IS "ORDINATIO SACERDOTALIS" AN INFALLIBLE EXERCISE
OF THE EXTRAORDINARY PAPAL MAGISTERIUM?
by Fr Peter Pilsner
Much of the discussion has been focused on whether the Holy Father's
statement "Ordinatio Sacerdotalis" is an infallible exercise of the
extraordinary papal magisterium. The point has been well made by Jeff and
others that it is. Other theologians, mostly those who are quoted in
newspapers and are eager to find the smallest loophole, will stress that
the declaration is "non-infallible" and express hopes that some future
pope will reverse it. And again, others hold, as a well-founded opinion
that it is an infallible exercise of the ordinary papal magisterium.
Ratzinger it seems, would fall into this last group.
One point that was well established by Jeff and others was that the pope
does not have to use a specific formula of words when he makes an
infallible definition. What I would like to do is cite some relevant
texts that I have not yet seen on the board, just for the sake of
contributing to the discussion.
At the First Vatican Council a group of bishops (called a "Deputation")
was given the task of drafting the definition of papal infallibility. The
first draft they submitted was accepted as a working document, and
suggestions were made for corrections and additions. A second draft,
which tried to incorporate the suggested changes, was presented to the
Fathers of the Council on July 9, 1870. The part containing the
definition read as follows:
After this draft was presented, it was the role of Bishop Vincent Gasser
(bishop of Brixen in the Tyrol from 1856 to 1879) to explain its meaning
to the bishops at the Council, so they would be clear about what they were
voting on. In explaining the nature of an "infallible pontifical
definition," he stated the following, on July 11:
Even though Bishop Gasser did say that "this very property and note of a
definition, properly so-called, should be expressed, at least IN SOME
WAY," it still seemed to many of the Fathers of the Council that the use
of the word "define" (e.g. "there is required the manifest intention of
DEFINING doctrine") was too restrictive and juridical. So, Bishop Gasser
addressed the Fathers again on July 16, to explain further. Part of his
explanation is as follows:
In his commentary on Bishop Gasser's explanation, Msgr. James T. O'Connor
(who was one of my professors at St. Joseph's Seminary, Dunwoodie) writes
The final quote I offer is again from Msgr. O'Connor, about the issue of
infallibility in Lumen Gentium:
It is clear that the teaching of Vatican II on papal infallibility is a
verbatim re'sume' of the definition of the First Vatican Council.... The
infallibility promised by Christ to the entire Church is individually
present in the Successor of Peter who acts not as a private person but as
supreme teacher of the entire Church.
Vatican II inserts into its teaching at this point a reference to the Pope
as "Head of the College of bishops," something not specifically mentioned
in Vatican I. It may be inferred from this that a papal definition of
faith is, in some way, a collegial act. i.e. an act of the college of
bishops, by way of what we could call an "executive decision." The Pope
individually is able to act for the entire college of bishops in such an
act and do so without previous consultation or subsequent approbation.
This infallibility is exercised when the Pope "proclaims by a definitive
act doctrine concerning faith and morals." Vatican II's use of the word
"proclaims" (proclamat) is significant here. It does not use the word
"define." At Vatican I, some of the bishops objected to the use of the
word "define" claiming that it was too restrictive and too juridical,
implying the use of a specific formula or limiting the Pope to putting an
end to a controversy which had arisen about something which was already a
matter of faith. The word was accepted only after Bishop Gasser had
assured the bishops that the word "define" was not to be understood in a
juridical sense but rather "signifies that the Pope directly and
conclusively pronounces his sentence about a doctrine which concerns
matters of faith or morals and does so in such a way that each one of the
faithful can be certain of the mind of the Apostolic See, of the mind of
the Roman Pontiff; in such a way, indeed, that he or she knows for certain
that such and such a doctrine is held to be heretical, proximate to
heresy, certain or erroneous, etc, by the Roman Pontiff." By substituting
the word "proclaims" for "defines" Vatican II has, in effect, answered the
objections of those bishops at Vatican I who wanted some other word
substituted for "defines." Closely following Gasser's explanation,
however, Vatican II immediately shows that it considers the words "define"
and "proclaim" to be equivalent by using the word "definition" when it
states: "Therefore his definitions are rightly called irreformable, etc."
BTW, I want to make it clear that none of what is quoted above represents
my own scholarship. It is all from the book, "The Gift of Infallibility,"
which contains a complete translation of Bishop Gasser's speech to the
Fathers of Vatican I, with footnotes and commentary by Msgr. James T.
O'Connor, and also a long article on infallibility by the same Msgr.
O'Connor. (St. Paul Books, 1986.)
With respect to "Ordinatio Sacerdotalis" my question would be, if it is
not exercise of the extraordinary papal magisterium, what is it lacking,
that would otherwise make it so? As far as I can tell, it lacks nothing
at all. To demonstrate my point, let me make a little comparison of what
Bishop Gasser said to the Fathers of Vatican I and "Ordinatio
Sacerdotalis" by John Paul II:
Gasser >>When the supreme Pontiff speaks "ex cathedra," not, first of all,
when he decrees something as a private teacher, or only as the bishop and
ordinary of a particular See and province, but when he teaches as
exercising his office as supreme pastor and teacher of all Christians.
JPII>>in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf.
Gasser>> Secondly, not just any manner of proposing the doctrine is
sufficient even when he is exercising his office as supreme pastor and
teacher. Rather, there is required the manifest intention of defining
doctrine, either of putting an end to a doubt about a certain doctrine or
of defining a thing...
JPII>>Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter
of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church's divine
Gasser>>...giving a DEFINITIVE JUDGEMENT and proposing that doctrine as
one which must be held by the Universal Church. This last point is indeed
something intrinsic to every dogmatic definition of faith or morals which
is taught by the supreme pastor and teacher of the Universal Church and
which is to be held by the Universal Church.
JPII>>I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer
priestly ordination on women and that this JUDGMENT is to be DEFINITIVELY
held by all the Church's faithful.
With all due respect to Cardinal Ratzinger, if it walks like a duck, and
quacks like a duck...guess what?
(Father's comments are taken from a message on CRNET.)