The Primacy of the Pope in the Church

Author: Pedro Rodriguez


Pedro Rodriguez

The well-known Lutheran scholar W. Pannenburg has this to say when asked about the Papacy: 'Leaving aside for the moment the question whether the Papacy is of divine or human right, the need for a ministry of unity in the Church is so evident that negative Protestant attitudes ought no longer be adopted.'[1] The statement on the question of authority in the Church agreed upon by Catholic and Anglican theologians at Venice in 1976 acknowledges a 'primatial authority' side by side with a 'conciliar authority.' The document then goes on to affirm that 'the only See which makes any claim to universal primacy and which has exercised and still exercises such "episcope" is the See of Rome, the city where Peter and Paul died. It seems appropriate that in any future union a universal primacy such as has been described should be held by that See."[2]

These two opinions reflect a state of mind which nowadays is quite widespread among non-Catholic Christians. Looking at things from very different points of view the conclusion is reached that in the Church there must be a world authority which is the source of unity. And it is further seen that in the history of Christianity such authority has only been claimed by the Roman Pontiff. Different scholars, some armed with reasons taken from the Bible, others appealing to Tradition, and still others arguing in terms of logical coherency, are coming to the same conclusion, namely, that the Papacy has an absolutely necessary role to play at the center of Christianity.

Obviously many of the statements and stances taken by non-Catholics regarding the Papacy only coincide partially with the teaching of the Catholic Church about the power and ministry of Peter's successor. But it is highly significant that as Dr. Pannenburg's parenthesis shows, Catholic dogmatic teaching that the primacy of the Pope belongs, by the will of Christ, to the fundamental structure of the Church is even now being discussed by non-Catholics. The reconsideration of the topic in sectors of the Anglican and evangelical churches (and the same could be said of the Orthodox churches) is in sharp contrast with the more usual neglect of the subject altogether. This is not the place to study the historical and spiritual reasons which have given rise to this new interest in the Papacy. It suffices to say that they show how much to the point were the words of a recent Catholic convert: 'If God had not instituted the primacy of the Roman Pontiff we men would have had to invent it ...'

This new openness in Protestant circles is in sharp contrast too to the criticism levelled by some Catholics at the traditional teaching of the Church. Perhaps as a way of making it easier for our separated brethren to approach Rome one forgets far too frequently what Vatican Council II has said regarding ecumenical dialogue: 'It is essential that the doctrine be clearly presented in its entirety. Nothing is so foreign to the spirit of ecumenism as a false irenicism which harms the purity of Catholic doctrine and obscures its genuine and certain meaning.'[3] Accordingly it will be useful now to recall some central points of Catholic teaching regarding the authority of the Roman Pontiff, successor of St. Peter in the primacy of the universal Church.

The Will Of God Regarding His Church

Pope Leo XII gave us in his encyclical "Satis cognitum" (1896) a very clear guideline which must be borne in mind while studying the nature and fundamental structure of the Church: 'The origin of the Church and its whole constitution are matters determined by free will. Therefore, any judgement about them must be based on "factual history", and we should investigate, not the ways in which "it was possible" that there should be only one Church, but how "the founder fixed it" that there could only be one.'[4] There we have the whole question posed in correct terms. What counts are not more or less brilliant theories about the Church and her organization but the will of Christ, foundation stone and founder of the Church. In other words, the nature, origin and fundamental structure of the Church are known not by the intellectual skill and wisdom of her pastors and theologians, but by listening humbly to divine revelation—Sacred Scripture and Tradition—which witnesses to the foundational will of Christ. In this way, when the Church explains the mystery of herself and expounds it infallibly as a doctrine of faith she has the most well-founded confidence that all diligent and honest research in the sources of revelation—recognized as the Word of God—carried out by our separated Christian brethren cannot but substantiate the teachings of the Magisterium or, at least, point in the direction of them.

