Pope Eugene IV's Papal Bull "Cantate Domino": How "weighty"?

What is the authority of a Papal Bull? I have a list tucked away that explains Encyclicals, Apostolic Constitutions, Decrees, etc…but no where on that list is “Papal Bull”. Can someone please explain to me about Papal Bulls?

The reason I ask is that I was directed recently to “Cantate Domino” by Eugene IV, in regards to the Council of Florence, regarding the Mosaic law observances, specifically on circumcision.

**Disclaimer: I am not here to debate circumcision. I want to know what to make of Pope Eugene’s statement and to know how “weighty” a Papal Bull is.

catholicism.org/cantate-domino.html

I get that there are language differences, manners of speech, key words that give a deeper meaning, and that some statements are rather easy to twist into a message that was not intended. But I am really scratching my head on the part about circumcision. Here is the pertinent quote:

"It firmly believes, professes, and teaches that the matter pertaining to the law of the Old Testament, of the Mosaic law, which are divided into ceremonies, sacred rites, sacrifices, and sacraments, because they were established to signify something in the future, although they were suited to the divine worship at that time, after our Lord’s coming had been signified by them, ceased, and the sacraments of the New Testament began; and that whoever, even after the passion, placed hope in these matters of the law and submitted himself to them as necessary for salvation, as if faith in Christ could not save without them, sinned mortally. Yet it does not deny that after the passion of Christ up to the promulgation of the Gospel they could have been observed until they were believed to be in no way necessary for salvation; but after the promulgation of the Gospel it asserts that they cannot be observed without the loss of eternal salvation. All, therefore, who after that time observe circumcision and the Sabbath and the other requirements of the law, it declares alien to the Christian faith and not in the least fit to participate in eternal salvation, unless someday they recover from these errors. Therefore, it commands all who glory in the name of Christian, at whatever time, before or after baptism, to cease entirely from circumcision, since, whether or not one places hope in it, it cannot be observed at all without the loss of eternal salvation. "

First, as a point of clarification, this is from the Council of Florence, an ecumenical Council in the 15th century. Historically, many decisions of Councils are promulgated by the Pope presiding at them in the form of a “Bull,” as is the case here. So this is really a decision of the whole episcopate, not just the Pope.

As to the substance of it, it seems to be a definitive, and therefore irreformable judgment by the Council regarding what the Church believes.

That being said, it has to be understood as the Church understands it. It condemns circumcision done for religious reasons as a mortal sin. It does not mean that those who in good faith do it for therapeutic reasons are committing a mortal sin (regardless of whether it actually is therapeutic, which people debate).

I came across this a few years ago in an article in “First Things” magazine, by Cardinal Avery Dulles. Cardinal Dulles mentioned it as an instance of the CC prohibiting Christians (including converts from Judaism) from using or retaining any Jewish spiritual practices (not just circumcision); but he seemed to be saying this condemnation was no longer in place, and now Jewish converts to Catholicism could continue some aspects of Jewish practice. ( I can try to find the article if someone is interested.)

If this is indeed a definitive statement, but the CC now allows Jewish converts to retain some Jewish spiritual practices if they so desire without threat of damnation, how is this not a change in teaching from the Council of Florence’s “Decree for the Copts”?

That article is here:
firstthings.com/article/2005/11/the-covenant-with-israel

Here’s the relevant paragraph:

If Lustiger had responded he might have pointed out that according to the teaching of Paul, which is normative for Christians, circumcision and the Mosaic law have lost their salvific value, at least for Christians, and in that sense been “superseded.” But I do not wish to deny that the observance of some of these prescriptions by Jews who have become Christians could be permissible or even praiseworthy as a way of recalling the rootedness of Christianity in the Old Covenant.

It’s pretty vague and doesn’t say what “some” prescriptions are permissible (the use of “some” means others are not permissible too). I’m not sure of anything from the Church saying that following the Mosaic law after accepting the Gospel is ok and he doesn’t cite anything to this effect.

