Rorate Caeli

“On the Papal Deposition of Bishops” — Second Reply to Dr. Lamont’s Study José Antonio Ureta

“On the Papal Deposition of Bishops”—
Second Reply to Dr. Lamont’s Study
José Antonio Ureta

In a previous essay,[1] I showed external errors in Dr. John Lamont’s argument against my article “Why a Good Bishop Should Not Ignore but Obey His Unjust Deposition by a Pope,”[2]  on Bishop Joseph Strickland’s removal from the diocese of Tyler, Texas. Specifically, it was about a mistranslation of a text from the Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, a misinterpretation of the opinions of theologians Francisco de Vitoria and Domenico Palmieri, an underrating of the magisterial authority of Pius XII’s encyclicals, and an unacceptable dogmatization of the Second Vatican Council’s constitution Lumen gentium.

The fundamental error of Dr. Lamont’s study was apparent already in this first external analysis, attributing to the traditional position—according to which the bishops receive the power of jurisdiction directly from the pope and indirectly from God—the assumption that the Vicar of Christ possesses not only the fullness but all power that exists within the Church so that the bishops are merely his delegates. This is simply not true. Dr. Lamont himself quotes a passage from Palmieri that proves the inconsistency of this interpretation:

It is false that according to our position the bishops are the vicars of the pope. For bishops do not exist in the Church in right of papal authority, but in right of the authority of Christ, and the pope cannot abolish the episcopal dignity and authority; furthermore, the power and tribunal of the pope and of bishops are two different things, because Christ willed that besides the chair of Peter there should also be an episcopal chair. Nor are the bishops delegates of the pope, because they possess an ordinary jurisdiction through the power of the office that Christ has instituted. The bishops rule their flock as their own, for by Christ’s institution they must be pastors of a portion of the sheep, over which they exercise the power of binding and loosing. And although the Roman pontiff may remove jurisdiction from any and all, he is nonetheless bound to ensure that other bishops exist, in order that there may always be bishops in the Church; for he may not abolish episcopal authority itself.[3]

According to Dr. Lamont, Palmieri “evades the issue,” which is that “individual bishops in their dioceses rule by divine right derived from their order and their office” (p. 15). But his comment is incorrect because Palmieri explicitly states that the bishops “possess an ordinary jurisdiction through the power of the office that Christ has instituted” (p. 15).

The same can be said of Dr. Lamont’s criticism of St. Thomas Aquinas. He claims there is a supposed contradiction in the Angelic Doctor’s teaching. This is what I will address next, analyzing Dr. Lamont’s study no longer from an external point of view but going to the core of his argument.

A Misinterpretation of Saint Thomas Aquinas’s Doctrine on Causality

Dr. Lamont recognizes that “St. Thomas is the earlier and greater of the advocates of the strong view” (p. 13). This statement is true if by “strong view” is meant that bishops receive the power of jurisdiction directly from the pope but govern with and under him a portion of the flock by an ordinary power of their own. But this affirmation is false if, by “strong view,” one understands that every power in the Church is either the pope’s power or is derived from his own power in such a way that the pope’s power either formally or virtually contains every other power by which the Church is ruled. Dr. Lamont erroneously attributes this second position to St. Thomas based on a misinterpretation of his metaphysics, which he identifies with Neoplatonism. He affirms:

