Papal Supremacy Series: Conciliarism?

Bishops debating with the pope at the Council of Constance

This is a continuation of my series on papal supremacy. It is going over my thought process, from my presuppositions to my conclusions. It will show how I, as a Roman Catholic, worked my way through papal supremacy and its inevitable contradiction. Please let me know what you think.

In the XIV to XV centuries, the Roman Church had three competing claimants to the papacy, in what is now called the Great Western Schism. This schism was brought to an end through the Council of Constance. It demanded resignations from all of the claimants. It received a resignation from Pope Gregory XII, and it needed to depose anti-Popes John XXIII and Benedict XIII. Its reasoning for being able to act, even with uncertainty of the identity of the true Pope or without a Pope at all, was given in its teaching found in sessions III-V of the council. Its authority to govern and act did not come from the Pope. Instead, it taught in session V:

legitimately assembled in the holy Spirit, constituting a general council and representing the catholic church militant, [this council] has power immediately from Christ; and that everyone of whatever state or dignity, even papal, is bound to obey it in those matters which pertain to the faith, the eradication of the said schism and the general reform of the said church of God in head and members

Council of Constance, Session V

It is not through the mediation of the Pope but immediately from Jesus Christ that the ecumenical council has the authority to bind all men, including the Pope, to its decrees. What would happen if the Pope were to violate the terms of the council? The Council of Constance teaches in session V that he

shall be subjected to well-deserved penance, unless he repents, and shall be duly punished, even by having recourse, if necessary, to other supports of the law.

Council of Constance, Session V

It is important to keep in mind that this was taught while John XXIII, whom the Council seemed to believe was the Pope, was present. And, for them, this was the solution. When the Church has an heretical Pope, she calls an ecumenical council try him and depose him, if necessary. However, there is one key problem with that solution: it is not the current teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. Instead, it was abandoned for papal supremacy.

Papal Supremacy

Once the Great Western Schism was resolved and the new Pope, Pope Martin V, was elected. However, the Roman Church did not continue in the doctrine of conciliarism taught by the Council of Constance. Instead, the issue of papal power and authority was settled at Vatican Council I which taught in 1870:

We also teach and declare that [the Pope] is the supreme judge of the faithful…that 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 its decision.

Pastor Aeternus, D. 3063

Here we see the current teaching of the Roman Catholic Church: no man has the authority to judge a living Pope. All options for handling an heretical Pope were abandoned. With papal supremacy dogmatised, we will see that this leads to contradiction in the ecclesiology of Vatican Council I.

Summarising what has been shown, we are led to accept following doctrines:

  1. Communion is the bond of unity among members of the Catholic Church;
  2. sed Unity is preserved by holding to the same faith.
  3. Ergo Communion is lost by those who deviate from the common faith. ∴

A necessary consequence of this, proved by Scripture, the Church Fathers, and Constantinople Council III:

  1. Communion is properly refused to any bishop who deviates from the common faith of the Catholic Church;
  2. sed The Bishop of Rome is a bishop.
  3. Ergo Communion is properly refused to any Bishop of Rome who deviates from the common faith of the Catholic Church. ∴

However, Vatican Council I tries to require Catholics to also believe:

  • Essential to communion within the Catholic Church is communion with the Bishop of Rome;
  • sed The Bishop of Rome can fall into heresy and become an heretic.
  • Ergo Essential to communion within the Catholic Church is communion even with an heretic. ∴

Vatican Council I’s teaching on communion is a clear contradiction. If Vatican Council I is correct and infallible, then the Roman Church is bound to an hopelessly broken concept of communion. If communion with Rome is still insisted even after the Roman See, or even just the person of the Pope, falls into heresy, then this falls into the error condemned by St. Paul who asks, “what fellowship hath light with darkness” (2 Cor. 6:14)?

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