When taking a look at Ecclesiastical writings of diverse eras, our attention is called by the frequent affirmations of Pontiffs, Bishops and holy men lamenting the adversities that the Church was passing through in their days. The storms that the attacks of external and internal enemies raised against the ship of Saint Peter were constant during the two millenniums of the Church’s victorious navigation. This undeterred advance throughout all epochs may only be explained if we take into consideration that the Church is not a human institution, but rather divine. Born of the open side of Christ upon the cross and irrigated by his Blood, in its visible elements the Church should, therefore, seek the realization of the desires of its divine Founder in that which refers to its constitution, sanctity, mission and even its government.
At this time, when many question the form of government of the Church, one question seems essential to us, as essential as often forgotten: How did Jesus Christ conceive this Church that constitutes his own Mystical Body? In calling the Twelve and putting Saint Peter at their head, did he desire it to be hierarchical? Or rather, ‘horizontal’?
The answer is easily at hand for all in the numerous documents of the Magisterium, even when some seem to want to veil it…
Note 1: The authors of this study are aware that the Press Office of the Vatican has denied the interpretations that some media sources have attributed to certain affirmations contained in the interviews of Francis with Eugenio Scalfari. On the other hand, it is noteworthy that some of these sources are still published on the Vatican website (found by clicking on the links of the articles), and published within the weekly English edition of the L’Osservatore Romano, n. 41, 9 October 2013, lending an official air to their content, seemingly with the approval of Francis himself. In the midst of all the turmoil and confusion caused, we always feel that a presentation of the true doctrine should be made with clarity, together with such affirmations. We must not forget that the majority of the public read only the titles that the media publishes, and, as we know, the latter frequently manipulate the truth. Consequently, it appears that a mere declaration that the content of these interviews does not correspond with the textual words of Francis, is simply not sufficient. As such, we publish this article with the intention of clarifying and orienting the faithful, who have always been the principle objective of this page, as we had expressed in our letter of presentation. In this way, each one can make a correct judgment, having beforehand attained knowledge of the truth. Note 2: Fr. Lombardi explained that it had been decided that the interview with Scalfari would be taken off the Vatican web page: ‘The information in the interview is reliable on a general level but not on the level of each individual point analyzed: this is why it was decided that the text should not be available for consultation on the Holy See website. Its removal is a final update on the nature of this text. Some mistakes were made regarding its value, which was questioned. The Secretariat of State took the decision’ (VaticanInsider, November 15, 2013). However, ‘The Denzinger-Bergoglio_EN’ confirms that it is still posted on the Vatican webpage, just as our Spanish counterpart confirms the same for their language edition.
Enter in the various parts of our study
II – The supreme power in the Hierarchy pertains to the Roman Pontiff
III – Does collegiality annul the primacy?
IV – Is a ‘horizontal’ Church possible?
I – The Church is hierarchical by divine disposition
Q. Is there any distinction between the members of the Church?
A. There is a very notable distinction between the members of the Church; for there are some who rule and some who obey; some who teach and some who are taught. […] Q. Who has set up this distinction in the Church?
Jesus Christ Himself has established this distinction in the Church. (Pius X. Catechism, Apostles Creed, Article IX, no. 38-41)
We cannot forget that one of the greatest temptations of our times is that of trying to promote an ecclesial renewal that, centering its attention upon certain aspects – particularly recognized by modern sensibility – does not take sufficiently into account fundamental elements of the constitutive identity of the Mystical Body of Christ, such as its hierarchy, the unity desired by its divine Founder or its specifically sacramental nature. (John Paul II. Address, to the Bishops of Guatemala on their ad limina visit, January 20, 1989)
Christ instituted a hierarchical and ministerial structure of the Church, formed by the Apostles and their successors, a structure not derived from a previously constituted community, but rather it was created directly by him. […] This structure pertains, therefore, the very nature of the Church, according to the divine plan made by Jesus. According to this plan, the structure has an essential role in the development of the Christian community, since the day of Pentecost, to the end of time. (John Paul II. General Audience, no. 8, July 1, 1992)
The Church is a society, and as such requires an authority and hierarchy of her own. Though it is true that all the members of the Mystical Body partake of the same blessings and pursue the same objective, they do not all enjoy the same powers, nor are they all qualified to perform the same acts. The divine Redeemer has willed, as a matter of fact, that His Kingdom should be built and solidly supported, as it were, on a holy order, which resembles in some sort the heavenly hierarchy. (Pius XII. Encyclical Mediator Dei, no. 39, November 20, 1947)
Does the power possessed by the members of the Hierarchy come from the people?
