Through the centuries, the Church has moved from triumph to triumph, though it continually endures attacks, persecutions and hatred from all quarters, all promoted by one leader: the infernal enemy who has the illusion of one day destroying it. The Church suffers insult and violent injury from pagans and apostates, the powerful and lowly, the cultured and unlearned and even – though it pains us to say so – from the very sons who should most defend her. However, she remains, as Saint Paul affirmed: ‘holy and without blemish’ (Eph 5:27), unshakable amid the torrents of hatred hurled against her.
The enduring capacity to withstand all aggression is based on the promise of her Divine Founder: ‘you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church’ (Mt 16:18).
Accordingly, the one doctrine that all heretics have in common is the negation of papal authority. Those who love and defend the papacy remain united to the Church, and those who reject this foundation, separate from the Church, and irremediably wither away.
Such a vital question; the manner of exercising the Petrine ministry, has been defined by the Fathers of the Church and the popes with great exactitude. This solid and clear doctrine is recorded in numerous documents of the Magisterium.
If Francis is wanting: ‘suggestions which can help make the exercise of my ministry more faithful to the meaning which Jesus Christ wished to give it’ and ‘wanting opinions of how the Church should be governed’, we affirm that the very Magisterium of his predecessors has all the answers. Here we present some of them. Let us not forget that, throughout History, those who have wished to distance themselves from a ‘centralization’, and sought to change the way of governing the Church were qualified in no uncertain terms. Those who have ears to hear…
Enter the various parts of our study
II – Specific powers were granted to the successor of Peter that should be exercised only by him as a condition of the unity of the Church. His mission is personal and non-transferable; all of the authority of the true Church depends on him
III – The life of the Church depends on the Papacy. To destroy the Primacy by weakening the powers of the Roman Pontiff would be to annihilate the Church of Jesus Christ
IV – Many tried to abolish the Papacy in the past, and even with the very same arguments that are used today…
Annex 1 – What is the true relationship between the Supreme Pontiff and the College of Bishops, according to the Doctrine of the Church?
Annex 2 – A historical fact: the ‘churches’ that deny obedience to the Pope do not survive
The failure of sects throughout the centuries…
And in our days…
I – Over the centuries, did the ministry of Peter move away from what Christ originally desired? Is the Papacy, as it was always understood, in need of conversion?
The Catholic Church is conscious of having preserved, in fidelity to the Apostolic Tradition and the faith of the Fathers, the ministry of the Successor of Peter. (John Paul II. Letter to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger quoted by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, ‘The primacy of the successor of Peter in the mystery of the Church’, October 31, 1998)
[…] especially since the privileges of the Roman Church, built on Blessed Peter by the word of Christ, deposited in the Church herself, observed in ancient times and celebrated by the sacred universal Synods, and venerated jointly by the entire Church, can by no means be diminished, by no means infringed upon, by no means changed; for the foundation which God has established, no human effort has the power to destroy and what God has determined, remains firm and strong. . . . Thus the privileges granted to this holy Church by Christ, not given by the Synod, but now only celebrated and venerated. (Denzinger-Hünermann 640. Nicholas I, from epistle Proposueramus quidem to Michael the Emperor, 865)
That which our lord Jesus Christ, the prince of shepherds and great shepherd of the sheep, established in the blessed apostle Peter, for the continual salvation and permanent benefit of the church, must of necessity remain for ever, by Christ’s authority, in the church which, founded as it is upon a rock, will stand firm until the end of time. For no one can be in doubt, indeed it was known in every age that the holy and most blessed Peter, prince and head 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 saviour and redeemer of the human race, and that to this day and for ever he lives and presides and exercises judgment in his successors the bishops of the holy Roman see, which he founded and consecrated with his blood. Therefore whoever succeeds to the chair of Peter obtains by the institution of Christ himself, the primacy of Peter over the whole church. So what the truth has ordained stands firm, and blessed Peter perseveres in the rock-like strength he was granted, and does not abandon that guidance of the church which he once received. For this reason it has always been necessary for every church—that is to say the faithful throughout the world— to be in agreement with the Roman church because of its more effective leadership. In consequence of being joined, as members to head, with that see, from which the rights of sacred communion flow to all, they will grow together into the structure of a single body. (Vatican Council I. Dogmatic constitution Pastor aeternus, Session IV, Ch. 2, July 18, 1870)
The nature of this supreme authority, which all Christians are bound to obey, can be ascertained only by finding out what was the evident and positive will of Christ. Certainly Christ is a King for ever; and though invisible, He continues unto the end of time to govern and guard His church from Heaven. But since He willed that His kingdom should be visible He was obliged, when He ascended into Heaven, to designate a vice-gerent on earth. […] 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). (Leo XIII. Encyclical Satis cognitum, no. 11, September 29, 1896)
Instead, Christ our Lord instituted His Church as a perfect society, external of its nature and perceptible to the senses, which should carry on in the future the work of the salvation of the human race, under the leadership of one head, (Mt 16:18 seq; Lk 22:32; Jn 22:15 – 17.) with an authority teaching by word of mouth, (Mk 16:15) and by the ministry of the sacraments, the founts of heavenly grace; (Jn 3:5; 6:48-59; 20:22 seq; cf. Mt 18:18, etc) […] This Church, after being so wonderfully instituted, could not, on the removal by death of its Founder and of the Apostles who were the pioneers in propagating it, be entirely extinguished and cease to be, for to it was given the commandment to lead all men, without distinction of time or place, to eternal salvation: ‘Going therefore, teach ye all nations’ (Mt 28:19). In the continual carrying out of this task, will any element of strength and efficiency be wanting to the Church, when Christ Himself is perpetually present to it, according to His solemn promise: ‘Behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world?’ (Mt 28:20)? It follows then that the Church of Christ not only exists to-day and always, but is also exactly the same as it was in the time of the Apostles, unless we were to say, which God forbid, either that Christ our Lord could not effect His purpose, or that He erred when He asserted that the gates of hell should never prevail against it (Mt 16:18). (Pius XI. Encyclical Mortalium animos, no. 6, January 6, 1928)
