Vatican I

Tragedy is sometimes defined as the process by which a truly great man is brought to ruin by a sequence of events that commences with an error rather than a sin. St Pius X was a truly great pope and we owe him much. The calamities which encompass the Church at this time result from a heresy, the synthesis of all heresies, which he exhaustively defined and the remedy for which he prescribed in his great anti-modernist documents PascendiLamentabili sane, Sacrorum antistitum, Doctoris angelici and Postquam sanctissimus. Nevertheless, as time passes two acts of St Pius X’s pontificate stand out as serious prudential errors: the revised breviary and the codification of canon law. It is not that either of these documents is objectionable in itself but that the use of Papal authority entailed by their creation established a disastrous precedent for later popes. When St Pius V canonised the curial form of the Roman Rite he simply took one of the existing forms of the liturgy and permitted it to be celebrated by all priests of the Roman Rite. He did not create a ‘new rite’ (nor could he as such an idea had been anathematised by the Council of Trent), nor did he impede the celebration of any other legitimate usage of the Roman Rite of more than two hundred years standing. Likewise, the various collections of canon law produced more or less officially by the Popes up until the twentieth century were collections of the canons already issued by popes and councils over the preceding centuries. St Pius X proposed to repeal the preceding canon law and  replace it with a single integrated code. He significantly altered the immemorial breviary of the Roman Rite. While (unlike the Missal of Paul VI) it does not appear that St Pius X’s reforms were ultra vires, time would seem to have told that they were deeply imprudent.

There is nothing which the episcopate can do that the Pope may not do alone. The Pope has ordinary universal jurisdiction over the entire Church which he may always exercise unimpaired. The highest doctrinal judgments of the Supreme Pontiff are irreformable of themselves and not from the consent of the Church. Yet, as bishop Gasser remarked in the official relatio that preceded the vote of Vatican I on Pastor Aeternus (which defined these truths), “the most solemn judgment of the Church in matters of faith and morals is and always will be the judgment of an ecumenical council, in which the Pope passes judgment together with the bishops of the Catholic world who meet and judge together with him.” The definitions of ecumenical councils are not more definitive than those of the Popes but, all other things being equal, it is more fitting that Peter judge together with his brethren. This logic applies no less to the legislative than to the doctrinal sphere. The Pope’s authority must be ordinary else there would be no judge to determine if he had acted without warrant and the visibility of the Church would be threatened. Nevertheless, in practice, he should voluntarily exercise this universal authority over his brother bishops only extraordinarily.

This power of the Supreme Pontiff by no means detracts from that ordinary and immediate power of episcopal jurisdiction, by which bishops, who have succeeded to the place of the apostles by appointment of the Holy Spirit, tend and govern individually the particular flocks which have been assigned to them. On the contrary, this power of theirs is asserted, supported and defended by the Supreme and Universal Pastor; for St. Gregory the Great says: “My honour is the honour of the whole Church. My honour is the steadfast strength of my brethren. Then do I receive true honour, when it is denied to none of those to whom honour is due.”

Vatican I, Pastor Aeternus

Can it be said that the Pope is really exercising his power in this way when the overwhelming majority of the bishops in the world are appointed directly by the Pope, when canon law purports to compel them to resign at seventy-five, when the legislative decrees of the Councils have been set aside, when the liturgical traditions of millennia in the Roman (and now the Eastern) Rites are overthrown? And what would have resulted if the decrees of Councils had been observed? There would be no Novus Ordo for the 1970 Missal, in addition to breaching the dogmatic prohibition of Trent on ‘new rites’, is clearly nothing like the modest revision requested by Vatican II. There would be no Jesuits because Lateran IV expressly forbade the creation of new religious orders:

Lest too great a variety of religious orders leads to grave confusion in God’s church, we strictly forbid anyone henceforth to found a new religious order. Whoever wants to become a religious should enter one of the already approved orders. Likewise, whoever wishes to found a new religious house should take the rule and institutes from already approved religious orders. We forbid, moreover, anyone to attempt to have a place as a monk in more than one monastery or an abbot to preside over more than one monastery.

Lateran IV, Canon 13

Clerical careerism would cease with episcopacy, and the Cardinals would genuinely be the suffragans, parish priests and deacons of the Roman Church (to whom the promises of indefectibility were made not to a motley collection of international career prelates),  for translations from one diocese to another would be forbidden in accordance with the decrees of the First Council of Nicaea:

On account of the great disturbance and the factions which are caused, it is decreed that the custom, if it is found to exist in some parts contrary to the canon, shall be totally suppressed, so that neither bishops nor presbyters nor deacons shall transfer from city to city. If after this decision of this holy and great synod anyone shall attempt such a thing, or shall lend himself to such a proceeding, the arrangement shall be totally annulled, and he shall be restored to the church of which he was ordained bishop or presbyter or deacon.

NIcaea I, Canon 15

Would not a Church free of Jesuits, where the bishop knew that from the day of his consecration he had no one to please (or offend) but God, where the liturgies left to us by the fathers were preserved inviolate to the exclusion of all novelty, where well governed dioceses flourished over generations and poorly governed ones had no power of contagion, be a happier, holier and more Christ-like place than the sorry spectacle of imminent apostasy that affronts us today?