The power possessed by the Hierarchy does not come from the people, and it would be heresy to say it did: it comes solely from God. (Pius X. Catechism, Apostles Creed, Article IX, no. 48)
II – The supreme power in the Hierarchy pertains to the Roman Pontiff
Even among the most blessed apostles, there was a certain distinction of power along with a similarity of honor; and although the selection of them all was the same, nevertheless, it was given to one of them to be preeminent over the rest. (Denzinger-Hünermann 282. Leo I (the Great), Letter Quanta fraternitati, to Bishop Anastasius of Thessalonica, c. 11, 446 AD)
‘First Simon, who is called Peter’ (Mt 10:2). With this significant emphasis on the primacy of Simon Peter, St Matthew inserts in his Gospel the list of the Twelve Apostles, which also begins with the name of Simon in the other two synoptic Gospels and in Acts. This list, which has great evidential force, and other Gospel passages show clearly and simply that the New Testament canon received what Christ said about Peter and his role in the group of the Twelve. [Note 8: Evidence for the Petrine ministry is found in all the expressions, however different, of the New Testament tradition, both in the Synoptics – here with different features in Matthew and Luke, as well as in St Mark – and in the Pauline corpus and the Johannine tradition, always with original elements, differing in their narrative aspects but in profound agreement about their essential meaning. This is a sign that the Petrine reality was regarded as a constitutive given of the Church] Thus, in the early Christian communities, as later throughout the Church, the image of Peter remained fixed as that of the Apostle who, despite his human weakness, was expressly assigned by Christ to the first place among the Twelve and was called to exercise a distinctive, specific task in the Church. He is the rock on which Christ will build his Church; he is the one, after he has been converted, whose faith will not fail and who will strengthen his brethren; lastly, he is the Shepherd who will lead the whole community of the Lord’s disciples. (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, The Primacy of the Successor Of Peter in the Mystery Of The Church, no. 3, October 31, 1998)
Blessed Peter received complete power of jurisdiction over all faithful Christians from our Lord Jesus Christ; and that every power of jurisdiction, which in certain lands and provinces and in different parts of the world especially and particularly Jude Thaddeus and the other Apostles had, was completely subject to the authority and power which blessed Peter received from our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, over whomsoever are believers in Christ in all parts of the world, and that no apostle or any other one whosoever received that very complete power over all Christians except Peter alone. (Denzinger-Hünermann 1052. Clement VI. Letter Super quibusdam to Mekhithar the Catholicon of the Armenians, September 29, 1351)
Through the pronouncement of the Lord, the responsibility received from him for the universal Church belongs to the blessed apostle Peter, who indeed knew, according to the testimony of the Gospel, that (this Church) was founded on him. Nor could his dignified office be without responsibilities, since it is certain that all matters depend on his deliberation… (Denzinger-Hünermann 234. Boniface I. Letter Manet beatum, to Rufus and the Other Bishops in Macedonia, March 11, 422 AD)
Peter always appears in the first place on all the lists of the Apostles (in the text of Matthew 10:2, he is even described with the word ‘first’). Jesus gives him a new name, Cephas, which is translated into Greek (which indicates that it was significant), to designate the office and the position that Simon would occupy in the Church of Christ. They are elements that help us to better comprehend the historical and ecclesiological significance of the promise of Jesus, contained in the text of Matthew (Mt 16: 18-19), and the commending of the pastoral mission described by John (Jn 21: 15-19): the primacy of the authority in the apostolic college and in the Church. (John Paul II, General Audience, no. 1, December 16, 1992)
And since St. Leo regarded this indissoluble bond between Peter’s divinely-given authority and that of the other apostles as fundamental to Catholic unity, he was never tired of insisting that ‘this authority [to bind and to loose] was also passed on to the other apostles, and what was established by this decree found its way to all the princes of the Church. But there was good reason for committing what was intended for all to the care of one in particular. And so it was entrusted to Peter individually because the figure of Peter was to be put ahead of all those in charge of the Church’(cf. Serm. 83. 2 on the Feast of the Apostle Peter). (John XXIII. Encyclical Aeterna Dei sapientia, no. 43, November 11, 1961)
