Defending the Supreme Authority of the Pope

Let’s start with the false claims about papal authority.

Timothy Flanders: “…the false spirit of Vatican One, where the papal office has become a universal teaching office that Catholics focus on daily. It de facto replaces the Scripture, Tradition, and the Catechisms for the faithful. But we also should not underestimate the influence of technology — from newspapers in the 19th century to the Twitter feed and airplane-shoot-from-the-hip speculative theology in the 21st century. Ultimately, the practice of the papacy as a universal teaching office is an innovation of the 19th century with both good and bad effects on the Church.” [OnePeterFive]

Take a step back and consider that the author and many more like him fall under their own criticism: “the influence of technology…Twitter feed…” and an internet blog or digital magazine version of “shoot-from-the-hip speculative theology”. Moreover, these authors who attack the papacy, the Ecumenical Councils and the authority of the Church are seeking to substitute their own pretended authority. They speak to the whole Church worldwide via the internet AND contrary to the Roman Pontiff. They wish to have a “universal teaching office” over the Church, in the place of the Popes and Councils which they, without authority and contrary to dogma, reject and malign. They write articles to the whole Church which they would like Catholics to focus on daily.

The Roman Pontiff has the authority of Jesus Christ. Peter and each of his successors have a universal authority over the worldwide Church, including both teaching and discipline. The Pope is the Rock on which the Church is founded, and that Church is indefectible. And recall that Saint Peter lives, presides, exercises judgment in the Apostolic See. But the authors who attack the very authority of the Roman Pontiff, which is the authority of Christ, have no authority at all. They clearly seek a universal teaching office, while attacking the universal teaching office given to Peter and his successors by Christ.

Then notice that Flanders and other papal accusers routinely attack Vatican I and II. They talk about the alleged “false spirit of Vatican I”. What is false about it?

The First Vatican Council is a valid Ecumenical Council, accepted by every Roman Pontiff since that time and accepted by the Second Vatican Council. Then Vatican II has been accepted by every Roman Pontiff since that Council. In addition, every successive Pope and the body of Bishops dispersed in the world has taught from Vatican II, so that those teachings of the Council continue to be taught by the ordinary universal Magisterium.

But it has always been required of faithful Catholics to accept every Ecumenical Council and all its decisions. Asserting that Vatican I and II both erred, or alternately that the Church since one or another Council erred in its authoritative interpretation of the Council, is at least schismatic, if not heretical.

Then the nature and extent of papal authority has been taught many times in the ancient and constant teaching of the Church. It is not, as Flanders claims, “an innovation of the 19th century”. See the last section of this article for many teachings from throughout Church history on papal authority. And I will not exclude teachings from Vatican I or II, merely because the papal accusers reject those Councils. There is one Catholic Church which continually has divine assistance from the Holy Spirit, which continually has Christ as her head, which continually has the charisms bestowed by God, including indefectibility.

The only issue with the supreme authority of the Roman Pontiff is that certain persons, who prefer their own understanding of the Faith over the teaching of the Church, reject submission of their minds and hearts to that authority. For they have already submitted their minds and hearts to a certain conservative or traditionalist subculture.

{6:24} No one is able to serve two masters. For either he will have hatred for the one, and love the other, or he will persevere with the one, and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.

Neither can a person be a faithful Catholic, and yet follow whatever the traditionalist subculture teaches, such as hatred for the Novus Ordo Mass, opposition to Pope Francis, rejection of Vatican I and II, and idolatry of the traditional Latin Mass. Pope Francis was right to issue Traditionis Custodes because the schismatics, who reject many Popes and multiple Ecumenical Councils, use the Latin Mass to gather supporters and to sculpt an heretical and schismatic subculture, within Catholic culture. To be a faithful Catholic, one must believe what the Church teaches through Popes and Councils, regardless of what one’s own judgment or that of a subculture teaches.

