In this edition of Thinking with the Church: the nature and purpose of Papal authority.
In her Dogmatic Constitution, Pastor Aeternus, on the Church of Christ, the Fathers of the I Vatican Council taught that the Bishop of Rome has direct, immediate, and supreme authority over the whole Church and all the faithful.
This is the doctrine of Papal Supremacy.
The Council also taught that the Roman Pontiff, when he speaks ex Cathedra, that is, when in discharge of the office of Pastor and Teacher of all Christians, by virtue of his supreme Apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine regarding faith or morals to be held by the Universal Church, by the divine assistance promised to him in blessed Peter, is possessed of that infallibility with which the divine Redeemer willed that His Church should be endowed for defining doctrine regarding faith or morals: and that therefore such definitions of the Roman Pontiff are irreformable of themselves, and not from the consent of the Church.
This is the dogma of Papal infallibility.
These teachings – of an Ecumenical Council – are to be held by all the faithful on pain of mortal sin: to deny them is to separate oneself from the Body of Christ.
Only, what do these teachings mean?
More importantly, what don’t they mean?
Where did they come from?
Why did the Fathers of the I Vatican Council bother with them at all, and why do we bother with them today, when the Papacy as an institution often appears rather to be an impediment to Christian unity than anything else (and don’t be upset with me – I didn’t say it, Pope St. John Paul II did in Ut unum sint, 96).
This week, we explore these questions and others with Christopher Wells, a theologian doing Doctoral work at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas, who has written extensively on both subjects, especially their treatment in the thought and writings of the great 19th Century theologian and Churchman, Henry Edward Cardinal Manning.
Henry Edward Cardinal Manning by George Frederic Watts [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
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