Rorate Caeli

Don Pietro Leone: PART VI - The Council and the Eclipse of God: THE CHURCH - part 2

In this installment, Don Pietro examines how the Council through its establishment of collegiality, set the Church on the slippery slope of diminishing the authority of the Supreme Pontiff, diminishing the monarchial authority of the Bishops in favour of Episcopal conferences and reduced the priest from the status of  alter Christus thus placing him on the same level as the laity.  As a consequence, the hierarchy of the Church is replaced by a bland, democratic egalitarianism.          F.R.                                                

The Council and the Eclipse of God-Part VI


THE CHURCH  - part 2 

The Church teaches infallibly that: ‘If any-one says that in the Catholic Church there is no hierarchy instituted by Divine ordinance that consist of bishops, priests, and ministers, Anathema Sit1 The Council, by contrast, calls into doubt that there is a hierarchy consisting of the Pope, who enjoys the primacy, and consisting of the Bishops and the Priests.

An illustration of Pius IX opening the First Vatican Council during which papal supremacy was proclaimed a dogma.

1.       The Pope


          Historical Sketch 2.


The theory opposed to the dogma of the primacy of the Pope is known as ‘collegiality’. The theory ascribes excessive importance to the ‘College of Bishops’ by claiming that it can enjoy authority more or less independently of the Pope, with or without the Pope being member of the College. The Liberals envisaged this form of independent, democratic authority as a legacy of the ‘Apostolic College of the Twelve’.


The driving forces behind this movement were three in number. The first was ecumenical 3, the primacy of Peter constituting, of course, the principal obstacle to ecumenical dialogue. The term ‘collegiality 4’ first made its appearance in 1951 in the journal of the Monastery of Chevetogne ‘Irenikon’ in an article penned by Father Yves Congar OP. In 1960 the Orthodox Institute St. Sergius in Paris proposed the idea of a ‘collegial’ ecclesiology based on the primacy of ‘love’, as against the Catholic ecclesiology based on the juridical notion of ‘power.’ Dom Olivier Rousseau of Chevetogne , close both to the Parisian Institute as also to Monsignor Charue, Vice President of the conciliar Theological Commission, did much to promote such ideas.


The second driving force behind the collegialist movement was theological, deriving from the Anti-infallibilism of the 19th century, from the Febronianism of the 18th century, and the Conciliarism of the 15th century. The third theory was expressed in the heterodox document Haec Sancta of the Council of Constance (1418) in the claim that that Council ‘derives its power immediately from God, and all, including the Pope, are obliged to obey it…’ Despite the fact that this claim was later repeatedly condemned as heretical 5, it re-emerged, albeit in a mitigated form, in a series of essays written by a certain Dom Paul de Vooght in 1959.

Dom Paul de Vooght

 The third force behind the movement was political, deriving from the Liberals’ distaste for a vision of the Church as an ‘absolute monarchy’ in opposition to the democratic form of modern society. The collegialists of a political bent saw the Council as a democratic assembly where the Bishops represented ‘the will of the People of God.’



Fathers Congar and Küng were influenced by all three theories. The former noted in his diary: ‘For 1,000 years everything with us has been seen and constructed from the viewpoint of the Papacy, and not from that of the Episcopacy and its collegiality. The time has come to make this history, this theology, and this Canon Law a reality.’


Father Yves Congar, peritus at the Second Vatican Council

Father Hans Kung, peritus at Second Vatican Council

To promote their cause, the collegialists stressed the consecratory power of the Bishops (conferred upon them by their ordination) as against their juridical power (conferred upon them by the Pope). They viewed the Pope essentially as a Bishop, primus inter pares; they designated the Traditional doctrine as giuridista 6, from which they sought to liberate the Church, in favor of a new vision which was apostolic, collegialist, and sacramental, and, in the final analysis, democratic and egalitarian.


Collegiality was to become crystallized into two forms: a radical form which maintained that the subject of the supreme power of the Church was the Bishops’ College alone; and a moderate form (subscribed to by Pope Paul) that there were two subjects of supreme power: on the one hand the Pope and on the other hand the Bishops’ College united to the Pope.


