Correcting Bishop Athanasius Schneider on traditio instrumentorum

The Ecumenical Council of Florence taught that, for the validity of the Sacrament of holy Orders, the handing over of the traditio instrumentorum was necessary, in addition to the imposition of hands.

“The sixth is the sacrament of orders. Its matter is the object by whose handing over the order is conferred. So the priesthood is bestowed by the handing over of a chalice with wine and a paten with bread; the diaconate by the giving of the book of the gospels; the subdiaconate by the handing over of an empty chalice with an empty paten on it; and similarly for the other orders by allotting things connected with their ministry.”

The traditio instrumentorum (traditional instruments) are the objects used in the ministry of bishops, priests, and deacons. The Council required this part of the ceremony for valid Orders, but only in the Latin Rite. The Greeks, in full communion with the Roman Pontiff, were permitted valid Orders by imposition of hands only; they were not required to also use the handing over to the candidate for Orders of the traditional objects used in his ministry.

Since Florence allowed for valid Orders with imposition of hands only, the Council certainly was not teaching, infallibly or non-infallibly, that the traditio instrumentorum was essential to the Sacrament. Instead, the Council simply added a requirement for a valid Sacrament, in the Latin Rite. And what the Church, by Her own authority, adds to a Sacrament, She may withdraw by that same authority.

Therefore, when Pope Pius XII removed that requirement of the handing over of the traditional instruments from the Sacrament of Orders, he was not correcting an error by Florence, but merely making a change to a Sacrament under the same authority that Florence used to do the same.

Pope Pius XII: “4. Wherefore, after invoking the divine light, We of Our Apostolic Authority and from certain knowledge declare, and as far as may be necessary decree and provide: that the matter, and the only matter, of the Sacred Orders of the Diaconate, the Priesthood, and the Episcopacy is the imposition of hands; and that the form, and the only form, is the words which determine the application of this matter, which univocally signify the sacramental effects – namely the power of Order and the grace of the Holy Spirit – and which are accepted and used by the Church in that sense. It follows as a consequence that We should declare, and in order to remove all controversy and to preclude doubts of conscience, We do by Our Apostolic Authority declare, and if there was ever a lawful disposition to the contrary We now decree that at least in the future the traditio instrumentorum is not necessary for the validity of the Sacred Orders of the Diaconate, the Priesthood, and the Episcopacy.” [On the Sacrament of Holy Orders]

The Pope did not correct an error in an Ecumenical Council. Popes and Councils are each preserved from grave error in doctrine and discipline at all times, and preserved from all error in infallible doctrine and in dogmatic facts. The Council was not acting under the teaching authority, in saying that the traditio instrumentorum were necessary to a valid Sacrament of Orders, but was acting under the temporal authority by adding a requirement to the validity of Orders. And the Pope later subtracted that requirement, under the same authority by which Florence added it.

And as Pope Pius XII himself explains:

“3. All agree that the Sacraments of the New Law, as sensible signs which produce invisible grace, must both signify the grace which they produce and produce the grace which they signify. Now the effects which must be produced and hence also signified by Sacred Ordination to the Diaconate, the Priesthood, and the Episcopacy, namely power and grace, in all the rites of various times and places in the universal Church, are found to be sufficiently signified by the imposition of hands and the words which determine it. Besides, every one knows that the Roman Church has always held as valid Ordinations conferred according to the Greek rite without the traditio instrumentorum; so that in the very Council of Florence, in which was effected the union of the Greeks with the Roman Church, the Greeks were not required to change their rite of Ordination or to add to it the traditio instrumentorum: and it was the will of the Church that in Rome itself the Greeks should be ordained according to their own rite. It follows that, even according to the mind of the Council of Florence itself, the traditio instrumentorum is not required for the substance and validity of this Sacrament by the will of Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. If it was at one time necessary even for validity by the will and command of the Church, everyone knows that the Church has the power to change and abrogate what she herself has established.”

Therefore, Bishop Athanasius Schneider errs gravely when he claims that Pope Pius XII corrected an error in a prior Ecumenical Council.

Schneider’s Claims

Bishop Athanasius Schneider: “An opinion different from what the Council of Florence taught on the matter of the Sacrament of Orders, i.e. the traditio instrumentorum, was allowed in the centuries following this Council, and led to Pope Pius XII’s pronouncement in the 1947 Apostolic Constitution Sacramentum Ordinis, whereby he corrected the non-infallible teaching of the Council of Florence, by stating that the only matter strictly necessary for the validity of the Sacrament of Orders is the imposition of hands by the bishop. By this act, Pius XII did not implement a hermeneutic of continuity but, indeed, a correction, because the Council of Florence’s doctrine in this matter did not reflect the constant liturgical doctrine and practice of the universal Church.” [LifeSiteNews]

Bishop Schneider uses this false example to claim that a future Pope could “correct” the Second Vatican Council in those teachings which Schneider alleges are in error.

Schneider, a schismatic and heretical anti-Athanasius, then goes on to assert a grievously harmful false claim, that Pope Martin V approved of the heresy of conciliarism asserted by certain Bishops at Constance. This refers to sessions 3, 4, 5, and 39, each of which either attempt to teach an erroneous doctrine or attempt to enact a discipline, as if that error were true.

Conciliarism is the idea that an Ecumenical Council, speaking and acting apart from its head the Roman Pontiff, is above every Roman Pontiff, including the current Pope and future Popes. If conciliarism were true, a gathering of the body of Bishops could remove a Pope from office, elect his successor without a conclave, give orders binding on the current and any future Popes, and in general speak and act as if the Roman Pontiff were a subordinate of the body of Bishops gathered in a headless Council.