It is to Christ then that we must look and listen. "This is my beloved Son .... Listen to Him"(Matt. 17:5). The guidelines of Pope Leo XIII must, in the words of Vatican Council II, preside over all ecumenical dialogue: 'All are led to examine their own faithfulness to Christ's will for the Church.'[5]

The following words of Pope Paul VI can serve as a short synthesis of the will of Christ for the constitution and makeup of his Church: 'Christ promised and sent two elements to constitute his work, to extend in time and over all the world the kingdom founded by him and to make of redeemed mankind his Church, his mystical body, in expectation of his second and triumphal return at the end of the world. These elements are the apostolic college and the Spirit. The apostolic college works externally and objectively. It forms, one might say, the material body of the Church and gives her a visible and social structure. The Spirit works internally, within each person and within the community as a whole animating, vivifying and sanctifying. These two agents, namely the apostolic college whose successor is the sacred hierarchy, and the spirit of Christ, which makes the Church Christ's ordinary instrument in the ministry of the word and the sacraments, work together. On Pentecost morning they are seen in a marvelous harmony at the beginning of Christ's great work.'[6]

For the remainder of this article we will be concerned with the first of these two elements.

The Catholic Church teaches as a doctrine of faith that Christ gave the Church, in his apostles, a hierarchical structure of an episcopal nature and that within the hierarchy and the Church he established a primacy of authority in the successor of St. Peter.

Hierarchical Constitution Of The Church

'All the faithful, from the Pope to the child who has just been baptized share in one and the same grace.'[7] Nonetheless, when it is affirmed that the Church is a hierarchical society we are in substance saying that in spite of the 'radical or fundamental equality' which is to be found among the People of God, the Church has structures, features and differentiations by virtue of which she is a society in which there is a 'functional inequality.'[8] That is to say: not all the faithful have the same function or mission. For this reason Pope St. Pius X could say that 'the Church is essentially an unequal society, that is, a society composed of two types of people: shepherds and sheep.'[9]

This hierarchical structure is not the result of socio-political influences but stems from the will of Christ. This has been stated solemnly by both the Council of Trent and Vatican I,[10] but it is Vatican II which has given a detailed summary: 'The Lord Jesus, having prayed at length to the Father, called to himself those whom he willed and appointed twelve to be with him, whom he might send to preach the kingdom of God (cf. Mark 3:13-19; Matthew 10:1-42). These apostles (cf. Luke 6:13) he constituted in the form of a college or permanent assembly, at the head of which he placed Peter, chosen from amongst them (cf. John 21:15-17). He sent them first of all to the children of Israel and then to all peoples (cf. Romans 1:16), so that, sharing in his power, they might make all peoples his disciples and sanctify and govern them (cf. Matthew 28:16-20; Mark 16:15; Luke 24:45-48; John 20:21-23) and thus spread the Church and, administering it under the guidance of the Lord, shepherd it all days until the end of the world (cf. Matthew 28:20).[11]

Here we have the "hierarchical principle" of the Church established in the persons of the apostles. The Council goes on to say that this structure, which is of divine origin, is a constitutive part of the Church for all time, not just for the beginnings of the Church but for today as well. This is so, she says, by virtue of the "principle of apostolic succession". 'That divine mission, which was committed by Christ to the apostles, is destined to last until the end of the world (cf. Matthew 28:20), since the gospel, which they are charged to hand on, is, for the Church, the principle of all its life for all time. For that very reason the apostles were careful to appoint successors in this hierarchically constituted society.'[12] The Council then explains in great detail and attentive to historical reality, to "factual history" in the words of Pope Leo XIII, how this transmission of authority and ministry was made 'to the bishops and their helpers, the priests and deacons.' This whole procedure, we are told, must be related to "the will of Christ": 'He willed that the successors (of the apostles), the bishops namely, should be the shepherds in his Church until the end of the world.'[13] And finally, the Council solemnly declares: 'The sacred synod consequently teaches that the bishops have by divine institution taken the place of the apostles as pastors of the Church, in such wise that whoever despises them despises Christ and him who sent Christ (Luke 10:16).[14]

'This divinely instituted hierarchy, which is composed of bishops, priests and ministers'[15] received the mission which Christ had entrusted to his apostles. 'With priests and deacons as helpers, the bishops received the charge of the community, presiding in God's stead over the flock of which they are the shepherds, in that they are teachers of doctrine, ministers of sacred worship and holders of office in government.'[16]

