To begin with a digression, why do we call them œcumenical councils when they only concern the Catholic churches (Eastern and Latin)? The Eastern Orthodox and Oriental churches are not involved. Not to mention the Anglicans and, at least, the mainstream Protestants. I humbly suggest ‘general council’ would be a more appropriate name.
I strongly believe that the Supreme Pontiff is higher in authority than an œcumenical council because he alone can determine if one is held, he alone can determine the matters it discusses and he alone determines its final decrees. Basically an œcumenical council produces what the Supreme Pontiff wants rather than what a majority of the council fathers may want.
I think I should continue to address this matter with my five original points.
An œcumenical council has to be summoned by a pope.
Œcumenical councils in contemporary times are only summoned by the Supreme Pontiff. Therefore, no Supreme Pontiff has to have an œcumenical council during his pontificate. If we really had episcopal collegiality I believe that the world’s bishops could ask for a council. I suppose they can and if they did the Supreme Pontiff might summon one but it would still ultimately be his decision.
The agenda for an œcumenical council has to be approved by the pope
This means that an œcumenical council is restricted to dealing with those matters that the Supreme Pontiff wants it to deal with. Therefore, that cannot be considered collegiality if only the head of the œcumenical council can determine what the œcumenical council discusses. There are two very good examples concerning this point. The council fathers at Vatican II wanted to discuss two issues: artificial contraception and priestly celibacy. Pope Paul VI denied them these opportunities.
If the pope dies or resigns during an œcumenical council it is automatically suspended.
I can understand practical reasons for doing this. If the pope has died it would be a mark of respect during the period of mourning. During the conclave to elect the next pope all the cardinals under 80 years old would be absent from the council. As for the head of the body of bishops being absent that is not, I don’t believe, significant other than in a symbolic way. The Supreme Pontiff is normally physically absent from most meetings of the œcumenical council. So as the Holy See is only sede vacante for a matter of a few weeks I don’t believe that practically there would be any real problem in continuing with an œcumenical council. I think the real reason is so that the next Supreme Pontiff is not placed in a position where he has to continue with an œcumenical council.
The next pope may choose to continue the council or not.
This is not a concern. I think it just further points away from true collegiality and confirms that an œcumenical council is completely subject to papal authority. Even if an œcumenical council is temporarily suspended while the Holy See is sede vacante, I believe that it should automatically resume after the election of a new Supreme Pontiff.
**Its decrees have to be approved by the pope and presumably he does not have to approve them.
**This I think is another example that demonstrates that an œcumenical council is truly subject to papal authority. The supreme pontiff can clearly overrule what the majority of the council fathers at an œcumenical council may want.
This being the case, I am never sure whether the Pope is bound by the decisions of an œcumenical council or not. To which you replied: “An Ecumenical Council is not considered Ecumenical unless it has the consent of the Pope. I can’t imagine that a Pope would oppose his own decisions. So I don’t understand the issue here. Perhaps you are referring to a Pope being bound by a past ecumenical council? If that’s the case – Yes, the Pope is bound by all past Ecumenical Councils and cannot act or make decrees contrary to them”.
I think a key statement in your response is “I can’t imagine that a Pope would oppose his own decisions.” Now, I don’t want to do what a lot of people do on these threads and take that one sentence out of the context of your whole answer. But, it does lend some credence to what I am trying to say, which is that the Supreme Pontiff is higher in authority than an œcumenical council because its decisions are his decisions. In other words, the council fathers will only have been able to discuss those topics that the Supreme Pontiff decided they could discuss. Also, the decrees of the œcumenical council will be what the Supreme Pontiff wanted so yes he will approve them because they’ll already meet his approval because he won’t have allowed the œcumenical council to draw up decrees that are contrary to what he wants.
You said: “… Pope is bound by all past Ecumenical Councils and cannot act or make decrees contrary to them”. Can another œcumenical council act or make decrees contrary to them? If you answer this in the affirmative then in practical terms I believe this means the Supreme Pontiff will be the one who amends decisions of a previous œcumenical council.