Rorate Caeli

Martyrological nature of the primacy of Peter

In October 1998, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger issued a document on the Primacy of the Successor of Peter. This document is available here:

The Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith wrote: "The Roman Pontiff - like all the faithful - is subject to the Word of God, to the Catholic faith, and is the guarantor of the Church's obedience; in this sense he is servus servorum Dei. He does not make arbitrary decisions, but is spokesman for the will of the Lord, who speaks to man in the Scriptures lived and interpreted by Tradition; in other words, the episkope of the primacy has limits set by divine law and by the Church's divine, inviolable constitution found in Revelation. The Successor of Peter is the rock which guarantees a rigorous fidelity to the Word of God against arbitrariness and conformism: hence the martyrological nature of his primacy."

It is given today to Pope Benedict XVI to live in his flesh this reality of his ministry. Let us pray to Saint Joseph, Protector of the Holy Church and Patron Saint of the Holy Father to assist, guide and strengthen Pope Benedict XVI in his difficult task. God bless the Holy Father!
Father Laurent Demets, FSSP


  1. Could someone please notice this before they attack the Pope on his condom/homosexual issues next time please. Thanks for posting this Father.

  2. Anonymous4:43 PM


    May I ask you and all to pray for me today and ask St. Joseph to dispel the confusion of mind that I have. Presently I attend a sedevacantist chapel. This Pope, however, has attracted my attention primarily because someone is always at him. In short, the "world" hates him. This is an excellent sign. I want to return to the Church but am full of doubts. Please ask St. Joseph to help me.

    God reward you and bless you.

  3. Dear Anonymous:

    Whether the Pope is good or evil, whether he is noble or base, is simply not the point.

    Jesus Christ is Good. Jesus Christ commands us to remain within His Church.

    Perhaps we remain in His Church so as to rejoice at the courage of Peter's Successor.

    Perhaps we remain in the Church to agonize over the ambiguity, lack of forthright defense of Catholic doctrine, or impolitic gaffes of Peter's Successor.

    Perhaps we remain in the Church to endure persecution at the hands of the principalities and powers and their agents who despise Peter's Successor.

    So what?

    All of these outcomes are equally to be desired- or at least not to be shirked- since they all share the one thing that matters in common:

    They all represent our obedience to the Will of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, the Only Saviour of the human race.

    Hurry home.

    God speed.

  4. Anonymous5:23 PM

    As his predecessor of eternal memory, John Paul the Great, suffered as Christ, Benedict XVI has become the global "fool for Christ", mocked and ridiculed in public media around the world, for his attempts at unity, his firmness, and his clear stance on Life -- no preventing of life. How simple minded and out of touch he seems to many Catholics and of course to the secularists. What a grand Holy Father!

  5. Anonymous5:24 PM

    Father Demets,

    Do you think that in this excerpt, Cardinal Ratzinger meant tradition as the Church understood it before 1962 (revelation closed with the death of the last Apostle, homogenous development), or in the modernist sense of living (and hence changing) tradition?

    I myself would say that the question cannot be answered -- that is, that His Eminence's reference to tradition was equivocal. I also would say that His Eminence knew that it was equivocal, but chose not to make himself clear.

    What do you yourself think regarding the nature of tradition, and regarding Cardinal Ratzinger on the subject?

    Anonymous 16:43,

    The fact that my enemy hates (or at least acts as if he hates) person X does not mean that X is my friend. There are enemies of the Cross of Christ who hate Dick Cheney. It does not follow that Dick Cheney is a friend of the Cross of Christ. We must be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves.

  6. Anonymous7:13 PM

    John McFarland, grow up!!!

  7. Anonymous,

    A sedevacantist is a person who takes it upon himself or herself to deny the legitimacy of the current occupant of the Chair of Peter. This is a heavy responsibility for anyone to make but it begs the question of "who is the valid pontiff and how was he elected?" Christ said to Peter that he would be with him until the end of time and there has been an unbroken line of succession to the papacy ever since.

