HOLY OFFICE 417
that nothing in this realm transcends the boundary beyond which are superstition and abuse. For the same reason the Congregation ex- amines new devotions and forms of prayer, and passes judgment on images used in the cult. In all these matters it may be both ad- ministrator and judge. When its decrees establish principles that are universally valid, they have the power of law. Nevertheless they are not infallible. Should the Pope wish to give them the dignity of a proclamation ex cathedra, he employs a formula expressly drawn up for that purpose. Precisely because it has this character of all-embrac- ing theological authority, it is of such great significance and is, next to the Pope, the seat of ecclesiastical world dominion. Here "next to the Pope" is the correct phrase, because such a fullness of power could come to the Holy Office from none other than the Pope in per- son. The summons to become a member is looked upon as a great honour. Eleven cardinals belong, and the senior in office is the Secre- tary and the Vice-Prefect (the Congregations use the word "prefect" to designate the equivalent of chairman) . Then there are three prel- ates, more than twenty consultors or experts (among them there is always the General of the Dominican Order) , a number of specialists in dogmatic theology, and a group of subsidiary officials. A grave oath, the form of which no one outside the Holy Office knows, binds the tongues of all, even the lower officials. Failure to respect the official secrecy would mean excommunication as well as spiritual penal- ties from which the Pope alone could give absolution. Secrecy also surrounds the methods of procedure. Only the cardinals and prelates attend the sessions. Even the consultors, though they are highly respected dignitaries, are excluded and are merely summoned to render an opinion as occasion demands. The ancient palace of the Holy Office, which stands alone to the side of the colonnade of St. Peter's, still evokes the sombre mood which has always been created by the name and the work of the Inquisition.
But now the sword which the Congregation wields no longer strikes at the body and its life. It is a place of spiritual judgment. How many fall a victim to its spiritual inquiry no one can so much as guess, because even the Catholic who is summoned before it for some such purpose as to renounce an error is bound to maintain silence through- out life. Not only does the theologian engaged in teaching or writing