What's the fuss about collegiality?

Apparently there are groups and people who have issues with the concept of “collegiality” among Bishops. The Catechism says the following:

880 When Christ instituted the Twelve, “he constituted [them] in the form of a college or permanent assembly, at the head of which he placed Peter, chosen from among them.” Just as “by the Lord’s institution, St. Peter and the rest of the apostles constitute a single apostolic college, so in like fashion the Roman Pontiff, Peter’s successor, and the bishops, the successors of the apostles, are related with and united to one another.”

To me, that sounds logical and really quite simple. Now, the SSPX, for example, seem to take exception to this concept, form what I understand. I also read about the idea of collegiality that there are misapplied forms of it.

I can’t seem to find any proper explanation, so I’d like to ask these questions:

*]What exactly to groups like the SSPX criticise about “collegiality”?
*]What is the proper understanding of the concept?
*]Are there examples that constitute a misapplication of the concept?
*]Oftentimes Bishops’ Conferences are part of this discussion. What is their role in “collegiality”?

Thanks. :slight_smile:

Here is an explanation from an SSPX website:
Firstly, there was the conservative interpretation. The pope alone had supreme authority, by divine right. He could on occasion, if he wished, extend this authority to the college of bishops, e.g., by summoning a General Council. This was an extraordinary measure, and the bishops’ temporary share in the pope’s supreme authority was of human right only. This was the traditional view, often called "ultra-montane."It was that of the International Group of traditionalist bishops at the Council [Coetus Internationalis Patrum], and probably also of the silent majority of the bishops, as far as they had any definite view on the matter.
This is the same position held by Absolutist Petrine advocates who remain in the Catholic Church.

Btw, the portion highlighted in blue above is a load of baloney - historical revisionism by the SSPX. Anyone who will take the time to study the background debates of V1 will discover that the several changes made to Pastor Aeternus by the Commission De Fide (responsible for formulating the decrees) were actually made IN OPPOSITION to the extremist view cited above.

What is the proper understanding of the concept?

The proper view (the High Petrine view):
The authority and infallibility of the College consists of the Pope TOGETHER WITH his brother bishops, never apart. The supreme authority can be formally exercised in a PERSONAL manner by the Pope FOR the College, never apart from or opposed to it, or in a COLLEGIAL manner together with his brother bishops.

Aberrant concepts:
The Absolutist Petrine view (held by SSPX and certain Latin Catholics):
The Pope ALONE has authority and infallibility and the College can share in it ONLY because the Pope is a member of it. The Pope can exercise this authority APART FROM the College.

The Low Petrine view
The authority and infallibility of the College consists of what the majority wants. The head bishop must always concede to the will of the majority. The head bishop does not have any inherent personal authority to exercise the supreme authority, but can only do so with the approval of the college.

Are there examples that constitute a misapplication of the concept?

There are no examples of the Absolutist or Low Petrine view in the history of the Church. They are novelties. The High Petrine view is evident as the Tradition of the Church from the beginning.

Oftentimes Bishops’ Conferences are part of this discussion. What is their role in “collegiality”?

Bishops’ Conferences are different from the synods of Oriental and Eastern Catholic Churches, in that synods have ordinary authority, whereas the decrees of Bishops’ Conferences are valid only if the local bishop accepts it for his diocese.

There are certain Catholics who think that Bishops’ Conferences are examples of “collegiality,” but they are not, because the true authority in a Bishops’ Conference are the individual bishops, not the college as a whole. Only Oriental and Eastern synods, and the Ecum Council are true examples of the principle of collegiality.

Latin Catholic critics of Bishops’ Conferences wrongly criticize the principle of collegiality as the cause of the cavalierism of certain bishops in some countries. Such critics really have little understanding of what collegiality is. These critics claim that Pope Francis’ comment about giving episcopal conferences more doctrinal authority will lead to more chaos. On the contrary, the reason that calavierism among certain bishops exists in these countries is precisely BECAUSE Episcopal Conferences have no doctrinal authority over them. Currently, the nature of an episcopal conference designates the individual bishop as the highest authority in the land. THAT is why cavalierism exists in certain Latin Catholic countries (it is NOT because of collegiality). These bishops don’t have to answer to any higher authority in their countries. Far from inspiring cavalierism in doctrinal teaching, the principle of collegiality will actually curb it.