If such teaching from the Church did exist, I would certainly change my opinion. The language from the Council is pretty clear in that it is professing first what the Church “firmly believes, professes, and teaches” (the “It” refers to the Church, if you go earlier in the document). That being said, I could see it also argued that this applies up to a certain point in that paragraph, and then the subsequent prescriptions are disciplines based on the immutable principle.

Thanks for providing the link, Genesis315. I was just reading Cardinal Dulles’ article myself, again.

There are parts before and after the quote you provided that are relevant to my question, which basically follows Wyschogrod’s line of thought earlier in that paragraph. I have to leave this evening, but I’ll be back. Thanks for your time. :slight_smile:

This was my initial understanding as well. But that last sentence of that pertinent quote is very explicit and leaves no room for anyting, except an actual medical necessity (as Pope Pius XII would later clarify). He [Pope Eugene IV] says that, per the Church, Christians are "to cease entirely from circumcision, since, whether or not one places hope in it, it cannot be observed at all without the loss of eternal salvation.

The way I am reading this, if it’s a formal proclamation of what the Church does indeed declare (and it seems that this is), then a person would have to actually demonstrate the medical necessity before he could obtain circumcision, or obtain it for his child. Otherwise, it can’t be said to treat such a condition (when that condition doesn’t yet exist).

I feel myself edging into the “Circ vs. Intact” debate…so I’ll reign myself in, at least for the moment. But just to clarify, this Papal Bull does indeed explain to us a definitive and irreformable doctrine of the Church?

I’m not sure what Wyschogrod’s line of thought has anything to do with it, since he is commenting from the Jewish perspective (not the perspective of a convert from Judaism). He is saying abandoning the Torah is abandoning the Jewish tradition, whereas Dulles’ whole article is demonstrating how the abolition and suppression of those things does not imply an abrogation of the fundamental and enduring covenant God made with the Jewish people and that the Christian faith is the fulfillment of this. In that paragraph, Dulles simply adds that he feels observing some of the abolished practices is not problematic.

(personally, I would argue it is problematic–if God abolished such practices, it was no doubt for a good reason. The law was nailed to the Cross and died with Christ. When we die with Christ in baptism, those things are nailed to the Cross and we die to them too so that we may live in God when we are raised with Christ. Why try and return to those things for which Christ’s death freed us? Why would Christ free us from them if it was a good idea to follow them?–I am of course open to the correction of the Church on this, I just haven’t seen anything contrary to it yet).

Would you view this as a teaching on faith and morals or as a discipline for the time? It seems that not being circumcised falls more under the category of discipline rather than a teaching on faith and morals–and as such would be subject to change. Now the circumcision does not save–that hope can no longer be put in it with the proclamation of the Gospel seems like a teaching on faith and moral and as such is not subject to change.

The peace of Christ,
Mark

As far as I know, the Church does not has a problem with preventative medicine. The Catechism merely says mutilations are against the moral law except for strictly medical reasons (cf. CCC 2297). But yes, as I understand it, I think your general point is correct that one should in good faith believe there to be a medical reason to do so.

Do you know what gave rise to this proclamation? What is the context? How does one view this in relation to Acts 15? The apostles didn’t forbid the Jewish Christians from being circumcised did they? Didn’t they just say it was no longer necessary and so the Gentiles didn’t need to be circumcised? As a pastoral matter didn’t they teach that the gentiles should uphold some of the dietary laws–so as not to be a stumbling block? The above quote seems to be dealing with some error that needed to be “recovered” from? I’d be curious to know how well this translation captures the original. Any chance this is just a discipline for the time??

The peace of Christ,
Mark

That’s pretty much what I am seing as well.

Yes, this was one of Pope Eugene’s “summations” (is that the right term to use here) of what was declared at the Council of Florence. In other words, he’s saying, “this is what the Church declares and professes”, as far as I understand Papal Bulls now. The Council, according to Catholic Encyclopedia, was ecumenical…trying to mend the schism (whether that was the Great Schism or a new pending schism that was averted at this time, I’m not 100% sure…I read through that part quickly).