There are some, indeed, who recognize and affirm that Protestantism, as they call it, has rejected, with a great lack of consideration, certain articles of faith and some external ceremonies, which are, in fact, pleasing and useful, and which the Roman Church still retains. They soon, however, go on to say that that Church also has erred, and corrupted the original religion by adding and proposing for belief certain doctrines which are not only alien to the Gospel, but even repugnant to it. Among the chief of these they number that which concerns the primacy of jurisdiction, which was granted to Peter and to his successors in the See of Rome. Among them there indeed are some, though few, who grant to the Roman Pontiff a primacy of honor or even a certain jurisdiction or power, but this, however, they consider not to arise from the divine law but from the consent of the faithful. Others again, even go so far as to wish the Pontiff Himself to preside over their motley, so to say, assemblies. But, all the same, although many non-Catholics may be found who loudly preach fraternal communion in Christ Jesus, yet you will find none at all to whom it ever occurs to submit to and obey the Vicar of Jesus Christ either in His capacity as a teacher or as a governor. Meanwhile they affirm that they would willingly treat with the Church of Rome, but on equal terms, that is as equals with an equal: but even if they could so act. It does not seem open to doubt that any pact into which they might enter would not compel them to turn from those opinions which are still the reason why they err and stray from the one fold of Christ. This being so, it is clear that the Apostolic See cannot on any terms take part in their assemblies, nor is it anyway lawful for Catholics either to support or to work for such enterprises; for if they do so they will be giving countenance to a false Christianity, quite alien to the one Church of Christ. (Pius XI. Encyclical Mortalium animos, no. 7 – 8, January 6, 1928)
‘And to thee I will give the keys of the kingdom of heaven’. One could not speak with more plainly. […] But the [protestant] [Protestant] ministers try as hard as they can to disturb the clear fountain of the Gospel, so that Saint Peter may not be able to find his keys therein, and that we may turn disgusted from the water of the holy obedience which we owe to the vicar of Our Lord. And therefore they have bethought them of saying that Saint Peter had received this promise of Our Lord in the name of the whole Church, without having received any particular privilege in his own person. But if this is not violating Scripture, never did man violate it. For was it not to Saint Peter that he was speaking? And how could he better express his intention than by saying: ‘And I say to thee…I will give to thee?’ Put with this his having just spoken of the Church, and said: ‘The gates of hell shall not prevail against it’, which would have prevented his from saying: ‘And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom’, if he had wished to give them to the whole Church immediately. For he does not say it, but, to thee, will I give. […] In the promise and in the execution of the promise Our Lord has always preferred to Saint Peter by expressions which oblige us to believe that he has been made head of the Church. (Saint Francis de Sales. The Catholic controversy, Part II, Ch. 3, pg. 251 – 252)
They, therefore, walk in the path of dangerous error who believe that they can accept Christ as the Head of the Church, while not adhering loyally to His Vicar on earth. They have taken away the visible head, broken the visible bonds of unity and left the Mystical Body of the Redeemer so obscured and so maimed, that those who are seeking the haven of eternal salvation can neither see it nor find it. (Pius XII. Encyclical Mystici Corporis Christi, no. 41, June 29, 1943)
With how great care and pastoral vigilance the Roman Pontiffs, our predecessors, fulfilling the duty and office committed to them by the Lord Christ Himself in the person of most Blessed Peter, Prince of the Apostles, of feeding the lambs and the sheep, have never ceased sedulously to nourish the Lord’s whole flock with words of faith and with salutary doctrine, and to guard it from poisoned pastures, is thoroughly known to all, and especially to you, Venerable Brethren. (Pius IX. Encyclical Quanta cura, no. 1, December 8, 1864)
If we are to come to any conclusion from the infallible teaching authority of the Church, it should rather be that no one should wish to depart from it, and moreover that the minds of all being leavened and directed thereby, greater security from private error would be enjoyed by all. And further, those who avail themselves of such a way of reasoning seem to depart seriously from the over-ruling wisdom of the Most High-which wisdom, since it was pleased to set forth by most solemn decision the authority and supreme teaching rights of this Apostolic See-willed that decision precisely in order to safeguard the minds of the Church’s children from the dangers of these present times. (Leo XIII. Encyclical Testem benevolentiae to Cardinal James Gibbons, January 22, 1899)
II – Specific powers were granted to the successor of Peter that should be exercised only by him, as a condition of the unity of the Church. His mission is personal, and non-transferable; all of the authority of the true Church depends on him
As far as fulfilling both offerings and acts of worship is concerned, the Lord did not command them to be done in an empty or disorderly manner, at set times and hours. Now where and through whom he wanted these done, he determined by his highest will so that everything might take place in a holy manner and so be completely pleasing to his will. […] For the high priest has been assigned his own official functions, and the priests have their own appointed place, and the Levites are given ministries of service. The layman is bound by the ordinances for the laity. Each of us, brothers, has ‘his own order’ (1Cor 15:23). Let him give thanks to God with a good conscience, without going beyond his determined guideline of service, in dignity. (Denzinger-Hünermann 101. Saint Clement I, Letter to the Corinthians, ca. 96 AD)
Jesus entrusted a specific authority to Peter: ‘I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven’ (Mt 16:19) The ‘power of the keys’ designates authority to govern the house of God, which is the Church. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, confirmed this mandate after his Resurrection: ‘Feed my sheep’ (Jn 21: 15-17). The power to ‘bind and loose’ connotes the authority to absolve sins, to pronounce doctrinal judgements, and to make disciplinary decisions in the Church. Jesus entrusted this authority to the Church through the ministry of the apostles and in particular through the ministry of Peter, the only one to whom he specifically entrusted the keys of the kingdom. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 553)
The Lord said to Peter, I say to thee, Peter! Thou art Peter: and upon this rock I will build my Church. He builds His Church on one. And although after His Resurrection He gave equal power to all His Apostles, saying: As the Father hath sent me, I also send you, receive ye the Holy Ghost; yet to make unity more manifest, He decided by His own authority that it should be derived from one alone, etc. […] Should anyone object that the Church is content with one Head and one Spouse, Jesus Christ, and requires no other, the answer is obvious. For as we deem Christ not only the author of all the Sacraments, but also their invisible minister – He it is who baptises, He it is who absolves, although men are appointed by Him the external ministers of the Sacraments – so has He placed over His Church, which He governs by His invisible Spirit, a man to be His vicar and the minister of His power. A visible Church requires a visible head; therefore the Saviour appointed Peter head and pastor of all the faithful, when He committed to his care the feeding of all His sheep, in such ample terms that He willed the very same power of ruling and governing the entire Church to descend to Peter’s successors. (Catechism of Trent, 1090)