After He had ruled the ‘little flock’ (Lk 12:32) Himself during His mortal pilgrimage, Christ our Lord, when about to leave this world and return to the Father, entrusted to the Chief of the Apostles the visible government of the entire community He had founded. Since He was all wise He could not leave the body of the Church He had founded as a human society without a visible head. […] For Peter in virtue of his primacy is only Christ’s Vicar; so that there is only one chief Head of this Body, namely Christ, who never ceases Himself to guide the Church invisible, though at the same time He rules it visibly, through him who is His representative on earth. (Pius XII. Encyclical Mystici Corporis Christi, no. 40, June 29, 1943)
Furthermore We teach and declare that the Roman Church, by the disposition of the Lord, holds the sovereignty of ordinary power over all others, and that this power of jurisdiction on the part of the Roman Pontiff, which is truly Episcopal, is immediate; and with respect to this the pastors and the faithful of whatever rite and dignity, both as separate individuals and all together, are bound by the duty of hierarchical subordination and true obedience, not only in things which pertain to faith and morals, but also in those which pertain to the discipline and government of the Church [which is] spread over the whole world, so that the Church of Christ, protected not only by the Roman Pontiff, but by the unity of communion as well as of the profession of the same faith is one flock under the one highest shepherd. This is the doctrine of Catholic truth from which no one can deviate and keep his faith and salvation. (Denzinger-Hünermann 3060. Vatican Council I, Dogmatic constitution Pastor aeternus, Ch. 3, July 18, 1870)
We likewise define that the holy Apostolic See, and the Roman Pontiff, hold the primacy throughout the entire world; and that the Roman Pontiff himself is the successor of blessed Peter, the chief of the Apostles, and the true vicar of Christ, and that he is the head of the entire Church, and the father and teacher of all Christians; and that full power was given to him in blessed Peter by our Lord Jesus Christ, to feed, rule, and govern the universal Church; just as is contained in the acts of the ecumenical Councils and in the sacred canons. (Denzinger-Hünermann 1307. Eugene IV. Council of Florence, Ecumenical XVII, from the Bull Laetentur coeli, July 6, 1439)
In this Church of Christ the Roman pontiff, as the successor of Peter, to whom Christ entrusted the feeding of His sheep and lambs, enjoys supreme, full, immediate, and universal authority over the care of souls by divine institution. Therefore, as pastor of all the faithful, he is sent to provide for the common good of the universal Church and for the good of the individual churches. Hence, he holds a primacy of ordinary power over all the churches. (Vatican Council II. Decree Christus Dominus, no. 2, October 28, 1965)
The Council [Vatican I] emphasizes that the power of the Pope ‘is ordinary and immediate, or over the churches altogether and individually, and over the pastors and the faithful’ (DS 3064). It is ordinary in the sense that is inherent to the Roman Pontiff by virtue of the responsibility that corresponds to him and not by delegation of bishops; It is immediate, because he can exercise directly, without the permission or mediation of the bishops. (John Paul II. General audience, no. 3, February 24, 1993)
The Roman Pontiffs who have been and we who now are the Roman Pontiff and, those who in future will be successively as legitimate vicars of Christ and full of power in the highest degree, have received immediately from Christ Himself over the complete and universal body of the church militant, every jurisdiction of power which Christ as fitting head had in human life. (Denzinger-Hünermann 1054. Clement VI. Letter Super quibusdam to the Consolator, the Catholicon of the Armenians, September 29, 1351)
Those have been condemned who denied that in blessed Peter, the prince of the Apostles, his successor, the Roman Pontiff, was established by God as the visible head of the Church and the vicar of Jesus Christ, that to him has been transmitted full power of ruling the Church, and that true obedience is due him from all who are considered Christians; and that such is the power of the primacy, which he holds by divine right, that he is superior to other bishops not only by his rank of honor but by the plenitude of his supreme power? (Denzinger-Hünermann 2593. Pio VI. From the Brief Super soliditate, November 28, 1786)
For the successor of Peter, it is not the case of claiming powers such as those ‘earthly rulers’, of which Jesus spoke (cf. Mt 20:25-28), but to be faithful to the will of the Founder of the Church who established this type of society, and this manner of governing at the service of communion in faith and charity. To respond to the will of Christ, the successor of Peter should assume and exercise the authority that has been given to him in a spirit of humble service and in order to ensure unity. (John Paul II. General Audience, no. 5, February 24, 1993)
III – Does collegiality annul the primacy?
