Dictatus Papae of Pope Gregory VII

This document is attributed to Pope Gregory VII, but does not seem to have been issued by papal authority. It is not, itself, a document of the Magisterium. However, many of the assertions in it have also been taught formally by Popes or Councils or by Saints, Fathers, and Doctors of the Church.

My commentary is preceded by a tilde ~

Dictatus Papae
“the declaration of the Pope”

I. That the Roman church was founded by God alone.

II. That only the Bishop of Rome is by law called universal.

~ The Roman Pontiff is the only Bishop with universal authority for his doctrine and discipline. A Cardinal, or a Bishop assisting the Pope in the Holy See, does not have authority, in and of himself, over the whole Church, except by assisting the Bishop of Rome, the Pope. Then, the body of Bishops gathered in an Ecumenical Council, also does not have universal authority, without the approval or confirmation of the Roman Pontiff. See Lumen Gentium 22 and Pope Leo XIII in Satis Cognitum.

III. That he alone may depose or reinstate bishops.

~ The Pope alone has ultimate authority over Bishops, to depose or reinstate them. But this papal authority can be exercised by him alone, or with an Ecumenical Council. When the Holy See removes a Bishops, this always requires a decisions by the Roman Pontiff.

IV. That his legate may preside over all the bishops in council, even should he be of inferior rank, and may pronounce sentence of deposition against them.

~ The legates sent to Ecumenical Councils by the Roman Pontiff are often priests, not Bishops. But since they speak for the Bishop of Rome, they preside over all the Bishops at the Council, and may even exercise the authority of the Apostolic See over Bishops. For the authority they exercise is that of the Supreme Pontiff.

V. That the Pope may depose persons in their absence.

VI. That, among other things, we must not stay under the same roof with persons whom he has excommunicated.

~ The sixth point is a regulation of discipline, and not a divine law or doctrine.

VII. That he alone may establish new laws to meet urgent needs of the time, found new dioceses [novas plebes congregare] or make a canonry into an abbey; and, on the other hand, divide a rich bishopric and combine poor ones.

VIII. That he alone may use the imperial insignia.

IX. That the Pope is the only man whose feet shall be kissed by all princes.

~ This is a discipline, not a doctrine, and so it is changeable and dispensable by the authority of the Apostolic See.

X. That his title alone shall be read out in churches.

XI. That this title is unique in all the world.

~ The churches of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church are not to substitute the name of the Roman Pontiff for the name of another, as if we were not all united by one Shepherd who is the Vicar of the one and only Christ Jesus.

XII. That he may depose Emperors.

XIII. That for urgent reasons he may transfer bishops from one see to another.

XIV. That he may ordain a clerk from any church, wherever he wishes.

~ The authority of the Roman Pontiff is not only through the Bishops or with the Bishops, but is direct and immediate over each and all the faithful. And so he can exercise that authority in any part of the Church, without consultation or consent from anyone.

XV. That one ordained by him may hold a commanding but not a subordinate position in another church, and must not accept higher rank from any other bishop.

XVI. That no council may be called “general” without his commandment.

~ This is just as Lumen Gentium 22 teaches, along with other sources, including Lateran V: “For it is clearly established that only the contemporary Roman pontiff, as holding authority over all councils, has the full right and power to summon, transfer and dissolve councils.”

XVII. That no chapter or book may be recognized as canonical without his authority.

~ The Councils of Florence and Trent each defined the canon of Sacred Scripture, in the same way, but nothing is “of a Council” without the approval or confirmation of the Roman Pontiff.

XVIII. That no sentence of his may be retracted by anyone, and he is the only one who can retract it.

~ The authority of the Roman Pontiff, exercising the Keys of Saint Peter, which is the authority of Jesus Christ the Lord, admits no appeal to anyone on earth. However, a subsequent Pope or Ecumenical Council may change a decision of a prior Pope or Council on a matter of discipline, or may clarify a matter of doctrine.

XIX. That he must not be judged by anyone.

~ The First See is judged by no one but God. This is the ancient and constant teaching of the Church, as well as a Canon in both the current and previous Codes of Canon law.

XX. That no one shall dare to condemn one who appeals to the Apostolic See.

~ All the faithful have the right to appeal to the Roman Pontiff, even against a local Council of Bishops or a Bishops’ Conference. This is true because the Roman Pontiff has authority over the Bishops and the whole Church. To him, all may appeal; from him, none may appeal.

XXI. That the more important lawsuits of any church must be referred to the Apostolic See.

XXII. That the Roman church has never erred, nor, as witness Scripture, will it ever do so.

~ This teaching, found in Pastor Aeternus from the First Vatican Council, is the ancient and constant teaching of the Popes, Councils, Fathers, Doctors, and Saints; it is a teaching of the ordinary universal Magisterium. However, these sources all speak of freedom from error in two ways: from all error in what is infallible; from all grave error in what is non-infallible. Thus, the expressions of this doctrine often reference grave error: “has never been shown to have wandered from the path of Apostolic tradition, nor being deformed, succumbed to heretical novelties” (Pope Saint Lucius I); “free from the heretical stench” (Theodotus of Ancyra, martyr); “has neither stain nor blemish” (Pope Saint Damasus I); and similarly is unsullied, unblemished, and the like.

~ Infallibility protects dogmatic fact and dogmatic teachings, but indefectibility protects the Church and the Roman Pontiff and the body of Bishops more comprehensively. Pope Leo XIII quotes Origen approvingly as attributing indefectibility not only to the Church, but also to Peter and his successors: “neither against the rock upon which Christ builds His Church nor against the Church shall the gates of Hell prevail” (Origenes, Comment. in Matt., tom. xii., n. ii); Leo XIII, Satis Cognitum, 12.

XXIII. That the Bishop of Rome, if he has been canonically ordained, is undoubtedly sanctified by the merits of St. Peter, on the testimony of St. Ennodius, Bishop of Pavia, with the support of many holy Fathers — as it says in the decrees of the blessed Pope Symmachus.

~ The Pope in question is Pope Saint Symmachus (498-514). The Roman Pontiff is rightly called “His Holiness”, since he is the true Vicar of Christ, speaking and acting on the Lord Jesus’ behalf. Certainly, many special graces are uniquely available to each and every Roman Pontiff. However, the Pope must walk the same path of salvation that he teaches, and so he is not automatically or necessarily a Saint, nor does he necessarily die in the state of grace.

XXIV. That by his commandment and with his permission, subordinate persons may bring accusations.

~ Subordinates may not bring accusations against the Roman Pontiff, without his permission. In other words, the general rule is that no one may judge or accuse the Roman Pontiff; he is judged only by God.

XXV. That he may depose and reinstate bishops without summoning a council.

XXVI. That no one may be regarded as a catholic if he is not in agreement with the Roman church.

~ This same teaching has been repeated in the history of the Church:
* Lateran V: “It arises from the necessity of salvation that all the faithful of Christ are to be subject to the Roman Pontiff.”
* Lateran V: “the person who abandons the teaching of the Roman pontiff cannot be within the Church….”

XXVII. That the Pope can absolve the subjects of the wicked from their fealty to them.

~ The Roman Pontiff has authority over all temporal rulers in all nations. Therefore, if a ruler is wicked, the Pope may absolve his subjects from their ordinarily required subjection to their ruler.

* B. Pullan, Sources for the History of Medieval Europe from the Mid-Eighth to the Mid-Thirteenth Century (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1971), document no. III 9, translated from Gregory VII’s Register, no. II 55a.
* Online Source: legalhistorysources.com]

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

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