Thursday, April 15, 2021

Propriae auctoritates apostolicae sedis

[Apr 15, 2021] While studying use of the pallium during the reform papacy of the 11th century, I came across a fascinating document that has great relevance to the question of whether a pope can be condemned or lose his office for denying the Catholic faith. I have never seen this document referenced in any discussion on the subject, so I want to introduce it here. Others more educated than I on theological matters can debate its merits.

In 1075 the papacy of Pope St. Gregory VII promulgated a syllabus on papal power known as Dictatus Papae. Dictatus Papae was meant to be a synopsis of the pope's prerogatives drawn from previous papal letters and canonical legislation, not unlike the Syllabus of Errors of Pope Pius IX. The nineteenth thesis of Dictatus Papae says of the Roman pontiff:

19. That he himself may be judged by no one

This refers to the canonical principle prime sedes a nemine iudicatur ("the first see is judged by no one"), a maxim that dates to the pontificate of Pope Symmachus (498-514), who was put on trial for various crimes alleged by King Theodoric the Ostrogoth. The episcopal synod summoned to try Symmachus refused to even pass judgment, on the premise that "the first see is judged by no one." Pope Gregory VII wished to call this episode to mind in Dictatus Papae, as he himself was in a similar predicament with Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV over the matter of lay investiture. He wanted to stress that no one could pass judgment on the pope, whether ruler or episcopal synod. [1]

Dictatus Papae is a well known document, but what is not so familiar is that shortly after the promulgation of Dictatus Papae another syllabus was published. Called Propriae auctoritates apostolicae sedis ("The Powers Proper to the Holy See"),  this document was meant to elaborate on the theses of Dictatus Papae [2]. Issued sometime between 1075 and 1085, these theses should be read in conjunction with Dicatus Papae, which it is meant to support and expand upon.

Thus, we see that thesis 19 of Dictatus Papae is expanded in Propriae auctoritates apostolicae sedis, the seventh thesis of which says:

7. The pope may be judged by no one, even if he should deny the faith, as is seen from [Pope] Marcellinus

Apparently, the curia of Gregory VII did not think the 19th thesis of Dictatus Papae was explicit enough, so they desired to restate the maxim with the addition "even if he should deny the faith, as is seen by Marcellinus." The details of how this thesis came to be are unknown, but the implication is that the imperial propagandists of Henry IV had responded to Dictatus Papae by arguing that a pope could not be judged unless he had denied the faith. Gregory VII responded by appealing to the case of Pope Marcellinus, who had in fact publicly apostasized (or was at least believed to have) and yet did not lose his office. While Dictatus Papae 19 references a criminal trial (of Pope Symmachus), Propriae auctoritates apostolicae sedis 7 references a case of public loss of faith. The implication is that the Magisterium of Pope Gregory VII meant to teach that a pope could not be judged or deposed even if he had specifically denied the faith.

I am not competent to comment on the authority or theological import of the document, but future discussions about theoretically deposing a pope should most certainly factor in this document, as it was promulgated under the Pope Gregory VII specifically in part to address this very question.


[1] Thus Gregory categorically rejected the authority of the Synod of Brixen (1080) which condemned Gregory of various crimes and that the pope "should be canonically deposed and expelled and condemned in perpetuity, if, having heard this [decree], he does not step down."

[2] The text of Propriae auctoritates apostolicae sedis was found in a German language work by Hubert Mordek, 'Proprie auctoritates apostolice sedis. Ein zweiter Dictatus papae Gregors VII.?', Deutsches Archiv für Erforschung des Mittelalters 28 (1972), pp. 105-32 Translated by T. Reuter.

Sunday, April 04, 2021

With The Joy of Christ's First Breath

A most happy, blessed Easter to all of you who may be reading this, whether you are Catholic or not. I pray for the mercy and grace of our Lord to be with you abundantly during this holy season.

This Easter marks the 19th Easter I have celebrated as a Catholic. I remember receiving the sacred unction of Confirmation all those years ago, taking the name Francis in honor of the great saint of Assisi whose witness led me to the Church. Last night, I watched a man and a woman enter the Catholic Church at my parish's Easter Vigil. Despite everything going on in the world, despite all the darkness in the Church itself, despite the chaos in the Vatican, there were still people who heard the voice of the Bridegroom and followed Him into His chambers, seeking the ark of salvation. One of the men being confirmed even took the name Francis, just as I had all those years ago.

