I don’t think it plausible that Benedict XVI wanted to carry on being the successor of St Peter and not bishop of Rome in order to allow someone else to be bishop of Rome and not successor of St Peter, i.e. that he held and wanted to put into practice a hypothesis that has occasionally been put forward, that a pope can separate the papacy from the Roman see.  But here are some notes about the state of the question.

In 1851, in the apostolic letter Ad apostolicae sedis fastigium, Pius IX condemned the view found in the works of John Nuytz, a canonist from Turin, who maintained that “nothing prevents the supreme pontificate from being, by the decision of some general council, or by the deed of all peoples, transferred from the bishop and city of Rome to another bishop and city” (the original Latin is available here, page 93.)  This condemnation was placed into the Syllabus of Errors, number 35.

That might seem to settle the question, since the pope can’t do more than a general council can do.  But perhaps Nuytz meant it in a conciliarist sense, i.e. he was perhaps thinking of a council acting independently of a pope, given that he also suggests that ‘an act of all the peoples’ (whatever that would look like) might also suffice.  Also, the opposite of ‘nothing prevents’ is not ‘divine law prevents’ but ‘something prevents’, so I suppose Pius IX could have had in mind simply that e.g. ‘respect for tradition’ prevents it, though that seems unlikely.

In the first draft of Pastor aeternus, at Vatican I, the second canon read:

If anyone says that it is not by the institution of Christ the Lord himself that blessed Peter should have perpetual successors in the primacy over the whole Church; or that the Roman Pontiff is not by divine law the successor of blessed Peter in this primacy: let him be anathema.

That is almost the same as the canon as finally agreed on, with one interesting change.  The words ‘divine law’ were moved and made into a gloss on the phrase ‘by the institution of Christ the Lord’.  Hence the canon as promulgated reads:

If anyone says that it is not by the institution of Christ the Lord himself (that is to say, by divine law) that blessed Peter should have perpetual successors in the primacy over the whole Church; or that the Roman Pontiff is not the successor of blessed Peter in this primacy: let him be anathema.

Some of the fathers had said that a distinction should be drawn between the law by which St Peter has perpetual successors, which they said was of divine institution, and the law by which these successors are the bishops of Rome, which they said was better said to be ‘of divine ordination’, i.e. that God had inspired St Peter to make the choice of Rome.

Bishop (not yet Cardinal) Pie, acting as Relator, was basically in agreement with this.  He said that the first law (perpetual successors) was of divine institution, and that the latter was of the institution of St Peter, disponente Domino, and that it is therefore a human law “which nevertheless is better and more truly called an ecclesiastico-apostolic law”.  He argued nevertheless that the canon should be left unchanged, on the grounds that it followed from two premises which are of faith, namely that St Peter has perpetual successors, and that (as Florence defined), these successors are, as a matter of historical fact, the bishops of Rome.  This seems like a bad argument, unless I have misunderstood it.

Anyway, a request was again made that the words ‘iure divino’ be omitted.  The next Relator, a bishop Zinelli, said that while it cannot be doubted but that St Peter transferred his see from Antioch to Rome as the result of a divine revelation (ex revelatione divina), as Innocent III says in letter 209 (PL 214:761), nevertheless, it had not been the intention of the drafters to condemn those who rejected this, but only to say that, given the divine law about perpetual succession, and the act of St Peter in choosing Rome, therefore the bishops of Rome are in fact these divine-law-promised successors (and hence that if someone refused to accept Pius IX as the successor of St Peter, he would be contravening divine law.)  However, he accepted that the canon as it stood was ambiguous, and said that it had therefore been decided to move the words ‘iure divino’ to the place that they came finally to occupy.

The question arises from a remark of Cornelius a Lapide’s at the start of his commentary on the Letter to the Romans. He says that it was written in AD 58 (the editor amends this to AD 55), ‘when St Peter having left Rome at Claudius’s command had gone into Britain’. Does anyone know what the source for this might be?

* or Wales, I should add. Happy St David’s day!





It was perhaps appropriate that the same-sex ‘marriage’ bill should have been passed by the House of Commons on the feast of St Agatha. According to her, admittedly late, acta, St Agatha was tortured by having her breasts cut off; praying later in her prison, she was favoured by a heavenly apparition of a man. The man explained that he was the apostle Peter, consoled her for her sufferings and healed her wounded body.

