Pope: the man and the Vicar of Christ

Re: Cardinal Burke’s 10 Ways to Overcome Crisis of Confusion, Division in the Church

In these remarks, Cardinal Burke offered the following:
“Expanding on this topic further, Cardinal Burke underlined how in the Middle Ages, the Church spoke of “two bodies of the Pope: the body of the man and body of the Vicar of Christ.” When the Pope speaks colloquially, as Francis often does, for example on the papal plane or in his morning homilies, this is the “first body” of the man who is Pope, he said. Making such a distinction, he continued, is in “no way disrespectful of the Petrine Office” nor does it make one an enemy of Pope Francis. On the contrary, he said, without making the distinction we would “easily lose respect” for the papacy if we believed we had to agree with all his personal opinions Such an approach constitutes an “idolatry of the papacy,” he said.”

The question for the average Catholic is how does one determine when the Pope is speaking as the body of man or as the body of the Vicar of Christ?

I would say when he is giving an interview to a reporter he is Pope, the man.

When he gives a homily or writes an encyclical he is Pope, the Vicar of Christ.

I am sure there are other examples. And some might disagree with what I used as examples.

The doctrine and dogma of the Church is unchanging. The opinions of the Popes, even some of those expressed in papal encyclicals, are not. We can point to various encyclicals of centuries past, which may have been good and valid opinions at the time, that are very much outdated today. Our faith is not in any bishop, even the Bishop of Rome. Our faith is in Christ. The Deposit of Faith, transmitted by Christ to His Apostles and His Church, has not changed in two thousand years and cannot change in the future.

I do not think that public criticism of the pope is ever wise. Has Amoris Laetitia caused some confusion in the Church? Perhaps. Divorce and remarriage has been a hard issue for the Church since Christ taught against it. The explosion of divorce in recent decades has been a huge crisis for the Church. Francis didn’t start this problem, he is merely trying to deal with it.

Thank you! I joined the Church 9 years ago, so I get confused on some of these topics. So I am reminded that an encyclical is an opinion.
Thank you for the reminder of the Deposit of Faith also.

A vague reference to the “Middle Ages” is not good enough. Give us the specific cite.

The truth is that the Church in the Middle Ages commanded absolute obedience to the Holy Roman Pontiff. If people in the Middle Ages were caught saying the things that many people today say about the Pope, they would have been excommunicated.

Pope Gregory VII:

“He himself may be judged by no one.”


Saint Thomas Aquinas:

“The administration of this kingdom, therefore, is entrusted not to earthly kings, but to priests, so that spiritual and earthly things may be kept distinct; and in particular to the Supreme Priest, the successor of Peter, the Vicar of Christ, the Roman Pontiff, to whom all the kings of the Christian people should be subject, as if to the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.”


Pope Boniface VIII:

“But if the highest power of all err, it can be judged only by God, and not by man.”


Saint Catherine of Siena:

“For divine obedience never prevents us from obedience to the Holy Father: nay, the more perfect the one, the more perfect is the other. And we ought always to be subject to his commands and obedient unto death. However indiscreet obedience to him might seem, and however it should deprive us of mental peace and consolation, we ought to obey; and I consider that to do the opposite is a great imperfection, and deceit of the devil.”


Pope Pius II:

“Do you not know, you miserable man, that only divine authority binds the Roman Bishop? The Pope is only subject to Holy Scripture, revealed by the hand of God, and he is not bound by decrees of men. ”But we say that the pope is subject to reason, and the power of the Church is given for edification and not for destruction.” But even if you believe the Bishop of Rome to be in error, that does not give you the right to judge him, for only God can judge the Pope. No mortal man may accuse him of faults. Oh, how wrong is the opinion of many men: though they do not allow a king’s subjects to have any say against the king, they would allow it in the case of the pope even if God has given him power over all mortal men. Those stupid men are unconcerned that the Holy Apostolic Church has, from Saint Peter to this day, never been heard to teach anything that is contrary to orthodox faith. This privilege it has received from the Lord that it shall never succumb to wrong teachings for the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Let this suffice concerning your praise of the Apostolic See.”


The Eighth Ecumenical Council:

"We believe that the saying of the Lord that Christ addressed to his holy apostles and disciples, Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever despises you despises me, was also addressed to all who were likewise made supreme pontiffs and chief pastors in succession to them in the catholic church. Therefore we declare that no secular powers should treat with disrespect any of those who hold the office of patriarch or seek to move them from their high positions, but rather they should esteem them as worthy of all honour and reverence. This applies in the first place to the most holy pope of old Rome, secondly to the patriarch of Constantinople, and then to the patriarchs of Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem. Furthermore, nobody else should compose or edit writings or tracts against the most holy pope of old Rome, on the pretext of making incriminating charges, as Photius did recently and Dioscorus a long time ago. Whoever shows such great arrogance and audacity, after the manner of Photius and Dioscorus, and makes false accusations in writing or speech against the see of Peter, the chief of the apostles, let him receive a punishment equal to theirs.

“If, then, any ruler or secular authority tries to expel the aforesaid pope of the apostolic see, or any of the other patriarchs, let him be anathema. Furthermore, if a universal synod is held and any question or controversy arises about the holy church of Rome, it should make inquiries with proper reverence and respect about the question raised and should find a profitable solution; it must on no account pronounce sentence rashly against the supreme pontiffs of old Rome.”


The weight of authority of a teaching from the Papacy (Magisterium) draws on the history and continuity of the teaching and the intention of the Supreme Pontiff.

When in doubt…trust the Pope.

Pope Pius XII:
“It is not to be thought that what is set down in Encyclical letters does not demand assent in itself, because in this the popes do not exercise the supreme power of their magisterium. For these matters are taught by the ordinary magisterium, regarding which the following is pertinent: “He who heareth you, heareth Me.” (Luke 10:16); and usually what is set forth and inculcated in Encyclical Letters, already pertains to Catholic doctrine. But if the Supreme Pontiffs in their acts, after due consideration, express an opinion on a hitherto controversial matter, it is clear to all that this matter, according to the mind and will of the same Pontiffs, cannot any longer be considered a question of free discussion among theologians.”

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