The Petrine views

In the past week and a half since I posted on CAF, I have been inundated by e-mail requests to explain the Absolutist, High, and Low Petrine views I have proposed in the past. In particular, there have been requests for clarification and for my sources. So I thought I would take the time to post again on this matter (to save people the time from searching for my past posts on it - and obviously, since people are asking me directly, they really don’t have the time to do the search in the first place). This is also, particularly, for the benefit of Fr. John Morris who has expressed interest in the matter of papal infallbility and primacy in a few threads.

From my experience as an apostolic Christian, I have encountered three distinct ecclesiologies which I refer to as the Absolutist Petrine view, the High Petrine view, and the Low Petrine view. As the High Petrine view is the middle ground between the extremes of the Absolutist and Low Petrine views, it shares features of both positions, yet obviously has differences. The following explanation will enumerate these similarities and differences:

The Absolutist and High Petrine views exist in the Catholic Church. The Absolutist Petrine advocates are historically referred to as neo-ultramontanists. Neo-ultramontanism (the Absolutist Petrine view) was an undercurrent in the Catholic mentality for centuries, but finally found formal expression in the early 19th century (two of the more popular names connected with this movement were William George Ward and Louis Veuillot). It had several causes (overreaction to Gallicanism, protection of Catholic interests in Protestant states, belief that the social turmoil of the day could only be healed by the Church with a strong leader, etc.). Ultramontanism was considered the Traditional position of the Latin Catholic Church, while NEO-ultramontanism, as the name implies, was a novelty. There were two types of neo-ultramontanists:
(1) POLITICAL neo-ultramontanism stressed the deposing power of the Pope and related prerogatives in the politicial sphere. This was a normal belief among Catholics for centuries, but what distinguished many neo-ultramontanists was the attribution of infallibility for all the Pope’s formal acts. Though “papal” infallibility was not a formal teaching of the Church, this is what “papal” infallibility was believed to mean in many quarters. This being so, secular governments formally expressed their deep concerns during the Council (about 3 months after the Council began) about the rumors that “papal” infallibility was going to be defined (though it was not at that point even on the agenda of the Council), and that this would lead to a dogmatization of the deposing power of the Pope in the political sphere. Several threatened to forcefully march on the Council to end it (France threatened to withdraw its troops from Italy - historians will understand why withdrawing their troops would be considered a threat to the Vatican Council). This was the immediate impetus for the decision to finally include “papal” infallibility on the agenda, to tell the world what was and what was not “papal” infallibility. The secular governments in fact had a reasonable basis for their fears, as the two prime movers behind the Council (Archbishop Manning of England and Pope Pius IX) had neo-ultramontanist leanings.
(2) THEOLOGICAL neo-ultramontanism focused on the prerogatives of the Pope within the Church, and included such notions as: (i) The Pope is infallible in matters even beyond what was defined at V1 (neo-ultramontanists described the infallibility of the Pope as “absolute”); (ii) the Pope’s infallibility is separate from the Church’s infallibility; (iii) The Pope is the one who grants the Church her infallibility through his own infallibility that he obtains directly from God; (iv) the Pope is ABOVE an Ecumenical Council, instead of being a member of it; (v) The Pope can impede the authority of any bishop at his sole discretion; (vi) the Pope is not bound by Canon law at all; (vii) Even the Pope’s canonical decrees are infallible; etc…basically, the Pope is the absolute monarch of the Church.

Vatican 1 rejected these innovations. Dom Cuthbert Butler, in his seminal work on Vatican 1 (1930), commented:
Of course, no trained theologian would accept such aberrations. Still, the excesses of the New Ultramontantists…did exercise a profound influence on the atmonsphere in which the Council was held. It is to be understood that they were not the isolated extravagances of a few extremists. The Univers wielded a widespread influence in France and had a great backing among the clergy. Ward’s views were upheld in England by theologians as Fr. Knox; and Archbishop Manning was more than disposed to accept them. In other countries too, Italy and Germany, the New Ultramontanism was a very living force. This it was principally that caused the bitter hostility of the whole non-Catholic world, and the fears of the Governments of the Catholic States. This too was one real cause of the action of the Minority bishops in opposing the definition - they were afraid of the kind of infallibility that might be defined.

Detractors of V1 who are ignorant of what went on behind the scenes at the Council think that the only debates at Vatican 1 were between the “Majority Party” and the “Minority Party.” Few are aware that within the “Majority Party,” there was also a debate the was brewing between the extremists (the neo-ultramontanists) and the moderates (the ultramontanists). An entry in the journal of one of the stiffest opponents among the Minority Party, Bishop Moriarty of Kerry:
As our adversaries are aggressive we hope they may be divided in their counsels. There are some signs of this…My mission is to talk to every man I meet-cardinal, bishop, or monsignor. I try to frighten our opponents and to encourage our friends.



Few are also aware that V1 was not actually convened to define "papal’ infallibility (it was not even on the original Council agenda), but rather to combat the errors of liberalism/ modernism (the circumstances which forced the definition are related above). An entry from the journal of the same Bishop Moriarty during the council:
I fear that Maret and Dollinger have done us harm. Moderate men have said to me they would never have harboured the idea of definition of papal infallibility, only for these attacks on the Holy See.