Nothing was conferred on the apostles apart from Peter, but that several things were conferred upon Peter apart from the Apostles. […] He alone was designated as the foundation of the Church. To him He gave the power of binding and loosing; to him alone was given the power of feeding. On the other hand, whatever authority and office the Apostles received, they received in conjunction with Peter. ‘If the divine benignity willed anything to be in common between him and the other princes, whatever He did not deny to the others He gave only through him. So that whereas Peter alone received many things, He conferred nothing on any of the rest without Peter participating in it’ (S. Leo M. Sermo iv., cap. 2). (Leo XIII. Encyclical Satis cognitum, no. 14, June 29, 1896)
But the college or body of bishops has no authority unless it is understood together with the Roman Pontiff, the successor of Peter as its head. The pope’s power of primacy over all, both pastors and faithful, remains whole and intact. In virtue of his office, that is as Vicar of Christ and pastor of the whole Church, the Roman Pontiff has full, supreme and universal power over the Church. And he is always free to exercise this power. (Vatican Council II. Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, no. 22, November 21, 1964)
As supreme pastor of the Church, the supreme pontiff can always exercise his Power at will, as his very office demands. Though it is always in existence, the college […] acts as a college in the strict sense only from the time to time and only with the consent of its head. […] It is clear throughout that it is a question of the bishops acting in conjunction with their head, never of the bishops acting independently of the pope. In the latter instance, without the action of the head, the bishops are not able to act as a college; this is clear from the concept of “college”. This hierarchical communion of all the bishops with the supreme pontiff is certainly firmly established in tradition. (Denzinger-Hünermann 4357-4358. Vatican Council II. Notifications given by the Secretary General of the Council at the 123rd General Congregation, November 16, 1964. English translation: DzH, 43rd ed. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2012, p. 970)
Consequently, Bishops must be considered as the more illustrious members of the Universal Church, for they are united by a very special bond to the divine Head of the whole Body and so are rightly called ‘principal parts of the members of the Lord;’ moreover, as far as his own diocese is concerned, each one as a true Shepherd feeds the flock entrusted to him and rules it in the name of Christ. Yet in exercising this office they are not altogether independent, but are subordinate to the lawful authority of the Roman Pontiff, although enjoying the ordinary power of jurisdiction which they receive directly from the same Supreme Pontiff. (Pius XII. Encyclical Mystici Corporis Christi, no. 42, June 29, 1943)
The pastoral action of all, especially the college of the Episcopate obtains unity through the ministerium Petrinum of the Bishop of Rome. […] And we must add, always with the Council, that, if the collegial power over the whole Church attains its particular expression in the ecumenical council, it is the ‘prerogative of the Roman Pontiff to convoke these councils, to preside over them and to confirm them’ (LG, n. 22). All, then, have as their head the Pope, the Bishop of Rome, as the principle of unity and communion. (John Paul II. General Audience, no. 4, February 24, 1993)
But the Episcopal order is rightly judged to be in communion with Peter, as Christ commanded, if it be subject to and obeys Peter; otherwise it necessarily becomes a lawless and disorderly crowd. It is not sufficient for the due preservation of the unity of the faith that the head should merely have been charged with the office of superintendent, or should have been invested solely with a power of direction. But it is absolutely necessary that he should have received real and sovereign authority which the whole community is bound to obey. What had the Son of God in view when he promised the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven to Peter alone? Biblical usage and the unanimous teaching of the Fathers clearly show that supreme authority is designated in the passage by the word keys. Nor is it lawful to interpret in a different sense what was given to Peter alone, and what was given to the other Apostles conjointly with him. (Leo XIII. Encyclical Satis cognitum, no. 15, June 29, 1896)