Immediately prior to the portion I quoted, in fact in the very same paragraph, he speaks exactly about the first Christian converts and their adherence to Jewish customs at that time. I’ll post the entire paragrpah below so you can see how it all flows together.

I don’t think this is just a discipline matter. I’ve been hunting for more information and it seems like the Church has been consistent on it, allowign only for actual medical necessities. I do wish I could see different ways this may have been translated. This particular Bull is not listed on the Vatican.va website (at least I can’t find it there) and it’s not on the “Papal Encyclicals” website (because it’s not an encyclical). Hmph. :shrug:

The full paragrpah from which I quoted earlier:
It firmly believes, professes, and teaches that the matter pertaining to the law of the Old Testament, of the Mosaic law, which are divided into ceremonies, sacred rites, sacrifices, and sacraments, because they were established to signify something in the future, although they were suited to the divine worship at that time, after our Lord’s coming had been signified by them, ceased, and the sacraments of the New Testament began; and that whoever, even after the passion, placed hope in these matters of the law and submitted himself to them as necessary for salvation, as if faith in Christ could not save without them, sinned mortally. Yet it does not deny that after the passion of Christ up to the promulgation of the Gospel they could have been observed until they were believed to be in no way necessary for salvation; but after the promulgation of the Gospel it asserts that they cannot be observed without the loss of eternal salvation. All, therefore, who after that time observe circumcision and the Sabbath and the other requirements of the law, it declares alien to the Christian faith and not in the least fit to participate in eternal salvation, unless someday they recover from these errors. Therefore, it commands all who glory in the name of Christian, at whatever time, before or after baptism, to cease entirely from circumcision, since, whether or not one places hope in it, it cannot be observed at all without the loss of eternal salvation. Regarding children, indeed, because of danger of death, which can often take place, when no help can be brought to them by another remedy than through the sacrament of baptism, through which they are snatched from the domination of the Devil and adopted among the sons of God, it advises that holy baptism ought not to be deferred for forty or eighty days, or any time according to the observance of certain people, but it should be conferred as soon as it can be done conveniently, but so ,that, when danger of death is imminent, they be baptized in the form of the Church, early without delay, even by a layman or woman, if a priest should be lacking, just as is contained more fully in the decree of the Armenians. (Eugene IV, Contate Domino, 3rd paragraph from the bottom, see link in Post #1)

“… whether or not one places hope in it, it cannot be observed at all…”

If one places hope in it, means hope for salvation. This would be wrong since baptism is now our hope in Jesus.

If one do not place hope in it, then it is done out of Jewish customs which again would be wrong since this has its roots in salvation.

…is very explicit and leaves no room for anyting, except an actual medical necessity (as Pope Pius XII would later clarify).

When I was a child, it was very common for babies to have circumcision for health reasons as Pope Pius XII cited. They didn’t do it because of hope of salvation or because of Jewish customs.

…cannot be observed at all…

At that time they were not familiar with health reasons.

God be glorified.

**"… whether or not one places hope in it, it cannot be observed at all…" **

Yes, that is very clear.

**If one do not place hope in it, then it is done out of Jewish customs **which again would be wrong since this has its roots in salvation.

That’s not the impression I get from Church documents…that not placing hope in a planned circumcision necessarily means it is being done out of Jewish customs. I don’t want to presume what I think the Pope meant. I want to gather more information to get a better idea of how the Church has viewed circumcision through the ages. So far, what I have read doesn’t suggest what you have summarized here.

When I was a child, it was very common for babies to have circumcision for health reasons as Pope Pius XII cited. They didn’t do it because of hope of salvation or because of Jewish customs.

At that time they were not familiar with health reasons.

God be glorified.

