05 October 2015

A Close Reading of Pastor Aeternus (1)

So far in my series on ultramontanism, I have discussed a few kinds of ultramontanism which attempt to preserve the Pope from error, by pretending that he is not personally subject to the laws of reason and right judgment.  Before I move on to the next stage of this project, I would like to spend some time looking at the most prominent authoritative document on the question of papal authority: Pastor Aeternus, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of Christ, which was promulgated under the authority of Bl. Pope Pius IX at Vatican I.

Most educated Catholics, even most well-catechized Catholics, will not have read Pastor Aeternus before.  Though the document is historically associated with high octane ultramontanism, it is useful for us today to look at it and see what sort of authority it does not attribute to the Pope, and to understand the stated basis of the holy father's position and authority.

 I present the document below in red, with my commentary interspersed in black.  The text is taken from this website.  You can find further sourcing information there.  Today I will cover the document's preface, with further installments covering each of its four chapters.


Pius, bishop, servant of the servants of God, with the approval of the sacred council, for an everlasting remembrance. 

[On the day of its final approval, a few bishops fled Rome so as not to be present for the vote, because they disapproved of the document.  At the time, the primary argument voiced by the opposing bishops was that the definition of infallibility was "inopportune" (not incorrect, but untimely) and would prove a hindrance to ecumenical relations. This evasive tactic was used to great effect by Cardinal Augustin Bea and his allies during the Second Vatican Council, to water down the doctrinal content of the draft documents there.

The two most prominent opponents of Pastor Aeternus, neither of them bishops, were Johann Joseph Ignaz von Döllinger and his friend and collaborator John Dalberg-Acton, the famous "Lord Acton" for which the dissenting Catholic political organization is named.  Both had been lobbying heavily against its promulgation. After the council, Döllinger became a member of the schismatic "Old Catholic Church".  While Acton did not formally leave the Church, neither did he formally submit to the definition of Vatican I, and he seems to have nursed some resentment against Rome for the rest of his life.]

The Eternal Pastor and Bishop of our souls, in order to continue for all time the life-giving work of His redemption, determined to build up the Holy Church, in which, as the House of the living God, all who believe might be united in the bond of one faith and one charity. 

[Note that the constitution grounds the unity of the Church in the unity of both faith and charity, and that the stated purpose of the Church is to continue Christ's redemptive work.]

Therefore, before he entered into His glory, He prayed to the Father, not for the Apostles only, but for those also who through their preaching should come to believe in Him, that all might be one, even as He the Son and the Father are one. (John 17:21). 

[Again the point of emphasis is unity, the unity of apostles, and of everyone who believes.]

Then He sent the Apostles, whom He had chosen for Himself from the world, just as he Himself had been sent by the Father. So did He will that there should ever be pastors and teachers in His Church to the end of the world. 

And, so that the Episcopate also might be one and undivided, and so that, by means of a closely united priesthood, the multitude of those who believe might be kept secure in the oneness of faith and communion, He set Blessed Peter over the rest of the Apostles. 

[The Petrine Primacy among the apostles is grounded in four reasons:  (1) the unity of the episcopate, (2) the unity of believers in the faith professed, (3) the unity of believers in fellowship with each other, and (4) the unity of the priesthood in service of (2) and (3).]

And He fixed in him the abiding principle of this two-fold unity 

[Two-fold unity: i.e. the unity of the apostolic faith and communion or fellowship.]

with its visible foundation, by the strength of which the eternal Temple would be built up, and the Church, in the firmness of that faith, would rise up, bringing her sublimity to Heaven. [6] 

[Christ placed in Peter the visible foundation of the unity of faith and communion of the Church.  It is the firmness or stability of faith that is emphasized—Peter is appointed as an abiding principle, a foundation which does not move.  The Petrine Office is an office of preservation, which holds firm the foundations of Christian works, not an office of innovation, which changes the foundation.]

And since the gates of Hell, with greater hatred each day, are rising up on every side, to overthrow, if it were possible, the Church and Her divinely-established foundation, We, for the preservation, safe-keeping, and increase of the Catholic flock, with the approval of the Sacred Council, judge it to be necessary to propose, for the belief and acceptance of all the faithful, in accordance with the ancient and constant faith of the universal Church, the doctrine of the institution, perpetuity, and nature of the sacred Apostolic Primacy, by which the strength and solidity of the entire Church is established, and at the same time to proscribe and condemn the contrary errors, which are so harmful to the flock of Christ. 

[Notice that they want to uphold the ancient and constant faith.

Regarding the Apostolic Primacy, i.e. the primacy of the Petrine Office, the constitution aims to address (1) its institution, (2) its perpetuity, and (3) its nature.

Again it is emphasized that the strength of the Church is based on the unity of faith and communion, of which the visible foundation is the See of Peter.  Obviously the invisible foundation of the unity of the Church is the grace of Christ.]

(To be continued tomorrow...  A complete index of this series can be found here.)