At the time, I was  a tad envious of those people. They were likely blissfully unaware of a whole lot of things. To use a tired cliché, they had not yet been "red pilled" to the disaster in which Catholicism currently finds itself. There are times when I wish I could take the proverbial "blue pill" and forget about it all. Go back to believing John Paul II was the greatest pope ever. To believing in the New Springtime. To thinking the documents of Vatican II were profound. To blindly attending an okay Novus Ordo and thinking it represented 2,000 years of tradition. To believing most of the bishops were good men, that scandal was due just "a few bad apples." To blaming the Church's public relations problems on media bias. To being moved to tears reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church. And yes, as I watched that man be confirmed as Francis, a part of me wished I could take a blue pill and forget it all. Does not the Proverb say "He who increases in knowledge increases in sorrow" (Prov. 3:13)?

Nevertheless, "Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation", O' Lord (Ps. 52:12); and "rejoice in the Lord always" (Php. 4:4). Even though such thoughts tempt me from time to time, I have also reflected that my spiritual life is much better now than it was then. Back then I was restless, striving, tossed about by the wind. Now I feel much more solid, more at rest, more at peace, more grounded. And it's ironic because it doesn't seem to matter what goes on in the world and the Church; in a paradoxical sense, I found more peace the worse things got. Isn't that how trials work? They compel you to let go of your worldly understanding and cleave to the Lord. To have faith in Him. They purify your attachments, teaching you to trust in God alone. That's the way it works. Who ever said these trials would not come from or through the Church itself? 

Going back to St. Francis, what originally drew me to him all those years who was his radical sense of abandonment. Not just renunciation of worldly goods, but of worldly concerns. I'm sure Francis was well aware of papal corruption. Of clerical worldliness. Of priestly ineptitude. Of Christian hypocrisy. Of the darkness of the world and the power of evil. But he simply didn't focus on that. He focused on the cross of Christ, and therein he found perfect joy. Joy that enabled him to hug the leper on the road, or build San Damiano stone after stone, or talk to a wolf or a bird.

Where is faith lived out? I mean, really? There's only one possible space it can be lived out—right where you are. With the people who are right in front of you. In the circumstances you actually find yourself in. The chance to be a saint is right now. Will there be some sort of future restoration, some glorious triumph of Tradition? Who knows. But what I do know is that "now is the acceptable time of God's favor; today is the day of salvation" (2 Cor. 6:2). "Today, if you hear His voice, harden not your hearts" (Heb. 3:15). Yes, being a Catholic is hard, especially these days; some people I know have thrown in the towel. Their walk is their own. But for me, the older I get, the further I go, the more the Lord has helped me to focus on the here and now. And this has been a tremendous gift to my inner peace. I would rather be here where I am now than anywhere else.

You, too, friend. Today is your day. Have you hardened your heart? It's not that what's going on in the Church or in Rome don't matter; that stuff does matter—souls are being lost because of it, and I believe a lot of people are going to have a very heavy judgment on the Day of the Lord on account of it. It definitely is a problem, and as a Catholic it is my problem, in a sense. But in another sense, it's not, just as the corruption in Rome was not St. Francis's concern. But the leper in front of him was his concern. The avarice of some cardinal did not perturb him; the sin he discerned in his own heart did. His spiritual focus was ever trained on his own life and actions.

The great paradox, of course, is that by focusing so intensively on his own spiritual life, he did, in fact, end up reforming the Church. That was never his aim. But God did it through Him, because that's how God is. 

Even though it's tempting to want the blue pill, I have realized the Gospel always gives me a way out. I don't have to choose between being naively ignorant or red pilled and cynical. Just like St. Francis, I can choose joy. I can choose the joy that is in front of me every single day, always evident to those who have eyes to see, who, by the grace of God, have made their hearts like children. I can live in the joy of the Resurrection, with the clarity and freshness and radiance of the first breath in Christ's lungs when He first stepped out of the tomb. Ah, what a joyful breath that must have been! 

May that be my joy—the joy of Christ's first breath. The joy that is complete, that no man can taketh. And may it be yours as well.