Thursday, March 26, 2009

Unam Sanctam (part 2)

I want to now continue something Anselm began awhile back but that I have never had the time to dig into: issues relating to the 1302 bull Unam Sanctam and the issue of the necessity of being subject to the Roman pontiff for salvation. If I were one of those persons who believed that the post-Vatican II Church had officially changed its teaching, who believed that the popes had gone off into apostasy and that the Chair of Peter was now vacant, I think this is where I would take my stand. This discussion (in my opinion) is quite a bit more complex than the arguments based on Quo Primum and like liturgical matters. Therefore, I am going to go slow and take as long as is needed to weed through the many issues that surround this controversy and see if we can't get to the bottom of it.

As we all know, Unam Sanctam was the bull of Pope Boniface VIII (from whom I take my name, by the way, not Saint Boniface of Germany) issued in 1302 in response to the aggressive anti-papal behavior of King Philip IV of France. In this bull, Pope Boniface makes the following statement (as it is commonly rendered in English):

Furthermore, we declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff.

The real bone of contention is that this document clearly and unambigously states that every person must be subject to the Roman pontiff for their salvation, while Vatican II seems to claim that non-Catholics can be saved without this subjection. Therefore, the Church has contradicted itself.

Today we are only going to get our feet wet and ask ourselves an important preliminary question: to whom does this statement apply?

It is common to begin discussion about this bull by putting it in the context of the struggles between the papacy and the secular authorities that were endemic throughout the middle ages but especially fierce in the late 13th and early 14th centuries. This is a bull primarily about the relationship between Church and State.

However, that being said, the first thing I want to address with this bull is the simple fact that just because it happens to address a very dated, time-specific issue (the relation between Church and State in the middle ages) that in no way means that it cannot be considered to contain an infallible statement. Many commentaries I read on Unam Sanctam attempt to get around the infallible declaration by stating "this has to be taken in context of the historical period in which it was written." I agree - we always need to put things into a historical context. But what does that have to do with whether a statement was infallible or not?

After all, we could say, "The Nicene Creed? Yeah, don't take that too strictly. After all, we have to keep in mind that it was originally composed to address the Arian controversy raging in the middle 4th century in the east." Sure, but that doesn't have any relation to the status of its veracity as a guide for faith. In the same way, simply pointing out that Unam Sanctam was written to address Church and State relations between France and the papacy does not really bear on whether or not this statement is infallible. I'd say most infallible declarations are made in response to specific, historical circumstances, wouldn't you? The declarations of Trent all had the Protestant Revolt in mind. This so commonly brought up issue of the "historical context" is simply a moot point. When the Pope uses the language we declare, we proclaim, we define then we are getting into a statement that transcends historical circumstances.

Historical circumstance may give rise to infallible pronouncements, but it does not negate them or explain them away once they are made.

To get back to the question of to whom the pope is speaking here, I think the above has established the fact that, whatever particular circumstance he may have had in mind, he was in fact making a universal declaration to the whole Church, as established by his use of the traditional formula for making infallible declarations. But now that we know to whom he was speaking, let us ask about whom is he referring when he says "every human person?"

Only in this insane, backwards and ignorant world of modernity would we even have to ask such a question as "Duh, who is the pope talking about when he says 'every human person'?" I have the answer! How about every human person.

I am only bringing this up because I want to address the following excuse: Well, the pope can only declare things binding on Catholics, and so when he says that "every human person" must be subject to the pope, he is really saying that every Catholic must render obedience to the pope. He is not making a statement about non-Christians. In fact, salvation outside the Church is really not even an issue in this bull." I read a lengthy essay by an apologist today who was taking this angle. I suppose it is a variation of the "historical circumstance" argument, but instead of saying it is not an infallible statement, it asserts that it doesn't really apply to everybody.