As far as the papal prerogatives were concerned, the Council’s immediate purpose was actually to curtail the Absolutist Petrine excesses, not to define against Gallicanism. It was only at the very end of the Council (the “11th hour” as Dom Butler relates) that the concerns against Gallicanism were addressed, because a good number of Majority bishops thought that the definition was not a sufficient safeguard against Gallicanism - a sure indication of the actual moderate intentions of the Council Fathers, not the distortions imposed upon its teaching by its "non-"Catholic detractors, and Catholic exaggerators.

Today’s Absolutist Petrine advocates are more refined - they reject poliical neo-ultramontanism, and points (i) and (vii) in the list enumerated above, but in one form or another retain points (ii) through (vi) as part of their philosophy. I debated an Absolutist Petrine advocate here in CAF a few years ago who was bold enough to state that an Ecumenical Council has no authority to limit the authority of the Pope. This particular person obviously conceived of an Ecumenical Council as something that was separate from the Pope. This is one of the objectionable features of the Absolutist Petrine view (and the Low Petrine view, for that matter), from a High Petrine perspective - the notion that one can separate the Ecumenical Council from its head bishop. Absolutist and Low Petrine advocates consistently conceive of the head bishop, on the one hand, and the rest of his brother bishops, on the other hand, as COMPETING entities in the Church. High Petrine advocates, on the other hand, see the head bishop and his brother bishops as one entity.

A word on my use of the expressions: I created the terms in light of the ancient Apostolic Canon 34 (explained below). The High Petrine view is actually equivalent to Ultramontanism (the official position of Vatican 1). But many people unfortunately conceive of Ultramontanism as reflecting the Absolutist Petrine view. So it would not have been conducive to use “Ultramontanism” as the name for the position I am espousing. Better to use another term that was not so loaded with preconceived prejudices that could only interfere with the points I was trying to convey. In truth, “Ultramontanism” historically refers to the Latin Church per se, so it is also preferable to use another, more general term to convey a position present in other Churches, not just the Latin Church.

The High Petrine view and the Low Petrine view exist in the Orthodox Churches. The Oriental Orthodox generally adhere to the High Petrine view, while the Low Petrine view is more likely to exist among the Eastern Orthodox - though, there are also High Petrine advocates in the Eastern Orthodox Church. From my own observation, the great majority of hierarchs in the EOC adhere to High Petrine ecclesiology, whereas the Low Petrine view is prevalent among laypersons, and perhaps some priests.

Generally speaking, the differences between the Absolutist, HIgh, and Low Petrine view can be explained in light of the ancient Apostolic Canon 34:
The bishops of every nation must acknowledge him who is first among them and account him as their head, and do nothing of consequence without his consent; but each maydo those things only which concern his own parish, and the country places which belong to it. But netierh let him (who is the first) do anything without the consent of all; for so there will be unanimity, and God will be glorified through the Lord in the Holy Spirit.

The Absolutist Petrine view unduly magnifies the unique necessity of the head bishop, while neglecting the necessity of consensus with his brother bishops;
The High Petrine view fully takes into account BOTH the unique necessity of the head bishop, as well as the necessity of consensus with his brother bishops;
The Low Petrine view unduly neglects the unique necessity of the head bishop, while magnifying the necessity of consensus with his brother bishops.

Here is a concise enumeration of the features of each position:

Similarities and differences between the Absolutist Petrine (AP) and High Petrine (HP) views in the Catholic Church:
(1) Catholics generally believe in the universal jurisdiction of the Pope. But there is a difference between how this universal jurisdiction is understood.
AP view: the Pope has ordinary and proper authority in any particular diocese in the Church.
HP view: the Pope (the Metropolitan and Patriarch, as well) only has ordinary authority in any particular diocese, but not proper authority. Only the local bishop has ordinary and proper authority in his diocese.
More concisely:
AP view: the Pope has proper authority in every particular diocese in the Church.
HP view: only the local bishop has proper authority in his own diocese.
NOTE: The Catholic canonical term “proper” is equivalent to the Orthodox use of the term “ordinary,” in terms of the local bishop. In other words, the way Orthodox use the term “ordinary” is not identical to the way Catholics use the term “ordinary.” When Catholics say that the Pope has "ordinary jurisdiction’ in every particular diocese, it is often misunderstood by Orthodox because Catholics and Orthodox do not actually use the term “ordinary” in the same way.



(2) AP and HP advocates both believe the Ecumenical Council is the Supreme Authority in the Church, and the Pope is also the Supreme Authority in the Church. But there is a difference in how this is conceived (NOTE: the term “supreme” is not generally conceived by Orientals in the absolutist sense that Easterns or Westerns might attach to it):
AP view: the Ecumenical Council is supreme only because the Pope who is supreme invests it with his personal authority; the Pope is supreme APART FROM anyone in the Church;
HP view: the Ecumenical Council is supreme because of the collegial authority of ALL the bishops (including its head bishop); the Pope is supreme only in communion with his brother bishops, never apart.
(3) AP and HP advocates both believe that the Pope is the chief lawmaker of the Church, but there is a difference:
AP view: The Pope is above Canon Law, and can change the law at his mere and sole discretion;
HP view: The Pope is bound to Canon Law in the same way any lawmaker is bound to the law. The Pope can change Canon law only in reponse to the needs of the Church and in communion with his brother bishops (Catholic Canon law itself mentions other conditions).
(4) AP and HP advocates both believe the Pope has the authority to speak infallibly with an ex cathedra decree on faith/morals, but there are several major differences on the matter:

  • AP view: The Pope can unilaterally decide to make an ex cathedra decree on faith/ morals (I had a debate with an AP advocate a few years back who claimed that the Pope can wake up one morning and somehow feel “inspired” to make an ex cathedra decree on faith/morals and that would be that);
    HP view: The Pope can only make an ex cathedra decree in response to the needs of the Church as expressed by her bishops (iow, it is an appellate authority).
  • AP view: The Pope does not need the consensus of the Church in any way, shape or form for an ex cathedra decree;
    HP view: the consensus of the present preaching of the universal Magisterium is a necessary condition for any ex cathedra decree, but the Pope need not obtain the explicit, formal agreement of every single bishop, for he can determine this agreement in other ways aside from direct consultation.
  • AP view: Papal infallibility is separate and different from the infallibility of the Church in the process of an ex cathedra decree.
    HP view: “Papal” infallibility is not papal infallibility at all, but rather the Church’s infallibility uniquely exercised by the Pope as a member of the infallible Church, when the need arises.
  • AP view: the Pope does not need the Church in the process of an ex cathedra decree;
    HP view: The Church necessarily aids the Pope in the process of an ex cathedra decree, because infallibility is not revelation nor inspiration.
    (5) AP view: The Pope is above an Ecumenical Council;
    HP view: the Pope is a member of the Ecumenical Council as its head bishop and can be corrected by his brothers within that Council.
    (6) AP view: an Ecumenical Council is infallible only because the Pope is infallible;
    HP view: an Ecumenical Council is infallible because all the bishops TOGETHER are infallible.
    (7) AP view: The keys belong to St. Peter and his unique successors alone; other bishops do not share the keys with the successor of St. Peter, but rather share the power of the keys;
    HP views: The keys belong to St. Peter/his unique successors, who share both the keys and the power of the keys with his brrethren (fellow Apostles/ bishops).
    (8) AP view: The Catholicity of a particular Church is judged by its union with the Church of Rome;
    HP view: the Catholicity of a particular Church is judged by its union with every Church in the Catholic communion.



(9) AP view: The Catholicity of a particular bishop is judged by his union with the bishop of Rome;
HP view: the Catholicity of a particular bishop is judged by his union with every orthodox Catholic bishop in the Church.
(10) AP view: The whole Church can fall into error, but the Pope cannot. As long as there is one orthodox member of the Church left standing (who is the Pope), then the dogma of the indefectibility of the Church remains.
HP view: Christ taught us that where two or three are gathered, there He is in our midst. So it is impossible that there will ever come a time when the Pope is the only orthodox member of the Church left remaining.
(11) AP view: Since the Pope is a member of the episcopate, and it is impossible for the Pope to fall into public heresy, even if all the rest of the episcopal Magisterium were to fall into public heresy, the existence of the Pope would preserve the Church’s dogma in the infallibility of the universal Magisterium;
HP view: The office of bishop is of divine origin, just as the role of a head bishop is of divine origin. Since Christ’s exhortation regarding “two or three” were spoken to the Apostles specifically, then it has greater application to the episcopate (who are the successors of the Apostles) than the Church in general. Hence, it is impossible that there can ever come a time when the Pope is the only orthodox bishop left on earth. And whereever there is an orthodox bishop, the Pope is bound by divine law to work with them and in communion with them in anything that affects the entire Church.

These are the principal differences between the AP and HP views, though there are others on related matters, particularly as regards the interpetation of certain facts of Church history. Fr. Morris, if you would like solid Magisterial support for the High Petrine ecclesiology on each of the points above, let me know. I present the above points as a springboard for discussion. As the issue on filioque evinced, there is an unfortunate distinction between what the Catholic Magisterium teaches and what one might encounter from popular Catholic apologetics. Equally unfortunately, the same can be said in the matter of the papal prerogatives. The official teaching of the Magisterium is High Petrine, whereas popular apologetics often (not always) are Absolutist Petrine. Catholics of the High Petrine camp will also admit that even though the doctrine of the Catholic Church is High Petrine, it has not always been practiced that way - and we will argue amongst ourselves on the exact extent of this difference between theory and praxis. For example (as explained in another thread), Humanae Vitae is often propagandized by Absolutist Petrine advocates as support for their “unilateral papal authority” claims, and even High Petrine advocates will sometimes view the incident as clear evidence of the difference between theory and praxis. However, if you have read that thread, I hope you will agree that the circumstances surrounding the promulgation of Humanae Vitae are actually VERY far from supporting the Absolutist Petrine position, but was rather a clear example of High Petrine ecclesiology in praxis.

Similarities and differences between the Catholic High Petrine view and the Orthodox High Petrine view:
(1) Both Catholic and Orthodox HP advocates believe that:
(a) a head bishop has true and proper jurisdiction within the plenary jurisdiction in which that bishop is head on matters pertaining to that entire plenary jurisdiction;
(b) a head bishop does not have proper (Catholic jargon)/ ordinary (Orthodox jargon) jurisdiction in any local diocese except his own;
© a head bishop has unique prerogatives that his brother bishops do not have. These unique prerogatives sometimes permit him to act outside the context of a Synod/Council, but always in communion with his brother bishops;
(d) The unique prerogatives do not make a head bishop ontologically distinct from his brother bishops;
(e) On matters that affect the entire plenary jurisdiction, head bishops must work in communion with his brother bishops, not work apart from them or unilaterally.
(f) All bishops are in some sense as St. Peter was, but do not deny that there is a unique Petrine succession;
(g) All bishops possess not only the power of the keys, but the keys themselves.
(h) Eucharistic ecclesiology involves both the belief in the fullness of the local Church, and its necessary union with other orthodox apostolic Churches (for how can Christ be divided?).
(i) Primacy exists on several levels of the Church universal.
(j) The primacy on the level of the Church universal historically belongs to the bishop of Rome.