St. Thomas Aquinas holds the strong view that all power of jurisdiction whatsoever in the Church derives from the papal power: "I answer that a superior power and an inferior power can relate to each other in two different ways. In one way, the inferior power originates entirely from the superior power; and in this case, the entire power of the inferior is founded on the power of the superior; and then the power of the superior is to be obeyed simpliciter rather than the inferior, and is so to be obeyed in all things, just as in natural causes, the first cause acts more on an effect produced by a secondary cause than the secondary cause itself does, as is stated in the Liber de causis. This is the way in which the power of God is related to all created powers; it is the way in which the power of the Emperor is related to the power of the proconsul; and it is the way in which the power of the pope is related to all other spiritual powers in the Church, since every dignity in the Church is distributed and ordered by the pope, whose power is in a certain manner the foundation of the Church, as is shown by Matthew ch. 16. And therefore we are bound in all things without distinction to obey the pope more than bishops or archbishops, or a monk is to obey an abbot. In another way, the power of a superior and an inferior are related by both of them having originated from a higher power, which subordinates the one to the other as it chooses; and in this way the one is only superior to the other in so far as it has been subordinated to the other by a higher power, and the superior is to be obeyed rather than the inferior only in so far as it has been given authority by the higher power. The powers of bishops and archbishops, which are established by the pope, are related in this way." (In II Sent., d. 44 q. 2 a. 3 expos.)
          St. Thomas argues from Matt. 16, but he supplements this scriptural argument with an appeal to the Neoplatonic metaphysical conception of causation, where the actions of a lower agent are also the actions of the higher agents that cause the lower one. In consequence, his position is somewhat different from that of later theologians, because this Neoplatonic conception asserts that all higher agents act immediately in the lower agents whose existence and action they bring about (Summa contra gentiles, bk. 3, ch. 67). It cannot therefore entirely correspond to the later claim that the power of jurisdiction is received immediately from the pope and mediately from God. We should note as well that he makes no mention of the power of the pope to remove bishops at will (pp. 3–4).

Further on, Dr. Lamont reiterates:

St. Thomas does more than appeal to this tendentious exegeses [of Matt. 16]; he also argues from his Neoplatonic conception of causation. This conception applies to the metaphysical category of efficient causation in the created world. Those who accept it are bound to agree that it describes every instance of such causation. . . .
          St. Thomas’s claim that the power of bishops is related to the power of the pope in the same way as the power of proconsuls is related to the power of the Emperor effectively reduces the bishops to vicars of the pope (p. 13).

These passages from Dr. Lamont’s study deserve various observations.

1. It Is Historically and Intellectually Unfounded to Describe the Thomistic Concept of Causality as an Expression of Neoplatonism

Until the beginning of the twentieth century, historians of medieval thought assured us that Aquinas was essentially Aristotelian. This assessment gradually changed. One of the first directors of the Revue thomiste, H.-A. Montagne, in a text titled “Notre programme,” indicated that to delve deeper into Thomistic doctrine, it was necessary to “determine what he owes to the Stagirite, what he also owes to Plato and the other great thinkers of antiquity.”[4] Two years later, he published a study by Charles Huit on this topic in that journal: “Les éléments platoniques de la doctrine de Saint Thomas.”[5]

The movement gained greater momentum on the eve of the Second World War, notably after the publication of the study The Metaphysical Notion of Participation by Fr. Cornelio Fabro (1939). But to conclude that Aristotelianism in St. Thomas is an ancillary element of his Platonism, or that his concept of causality is purely Neoplatonic, is to mischaracterize his truly original thinking.

The Dictionnaire de philosophie et de théologie thomistes, by Dominicans Philippe-Marie Margelidon, director of the Revue thomiste, and Yves Floucat, member of the St. Thomas Aquinas Pontifical Academy, contains two entries about the matter. Seen together, they provide a well-balanced view of their respective contributions. Let us see their most relevant passages:

St. Thomas’s Aristotelianism

It is fair to say that the metaphysics of St. Thomas and the primary philosophy of Aristotle are in a relationship of continuity, kinship, filiation, and essential fidelity of spirit from the former to the latter. The Stagirite and Aquinas are committed to the primacy of individual substance as ens per se and principle of activity. The analogy of attribution finds its first authentic expression in Aristotle. . . . On the other hand, it was St Thomas who brought to light how, beyond substantiality, the ens per se is called habens esse; it was he who brought out the formal aspect of the actus essendi. If the idea of creation is absent in Aristotle, as are those of Providence and efficient cause, it is nonetheless true that the five ways [to prove the existence of God] find in him a framework, sometimes even their formulation (God conceived as the First unmoved mover). . . .
          . . . St. Thomas’s relationship with Aristotle is certainly more than material, but despite their undeniable similarities, the consciously assumed heritage and the profound intellectual debt between the former and the latter, we are dealing with something quite different. The metaphysics of St. Thomas is not Aristotelian: substance is created; it implies a metaphysics of participation and causality that crosses Platonism and biblical creationism in a superior, original synthesis.[6]