The sacrament of order is the way established by Christ for perpetuating in his Church this essential hierarchy[17] to which he has given the power of mission with its threefold office of teaching, sanctifying and ruling the faithful. 'The holders of office, who are invested with the sacred power, are, in fact, dedicated to promoting the interests of their brethren so that all who belong to the People of God, and are consequently endowed with true Christian dignity, may, through their free and well-ordered efforts towards a common goal, attain salvation.'[18]

Primacy Of The Roman Pontiff

The Church's teaching about the authority and ministry of the Pope within the Church places, also by the express will of Christ, that authority and ministry at the very center of her hierarchical structure. The universal authority of the Roman Pontiff, witnessed to throughout the history of Christianity and proposed as a dogma of faith by the Council of Florence in 1439,[19] was given a detailed dogmatic explanation by Vatican Council I in 1870 in its dogmatic constitution on the Church of Christ ("Pastor aeternus"). This document, in turn, was taken up and confirmed by Vatican Council II in 1964.

It is interesting to note that, before describing the content of this power and authority, Vatican I wished to underline its "purpose" and "meaning" in the Church according to "the will of Christ". This authority exists so that 'the episcopate might be one and undivided and that the whole multitude of believers might be preserved in unity of faith and communion by means of a well-organized priesthood.'[20] 'In order that the episcopate itself might be one and undivided he (Christ) put Peter at the head of the other apostles, and in him set up a lasting and visible source and foundation of the unity both of faith and communion.'[21]

Within this basic framework the Church has given her teaching on the primatial authority of the Roman Pontiff in three well defined points: 1. the institution of the primacy in the person of Peter the apostle, 2. the perpetuity of the primacy through the principle of succession, 3. the nature of this primatial power.

We will now study each of these three points in turn. 1. Institution of the primacy in the person of the apostle Peter.

It is a matter of faith that the blessed apostle Peter 'was constituted by Christ the Lord as the prince of all the apostles and the visible head of the whole Church militant' and 'that he received immediately and directly from Jesus Christ our Lord not only a primacy of honor but a true and proper primacy of jurisdiction.'[22] The Church affirms that this is witnessed to by 'the testimony of the gospel'[23] and is the 'very clear teaching of the Holy Scriptures.'[24]

The scriptural texts brought forward by the Council are the two following very well-known passages: a) this first is known as the 'text of the promise': "Blessed are you Simon, son of Jonah, because it was not flesh and blood that revealed this to you but my Father who is in heaven. And now I say to you: You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven" (Matthew 16:16-18); b) the second is known as the 'fulfillment text': "Feed my lambs, feed my sheep" (John 21:15ff).

An analysis of other numerous texts of the New Testament would show what precisely was the will of Christ regarding the humble fisherman from Galilee, how Peter afterwards exercised his primacy, and how conscious the other apostles and the first Christians were that Simon was at the head of the mission which Christ had entrusted to them all.[25] 2. The successor of Peter: perpetuity of the primacy in the bishop of Rome.

As regards this point the dogmatic teaching of the Church runs as follows: 'It is according to the institution of Christ our Lord himself, that is, by divine law, that St. Peter has perpetual successors in the primacy over the whole Church' and that 'the Roman Pontiff is the successor of St. Peter in that primacy.'[26]

A. "The Principle of Succession"

What we saw earlier for the hierarchy if the Church in general we see again but this time applied to the Pope, namely, on the one hand the "principle" of succession as a truth of faith, and, on the other, the "fact" of the succession as it is found in the bishop of Rome. When speaking of the primacy of peter, Vatican I appealed to the texts of Holy Scripture which established it. Now, when speaking of the succession, the Council, and in this it will be followed almost a century later by Vatican II,[27] proceeds not directly from Sacred Scripture but from the principle of indefectibility and perpetuity in the Church. Since by the will of Christ the Church has to last until the end of time so too must the principle and foundation of unity given by Christ last.

And so theology finds the succession in the primacy of Peter affirmed implicitly in the word of Christ to Simon (Matthew 16:16-18 & John 21:15ff).