And that’s about where the debate begins. :slight_smile:

I don’t know that I would call it a summation of what the council declared–that makes it sound as if it was declared for all–and it seems this bull is directed to the Copts specifically. I still tend to read the part you are concerned about as pastoral with regard to the Copts. You might look at this blog entry regarding this issue: aronbengilad.blogspot.com/2009_12_01_archive.html He has thought about it more than I. It seemed to me the council was addressing what the Copts needed to believe and then prescribing pastoral provisions to help to assist in getting rid of their erroneous beliefs. That was my initial read and I haven’t read anything to change that view (though I readily admit I have not read a great deal)–what else have you seen that would contradict my initial reading?

The peace of Christ,
Mark

The peace of Christ,
Mark

What you said makes alot of sense given the nature and purpose of the council. I’ll read that blog article when I get a chance (maybe this weekend).

The more I look through it, though, it seems this prohibition on circumcision was intended for all Catholics, and was only directly specified to the Copts because they were doing it, not for religious reasons, but for cultural. And it wasn’t that he was expressing anything new, but expressing an already-held belief.

In 1267 at the Council of Salzburg-Vienna, the Church states in Canon XVIII, “Christians may not be enticed into Judaism, nor may they be circumcised for any reason”. (I’ll the article I got that from at the bottom.)

In 301 AD, St Victorinus of Pettau calls circumcision an act of the anti-Christ to seduce the saints. "(Ch. 17, #16) “he [the Anti-Christ] will recall the saints, not to the worship of idols, but to undertake circumcision, and, if he is able, to seduce any”. - Granted, this isn’t an official proclamation of the Church.

Even Pope Pius XII said, “From a moral point of view, circumcision is permissible if, in accordance with therapeutic principles, it prevents a disease that cannot be countered in any other way.” (Discourses & Radio Messages of His Holiness Pius XII, Volume XIV, 2 March 1952-1 March 1953)

Anyway, I’m seeing many references that suggest the Church has always condemned circumcicion for ANY reason other than emergency indication, and zero references that suggest otherwise. That makes me think that the Council of Florence was applicable to ALL the faithful.

Here is that article. It’s very lengthy (8,400 words), but very well researched and put together…reads faster than you might think. guggiedaly.blogspot.com/2014/05/why-catholics-dont-circumcise.html

Thanks for the additional sources to check out.

The peace of Christ,
Mark

O.k. I reviewed that blog and the author definitely has an agenda unrelated to what the Catholic Church teaches–at least in my opinion. I couldn’t find any documents from a 1267 Council of Salzburg-Vienna–nothing came up in my Google searches. I read St. Victorinus Chapter 17 from his commentary on the apocalypse–and I am not sure exactly what it means or how it might be relevant to the discussion–if at all. Much of what she cites is not Catholic. Even if it can be proven that Copts in 1083 or even 1442 didn’t view circumcision as a religious ceremony but as something cultural–that doesn’t inform as to what the pope and bishops at the council in 1442 thought about what the Copts believed.

The author definitely views, quite strongly, circumcision as mutilation–I am not sure I can buy that. As one from an age where circumcision was done as a normative medical procedure shortly after birth–I can say that I was not traumatized nor do I view my self as mutilated–any more than if I had had my tonsils removed as so many of my age did. If you tried to circumcise me as an adult–now there would be some trauma.

In Acts chapter 15 – I don’t see an outright ban on circumcision. I don’t see it condemned as immoral–just as simply not necessary for the Gentiles. Indeed in Chapter 16 we see that Paul has Timothy circumcised. He does this for pastoral reasons. Paul doesn’t seem to object to the Jewish Christians keeping the law–his insistence seems to be that it cannot be imposed on the Gentile Christians and that it is not necessary for salvation. Paul himself either lived according to the law or as exempt from the law–as the situation dictated pastorally.