This power of the Supreme Pontiff is so far from interfering with that power of ordinary and immediate episcopal jurisdiction by which the bishops, who, ‘placed by the Holy Spirit’ (cf. Act 20,28), have succeeded to the places of the apostles, as true shepherds individually feed and rule the individual flocks assigned to them, that the same (power) is asserted, confirmed, and vindicated by the supreme and universal shepherd, according to the statement of Gregory the Great: ‘My honor is the universal honor of the Church. My honor is the solid vigor of my brothers. Then am I truly honored, when the honor due to each and everyone is not denied.’ (Denzinger-Hünermann 3061. Vatican Council I. Dogmatic constitution, Pastor aeternus, ch. 3, July 18, 1870)
IV – Is a ‘horizontal’ Church possible?
Indeed no true and perfect human society can be conceived which is not governed by some supreme authority. Christ therefore must have given to His Church a supreme authority to which all Christians must render obedience. For this reason, as the unity of the faith is of necessity required for the unity of the church, inasmuch as it is the body of the faithful, so also for this same unity, inasmuch as the Church is a divinely constituted society, unity of government, […] Jesus Christ, therefore, appointed Peter to be that head of the Church; and He also determined that the authority instituted in perpetuity for the salvation of all should be inherited by His successors, in whom the same permanent authority of Peter himself should continue. And so He made that remarkable promise to Peter and to no one else: ‘Thou are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church’ (Mt 16, 18). ‘To Peter the Lord spoke: to one, therefore, that He might establish unity upon one’ (S. Pacianus, Ep. 3 ad Sempronium, n. 11). (Leo XIII. Encyclical Satis cognitum, no. 11, June 29, 1896)
That there is unity in the administration of the Catholic Church is evident. For as the faithful are subject to their priests, so are priests to their bishops, whom ‘the Holy Spirit has placed……to rule the Church of God.’(Acts 20.28) So, too, every bishop is subject to the Roman pontiff, the successor of Saint Peter, whom Christ called a rock and made the foundation of His Church. It was to Peter that Christ gave in a special way the power to bind and loose on earth, to strengthen his brethren, to feed the entire flock. (John XXIII. Encyclical Ad Petri cathedram, no. 73, June 29, 1959)
All the more must be deplored that blind and rash temerity of the man who [the following errors] …was eager to renew […] and insinuated indiscriminately by many ambiguities, that every bishop, no less than the pope, was called by God to govern the Church, and was endowed with no less power; that Christ gave the same power Himself to all the apostles; and that whatever some people believe is obtained and granted only by the pope, that very thing, whether it depends on consecration or ecclesiastical jurisdiction, can be obtained just as well from any bishop; that Christ wished His Church to be governed in the manner of a republic; and that, indeed, for that government there is need of a head for the good of unity, but one who does not dare to interfere in the affairs of others (bishops) who rule at the same time. (Denzinger-Hünermann 2593-2595. Pius VI. From the Brief, Super soliditate, November 28, 1786)
The exercise of the Petrine ministry must be understood – so that it ‘may lose nothing of its authenticity and transparency’ (John Paul II, Ut unum sint, n. 93) – on the basis of the Gospel, that is, on its essential place in the saving mystery of Christ and the building-up of the Church. The primacy differs in its essence and in its exercise from the offices of governance found in human societies: it is not an office of co-ordination or management, nor can it be reduced to a primacy of honour, or be conceived as a political monarchy. (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The Primacy of the successor of Peter in the mystery of the Church, no. 7, October 31, 1998)
It is consequently the office of St. Peter to support the Church, and to guard it in all its strength and indestructible unity. How could he fulfil this office without the power of commanding, forbidding, and judging, which is properly called jurisdiction? It is only by this power of jurisdiction that nations and commonwealths are held together. A primacy of honour and the shadowy right of giving advice and admonition, which is called direction, could never secure to any society of men unity or strength. (Leo XIII. Encyclical Satis cognitum, no. 12, June 29, 1896)