St. Thomas’s Neoplatonism

Historians of medieval thought stopped long ago saying that St. Thomas was essentially a medieval Aristotelian, i.e., a sort of mixed bag (heteroclite, at worst) between Aristotle (via Averroes and Avicenna) and Augustinian philosophy inspired by (a Christianized) Neoplatonism. However, it is undeniable that if Saint Thomas has constructed an original synthesis that is not a heap of juxtaposed pieces, we can, without accusing him of plagiarism, recognize what he owes to Neoplatonism, or rather to Neoplatonic metaphysics fully assumed and integrated into the architecture of his thought. . . .
          . . . The Aristotelian site of his metaphysics is greatly enriched by the Neoplatonic contribution, even to the typically Aristotelian question of substance. Aristotle’s interpretation is colored by Neoplatonic influence in various parts; God as driving cause has become efficient cause thanks to Avicenna, who reads Aristotle in a Platonic climate. The interpretation of De causis was decisive for his own metaphysics of causes according to the principle: “Every primary cause infuses its effect more powerfully than does a universal second cause” (Book of Causes, proposition 1) because it is the source of its causality not only as regards its existence but also concerning its exercise and effect. . . . Moreover, Saint Thomas retains this capital but reinterpreted idea: “The first of created things is being (esse)” (Book of Causes, proposition 4). . . . The real composition of finite being (ens) and being (esse) is not found in Aristotle, but the thesis of being (esse) as the principle of finite being is found among medievals under Neoplatonic influence. Esse as actus essendi [“act of being,”] is specific to St. Thomas, beyond all Aristotelianism and Platonism. St. Thomas’s Aristotelianism is permeated by Neoplatonism; for example, the notion of participation, which is central to his account of the relationship of existing being to the universal first cause as their efficient and exemplary cause. It would be wrong, however, to speak too much of Thomism as a Neoplatonic Aristotelianism. Here again, St. Thomas is not an amalgam or a simple juxtaposition or interweaving of heterogeneous philosophies. He soars higher than eclecticism. The theology and the metaphysics that it implies are sui generis and should be considered in their own right.[7]

The quote is long, but necessary to understand in what sense the concept of causality in St. Thomas—and, therefore, its practical application to the kind of relationship that exists between the power of the pope and other spiritual powers in the Church—does not correspond to its misinterpretation in Dr. Lamont’s study. If the Thomistic concept of causality were truly Neoplatonic, Dr. Lamont would be right because it would follow that second causes do not have an actual existence and, therefore, the bishops’ power of jurisdiction, derived from that of the pope, has no substance of its own as an ordinary power possessed in virtue of the office. But this is not true, as we will see.

2. The Thomistic Concept of Causality Differs Radically From the Neoplatonic One

As is known, for Neoplatonic philosophers (notably Plotinus and Proclus) the One is the supreme principle, the cause of the existence of all things in the universe, which emanate from it not through a creation ex nihilo (as we profess in the Creed), but by the superabundance of his own being which, without undergoing any change, deploys itself in a descending and diversified hierarchy of secondary manifestations with no substance of their own, like rays emanating from the sun. According to Plotinus, “The One is all things and no one of them; the source of all things is not all things; all things are its possession—running back, so to speak, to it—or, more correctly, not yet so, they will be.”[8] In other words, “the isness of the One is nothing but its appearance in all things;”[9] for his part, each being is a mere manifestation or image of the One. But an image is not another being added to what is represented.

For Saint Thomas, on the contrary, beings created in their esse simpliciter (i.e., limited by an essence; in man, for example, it is esse homo) by the Creator, are autonomous and subsistent creatures. He states: “to be made and to be created properly belong to whatever being belongs; which, indeed, belongs properly to subsisting things.”[10] André de Muralt, a Swiss specialist on ancient and medieval philosophy, describes the consequence of this real subsistence of creatures: “They participate as such in their cause, and particularly in their divine cause. They do not have their participative similitude to the divine as their quidditative being; their subsistence is not owed to being a modified One, nor to be ‘God without anything’; they are substances subsisting by themselves through creation. That is why the Second Person of the Holy Trinity can unite with one of them in a true Incarnation, which does not merely give Him the appearance of human reality.”[11]