(2) Catholic HP view: the primacy is a doctrinal matter;
Orthodox HP view: the primacy is a canonical matter. However, the Churches of the various Syriac Traditions (including the ACOE) also believe that the primacy is a doctrinal matter (NOTE: the Church of Antioch in the EO communion eventually lost its Syriac identity, and became Greek, so it eventually no longer shared this belief with the other Antiochene Churches; it goes without saying that all the Catholic Churches of Antioch and other Catholic Churches of the Syriac Tradition [Syrian, Melkite, Maronite, Chaldean, Syro-Malankara, and Syro-Malabar] have all maintained this Syriac Tradition).
(3) Catholic HP view: the primacy on the universal level belongs to the bishop of Rome and it is a primacy of jurisdiction, not of mere honor. He is a head bishop on the universal level in much the same way a head bishop functions on the patriarchal or metropolitan levels.
Orthodox HP view: the primacy on the universal level belongs to the bishop of Constantinople (though the MP wants it badly), and it is a primacy of honor, not of jurisdiction. Hence, he is not considered a head bishop on the universal level.
(4) Catholic HP view: The head bishop of the Church universal can personally speak infallibly for the Church, in communion with his brother bishops, in consensus with the present preaching of the universal Magisterium.
Orthodox HP view: No head bishop can personally speak infallibly for the Church, even under the conditions of being in communion with his brother bishops, nor even with the consensus of the teaching authorities in Orthodoxy. It is admitted that in the context of an Ecumenical Council, the bishops together can speak infallibly for the Church.

Similarities and differences between the High Petrine (HP) and Low Petrine (LP) views in the Eastern Orthodox Church:
(what I describe below is from my own observations gathered from debates with EO on the matter both when I was in the Oriental Orthodox communion and as a Catholic. I do not claim that these ecclesiological views are official in any way in the EOC, only that they do exist. I also fully admit that the distinction between the High Petrine and Low Petrine views in the EOC is not always very solid, but rather fluid. I present these distinctions only as reference points for assessing a certain ecclesiological perspective):
Both HP and LP advocates believe that:
(1) a head bishop must work with his brother bishops, and cannot act unilaterally on matters involving the entire Church.
(2) a head bishop cannot personally speak infallibly for the Church, even under the conditions of being in communion with his brother bishops, and according to the consensus of the teaching authorities in Orthodoxy.
Low Petrine advocates uniquely believe:
(1) All bishops are successors of St. Peter and deny any sort of unique succesorship;
(2) Head bishops do not have any jurisdiction in the plenary geographic jurisdiction in which he is head; he only has jurisdiction in his local diocese (in other words, there is only a primacy of honor, but no primacy of jurisdiction).
(3) There is no use nor justification for a head bishop on the universal level.
(4) Head bishops are accidents of history borne of the Church’s contemporary needs, and, while canonically proper, there is no biblical evidence nor model for their existence; some even deny that there is such a thing as a head bishop;
(5) The local Church is so completely self-sufficient that there is no concept of a necessity of communion with anyone outside that local Church.

Having said all that, I would like to point out that statements such as “This incident in the history of the Church proves that the papacy of today is a novelty and is not a continuation of the patristic understanding of the papacy” might be valid against the Absolutist Petrine excesses of certain Catholics, but it holds no water for Catholics in the High Petrine camp.


Reader’s Digest Version?

The following was posted at in 2010:

Permit me to give a background of my thoughts on the matter. From my studies, I’ve identified three distinct positions in the Church Catholic:

Absolutist Petrine view: There is only one head bishop - the bishop of Rome. All other bishops of whatever grade are merely an extension of papal authority. Even the Ecumenical Council is merely an extension of papal authority. If there is a disagreement between the head bishop (i.e., the Pope) and his brother bishops, the head bishop’s will dominates to the exclusion of any other viewpoint. Anyone not agreeing is excommunicated. The head has an overarching importance over the body.

High Petrine view: The constitution of the Church, on its several hierarchical levels, is modeled after the Apostles, who had St. Peter as their head. The head bishop has the same role as St. Peter had among the Apostles. The head bishop has true and proper plenary jurisdiction in his entire patriarchate (or, for the Pope, the entire Church), and has a unique authority among his brother bishops. He is bound by the principle of the unity of the Church, and the divine rights of his brother bishops, to always work with his brother bishops in all matters affecting the Church as a whole. He is also bound by those same principles to not interfere in the proper and ordinary jurisdiction of his brother bishops. If there is a disagreement between his brother bishops and himself, there must be constant exchange until agreement is reached, not that he can impose his singular will on all. The head and the body are equally indispensable.

Low Petrine view: Every bishop is a successor of St. Peter. There is often a denial that St. Peter was the head of the Apostles. A head bishop has only a primacy of honor, and no primacy of jurisdiction, and possesses a merely local jurisdiction of his own See/diocese. He has no authority different from any of his brother bishops. At best, he is a spokesman for or representative of his brother bishops. If there is a disagreement between his brother bishops and himself, he must always concede to the will of the majority. Those who hold this view sometimes deny that there is even such a thing as a head bishop.