    True, there have been pontiffs who personal lives were least than admirable, to say the least, but there has never been a pope that has spoken ex cathedra and de fide against Faith and Morals. Some have made assertions that can be classified as doubtful but never in an infallible pronouncement. Christ never said he would provide popes that were free from human error and the history of the church bears this out.

    So, does any one individual have the right to deny the legitimacy of the current pope? Methinks not. To me, the safest path is to align oneself with the current occupant of the Chair of Peter for to do otherwise is to place one's soul in the gravest of danger.

  8. Sorry, "were least than admirable" in my previous post should read "were less than admirable". Mea culpa.

  9. Anonymous8:12 PM

    Anonymous 19:13,

    In intellectual matters, immaturity generally means not seeing the whole picture.

    Do you think that I don't see the whole picture?

    If so, could you give me some idea of what you think I'm missing?

    Or is the point that only immature people are impertinent enough to ask questions to which mature people have no good answer?

  10. Anonymous9:25 PM

    John McFarland,

    Do you ever get tired?

  11. Anonymous10:24 PM

    Yes, I get tired, but I'm a man on a mission: to get as many as I can to understand that the Holy Father is not what you want him to be, but rather a right-wing modernist who has far more in common with, say, Father Hans Kueng than he has in common with, say, Bishop Fellay.

    The point of this is to get you to understand that the basic issue is the Faith, and that Rome -- including the Holy Father -- is teaching a deficient and adulterated version of the Faith. The fact that are many who are far to the "left" of him, and who despise him, does not make him sound; it just makes him not as bad.

    But for a Catholic, not too bad is not good enough. The Faith is an all or nothing thing.

  12. Anonymous10:32 PM

    All I want is prayers for myself to dispel the confusion. Surely you can understand that it is not helpful to live like this. It was not my intent to start a debate.

    Thank you Rick DeLano and Paul Haley for your kind words.


  13. Anonymous10:40 PM

    By the way, Mr. McFarland, I am not Anonymous 19:13 - just so you do not think we are the same.


  14. Anonymous1:19 AM

    Well stated, Mr. McFarland. The Pope is of a much more modernist mind than traditional IMHO. However he has the charism of his office to guide him should he desire to use it. Many prayers for the Holy Father. Viva Christo Rey! Tomm

  15. Anonymous1:32 AM

    There is no such person as 'John Paul the Great'. It is fatuous to suggest that such a tag would be appropriate. John Paul is no canonised or even beatified, and most of the popes who are were not for one second considered for this title. Judging by the showmanship of the last pontificate, he might very well be 'John Paul the Small'.


  16. Anonymous1:45 AM

    On Cyril's comments:

    I would think that John Paul II was mostly treated very well by the media. It is true that he was ridiculed by the media for his opposition to condoms and to abortion, but we waited in vain to see sanctions imposed upon faithful and even priests who openly supported the legalisation of abortion. Instead, pro-abort politicians were receiving Holy Communion from cardinals, architects of abortion such as Trudeau and professed atheists such as Mitterand were given public state funerals in our cathedrals, and we now even have pro-abort priests. The most notorious case is that of Fr. Raymond Gravel, D. Joliette, Canada. He has more many years now openly supported abortion and inverted marriage. Where is he now? He's a parish priest. A pope worthy of the epithet 'Great' would have sent him packing.

    I think that the best thing we can say about John Paul II is that he slowed the *rate* of radical change, while, unfortunately, he did continue it. In the case of Benedict XVI, there have been some reversals of revolution (deo gratias) but he still insists on praying in synagogues and mosques. What is the result? The masoretes are now saying that even the Pope himself must remove his pectoral cross if he wishes to visit the Western Wall in Jerusalem! They sure as hell are not moderating *their* attitude!

