The Decrees of the Vatican Council/Part 3/Chapter 3

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On the Power and Nature of the Primacy of the Roman Pontiff

WHEREFORE, resting on plain testimonies of the Sacred Writings, and adhering to the plain and express decrees both of Our predecessors the Roman Pontiffs, and of the General Councils, We renew the definition of the Œcumenical Council of Florence, by which all the faithful of Christ must believe that the Holy Apostolic See and the Roman Pontiff possesses the primacy over the whole world; and that the Roman Pontiff is the successor of Blessed Peter, Prince of the Apostles, and is true Vicar of Christ, and Head of the whole Church, and Father and teacher of all Christians; and that full power was given to him in Blessed Peter, by Jesus Christ our Lord, to rule, feed and govern the universal Church: as is also contained in the Acts of the Œcumenical Councils and in the Sacred Canons.

Hence We teach and declare that by the appointment of our Lord the Roman Church possesses a sovereignty of ordinary power over all other Churches, and that this power of jurisdiction of the Roman Pontiff, which is truly episcopal, is immediate; to which all, of whatsoever rite and dignity, both pastors and faithful, both individually and collectively, are bound, by their duty of hierarchical subordination and true obedience, to submit, not only in matters which belong to faith and morals, but also in those that appertain to the discipline and government of the Church throughout the world; so that the Church of Christ may be one flock under one supreme Pastor, through the preservation of unity, both of communion and of profession of the same faith, with the Roman Pontiff. This is the teaching of Catholic truth, from which no one can deviate without loss of faith and of salvation.

But so far is this power of the Supreme Pontiff from being any prejudice to that ordinary and immediate power of episcopal jurisdiction, by which bishops, who have been set by the Holy Ghost to succeed and hold the place of the Apostles,[1] feed and govern each his own flock, as true pastors, that this same power is really asserted, strengthened and protected by the supreme and universal Pastor; in accordance with the words of St Gregory the Great, "My honour is the honour of the whole Church. My honour is the firm strength of my brethren. Then am I truly honoured, when the honour due to each and all is not withheld."[2]

Further, from this supreme power possessed by the Roman Pontiff of governing the universal Church, it follows that, in the exercise of this office, he has the right of free communication with the pastors of the whole Church, and with their flocks, that they may be taught and ruled by him in the way of salvation. Wherefore We condemn and reprobate the opinions of those who hold that the communication between the supreme Head and the pastors and their flocks can lawfully be impeded; or who make this communication subject to the will of the secular power, so as to maintain that whatever is done by the Apostolic See, or by its authority, for the government of the Church, cannot have force or value unless it be confirmed by the assent of the secular power.

And since, by the divine right of apostolic primacy, one Roman Pontiff is placed over the universal Church, We further teach and declare that he is the supreme judge of the faithful,[3] and that in all causes the decision of which belongs to the Church recourse may be had to his tribunal,[4] but that none may reopen the judgement of the Apostolic See, than whose authority there is no greater, nor can any lawfully review its judgement.[5] Wherefore they err from the right path of truth who assert that it is lawful to appeal from the judgements of the Roman Pontiffs to an Œcumenical Council, as to an authority higher than that of the Roman Pontiff.

If then any shall say that the Roman Pontiff has the office merely of inspection or direction, and not full and supreme power of jurisdiction over the universal Church, not only in things which belong to faith and morals, but also in those things which relate to the discipline and government of the Church spread throughout 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 of the faithful; let him be anathema.

  1. From chap. iv of thirty-third session of Council of Trent,"Of the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy."
  2. From the Letters of St Gregory the Great, book viii, 30, vol. ii, p. 919, Benedictine edition, Paris, 1705.
  3. From a Brief of Pius VI, Super soliditate, of November 28, 1786.
  4. From the Acts of the Fourteenth General Council (Second of Lyons), A.D. 1274. Labbe's Councils, vol. iv, p. 512.
  5. From Letter viii of Pope Nicholas I, A.D. 858, to the Emperor Michael, in Labbe's Councils, vol. ix, pp. 1339 and 1570.