Peter Kwasniewski

His errors are like that of his fellow editor at OnePeterFive, Flanders. Kwasniewski also writes at Crisis Magazine:

Kwasniewski: “For Catholics seeking to act uprightly before God and men, it is no exaggeration to say that discerning the nature and limits of the virtue of obedience is becoming the most critical question of the day. In the civil as well as ecclesiastical spheres, Catholics face mounting pressure to submit to rulings or commands that are increasingly at odds with the teaching of Scripture, Tradition, and even natural reason. In the Church, no better illustration of such a troubling diktat can be found than that of Pope Francis’ motu proprio Traditionis Custodes and the Congregation for Divine Worship’s Responsa Ad Dubia, restricting access to the traditional sacramental rites and intending their eventual elimination from the life of the Church.” [Crisis Magazine]

It is patently absurd to call oneself an obedient Catholic while at the same time rejecting multiple Popes and Councils. Kwasniewski has rejected Vatican I and II, Lyons I, Lateran V, “and other councils you’ve never heard of….” [Source]. He has also made grave accusations against many Roman Pontiffs, including Saint Peter, other Pope Saints, and more. [Source] Peter Kwasniewski is not fit to define Catholic obedience.

His view of obedience is that one should only be obedient to the Church when one agrees with the teaching or decision of discipline. His view of obedience to the Church puts his own personal judgment above every Pope and Council to judge them, thereby never arriving at a situation where he would have to believe with an act of faith that is contrary to his own faculty of fallen reason, nor a situation where he would have to obey on the same grounds.

The Church is the authoritative interpreter of Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture. So it is not faithful to proclaim, based on one’s own judgment, that a Pope or Ecumenical Council has gone astray from the true Faith. Kwasniewski references “rulings or commands that are increasingly at odds with the teaching of Scripture, Tradition, and even natural reason.” The reason of fallen sinners is faulty; it frequently errs. One cannot exalt such a faculty above the work of the Holy Spirit in the Magisterium of Popes and Councils interpreting Tradition and Scripture. What we are left with, if one follows the reasoning of Kwasniewski, is a Church that no one believes or obeys, unless their own judgment or reasonings agree. And that is not faith at all. That is not obedience at all.

Then the complaints against Traditionis Custodes are based mainly on an excessive attachment to the TLM. This is clearly on display when the Roman Pontiff is attack viciously for simply exercising his authority over the forms used for the Sacraments of the Church, as is well within his authority. And now that the Pope has issued that document, the papal accusers have largely dropped their past complaints against him of alleged heresy, apostasy, and idolatry, to complain now only about restricting the Latin Mass, as if that were a greater alleged offense.

Kwasniewski: “According to the famous Papal Oath of the Liber Diurnus Romanorum Pontificum, a handbook of formularies used by the pontifical chancellery at the end of the first millennium, the pope is to swear: ‘I shall keep inviolate the discipline and ritual of the Church just as I found and received it handed down by my predecessors.’ ” [Crisis Magazine]

These types of claims about the book of papal oaths are distorted and inaccurate. The texts cited in the book “Liber Diurnus” are professions of faith, whose formulations, unlike the professions of faith of Ecumenical Councils, are non-infallible. And it is not known how often such a book of papal professions of faith were used. Then no Pope is required to take any oath in order to receive his office. He is Pope from the acceptance of his valid election. See this article by Father Edward McNamara, LC, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Fr. McNamara: “we could also point out that it was always understood that while the coronation was a splendid ceremony, it did not affect the pope’s spiritual authority. The pope has full authority from the moment he accepts election as bishop of Rome.

“In a way, we could also say that it would be incorrect for a pope to pronounce such an oath as it would cast doubt on the assistance of the Holy Spirit. Unlike earthly kings and other authorities who must promise to uphold some authority higher and greater than themselves — such as the constitution or the laws and customs of the realm — the pope’s fidelity regarding the essentials of faith and morals is guaranteed by the highest authority itself. In other words, a pope cannot make an oath of fidelity to God when it is God himself who has assured the Church that the “gates of hell” will not prevail against the one chosen as Christ’s vicar on earth.”