I say “headless” because the true definition of an Ecumenical Council is a gathering of the body of Bishops with the Roman Pontiff as their head. When a true valid Ecumenical Council is currently gathered, and the Pope who heads the Council happens to die, a Council ceases to exist (just as Pope Saint John Paul II taught in Universi Dominici Gregis). For a body without a head cannot speak or act; it is not alive, but dead. And consequently, the body of Bishops, whether gathered in a Council or dispersed in the world, cannot be above the Roman Pontiff, as he is their head. Their faith in confirmed by his faith, and his never failing faith is from Christ (Lk 2:32).

First, I do not believe the claim that Pope Martin V approved of the errors of Constance (3-5, 39). It would be absurd for him to give approval to that which denigrates his authority.

Second, it is also an inherent contradiction. For the teachings of 3-5, 39 propose, not only that said teachings have no need of papal approval, but that papal approval would be invalid, as such an approval puts the Pope above the Council, whereas the teaching itself says the opposite. And so, such a teaching cannot be approved, which itself rejects the very authority giving that approval.

An attempt to give said approval would be invalidated by the very teaching itself. In other words, if a Pope attempts to approve of a teaching that Popes lack authority over Councils, the approval, making the teaching active, would immediately cause that approval to be invalidated. So not only did Martin V, in all probability, not approve of a teaching contrary to his own authority, but if he had done so, the approval would invalidate itself and therefore would be null and void.

Third, the Bishops issued these errors while no valid Pope was in office, and therefore this gathering was not an Ecumenical Council. As Pope Saint John Paul II teaches — and this is not a changeable regulation under discipline, but a timeless truth — an Ecumenical Council does not exist without a currently Roman Pontiff as its head. Therefore, the errors of those Bishops — many of whom soon after committed another act of schism by rejecting Pope Eugene IV — was not the error of an Ecumenical Council, nor even the errors of a subset of Bishops gathered during an Ecumenical Council. There was at the time no Council, so a Council cannot be said to have erred in that way.

Fourth, to make matters clear to all the faithful, the valid successor of Martin V, Pope Eugene IV, expressly rejected those anti-papal and heretical teachings of the bishops. Conciliarism is a heresy and a schismatic error, as it rejects the head of the Church, who is the personal representative of Jesus Christ on earth.

Bishop Athanasius Schneider: “Vatican I’s dogma on papal primacy then definitively rejected the conciliarist error of the Ecumenical Council of Constance.”

As explained above, the heresy of conciliarism was never taught by any Ecumenical Council. So the claim of bishop Schneider, that Ecumenical Councils can err gravely, is refuted. No example of a grave error by a Council has been presented by Schneider or his fellow papal accusers. And therefore, his conclusion, that the Second Vatican Council erred gravely and can be corrected by a future Pope or Council, is unsupportable.

The Church is indefectible. This dogma is rejected by Bishop Athanasius Schneider and by Archbishop Carlo Vigano, as well as by everyone who asserts that any Ecumenical Council or any Roman Pontiff erred gravely. The Roman Pontiff, the body of Bishops, and the one holy Church are each indefectible. Each is preserved from every grave error on doctrine and discipline. Each is led by the Holy Spirit, so that none can lead the faithful away from Christ or from salvation.

And where is the theological argument proving that Vatican II erred gravely in anything? The accusers of Vatican II offer rhetoric and baseless claims. I see nothing in the many expressions of Schneider and Vigano against the Second Vatican Council to support their claims of error.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.

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4 Responses to Correcting Bishop Athanasius Schneider on traditio instrumentorum

  1. Thomas Mazanec says:

    When a true valid Ecumenical Council is currently gathered, and the Pope who heads the Council happens to die, a Council ceases to exist (just as Pope Saint John Paul II taught in Universi Dominici Gregis).

    Didn’t John 23 die in the middle of Vatican 2?

  2. Ron Conte says:

    Right. So the Council ceases, until the next Pope is elected and decided to continue or to close the Council. Paul 6 decided to continue it. Between two Popes, the Council can do nothing that is of a Council.

  3. Robert Fastiggi says:

    Thank you for your good article. Pope Martin V needed to accept Constance as a general council because he owed his election as pope to this council. There is, though, no clear evidence that Martin V (1417-1431) ever confirmed Haec sancta synodus (April 6, 1415) from the Council of Constance, session 5, as an authentic conciliar decree. Haec sancta synodus, (sometimes referred to as Sacrosancta) endorsed a form of conciliarism later rejected at Florence. The decree also refers to the anti-pope, John XXIII, as “Lord Pope” (cf. Tanner Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils Vol. I, p. 408). With regard to Constance, Bellarmine argued that a council is unable to define any matters of faith when the identity of the pope is uncertain, as was the case at Constance prior to the 1417 election of Martin V (cf. De Conciliis, Book II, Chap. XIX). Many Catholic scholars (including Bellarmine) likewise note that Martin V only confirmed everything decreed by Constance in a conciliar manner (conciliariter), thereby suggesting that not all of the pronouncements of the council (such as Haec sancta) were truly conciliar (cf. Tanner, 451 and Denzinger-Hünermann 43rd ed. [2012] introduction to Council of Constance, D-H, 1151f.).

  4. Ron Conte says:

    Thanks, Robert. Good information.

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