Who art thou? Thou art the High Priest and the Sovereign Pontiff. Thou art the Prince of pastors and the Heir of the apostles. By the primacy thou art an Abel; by thy office of pilot (in Peter’s barque), a Noah; by thy patriarchate, an Abraham; by thy orders, a Melchisedech; by they dignity, an Aaron; by thy authority, a Moses; by thy judicial power, a Samuel; by thy jurisdiction, a Peter; and by thy unction, a Christ. Thou art he to whom the keys have been delivered (Mt 16:19) and the sheep entrusted (Jn 21:17). There are indeed other gate-keepers of heaven, and there are other shepherds of the flock; but thou art in both respects more glorious than they in proportion as thou hast ‘inherited a more excellent name’ (Heb 1:4). They have assigned to them particular portions of the flock, his own to each; whereas thou art given charge of all the sheep, as the one Chief Shepherd of the whole flock. Yea, not only of the sheep, but of the other pastors also art thou the sole supreme shepherd. Wouldst thou know how I prove this? I prove it from the words of Christ. ‘If thou lovest Me,’ He said to Peter, ‘feed My sheep’ (Jn 21:17). To which – I do not say of the other bishops, but even of the other apostles, was the entire flock entrusted so absolutely and so indiscriminately? (Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, Treatise on Consideration to Pope Eugene III, Book II, Ch. VIII, pg. 56-57)
All the Roman Pontiffs, who succeeding blessed Peter have entered canonically and will enter canonically, have succeeded blessed Peter the Roman Pontiff and will succeed in the same plenitude in the jurisdiction of power over the complete and universal body of the militant church which blessed Peter himself received from our Lord Jesus Christ. (Denzinger- Hünermann 1053. Clement VI, from the letter Super quibusdam, to the Consolator, the Catholicon of the Armenians, September 29, 1351)
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. Council of Florence, From the Bull Laetentur coeli, July 6, 1439)
We teach and declare that, according to the gospel evidence, a primacy of jurisdiction over the whole church of God was immediately and directly promised to the blessed apostle Peter and conferred on him by Christ the Lord. It was to Simon alone, to whom he had already said You shall be called Cephas, that the Lord, after his confession, You are the Christ, the son of the living God, spoke these words: Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the underworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. And it was to Peter alone that Jesus, after his resurrection, confided the jurisdiction of supreme pastor and ruler of his whole fold, saying: Feed my lambs, feed my sheep. To this absolutely manifest teaching of the sacred scriptures, as it has always been understood by the catholic church, are clearly opposed the distorted opinions of those who misrepresent the form of government which Christ the lord established in his church and deny that Peter, in preference to the rest of the apostles, taken singly or collectively, was endowed by Christ with a true and proper primacy of jurisdiction. The same may be said of those who assert that this primacy was not conferred immediately and directly on blessed Peter himself, but rather on the church, and that it was through the church that it was transmitted to him in his capacity as her minister. (Vatican Council I. Dogmatic constitution Pastor aeternus, Session IV, Ch. 1, July 18, 1870)
Since the Roman Pontiff, by the divine right of the apostolic primacy, governs the whole Church, we likewise teach and declare that he is the supreme judge of the faithful, and that in all cases which fall under ecclesiastical jurisdiction recourse may be had to his judgment. The sentence of the Apostolic See (than which there is no higher authority) is not subject to revision by anyone, nor may anyone lawfully pass judgment thereupon. (Vatican Council I. Dogmatic constitution Pastor aeternus, Session IV, Ch. 3, July 18, 1870)
For the Holy Spirit was promised to the successors of Peter not so that they might, by his revelation, make known some new doctrine, but that, by his assistance, they might religiously guard and faithfully expound the revelation or deposit of faith transmitted by the apostles. […] This gift of truth and never-failing faith was therefore divinely conferred on Peter and his successors in this See so that they might discharge their exalted office for the salvation of all, and so that the whole flock of Christ might be kept away by them from the poisonous food of error and be nourished with the sustenance of heavenly doctrine. (Vatican Council I. Dogmatic constitution Pastor aeternus, Session IV, Ch. 4, July 18, 1870)
Therefore, faithfully adhering to the tradition received from the beginning of the Christian faith, to the glory of God our savior, for the exaltation of the Catholic religion and for the salvation of the Christian people, with the approval of the Sacred Council, we teach and define as a divinely revealed dogma that when the Roman Pontiff speaks Ex Cathedra, that is, when, in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole Church, he possesses, by the divine assistance promised to him in blessed Peter, that infallibility which the divine Redeemer willed his Church to enjoy in defining doctrine concerning faith or morals. Therefore, such definitions of the Roman Pontiff are of themselves, and not by the consent of the Church, irreformable. So then, should anyone, which God forbid, have the temerity to reject this definition of ours: let him be anathema. (Vatican Council I. Dogmatic constitution Pastor aeternus, Session IV, Ch. 4, July 18, 1870)
But when he is clothed with the pontifical garments, I mean when he teaches the whole Church as shepherd, in general matters of faith and morals, then there is nothing but doctrine and truth. […] thus we say that we must appeal to him not as to a learned man, for in this he is ordinarily surpassed by some others, but as to the general head and pastor of the Church: and as such we must honor, follow, and firmly embrace his doctrine, for them he carries on his breast the Urim and Thummim, doctrine and truth. And again we must not think that in everything and everywhere his judgement is infallible, but then only when he gives judgement on a matter of faith and questions necessary to the whole Church; for in particular cases which depend on human fact he can err, there is no doubt, though it is not for us to control him in these cases […] with all reverence, submission, and discretion. Theologians have said, in a Word, that he can err in questions of fact, not in questions of right; that he can err extra cathedram, outside the chair of Peter, that is as a private individual, but writings and bad example. But he cannot err when he is in cathedra, that is, when he intends to make an instruction and decree for the guidance of the whole Church, when he means to confirm his brethren as supreme pastor, and to conduct them into the pastures of the faith. For then it is not so much man who determines, resolves, and defines as it is the Blessed Holy Spirit by man, which Spirit, according to the promise made by Our Lord to the Apostles, teaches all truth to the Church […] conducts and directs his Church into all truth. (Saint Francis de Sales. Les controverses, Part II, Ch. 6, pg. 306-307)
So when Saint Peter was placed as foundation for the Church, and the Church was certified that the gates of hell should not prevail against it – was it not enough to say that Saint Peter, as foundation-stone of the ecclesiastical government and administration, could not be crushed and broken by infidelity or error, which is the principal gate of hell? For who knows not that if the foundation be overthrown, if that can be sapped, the whole building falls. In the same way, if the supreme acting shepherd can conduct his sheep into venomous pastures, it is clearly visible that the flock is soon to be lost. For if the supreme acting shepherd leads out of the path, who will put him right? If he stray, who will bring him back? In truth, it is necessary that we should follow him simply, not guide him; otherwise the sheep would be shepherds. (Saint Francis de Sales. Les controverses, Part II, c. 6, a.14 – pg. 296-297)
