What are the limits of papal infallibility as defined by Vatican I and are the faithful justified to resist ecclesiastics when they abuse their authority to promote error?
Image above: a session of the Vatican I Council which lasted from 1868-1870.
From the blog, Rorate Caeli, we offer an English translation of Roberto de Mattei analysis of the Synod of the Family and how to regard the dogmatic definition of papal infallibility given during the First Vatican Council.
Prof. de Mattei's examination was first published in Corrispondenza Romana on November 5 and underscores two important points:
- Infallibility is not unlimited and arbitrary power.
- All the baptized have the right to defend their faith.
The 2014 Synod and Vatican I
Roberto de Mattei
The historical phase that has opened after the Synod of 2014 demands, on the part of Catholics, not only the willingness to debate and fight, but also an attitude of careful reflection and study on the new problems which are up for discussion. The first of these problems is the relationship of the faithful with a [Church] authority which appears to be failing in its duty. Cardinal Burke in an interview to “Vida Nueva” on the 30th of October stated that: “there is a strong sense that the Church is like a ship without a rudder”. It’s a powerful image but it perfectly corresponds to the general picture.
The path to take in this confusing situation is certainly not that of taking the place of the pope and bishops in the governing of the Church, whose supreme helmsman in any case is Jesus Christ. Indeed the Church is not a democratic assembly, but a monarchical and hierarchical one, divinely established on the institution of the papacy, which symbolizes the irreplaceable stone. The progressivist dream of “republicanizing” the Church and transforming Her into a permanent synodal state is destined to infringe upon the constitution Pastor Aeternus of Vatican I which defined not only the dogma of infallibility, but primarily the full and immediate power of the pope over all the bishops and the entire Church.
In the discussions of Vatican I, the anti-infallibility minority, echoing the concliarist and Gallican theses, affirmed that the authority of the pope did not reside only in the Pontiff, but in the pope being united to the bishops. A small group of Council Fathers asked Pius IX to affirm in the dogmatic text, that the Pontiff is infallible with the testimony of the Churches (“nixus testimonio Ecclesiarum”), but the pope revised the schema in the opposite sense, making an addition to the formula “ideoque eiusmodi Romani Pontificis definitionis esse ex se irreformabilis” the clause “non autem ex consensu Ecclesiae” (These definitions by the Roman Pontiff are thus unreformable per se, and not with the consensus of the Church), to clarify definitively, that the assent of the Church did absolutely not constitute the condition of infallibility. On the 18th July before an immense multitude crowded in the Basilica [of St. Peter's], the final text of the apostolic constitution Pastor Aeternus was approved with 525 votes in favor and 2 against. Fifty-five members of the opposition abstained. Immediately after the vote, Pius IX, solemnly promulgated the Apostolic Constitution Pastor Aeternus as a law of faith.
Pastor Aeternus establishes that the primacy of the pope consists in true and supreme power of jurisdiction, independent of any other power, over all the pastors and over the entire flock of the faithful. He possesses this supreme power not by delegation on the part of the bishops nor the entire Church, but in virtue of Divine right. The foundation of pontifical sovereignty does not consist in the charisma of infallibility, but in the apostolic primacy that the pope possesses over the universal Church as successor of Peter and Prince of the Apostles. The pope is not infallible when he exercises his ruling power: the disciplinary laws of the Church, differently from those of Divine or natural [origin], can indeed change. Yet, it is of Divine faith, and thus guaranteed by the chrism of infallibility, the monarchal constitution of the Church, which entrusts the fullness of authority to the Roman Pontiff. This jurisdiction includes, besides the power of government, that of the Magisterium.
The constitution, Pastor Aeternus, establishes with clarity the conditions of pontifical infallibility. These conditions were amply illustrated in the intervention of the 11th of July 1870 by His Excellency Vicenzo Gasser, Bishop of Bressanone and official speaker of the Deputation of the Faith. In the first place, Bishop Gasser specified that the pope is not infallible as a private person, but as a “public person”. Furthermore, as a “public person” it must be intended that the pope is fulfilling his office, speaking ex-cathedra as Doctor and Universal Pastor; in the second place, the Pontiff, must express himself in matters of faith or morals, res fidei vel morum. Finally he must pronounce a definitive judgment on the objective matter of his intervention. The nature of the act, which involves the infallibility of the pope must be expressed by the word “define” which has as a correlative the formula ex-cathedra.
The infallibility of the pope does not mean in any way that he enjoys unlimited and arbitrary power in matters of government and teaching. The dogma of infallibility, while it defines a supreme privilege, is fixed in precise boundaries, allowing for infidelity, error and betrayal. Otherwise in the prayers for the Supreme Pontiff there would be no need to pray “ut non tradat eum in animam inimicorum eius”. If it were impossible for the pope to cross to the enemy camp it wouldn’t be necessary to pray for it not to happen. However, the betrayal of Peter is the example of possible infidelity which has loomed over all of the popes through the course of history, and will be so until the end of time. The pope, even if he is the supreme authority on earth, is suspended between the summits of heroic fidelity to his mandate and the abyss of apostasy which is always present.
These are the problems that the First Vatican Council would have had to deal with if it hadn’t been suspended on the 20th of October 1870, a month after the Italian army had entered Rome. These are the problems that Catholics bound to Tradition must study in-depth today. Without in any way denying the infallibility of the pope and his supreme authority in government, is it possible (and in what way) to resist him, if he fails in his mission, which is to guarantee the unaltered transmission of the deposit of the faith and morals consigned by Jesus Christ to the Church?
Unfortunately this was not the path followed by the Second Vatican Council, even if it proposed in some way to integrate Vatican I. The theses of the anti-infallibility minority, defeated by Pius IX, flourished once again in the Halls of Vatican II, under the new form of the principle of collegiality. According to some exponents of the Nouvelle Theologie, like Fr. Yves Congar, after almost a century the minority of 1870 obtained a resounding victory. If Vatican I had conceived the pope as the apex of a societas perfecta hierarchal and visible, Vatican II and especially, post-conciliar actions, redistributed power in the horizontal sense, imparting it to the Episcopal conferences and synodal structures.
Today the power of the Church seems to have been transferred to “the people of God” which includes dioceses, base communities, parishes, movements and associations of the faithful. Infallibility and supreme jurisdiction, subtracted from the pontifical authority, are being conferred to the Catholic base, where Church pastors have to restrict themselves to the interpretation and expressing of needs. The Synod of Bishops in October highlighted the catastrophic results of this new ecclesiology, which claims to base itself on a "general will" voiced through surveys and questionnaires of every kind. But, what is the pope’s will today, whose duty, through divine mandate, is the mission of guarding the natural and divine law?
What is certain is that in ages of crisis, such the one we are experiencing, all of the baptized have the right to defend their faith, even by opposing non-compliant pastors. Authentically orthodox pastors and theologians for their part, have the duty to study the extent and limits of this right to resistance.
[Translation: Contributor Francesca Romana]