One Pope

In an earlier post, “The Suffering Pope”, I spoke of the never before seen situation of two men exercising the office of Pope. Benedict XVI is still retaining the title of Pope “Emeritus” and various theologians and church experts have referred to the “indelible mark” of the papacy. That seemed reasonable to me, as well as very confusing about how the office could be divided between two persons, each claiming to exercise a portion of the office. I am no more knowledgable than my readers, most of us are learning this as we go and looking to those wiser than we are for guidance.

Sandro Magister has recently reposted Professor Roberto de Mattei’s latest article on the complex subject of the true nature of the papacy. Dr. de Mattei has clarified this confusing situation. The entire article is worth reading at Magister’s site:

ONE AND ONE ALONE IS POPE by Roberto de Mattei

Among the multiple and multifaceted statements of Pope Francis in recent days there is one that deserves to be evaluated in its entire scope.

During the press conference held on August 18, 2014 on board the plane that was bringing him back to Italy after his voyage to Korea, the pope said among other things:

 “I think that a Pope emeritus should not be an exception; after so many centuries, this is our first Pope emeritus. […] Seventy years ago bishops emeritus were an exception; they didn’t exist. Today bishops emeritus are an institution. I think that a ‘Pope emeritus’ has already become an institution. Why? Because our span of life increases and at a certain age we no longer have the ability to govern well because our body is weary; our health may be good but we don’t have the ability to deal with all the problems of a government like that of the Church. I believe that Pope Benedict XVI took this step which de facto instituted Popes emeriti. I repeat, perhaps some theologian will tell you that it isn’t right, but that’s what I think. Time will tell if it is right or wrong, we shall see. You can ask me: ‘What if one day you don’t feel prepared to go on?’. I would do the same, I would do the same! I will pray hard over it, but I would do the same thing. [Benedict] opened a door which is institutional, not exceptional.”

The institutionalization of the figure of pope emeritus would therefore seem to be a fait accompli.

Some Catholic writers, like Antonio Socci, Vittorio Messori, and Fr. Ariel Levi di Gualdo, have stressed the problem raised by this unprecedented situation, which seems to accredit the existence of a pontifical “diarchy.” A revolutionary break with the theological and juridical tradition of the Church par adoxically made precisely by the pope of the “hermeneutic of reform in continuity.”

It is no coincidence that the “school of Bologna,” which has always distinguished itself by its opposition to Benedict XVI, greeted with satisfaction his resignation from the pontificate, not only because it removed an unwelcome pope from the scene, but precisely because of that “reform of the papacy” which he is seen as having inaugurated with the decision to take the title of pope emeritus.

The “continuist” hermeneutic of Benedict XVI has thus been overturned with a gesture of strong discontinuity, historical and theological.

The historical discontinuity arises from the rarity of the abdication of a pope, in two thousand years of Church history. But the theological discontinuity consists precisely in the intention to institutionalize the figure of pope emeritus. ***

The first who hastened to provide a theoretical justification for the innovation were above all authors in the progressive vein. Like Fr. Stefano Violi, a professor of canon law at the theological faculty of Emilia Romagna, with the essay “The resignation of Benedict XVI between history, law, and conscience” (“Rivista teologica di Lugano”, XVIII, 2, 2013, pp. 155-166). And like Valerio Gigliotti, a professor of European law at the University of Torino, with the concluding chapter of his book “La tiara deposta. La rinuncia al papato nella storia del diritto e della Chiesa [Tiara down: The resignation of the papacy in the history of law and of the Church]” (Leo S. Olschki, Florence, 2013, pp. 387-432).

According to Violi, in the “Declaratio” with which he announced his abdication on February 11, 2013, Benedict XVI distinguishes the Petrine ministry, “munus,” with an eminently spiritual essence, from its administration or exercise.

“His powers,” Violi writes, “seem to him insufficient for the administration of the ‘munus,’ not for the ‘munus’ itself.” Proof of the spiritual essence of the “munus” is taken as having been expressed in the following words of the “Declaratio” of Benedict XVI:

“I am well aware that this ministry (munus), due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out (exequendum) not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering.”

In this passage, according to Violi, Benedict XVI distinguishes not only between “munus” and “executio muneris,” but also between an administrative-ministerial “executio,” carried out in actions and words (“agendo et loquendo”), and an “executio” that is expressed with prayer and suffering (“orando et patiendo”). Benedict XVI is seen as having were announced the active exercise of the ministry, but not the office, the “munus” of the papacy: “The object of the irrevocable resignation is in fact the ‘executio muneris’ through action and word (‘agendo et loquendo’), not the ‘munus’ entrusted to him once and for all.”

Gigliotti also maintains that Benedict XVI, in ceasing to be supreme pontiff, has taken on a new juridical and personal status.