On 30th October 1963, a preliminary text in favor of collegiality attained the necessary two thirds majority of the Council Fathers. Father Küng described the event as ‘the Catholic Church’s peaceful October Revolution’; Cardinal Suenens affirmed: ‘The 30th October is a decisive date in Church history. The battle of the Twelve has been won’; on the following day, Pope Paul VI welcomed the three Liberal Council Moderators, Cardinals Döpfner, Lercaro, and Suenens, with the words: ‘So we have won!’ 7 Approximately a year later the Fathers voted on a final text, with the majority again approving collegiality.

From left to right: Cardinals Lecaro, Döpfner e Suenens at the Council,  the 3 progressive moderators chosen by Paul VI.

Much to the displeasure of the Liberals, however, who were later to call the week in question ‘Black Week’ 8, their triumph was marred by an unexpected turn of events. A number of their theologians had inserted ambiguous passages in the chapter of Lumen Gentium, the Constitution on the Church, in favor of collegiality. ‘Then one of the extreme Liberals made the mistake of referring in writing to some of the ambiguous passages, and indicating how they would be interpreted after the Council…’ This paper fell into the hands of prelates of the ‘Roman’ party who delivered it to the Pope, who, ‘realizing finally that he had been deceived, broke down and wept.’ The most obvious course of action, because the most honest and doctrinally the most effective, would have been to excise the deliberately ambiguous, or ‘captious’, text from the document. Since, however, the schema did not positively make any false assertion, but merely used ambiguous terms, it was thought that the ambiguity could be clarified by joining to the text a carefully phrased explanation. The text was consequently left intact 9 and a ‘Preliminary Explanatory Note’ (Nota explicativa praevia) appended to the schema 10. Such an action was typical of the spirit of conciliation with which Pope Paul VI governed the Council.

Pope Paul VI governed the Council with 'a spirit of conciliation'.

Analysis of Texts


We proceed to examine first a key text concerning collegiality, and then the Note in question.


i) ‘… the Roman Pontiff… has full, supreme and universal power over the whole church… Together with its head, the Supreme Pontiff, and never apart from him, it [the apostolic college] is the subject of supreme and full authority over the Universal Church; but this power cannot be exercised without the consent of the Roman Pontiff’ (Lumen Gentium 3. 22).


The Council, by first stating (correctly) that the Pope has supreme and universal power over the Church, and by then stating that the Bishops are, together with the Pope a ‘subject of supreme and full authority’ over the Church, suggests that not only the Pope but also the ‘College of Bishops’ constitute a head of the Church, in accordance with the moderate theory of collegiality which we have mentioned above. This, however, is heterodox. For only the Pope possesses supreme and full authority over the Universal Church, so that there can only be one (visible) Head of the Church, and that Head of the Church is the Pope: ‘If  any-one shall say that the Supreme Pontiff has the office merely of inspection and direction and not a full and supreme power of jurisdiction over the universal Church, not only in things which belong to faith and morals, but also in those which relate to the discipline and government of the Church spread out through the world… Anathema sit11. If the Pope therefore possesses a full and supreme power over the Church, it follows that no other person or group of persons can do so: ‘The one and unique Church… [has] not two heads, like a monster, but one body and one head, namely Christ, and His Vicar, Peter’s successor…’ 12


ii) ‘The word College is… taken… as a permanent body whose form and authority is to be ascertained from revelation…’ (Note, 1);


iii) ‘The idea of college necessarily and at all times involves a head and in the college the head preserves intact his function as Vicar of Christ and pastor of the universal church. In other words, it is not a distinction between the Roman Pontiff and the bishops taken together but between the Roman Pontiff by himself and the Roman Pontiff along with the bishops.’ (Note, 3).


Text (ii) teaches correctly and in accordance with Revelation, that the Bishops in their totality (the ‘College of Bishops’) are the successors of the Apostles in their totality (the ‘College of the Apostles’); text (iii) clarifies the fact that there is only one Head of the Church, namely the Pope, and that he can exercise his supreme power either alone or together with the Bishops.


The Church teaches indeed that as the successors of the Apostles, the Bishops are Pastors and Teachers; and that as a teaching body of the Church (that is to say as a College, and not individually in their dioceses) they enjoy the Church’s infallibility. They enjoy this in two distinct manners: in an extraordinary manner, in the course of a General (or ‘Ecumenical’) Council, when the Pope authorizes it, presides over it (either personally or through a representative) and confirms its decisions; in an ordinary manner (in the exercise of the Church’s ‘ordinary and universal teaching office’) when the Bishops proclaim Catholic teaching on the Faith or morals to be held by all the faithful, and do so unanimously amongst themselves and in moral unity with the Pope.