III – The life of the Church depends on the Papacy. To destroy the Primacy by weakening the powers of the Roman Pontiff would be to annihilate the Church of Jesus Christ
[The institution and foundation of the Church]. ‘The eternal Pastor and Bishop of our souls’ (1Pet 2:25), in order to render the saving work of redemption perennial, willed to build a holy Church, in which, as in the house of the living God, all the faithful might be contained by the bond of one faith and charity. […] But, that the episcopacy itself might be one and undivided, and that the entire multitude of the faithful through priests closely connected with one another might be preserved in the unity of faith and communion, placing the blessed Peter over the other apostles He established in him the perpetual principle and visible foundation of both unities, upon whose strength the eternal temple might be erected, and the sublimity of the Church to be raised to heaven might rise in the firmness of this faith. And, since the gates of hell, to overthrow the Church, if this were possible, arise from all sides with ever greater hatred against its divinely established foundation, We judge it to be necessary for the protection, safety, and increase of the Catholic flock, with the approbation of the Council, to set forth the doctrine on the institution, perpetuity, and nature of the Sacred Apostolic Primacy, in which the strength and solidarity of the whole Church consist, to be believed and held by all the faithful, according to the ancient and continual faith of the universal Church, and to proscribe and condemn the contrary errors, so pernicious to the Lord’s flock. (Denzinger-Hünermann 3050-3052. Vatican Council I, Dogmatic constitution I on the Church of Christ, July 18, 1870)
Then, too, the unity of the Church requires that all the faithful agree as to the faith. But about matters of faith it happens that questions arise. A diversity of pronouncements, of course, would divide the Church, if it were not preserved in unity by the pronouncement of one. Therefore, the unity of the Church demands that there be one who is at the head of the entire Church. (Saint Thomas Aquinas. Summa contra Gentiles, Book IV, Ch. 76)
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, which effects and involves unity of communion, is necessary jure divino. ‘The unity of the Church is manifested in the mutual connection or communication of its members, and likewise in the relation of all the members of the Church to one head’ (Saint Thomas Aquinas, STh II-II, q. 39, a. 1). (Leo XIII. Encyclical Satis cognitum, no. 10, September 29, 1896)
It is to Peter that He says: ‘You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church’ (Mt 16:18). Where Peter is, there is the Church. And where the Church, no death is there, but life eternal. (Saint Ambrose of Milan. Ennarationes in Psalmos. 40:30)
Thence, [that thou art Peter] through the changes of times and successions, the ordering of bishops and the plan of the Church flow onwards […] (Saint Cyprian of Carthage, Epistle XXVI)
Upon him, being one, He builds His Church, and although after His resurrection He bestows equal power upon all the Apostles, and says: ‘As the Father has sent me, I also send you. Receive ye the Holy Spirit: if you forgive the sins of anyone, they will be forgiven him; if you retain the sins of anyone, they will be retained’, yet that He might display unity, He established by His authority the origin of the same unity as beginning from one. (Saint Cyprian of Carthage. The unity of the Catholic Church, Ch. 4)
This one Church, also, the Holy Spirit in the Canticle of Canticles designates in the person of the Lord and says: ‘One is my dove, my perfect one is but one, she is the only one of her mother, the chosen one of her that bore her’ (Ct 6:8). Does he who does not hold this unity think that he holds the faith? Does he who strives against the Church and resists her think that he is in the Church […]? (Saint Cyprian of Carthage. The unity of the Catholic Church, Ch. 4)
‘What is the it?’ (writes Origen). ‘Is it the rock upon which Christ builds the Church or the Church? The expression indeed is ambiguous, as if the rock and the Church were one and the same. I indeed think that this is so, and that neither against the rock upon which Christ builds His Church nor against the Church shall the gates of Hell prevail’ (Origenes, Comment. in Matt., tom. XII., n.2). (Origen. Commentary on Matthew 13, no. 2, quoted by Leo XIII in the Encyclical Satis cognitum, no. 12, September 29, 1896)
[Peter is called] the Chief of the Apostles, the firm foundation, the unbreakable rock of the Church. (Saint John Damascene. Sacra parallela)
‘I will give unto you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatsoever you shall bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever you shall loose on earth, shall be loosed in heaven’ (Mt 16:19), he represented the universal Church, which in this world is shaken by various temptations, that come upon it like torrents of rain, floods and tempests, and falls not, because it is founded upon a rock (petra), from which Peter received his name. (Saint Augustine of Hippo. Tractates on the Gospel of Saint John, 124, 5)
‘And he brought him to Jesus; and when Jesus beheld him, He said, You are Simon the son of Joannes: you shall be called Cephas, which is, by interpretation, Peter.’ […] Peter is from petra, a rock, but the petra [rock]; is the Church; in the name of Peter, then, was the Church figured. (Saint Augustine of Hippo. Tractates on the Gospel of Saint John, 7, no. 14)
We see, then, in Peter insinuated the ‘rock’; but the apostle Paul, speaking to the people of the first alliance: ‘They drank of the spiritual rock that followed them, but the rock was Christ’. In this way, then, this disciple, Peter, received his name derived from rock, as ‘Christian’ is derived from Christ. Why have I wished to begin by telling you these things? To indicate to you that in Peter you must recognize the Church. (Saint Augustine of Hippo. Sermon 229)
You are Peter: though I am the inviolable rock, the cornerstone that makes both one, the foundation apart from which no one can lay any other, yet you also are a rock, for you are given solidity by my strength, so that which is my very own because of my power is common between us through your participation. And upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. On this strong foundation, he says, I will build an everlasting temple. The great height of my Church, which is to penetrate the heavens, shall rise on the firm foundation of this faith. The gates of hell shall not silence this confession of faith; the chains of death shall not bind it. Its words are the words of life. As they lift up to heaven those who profess them, so they send down to hell those who contradict them. (Saint Leo I, the Great. Sermon 4, 2-3)
And though they have a common dignity, yet they have not uniform rank; inasmuch as even among the blessed Apostles, notwithstanding the similarity of their honourable estate, there was a certain distinction of power, and while the election of them all was equal, yet it was given to one to take the lead of the rest. (Leo I the Great. Letter 14, XII: PL 54, 676)
‘For who does not know’, wrote Saint Gregory to the Patriarch Eulogius of Alexandria, ‘that Holy Church stands on the solidity of the Prince of the Apostles, who got his name from his firmness, for he was called Peter from the word rock? (Gregory I the Great. Epístola Ad. Eulog. Alexandr., quoted by Pius X in the Encyclical Iucunda sane, no. 7)
The Church or the Pope, because both are one, may employ their efforts, those of the Church, and of the Christian princes its spiritual sons, in the just defense and conservation of the rights of the Church against all of those that want to violate and destroy it. (Saint Francis de Sales. Spiritual letters, Book 4, letter 48)