He stated that the historical context was that the bull applied to Catholics in France in the 14th century, and as such, only applied to Catholics. Thus, when Boniface says it is absolutely necessary for every human creature to be subject to the Roman pontiff, what he really means is that it is necessary for every Catholic to be subject to the Roman pontiff. Here's the quote:

Unam Sanctam was addressed to Catholics and should be understood in that context and, as I understand, the point of absolute necessity should be withstood wholly within that context and not referring to anything outside of that context. I.e., subjection to the Roman pontiff is absolutely necessary for the salvation of Roman Catholics (but not for anybody else).

I'm not going to link to the source because the author will probably find this post and want to engage in a fruitless debate that will take 50 combox messages and hours I don't have. But at any rate, I have a hard time accepting the notion that "every human creature" means "every Catholic." This gets to the very heart of what papal infallibility means.

Papal infallibility is not a charism that applies to contexts, or historical circumstances or what we think the pope was getting at; it applies to his words. What I mean is this: suppose the people who say that we need to understand Unam Sanctam only according to its historical circumstance are correct - suppose the Pope never meant to make a universal declaration about salvation in general. Suppose it never entered his head to do so and he really was only making a statement about the relationship of the royal authority to the papacy. The way I understand it, none of that matters. The fact is, when all is said and done, the Pope said "every human creature" and did so in the context of an infallible declaration. Therefore, whatever his intentions may have been, whatever the circumstances were, we have to admit that this statement is infallible exactly as they stand.

I'm not saying that infallible statements do not sometimes need to be understood with reference to external facts, but going from "every human creature" to "every Catholic" is quite a leap. What good would our infallible declarations, the decrees of the Councils and the Fathers be if we could say "every human creature" means "every Catholic?" They'd be worthless. Infallible statements are meant to help truth be easier to distinguish. If we were to understand that infallible statements could be understood not according to their literal wording but according to what we suppose the pope may have meant when he said them, everything would come unraveled. Isn't this the whole "spirit of Vatican II" logic all over again but applied to something different?

In the end, I think we are bound to admit the following two things about Unam Sanctam:

First, the statement we are discussing fits all the criteria for an infallible statement and should be regarded as such (unlike my college history professor, who laughed at the notion that Unam Sanctam was infallible but held Gaudium et Spes in very high regard).

Second, we ought to admit that this document does indeed make a universal statement about salvation in general that pertains to all mankind. Perhaps Pope Boniface did not mean to make such a statement, but the simple fact is that he did, and we have to take it as it is and not try to get around the actual wording, for the actual wording is what is guaranteed by the Holy Spirit.

Okay, so I know I did not get into the theological meat of the document at all, but we have to get these issues out of the way now before we can proceed. Next time I'll take a look at the theological import of the document.


Anonymous said...

I think the Q is what is meant by "for salvation"

One angle to take is along the lines of "all the saved" are in fact subject to the RP, and someone who is following their conscience, and is invincibly ignorant, is also subject to the RP implicitly.
Another is that souls in purgatory are made subject to the RP, and all the souls in heaven are subject to the RP.
As Sheen said, millions reject what they wrongly think is the Church and only a few really knowingly reject the Church.

BONIFACE said...

Well, I am going to address this in a future post...but, to give you a sneek peek, yes, I think I am going more along the lines of your train of thought with this.

Anselm said...

Would we really say that the souls in Purgatory and in Heaven are subject to the Roman Pontiff?

Seems rather strange to me...

Mr S said...

The Pontiff is in charge, as Chief Steward, until the return of the King to His Kingdom.

Christ has already "returned"... individual judgment.... to those whose time has ended. Their salvation is assured. Their life will be eternal in the presence of the beatific vision. They owe allegiance to none.

BONIFACE said...


No, I wouldn't follow the train of thought that far.

Alcuin said...

If salvation requires the Church, and the Church requires the Pope as its head, then every human creature is subject to the Roman Pontiff whether they like it or not.

So must one acknowledge that they are subject to the Pope to be saved? Unum Sanctam says, "yes".