The Note cannot be criticized for what it says, but only for what it omits, namely the specification of the area of competence of the Bishops’ College 13. The area of its competence according to Tradition is, as we have seen, limited to that of infallible teaching: in other words the two bearers, or subjects, of infallibility are the Pope and the entire Episcopacy.


In a context, however, in which the Council is treating the authority of the Pope and of the Bishops’ College on equal terms, it is natural to suppose that the area of their authority is the same: that is to say that the area of authority of the Bishops is as wide in extent as that of the Pope, which is however untrue. Moreover, in a world impregnated by a democratic mentality, it is also natural to suppose that the College will exercise its authority in a democratic manner, which is equally untrue.




The net result of the Council text and the Note is the following: The Council text (text i), although it favors the heterodox collegiality, is left intact, so that it can be quoted out of context to support that heterodoxy. As for the Explanatory Note, its force is diminished by not in fact being ‘preliminary’ at all as it claims to be, since it is located at the end of the long document 14 and therefore not readily accessible to the reader. Inasmuch as it reaches the attention of the reader at all, it does indeed explain away the said heterodoxy, but nevertheless gives an incomplete picture of the Bishops’ College.


All in all, the Council erodes Catholic teaching on the primacy of the Pope and on the hierarchical structure of the Church by giving undue weight to the idea of a Bishops’ College, whether lending it the appearance of a head of the Church (text i); or of a body equal in authority to that of the Pope, an authority, moreover, that may readily be understood as democratic (texts ii & iii).

‘All in all, the Council erodes Catholic teaching on the primacy of the Pope and on the hierarchical structure of the Church by giving undue weight to the idea of a Bishops’ College…’

                                  2.  The Bishops


          Historical Sketch 15


The principle of collegiality was used by some Council Fathers to justify a wider use of the instance of the Episcopal conference. Monsignor Carli in an influential speech demonstrated, however, that ‘the three elements which seem to be essential to collegiality’ were lacking in such conferences, namely: ‘the union of all Bishops 16; the participation bestowed… by the Head of the College, that is to say the Roman Pontiff; the subject matter regarding the Church Universal.’ He pointed out that the ordinary and immediate authority of each individual Bishop in his diocese, which from ancient times had been considered ‘monarchical’, would be limited by other Bishops of his nation. The month before, Monsignor de Proença Sigaud had already warned the Fathers of the restrictions that such measures would have imposed on the Bishops (and also on the Pope), Monsignor Lefebvre confirming the statement on the basis of his missionary activity in Africa.

Monsignor Luigi Carli, in regard to Collegiality pointed out at the Council: ‘…the ordinary and immediate authority of each individual Bishop in his diocese, which from ancient times had been considered ‘monarchical’, would be limited by other Bishops of his nation.’

From left to right: 3 Conservatives at the Council: French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre with  Brazilian
Archbishops Geraldo de Proença Sigaud and Antônio de Castro Mayer.

      Analysis of Texts


i) ‘It is often impossible, nowadays especially, for bishops to exercise their office suitably and fruitfully unless they establish closer understanding and cooperation with other bishops… [After a reference to fruitful effects of already existing conferences, there follow dispositions for founding episcopal conferences everywhere in the world] (Christus Dominus 37);


ii) ‘Decisions of the episcopal conferences [under certain circumstances]… shall have the force of law’ (CD 38.4).


The power given to the episcopal conferences erodes Catholic teaching on the hierarchy of the Church in the two ways just noted, namely:


-          by subtracting authority from the Holy See 17;

-          by diminishing de facto the monarchical power of individual Bishops over their dioceses.


                           3.   The Priest


   We shall here consider:


a)          a)the people and the priesthood;

b)          b)the common and sacramental priesthood;

c)          c)the priesthood and episcopacy.



a)      The People and the Priesthood

The People and the Priesthood

i) ‘All are called to this catholic unity of the people of God…’  (LG 13)


The term ‘Mystical Body of Christ’, the best adapted to the Church, is almost always neglected in favor of the term the ‘People of God’18. Inasmuch as the clergy in all its degrees is not here distinguished from the ‘people’, but rather is considered an integral part of it, this new term assumes a democratic, communitarian, egalitarian sense foreign to the notion of the hierarchical order established by Christ.


ii) ‘The people of God is made up of various ranks (ordinibus). This diversity among its members is either by reason of their duties – some exercise the sacred ministry for the good of their brothers and sisters […or by reason of the religious condition and manner of their life…]’ (LG 13).