The split between the traditional attribute of “potestas” and the new one of “servitium,” between the juridical and spiritual dimensions of the papacy, is claimed to have opened the way “to a new mystical dimension of service to the people of God in communion and charity.” The “plenitudo potestatis” would be left behind for a “plenitudo caritatis” of the pope emeritus: a third status “with respect both to the condition prior to elevation to the see of Peter and to that of the supreme leadership of the Church: it is the ‘third embodiment of the pope,’ that of operative continuity in the service of the Church through the contemplative way.” * * *

In my judgment, the admirers of Benedict XVI must resist the temptation to endorse these ideas in order to turn them to their advantage.

Among Catholics of conservative orientation, in fact, some are already beginning to murmur that, in the case of a worsening of the religious crisis under way, the existence of two popes would make it possible to oppose pope emeritus Benedict XVI to pope in earnest Francis.

This is a position different from that of the sedevacantists, but it is characterized by the same theological weakness.

In times of crisis one must not look to men, who are frail and fleeting creatures, but to the unshakable institutions and principles of the Church. The papacy, in which the Catholic Church is concentrated in many ways, is founded on a theology whose pillars must be recovered. There is above all one point that must not be ignored. The common doctrine of the Church has always distinguished between the power of orders and the power of jurisdiction. The former is received through the sacraments, the latter by divine mission, in the case of the pope, or by canonical mission in the case of the bishops and priests. The power of jurisdiction stems directly from Peter, who received it immediately from Jesus Christ; all others in the Church receive it from Christ through his vicar, “ut sit unitas in corpore apostolico” (St. Thomas Aquinas, “Ad Gentes” IV c. 7).

The pope is therefore not a superbishop, nor is he the endpoint of a sacramental line that goes from the ordinary priest, through the bishop, up to the supreme pontiff. The episcopate constitutes the sacramental fullness of orders, and therefore no higher character than that of bishop can be imparted. As bishop, the pope is equal to all the other bishops.

What sets the pope above every other bishop is the divine mission that has been handed down from Peter to each of his successors, not by heredity but through an election legitimately carried out and freely accepted. In fact, the one who rises to the pontifical see could be an ordinary priest, or even a layman, who would be consecrated bishop after his election but is pope not from the moment of episcopal consecration, but in the act in which he accepts the pontificate.

The primacy of the pope is not sacramental, but juridical. It consists in the full power to feed, support, and govern the whole Church, meaning the supreme, ordinary, immediate, universal jurisdiction independent of all other earthly authority (art. 3 of the dogmatic constitution of Vatican Council I “Pastor Aeternus”).

In a word, the pope is the one who has the supreme power of jurisdiction, the “plenitudo potestatis,” because he governs the Church. And this is why the successor of Peter is first pope and then bishop of Rome. He is bishop of Rome in that he is pope, and not pope in that he is bishop of Rome.

The pope ordinarily leaves his office with death, but his power of jurisdiction is not indelible and inalienable. In the supreme governance of the Church there in fact exist the “exceptional cases” that theologians have studied, like heresy, physical and moral infirmity, resignation (cf. my article “Vicar of Christ. The primacy of Peter between normality and exception,” Fede e Cultura, Verona, 2013, pp. 106-138).

* * *

The case of resignation was examined above all after the abdication of the pontificate by Celestine V, pope from August 29 to December 13 of 1294. On that occasion a theological debate was opened between those who maintained that the resignation was invalid and those who upheld its juridical and theological foundation.

Among the many voices that were raised to reiterate the common doctrine of the Church must be remembered those of Giles of Viterbo (1243-1316), author of the concise treatise “De renunciatione papae,” and of his disciple Augustine Trionfi of Viterbo, who left us an imposing “Summa de potestate ecclesiastica,” which deals with the problem of the resignation (q. IV) and removal of the pope (q. V). Both Augustinians, but pupils of Thomas Aquinas, they are remembered as fully orthodox authors, among the most fervent supporters of the pontiff’s primacy of jurisdiction against the claims of the king of France and of the emperor of Germany at the time.

In the footsteps of the Angelic Doctor (Summa Theologica, 2-2ae, q. 39, a. 3), they illustrate the distinction between “potestas ordinis” and “potestas iurisdictionis.” The first, which stems from the sacrament of orders, presents an indelible character and is not subject to resignation. The second has a juridical nature and, not bearing the imprint of the indelible character proper to sacred orders, is subject to loss in the case of heresy, resignation, or removal. Giles reiterates the difference between “cessio” and “depositio,” the supreme pontiff not being subject to the second of these except in the case of grave and persistent heresy. The decisive proof of the fact that the “potestas papalis” does not impart an indelible character is the fact that “if this were not so, there could be no apostolic succession as long as a heretical pope remained alive” (Gigliotti, p. 250).

This doctrine, which has also been the common practice of the Church for twenty centuries, can be considered one of divine law, and as such unchangeable.