Tradition gives the all important argument, namely the consciousness that the Church has always held that the primacy was preserved in the person of the bishop of Rome. As an example of this Tradition these words spoken by the Pope's legate at the Council of Ephesus in 431 will suffice: 'No one doubts; in fact, it is obvious to all ages that the holy and most blessed Peter, head and prince of the apostles, the pillar of faith, and the foundation of the Catholic Church received the keys of the kingdom from our Lord Jesus Christ, the savior and redeemer of the human race. Nor does anyone doubt that the power of forgiving and retaining sins was also given to this same Peter who, in his successors, lives and exercises judgement even to this time and forever.'[28]

As far back as the second century St. Irenaeus of Lyons, when studying the criteria for sound teaching had recourse to the apostolic succession and in particular 'to the great church, the oldest and best known of all, founded and established in Rome by the glorious apostles Peter and Paul ... All other churches ought to be in agreement with this church because of her more powerful authority ... for in her is preserved the tradition which comes from the apostles.'[29]

B. "The succession and the plans of God"

The truth is that it would have been very "comfortable", from the point of view of theological argumentation, if the text from St. Matthew which is so often quoted ran along these lines: 'And to you and your successors I give the keys of the kingdom of heaven ....' The same could be said about other important texts on the hierarchical constitution of the Church in general, e.g. 'Go, therefore, you and your successors, make disciples of all the nations ... as my Father has sent me so I send you and your successors ....'

But it is easy to see that this way of speaking would be foreign to the way Jesus refers to his work of redemption and to his Church, for he speaks in a prophetic and symbolic way. It has been said, not without a dash of humor, that it is a good thing that the Gospel of St. Matthew has not named the successors of Peter, for if it had, there would surely be people to see this as one more reason to reject the authenticity of the gospel itself.

Perhaps the most striking element in the context of this gospel for understanding the silence of Jesus about the succession in the apostolic college is his constant decision to keep hidden from the apostles and from the rest of men, the 'day of the Lord,' the parousia, the end point of salvation history whose imminence he always leaves open: 'Stay awake, because you do not know either the day or the hour' (Matthew 25:13). 3. The nature of the papal primacy

Chapter 3 of the dogmatic constitution on the Church of Vatican Council I ("Pastor aeternus") is the principal document of the Magisterium about the content and nature of the primatial power of the Roman Pontiff. Chapter 4 is a development and defining of one particular characteristic of this primatial power, namely the Pope's supreme teaching authority, i.e. when the Pope speaks "ex cathedra" he teaches the doctrine of the faith infallibly. The Magisterium of the Roman Pontiff is one of the chief elements of his primatial authority.

A. "Primacy of jurisdiction"

The primacy spoken about by Vatican I is a primacy of jurisdiction. The word jurisdiction underlines the binding power of the authority which Christ has conferred on the Pope in the Church. It demands obedience of all the faithful. It is in opposition to a primacy of honor ("Primus inter pares") and to a primacy of direction which might be endowed with the power of advising and guiding, but not with the power of commanding.[30] The word, as is obvious, has its roots in judicial language. But what is defined by the Council transcends judicial categories and can be understood more fully in the light of the properties which the Council assigns to the primatial power of the Pope.[31] The Pope's power is

i) "universal": it extends to the whole Church, i.e. to all the members of the Church (pastors and faithful) as to all the various matters which can arise;

ii) "ordinary": it is not extraordinary, which would mean that it can be used only in exceptional circumstances; nor is it delegated, that is, it belongs inherently to the office of Pope and is not delegated to him by someone else;

iii) "supreme": meaning that it is not subordinated to any other authority[32];

iv) "full": it takes in all questions which might arise in the life of the Church, and does so from every point of view;

v) "immediate": it need not be exercised through intermediaries and where necessary can have the most practical applications.

B. "Bishop of the Catholic Church"

The authority of the Pope is truly episcopal.[33] This feature is very important because it connects the juridical terminology in which the aforementioned properties are expressed, with the sacramental and ministerial meaning which the term episcop‚ has in the New Testament. The Pope is indeed a bishop, and his power has an episcopal character and a pastoral purpose. It is not concerned with human or political matters but is rather a power for fulfilling the threefold mission of teaching, sanctifying and leading to God the flock of Christ. For this reason Pope Paul VI delighted in calling himself "Bishop of the Catholic Church" and under this title he signed the various documents of Vatican II. Undoubtedly he is bishop of Rome, and not of Dublin or Cologne, but as bishop of Rome he is also Pope, successor to Peter, and has, over all the Church (over all diocese and all members of the Church), the office which is proper to a bishop.[34]