I hope that helps.


It certainly does. Thanks for the very informative post, though I’m happy for others to reply too. :slight_smile: Can I restate the positions as I understand them after your post?

Absolutist view
The College of Bishops derives its authority from the supreme authority of the Successor of Peter and has no power on its own.

High Petrine view
The Pope acts as Head of the College of Bishops. *

Low Petrine view
The Supreme Pontiff derives his authority from that of the majority opinion in the College of Bishops, which he must side with.

Would those be accurate?*

Dear brother CutlerB,

I am very glad to be of help.

The High Petrine (HP) view agrees with the Absolutist Petrine (AP) view in that the College does not have any power on its own apart from its head. What differentiates it is the idea that the authority of the College of Bishops derives its authority from the head bishop (i.e., the Pope) ALONE, instead of as a collective whole.

High Petrine view
The Pope acts as Head of the College of Bishops. **
Yes, whether acting in a personal manner as head of the College, or collegially with his brother bishops, the Pope always acts in the context of the College, never apart from it.

I think the part that is confusing is the distinction between acting in a 'personal manner" vs. acting in a “collegial manner?” Let me know if that’s it, and I will explain it further.

[quote]Low Petrine view

The Supreme Pontiff derives his authority from that of the majority opinion in the College of Bishops, which he must side with.
Yes. The distinction between the HP view and the Low Petrine (LP) view is that the head bishop, according to the LP view, has no INHERENT authority, but only a DELEGATED authority.

Any questions are welcome.


That’s what I find a little confusing. I reject the Low Petrine view, but I can’t seem to quite grasp the difference between HP and AV.

How can the views agree that the College has no power apart from the Pope but at the same time the HP says the College has power by virtue of it being a collective whole? That may sound rather confusing… :smiley:

I think the part that is confusing is the distinction between acting in a 'personal manner" vs. acting in a “collegial manner?” Let me know if that’s it, and I will explain it further.

It might help. :slight_smile:

Aaah! The Mystery of the Church. It defies logic.:smiley:

Seriously, I need to go, brother. I ask your leave to explain this later when I have more time.


That’s fine, I’m just about to leave for the land of dreams :slight_smile: It’s heading for midnight over here.

Hi brother Culter,

Thanks for your patience.

As far as the distinction between the AP and HP views, perhaps an analogy will help.

Imagine a car. An engine is absolutely necessary for a car to function as a car.

HP advocates would say the car will only function as a car with ALL its parts INCLUDING the engine.

AP advocates would say the engine is the ONLY thing necessary for the car to function as a car.

Yup, the AP view really makes no sense. AP advocates will say that ONLY the Pope is necessary for the College to have authority. In fact, AP advocates would claim that the divinely-instituted college is not even necessary for the Church as a whole. The Pope, they claim, is sufficient and complete on his own. If you ask an AP advocate, “What is the purpose of an Ecum Council?” their reasoning automatically shuts down, and they cannot conceive of an answer. They can only think in terms of sola papa (just like certain Protestants can only think in terms of sola fide and sola scriptura). The sola papa error is just as damaging to the integrity of the Church as the other sola errors.

AP advocates who have chosen to remain in the Catholic Church (instead of joining their SSPX cohorts in schism) profess to have no problem with the teaching of V2 on collegiality. That is only because they distort (deliberately or not) its teachings to suit their sola papa error. Here’s a classic example.