The authority of the Roman Pontiff is from Christ himself. The never-failing faith of each Roman Pontiff is guaranteed by Christ. No oath of fidelity is necessary upon the election of a new Pope. Furthermore, and this is perhaps the most relevant point for the current discussion, every Pope has the full authority given by Christ to Peter and his successors. Therefore, no oath or profession of faith can ever narrow or lessen the authority of the Roman Pontiff over discipline — which is exactly what is being claimed. Those who reject Traditionis Custodes are seeking a way to deprive Pope Francis — but not other Popes like Pope Saint Pius V or Pius X — of his full authority over discipline.

Yet Peter and his successors were given two keys, over doctrine and discipline, not only one key. If a Pope were bound to the decisions of his predecessors (Pius V, Pius X) on the form of the Mass, then one Pope would have less authority than the others. Such a claim is contrary to the constant teaching of the Church that every successor of Peter has the full authority given by Christ to Peter and his successors, whether they are near in time or far from Peter himself.

Kwasniewski: “Of very many theological authorities who might be brought forward, let it suffice to summon Francisco Suárez, S.J. (1548–1617): ‘If the Pope lays down an order contrary to right customs, one does not have to obey him; if he tries to do something manifestly opposed to justice and to the common good, it would be licit to resist him; if he attacks by force, he could be repelled by force, with the moderation characteristic of a good defense. (De Fide, disp. X, sect. VI, n. 16)’ ” [Crisis Magazine]

Edited to add: Please read carefully the comment by Dr. Fastiggi, at the end of this article, on the positions of Francisco Suarez, S.J.

The papal accusers often quote a set of theologians, most of whom wrote before Vatican I, in order to try to undermine the teachings of Vatican I, Vatican II, Pope Francis, and the recent Pope Saints. The simple answer is that the theology of Francisco Suarez, who is not a Saint, is fallible and speculative. He also wrote before the teachings of Vatican I clarified certain points and confirmed certain ancient teachings. Choosing to adhere to a teaching of Suarez against the teachings of Popes and Councils, is indefensible. The teaching authority of the Church supersedes that of even the Saints, and Her teaching on the authority and the never-failing faith of the Roman Pontiff is clear and definitive. An appeal to a theologian from the 16th to 17th century against the Church, Popes, and Councils is schismatic. It speaks to the lack of acceptance of the authority of the Church Herself and Her Popes.

Teachings on the Supreme Authority of the Roman Pontiff

Council of Florence

“We also define that the holy apostolic see and the Roman pontiff holds the primacy over the whole world and the Roman pontiff is the successor of blessed Peter prince of the apostles, and that he is the true vicar of Christ, the head of the whole church and the father and teacher of all Christians, and to him was committed in blessed Peter the full power of tending, ruling and governing the whole church, as is contained also in the acts of ecumenical councils and in the sacred canons.”

~ The decisions of Ecumenical Council require acceptance by all the faithful. This has always been the case in the Church. That is why Ecumenical Councils meet and issue decisions, to settle matters in a binding way for the whole Church. Notice what Florence wrote about the Armenians, who returned to the Church and were therefore required to accept the decisions on doctrine and discipline of Popes and Councils:

“Fourth, apart from the three synods of Nicaea, Constantinople and the first of Ephesus, the Armenians have accepted no other later universal synods nor the most blessed Leo, bishop of this holy see, by whose authority the council of Chalcedon met. For they claim that it was proposed to them that both the synod of Chalcedon and the said Leo had made the definition in accordance with the condemned heresy of Nestorius. So we instructed them and declared that such a suggestion was false and that the synod of Chalcedon and blessed Leo holily and rightly defined the truth of two natures in the one person of Christ, described above, against the impious tenets of Nestorius and Eutyches. We commanded that for the future they should hold and venerate the most blessed Leo, who was a veritable pillar of the faith and replete with all sanctity and doctrine, as a saint deservedly inscribed in the calendar of the saints; and that they should reverence and respect, like the rest of the faithful, not only the three above-mentioned synods but also all other universal synods legitimately celebrated by the authority of the Roman pontiff.”

