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minous precision with which the Council of the Vatican has, in one brief Constitution, excluded the traditional errors on the Primacy and Infallibility of the Roman Pontiff.
The reasons which prevailed to bring about this change of method were not only those which demonstrated generally the opportuneness of defining the doctrine, but those also which showed specially the necessity of bringing on the question while as yet the Council was in the fulness of its numbers. It was obvious that the length of time consumed in the discussion, reformation, and voting of the schemata was such, that unless the Constitution De Romano Pontifice were brought on immediately after Easter, it could not be finished before the setting in of summer should compel the Bishops to disperse. Once dispersed, it was obvious they could never again re-assemble in so large a number. Many who, with great earnestness, desired to share the blessing and the grace of extinguishing the most dangerous error which for two centuries has disturbed and divided the faithful, would have been compelled to go back to their distant sees and missions, never to return. It was obviously of the first moment that such a question should be discussed and decided, not, as we should have been told, in holes and corners, or by a handful of Bishops, or by a faction, or by a clique, but by the largest possible assembly of the Catholic Episcopate. All other questions, on which little divergence of opinion existed, might well be left to a smaller number of Bishops. But a doctrine which for centuries had divided both Pastors and people, the defining of which was contested by a numerous and organ
ized opposition, needed to be treated and affirmed by the most extensive deliberation of the Bishops of the Catholic Church. Add to this, the many perils which hung over the continuance of the Council; of which I need but give one example. The outbreak of a war might have rendered the definition impossible. And in fact, the Infallibility of the Roman Pontiff was defined on the eighteenth of July, and war was officially declared on the following day.
With these and many other contingencies fully before them, those who believed that the definition was not only opportune but necessary for the unity of the Church and the Faith, urged its immediate discussion. Events justified their foresight. The debate was prolonged into the heats of July, when, by mutual consent, the opposing sides withdrew from a further prolonging of the contest, and closed the discussion. If it had not been already protracted beyond all limits of reasonable debate, for not less than a hundred fathers in the general and special discussions had spoken, chiefly if not alone, of infalliblity, it could not so have ended.* Both sides were convinced that the matter was exhausted.
We will now examine, at least in outline, the first Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of Christ; and I will then confine what I have to add to the definition of Infallibility; thereby completing a part of the subject which in the two previous Pastorals it would have been premature to treat.
* During the session of the council four hundred and twenty speeches were delivered, of which nearly one-fourth were on the Infallibility alone.
The Procemium of the Constitution declares that the institution of the visible Church was ordained to preserve the twofold unity of faith and of communion, and that for this end one principle and foundation was laid in Peter.
The first Chapter declares the Primacy of Peter over the Apostles; and that his primacy was conferred on him immediately and directly by our Lord, and consists not only in honor but also in jurisdiction.
The second Chapter affirms this primacy of honor and jurisdiction to be perpetual in the Church; and that the Roman Pontiffs, as successors of Peter, inherit this primacy; whereby Peter always presides in his see, teaching and governing the Universal Church.
The third Chapter defines the nature of his jurisdiction, namely, “totam plenitudinem hujus supremæ potestatis,” the plenitude of power to feed, rule, and govern the Universal Church. It is therefore jurisdiction episcopal, ordinary, and immediate over the whole Church, over both pastors and people, that is, over the whole Episcopate, collectively and singly, and over every particular church and diocese. The ordinary and immediate juris
. diction which every several Bishop in the Church exercises in the flock over which the Holy Ghost has placed him, is thereby sustained and strengthened.
From this Divine primacy three consequences follow: the one, that the Roman Pontiff is the supreme judge over all the Church, from whom lies no appeal; the second, that no power under God may come between the chief pastor of the Church
and any, from the highest to the humblest, member of the flock of Christ on earth; the third, that this supreme power or primacy is not made up of parts, as the sovereignty of constitutional states, but exists in its plenitude in the successor of Peter.*
The fourth and last Chapter defines the infallible doctrinal authority of the Roman Pontiff as the supreme teacher of all Christians.
The Chapter opens by affirming that to this supreme jurisdiction is attached a proportionate grace, whereby its exercise is directed and sustained.
This truth has been traditionally held and taught by the Holy See, by the praxis of the Church, and by the Ecumenical Councils, especially those in which the East and the West met in union together, as for instance the fourth of Constantinople, the second of Lyons, and the Council of Florence.
It is then declared, that in virtue of the promise of our Lord, “I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not,” † a perpetual grace of stability in faith was divinely attached to Peter and to his successors in his See.
The definition then affirms “that the Roman Pontiff, when he speaks ex cathedra, that is, when in
* In order to fix this doctrine more exactly, and to exclude all possible equivocation, after full and ample and repeated discussion, the words “ aut eum habere tantum potiores partes, non vero totam plenitudinem hujus supremæ potestatis,” were inserted in the Canon appended to this Chapter. I notice this, because it has been most untruly and most invidiously said, that these words were interpolated after the discussion. They were fully and amply discussed, and the proof of the fact exists in the short-hand report of the speeches, laid up in the Archives of the Council.
+ St. Luke xxii. 31, 32.
discharge of the office of Pastor and Doctor of all Christians, by virtue of his supreme Apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine regarding faith or morals to be held by the Universal Church, by the Divine assistance promised to him in Blessed Peter, is possessed of that infallibility with which the Divine Redeemer willed that His Church should be endowed for defining doctrine, regarding faith and morals. And that therefore such definitions of the Roman Pontiff are irreformable of themselves, and not from the consent of the Church."
In this definition there are six points to be noted.
1. First, it defines the meaning of the well-known phrase, loquens ex cathedra ; that is, speaking from the Seat, or place, or with the authority of the supreme teacher of all Christians, and binding the assent of the Universal Church.
2. Secondly, the subject-matter of his infallible teaching, namely, the doctrine of faith and morals.
3. Thirdly, the efficient cause of infallibility, that is, the divine assistance promised to Peter, and in Peter to his successors.
4. Fourthly, the act to which this divine assistance is attached, namely, the defining of doctrines of faith and morals.
5. Fifthly, the extension of this infallible authority to the limits of the doctrinal office of the Church.
6. Lastly, the dogmatic value of the definitions ex cathedra, namely, that they are in themselves irreformable, because in themselves infallible, and not because the Church, or any part or member of the Church, should assent to them.
These six points contain the whole definition of