A V2 Commission, clarifying LG, wrote:
"There is no distinction between the Roman Pontiff and the bishops taken collectively, but between the Roman Pontiff by himself and the Roman Pontiff together with the bishops. Since the Roman Pontiff is the head of the College, he alone can perform certain acts which in no wise belong to the bishops…"

The second sentence in the excerpt above makes it clear that the distinction as regards “the Roman Pontiff by himself” refers to those UNIQUE things he can do that no other bishop can do WITHIN THE COLLEGE as its head. But AP advocates, in order to preserve and promote their aberration, simply and myopically neglect the second sentence of the clarification. Thus, AP advocates feel justified in preserving and promoting their aberration that the Pope can act APART FROM and even in OPPOSITION TO the College.

You can pretty much recognize the AP advocates when they make such strange claims as “the Pope can oppose an Ecum Council or the College” or “the Pope does not need the consensus of the orthodox bishops or the sensus fidei in order to proclaim an ex cathedra decree,” or some such other hooey that makes the Pope an island separated from the Church or the College.

As far as an exercise of authority in a “personal manner” “versus” a "collegial manner."
When the Pope acts in a PERSONAL manner, he is exercising the supreme authority FOR the College (or members thereof). In other words, he is REPRESENTING the College as its head. On doctrinal matters, the Pope, after due PERSONAL investigation, represents the present preaching of the orthodox Magisterium in an ex cathedra decree; on non-doctrinal matters, the Pope, after consultation with the concerned parties, represents a response to the needs of the concerned parties through a motu proprio or some other appropriate decree. At other times, the College AS A WHOLE (i.e., the COLLEGIAL manner) speaks with supreme authority.

In opposition to this orthodox understanding, AP advocates interpret “personal” to mean “unilateral.” Thus, in their minds, the Pope can act without the consultation nor agreement of any other bishop, and can even act in opposition to the divinely-instituted College or an Ecum Council. That is NOT the teaching of the Catholic Church.

Again, I hope that helps. As always, feel free to ask any questions or for any clarifications.


Once more, it does help. :slight_smile: I will have to get my own thoughts sorted, since before all of this, I would have thought that the Pope could unilaterally declare a Dogma, for example. From what I thought, I would have said that the Pope could consult the Bishops, but he didn’t have to.

But how do councils that the Pope didn’t accept fit into all of this? What if the majority of Bishops opposed some measure of the Pope?

Are there any documents I should read about this? Both ones from before Vatican II and after? Do you know where in Lumen Gentium this concept is treated so I can read more? about it? :slight_smile:

This website, which I otherwise found quite helpful and orthodox, seems to be very critical of the concept, and that’s why i hesitate to read the article: unamsanctamcatholicam.com/theology/81-theology/427-what-is-collegiality.html

Perhaps you know them.

Collegiality means both the Pope alone exercises the supreme authority of the Church and the Pope together with the Apostles exercises that same supreme authority. Those who oppose it in principle claim this creates two heads in the Church. Those who oppose it in practice, say the Pope should not govern in a collaborative way with other bishops.

The opposition in principle comes from the fact that the First Vatican Council got cut short when Rome was invated. That Council taught that the Pope exercised supreme authority, but never got to the document where it would teach about the supreme authority of the College. Vatican II pretty much just quotes from the preparatory documents of Vatican I on this point.

That being said, the official relatio for Pastor Aeternus at Vatican I directly answered the objection concerning two heads–the objection then was the other way around however: some argued saying the Pope alone had supreme authority created two heads. Here is the official response from the relator:

[quote=Relatio for Pastor Aeternus]The bishops gathered with their head in an ecumenical council—and in that case they represent the whole Church—or dispersed but in union with their head—in which case they are the Church itself—truly have full power (vere plenam potestatem habent). There would be confusion if we were to admit two full and supreme powers separate and distinct from each other. But we admit that the truly full and supreme power is in the sovereign pontiff as in the head (veluti capite) and that the same power, truly both full and supreme, is also in the head united to the members, that is to say, in the pontiff united to the bishops.