A study of this truly episcopal power is the simplest way of understanding more deeply the nature of papal authority. The apostle Peter, he who was charged by Christ with looking after the flock, is he who has the most vivid awareness that his ministry is to be a mere instrument in the hands of Christ, head of the Church. 'The primacy of Peter in leading and serving the Christian people was going to be a pastoral primacy, a primacy of love. The nature and efficacy of the pastoral function of the apostolic primacy would be based on the undying love of Peter for Jesus.'[35] Accordingly it is Peter who encourages the shepherds of the Church to exercise their ministry with their eyes fixed on Christ, so that "when the chief shepherd appears you will be given the crown of unfading glory" (1 Peter 5:4). The work of bishops consists in making it easy for the faithful, and for all men, to turn, not to the shepherds of the Church, but "to the shepherd and guardian of your souls" (Christ) (1 Peter 2:25).

Christ is the Shepherd; Christ id the Bishop. This is Peter's message because when Jesus promised him the primacy Peter heard him speak of "my" Church, not "your" Church. All bishops, with Peter at their head, are "vicars", that is, they take the place of Christ on earth. To enable them to fulfill their mission of service he conferred on them the necessary power.

C. "Power and service of Peter"

Frequently nowadays, and rightly so, because it is based on Scripture and Tradition, we speak of the mission of the Pope and the bishops as a ministry, as a service. Indeed, they are there to serve. 'The office which the Lord has committed to the pastors of his people is, in the strict sense of the term, a service, which is called very expressively in Sacred Scripture, a "diakonia" or ministry.'[36] One of the titles proper to the Pope himself is 'servant of the servants of God.' The term service cannot be understood as a divesting themselves of the authority which is theirs by right, opposing service to power. That would be a most unbiblical and untraditional way of understanding the word ministry. The Pope and the bishops can only render to the Church the service God wants from them id they exercise their power, which is of divine origin and only they have. If they were not to use their power, they would be unable to serve; they would be of no use. Now all of us Christians ought to serve one another as Christ loved us and served us. But bishops, besides being counted among the faithful themselves, are pastors and must serve their brethren and children through the use of their pastoral power. Such service demands humility ("The greatest among you must be your servant", Matt. 31:11) and fortitude ("The Holy Spirit has made you overseers to feed the Church of God", Acts 20:28). St. Leo the Great, paraphrasing the words of Jesus, put it like this: 'You are a Rock, Simon. Rather, I am the unshakeable Rock, I am the Cornerstone which unites what was separated. I am the Foundation and no one can lay any other. And yet, you Simon, you also are a Rock because I am going to give you my strength, in such a way that by this sharing, the power which is only mine will be common to you and to me.'[37]

D. "Unity: reason for primacy"

Vatican Council I affirmed that the authority of the Pope, and the resulting obligation to obey him, took in 'not only matters that pertain to the faith and morals, but also matters that pertain to discipline and government of the Church throughout the whole world.'[38] It is what we call universal power (applicable, it is clearly understood, to ecclesiastical matters only). The power which the Pope receives from Christ has its own internal statutes and lays upon the successor of St. Peter a very grave moral obligation.

Earlier on I referred to this service on behalf of the unity of the Church. The Pope has a very wide power in order to be able to serve in a supreme way the unity of the Church. He must use his authority whenever it is required and in the way it is required so as to serve the unity of faith and communion in the Church. Not to use it could constitute a serious fault; and to hinder its exercise is to hinder the supreme way which Christ has instituted for keeping his Church one.[39] On the other hand, if the Pope were to intervene with his supreme authority where it was not needed he would be making use of the power conferred on him by Christ in a way contrary to the meaning of that power which, in the whole Church, is "for building up, not pulling down (2 Cor. 10:8) and is 'for us men and for our salvation.' In the ministry of the Pope to build up and save is to care for the unity of faith and of communion among pastors and faithful.

E. "The Pope, Vicar of Christ"

The primacy of the Pope is a mystery in the economy of salvation. And to this mystery belong those internal statutes just previously spoken about.