From my studies and experience, I’ve observed the following:

The Absolutist Petrine view is primarily held by most Latins, and a few Oriental Catholics. It is currently an acceptable interpretation of the papal prerogatives in the Catholic Church (unfortunately). This position was a local development in the Latin Church during the high Middle Ages when the Catholic Church was effectively only Latin. It will perhaps take another Ecumenical Council or an ex cathedra decree from the Pope to divest the Catholic Church of that belief. Certain ultra-traditionalist Catholics will likely schism when this happens (God forbid). Many mistake this to be the official position of the Catholic Church.

The High Petrine view is held by many Latins, most Oriental Catholics, most Eastern Catholics, and with the exception of the position of head bishop for the Church universal, by the Oriental Orthodox Churches, PNCC, Assyrian Churches, and many Eastern Orthodox. The High Petrine view was the one proposed by V1 and reinforced by V2. One really has to read the behind-the-scenes goings on at the Council, the actual debates that went on at the Council (not the propaganda outside the Council, or the false exaggerations of men like Dollinger, Kung and others who were not even at the Council) to understand the truly collegial intent of V1. I suspect this is the view held by the Melkite hierarchy, and its concerns are really directed against the Absolutist Petrine view that most Latins wrongly perceive to have been the position of V1. This is the patristic model, as reflected in the practice and canons of the undivided Church of the first millenium.

The Low Petrine view is held primarily by a majority of Eastern Orthodox, Anglicans and a few Eastern Catholics. This position was a local development of the Eastern Orthodox Church after the schism. I suspect it gained prominence after Florence, when many considered several of their head bishops to have fallen into heresy. Apologists for this position often second opponents of the Absolutist Petrine view from the High Petrine camp for support against the papacy, but there are fundamental theological and canonical differences between the two positions.

Though most Latins have an Absolutist Petrine view, I really believe they hold this position because they are innocently unaware (i.e., invincibly ignorant) of the Eastern and Oriental Churches. Even those who are aware of our existence often regard our distinctiveness as merely ritual, with no knowledge of our unique spiritualities and theologies. I have debated against the Absolutist Petrine view with many Latins at CAF, and I’ve met only one or two who did not change their mind on the matter after being given the evidence from Vatican 1 and Vatican 2 – but they were ultra-traditionalists who don’t have a good thing to say about Vatican 2 anyway.


I believe it is your position that the Catholic Church officially holds the High Petrine view. If that is correct, then doesn’t this mean that the Orthodox argument you illustrate “holds no water” according to official Catholic teaching?

Thanks, mardukm, for consolidating the “Petrine Views” in one place. Shame that we can’t consolidate all the past posts regarding them in one place too. :slight_smile: But anyone who may be interested can do a search on one or another of the terms. Just MHO, but that may be worth a shot. Lots of good posted over the past 5 (or more years). :wink:

As a Latin Catholic, I would like to add that if one reads the decrees of Vatican I in light of what was clarified at Vatican II (and more recently in the Catechism), it becomes much more clear that the “absolutist” position is not held by the Church. While I do not agree with Marduk on every point he has articulated over the years (I tend to accord the Pope of Rome somewhat more authority on certain particular points that he does - but that may simply be because he is my Patriarch as a Latin), I do consider the High Petrine view the orthodox Catholic position. Unfortunately, many Latin Catholics do not understand the nuance of the Magisterium’s authentic position and adopt an absolutist mindset. My fellow Latins are often shocked to learn that Vatican II (and the Catechism) teaches that each bishop is truly a vicar of Christ and not a mere vicar of deputy of the Pope.

I like to compare the Church to Canada. Canada is a federal constitutional monarchy. As such, both the Federal Government in Ottawa and each of the ten Provincial Governments receive their authority and mandate directly from the Crown. The Governor General of Canada represents the Queen at the federal level, and exercises certain authority over the entire nation on the advice of the Prime Minister and other federal ministers. The ten provincial Lt. Governors, however, do not represent the Governor General but rather represent the Queen directly in their own right, and exercise legitimate authority over their provinces on the advice of the premiers / provincial ministers. Likewise in the Church, the Pope of Rome exercises a universal primacy over the whole Church which he receives directly from Christ the King, but this in no way diminishes the fact that each bishop receives his authority over his particular church/diocese directly from Christ as well, and not from the Pope. Vatican II was very clear on this point.

Interestingly, Pope Francis has made it very clear that he wishes to govern the Church with his brother bishops, and not apart from them. Blessed John Paul and Pope Benedict expressed similar sentiments, but I feel that Pope Francis is more directly addressing the heretical notion, popular among many of the laity, that the Pope is an absolute dictator who rules the Church by dogmatic decree in a vacuum. From the Holy Father’s famous interview in the Jesuit magazine “America”:

We must walk together: the people, the bishops and the pope. Synodality should be lived at various levels. Maybe it is time to change the methods of the Synod of Bishops, because it seems to me that the current method is not dynamic. This will also have ecumenical value, especially with our Orthodox brethren. From them we can learn more about the meaning of episcopal collegiality and the tradition of synodality. The joint effort of reflection, looking at how the church was governed in the early centuries, before the breakup between East and West, will bear fruit in due time. In ecumenical relations it is important not only to know each other better, but also to recognize what the Spirit has sown in the other as a gift for us. I want to continue the discussion that was begun in 2007 by the joint [Catholic–Orthodox] commission on how to exercise the Petrine primacy, which led to the signing of the Ravenna Document. We must continue on this path.”