The ontological difference between the pseudo-being—a mere image for Neoplatonists—and St. Thomas’s subsistent substantial being bears on the concepts of causality and participation. When Neoplatonists affirm that all things engender just as the One engenders, this means for them that the lower efficient causes are merely successive and univocally similar emanations of the One. For St. Thomas, on the other hand, each second efficient cause is different since it operates through its own autonomous activity and causality, albeit participating in divine causality according to a non-univocal similarity. Thus, he rejects the idea that a creature, in its own action, exercises only a simple instrumental causality while depending entirely on the principal cause. “If he sometimes uses the word instrument, it is only

to mark the creature’s radical dependence on the Creator, not to deny it its own autonomy in being and acting, that autonomy which participation in creation implies, establishes, causes, and manifests. . . . [The notion of participation according to Saint Thomas Aquinas] makes it possible to understand that the second cause is totally dependent on divine causality insofar as it is created, and that . . . the creature participates in divine causality by exercising its various operations autonomously according to the ‘dignity’ of its own being and causality.”[12]

Therefore, that notion assumes and reconciles “the fact of every created substance’s self-subsistence and the necessity of its total dependence on its Creator. Conversely, Neoplatonism emphasizes the necessity of dependence so radically that it sees the creature’s participation or image-being as its very quiddity at the risk of denying its character as an autonomous created subsistence.”[13]

3. The True Meaning of St. Thomas’s Paragraph Quoted (and Misinterpreted) by Dr. Lamont

St. Thomas’s phrase should be understood in this sense of reconciling the second cause’s autonomous created subsistence and its total dependence on God: “The first cause acts more on an effect produced by a secondary cause than the secondary cause itself does, as is stated in the Liber de causis” (pp. 3–4), quoted by Dr. Lamont. This phrase does not mean that secondary causes lose their character of autonomous, created subsistence (and free, as in the case of spiritual substances endowed with an intellect and will).

The obvious counter-evidence to this is that the paragraph in which the phrase is inserted is taken from St. Thomas’s commentary on the forty-fourth and last distinction of Book II of the Sentences, where Peter Lombard first discusses the question of whether the power to sin (potentia peccandi) in man comes from God or from ourselves and the devil. He answers that it comes from God. If the Angelic Doctor’s phrase were to be understood in a strictly Neoplatonic sense, in which the second cause is a mere instrument without autonomy, one would have to conclude that God himself sins through his creature, which would be blasphemy.

By interpreting this phrase from St. Thomas in a strictly Neoplatonic sense, Dr. Lamont concludes that “although God exercises efficient causation in causing the power of jurisdiction to exist in the Church, that does not mean that the power of jurisdiction that He causes is itself an instance of efficient causation” (p. 13). In other words, according to Dr. Lamont, the plenitude of the power of jurisdiction the pope receives from God is not sufficient cause to transmit part of his power to his subordinates, contrary to what St. Thomas teaches in the text quoted in his study: “It is the way in which the power of the pope is related to all other spiritual powers in the Church, since every dignity in the Church is distributed and ordered by the pope, whose power is in a certain manner the foundation of the Church” (p. 4).

A few pages before that, Dr. Lamont had stated that “his [St. Thomas’s] position is somewhat different from that of later theologians, because this Neoplatonic conception asserts that all higher agents act immediately in the lower agents whose existence and action they bring about (cf. Summa contra gentiles, bk. 3, ch. 67). It cannot therefore entirely correspond to the later claim that the power of jurisdiction is received immediately from the pope and mediately from God” (p. 4).

Indeed, in a Neoplatonic interpretation of the text, the pope’s action as a second agent would be ineffective and, imperatively, a bishop would receive his jurisdiction directly from God. However, as we have seen, according to Thomistic doctrine, the pope operates with his own autonomous causality while participating in divine causality, and, therefore, he can indeed be the immediate source of the power of jurisdiction of the bishop to whom he entrusts part of the Lord’s flock. For his part, the bishop designated by the pope, while participating in the fullness of papal power, also operates with his own and autonomous action—his ordinary power—and is not reduced to the condition of a mere vicar of the pope, as Dr. Lamont erroneously deduces (see pp. 13–14).