We speak of a country as the mother of her people. Marriage is the institution by which she nourishes those who are born to her, so that they may grow up strong and healthy. One of the properties of marriage, its indissolubility, had long been denied by our divorce laws. But now it is not simply a property, but the very essence itself that is denied. By formally denying the essence of marriage Parliament has as it were cut off from our motherland the maternal organs by which she may nurse her young. Who can heal her now? Only Peter.

Christ died once for our sins, the just for the unjust, that e might offer us to God, being put to death indeed in the flesh, but enlivened in the spirit; in which also coming he preached to those spirits which were in prison, which had formerly been incredulous when they waited for the patience of God in the days of Noah (1 Pet. 3).

Who are these ‘spirits in prison’? Not damned souls, since Christ has nothing to say to them; He ‘knows them not’. Also, the context in which St Peter mentions these spirits is that of Christ’s work of reconciliation.

Nor, pace Cornelius a Lapide, do I think they are the just in Abraham’s bosom who were ready, as soon as our Lord descended to the world below, to receive eternal bliss. For if St Peter had wanted to mention such souls, or a sub-set of such souls, why would he have defined them as those who were ‘incredulous’ or ‘disobedient’ in the days of Noah? For the characteristic of the souls in Abraham’s bosom was that they were prevented from entering paradise simply by original sin, the debt of which had not yet been paid, and not by personal sins.

The most natural reading of St Peter’s words is that he is thinking of souls in purgatory. This was the only group of souls that both could be preached to and also was in prison on account of personal sins. If he mentions those who had sinned in the days of Noah – but, presumably repented when the flood waters actually appeared on the horizon – this is perhaps to emphasise both the justice and mercy of God. Justice, as they had been in purgatory so long. Mercy, as even some of those who lived when all flesh had corrupted its way upon earth, and who laughed at God’s calls to repentance, were yet saved before the end.

Today in the old calendar falls the commemoration of St Paul, the apostle who resisted Peter to his face while remaining humbly subject to him in his heart. It is also the 24th anniversary of the consecrations at Econe by which Archbishop Lefebvre made provision for his work to continue after his death. I well remember the day, though I was only a school-boy at a typical post-conciliar Catholic school and had no connections with ‘traditionalist milieux’. Our head of R.E., who, as I realised some years later, was a modernist, came into our classroom quite excited at the end of the day, and told us that something historic was happening. He told us about the Eastern schism and about the Protestant Reformation, and then told us that today a third schism was taking place. Yes, it was a very potted version of church history. He explained that until the 1960’s, Catholics had generally thought that if people in other religions were ever saved, it would be in spite of their religions and not because of them. But now, he said, the Church had changed her ideas and decided that people in other religions could be saved because of their religions, not just in spite of them. Only one French archbishop had refused to accept the new ideas, and now he was going into schism by ordaining some bishops. Little catechised though I was, I remember thinking that though this French archbishop must be a very bad person to be breaking away from the Church, I preferred the old ideas to the new ones.

It is surely a unique case in Church history (Aeliane, correct me if I err.) There have been plenty of people who have broken with the Church and still wanted to claim the name of Catholic. But this is a movement which not only acknowledges all the dogmas, but which also recognises the Pope and the bishops whom he appoints as the legitimate rulers of the Church, and denies that its own bishops and priests have any power of governance. I suppose the Anglican Papalists are or were similar, but they were clearly not members of the Catholic Church. It is an unnatural situation and therefore surely cannot endure. The SSPX general chapter begins today and looks likely to be a crucial one. A novena is being promoted, starting today: the Veni, Creator Spiritus, ‘Immaculate heart of Mary, pray for us’ (thrice), ‘St Pius X, pray for us’. And maybe we could also ask St Paul to speak to St Peter about it all.

Peter therefore was kept in prison. But prayer was made without ceasing by the church unto God for him.‘ Thus the whole church prayed for Peter as for its head and chief priest, whom it dearly loved and honoured, considering that if Peter were beheaded, it would be not so much him as the church itself that would lose its head. The Church still imitates that today, praying always for the supreme pontiff in the canon of the Mass, and often in the collects. For like an Atlas he carries the whole weight of the Church on his shoulders.  (Cornelius a Lapide, in Acta Apost. IX)