“Fourthly, you declare that the synod of Chalcedon and most blessed pope Leo rightly defined the truth about two natures in the one person of Christ against the impious doctrines of Nestorius and Eutyches. You order that we should venerate most blessed Leo as holy and a pillar of the faith and that we should reverently accept not only the synods of Nicaea, Constantinople and the first of Ephesus, but also all other synods legitimately celebrated . . authority of the Roman pontiff.”

Notice that the Armenians returning to the Church were REQUIRED to accept all the past Ecumenical Councils without exception, and to accept both the authority and the holiness of Pope Saint Leo I (the great). So here we see that the faithful cannot reject a canonized Pope Saint as possibly not a Saint. Pope Leo was to be venerated as holy and as a pillar of faith, and his teachings were also to be accepted. The papal accusers do not accept any teaching of any Ecumenical Council they dislike, nor do they accept the canonizations of the recent Popes.

Council of Florence: “It [the Church] also embraces, approves and accepts all other universal synods which were legitimately summoned, celebrated and confirmed by the authority of a Roman pontiff, and especially this holy synod of Florence, in which, among other things, most holy unions with the Greeks and the Armenians have been achieved and many most salutary definitions in respect of each of these unions have been issued, as is contained in full in the decrees previously promulgated, which are as follows: Let the heavens be glad … ; Exult in God …. ”

Florence set down an example for all the faithful to accept every Ecumenical Council approved by the Roman Pontiff. So the Council of Chalcedon, for example, must be accepted in its entirety, but not the 28th canon, which was rejected by the Apostolic See. Councils other than the 21 general Councils to-date do not have the same role in the Church as the Ecumenical Councils.

Vatican I

“On the power and character of the primacy of the Roman Pontiff

“1. And so, supported by the clear witness of Holy Scripture, and adhering to the manifest and explicit decrees both of our predecessors the Roman Pontiffs and of general councils, we promulgate anew the definition of the ecumenical Council of Florence [49], which must be believed by all faithful Christians, namely that the Apostolic See and the Roman Pontiff hold a world-wide primacy, and that the Roman Pontiff is the successor of blessed Peter, the prince of the apostles, true vicar of Christ, head of the whole Church and father and teacher of all Christian people.

“To him, in blessed Peter, full power has been given by our lord Jesus Christ to tend, rule and govern the universal Church.

“All this is to be found in the acts of the ecumenical councils and the sacred canons.

“2. Wherefore we teach and declare that, by divine ordinance, the Roman Church possesses a pre-eminence of ordinary power over every other Church, and that this jurisdictional power of the Roman Pontiff is both episcopal and immediate. Both clergy and faithful, of whatever rite and dignity, both singly and collectively, are bound to submit to this power by the duty of hierarchical subordination and true obedience, and this not only in matters concerning faith and morals, but also in those which regard the discipline and government of the Church throughout the world.

“3. In this way, by unity with the Roman Pontiff in communion and in profession of the same faith , the Church of Christ becomes one flock under one Supreme Shepherd.

“4. This is the teaching of the Catholic truth, and no one can depart from it without endangering his faith and salvation.”


“8. Since the Roman Pontiff, by the divine right of the apostolic primacy, governs the whole Church, we likewise teach and declare that he is the supreme judge of the faithful, and that in all cases which fall under ecclesiastical jurisdiction recourse may be had to his judgment. The sentence of the Apostolic See (than which there is no higher authority) is not subject to revision by anyone, nor may anyone lawfully pass judgment thereupon. And so they stray from the genuine path of truth who maintain that it is lawful to appeal from the judgments of the Roman pontiffs to an ecumenical council as if this were an authority superior to the Roman Pontiff.

“9. So, then, if anyone says that the Roman Pontiff has merely an office of supervision and guidance, and not the full and supreme power of jurisdiction over the whole Church, and this not only in matters of faith and morals, but also in those which concern the discipline and government of the Church dispersed throughout the whole world; or that he has only the principal part, but not the absolute fullness, of this supreme power; or that this power of his is not ordinary and immediate both over all and each of the Churches and over all and each of the pastors and faithful: let him be anathema.”