Text (ii) presents the priesthood simply as a ‘rank’ (or function) of the people of God. It thereby insinuates that the priest is a priest of the people rather than of God; it also insinuates that what is important about the priest is his function. For the text presents the priest not primarily according to his nature (that is as an alter Christus) from which his characteristic function derives, but only in terms of his function, which is of course only a secondary aspect of the priesthood. It is a secondary aspect because, according to the principle of agere sequitur esse, action follows upon, and is the logical consequence of, the nature of a person or a thing. This silencing of the precise nature of the priesthood corresponds to the Council’s preference for action over being 19 and its dislike for Scholastic thought.


iii) ‘The Lord also appointed certain men [amongst the members of the Church] as ministers, in order that they [the faithful] might be united in one body […]. These men held in the community of the faithful the sacred power of order…’ (Presbyterorum Ordinis 2).


Here it is asserted that the Lord elected priests from the number of the faithful, whereas, according to the Gospel accounts, He first elected the Apostles in order to prepare them for the formation of faithful. By this assertion, as also by the assertion that Our Lord elected priests as the principle of unity for the community, the Council again subordinates the priesthood to the community.



a)      The Common and the Sacramental Priesthood


iv) ‘Though they differ essentially and not only in degree, the common priesthood of the faithful and the ministerial or hierarchical priesthood are none the less interrelated (ad invicem tamen ordinantur); each in its own way shares in the one priesthood of Christ’ (LG 10).


The two forms of priesthood are here put on the same level as both sharing, in an unqualified sense, in the one priesthood of Christ, and in being ordered the one to the other. The Church has always taught rather that the common priesthood, that by which all the baptized offer spiritual sacrifices to God, is subordinated to the sacramental priesthood.


v) ‘The Lord Jesus […] gave His whole Mystical body a share in the anointing of the Spirit with which He was anointed […]. In that Body all the faithful are made a holy and kingly priesthood…’ (PO 2).


The decree on the priesthood, after a brief introduction, begins with this notion of the common priesthood of the faithful, which is thereby given a pre-eminent position in the document.


vi) ‘Through the ministry of priests, the spiritual sacrifice of the faithful is completed in union with the sacrifice of Christ… which in the Eucharist is offered through the priests’ hands…’ (PO 2).

 Here the sacramental priesthood is subordinated to the common priesthood

The Sacramental Priesthood

 a)      The Priesthood and Episcopacy


vii) Priests are ‘co-workers of the Bishops’ (PO 4);


viii) ‘Because it is joined with the Episcopal order, the priesthood shares in the authority by which Christ Himself builds up, sanctifies and rules His body’ (PO 2).


Here the priesthood is understood in relation to the episcopacy rather than in itself, in its own position in the hierarchy of the Church.




In synthesis, in subsection (a) we see how the Council absorbs the priest into the people 20: by viewing him as a part of the people, as a rank of the people, and as being chosen from among the people; in subsection (b) we see how the Council views his sacramental priesthood variously as on the same level as the common priesthood, as secondary to it, and as inferior to it; in subsection (c) we see how the Council views him not in his own right, but solely as a collaborator with the Bishop. In all the subsections we see how the Council silences the sacramental, the supernatural, and the Christological nature of the priesthood.



Summary of Section B


In this whole section, we have seen how a hierarchical concept of the Church yields to a democratic one:

-          the Pope’s authority is eroded by that of the Bishops’ College;

-          the Bishop’s authority is eroded by that of the Bishops’ Conferences;

-          the Priest’s authority is eroded by the reduction of the priesthood to the level of the ‘People of God’ or of the laity. His role in the hierarchy is further obscured by its being defined in relation to the Episcopacy.


Apart from the instances of the principles of naturalism and degree that we have noted above in this section B, we particularly observe the principle of flux (or evolution) in the Council’s attempt to dissolve the immutable dogma of the Church’s Hierarchy 21.



Corollary: Egalitarianism


Egalitarianism is an aim of Revolution, and born of pride. The Protestants in the 16th century rose up against the Papacy, the ultimate symbol of the monarchical character of the Universal Church, as Professor Plinio Correa de Oliveira remarks 22. ‘Some of the more radical sects also denied what could be called the higher aristocracy of the Church, namely the Bishops, her princes. Others also denied the hierarchical character of the priesthood itself by reducing it to a mere delegation of the people, lauded as the only true holder of the priestly power.’