None of that is new to Vatican II. The problem is, as I’ve said many times over the years, (and as mardukm knows all too well from our many disagreements over this), that what may be the “authentic position” of Rome is belied by its own actions. IOW, the “situation on the ground” differs markedly from it, and the whole mess goes back to the ultramontanist victory at Vatican I. The “Absolute Petrine view” still reigns supreme (pun intended) in fact, and until such time that it is formally and officially abrogated, it will continue to do so. Current occupant of the episcopal chair of Rome notwithstanding.

While I have neither the time nor the wherewithal to read carefully through all of this, I do say :thumbsup: for posting it. It gives one a better understanding of the Catholic world.


Who can tell the Pope, “No”, unless he obviously contradicts the Gospel or the Apostles?

Any bishop can say “No” to the Pope. I don’t have time to look it up right now, but I believe it is in your Canon Law, Canon 86 or 87 IIRC.

Any bishop, for the good of his flock, can dispense with any laws, even those established by the Supreme authority (it’s gotta be a sincere good of course, not some arbitrary whim).

A lot of times, bishops won’t say no, if they feel it would be against the Pope’s wishes. In such instances, the Pope’s authority is really on auctoritas, not potestas (in layman’s terms, auctoritas is authority by virtue of love or respect, while potestas is authority by virtue of law). The Pope’s authority is indeed indicated in our canon laws, but the ideal (as reflected in St. Paul’s teachings) is always that our adherence to the law should be borne of sincerity and free exercise, not one forced by mere obligation or fear.


Dear brother Tyler,

Well said. The point of exposition is to clarify the role of the Pope in the Church universal, not his role in his particular Church.

I have noticed there are certain Easterns and Orientals who take ominous signs from the bishop of Rome’s actions in the Latin Patriarchate. Ideally, I believe what goes on in the Latin Patriarchate is not anyone else’s business but the Latin Catholic’s. However, I do understand that their interest in Latin matters is based on fear that “the Pope might do the same in my Church,” which, though it might be rooted in some sort of collective historical consciousness of past misgivings, is more often than not, I believe, unfounded.


How about this: Mardukm’s view is “High Petrine”. People who disagree with him are either “Low Petrine” or “Absolutist Petrine”.

How about this: Mardukm’s view is “High Petrine”. People who disagree with him are either “Low Petrine” or “Absolutist Petrine”.

On second thought, that sounds more like a “TV Watcher’s Digest” version. :smiley:

Here’s the explanation about the Catholic use of the terms “ordinary,” “immediate,” and “proper.”

However, a preliminary comment: In another thread, an EO poster made a comment about my use of the term “plenary jurisdiction” for the jurisdiction of a head bishop, assuming that since the jurisdiction refers to only one specific action (confirmation of bishops), it is not plenary.
RESPONSE: Readers should keep in mind that the term “jurisdiction” regularly applies to two things: (1) authority (i.e., “X has jurisdiction in this matter” or “X’s jurisdiction is to do this”); (2) geographical extent of that authority (“London is the jurisdiction of X”). Notwithstanding the fact that the ancient canons do not actually restrict the jurisdiction of a head bishop merely to the matter of confirming bishops (see Apostolic Canon 34, and a similar canon from a synod of Antioch in 341; though Nicea enumerates the confirmation of bishops as a prerogative of a head bishop, nowhere does it restrict a head bishop’s prerogatives to merely that function), I explained that I used the term “plenary jurisdiction” merely to refer to the geographic extent of the jurisdiction, and nothing more. It dawned on me that there might be those who have a similar (mis)conception of the term “universal jurisdiction” - i.e., as if the term “universal” is being used in the sense of “comprehensive,” thus connoting absoluteness. If such is the case, I would like to assure such persons that the term “universal” is only referring to the geographical extent of the jurisdiction (it is often used in contradistinction to the term “local”), and connotes nothing about the nature of the jurisdiction.

The use of the terms “ordinary,” “immediate” and “proper” have given rise to one of the greatest misconceptions about the jurisdiction of the Pope in the Church universal. A concise explanation of the ecclesiological terms is necessary.

In patristic ecclesiology, there are several ranks in the episcopate – there are not several types of bishops, as if there was an ontological distinction between bishops, but only several ranks in the episcopate. In general, any formal grouping of bishops has a head bishop according to apostolic Tradition. In the Catholic understanding, when Christ established this model, he was referring to His ENTIRE Church (which He calls His household, in some places). In His household, he intended to establish a servant over both his household and His other servants (according to his teaching in the parable of the wise and faithful servant, evident also in other places in the Bible). In His day, this model was established in St. Peter with his brother Apostles, St. Peter being the coryphaeus of the Apostles, the Apostles together having authority in the Master’s entire household. The headship of the head servant was not to be exercised in a secular manner (“lording it over”), but one exercised in service to the others. As time progressed, and the Church grew larger, the Church, prompted by the Holy Spirit, for the sake of the good order of the Church, applied this primordial model that Christ intended for His entire household, to smaller sections of His Church. This resulted in the concept of primates, and eventually of metropolitans and patriarchs. But the Catholic Church has never forgotten that the primordial model established by Christ was originally intended by Him as a reference to His one household, the Church as a whole. Hence, to the Catholic Church, and the various Churches of the Syriac Traditions (both eastern and western), the notion of primacy is regarded as a solid doctrinal principle, not one merely created by the Church in the course of time under the prompting of the Holy Spirit. The Church of the post-apostolic era merely used a model that was already established by the Master Himself.