'In his chief ministry the Pope is obliged by the objective rules of faithfulness which derive from the revealed word of God, from the fundamental constitution of the Church and by Tradition.'[40] He has the necessary divine assistance to carry out his office. But this does not relieve him of a very grave responsibility before Christ whom God "has appointed to judge everyone, alive or dead" (Acts 10:42). It demands of the holder of the office of bishop of the Catholic Church humility, prudence and holiness and of the faithful continual prayer to God for the head of the Church on earth.

However, and this is important, on earth there is no external tribunal, neither in the Church nor in civil society to which one can appeal against his decisions. The Pope must look for advice, take the steps which prudence demands in the delicate function of governing the Church, listen to the opinion of his brother bishops, etc., but 'the judgement of the apostolic See, whose authority is unsurpassed, is not subject to review by anyone, nor is anyone allowed to pass judgement on his decisions. Therefore, those who say that it is permitted to appeal to an ecumenical council from the decisions of the Roman Pontiff (as to an authority superior to the Roman Pontiff) are far from the straight path of truth.'[41]

We reach here, perhaps, the nerve center of all teaching about the primacy. It is what most brings out the fact that we are faced with a 'mystery of faith' and not with 'an organizational factor' in the Church ascertainable by the natural light of human reason. But it also brings us to take our stance on what is the ultimate basis of the whole mystery, a basis which is centered on Christ himself. The basis of the primacy is, on the one hand, its historical institution be Christ, but on the other it is the actual presence "today" of Christ in the primatial acts of the Pope. 'The relation of the primacy to Christ is not only historical-causal, but also actual-causal, for in the activity of the Pope Christ himself is audible and visible. Of the Pope it can truly be said: "he acts in the person of Christ".'[42] With theological wisdom St. Catherine of Siena called the Pope the 'gentle Christ on earth' but at the same time, conscious of the moral responsibility of the Pope, she urged him to exercise with fortitude his 'service of unity' in the Church, that is to say, to be faithful to his most important mission.

From the time when St. Clement of Rome intervened in the affairs of the church of Corinth to reestablish peace in that troubled community down to our own days with its contemporary methods for governing the universal Church, the Roman Pontiffs have been the instruments willed by Christ for maintaining unity among the bishops and for keeping the multitude of the faithful, that is to say, the Church, in a unity of faith and communion. The ways of exercising the primacy have varied with time, but its substance does not change for it is immutable. Accordingly the primacy cannot be watered down in the wake of 'Episcopalian' or 'democratic' ideals.

'When the Pope acts in virtue of his office he represents at one and the same time the whole Church and the entire body of bishops. But one cannot deduce from this that he receives his power from the community of believers or from the bishops. On the contrary, he receives it from Christ.'[43] 'The Pope,' writes Cardinal Ratzinger, 'is not just someone who speaks in the name of the bishops, a kind of mouthpiece they give themselves and which is there to do their bidding. The Pope is where he is, with a direct responsibility before God, to take the place of the Lord, and to ensure the unity of the word and work of Christ, in the same way as Christ gave Peter that same function within the community of the Twelve.'[44]

F. "Unity of Christians around the Pope"

On one occasion Pope Paul VI said that he viewed 'the charism of the primacy in the Church, given by Christ himself to Peter, whose humble successor I am, more as an office to be exercised than as a right.'[45] This way of seeing things coincides with the attitude which Christians ought to have and which was expressed by Msgr. Escriv de Balaguer: Christians must 'work, not as subject to an authority, but with the piety of children, with the love of those who feel themselves to be and are members of the body of Christ.'[46] Behind this spirituality of love for the Pope lies the deep conviction that his authority cannot be done away with. 'Do not tire of preaching love and full obedience to the Holy Father. Even if his office had not been instituted by Jesus Christ my head tells me that a strong central authority—that of the Holy See—would be needed to induce those who are in disagreement with the Church and who blunder about to act reasonably. But over and beyond these logical reasons there is the will of God who has wanted to have a Vicar on earth and to assist him infallibly with his Holy Spirit.'[47]

In the words of Pope Paul VI to the Council Fathers: 'If our apostolic office obliges us to put up signposts, to define terms, to lay down guidelines and modes for the exercise of episcopal power it is—you know well—for the good of the entire Church and for the unity of the Church. The need for guidelines and direction is all the more necessary as the catholic unity spreads, as she faces graver danger, as the needs of the Christian people become more pressing in different historical circumstances and, we could add, as the means of communication become more sophisticated.'[48]

Behind the theology of the successor of Peter there is always the communion, the unity of the Church in the midst of her variety. According to divine revelation this is the formal meaning of the primacy of Peter: to be the perpetual and visible center and foundation of the community of Churches which is vivified by the Spirit of Christ. This is what, in a turbulent crisis of faith and unity, is felt by many who are outside the boat of Peter. Those of us who through the grace of God sail in Christ's boat have the grave responsibility not to defraud that hope.