If the Church is compared to a building, as it is, its rock and its secondary foundation is Saint Peter (Mt 16). If you say it is like a family, it is only Our Lord who pays tribute as head of the household and after him Saint Peter as his lieutenant (Ib. 17). If to a ship, Saint Peter is its captain, and in it Our Lord teaches (Lk 5). If to a fishery, Saint Peter is the first in it; the true disciples of Our Lord fish only with him (Ib., and Jn 21). If to draw nets (Mt 13), it is Saint Peter who casts them into the sea, Saint Peter who draws them; the other disciples are his coadjutors. It is Saint Peter who brings them to land and presents the fish to Our Lord (Lk 5, Jn 21). Do you say it is like an embassy? Saint Peter is first ambassador (Mt 10). Do you say it is a brotherhood? Saint Peter is first, the governor and a confirmer of the rest (Lk 22). Would you rather have a kingdom? Saint Peter receives its keys (Mt 16). Will you consider it a flock or fold of sheep and lambs? Saint Peter is its pastor and shepherd-general (Jn 21). (Saint Francis de Sales. Les controversies, part II, c.6, a.8 – pg. 270-271)
One among the Twelve is chosen so that when a head has been appointed, there may be no occasion for schism. (Saint Jerome. Against Jovinianus, Book I, 26)
And if the necessity of a head existed, even in the days of the Apostles, to avoid schism, according to the argument of Saint Jerome against Jovinianus, how could the Church have survived if it was not infallible, with its numerous faithful? Could the ship venture into the waves without a captain? And could the flock graze without a shepherd? (Saint Robert Bellarmine. Sermon 12, Address on the antiquity of the Church)
Gregory himself calls the Church of Rome: ‘An old ship woefully shattered; for the waters are entering on all sides, and the joints, buffeted by the daily stress of the storm, are growing rotten and herald shipwreck’ (Registrum i., 4 ad Joannem episcop. Constantino). But the pilot raised up by God had a strong hand, and when placed at the helm succeeding not only in making the port in despite of the raging seas, but in saving the vessel from future storms. (Pius X. Encyclical Iucunda sane, no. 2, March 12, 1904)
The true Church of Jesus Christ was established by divine authority, and is known by a fourfold mark, which we assert in the Creed must be believed; and each one of these marks so clings to the others that it cannot be separated from them; hence it happens that that Church which truly is, and is called Catholic should at the same time shine with the prerogatives of unity, sanctity, and apostolic succession. Therefore, the Catholic Church alone is conspicuous and perfect in the unity of the whole world and of all nations, particularly in that unity whose beginning, root, and unfailing origin are that supreme authority and ‘higher principality’ of blessed Peter, the prince of the Apostles, and of his successors in the Roman Chair. No other Church is Catholic except the one which, founded on the one Peter, grows into one ‘body compacted and fitly joined together’ (Eph 4:16) in the unity of faith and charity… (Denzinger-Hünermann 2888. Pius IX, from the letter of the Sacred Office to the bishops of England, September 16, 1864)
And though from that first moment We felt all the great weight of responsible cares inseparable from the supreme power given to Us by Divine Providence, it was a consolation to see that magnificent and tangible demonstration of the indissoluble unity of the Catholic Church rallying all the closer to the impregnable Rock of Peter, to form around it a wall and a bulwark as the enemies of Christ become bolder. (Pius XII. Encyclical Summi Pontificatus, no. 14, October 20, 1939)
IV – Many tried to abolish the Papacy in the past, and even with the very same arguments that are used today…
There had been attempts to reduce the power of the Roman Pontiff to ‘an office of inspection and of direction’. Some had proposed that the Pope was simply an arbiter in the conflicts between local churches, or that he would give solely a general direction to the autonomous activities of the Churches and of Christians, with counsels and exhortations. But this limitation was not conformed with the mission conferred by Christ to Peter. For this reason Vatican Council I emphasized the plenitude of papal power, and defined that it is not enough to affirm that the Roman Pontiff ‘has the principal part’. It should be admitted rather that he ‘has all of the plenitude of the supreme power’ (DS 3064). (John Paul II. General audience, no. 2, February 24, 1993)
So, then, if anyone says that the Roman pontiff has merely an office of supervision and guidance, and not the full and supreme power of jurisdiction over the whole church, and this not only in matters of faith and morals, but also in those which concern the discipline and government of the church dispersed throughout the whole world; or that he has only the principal part, but not the absolute fullness, of this supreme power; or that this power of his is not ordinary and immediate both over all and each of the churches and over all and each of the pastors and faithful: let him be anathema. (Vatican Council I. Dogmatic constitution Pastor aeternus, Session IV, Ch. 3, July 18, 1870)
But to fill heaven and earth with invectives, railings, outrages – to calumniate the pope, and not only his person, which is bad enough, but in his Office, to attack the See which all antiquity has honored, to wish to go so far as to sit in judgment on him, contrary to the sense of the whole Church, to style his position itself as anti-Christianism – who shall call this right? (Saint Francis de Sales. Les controverses, part II, c. 6, a. 15 – pg. 310)
By what right, in God’s name, does the pope impose his laws upon us – to say nothing of his wicked and damnable neglect to teach these mysteries? Who gave him power to despoil us of this liberty, granted us in baptism? One thing only (as I have said) has been enjoined upon us all the days of our life – be baptised – That is, to be put to death and to live again, through faith in Christ. This faith alone should have been taught, especially by the chief shepherd. But now there is not a word said about faith, and the Church is laid waste with endless laws concerning works and ceremonies So the power and right understanding of baptism are put aside, and faith in Christ is prevented. (Martin Luther. The Babylonian captivity of the Church, 1520)
The name of the Pope was expunged from the [Anglican] Liturgy, and among the petitions of the Litany the following was sacrilegiously inserted: ‘From the tyranny and detestable enormities of the Bishop of Rome deliver us, O Lord’. (Saint Alphonsus de Liguori. History of Heresies, Ch. XII. The heresies of the sixteenth century, no. 7)
[Condemned errors of John Wycliffe] 37. The Church of Rome is the synagogue of Satan (cf. Rev 2:9), and the Pope is not the proximate and immediate representative of Christ and the apostles.
40. The election of the pope by the cardinals was introduced by the devil.
41. It is not necessary to salvation to believe that the Roman Church is supreme among the other churches. (Denzinger-Hünermann 1187.1190-1191.Council of Constance. Session VIII, May 4, 1415)
[Condemned doctrine of John Hus] 7. Peter is not nor ever was the head of the Holy Catholic Church.
9. The papal dignity has sprung up from Caesar, and the perfection and institution of the pope have emanated from the power of Caesar
15. Ecclesiastical obedience is obedience according to the invention of the priest of the Church, without the expressed authority of Scripture.
27. For there is not a spark of evidence that there should be one head ruling the Church in spiritual affairs, which head always lives and is preserved with the Church militant herself.