This was the common belief of the Church at the time. For example, just prior to becoming Pope Gregory XVI, Mauro Cappellari wrote:

Likewise, it seems to me that the bishops acting in a collegial way and the Pope governing and teaching in such a way is the traditional praxis of the Church. History shows many, many, many local councils of bishops. This is important so that the bishops in a particular region may speak with one voice. Furthermore, it seems the Pope should also seek to act in common with the other bishops rather than simply acting unilaterally–even if that is ultimately his right. The First Vatican Council says as much:

St. Francis de Sales explained the same thing:

[quote=St. Francis de Sales, Catholic Controversy] But the great Cardinal of Toledo remarks most appositely on this place that it is not said he shall carry the Church into all truth, but he shall lead; to show that though the Holy Spirit enlightens the Church, he wills at the same that she should use the diligence which is required for keeping the true way, as the Apostles did, who, having to give an answer to an important question, debated, comparing the Holy Scriptures together; and when they had diligently done this they concluded by the: It hath seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us; that is, the Holy Spirit has enlightened us and we have walked, he has guided us and we have followed him, up to this truth. The ordinary means must be employed to discover the truth, and yet in this must be acknowledged the drawing and presence of the Holy Spirit. Thus is the Christian flock led,-by the Holy Spirit but under the charge and guidance of its Pastor, who however does not walk at hazard, but according to necessity convokes the other pastors, either partially or universally, carefully regards the track of his predecessors, considers the Urim and Thummim of the Word of God, enters before his God by his prayers and invocations, and, having thus diligently sought out the true way, boldly puts himself on his voyage and courageously sets sail.


continued from above:

St. John Chrysostom gives one reason why this is a good idea when he discusses why St. Peter did not unilaterally choose the successor to Judas, even though he could have.

St. Leo the Great gives another excellent explanation of this when discussing why settling the issue collegialy at the Council of Chalcedon was a good idea despite the fact that he had already ruled on the issue himself.

[quote=St. Leo I] On the return of our brothers and fellow priests, whom the See of the blessed Peter sent to the holy council, we ascertained, beloved, the victory you and we together had won by assistance from on high over the blasphemy of Nestorius, as well as over the madness of Eutyches. Wherefore we make our boast in the Lord, singing with the prophet: “our help is in the name of the Lord, who has made heaven and earth :” who has suffered us to sustain no harm in the person of our brethren, but has corroborated by the irrevocable assent of the whole brotherhood what He had already laid down through our ministry: to show that, what had been first formulated by the foremost See of Christendom, and then received by the judgment of the whole Christian world, had truly proceeded from Himself: that in this, too, the members may be at one with the Head. And herein our cause for rejoicing grows greater when we see that the more fiercely the foe assailed Christ’s servants, the more did he afflict himself. For lest the assent of other Sees to that which the Lord of all has appointed to take precedence of the rest might seem mere complaisance, or lest any other evil suspicion might creep in, some were found to dispute our decisions before they were finally accepted. And while some, instigated by the author of the disagreement, rush forward into a warfare of contradictions, a greater good results through his fall under the guiding hand of the Author of all goodness. For the gifts of God’s grace are sweeter to us when they are gained with mighty efforts: and uninterrupted peace is wont to seem a lesser good than one that is restored by labours. Moreover, the Truth itself shines more brightly, and is more bravely maintained when what the Faith had already taught is afterwards confirmed by further inquiry. And still further, the good name of the priestly office gains much in lustre where the authority of the highest is preserved without it being thought that the liberty of the lower ranks has been at all infringed. And the result of a discussion contributes to the greater glory of God when the debaters exert themselves with confidence in overcoming the gainsayers: that what of itself is shown wrong may not seem to be passed over in prejudicial silence.

newadvent.org/fathers/3604120.htm *

Wow! Thank you! :slight_smile:

Dear brother Genesis315,

Thank you so much for your post. It almost brought tears to my eyes to see a Latin Catholic brother offer such clear proof of the High Petrine collegial ecclesiology of the Catholic Church from the Fathers.

A caution to readers, however, against the Low Petrine view. Though the Pope must always act with the consensus/agreement of his brother bishops in the College, it must just as well always be remembered that it is not the consensus/agreement that grants authority to the Pope’s exercise of the Primacy. The office of Primacy, by Christ’s own institution, has an INHERENT authority to exercise the Primacy for the good of the Church.


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