Therefore, if the Greeks or others should say that they are not confided to Peter and to his successors, they must confess not being the sheep of Christ, since Our Lord says in John 'there is one sheepfold and one shepherd.'

I suppose it then comes down to what Anonymous said about invincible ignorance. Does it count as invincibly ignorant if you are convinced that the Church's claims are not true?

Bobby Bambino said...

Great, very cool. I'm excited to read more about this, as this is indeed difficult to reconcile with some teachings. God love you.

Alexander said...

Why such mental gymnastics on the part of the anonymous apologist? Why not apply the same to recent documents?

We see that in the CCC and Vatican II an ambiguous explanation of salvation. See my recent post as to why people take Vatican II and declare salvation is possible outside the Church. It is very easy to do so simply by using Unitatis Redintegratio.

The solution is to simply say that if anyone who is outside the Church is to be saved this must happen by being joined to the Church before they die; in ways only know to God and of course this is purely speculative – we will never know for sure. Hence they cease being outside the Church.

In this way all past infallible teachings do not need such rigorous interpretation to line it up with recent documents that are not infallible. The thing here is that neo-cons think that Vatican II is infallible in every instance. If this is the case then VII and US contradict each other on the surface. The solution then is to take one and reinterpret it in light of the other.

Why not then take UR or the CCC and perform some mental gymnastics to line it up with past teaching instead?

One reason, of many, is that the underlying attitude of recent Papacies, through their ambiguous ecumenical and inter-religious events can suggest that salvation is possible outside the Church. But they only imply it because none of these Popes have ever given an explicit “yes.”

To the neo-con Vatican II appears to be “so clear” on this subject, the CCC (a text that is supposed to interpret these documents and other Catholic teachings) remains “clear” on this, US is dated and must bow to clearer “developed” explanations that come later (Vatican II), and the actions of recent Papacies imply the correct attitude and interpretation of the issue.

The logical conclusion is, when you have this kind of mindset, US must be interpreted away because of the clear teachings of recent documents and implicit affirmations by recent Popes.

I mean seriously, UR states:

“Even in the beginnings of this one and only Church of God there arose certain rifts,(19) which the Apostle strongly condemned.(20) But in subsequent centuries much more serious dissensions made their appearance and quite large communities came to be separated from full communion with the Catholic Church-for which, often enough, men of both sides were to blame. The children who are born into these Communities and who grow up believing in Christ cannot be accused of the sin involved in the separation, and the Catholic Church embraces upon them as brothers, with respect and affection. For men who believe in Christ and have been truly baptized are in communion with the Catholic Church even though this communion is imperfect. The differences that exist in varying degrees between them and the Catholic Church-whether in doctrine and sometimes in discipline, or concerning the structure of the Church-do indeed create many obstacles, sometimes serious ones, to full ecclesiastical communion. The ecumenical movement is striving to overcome these obstacles. But even in spite of them it remains true that all who have been justified by faith in Baptism are members of Christ's body,(21) and have a right to be called Christian, and so are correctly accepted as brothers by the children of the Catholic Church.(22)]”

This is one of the hardest parts of Vatican II. Notice that the council declares that people who are in “imperfect communion” and have been justified by a valid baptism are members of the Body of Christ. But the Mystical Body of Christ and the Catholic Church are one and the same. So that means they’re Catholic? Nope, Vatican II says they are not Catholic while at the same time saying they are members of Christ’s Body. As if to say the Catholic Church and the Body of Christ are not one and the same but different entities. And how dare anyone say that someone who is a member of the Body of Christ is not saved.

BONIFACE said...


That is a difficult conundrum indeed...

Anonymous said...

I would be willing to say that those souls in Purgatory and in Heaven are subject (in a certain sense) to the Roman Pontiff, whomever he may be.

Matthew 18:18

"Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."

But I would also argue that it is irrelevant for them. They have achieved their salvation, and as such, their prayers for the Church Militant have much more affect on us than their subjection to the Roman Pontiff has on them.