    I think that Benedict XVI is a great improvement over John Paul the Small, but neither of them is in the 'Great' category, and I suggest that they would be among the first to admit this.


  17. Anonymous4:40 AM


    Sorry for confusing you with that other Anonymous.

    You certainly will have my prayers.

    My suggestion is that in conjunction with prayer, you start reading the materials on the SSPX websites here and abroad. That will enable you to learn the genuine Faith, and the difference between that Faith and what Rome is serving up, without standing in judgment on the state of the Pope's soul, which is something no one on earth has the moral right (judge not, lest you be judged) or the legal right (God has given it to no one)to do.

    As for the "alignment" that Mr. Haley counsels, that is a function of the Faith. The Pope is the vicar of Christ, his representative on earth. If he is not doing a good job of representing Christ and his doctrine, then we cannot deny his authority, but we must be very careful not to follow him when following him is dangerous to our Faith.

    Let me close by repeating what I've already said: don't misinterpret the significance of the attacks on the Pope. The attacks serve two purposes: trying to bully the Pope into abandoning his initiatives to the "right," while also trying to snooker traditionalists into supporting the basically liberal Pope and thereby themselves starting to move "left."

  18. Anonymous11:26 AM

    John MacFarland,

    I have to say in all the times I've read your comments I have yet to agree with one of them, and strangely enough I am fully Catholic and traditional believing in the one true Church of Jesus, thank you.

    You just need to admit that you don't believe that the one true Church of Christ given to the apostles 2000 years ago and continued through the successors of Peter up to present day IS the visible True guardian of the Catholic Faith.

    "WHere Peter is, there is the Church"

    You need to stop confusing yourself with adulterated this and deficient that. Either the true Church is in Rome or it's not.

  19. Mr. McFarland,

    You will please stop interpreting my words "to align oneself with the current occupant of the Chair of Peter" to mean something other than what I intended. I never said we should follow the pope into error intimated by your words "we must be very careful not to follow him when following him is dangerous to our Faith."


    Beware of those who suggest that aligning oneself with the current occupant of the Chair of Peter means accepting error. Never would I advise such a preposterous
    action and I believe you know the difference between accepting legitimate authority and being led into error by those in authority. The very fact that traditional communities throughout the catholic world have maintained their distance from those in error should convince anyone that "error has no rights". God bless you for asking the questions that need to be asked.

  20. Anonymous1:32 PM

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  21. Anonymous1:33 PM


    Rome and the Papacy are the instruments of Christ and the Faith. At any time, they are more or less good or bad instruments. In the times of Alexander VI or Julius II they were bad instruments. In the times since Vatican II, they have been unspeakably bad instruments. They cannot be trusted.

    The Faith comes first, not the Pope. The Pope is only infallible when his teaching meets the criteria laid out in Vatican I. None of the teachings of the conciliar popes pretend to meet that standard. Basically, they don't believe in unchangeable truth, and so how can they teach ex cathedra?

    As Archbishop Lefebvre was always saying: these are the facts. They are dreadful facts, they are unprecedented facts; but they are the facts. You can't explain away the facts. You can only try to explain them.

    Actually, the basic explanation is not hard: the Faith comes first. But living as a Catholic when the Vicar of Christ is not doing his job is very hard indeed. In order to do so, we must pray a lot, think straight, and not fall victim to wishful thinking.

    Sedes sapientiae, ora pro nobis.
    Mater boni consilii, ora pro nobis.

  22. Short answer to John McFrerland

    If you read the entire document, which is very short, you can see that Cardinal Ratzinger only reminded a fact and a truth that has always been believed in the Church: the Primacy of Saint Peter and of his successors. Many references in this document are taken from the First Council of the Vatican (Const Pastor Aeternus), especially when Cardinal Ratzinger reaffirmed that the Pope, as Vicar of Christ has a full, universal and immediate power over all pastors and other faithful.
    There is no doubt for me that in this document, “Tradition” has to be understood in the traditional way!