We have seen above how the egalitarian program of the Protestants was revived by Churchmen 500 years later in what was termed by Cardinal Suenens ‘the 1789 of the Church.’ In the following pages we shall see how it was implemented not only in regard to the hierarchy, but also in regard to other Christian denominations, other religions, the state, the world, and ultimately even in man’s relation to God Himself 23.       

Pope Paul VI, Cardinal Suenens and other Bishops at the Second Vatican Council.

After the vote on Collegiality he greeted the 3 Cardinal Moderators , Suenens, Lecaro and Dopfner the next day with ‘So we have won!’ Later, after discovering the deceit of some progressives, he wept. 

[1] Council of Trent can. 6, D 1776

2 RdM IV 9, V 13

3 see the historical sketch on Ecumenism at the beginning of chapter II

4 translating the Russian term sobornost

5 Eugenio IV solemnly defined the primacy of the Pope against Haec Sancta in 1439, as did Pius II in the Bull Exsecrabilis, 1460

6 ‘juridicalist’

7 Dunque abbiamo vinto!

8 also because of the honours accorded to Our Blessed Lady (see chapter VI below), the postponement of the discussion on Religious Liberty, and the amendments to the text on Ecumenism.

9 we recall a similar attempt to explain away heterodoxy (this time in the Novus Ordo Missae), by appending certain phrases (in the introduction the new Missal), and without changing the substance of the text. (The Destruction of the Roman Rite, I A2, don Pietro Leone)

10 The Rhine Flows into the Tiber, Father Ralph Wiltgen SVD, MD rl p.142

11 Vatican I, Pastor Aeternus c.3

12 Unam Sanctam


13 This omission was to make it possible for Council Fathers to argue for a proliferation of Episcopal Conferences by appealing to the concept of the ‘Apostolic College’, as we shall see in the next section.

14 over 60 pages afterwards in the Abbott translation on which this book relies

15 RdM IV 9

16 Here the Council Fathers illegitimately rely on the principle of ‘degree’ or ‘gradation’ that we have expounded  in the Introduction 

17  Concrete examples of the bestowal of this authority may be seen elsewhere in the Council in the case of concelebration Sacrosanctum Concilium (‘SC’) 57, 1.2, 2.1; in the case of Bible translations SC 36.4, Dei Verbum 25; and in that of priestly formation Optatum Totius 1

18 LG 9-13

19 We have referred to this in the historical introduction to the book in our comments on the pastorality of the Council.

20 We shall see further examples of this reduction in the later sections of the book concerning the Holy Mass and the priesthood.

21 ‘The organic constitution of the Church is not immutable. Like human society, Christian society is subject to perpetual evolution.’Lamentabili, Condemned Proposition 53; ‘ Dogmas, sacraments, and hierarchy... are only interpretations and evolutions of the Christian intelligence...’ Condemned Proposition 54.

22 Revolution and Counter-Revolution, TFP, 1993, p.16.

23 ibid. pp. 47-51 of the book Revolution and Counter-Revolution, where the author gives a list of the various ‘equalities’ promoted by the Revolution, including that of the ‘equality of souls’, which encompasses that between the sexes. In the section on marriage in Gaudium et Spes we shall later see how husband and wife are put on the same level for the first time in Church Magisterium. Such egalitarianism is reflected in the new marriage rite in various ways, as for instance when in four places blessings for the bride are rewritten with the gender-neutral pronouns ‘them’ and ‘they.’ See the excellent  Lex Orandi, Preview Press, 2015 (p.134), a Comparison of the Old and New Sacramental Rites’, Graham Leonard. The author observes: ‘With a few word changes… one could use the Novus Ordo Rite of Marriage to officiate a same-sex wedding.’ He sets forth (on p.198) the egalitarianism of the new sacramental rites promoted by the Council, remarking: ‘the Novus Ordo rites eliminate ranks in clergy, marginalize the role of the priest, appear to level the roles of clergy and laity, and even corrupt the translations of scripture to become gender-neutral. The Novus Ordo Mass even eliminates the ranks of angels in heaven’. In the section on the dignity of man below, we shall see a further example of egalitarianism in the abandonment of the principle of the (essentially hierarchical) supernatural dignity of man.