Vatican II

Lumen Gentium 22: “But the college or body of bishops has no authority unless it is understood together with the Roman Pontiff, the successor of Peter as its head. The pope’s power of primacy over all, both pastors and faithful, remains whole and intact. In virtue of his office, that is as Vicar of Christ and pastor of the whole Church, the Roman Pontiff has full, supreme and universal power over the Church. And he is always free to exercise this power.

“The order of bishops, which succeeds to the college of apostles and gives this apostolic body continued existence, is also the subject of supreme and full power over the universal Church, provided we understand this body together with its head the Roman Pontiff and never without this head.(27*) This power can be exercised only with the consent of the Roman Pontiff. For our Lord placed Simon alone as the rock and the bearer of the keys of the Church,(156) and made him shepherd of the whole flock;(157) it is evident, however, that the power of binding and loosing, which was given to Peter,(158) was granted also to the college of apostles, joined with their head.(159)(28*) This college, insofar as it is composed of many, expresses the variety and universality of the People of God, but insofar as it is assembled under one head, it expresses the unity of the flock of Christ. In it, the bishops, faithfully recognizing the primacy and pre-eminence of their head, exercise their own authority for the good of their own faithful, and indeed of the whole Church, the Holy Spirit supporting its organic structure and harmony with moderation.

“The supreme power in the universal Church, which this college enjoys, is exercised in a solemn way in an ecumenical council. A council is never ecumenical unless it is confirmed or at least accepted as such by the successor of Peter; and it is prerogative of the Roman Pontiff to convoke these councils, to preside over them and to confirm them.(29*) This same collegiate power can be exercised together with the pope by the bishops living in all parts of the world, provided that the head of the college calls them to collegiate action, or at least approves of or freely accepts the united action of the scattered bishops, so that it is thereby made a collegiate act.”

Then there are many ancient teachings of the Church, proving that the Roman Pontiff has full and supreme authority over the whole Church on earth. Those can be found here. A few excerpts may be helpful:

Pope Saint Clement I: “Joy and gladness will you afford Us, if you become obedient to the words written by Us, and, through the Holy Spirit, root out the lawless wrath of your jealousy, according to the intercession which We have made for peace and unity in this letter.”

Pope Saint Julius I: “It is not right to make laws for the Churches, apart from the knowledge of the Bishop of Rome.”

Council of Sardica, 344 (not Ecumenical), writing to Pope Saint Julius I: “It seemed best and most proper that the priests of the Lord should refer from every province to the head, that is to the See of the Apostle Peter.”

Saint Jerome as quoted by Pope Benedict XVI: “This is what Jerome wrote: ‘I decided to consult the Chair of Peter, where that faith is found exalted by the lips of an Apostle; I now come to ask for nourishment for my soul there, where once I received the garment of Christ. I follow no leader save Christ, so I enter into communion with your beatitude, that is, with the Chair of Peter, for this I know is the rock upon which the Church is built’ (cf. Le lettere I, 15, 1-2).”

Saint Augustine, Doctor, 354-430: “For my part, I should not believe the Gospel except as moved by the authority of the Catholic Church.”

~ Notice that the words of Augustine are particularly effective against the present-day papal accusers. They claim to understanding the Gospel better than the Popes and Councils. They speak with pretended authority. Yet Augustine says that he will not even believe the Gospel itself, apart from the authority of the Catholic Church, that is to say, apart from Her authoritative interpretation. This completely refutes the claim that individual authors of articles and books can somehow judge the Popes and Councils to have gone astray from that Gospel.

Saint Cyril of Alexandria, Doctor, 370-444: “They [the Apostles] strove to learn through one, that preeminent one, Peter.”

Pope Saint Zosimus, 417-418: “the tradition of the Fathers attributed so much authority to the Apostolic See that no one dared to challenge its judgment and has always preserved it through canons and regulations … such great authority belongs to Us that no one could argue again with Our decision….”