Vatican Council II did not explicitly reject the concept of “potestas,” but set it aside, replacing it with an equivocal new concept, that of “munus.” Art. 21 of “Lumen Gentium” then seems to teach that episcopal consecration confers not only the fullness of orders, but also the office of teaching and governing, whereas in the whole history of the Church the act of episcopal consecration has been distinguished from that of appointment, or of the conferral of the canonical mission.

This ambiguity is consistent with the ecclesiology of the theologians of the Council and postcouncil (Congar, Ratzinger, de Lubac, Balthasar, Rahner, Schillebeeckx…) who presumed to reduce the mission of the Church to a sacramental function, scaling down his juridical aspects.

The theologian Joseph Ratzinger, for example, although not sharing Hans Küng’s conception of a charismatic and de-institutionalized Church, distanced himself from tradition when he saw in the primacy of Peter the fullness of the apostolic ministry, linking the ministerial character to the sacramental (J.Auer-J. Ratzinger, “La Chiesa universale sacramento di salvezza”, Cittadella, Assisi, 1988).

* * *

This sacramental and non-juridical conception of the Church is emerging today in the figure of pope emeritus.

If the pope who resigns from the pontificate retains the title of emeritus, that means that to some extent he remains pope. It is clear, in fact, that in the definition the noun prevails over the adjective. But why is he still pope after the abdication? The only explanation possible is that the pontifical election has imparted an indelible character, which he does not lose with the resignation. The abdication would presuppose in this case the cessation of the exercise of power, but not the disappearance of the pontifical character. This indelible character attributed the pope could be explained in its turn only by an ecclesiological vision that would subordinate the juridical dimension of the pontificate to the sacramental.

It is possible that Benedict XVI shares this position, presented by Violi and Gigliotti in their essays, but the eventuality that he may have made the notion of the sacramental nature of the papacy his own does not mean that it is true. There does not exist, except in the imagination of some theologians, a spiritual papacy distinct from the juridical papacy. If the pope is, by definition, the one who governs the Church, in resigning governance he resigns from the papacy. The papacy is not a spiritual or sacramental condition, but an “office,” or indeed an institution.

The tradition and practice of the Church clearly affirm that there is one and only one pope, and his power is indivisible in its unity. Bringing into doubt the monarchical principle that rules the Church would mean subjecting the Mystical Body to an intolerable laceration. What distinguishes the Catholic Church from every other church or religion is precisely the existence of a unifying principle embodied in a person and directly instituted by God.

The distinction between governance and the exercise of governance, inapplicable to the pontifical office, could if anything be applied to understand the difference between Jesus Christ, who governs the Church invisibly, and his vicar, who exercises visible governance by divine delegation.

The Church has only one head and founder, Jesus Christ. The pope is the vicar of Jesus Christ, Man-God, but unlike the founder of the Church, who is perfect in his two human and divine natures, the Roman pontiff is a solely human person, devoid of the characteristics of the divinity.

Today we tend to divinize, to absolutize, what is human in the Church, ecclesiastical persons, and instead to humanize, to relativize, what is divine in the Church: its faith, its sacraments, its tradition. This error gives rise to grave consequences also on the psychological and spiritual level.

The pope is a human creature, although he is imbued with a divine mission. Impeccability has not been attributed to him, and infallibility is a charism that can be exercised only under precise conditions. He can err from the political point of view, from the pastoral point of view, and even from the doctrinal point of view, when he does not express himself “ex cathedra” and when he does not present the perennial and unchangeable magisterium of the Church. This does not change the fact that the pope must be given the highest honors that can be bestowed upon a man, and that one should nurture an authentic devotion to his person, as the saints have always done.

One may debate the intentions of Benedict XVI and his ecclesiology, but what is certain is that there can be only one pope at a time and that this pope, in the absence of proof to the contrary, is Francis, legitimately elected on March 13, 2013.

Pope Francis can be criticized, even severely, with due respect, but he must be considered the supreme pontiff until his death or until his eventual loss of the pontificate.

Benedict XVI has renounced not a part of the pontificate, but the whole papacy, and Francis is not a part-time pope, but entirely the pope.

How he exercises his power is, naturally, another discussion. But even in this case theology and the “sensus fidei” offer us instruments for resolving all the theological and canonical problems that may arise in the future.

The bolded parts were added by me, the ellipses were in Magister’s post. Thus, if I understand rightly, what we have is not a papal diarchy, but another disorientation which comes from the false ecclesiology of Vatican II. As Mattei points out, “Benedict XVI has renounced not a part of the pontificate, but the whole papacy, and Francis is not a part-time pope, but entirely the pope.” Here, Professor de Mattei is stating clearly that this attempt by Pope Benedict to institute an entirely post-Vatican II understanding of the papacy in the office of Pope Emeritus is not to be and there is only one Pope, Francis.

And so the spiritual chastisement under Pope Francis continues apace, can the material one be far behind?

Therefore, all the more reason to pray, pray pray for our poor Church.