The Haydock commentary says this regarding Acts 16:3 “Circumcised him. Not to obstruct the conversion of the Jews; and because it was lawful to observe the Jewish ceremonies, though the obligation of keeping the old law had ceased. Wi. – This S. Paul did in order to gain the Jews, and make Timothy acceptable to them. Tirinus.-- To the Jew says he, (1 Cor. ix. 20.) I became Jew, that I might gain the Jews. If he refused to circumcise Titus, in order to vindicate the Christian’s independence of the Mosaic ceremonies; he now submits to the observance of them to shew there is nothing of itself bad in them, and that they might without crime be practiced, till time by degrees had abolished them.”

This leads me to see prohibitions on circumcision as pastoral rather than as a moral teaching. The moral teaching, it seems to me, was with regards to whether or not it was necessary for salvation. If it was otherwise–then I can’t see St. Paul circumcising Timothy–i.e. violating a moral law/teaching. Additionally I can’t see circumcision as mutilation because I find it hard to believe that God would have commanded the Jews to mutilate themselves as a sign of his covenant with them. That said I believe the Church can bind me not to circumcise my children–as a discipline or pastoral provision much like it binds me to not eat meat on Fridays during lent–I am just not sure that it is currently binding me not to.

At this point I guess it would be nice to have something more definitive regarding what the Church currently teaches regarding this and under what category it falls. Many cites I have seen which claim that the Church teaches against it – have a slightly anti-Jewish feeling to them–and that gives me pause regarding their trustworthiness.

I wish you well in your search for an answer to this questions. If you find something you feel is definitive regarding current Church teaching please let me know.

The Peace of Christ,
Mark

At this point I guess it would be nice to have something more definitive regarding what the Church currently teaches regarding this and under what category it falls.

I read that other article, and this seems to sum it up. There is such a great deal of history and context to consider, that it’s difficult to say one way or the other (definitively). From my point of view, all things considered, I see the Church forbidding circumcision except for therapeutic reasons. But the Church doesn’t go into more detail than that, and it is obvious that some people really do believe they are treating something by circumcising infants. (I disagree wholeheartedly, but that’s a different matter I think…one of examining facts all around, which is where the debate aspect begins.) Those who don’t do it for therapeutic reasons might be completely oblivious to the matter entirely, as I was when I got married, so there is that aspect as well. (My testimony: Circumcision: Why Not? )

----------- And here I will shift into the debate aspect. ----------

On the matter of mutilation, it’s not a logical comparison to compare modern circumcision to that of the OT Jews (through the 2nd century) because it was an entirely different act altogether. God didn’t ask them to mutilate or amputate, clearly. In the old form, only the tip of the foreskin was removed, while today the entire organ is removed. That alone makes the modern practice an “amputation”, by definition, because the foreskin is an actual organ, a body part, with a real function.

And modern medicine considers the female equivalent (excising of the clitoris) as being a mutilation, so I don’t see how we can exempt excising the foreskin as being less than that. I think we both agree that whether we personally view ourselves as “mutilated” or “traumatized” isn’t relevant to whether we have been mutilated or traumatized as infants.

All that’s left, in my mind, is to examine is whether it’s a therapeutic practice. For it to be therapeutic, it must be treating a disease or disorder. The problem here is that there are no studies that indicate circumcision as being necessary for any disease of the penis, nor is there any study showing that newborn infants are born with such diseases/disorders which would indicate circumcision. Every single disease of the penis/foreskin I have investigated show the primary treatments to be topical ointment, antibiotic, proper hygiene, and proper penis/foreskin care. Even in the extremely rare instances of penile cancer, I have seen nowhere that circumcision/removal of the entire foreskin is indicated as treatment. Infants who are being circumcised for “therapeutic” reasons are being “pre-treated” for a theoretical disease that they are likely to never have suffered, and which could have been prevented by hygiene/care, or treated topically/orally.

can you quote Pius XII? Circumcision without grave medical necessity is wrong? Nah, just when it is done for religious reasons. And I think the last sentence of the decree is disciplinary. Practices have changed.

oh there’s the quote

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