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Thoughts on the Papacy
January 8, 2017, 2:35 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Having recently been in discussion on another thread regarding Papal authority, I offer the following thoughts for discussion.


  • The Church is the Mystical Body of Christ, “the blessed company of all faithful people”, namely all those who have been Baptised, and have received the infused virtues of faith, hope and charity.
  • Baptism imparts an indelible character, which though it may be impaired or deformed, can never be entirely erased.
  • The Lord gave Peter a responsibility to “strengthen the brethren”, and to maintain the unity of the Church.
  • This responsibility has been passed down to Peter’s successors, de facto the Bishops of Rome.
  • This responsibility is universal, ordinary (in virtue of the office itself) and truly episcopal.

Some conclusions:

  • The responsibility is laid directly upon Peter (and his successors), not upon the faithful at large. Therefore it cannot be interpreted as (I caricature) “Peter may do as he will, but everyone else must do as Peter says.”
  • “Peter” has truly episcopal authority throughout the Church.
  • The Church “subsists” (i.e. exists as a concrete entity) at the universal level (including the Church Triumphant), and in each “particular church” (concretely, diocese) under the pastoral care of its Bishop as principal pastor.
  • I would add that it also “subsists” wherever the Eucharist is validly celebrated: wherever the Sacramental Body of Christ is made present, there too his Mystical Body is made present. Thus in each parish the whole Church is in some way present in the Eucharistic assembly.
  • The ordinary and universal episcopal authority of the Pope implies that (at least in case of need) he can exercise this episcopal authority in any particular church. This may be, for instance, when the local Ordinary is impeded (maybe under a persecuting regime), or is neglecting or abusing his own local authority to the detriment of the faithful.
  • It does not imply (I would submit) that his authority in that respect exceeds in content that which could be exercised by the local bishop. The Pope is not a “super-bishop” with super-episcopal powers.
  • The ordinary and universal episcopal authority possessed by the Pope is to be exercised to promote and maintain the unity of the entire Body of Christ. He is responsible (answerable) to Christ alone for this stewardship.
  • To say that Papal authority is universal is not to say that it is absolute or unlimited. Benedict XVI rightly pointed out that it is incorrect to say that “the Pope can do anything.” He has the duty to maintain the true teaching of the Church (and to this end his ex cathedra pronouncements on faith and morals are guaranteed); and he has a duty to maintain, as far as he can, the bond of charity which unites all Christian people.

Some limits to Papal authority:

  • The Pope cannot, in virtue of his ordinary episcopal authority, invalidate Sacraments which would otherwise be valid. Ordinations by bishops who reject his authority (e.g. the Orthodox) are valid, as are Eucharists celebrated by priests ordained by such bishops. Any Christian may validly administer Baptism.
  • I conclude that the ordinary minister of a sacrament can validly administer that sacrament in virtue of their own power, derived from Baptism or Ordination.
  • The ordinary ministers of matrimony (in western theology) are the couple themselves, who express their mutual consent to a permanent and exclusive union, open to the procreation of children, and who seal or consummate that consent by their actual bodily union.
  • While civil or ecclesiastical authority may lay down rules for the public recognition of such unions, they cannot make such rules invalidate what would otherwise be valid in the sight of God. Certainly civil authority cannot make laws which would (e.g. for reasons of race) invalidate in the sight of God unions which would otherwise be valid.
  • While ecclesiastical authority (diocesan or universal) may require an expressed intention of celibacy as a pre-condition for ordination, it cannot of itself remove the right to marriage, or invalidate a marriage which would otherwise be valid.
  • According to St Paul, Peter and the other Apostles had the right (exousia) to be accompanied by their wives, although he himself chose not to exercise this right. If even Peter himself had this as a right, how can he or his successors remove this right from others?

I offer these thoughts as points for discussion.


1 Comment so far
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Sound theology ( Of course ) on the Papacy and other sacraments and their ministers. JV.

Comment by Fr. John Vile

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