Pope Saint Boniface I, 418-422: “No one has ever boldly raised his hands against the Apostolic Eminence, from whose judgment it is not permissible to dissent; no one has rebelled against this, who did not wish judgment to be passed upon him.”

Pope Saint Boniface I: “there is to be no review of our judgment. In fact, it has never been licit to deliberate again on that which has once been decided by the Apostolic See.”

Pope Saint Boniface I, to the bishops of Thessaly: “It is therefore certain that this Church [the Roman See] is to the Churches throughout the world as the head to its members. If anyone cut himself off from this Church, not being in union with her, he is outside the Christian religion.”

Pope Saint Celestine I, 422-432: “The sanctions of the blessed and Apostolic See may not be violated.”

emperor Valentinian III, 423-455: “We must defend the faith handed down by our fathers with all care; and we must keep the proper reverence due to the blessed apostle Peter incorrupt in our time also. Therefore the most blessed Bishop of the Roman city, to whom ancient right has given the authority of the priesthood over all, shall have his place, and power to judge about the faith and about bishops.”

Pope Saint Nicholas I (the great), 858-867: “If anyone condemns dogmas, mandates, interdicts, sanctions, or decrees, promulgated by the one presiding in the Apostolic See, for the Catholic faith, for the correction of the faithful, for the emendation of criminals, either by an interdict of threatening or of future ills, let him be anathema.”

Pope Saint Nicholas I: “Neither by the emperor, nor by all the clergy, nor by kings, nor by the people will the judge be judged…. The first See will not be judged by anyone….”

Pope Saint Nicholas I, Letter to the Emperor: “Furthermore, if you do not listen to Us, it necessarily follows that for Us you are to be considered, as our Lord Jesus Christ commands, as those who refuse to listen to the Church of God, especially since the privileges of the Roman Church, built upon blessed Peter by the word of Christ, deposited in the Church herself, observed in ancient times and celebrated by the sacred universal councils and venerated jointly by the entire Church, can by no means be diminished, by no means infringed upon, by no means changed….”

Pope Saint Leo IX, 1049-1054: “By passing a preceding judgment on the great See, concerning which it is not permitted any man to pass judgment, you have received anathema from all the Fathers of all the venerable Councils….”

“As the hinge while remaining immovable opens and closes the door, so Peter and his successors have free judgment over all the Church, since no one should remove their status because ‘the highest See is judged by no one.’ ”

Pope Clement VI, 1342-1352: “whether you have believed and do believe that the supreme and preeminent authority and juridical power of those who were the Roman pontiffs, We who are so, and Those who will be so in the future have been, are, and will be such that They and We were not, are not, and in the future will not be able to be judged by anyone; but that They and We have been, are, and will be reserved in judgment by God alone; and that it was not possible, is not possible, and will not be possible for Our decisions and judgments to be appealed to any other judge.”

Pope Gregory XI, in 1377, Condemned the Error: “An ecclesiastic, even the Roman Pontiff, can legitimately be corrected, and even accused, by subjects and lay persons.”

Pope Boniface VIII, Unam Sanctam: “7. Therefore, if the earthly power goes astray, it will be judged by the spiritual power; but if a lesser spiritual power goes astray, it will be judged by its superior; and truly, if the highest power goes astray, it will not be able to be judged by man, but by God alone. And so the Apostle testifies, ‘The spiritual man judges all things, but he himself is judged by no one.’ [1 Corinthians 2:15]”

“8. But this authority, even though it may be given to a man, and may be exercised by a man, is not human, but rather divine, having been given by the divine mouth to Peter, and to him as well as to his successors, by Christ Himself, that is, to him whom He had disclosed to be the firm rock, just as the Lord said to Peter himself: ‘Whatever you shall bind,’ [Mt 16:19] etc. Therefore, whoever resists this authority, such as it has been ordained by God, resists the ordination of God. [Romans 13:2]”

“9. Moreover, that every human creature is to be subject to the Roman pontiff, we declare, we state, we define, and we pronounce to be entirely from the necessity of salvation.”