On each level of the episcopate (i.e., in each formal grouping of bishops), there is a head bishop.

The authority (i.e., jurisdiction) of each bishop in his own diocese/eparchy is desribed as ORDINARY, IMMEDIATE, and PROPER.

In distinction, a head bishop (i.e., of metropolitan, patriarch, pope - different Churches have different names for their head bishops) has authority (i.e., jurisdiction) in two distinct spheres of geographical jurisdiction:
(1) in matters that affect his own local diocese/eparchy;
(2) in matters that affect the entire geographical jurisdiction of which he is head. Hence, a Metropolitan has jurisdiction in matters that affect his entire Metropolitan Church; a Patriarch has jurisdiction in matters that affect his entire Patriarhcal Church; the Pope has jurisdiction in matters that affect the Church universal.
The descriptives for a head bishop’s authority in his own local see have already been given above. As far as his authority in his plenary geographic jurisdiction (as distinct from his authority in his local jurisdiction - i.e., his own diocese or eparchy), his authority is described as both “ORDINARY” and “PROPER.”
As far as a head bishop’s authority in any particular local diocese, it is described as ORDINARY, but not PROPER.

The Pope as head bishop of the Church universal has an additional descriptive attached to his authority in his plenary geographical jurisdiction (i.e., the Church universal) - IMMEDIATE (this term will be explained later; for now, readers should note that this is the same descriptive attached to the authority of every bishop in his own local diocese).



As a recap:
bishop in his local jurisdiction: ORDINARY, IMMEDIATE, PROPER.

head bishop in his own local jurisdiction: ORDINARY, IMMEDIATE, PROPER (like any other bishop)
head bishop in another local jurisdiction: ORDINARY
head bishop in his plenary geographic jurisdiction: ORDINARY, PROPER

Pope in his own local jurisdiction: ORDINARY, IMMEDIATE, PROPER (like any other bishop)
Pope in another local jurisdiction: ORDINARY (like any other head bishop), IMMEDIATE
Pope in his plenary geographic (i.e., universal) jurisdiction: ORDINARY, PROPER (like any other head bishop), IMMEDIATE.

The following are the specific Magisterial sources for the above explanation:
Can 381 (CIC)/ Can. 178 (CCEO) In the diocese entrusted to his care, the diocesan bishop has all the ORDINARY, PROPER and IMMEDIATE power required for the exercise of his pastoral office.
Can 333 (CIC)/ Can. 45 (CCEO) (it is especially this canon, that juxtaposes the authority of the Pope with the authority of a bishop in a particular diocese, which evinces the fact that the jurisdiction of the Pope in a particular diocese not his own is NOT proper. I present both the CIC and CCEO versions. The CCEO is rather more clear on the matter)
CIC: By virtue of his office, the Roman Pontiff not only has power over the universal Church, but also has pre-eminent ORDINARY power over all particular Churches and their groupings. This reinforces and defends the PROPER, ORDINARY, and IMMEDIATE power which the Bishops have in their particular Churches entrusted to their care.
CCEO: The Roman Pontiff, by virtue of his office, not only has power over the entire Church but also possesses a primacy of ORDINARY power over all the eparchies and groupings of them, by which the PROPER, ORDINARY and immediate POWER which bishops possess in the eparchy entrusted to their care is both strengthened and safeguarded.
NOTE: IMO, the CCEO version is more faithful to Ch.3, Parag. 3 of Pastor Aeternus, as it makes it more evident that the Pope’s primacy gives him a responsibility to strengthen and safeguard the jurisdiction of his brother bishops.
Can. 78 (CCEO) The power which, according to the norm of the canons and legitimate customs, the patriarch has over bishops and other Christian faithful of the Church over which he presides is ORDINARY and PROPER.
Can. 157 (CCEO) The power which a metropolitan possesses according to the norm of law over the bishops and other Christian faithful of the metropolitan Church is ORDINARY and PROPER
Can 331 (CIC)/ Can. 43 (CCEO) The bishop of the Church of Rome…enjoys supreme, full, IMMEDIATE, and universal ORDINARY power in the Church which he can always freely exercise.**
Pastor Aeternus, Ch,1: Jesus conferred upon Simon Peter…true and PROPER primacy of jurisdiction…over the whole Church of God…

**NOTE: Contrary to the exaggerations of Absolutist Petrine advocates and detractors of the papacy, the term “freely” in this passage does not mean “unrestrained,” but rather “uncoerced.” It means that actions of the Pope are (and must be) of his free volition.