    In Christo Rege

  23. Anonymous1:50 PM

    "But living as a Catholic when the Vicar of Christ is not doing his job is very hard indeed."

    John MacFarland the saints in heaven are laughing at you. They have truly suffered and know what suffering is.

    You don't believe that Rome is the true guardian of the Catholic Faith. You believe that it has defected from the truth of Christ. Therefore the visible Church of Christ has stopped existing in your book!

  24. Anonymous1:54 PM

    "But living as a Catholic when the Vicar of Christ is not doing his job is very hard indeed."

    And whos decision will it be to say that the pope is not doing his job? And what if someone disagrees, as I disagree with you...

  25. Anonymous4:27 PM

    Anonymous 3/19/09 16:43 (pro tip: feel free to pick a name if you don't already have one!), I am glad that you are looking to the Successor of Peter with fresh eyes. I think this bodes well for the question of your salvation.

    You need not bother as to whether the world hates the Successor of Peter. That's not relevant. He's the Successor of Peter and that's all you need to know. He is unable to lead the Church astray in doctrinal matters; in lesser matters you are bound to follow him even when he's wrong.

    Yes, you're bound to follow him even when he's wrong. Just like you're bound to follow the speed limit even if the civil authority sets it too low for some reason. Check with St. Thomas if you don't believe me.

    You must leave the sedevacantist chapel with all haste. Sedevacantists and their ilk (you can see the example of Mr. McFarland right here) are the new Martin Luthers, claiming that their individual interpretive authority trumps the Holy Church.

    You must be very careful with this. The Protestants of today are forgiven the sin of Separation insofar as they have been raised in those established communities. This is not the same with Catholics who deliberately rebel against the Church and spread sedition against her authority and her Pope.

    You either believe that the Roman Church is the one, holy and apostolic Church or you do not. You cannot straddle the fence, with one foot on sacred ground and the other in hellfire. Pray for guidance and make your informed and honest choice.

    I pray that you will not listen to these Luthers and separate yourself from the Church that I believe to be founded by Christ Himself. You should return to the one Church and make a good confession. It will be difficult. You may have to listen to lukewarm modernist hymns and watch daily violations of the GIRM by mincing liberals. Offer it up... and reread the Beatitudes if you think there's no point to it.

  26. Anonymous4:57 PM

    What are you going to do when the Pope perhaps says tomorrow, "no more Latin Mass, it is all NO".

    I not sure what I would do.

  27. Anonymous5:35 PM


    No. Individually or collectively, we have no way of knowing the state of the soul of the Pope and the members of his Curia, and so we have no way of judging whether or not they have defected from the Faith. All we can judge is whether they are teaching a gospel different from the gospel that we have received. The answer, inexpressibly sad as it is to say, is that they are teaching a different gospel.

    The conciliar and post-conciliar magisterium is an elaborate rationalization of the desire of its authors to make peace with "modern" thought -- and power, and hence an elaborate misrepresentation of the true doctrine of the Church.

    If you accept the proposition that as regards doctrine, whatever the Pope says, goes, then:

    (1) you must accept these misrepresentations as the gospel truth, in which case you're a liberal who likes smells and bells; or

    (2) if you can't accept those misrepresentations, then he can't really be the Pope, in which case you're a sedevacantist.

    Basically, a sedevacantist is a smart hyperinfallibilist; a liberal who becomes a liberal through obedience to the Pope is a dumb one.

    But of course all hyperinfallibilists are dumb, because that's not the doctrine of the Church.

    Look at it this way. If as taught by Vatican I, the circumstances under which the Pope teaches infallibly are quite circumscribed, then it follows that in all other situations, he can be wrong. In better times (as recently as when I was a boy fifty years ago), the popes were reliable, and everyone could safely behave as if it would be nuts to second-guess them.