Fifth Lateran Council: “And since it arises from the necessity of salvation that all the faithful of Christ are to be subject to the Roman Pontiff, just as we are taught by the testimony of the divine Scriptures and of the holy Fathers, and as is declared by the Constitution of Pope Boniface VIII of happy memory, which begins ‘Unam Sanctam,’…

Saint Bellarmine: “The Pope is the Teacher and Shepherd of the whole Church, thus, the whole Church is so bound to hear and follow him that if he would err, the whole Church would err.”

Saint Bellarmine: “Now our adversaries respond that the Church ought to hear him [the Roman Pontiff] so long as he teaches correctly, for God must be heard more than men. On the other hand, who will judge whether the Pope has taught rightly or not? For it is not for the sheep to judge whether the shepherd wanders off, not even and especially in those matters which are truly doubtful. Nor do Christian sheep have any greater judge or teacher to whom they might have recourse. As we showed above, from the whole Church one can appeal to the Pope; yet from him no one is able to appeal; therefore necessarily the whole Church will err, if the Pontiff would err.”

Saint Robert Bellarmine gives a good answer to the errors of Flanders and Kwasniewski. Their position is that the Popes and Councils, in doctrine and discipline, should be believe and obeyed only when we judge that they have taught or decided correctly. For obedience to God is above obedience to men. But when the faithful reject what the Church has taught or decided, in favor of what they think God prefers to the contrary, they are not obedient to God, but only to themselves. It is not for the sheep to judge, nor is there a greater judge over the sheep that Christ and His Vicar, who together constitute one only head of the one Church.

When Bellarmine says, if the Pope would err, the whole Church would err, he does not mean that the Pope can lead the Church into error, but rather that the grace of God prevents the Pope from falling into error. What I would add is that Popes are without any error in what is infallible, and without any grave error in what is non-infallible. Thus, Christ did not err in establishing the Church upon Peter and his successors, since He also prevents Peter and his successors from grave error and from leading the indefectible Church astray.

Bellarmine: “A general Council represents the universal Church, and hence has the consensus of the universal Church; therefore, if the Church cannot err, neither can a legitimate and approved Ecumenical Council err.”

Bellarmine: “It must be held with Catholic faith that general Councils confirmed by the Supreme Pontiff can neither err in faith nor morals.”

Bellarmine: “Firstly, the Pope with a general Council cannot err when he issues decrees of faith or general precepts of morals.”

Rejection of Ecumenical Councils, in any decisions of doctrine or discipline, is contrary to the Catholic Faith. Whether Ecumenical Councils are infallible in all matters of faith and morals, or may be non-infallible in some teachings on faith and morals is not yet clear from Church teaching. However, any non-infallible teachings cannot err gravely.

Saint Newman, 1866: “I have said that, like St. Peter, he is the Vicar of his Lord. He can judge, and he can acquit; he can pardon, and he can condemn; he can command and he can permit; he can forbid, and he can punish. He has a Supreme jurisdiction over the people of God. He can stop the ordinary course of sacramental mercies; he can excommunicate from the ordinary grace of redemption; and he can remove again the ban which he has inflicted. It is the rule of Christ’s providence, that what His Vicar does in severity or in mercy upon earth, He Himself confirms in heaven.”

From these and other teachings, which predate the First Vatican Council, as well as from the teachings of Vatican I and II, it is clear that the authority of the Roman Pontiff is supreme, universal, and divine. Papal authority is not a 19th century idea invented by Vatican I. Nor is it a misinterpretation of Vatican I. Rather, it is the ancient and constant teaching of the Church, and so a teaching of the ordinary universal Magisterium, that every Roman Pontiff has the full authority given by Christ to Peter and his successors, including authority over doctrine and discipline, over the forms of the Mass and the other celebrations of the Sacraments, and over all the faithful. Those who reject the authority of the Roman Pontiff are heretics and schismatics.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

Please take a look at this list of my books and booklets, and see if any topic interests you.

