the words of eternal life; we have learned to believe, and are assured that thou art the Christ, the Son of God.

St. John vi. 67-70.

Pray for the Holy Father

The reckless (re-) abandonment of the regal and distinguishing appurtenances of the papal office, whatever the motivation, is not a true or practical humility. It debases the Petrine ministry and office and compromises the mission of the Ecclesia Catholica in the world. Nevertheless and always, oremus pro pontifice nostro Francisco:

Dominus conservet eum,
et vivificet eum,
et beatum faciat eum in terra,
et non tradat eum
in animam inimicorum eius.

Tu Es Petrus (At Least for Another Week)

Today’s news of the pending “resignation”of our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, is most distressing — not simply the notion that a pope would abdicate the throne, (though I seem to remember that St. Peter persevered to the bitter end on a Roman cross), but because of the practical ramifications of the Holy Father’s vision of the papacy as expressed in his surprise announcement in today’s consistory.

However, in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the bark of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognise my incapacity to adequately fulfil the ministry entrusted to me.

I take great issue with the pope’s idea that a “modern” pontiff need any special strengths more aptly suited to the circumstances of today’s Church than were perhaps necessary for his predecessors. I feel certain that the Holy Ghost need not impart any extraordinary modernist graces to today’s uniquely challenged popes. It has been reported, for example, that one of the factors in the Holy Father’s decision may have been his doctor’s advice to refrain from any further overseas trips.

It seems certain that the Holy Father’s health is deteriorating — perhaps very quickly. I of course pray for the health and long life of the Successor of St. Peter. I can not pretend to know why the Holy Father does not wish to occupy the papal throne until his death — which despite his many and deep personal flaws, his immediate predecessor Pope John Paul II did humbly with admirable grace, despite his very public illness and decline.

The duty of the Bishop of Rome is to govern the Universal Church as the vicar of Jesus Christ on earth, the God-Man Who emptied Himself — in extreme humiliation, openly before the whole world — to willingly suffer, become weak and ultimately, from a human perspective, powerless for the Redemption of His Church. Despite the egotistical and flamboyant escapades of his (rashly) blessed predecessor, Pope John Paul II, the Holy Father does not need to jet around the world headlining outdoor mega-masses that derive more inspiration from Woodstock and Lalapalooza than the Cenacle. Nor does a pope need to receive mariachi bands, trapeze artists, and children’s choirs in front of a cheering crowd in the Paul VI Audience Hall each Wednesday. In fact, he need not be seen at all. For well on nineteen hundred years, the vast majority of Catholics hadn’t the vaguest idea of what their pope looked like in person — and it neither impeded them in their faith nor the supreme pontiff in the exercise of his most dread office.

The reigns of Paul VI and John Paul II have deeply perverted the mission of the papacy, and Pope Benedict XVI has finally and fully acquiesced to this modernist vision of the Petrine Office. Will his successor have the courage to break from this mould or will the papacy descend further into the cesspool of collegiality, Curial bureaucracy, pastoral doublespeak, pathetic impotence, and ultimate irrelevance?

Let us all pray that the College of Cardinals will be open to the inspiration of the Holy Ghost and that the new pope will represent a return to the traditional role of the Successor of St. Peter in the Catholic Church.