Which is greater Popes or Councils?

In that same Catholic Encyclopedia, notably on the topic concerning the Council of Florence, in the last paragraph of the article, it affirms that:

One advantage, at least, resulted from the Council of Florence: it proclaimed before both Latins and Greeks that the Roman pontiff was the foremost ecclesiastical authority in Christendom; and Eugene IV was able to arrest the schism which had been threatening the Western Church anew (see BASLE, COUNCIL OF). This council was, therefore, witness to the prompt rehabilitation of papal supremacy, and facilitated, the return of men like Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini, who in his youth had taken part in the Council of Basle, but ended by recognizing its erroneous attitude, and finally became pope under the name Pius II.

As for the Council of Florence quote, it was taken from an article by Fr. John Hardon, which can be found HERE.

Pope Leo The Great was more emphatic:

Although bishops have a common dignity, they are not all of the same rank. Even among the most blessed Apostles, though they were alike in honor, there was a certain distinction of power. All were equal in being chosen, but it was given to one to be preeminent over the others . . . the care of the universal Church would converge in the one See of Peter, and nothing should ever be at odds with this head.

{Letter to Bishop Anastasius of Thessalonica, c.446 A.D., 14:11; in Jurgens, FEF, vol. 3, p. 270; emphasis added}

Let me likewise emphasize that I in no way wish to lessen the significance of the Councils, as they, together with the Pope can proclaim teachings infallibly. Only that I am trying as I might to address the question of the OP from actual historical examples. :slight_smile:

I wouldn’t exactly call the Catholic Encyclopedia dogmatic. I must also consider that Vatican II (to which I referred) completed Vatican I, and cannot be taken apart from it. Anything which SEEMINGLY contradicts one to the other might be a misinterpretation and not in the true spirit of Catholicism.


I think there is a danger in saying that the Pope is “above” an Ecumenical Council, or rather there’s a danger in viewing an Ecumenical Council as an appendage of the Pope. I’m not suggesting that anyone here is saying that, as I haven’t seen it, but I think it’s important to address the reason why such a term can be a difficulty.

The Pope is not an independent entity from the Catholic Church. I think we’d all agree that the only reason the Pope is important at all is because he IS a member of the Catholic Church (anyone who disagrees with this should take a look at Pope Michael I: catholicchurch.homestead.com/). In this sense, Papal authority is both Divinely appointed and derived from the Church, since Papal authority is directly connected with the Church in every instance that it’s discussed by Christ in Scripture. This doesn’t mean it comes from the Church’s continuing approval that can be withdrawn at any time, Christ didn’t ask the others if they wanted Peter to feed them and guide them and strengthen them, but it does mean that the Papacy must always be viewed as fully integrated into the Body of the Church.

Now, when it comes to Ecumenical Councils, or anything that is truly binding on all the Faithful, obviously the Pope plays a key role. If the Pope withdraws his consent, as Petrine protector of the Faith, then any universality is eliminated and the Council can’t function with real Catholic authority. This isn’t much different, however, from the role a keystone plays in an arch; it’s a direct part of the arch, and it’s what ultimately holds it together when put in place, but it can’t be considered as seperate or distinct from the rest of the arch. The keystone is what it is because of the rest of the arch, and the rest of the arch is what it is because of the keystone.

The main objection that I think arguments about Papal supremacy are trying to counter is the idea that a Council is somehow over the Pope, which is frankly absurd. That is what the error of Conciliarism held, and it’s a dangerous notion because it eliminates one of the very elements that makes a Council a Council in the first place. This doesn’t have to lead to the Pope being “above” a Council, however, as if the Pope just wanted to get all the Bishops together in one place so he could more easily expound his doctrines to them; the history even of Councils that were directly guided by the Pope show that this isn’t the case.

Another thing that’s important to remember, and has already been pointed out, is that Bishops do not derive their Sacramental authority from the Pope, but from Christ Himself. Proof of this can be seen in the fact that the Catholic Church recognizes Orthodox Bishops as true Bishops in every sense, so much so that when non-Catholic Apostolic Bishops have gotten involved in the ordinations of Protestant communities like the Anglicans, we carefully review who they’ve ordained when they or their “descendents” enter the Catholic Church. If we didn’t acknowledge the Sacramentality of those Bishops who are disconnected from the Pope, we wouldn’t go through such painstaking reviews before deciding what to do with them or those they’ve ordained. That’s to say nothing about the fact that we recognize their other Sacraments as valid, even permitting Catholics to receive from them in certain cases. Ironically, this fact of Sacramental authority outside the confines of the Catholic Communion was most adamantly defended by Pope Stephan I against the argument of St. Cyprian :stuck_out_tongue:

So the Pope is definately the head of the Communion, and in the Papacy the Catholic Church finds its unity, as recognized even in the Early Church, but it’s not “above” the Church, rather it’s a member of the Church, and a very significant one of course. To emphasize this, we need only look at what Vatican I said about Papal Infallibility:

Therefore, faithfully adhering to the tradition received from the beginning of the Christian faith, to the glory of God our savior, for the exaltation of the Catholic religion and for the salvation of the Christian people, with the approval of the Sacred Council, we teach and define as a divinely revealed dogma that when the Roman Pontiff speaks EX CATHEDRA, that is, when, in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole Church, he possesses, by the divine assistance promised to him in blessed Peter, that infallibility which the divine Redeemer willed his Church to enjoy in defining doctrine concerning faith or morals.

Peace and God bless!

Brother Michael,

Which council of Basel? The authorized (the one called by the True Pope), or the unauthorized (the one called by the anti-Pope) are you speaking of? The one that follows Canon Law, or the one that didn’t?

It’s pretty interesting to note that in the history of the development of Papal Infallibilty that the Immaculate Conception was defined as dogma by a Pope before Papal Infallibility itself had a definition!

It is quite interesting. Also worthy of not is that the Pope defined it not by his own random fiat, but after requests by multitudes of Bishops, and after careful consultation with theologians and the rest of the Magisterium. He makes this clear in the declaration itself :thumbsup:

Peace and God bless!

What I find admirable about that situation, from an Oriental ecclesiastical perspective, is that the definition was brought about in a COLLEGIAL manner, with input from the rest of the bishops of the Catholic Church.


Ghosty beat me to it! :smiley:

Father Ambrose must be grinning right now!


It’s only because you left the room long enough for me to steal the keyboard from you. If only I’d remembered to log in with your screen name our secret would remain hidden! :stuck_out_tongue:

God bless!

Vox Populi! The Romans owe much to the Copts due to the easy accessibility of Alexandria and Rome via the Mediterranean.

Rome can thank Alexandria for its first uniform Liturgy in the Divine Liturgy of St Hippolytus who was an Alexandrian priest.

Hippolytus’ Refutation of All Heresies:


:thumbsup: :clapping: :bowdown:

A better term in English I believe would be that the Pope is the Prime Minister or magistrate of the council.

Since a Council first needs both approval and consent from the Pope in order to be an Ecumenical Council, then that means that the Ecumenical Council holds equal weight in authority as an authoritative Papal document.

Well, I wouldn’t exactly call your understanding dogmatic either. :wink: The on-line version of the CE is considered to be quite accurate and it is approved by the Vatican. Yes, it’s not dogmatic and neither is the pronouncement of some of the saints. That said, they’re probably right.

How is New Advent “approved by the Vatican”? All that New Advent is, is a collab. effort (apostolate) started by some guy after he went to see John Paul the Great at World Youth Day '93 here in Denver (where by the way my uncle in the Colorado Air National Guard served as part of the Pope’s security team). They take articles from the Old Catholic Encyclopedia and scan them into computer text and put them in HTML format. I think I’ll trust Canon Law as more dogmatic than the Old Catholic Encyclopedia. :thumbsup:

I didn’t say New Advent. I said the CE. I’ll dig up my 1913 version because I’m remembering something other than an impramatur in the beginning of it. The on-line version is the 1917, I believe. And your right, it’s not an infallible document. That said, these versions are considered quite accurate by the likes of Hilaire Belloc.

The idea that a Council is superior to the Holy Father has been posited in the past. This is called consiliarism and is defined as a heresy. However, one must note a subtle distinction. There are many types of councils but even the highest form (Ecumenical Council) is not superior to the Roman Pontiff per se. First an EC requires papal ratification or at least confirmation. But also the Holy Father can act Moto Proprio roughly meaning “on his own” apart from any consultation. As defined none have recourse against such action whether theological or juridical. However again this is tempered by the fact that he cannot act against the whole of the body of Bishops nor the whole of the body of the Faithful. On the one hand it is not a democracy but on the other hand it is not autocracy but rather it is, as with many things in the Church, both-and.

Precisely. Does the head turn the neck, or does the neck turn the head? The fact is that without a signal from the head, the neck can’t turn, yet without the motion of the neck the head can’t turn either. Acknowledging the limits of this analogy, we can say that neither the head nor the neck are truly whole without the other, and both require the other for full operation. I think there is very good reason for the ancient use of the organic “head and body” analogy.

Peace and God bless!

That may be true because while the Pope may be infallible in certain matters, he is however not omniscient and thus still requires that he consult the rest of the magisterium.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.