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1 Response to Defending the Supreme Authority of the Pope

  1. Robert L Fastiggi says:

    Dear Ron,
    Thank you very much for this article and others in which you defend papal authority. In responding to Dr. Peter Kwaniewski you are correct that Francisco Suarez (1548-1617) cannot decide a matter for the whole Church. I should note, though, that the passage cited by Kwasniewski is part of Suarez’s discussion on whether a true pope can be deposed. Suarez is citing various opinions on the matter, including the one cited by Kwasniewski. In that very same number, though, Suarez cites Pope Clement I’s letter to James in which Clement makes it clear an inferior cannot depose a superior. Suarez also notes that when Paul corrects Peter in Galatians 2 he was engaging in fraternal correction rather than judgment. As Suarez writes: “To correct fraternally is one thing, to judge is something else” (Sed aliud est fraterne corrigere, aliud judicare). Suarez ends this number by noting that historical attempts to depose a pope (e.g. Eugene IV by the Council of Basel) were schismatic.

    Dr.Kwasniewski was one one of the signers of the Easter week 2019 letter accusing Pope Francis of heresy so he believes popes can be formal heretics. As you know, he also believes we can reject the teachings of Vatican I and Vatican II so he apparently believes ecumenical councils can err. Kwasniewski has also rejected the canonization of St. Paul VI so he believes Catholics are not bound to accept papal cononizations of saints.

    I’ve copied below some of the statements of Suarez to show that he would not agree at all with Dr. Kwasniewski on these positions:

    On whether a pope could fall into heresy, Suárez says: “Even though many affirm this as more probable, nevertheless to me (in brief) it seems more pius and more probable that a Pope could indeed err as a private person out of ignorance but not out of contumacy. For although God is able to prevent a heretical Pope from harming the Church, nevertheless it is more agreeable to the way of divine providence that—since God has promised that the Pope would never err in his definitions—He would insure that there would never be such a heretical Pope. And since up till now there has never been one in the Church, it should consequently be thought that, by the ordination and providence of God, there cannot be one.” (Quod licet multi verisimiliter affirment, mihi tamen breviter et magis pium et probabilius videtur, posse quidem Papam, ut privatam personam, errare ex ignorantia, non tamen ex contumacia. Quamvis enim efficere Deus possit ut haereticus Papa non noceat Ecclesiae, suavior tamen modus divinae providentiae est, ut, quia Deus promisit Papam definientem numquam erraturum, consequentur provideat ne umquam ille haereticus sit. Adde, quod hactenus in Ecclesia numquam accidit, censendum ex Dei ordinatione et providentia accidere non posse; De Fide, disp. 10, sect. 6, no. 10: Opera Omina, Vivès ed. Vol. XII, 319 ).

    On whether the pope can err when handing on precepts or matters of morality for the whole Church, Suárez says: “It follows first that the Pope cannot err in precepts or in matters of morals that he hands on and approves for the universal Church” (sequitur primo Pontificem non posse errare in praceptis, seu rebus moralibus quas tradit vel approbat pro universa Ecclesia; De Fide, disp. 5, sect. 8, no. 7: Opera Omina, Vivès ed. Vol. XII, 163).

    Suárez also teaches that the Pope cannot err in his canonizations of saints: “Further` it is inferred that the Pope cannot err in the canonization of saints” (Secundo inferet non posse errare Pontificem in Sanctorum canonizatione; De Fide, disp. 5, sect. 8, no. 8: Opera Omina, Vivès ed. Vol. XII, 163).

    Suárez likewise teaches that ecumenical councils under the Pope cannot err in defining matters of faith or in approving matters of morals. As he writes: “… it is most certain that a general Council in which the Pope is present is an infallible rule of faith and cannot err in what it defines in matters of faith or in what it approves in matters of morals” (… certissimum est Concilium generale in quo praesens adest Pontifex, esse infallibilem regulam fidei, et non posse errare in his quae in doctrina definit, vel quae approbat in materia morum; De Fide, disp. 5, sect. 7, no. 6: Opera Omina, Vivès ed. Vol. XII, 159).

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