28. Christ through His true disciples scattered through the world would rule His Church better without such monstrous heads. (Denzinger-Hünermann 1207. 1209. 1215.1227-1228. Council of Constance, Session VIII, against Wycliffe, Hus, etc., May 4, 1415)
Calvin, on the contrary, in the work of the Institutes, Book 4, Ch. 11, pf. 6, attributes the supreme ecclesiastical power to the group elders, of which a bishop presides as a consul in a senate. And, moreover, in the same place, he teaches openly that the authority of the group of elders is greater than that of the bishop. To the people, Calvin attributes something, but less than the group of elders. (Saint Robert Bellarmine. De Controversiis, On the Roman Pontiff, Ch. V – English)
Finally, John Brentius, in the prolegomen against Peter Soto, grants the supreme power to the best ones, that is, to the aristocrats, but he does not want them to be bishops, but rather secular princes, who he affirms to be the noblest members of the Church. (Saint Robert Bellarmine. De Controversiis, On the Roman Pontiff, Ch. V)
However, all of the Catholic doctors agree on the following: that the ecclesiastical regime confided by God to men be, in fact, the monarchical, but temperate, moderate, as we affirmed above, by the aristocracy and by the democracy. Of this teaches principally the blessed Thomas Aquinas, in the fourth book of the Summa contra Gentiles, chapter 76, John of Turrecrem, in Book 2, regarding the Church, chapter 2, and Nicholas Sanderos, in the books regarding the visible monarchy of the Church. Insisting on what he states, we bring here four propositions that we defend with all of our strength. The first would be that the regime of the Church is not principally with the people. The second, that it is not with the secular princes; the third, that it is not together with the ecclesiastical princes, the fourth is that it is principally with the only high president and priest of the whole Church. (Saint Robert Bellarmine. De Controversiis On the Roman Pontiff, Ch. V)
Annex 1 – What is the true relationship between the Supreme Pontiff and the College of Bishops, according to the Doctrine of the Church?
But if anyone should affirm that all Christians without distinction are priests of the New Testament, or that they are all endowed among themselves with an equal spiritual power, he seems to do nothing else than disarrange [can. 6] the ecclesiastical hierarchy, which is ‘as an army set in array’ (cf. Ct 6:3), just as if, contrary to the teaching of blessed Paul, all were apostles, all prophets, all evangelists, all pastors, all doctors (cf. 1Cor 12:29, Eph 4:11). (Denzinger-Hünermann 1767. Council of Trent, Session XXIII, Doctrine on the Sacrament of Orders, July 15, 1563)
The successors of the Apostolic college have untiringly spread the faith, and the Popes, as Successors of Peter, had confirmed and animated, defended and propagated it. And here is with you, dear brothers and sisters, the Pope, Successor of Peter, to confirm you in your faith, in your total giving and in your mission without frontiers. (John Paul II. Homily in Tumaco, Columbia, no. 3, July 4, 1986)
In this regard, it is well to define directly afterward that this ‘plenitude’ of power attributed to the Pope does not take anything from the ‘plenitude’ that also belongs to the Episcopal body. Moreover, is should be affirmed that both, the Pope and the Episcopal body, have ‘all the plenitude’ of power. The Pope possesses this plenitude in a personal way, while the Episcopal body possesses it collegially, being united under the authority of the Pope. The power of the Pope is not the result of a simple numeric addition, but rather the principle of unity and organicity within the Episcopal body. (John Paul II. General Audience, no. 3, February 24, 1993)
Can. 336 The college of bishops, whose head is the Supreme Pontiff and whose members are bishops by virtue of sacramental consecration and hierarchical communion with the head and members of the college and in which the apostolic body continues, together with its head and never without this head, is also the subject of supreme and full power offer the universal Church.
Can. 338 §1. It is for the Roman Pontiff alone to convoke an ecumenical council, preside offer it personally or through others, transfer, suspend, or dissolve a council, and to approve its decrees.
§2. It is for the Roman Pontiff to determine the matters to be treated in a council and establish the order to be observed in a council. To the questions proposed by the Roman Pontiff, the council fathers can add others which are to be approved by the Roman Pontiff.
Can. 341 §1. The decrees of an ecumenical council do not have obligatory force unless they have been approved by the Roman Pontiff together with the council fathers, confirmed by him, and promulgated at his order.
§2. To have obligatory force, decrees which the college of bishops issues when it places a truly collegial action in another way initiated or freely accepted by the Roman Pontiff need the same confirmation and promulgation. (Code of Canon Law, Can. 336)
But if the authority of Peter and his successors is plenary and supreme, it is not to be regarded as the sole authority. For He who made Peter the foundation of the Church also ‘chose, twelve, whom He called apostles’ (Lk 6:13); and just as it is necessary that the authority of Peter should be perpetuated in the Roman Pontiff, so, by the fact that the bishops succeed the Apostles, they inherit their ordinary power, and thus the Episcopal order necessarily belongs to the essential constitution of the Church. Although they do not receive plenary, or universal, or supreme authority, they are not to be looked as vicars of the Roman Pontiffs; because they exercise a power really their own, and are most truly called the ordinary pastors of the peoples over whom they rule. (Leo XIII. Encyclical Satis cognitum, no. 14, September 29, 1896)
But since the successor of Peter is one, and those of the Apostles are many, it is necessary to examine into the relations which exist between him and them according to the divine constitution of the Church. Above all things the need of union between the bishops and the successors of Peter is clear and undeniable. This bond once broken, Christians would be separated and scattered, and would in no wise form one body and one flock. ‘The safety of the Church depends on the dignity of the chief priest, to whom if an extraordinary and supreme power is not given, there are as many schisms to be expected in the Church as there are priests’ (S. Jerome, Dialog. contra Luciferianos, no. 9). (Leo XIII. Encyclical Satis cognitum, no. 14, September 29, 1896)
It is necessary, therefore, to bear this in mind, viz., that nothing was conferred on the apostles apart from Peter, but that several things were conferred upon Peter apart from the Apostles. Saint John Chrysostom in explaining the words of Christ asks: ‘Why, passing over the others, does He speak to Peter about these things?’ And he replies unhesitatingly and at once, ‘Because he was pre-eminent among the Apostles, the mouthpiece of the Disciples, and the head of the college’ (Hom. 88. in Joan., n. I). 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 the Great. sermo IV., cap. 2). From this it must be clearly understood that Bishops are deprived of the right and power of ruling, if they deliberately secede from Peter and his successors; because, by this secession, they are separated from the foundation on which the whole edifice must rest. They are therefore outside the edifice itself; and for this very reason they are separated from the fold, whose leader is the Chief Pastor; they are exiled from the Kingdom, the keys of which were given by Christ to Peter alone. (Leo XIII. Encyclical Satis cognitum, no. 14-15, September 29, 1896)
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, September 29, 1896)
It was necessary that a government of this kind [the Universal Jurisdiction of St. Peter], since it belongs to the constitution and formation of the Church, as its principal element – that is as the principle of unity and the foundation of lasting stability – should in no wise come to an end with Saint Peter, but should pass to his successors from one to another. (Leo XIII. Encyclical Satis cognitum, no. 13, September 29, 1896)
In order, then, that the Episcopal office should be one and undivided and that, by the union of the clergy, the whole multitude of believers should be held together in the unity of faith and communion, he set blessed Peter over the rest of the apostles and instituted in him the permanent principle of both unities and their visible foundation. Upon the strength of this foundation was to be built the eternal temple, and the church whose topmost part reaches heaven was to rise upon the firmness of this foundation. (Vatican Council I. Pastor aeterus, Session IV, July 18, 1870)