People no doubt ask “if a head bishop has PROPER jurisdiction in his plenary geographic jurisdiction, and a local diocese is part of that plenary geographic jurisdiction, why does not the head bishop have PROPER jurisdiction in said local diocese?” This question is in fact at the heart of the misunderstanding of “papal universal jurisdiction” (both by Absolutist Petrine advocates, and many, if not most, "non-"Catholic apostolic Christians). There are three reasonable explanations for this distinction:
(1) It is ancient apostolic Tradition. According to the ancient apostolic Canon, though a head bishop is involved in every matter of importance for his entire geographic jurisdiction, only a local bishop has authority in matters related to his own diocese. People should understand the distinction between something that can affect an entire geographic jurisdiction (e.g., some doctrinal matter), versus something that can only affect a local jurisdiction (e.g., local discipline and church order).
(2) According to Eucharistic ecclesiology, each local Church is a Church in its fullness. Though it is naturally and explicitly connected to every other Church in the one body of Christ, it can indeed normally function fully and healthily with its bishop as an autonomous entity, without the intervention of the head bishop.
(3) Just as the Pope’s jurisdiction is regarded as “immediate,” so is the jurisdiction of every local bishop. The meaning and import of this term will be explained shortly. For now, it is enough to understand that this term helps us understand why no head bishop, including the Pope, has the authority to impede the authority of any local orthodox Catholic bishop in that bishop’s own diocese. For the Pope in particular, in fact, Vatican 1 explicitly asserted that it is not the purpose of the primacy to impede the jurisdiction of local bishops, but rather to support and defend it. More recently, HH JP2 of thrice-blessed memory likewise explicitly asserted that he, as Pope, does not have this authority.



Now, on to the explanation of the terms:
This refers to the nature of jurisdiction. The term means “inherent” in Catholic jargon (some academic resources will describe it as meaning something is “bound” to the office). The care that a head bishop has for every place in his plenary geographic jurisdiciton is “ordinary” (i.e., inherent). It is a natural part of his office as head bishop. One must make the distinction between this word as a descriptive of the nature of the jurisdiction, on the one hand, from the exercise of that jurisdiction, on the other (there is another canonical term - PROPER - that governs the exercise of jurisdiction, which will be explained below). This word does not mean that the head bishop can naturally exercise jurisdiction any time he pleases in a local diocese not his own. What it means is that WHEN a circumstance arises that requires the use of a head bishop’s jurisdiction in a diocese not his own, the jurisdiction that is exercised in that circumstance is natural to his office. He does not require anyone’s permission to exercise it. Concretely, this ordinary (i.e., natural) jurisdiction is exercised by a head bishop in a diocese not his own IF AND ONLY IF the proper bishop of that diocese has been impeded in his duties for that diocese (whether by heresy, lengthy absence, imprisonment, etc. etc.). So a head bishop’s ordinary (i.e., natural) jurisdiction in a diocese not his own does not, and is not intended to, replace the ordinary (i.e., natural) jurisdiction of that diocese/eparchy’s proper bishop, but rather to supplement it in the event that the proper bishop of that diocese has been impeded in his duties for his diocese. A head bishop (whether metropolitan, patriarch or pope) does not himself have the prerogative to be the cause of impeding the authority of a proper bishop in his diocese.

This refers to the nature of jurisdiction. There are two distinct notions attached to this term:
(a) The direct connection between the source of the power of jurisdiction and the recipient of that power. It means, basically, that the power is given directly by, or received directly from, God. This is the normative, theological use of the term. This notion has two important implications for Catholic ecclesiology. First, this is the primary reason that the jurisdiction of the Pope as head bishop of the Church universal (primordially exemplified by St. Peter) and the local jurisdiction of every other bishop in the Church universal (primordially exemplified by the other Apostles) are referred to as “immediate.” The episcopal authority that they exercise in the Church as a whole is the one intended by Christ as primordially exemplified by St. Peter and the other Apostles in the household of the Master. In distinction, the microcosms of the Church in hierarchical levels below the universal level (i.e., patriarchal Churches, Metropolitan Churches) was not instituted by Christ directly, but by the Church with the authority of Christ, in the progress of time, to meet the needs of a growing Church. This latter is the primary reason why the jurisdictions of other head bishoprics are not considered immediate - because their jurisdictions on the regional levels were instituted by the Church, not by God (i.e., Jesus Christ) directly (of course, as the bishop of their own diocese/eparchy, their jurisdiction is immediate.

Second, this notion is very important to understand why no head bishop (not even the Pope) has the prerogative to be the cause of impeding the authority of a proper bishop in his diocese - namely, it is because the power of jurisdiction of a bishop in his local diocese is from God Himself. NOTE: while not even the Pope has the power to impede the authority of a bishop in his local diocese, he does have the authority to regulate it, when the good of the Church requires it, not at his mere and sole discretion (as both Absolutist Petrine advocates and detractors of the papacy contend). For example, in the wake of the abuse on indulgences which prompted the Protestant Reformation, the Pope limited every bishop’s use of the power to grant indulgences. He did not take it away, for that is not within his power to do, but he did limit and regulate it. As noted in an earlier post in this thread, any bishop has the prerogative to say “no” even to the Pope if it is for the good of his flock. Bishops often will not say “no,” not because it is not with their power to do so by virtue of the Pope’s potestas, but because they don’t want to out of love or respect for the Pope (auctoritas)

(b) The connection between the wielder of jurisdiction and the one(s) over whom the jurisdiction is exercised. This is the normative canonical use of the term. It means that WHEN the jurisdiction is exercised, it can be or is exercised directly in relation to the subject, with no intermediary. As far as the “when” of its exercise, it is normative and regular for the proper bishop of a diocese (see below for the meaning of “proper”); in relation to the Pope, it is only according to specific circumstances. Immediate jurisdiction is not, contrary to the exaggerations of Absolutist Petrine advocates and the misapprehensions of detractors of the papacy, exercised by the Pope at his mere and sole discretion. Immediate jurisdiction is exercised by the Pope in the circumstances when the proper bishop of a diocese has been impeded in his duties, or when an appeal to the Pope has been made.


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