A Misinterpretation of the Supernatural Character of Jurisdiction

Also due to a misunderstanding of St. Thomas Aquinas’s true thought on causality, Dr. Lamont states in his study:

Amicus Thomas, sed magis amica veritas. St. Thomas’s position on papal authority is not compatible with his own theory of grace and the sacraments. Ecclesiastical jurisdiction confers divine authority, not natural authority. It cannot arise from any natural basis of authority. If it is a proper and ordinary jurisdiction, it is a supernatural gratia gratis data that cannot originate in any created cause. Hence, it can only be conferred by God alone (cf. 1a2ae q. 112 a. 1). It can only be produced by the action of a created cause when the created cause is an instrumental cause used by God as the principal cause and agent (1a2ae q. 112 a. 1 ad 2). The assertion of later theologians that episcopal jurisdiction is derived immediately from the pope and only mediately from God is thus incompatible with the fact that episcopal jurisdiction is a supernatural rather than a natural power. If the conferring of episcopal jurisdiction is only mediately from God, then it cannot be caused by God as the principal agent (p. 13).

Again, this passage contains inaccuracies that call for clarification.

1. Difference Between the Power of Order and the Power of Jurisdiction in Terms of Their Nature and Mode of Transmission

As I explained in my article on the legal validity of an unjust deposition of a bishop by the pope, the Second Vatican Council’s constitution Lumen gentium omitted any reference to the traditional distinction between the powers of order and jurisdiction. In its place, it adopted the three munera theory to designate what one receives with episcopal consecration. These functions or offices (lat. munus, -eris; plural munera) are the sanctifying (munus sanctificandi), teaching (munus docendi), and governing (munus regendi) of the faithful.

The munera theory was forged by John Calvin, starting in 1545, and was adopted by Lutherans in the middle of the eighteenth century. Some German-speaking Catholic theologians, obviously influenced by Protestant theology, started using it in the early twentieth century. In the second half of the nineteenth century, two lay German canonists, Ferdinand Walter and George Phillips, presented a munera trilogy for the first time, and also defended it against the traditional division of two powers: order and jurisdiction.[14]

As I wrote in earlier articles, the Council Fathers resorted to the three munera argument and those powers’ simultaneous transmission to bishops during their episcopal consecration to give a theological foundation to the novel notion of collegiality. It is through consecration that a bishop becomes part of the episcopal college, which is supposed to be a permanent holder, cum Petro and sub Petro, of the fullness of supreme power.

Based on this conception of three inseparable munera received simultaneously, neo-modernist theologians logically attribute sacramental character not only to the munus sanctificandi but also to the munera docendi et regendi. However, it is problematic and illogical to attribute such a character to these two offices when one admits the traditional distinction between the power of order and that of jurisdiction and recognizes that governing and teaching are integral elements of the latter. But that is precisely what Dr. Lamont has done in his study, as one can see in the passage quoted above, where he states that the power of jurisdiction is a gratia gratis data that God alone can confer.

To demonstrate that this view is erroneous, it suffices to quote a few excerpts from Cardinal Journet’s renowned treatise, The Church of the Word Incarnate.

After stating that both powers differ in their purpose—the power of order, which bestows grace and atones for sin, opens heaven directly, while the power of jurisdiction points the way to heaven, enabling the pope and the hierarchy to determine and preach the object of Faith, to regulate the legitimate use of the power of order, and to control all things in the Church Militant—Cardinal Journet shows their respective characters:

1. The two powers differ in nature. The power of order is a participation of the priesthood of Christ. The sacramental characters, says St. Thomas, “are nothing else than certain participations of Christ’s priesthood, flowing from Christ Himself.” The power of jurisdiction is a participation of Christ’s kingship: Christ being Head of the Church in a sovereign manner and in virtue of His own proper authority, the others being heads in a dependent manner and as delegated by Christ.
          The end of Christ’s priesthood is to pour into souls the very virtue of the Redemption. The created intermediaries are unable to produce so divine an effect save as simple instruments. The sacramental power is therefore a purely instrumental ministerial power. Hence it is infallible, not of course on account of its own proper virtue, but because it transmits the virtue of a Principal Agent. But the end of Christ’s kingship is the outward proclamation of the full divine revelation, so that the created intermediaries can here play a freer part. The power of jurisdiction is still ministerial; but it can be said to act more in the manner of a secondary cause; and it will not be infallible save in so far as it is divinely aided.
          The power of order, which exists to bring the redemptive virtue to souls, is a physical spiritual participation of the spiritual power of Christ the Priest. . . . Like every sacramental character, the power of order is a physical spiritual power and hence indelible. It can persist, and can even be transmitted, in schism and heresy. The power of jurisdiction, which exists for the external preaching of Christian truth, speculative and practical, is a moral authority, mission and power; . . . It is lost as soon as the subject leaves the Church. Apostolic authority, but not the power of order, was lost to Judas. No regular jurisdiction can of itself continue under conditions of heresy and schism.
          2. The two powers differ in the mode of their transmission. The sacramental power, being physical, will be normally conferred by way of consecration, per consecrationem (consecration received from Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Orders). The power of jurisdiction, being moral, will be normally conferred by way of designation, of commission, of mandate, ex simplici injunctione.[15]

2. The Difference in the Mode of Transmission Stems From the Disparity in Causality

While Dr. Lamont attributes a single cause to both powers, Cardinal Journet explains that they come from different causes:

1. Jesus is Priest as none other is priest. There is only one redemptive sacrifice: His own. There is but one fountain of grace: His transpierced heart. As far as the sacerdotal and redemptive power is concerned, the power that obtains and dispenses grace, there is not in all the Church any other head, any other ruler, any other source, any other cause, save only Him.
          When the time of His visible presence among us was ended, He abandoned no part of this role. Nor did He wish to deprive us of His sanctifying contact. He availed Himself of mortal priests through whom He might carry out the acts of the Christian cultus, like an artisan using tools that need constant renewal. But it was He alone, and none other, who, through them, was to bring about the presence among us of the sacrificial intercession of the cross; He alone who, through them, was to baptize and absolve. His sacerdotal and sanctifying action was to pass through them independently of their moral worthiness or unworthiness, and to do so infallibly, for—and this is true above all on the supernatural plane—an instrument does not act by its own proper virtue, but by the virtue of him who uses it. The ministers of the sacraments, their sacerdotal power, and the sacraments themselves, are in fact no more than purely external instruments, mere transmitters of impulsions coming from Christ Himself, which, in souls made ready for them, blossom into graces.
          The priesthood of Christ is thus participated in the Church only in a purely instrumental manner.
          2. It is not quite the same with His kingship. We have just said that Jesus is Priest as none other is priest. We must also say that Jesus is King as none other is king. He rules angels and men. . . .
          Jesus is the fountain-head of a universal kingship, and He never ceases to exercise it from heaven where He sits at the right hand of the Father. And yet, so that men might not be deprived of the help His living voice had brought them, He has in His mercy left them a visible power, continuing to speak with authority in His name—the power of jurisdiction. . . .
          To force open the door of the soul and then to pour grace into it, is possible to none but God; and creatures therefore can here avail only as instruments in His hand, and for ends beyond their scope. But to propose to minds a speculative or practical message from without, even were this message of divine origin, is a work which seems more connatural to men, and one in which they can have a greater share in the initiative. The interior influx of grace, remarks St. Thomas, cannot be transmitted save by instruments, and, in this matter, Christ alone can be Head of the Church . . . . On the contrary, the “exterior government of the Church,” the “authority” over the Church, the “pastoral power” over the Church, the dignity of being a “foundation” of the Church—all that can be communicated to others. They too can be called heads of the Church, though not as Christ is called Head. For Christ is Head and Foundation of the Church in an unique way, in His quality as Principle, or, to put it another way, universally and by His own proper virtue; whereas they are heads and foundations in a dependent and secondary manner—that is, not universally but only of the Church immersed in history, or only for some few years like the pope, or for some small area like the bishops; and this not by their own virtue but in their quality as ambassadors of Christ. . . .
          Consequently, the depositaries of the jurisdiction act as second causes rather than as mere transmitters. They have certain initiatives and certain responsibilities.[16]

And what about the gratia gratis data Dr. Lamont refers to? It is not something inherent to the power of jurisdiction and permanent, but is granted as an external help whenever required:

The drawback of giving men such a privilege is that in proportion to the importance of their office their natural fallibility will threaten to invade the government of the Church. Hence, so that the Church may be directed by them and not misled, so that it may continue to be the salt of the earth, and not be reabsorbed into the world, it needs the help of a particular providence, a prophetic gift, Christ’s assistance: “Go therefore, teach ye all nations . . . teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you. And behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world” (Matt. xxxiii. 19–20).[17]

3. Neither the Pope’s Power of Universal Jurisdiction (Which Derives From Christ Directly) nor the Bishops’ Limited One (Received Through the Pope’s Mediation) Need a Sacrament for Their Transmission

Dr. Lamont states:

St. Thomas’s position is ruled out by the nature of a sacrament. A created cause that is a sign, and is used by God to directly produce supernatural grace, is a sacrament (3a q. 60 a. 2). The conferring of the power of jurisdiction upon a bishop is a gift of a supernatural grace that is done through a sign. It must therefore be done through a sacrament. Both the consecration of bishops and the assignation of subjects to a bishop by the pope are signs; they are speech acts with intelligible meanings that effect what they signify. But only the consecration of a bishop is a sacrament. The assignation of territory and subjects to a bishop by the pope is not a sacrament. The source of the jurisdiction of bishops must therefore originate in the sacrament of their consecration. St. Thomas’s Neoplatonic conception of causation explains how authority received by a bishop in consecration is received directly by Christ (p. 13).

We have seen how this latter statement is erroneous because St. Thomas’s concept of causality is not Neoplatonic but Thomistic. However, what precedes it is also wrong because Jesus Christ willed to make the apostles and their successors participate in His external government of the Church as second causes rather than as mere transmitters. And just as He established a difference in powers between Peter and the rest of the Twelve, He also established a difference in the manner of reception between the pope and the bishops, but in neither case does this reception take place through a sacrament. That is what Cardinal Journet says:

Christ, as we have said, bestowed on the apostles immediately, besides certain exceptional and temporary powers of which they were the sole depositaries, the regular and permanent powers of which they were the first depositaries. However, although it was conferred on them immediately by Christ, the regular jurisdiction proper to each of the apostles, which they would hand on to their successors, did not belong to all of them in the same degree or by the same right. Not in the same degree, for in Peter it was sovereign and universal while in the others it was subordinated and particular. Not by the same right, for in Peter it dwelt as in a fountainhead, in the others as something derived. It was by a special favour, as we have seen, that Christ Himself bestowed on the apostles a jurisdictional power which, normally, was to reach them through Peter as intermediary. The consequence of this doctrine is that as time went on the jurisdictional power would devolve differently on the pope and on the other bishops. On the pope it is bestowed immediately by Christ as soon as he is validly elected. To the bishops it is given mediately, through the pope: the Saviour, says Cajetan, sends down His power first on the head of the Church, and thence to the rest of the body. When a pope is created the electors merely designate the person, and it is Christ who then confers on him immediately his dignity and power. But, when the sovereign pontiff, either of himself or through others, invests bishops, the proper jurisdiction they receive does not come to them directly from God, it comes directly from the sovereign pontiff to whom Christ gives it in a plenary manner, and from whom it comes down to the bishops: somewhat after the manner of the life-pulse that begins in the heart and is transmitted thence to the other organs. And that is why the sovereign pontiff must not be conceived as merely designating bishops who then receive directly from Christ their proper and ordinary authority; but as himself conferring the episcopal authority, having first received it from Christ in an eminent form.[18]

In light of the above, this statement of Dr. Lamont is erroneous: “A proper and ordinary divine authority must be derived from God, and can only be taken away by Him: no merely human authority can remove it. But a pope deposing a bishop at will, independently of the divine law, is not acting with divine authority” (p. 15).

Conversely, Domenico Palmieri is right when he teaches that “the pope cannot indeed licitly remove a bishop without cause, but he can certainly validly do this, and his act will have force on its own; a bishop in this situation cannot claim jurisdiction for himself on the pretext that there is no just cause for his removal. It is apparent from what has already been stated that this is not a question of words, as will become more clear further on: it touches on the nature of the papal primacy and the whole economy of ecclesiastical jurisdiction” (p. 5).