[1] W. Pannenburg in '"Una Sancta"' 30 (1975) 220-221

[2] "Authority in the Church. A statement on the question of authority: its nature, exercise and implication." Agreed by the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission Venice 1976. London, CTS/SPCK, 1977, no.23

[3] "Decree on ecumenism", no.11

[4] Dz. 3302 (1954). The emphases are in the original, A.A.S. 28 (1895/96, p.710. The Pope applies the principle to the particular case of the unity of the Church which he is dealing with in his encyclical letter.

[5] "Decree on ecumenism", no.4

[6] Paul VI, "Address to Vatican Council II", Sept. 14, 1964, A.A.S. 56 (1964), p.807

[7] A. del Portillo, "Faithful and laity in the Church", Shannon, 1976, p.19

[8] "Ibidem", p.22

[9] St. Pius X, Encyclical: "Vehementer", Feb. 11, 1906, A.A.S. 39 (1906), p.8

[10] Dz. 1776 (66), 3051 (1821)

[11] "Decree on the Church", no.19

[12] "Ibidem", no.20

[13] "Ibidem", no.18

[14] "Ibidem", no.20

[15] Council of Trent, Session 23, c.6, Dz. 1776 (966)

[16] "Decree on the Church", no.20

[17] "Ibidem", no.21 and 28

[18] "Ibidem", no.18

[19] Dz. 1307 (694)

[20] Dz. 3051 (1921)

[21] "Decree on the Church", no.18

[22] Dz. 3055 (1823)

[23] Dz. 3053 (1822)

[24] Dz. 3054 (1822)

[25] Cf. for example L. Bouyer, "L'Eglise de Dieu, Corps de Christ, et Temple de l'Espirit", Paris, 1970, pp. 460-468. 'The evangelists were convinced that the function of Peter in the early Church was in no way the result of an outstanding personality, but of a "formal disposition of Christ" and therefore, of a charism corresponding to a particular situation' (p.462)

[26] Dz. 3058 (1825)

[27] Cf. reference no.12

[28] D 112 and Dz. 3056 (1824)

[29] St. Irenaeus, "Adversus haereses", III, 3, 2

[30] Dz. 3064 (1831)

[31] Dz. 3064 (1831)

[32] Vatican Council I, the theologians tell us, made this affirmation in a positive, not an exclusive way, for the episcopal college, with the Pope at its head, also has full and supreme power in the Church (cf. "Decree on the Church", no.22) and in this sense has a power equal to the Pope's power

[33] Dz. 3060 (1827)

[34] The power of the Pope is not to be thought of as standing in the way of the power of the bishops, each in his own diocese; cf. Dz. 3061 (1827)

[35] Paul VI, "Address" March 29. 1967

[36] "Decree on the Church", no.24

[37] St. Leo the Great, "Sermon III on the Nativity"

[38] DZ. 3060 (1827)

[39] For this reason Vatican I affirmed the right of the Pope to communicate freely with the bishops and faithful of the whole Church, cf. Dz. 3062 (1829)

[40] Cardinal Seper, "Introductory address to the synod of bishops, 1969

[41] Dz. 3063 (1830)

[42] M. Schmaus, "Teologia Dogmatica, VI. La Iglesia". Madrid, 1960, p.462

[43] G. Philips, "L'Eglise et son mystere au IIe Concile du Vatican", Paris, 1967, 297

[44] J. Ratzinger, "Das neue Volk Gottes", Dsseldorf 1969, p.169

[45] Paul VI, "Address", Oct. 27, 1969, A.A.S. 61 (1969), p.728

[46] J. Escriv de Balaguer, 1965

[47] "Idem", 1943

[48] Paul VI, "o. c."