The Church, in fact, is not a place of confusion and anarchy where one can do what one likes all the time: each one in this organism, with an articulated structure, exercises his ministry in accordance with the vocation he has received. […] The norms that regulate it derive ultimately from God himself. The Father sent Jesus Christ, who in turn sent the Apostles. They then sent the first heads of communities and established that they would be succeeded by other worthy men. Everything, therefore, was made ‘in an orderly way, according to the will of God.’ (St. Clement of Rome, 42). (Benedict XVI. General Audience, March 7, 2007)
The Catholic Church in your nation, as in all the others, will not be able to be ruled with ‘autonomy of government’, as they say today. In fact, even then, as you well know, it will be entirely necessary for your Christian community, if it wishes to be part of the society divinely founded by our Redeemer, to be completely subject to the Supreme Pontiff, Vicar of Jesus Christ on earth, and be strictly united with him in regard to religious faith and morals. With these words – and it is well to note them – is embraced the whole life and work of the Church, and also its constitution, its government, its discipline. All of these things depend certainly on the will of Jesus Christ, Founder of the Church. (Pius XII. Encyclical Ad sinarum gentes, no. 10-11, October 7, 1954)
There had been attempts to reduce the power of the Roman Pontiff to ‘a charge of inspection or of direction’. Some had proposed that the Pope be simply an arbiter of conflicts between local churches, or give only a general direction to the autonomous activities of the local churches and Christians, with counsels and exhortations. But this limitation was not in conformity with the mission that Christ conferred upon Peter. For this reason the Vatican Council I emphasized the fullness of Papal power and defined that is not enough to recognize that the Roman Pontiff ‘has the main part’; it must be admitted, rather, that he ‘has the fullness of this supreme power’ (DS 3064). (John Paul II. General Audience, no. 2, February 24, 1993)
If anyone thus speaks, that the Roman Pontiff has only the office of inspection or direction, but not the full and supreme power of jurisdiction over the universal Church, not only in things which pertain to faith and morals, but also in those which pertain to the discipline and government of the Church spread over the whole world; or, that he possesses only the more important parts, but not the whole plenitude of this supreme power; or that this power of his is not ordinary and immediate, or over the churches altogether and individually, and over the pastors and the faithful altogether and individually: let him be anathema. (Denzinger-Hünermann 3064. Vatican Council I, Session IV, Dogmatic constitution Pastor aeternus, Ch. 1, July 18, 1870)
It remains for Us now to say a few words about the Modernist as reformer […] some idea may be gained of the reforming mania which possesses them […] Ecclesiastical government requires to be reformed in all its branches, but especially in its disciplinary and dogmatic parts. Its spirit with the public conscience, which is not wholly for democracy; a share in ecclesiastical government should therefore be given to the lower ranks of the clergy, and even to the laity, and authority should be decentralised. The Roman Congregations, and especially the index and the Holy Office, are to be reformed. The ecclesiastical authority must change its line of conduct in the social and political world; while keeping outside political and social organization, it must adapt itself to those which exist in order to penetrate them with its spirit. With regard to morals, they adopt the principle of the Americanists, that the active virtues are more important than the passive, both in the estimation in which they must be held and in the exercise of them. The clergy are asked to return to their ancient lowliness and poverty, and in their ideas and action to be guided by the principles of Modernism; and there are some who, echoing the teaching of their Protestant masters, would like the suppression of ecclesiastical celibacy. What is there left in the Church which is not to be reformed according to their principles? (Pius X. Encyclical Pascendi dominici gregis, no. 37, September 8, 1907)