A Final and Friendly Consideration

As I finish defending the postulates of my original article, I am reminded of a recent conversation in a Paris café with a respected and erudite traditionalist priest. When I mentioned the growing exasperation of many faithful Catholics at the heresies and scandalous pastoral attitudes of Pope Francis and top Church authorities and the fragmentation of opinions in the pusilus grex, giving rise to various theories that lead to mismatched attitudes, my learned companion said: “We must avoid the mistake of doing theology—and especially ecclesiology—starting from the anomalous reality the Church is experiencing today, because this inductive method can lead to drawing wrong conclusions.”

I immediately thought of my experiences with Latin American liberation theologians in the 1970s. They sought to rework the Church’s social doctrine based on situations of extreme poverty in some sectors of the population but ended up aligning themselves with Marxist thought. The big mistake of progressive German bishops and laity seeking to reinvent Church teaching on the sacrament of Holy Orders and ministries and change Church discipline on priestly celibacy based on biased conclusions about reports of sexual abuse among the clergy also came to mind.

I fear that some friends and colleagues in the trenches defending Tradition make a similar mistake. Seeing the Vatican’s current abuses of power, the lack of courage of a majority of cardinals and bishops, and the willful blindness of some conservatives who hide their heads in the sand, they deduce that one needs to reform the papacy by shrinking papal power or at least reducing it to the modalities seen in the first millennium. An even greater mistake is to try to justify such proposals based on claims and theories developed by neo-modernist theologians from before and after the Second Vatican Council.

It is not the divine and beautifully hierarchical structure established by Jesus Christ for the part of His Mystical Body militating here on Earth that needs reform. Instead, reform—one entirely based on traditional Church teaching—is needed by sinful churchmen and all of us laity, who are so badly influenced by the revolutionary and evil spirit of today’s world. 



[1] José Antonio Ureta, “‘On the Papal Deposition of Bishops’—A First Reply to Dr. Lamont’s Study,”, Feb. 14, 2024,;, Feb. 16, 2024,

[2] José Antonio Ureta, “Why a Good Bishop Should Not Ignore but Obey His Unjust Deposition by a Pope,”, Oct. 17, 2023,;, Oct. 20, 2023,

[3] Palmieri, Tractatus de romano pontífice, (Prato, 1891), art. 1, thesis XIV, 457, quoted in John Lamont, “On the Papal Deposition of Bishops,” 15; For the convenience of readers, quotes from Dr. Lamont’s study are taken from its pdf version (available at and only page numbers are shown in this essay. To avoid confusion with any original emphasis in quotes, in this esay, mine is always shown in bold.

[4] Revue thomiste, no. 17 (1909): 15.

[5] Revue thomiste, no. 19 (1911): 724–66.

[6] Philippe-Marie Margelidon, O.P. and Yves Floucat, O.P., Dictionnaire de philosophie et de théologie thomistes, 3rd ed. rev. (Paris: Parole et Silence, 2023), 56–57.

[7] Margelidon and Floucat, Dictionnaire, 373–74.

[8] Plotinus, The Six Enneads, trans. Stephen MacKenna and B. S. Page (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Christian Classics Ethereal Library), V.2.1, 360, accessed Mar 2, 2024,

[9] Joshua Packwood, “Everything Is Flat: The Transcendence of the One in Neoplatonic Ontology” (doctor’s thesis, University of Arkansas, 2013), 143, accessed Mar. 2, 2024,

[10] Summa theol. I, q. 45, a. 4.

[11] André de Muralt, Néoplatonisme et aristotélisme dans la métaphysique médiévale: Analogie, causalité, participation (Paris: J. Vrin, 1995), 108.

[12] de Muralt, Néoplatonisme, 145–46.

[13] de Muralt, 146.

[14] See Josef Fuchs, S.J., “Origines d’une trilogie ecclésiologique à l’époque rationaliste de la théologie”, in Revue de sciences philosophiques et théologiques, no. 53 (1969): 197, 199,210,

[15] Charles Journet, The Apostolic Hierarchy, vol. 1 of The Church of the Word Incarnate, trans. A. H. C. Downes (London: Sheed & Ward, 1955), 23–24.

[16] Charles Journet, The Apostolic Hierarchy, 124–26.

[17] Journet, 126.

[18] Journet, 403–4.