Wherefore we teach and declare that, by divine ordinance, the Roman Church possesses a pre-eminence of ordinary power over every other Church, and that this jurisdictional power of the Roman Pontiff is both Episcopal and immediate. Both clergy and faithful, of whatever rite and dignity, both singly and collectively, are bound to submit to this power by the duty of hierarchical subordination and true obedience, and this not only in matters concerning faith and morals, but also in those which regard the discipline and government of the Church throughout the world. In this way, by unity with the Roman Pontiff in communion and in profession of the same faith, the Church of Christ becomes one flock under one Supreme Shepherd (cf. Jn 10:16). This is the teaching of the Catholic truth, and no one can depart from it without endangering his faith and salvation. (Vatican Council I. Dogmatic constitution Pastor aeternus, Session IV, Ch. 3, July 18, 1870)
Jesus Christ, the eternal Shepherd, established His holy Church, having sent forth the apostles as He Himself had been sent by the Father; (Jn 20:21), and He willed that their successors, namely the bishops, should be shepherds in His Church even to the consummation of the world. And in order that the episcopate itself might be one and undivided, He placed Blessed Peter over the other apostles, and instituted in him a permanent and visible source and foundation of unity of faith and communion. […] The Lord Jesus, after praying to the Father, calling to Himself those whom He desired, appointed twelve to be with Him, and whom He would send to preach the Kingdom of God (Mk 3:13–19; Mt 10:1–42); and these apostles (Cf. Lk 6:13) He formed after the manner of a college or a stable group, over which He placed Peter chosen from among them (Cf. Jn 21:15–17). (Vatican Council II. Dogmatic constitution Lumen gentium, no. 18-19, November 21, 1964)
Just as in the Gospel, the Lord so disposing, Saint Peter and the other apostles constitute one apostolic college, so in a similar way the Roman Pontiff, the successor of Peter, and the bishops, the successors of the apostles, are joined together. […] 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. […] The Roman Pontiff, as the successor of Peter, is the perpetual and visible principle and foundation of unity of both the bishops and of the faithful. (Vatican Council II. Dogmatic constitution Lumen gentium, no. 22-23, November 21, 1964)
But a great proof of the contrary, as our adversaries think, is that, according to Saint Paul: ‘No one can lay another foundation but that which is laid: which is Christ Jesus; and according to the same we are domestics of God, built upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, Jesus himself being the corner-stone. […] If then, say the, all the twelve Apostles are foundations of the Church, how do you attribute this title to Saint Peter in particular? And if Saint Paul says that no one can lay another foundation that Our Lord, how do you dare to say that by these words: ‘Thou art Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church’, Saint Peter has been established as foundation of the Church? Why do you not rather say, asks Calvin, that this stone on which the Church is founded is no other than Our Lord? Why do you not rather declare, says Luther, that it is the confession of faith which Peter had made? […] At the same time it is not good reason to say: all the Apostles in general are called foundations of the Church, therefore Saint Peter is only such in the same way as the others are. On the contrary, as Our Lord has said in particular, and in particular terms, to Saint Peter, what is afterwards said in general of the others, we must conclude that there is in Saint Peter some particular property of foundation, and that he in particular has been what the whole college has been together. (Saint Francis de Sales. Les controverses, part. II, c. 6, a. 2, pg. 244-245. 247)
We have only to see for what general reason all the Apostles are called foundations of the Church: namely, because it is they who by their preaching have planted the faith and the Christian doctrine […] they were the first who converted the world to the Christian religion, which was as it were to lay the foundations of the glory of men, and the seeds of their happy immortality […] but in authority and government Saint Peter precedes all the others as much as the head surpasses the members; for he has been appointed ordinary pastor and supreme head of the Church, the others have been delegated pastors entrusted with as full power and authority over all the rest of the Church as Saint Peter, except that Saint Peter was the head of them all and their pastor as of all Christendom. Thus they were foundations of the Church equally with him as to the conversion of souls and as to doctrine; but as to the authority of governing, they were so unequally, as Saint Peter was the ordinary head not only of the rest of the whole Church but of the Apostles also. For Our Lord had built on him the whole of his Church, of which they were not only parts but the principal and noble parts. (Saint Francis de Sales. The Catholic controversy, pg. 248-249)
We know that Our Lord gave a most ample procuration and commission to his Apostles to treat with the world concerning its salvation, when he said to them (Jn 20): ‘As the Father has sent me I also send you… receive y the Holy Ghost: whose sins you shall forgive’, etc. It was the execution of the promise of his which had been made them In general: ‘Whatsoever you shall bind’, etc. But It was never said to any one of the other Apostles in particular: ‘Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church’, nor was it ever said to one of the others: ‘Feed my sheep’ (Jn 21:17). (Saint Francis de Sales. The Catholic controversy, pg. 259)
[Condemned doctrine:] The truth concerning the power of a general council representing the whole Church over the pope and anyone else, declared by the General Council of Constance and by this General council of Basel, is a truth of the Catholic faith. This truth, that the pope cannot in any way by his own authority dissolve a universal general council representing the whole Church that has duly met regarding the matters declared in the aforesaid truth, or any other matter, without its consent or defer it to another time or move it from one place to another, is a Catholic truth. Anyone pertinaciously rejecting the aforesaid truths is to be deemed a heretic.
[Condemnation:] These propositions described above, understood in the perverse sense of those gathered at Basel, which they display by their actions, We, with the sacred council approving, condemn and reject and declare to be condemned and rejected, as contrary to the true meaning of Sacred Scripture and of the holy Fathers and of the council of Constance itself, (condemning) also the aforesaid alleged decision about the declaration and privation (of authority), with all that follows from it and that may follow in the future, as being impious and scandalous and also tending toward the manifest schism of the Church of God and the confusion of all ecclesiastical order and Christian government. (Denzinger-Hünermann 1309. Eugene IV, Decree Moyses vir Dei, against the Council of Basel, September 4, 1439)
The execrable and hitherto unheard of abuse has grown up in our day, that certain persons, imbued with the spirit of rebellion, and not from a desire to secure a better judgment, but to escape the punishment of some offense which they have committed, presume to appeal to a future council from the Roman Pontiff, the vicar of Jesus Christ, to whom in the person of the blessed Peter was said: ‘Feed my sheep’ (Jn 21:17), and, ‘Whatever thou shalt bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven’ (Mt 16:19). . . . Wishing therefore to expel this pestiferous poison far from the Church of Christ and to care for the salvation of the flock entrusted to us, and to remove every cause of offense from the fold of our Savior […] we condemn all such appeals and disprove them as erroneous and detestable. (Denzinger-Hünermann 1375. Pius II, Bull Exsecrabilis, January 18, 1460)
[Condemned doctrine] That blessed Peter the Apostle had no more authority than the other Apostles had nor was he the head of the other apostles. Likewise that God did not send forth any head of the Church, nor did He make anyone His vicar. […] That all priests, whether the pope or archbishop or a simple priest, are by the institution of Christ equal in authority and jurisdiction. […] We declare by sentence the above mentioned articles…to be contrary to Sacred Scripture and enemies of the Catholic faith, heretics, or heretical and erroneous. (Denzinger-Hünermann 942, 944, 946)
For a complete study on the Primacy of the Sucessor of Saint Peter, see: the first Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of Christ published in the Fourth Session of the First Vatican Council (18 Jul 1870), Pastor Æternus
And also: The document of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Considerations on the Primacy of the Successor of Peter in the mystery of the Church . L’Osservatore Romano, Weekly Edition in English, 18 November 1998, page 5-6.