    No more. To trust the teaching of Pope Benedict XVI is as rash as it was in my youth to mistrust the teaching of Pius XII.

    I of course understand as well as you the problems that follow from having no reliable authorities to appeal to. But those problems aren't solved by pretending that the authorities are reliable when they aren't. At best, Pope Benedict is an uncertain trumpet under whom the Church Militant is a completely disorganized army. All one can appeal to is what the Church always taught before 1962.

  28. Anonymous4:58 PM

    John MacFarland,

    I believe not only in the Catholic Church, but in the Roman Catholic Church. Where Peter is there is the Church. you don't believe that the true church is found in rome, which is why you like terms like new church, new religion in contrast to true church, true religion etc.

    These terms don't exist. There is no new Church or new religion. Christ established one Church that was the same yesterday, is the same today, and will be the same tomorrow, and thank God for that.

  29. Anonymous5:33 PM

    Adeodatus: Thank you, and please add your prayers to mine for guidance.


  30. Anonymous7:09 PM

    The Holy Father is guaranteed by the Holy Ghost to be free of error when making pronouncements on faith and morals that are binding on the faithful. The same Holy Ghost never guaranteed that who ever occupies the chair of Peter would live up to them. Nor does our church teach that he will.

    A.M. LaPietra

  31. The Pope is only infallible when his teaching meets the criteria laid out in Vatican I.

    That's not what Vatican I says. We Catholics believe he is infallible under those conditions, not "only" infallible under those conditions. Major difference.

  32. Anonymous6:43 AM

    Attn. Jordanes:

    Chapter 4, article 9 of Vatican I dogmatic constitution "Pastor Aeternus" mentions doctrine or morals only, that I can see. Please share your reference of disagreement as I am certainly not infallible on any subject.

    A.M. LaPietra

  33. Anonymous7:25 PM


    As far as I know, the only other way in which the Pope is infallible is in the way that anyone is infallible: if he is simply repeating the ordinary and universal magisterium of the Church -- that is, what the Church has always and everywhere taught.

    Is that what you have in mind? Probably not, since I can't imagine anyone straightfacedly saying that the conciliar magisterium is the same thing taught by St. Peter and St. Gregory the Great and St. Pius V and St. Pius X.

    Can you explain what you do have in mind?

    Sedes sapientiae, ora pro nobis.
    Mater boni consilii, ora pro nobis.

  34. As far as I know, the only other way in which the Pope is infallible is in the way that anyone is infallible: if he is simply repeating the ordinary and universal magisterium of the Church -- that is, what the Church has always and everywhere taught.

    Right. Thus your previous statement was inaccurate.

    I can't imagine anyone straightfacedly saying that the conciliar magisterium is the same thing taught by St. Peter and St. Gregory the Great and St. Pius V and St. Pius X.

    The Church’s teachings develop, per St. Vincent de Lerins and Cardinal Newman, so the magisterium throughout time will be the same, but different.

  35. Anonymous2:01 AM

    Attn. Jordanes:

    Without disputing what your last comment was, where does it say that in Vatican I as you indicated earlier?

    A.M. LaPietra

  36. Pastor Aeternus says:

    ". . . the Roman Pontiff, when he speaks ex cathedra, i.e., when exercising his office as pastor and teacher of all Christians he defines, by his supreme apostolic authority, a doctrine of faith or morals which must be held by the universal Church, enjoys, through the divine assistance, that infallibility promised to him in blessed Peter and with which the divine Redeemer wanted His Church to be endowed in defining doctrine of faith and morals . . . ."

    Note that it does not say he is infallible "only" under those conditions, just that he is infallible under those conditions.

  37. Anonymous6:52 AM

    Attn Jordanes:

    In my original comment I did not use the word only. After your reading it into my comment I said that the only areas written into the document were faith and morals. What areas besides faith and morals is the Holy Father infallible on when making newly establised (not reaffirmed) pronouncements?

    A.M. LaPietra


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