May 30, 2001
volume 12, no. 133

An Urgent Plea: Do Not Change the Papacy

Part Seven: Collegiality in the powers of the Pope Collegiality and the heresy of conciliarism in its full or mitigated form


Atila Sinke Guimarăes, Michael J. Matt, Dr. Marian Horvat and John Vennari

    Footnotes in Blue
Dear Holy Father,

    We would like to present this item to Your Holiness as an inquiry. According to everything we have learned, we see that the power of government and the power of teaching of the Bishops come directly from the powers of the Pope in their full and supreme form, that is, from Papal Infallibility and the Petrine Primacy in the ecclesiastical Monarchy. At Vatican Council II and in the post-Conciliar period, arguments have been put forth that these powers have to become "participative" so as to end the monarchical character that distinguishes them. According to this view, the monarchical structure should be replaced by a regime that is "collegiate," that is to say, democratic. The power would not proceed from the one (the Pope) to the many (the Bishops); but it would be the opposite: the power would proceed from the many to the one. We see these initiatives as new versions of the errors of Conciliarism on an even broader scale, as we will explain below. Are we wrong? If this is the case, we ask the courtesy that you or some representative enter into a cordial dialogue with us to discuss the doctrinal points that may have escaped our analysis.

    When the College of Bishops is understood as having the supreme power of government in the Church, obviously with the Pope included in the College, this is to affirm an even broader error than the claim that the Council has the supreme power of the Church. In effect, the Council is simply the College of Bishops solemnly convened together. When the College is not gathered together, it is dispersed throughout the world. Now, to affirm that the College has the supreme power, as Vatican II did, (34)

    (34) Lumen gentium 22b; The doctrine on collegiality in Lumen gentium provoked much discussion, during which requests were made for the introduction of a Preliminary Explanatory Note. This note, added in order to satisfy some conservative Bishops, is in blatant contradiction with what is affirmed in the text, as well as with the general interpretation given to collegiality after the Council. On the topic of this Explanatory Note, see A. S. Guimarăes, In the Murky Waters of Vatican II (Metairie, La.: Maeta, 1997), Chap VI, §§ 61-62, 101-102.
    On this topic the intention of the authors of the present Plea is not to open an academic discussion on possible interpretations of Lumen gentium according to tradition. Such a discussion would be endless, because the official text itself pays tribute to ambiguity. We place ourselves in a practical perspective: since Vatican II, the doctrine of collegiality in Lumen gentium has been constantly applied to increase the powers of the Bishops in accordance with what we state in the text.
is the same as saying that the all of the Bishops - either dispersed or convened together - have the greatest power in the Church. We are, therefore, facing an even broader rendition of the errors of Conciliarism. This heresy affirmed that the Council had the supreme power in the Church, and if the Pope would not agree with the decisions of the Council, he should be deposed. This heresy of Conciliarism, among others, was erroneously sustained by the Council of Constance (1414-1418), the Council of Basel (1431-1437) and the Synod of Pistoia (1786). Below are some papal documents that categorically condemn this conciliarist doctrine in either its full or mitigated form. It would seem that the collegiality that we are dealing with here would incur these same condemnations:


  • In the Constitution Pastor Aeternus, Pius IX together with Vatican Council I excommunicated those who defend the following erroneous propositions: "If anyone should say that the Blessed Apostle Peter was not established by Our Lord as Prince of all Apostles and visible head of the Church Militant; or that he did not receive directly and immediately from the same Our Lord Jesus Christ the primacy of a true jurisdiction of his own, but only a primacy of honor: let him be anathema" (DR 1823).


  • The same document stated: "If someone shall say that the Roman Pontiff has the office merely of inspection and direction, and not the full and supreme power of jurisdiction over the universal Church, not only in things which belong to Faith and Morals, but also in those which relate to the discipline and government of the Church spread through the world; or assert that he possesses merely the principal part and not all the fullness of this supreme power; or that this power which he enjoys is not ordinary and immediate, both over each and all the churches and over each and all the Pastors and the faithful: let him be anathema" (DR 1831).


  • In the Constitution Auctorem fidei of August 28, 1794, Pius VI condemned the errors of the Synod of Pistoia: "Moreover, it is heretical to propose that the Roman Pontiff is ministerial head, if this is explained to mean that the Roman Pontiff received, not from Christ in the person of St. Peter, but from the Church, the power of his office by which, as the successor of Peter, the true Vicar of Christ, and the head of the entire Church, he has power over the universal Church" (DR 1503).


  • In the Brief Super soliditate of November 28, 1786, Pius VI condemned the errors of Febronianism. The Brief is directed against Joseph Valentin Eybel, the Viennese canonist who wrote Was ist der Papst? [What is the Papacy?], based on the errors of the work by Febronius, De statu Ecclesiae et legitima potestate Romani Pontifici [On the State of the Church and the Legitimate Power of the Roman Pontiff], which was placed on the Index on February 27, 1764. Pius VI condemned the following errors:
    • "that every Bishop, as much as the Pope, was called by God to govern the Church and was granted the same power;
    • "that Christ granted the same authority to all the Apostles, and everything that one believes can be obtained from and granted by the Pontiff alone can also be obtained from any Bishop - either by virtue of his consecration or ecclesiastical jurisdiction;
    • "that Christ would have desired that the Church be administered like a republic and, since this system of government requires a president for the sake of unity - that is, one who, without daring to meddle in the affairs of the other authorities, shares the powers of government - he conserves the privilege of exhorting the negligent to fulfill their duties. For the force of the Primate consists only in the prerogative of compensating for the negligence of others and assuring that unity is preserved by means of exhortation and example;
    • "that the Pontiff has no power in other Dioceses, except in an extraordinary case;
    • "that the Pontiff is the head which receives from the Church its strength and stability" (DR 1500).
        Your Holiness, how can these strong and clear condemnations pronounced by prior Pontiffs harmonize with your desired reform of the Papacy? One could say that the points of your Encyclical that we quoted above directly incur these condemnations. Once again we ask: Are we wrong? Would it be possible to show us in what points? Why cannot a "patient and fraternal dialogue," similar to that which you solicited from Protestants and Schismatics on this theme, be opened with concerned and respectful Catholics like ourselves?

    Tomorrow: Part Eight: Ecumenism and the Reform of the Papacy


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    May 30, 2001
    volume 12, no. 133
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