Ordinary power bishops v Pope


In laymans terms, can anyone describe what Ordinary Power is with regard to episcopal authority?

And how does the authority of the Pope mesh with the authority of a local bishop?

I refer to this phrase from the decrees of Vatican Council I:

  1. *So, then, if anyone says that the Roman Pontiff has merely an office of supervision and guidance, and not the full and supreme power of jurisdiction over the whole Church, and this not only in matters of faith and morals, but also in those which concern the discipline and government of the Church dispersed throughout the whole world; or that he has only the principal part, but not the absolute fullness, of this supreme power; or that this power of his is not ordinary and immediate both over all and each of the Churches and over all and each of the pastors and faithful: let him be anathema.

*[FONT=Arial]I am curious to know how the term Ordinary modifies or qualifies the term Supreme. Some people may understand this to be some kind of formal restraint on the Popes’ control. I am not sure.

I think it would help to know what the meaning of Ordinary Power is in regard to a bishop’s authority.



Which decree did you find this in? it would be helpful to read it in full context.


Please see here…[/FONT][FONT=Century Gothic]Session 4 18 July 1870AD Chap 3


One mode of government is the Presidential. The government is appointed by the President and carries out his instructions. Anothe mode is the Cabinet. The Cabinet or board chooses the chairman, who manages meetings and announces what the majority verdict is.
The Pope is at the Presidential end of the spectrum, but not all the way there. He can’t dismiss bishops on a whim. In theory he can only excommunicate for acts against the Church, though in practise he can retire bad bishops by giving them desk jobs in the Vatican. “Ordinary” means that the Pope’s power is not just to be used in extreme circumstances, such as the local bishop deciding to become a Moonie. He can also issue a binding document on the Eucharist to correct a few relatively minor and routine problems that might have crept in to liturgical practise.



In the selected canons below, these are distinct notions.

“Ordinary power” has a special meaning, namely the power that is attached to the office one holds.

To say the power is “proper” is to say that he exercizes such power in his own name, rather than by delegation from another.

To say it is “immediate” means he can exercize it directly rather than through an intermediary.

“Supreme” and “full” are pretty self evident.

Canon 331 The bishop of the Roman Church, in whom continues the office given by the Lord uniquely to Peter, first of the Apostles, and to be transmitted to his successors, is head of the college of bishops, the Vicar of Christ and Pastor of the universal Church on earth. By virtue of his office he possesses supreme, full, immediate and universal ordinary power in the Church, which he can always freely exercise.

Canon 333:§1. The Roman Pontiff, by virtue of his office, not only has power in the universal Church but also possesses a primacy of ordinary power over all particular churches and groupings of churches by which the proper, ordinary and immediate power which bishops possess in the particular churches entrusted to their care is both strengthened and safeguarded.

Canon 381:§1. A diocesan bishop in the diocese committed to him possesses all the ordinary, proper and immediate power which is required for the exercise of his pastoral office except for those cases which the law or a decree of the Supreme Pontiff reserves to the supreme authority of the Church or to some other ecclesiastical authority.


OK thanks!

If we leave out any consideration of the Popes power for the moment, what exactly does ordinary power mean in reference to a bishop? Every routine responsibility?

Is there a better definition?

In Christ,



The code tends to express notions rather than to give precise definitions as was the practice in the past. Which exact term are you looking toward?

Power is executive, legislative, and judicial. We’d have to know the exact routine tasks you have in mind to evaluate them.

Although such powers are part of his office (ordinary to it), some can be exercized by others by delegation from himself or from the law. Many routine duties are handled by others. The bishop is assisted by his curia. There is another thread on that. See canon 469 +. The vicar general, episcopal vicars, moderator of the curia, the diocesan finance officer, judicial vicar, etc. are examples of this. Some powers are expressly limited to the diocesan bishop though by the law, and these reserved powers are scattered throughout the code.

I would recommend looking at Christus Dominus, ewtn.com/library/COUNCILS/v2bishop.htm and Vatican II, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, chap. 3. The latter is also somewhere at EWTN.

As well, for an overview, see

Canon 369:A diocese is a portion of the people of God which is entrusted to a bishop for him to shepherd with the cooperation of the presbyterium, so that, adhering to its pastor and gathered by him in the Holy Spirit through the gospel and the Eucharist, it constitutes a particular church in which the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church of Christ is truly present and operative.

Canon 375:§1. Bishops, who by divine institution succeed to the place of the Apostles through the Holy Spirit who has been given to them, are constituted pastors in the Church, so that they are teachers of doctrine, priests of sacred worship, and ministers of governance. §2. Through episcopal consecration itself, bishops receive with the function of sanctifying also the functions of teaching and governing; by their nature, however, these can only be exercised in hierarchical communion with the head and members of the college.

Canons around 381 and following will provide more.

The Supreme Pontiff can indeed remove a diocesan bishop or restrict his powers of jurisdiction by virtue of his own supreme, full, and immediate power in the Church.

In practice, the Roman curia is a highly collaborative organ in advising the Pontiff, and does have certain powers given in Pastor bonus. Individuals may have been delegated other powers.

As canon 360 indicates: The Supreme Pontiff usually conducts the business of the universal Church by means of the Roman Curia, which fulfills its duty in his name and by his authority for the good and the service of the churches; it consists of the Secretariat of State or the Papal Secretariat, the Council for the Public Affairs of the Church, congregations, tribunals and other institutions, whose structure and competency are defined in special law.

Business in that context would include day to day things as well.


Thank you deacon, for the excellent responses.

I think you have covered everything with regard to episcopal authority.

Getting back to the Papal role: It seems then, that if the Pope has ordinary and immediate jurisdiction, he shares in all the same responsibilities at the diocesan level everywhere (if he should choose to exercise it, I suppose). Sort of like a co-bishop, would that be correct?

I imagine that he normally will not get so personally involved, but may at any time at his discretion.

The Roman Curia then would be the means through which the Pope will normally function at the diocesan level?




I don’t know that I would phrase it as a sharing in the same responsibilities of diocesan bishops in their own diocese, since those are ordinary and proper to those bishops. But he could clearly intervene to exercise supreme power over them since he has a primacy of power and is entrusted with the welfare of the churches throughout the world.

Most work is done through the Roman curia, and that would be laid out in Pastor bonus ewtn.org/library/papaldoc/jp2pastr.htm .

For example, the Congregation of Bishops is one dicastery in particular that has a lot of “interface” with diocesan bishops. See article 79. But it doesn’t treat everything. You’d have to scan the document for a sense of who’s who and does what in particular topic areas. I find it interesting that money matters pertain to the Congregation for the Clergy, among its other duties. Then too, there is the whole matter of the Eastern Churches, which refer to another dicastery.


Thank you Deacon, :slight_smile:

Pastor Bonus is a lot of material, so I think I’ll print it out and read for a couple of days! :eek:

In the meantime, I see that it is promulgated under the name of Pope John Paul II of blessed memory. I take it that this was not from the Vatican Council II, right? I suppose the Pope has a staff to help him prepare such documents.

Did the Pope need any special permission from the church to release these regulations/guidelines, or did he/does he do it under his own authority?

I guess what I am asking is this: Is there a synod or committee of some sort that will vet such a document before allowing the Pope to promulgate it?

Thanks again,


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