Annex 2 – A historical fact: the ‘churches’ that deny obedience to the Pope do not survive
The failure of sects throughout the centuries…
John Wycliffe: An English priest of the fourteenth century, John Wycliffe, taught that Christ is the only King of men and rested his authority in the Bible. […] The Lollards followed after him for some time, although the movement dies out within the fourteenth century. (Ethan Longhenry: A study of denominations)
For one thing the spiritual basis of Protestantism went to pieces through the breakdown of the Bible as a supreme authority. This breakdown was the result of that very spirit of sceptical inquiry upon which Protestantism had always been based. It had begun by saying, ‘I deny the authority of the Church: every man must examine the credibility of every doctrine for himself.’ […] Hence the Bible – Old and New Testaments combined – became an object of worship in itself throughout the Protestant culture. […] The Protestant culture began to go to the other extreme; from having worshipped the very text of the Bible as something immutable and the clear voice of God, it fell to doubting almost everything that the Bible contained. It questioned the authenticity of the four Gospels, particularly the two written by eyewitnesses to the life of Our Lord and more especially that of Saint John, the prime witness to the Incarnation. It came to deny the historical value of nearly everything in the Old Testament […] it denied as a matter of course every miracle from cover to cover and every prophecy. […] In fine, when this spirit (which was the very product of Protestantism itself) had done with the Bible – the very foundation of Protestantism – it had left nothing of Protestantism but a mass of ruins. (Hilaire Belloc. How the reformation happened)
From the moment Luther, Calvin and Henry VIII broke the union with Rome and adopted as a norm of faith the free interpretation of the Bible, they lost the notion of what the Church that Christ founded is. Lacking infallible Magisterium, abandoned to their own ideas, very soon they divided and subdivided until the present day chaos. Founders arose everywhere, each with his own ideas. In the beginning there were bloody confrontations of all against all, but currently they have fallen into an absolute tolerance, in which no one is concerned about what others believe or fail to believe. […] The breakdown of protestantism from every point of view, has reached its peak in the United States, where there are registered no less than 21, 000 ‘churches’, some very powerful with a great number of followers, but others as ridiculous as the one has only two members, husband and wife… (Pedro Herrasti. Iglesias protestantes y sctas [Protestant Churches and sects])
And in our days…
The Christian World
The number of integrants that abandon protestant congregations is notably increasing, according to an study of the Evangelical Church in Germany […] In this way, the assistants at the worship, already in a very low level, has fallen even more In 2013, the year in which a quota of 820,000 members assisted the Sunday service – 3,2% less than the previous year. (El mundo, July 25, 2015)
The number of people in the UK who describe their beliefs as being Church of England or Anglican dropped from 21 per cent to 17 per cent between 2012 and 2014 – a loss of around 1.7 million followers. […] The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, has warned that unless urgent action is taken, the organisation is just ‘one generation away from extinction.’ (The Independent. Church of England ‘one generation away from extinction’ after dramatic loss of followers, June 1, 2015)
From 1990 to 2000, the combined membership of all Protestant denominations in the USA declined by almost 5 million members (9.5 percent), while the US population increased by 24 million (11 percent). (Richard Krejcir, Church Leadership, Statistics and Reasons for Church Decline)
Pastor Johannes Block can consider himself Martin Luther’s successor. He’s the vicar of Stadtkirche Saint Marien zu Wittenberg, Luther’s own church. The church is the Saint Peter’s Basilica of Protestantism. Here, Luther preached his incendiary sermons against Vatican corruption that led to the Reformation and the rise of the Protestant movement. It is where Protestant pastors were first ordained. But on a typical Sunday, Block looks out over a mere 50 to 100 people in the pews: a tiny number in a city of 135,000, especially one whose official name is Lutherstadt (Luther City) Wittenberg. Indeed, nowhere in Germany is the share of Protestants lower than right here in Luther’s homeland. […] 4 percent of east German Protestants attend church regularly today, compared to 10 to 15 percent in the 1950s. Between the 1950s and the end of Communist East Germany in 1980, Protestant church membership there dropped from 80 percent of the population to 25. The Lutheran (Protestant) church reports that membership in the former East Germany has even dropped below that figure now. In the state of Saxony-Anhalt, where Wittenberg is located, only 13.8 percent of the population belongs to the Protestant church; in neighboring Thuringia, the other main part of “Luther country,” the figure is 23.6 percent. In a western state like Rheinland-Pfalz, by contrast, 30.5 percent of the population are Protestants, while 44.5 percent are Catholics. […] But after the visitors leave, the 807,000 local Lutherans have to fill the pews in their 3,927 churches and chapels. That’s a mere 205 parishioners per church, and almost four churches per pastor. Block faces an existential dilemma: Is he primarily a tourism officer at a Luther theme park, or should he focus on being the shepherd of a small local flock? “This is the mother church of the Reformation,” he noted. “Being a local parish and a tourism destination often presents a split, but we have to continue Luther’s tradition.” (Elizabeth Braw. In Martin Luther’s church the pastor asks: Where have all the protestants gone? February 24, 2014)
Decline in the Church of England has accelerated, according to a new survey. […] survey of nearly 3,000 people found that they proportion of people saying they are Anglican has fallen by by two fifths in 10 years, part of an overall picture of decline going back more than 30 years […] The proportion of British adults who said they are Anglican has fallen from 40 per cent in 1983 to 17 per cent in 2014. However the decline was steepest over the past decade when the proportion fell by two fifths in ten years, down from 29 per cent of the population in 2004. […] this suggests the number of Anglicans in Britain has fallen by as many as 4.5 million over the last ten years from around 13 million people to about 8.5 million today. The biggest group in the survey was made up of people who said they have no religion, who accounted for nearly half (49 per cent) of the population, up from 31 per cent in 1983 and 43 per cent a decade ago. (Ruth Gledhill. Church of England decline accelerates, while other faiths grow. May 31, 2015)