Those Were the Days (again)

When considering the development of doctrine, do not discount that winners make the final decision. Even legitimate councils that rescue the papacy can be found to be in discontinuity:

Once again, Christendom found itself split, but if the concilarist theologians had prevailed at the time of the Great Schism, in this phase the Pope was sustained by a great theologian: the Spanish Dominican, Juan de Torquemada (1388-1468) (not to be confused with the Inquisitor of the same name). Torquemada decorated by Eugene IV with the title Defensor fidei, is author of a Summa de Ecclesia, wherein he affirms with vigour the primacy of the Pope and his infallibilitas. In this work, he dissipates with great precision the ambiguities that had been created in the 14th century starting with the hypothesis of a heretic Pope. This case, according to the Spanish theologian, is concretely possible, but the solution to the problem should not be sought in any way in concilarism, which negates pontifical supremacy. The possibility of heresy in the Pope, does not compromise the dogma of infallibility, as even if he wanted to define a heresy ex cathedra, his office would be lost at that very same moment. (Pacifico Massi, Magistero infallibile del Papa nella teologia di Giovanni de Torquemada, Marietti, Torino 1957, pp. 117-122). Torquemada’s theses were developed the following century by one of his Italian confreres, Cardinal Cajetan.

The Council of Florence was very important as, on July 6th 1439, it promulgated the decree Laetentur Coeli et exultet terra, which brought the Eastern Schism to an end, but principally because it condemned concilarism definitively, by confirming the doctrine of the Pope’s supreme authority over the Church. On September 4th 1439, Eugene IV, defined solemnly: “We likewise define that the holy Apostolic See, and the Roman Pontiff, hold the primacy throughout the entire world; and that the Roman Pontiff himself is the successor of blessed Peter, the chief of the Apostles, and the true vicar of Christ, and that he is the head of the entire Church, and the father and teacher of all Christians; and that full power was given to him in blessed Peter by our Lord Jesus Christ, to feed, rule, and govern the universal Church, as is attested also in the acts of ecumenical councils and the holy canons.” (Denz-H, n. 1307).

In the letter, Etsi dubitemus, of April 21st 1441, Eugene IV condemned the heretics of Basel and the “diabolical founders” of the ‘conciliarism’ doctrine: Marsilius of Padua, Jean of Jandun and William of Ockham (Epistolae pontificiae ad Concilium Florentinum spectantes, Pontificio Istituto Orientale, Roma 1946, p. 28, 24-35), but towards Haec Sancta he held a hesitant stance, proposing what in modern terms might be defined as a “hermeneutic of continuity”. In the decree of September 4th 1439, Eugene IV states that the superiority of Councils over the Pope, asserted by the Basel Fathers on the basis of Haec Sancta, is “a bad interpretation given by the Basel Fathers themselves, which de facto is revealed as contrary to the genuine sense of the Sacred Scriptures, of the Holy Fathers, and of the Council of Constance itself.” (Decreto del 4 settembre 1439, in Conciliorum Oecumenicorum Decreta, EDB, Bologna 2002. p. 533). Eugenio IV himself, ratified the Council of Constance as a whole and in its decrees, excluded: “any prejudice to the rights, dignity and pre-eminence of the Apostolic See” as he writes to his legate on July 22nd 1446.

The hermeneutic of “continuity” thesis between Haec Sancta and the Tradition of the Church was soon abandoned. Haec Sancta is certainly the authentic act of a legitimate ecumenical Council, ratified by three Popes, but this is not enough to render binding on the doctrinal level a Magisterial document which is posed in contrast with the perennial teaching of the Church. Today we regard that only those documents, which do not damage the rights of the Papacy and do not contrast with the Tradition of the Church can be accepted from the Council of Constance. These documents do not include Haec Sancta, which is a formally heretical conciliar act.

Instead of scripture, tradition and magisterium, it should be beware the fine print.

Conciliarism and Protestantism

Francis Oakley traces the appropriation and extension of conciliarism by the Reformers (another historical development that cracks Jason and the Caller’s paradigmatic squint):

‘A general councell is a Congregation of Pastors, Doctors and Elders, or others, met in the name and authority of Jesus Christ, out of all Churches, to determine according to the word of God, all controversies in faith, Church-government or manners, no faithfull person who desireth being excluded from reasoning and speaking’. The author of this definition correctly noted that the definitions given across the two centuries and more preceding by the conciliar theorists Jean Gerson and Jacques Almain did not differ much from his own ‘save that they thinke that councells are lawfully convened, if such and such onely, as are of the Hierarchike order be members thereof . . . as also the Pope president . . . [which] we disclaime.’ . . .

These comments are drawn from The Due Right of Presbyteries which Samuel Rutherford, the Scottish Presbyterian, published in 1644. I do not believe it fanciful to suggest that they reflect in intriguing fashion the knowledge of, interest in, and sympathy with the long conciliarist tradition which had been so marked a feature of Scottish ecclesiological thinking since the first quarter of the fifteenth century, and of which, in the early sixteenth, John Mair had been the ‘outstanding representative’. . . . Significant elements of this conciliar ecclesiology are evident also in the Catechism which John Hamilton, archbishop of St. Andrews, published in 1550, and then were later reflected also in such official statements of the Reformed Scottish Kirk as the Scots Confession of 1560 and the Second Book of Discipline, this last drawn up in 1578 and recognized by James VI’s government in 1592. This Second Book of Discipline, indeed, affirmed the general Council to be an integral part of the Kirk’s organization, a capstone, as it were, to the structure of local, regional, and national or general assemblies.

But when James VI became James I, his suspicions of presbyterianism did not put him off conciliarism altogether even if his resolve for Reformed Protestantism was not as think as a Scottish accent:

Within a year of his becoming king of England, after all, and even before he told his first parliament that he acknowledged ‘the Romane Church to be our Mother Church, although defiled with some infirmities and corruptions’ and expressed, accordingly, his own heartfelt desire to help promote ‘a generall Christian union in Religion’, he had proposed to the papal curia via diplomatic back-channels that the pope should ‘summon a General Council, which, according to the ancient usage,’ would be ‘superior to all Churches, all doctrine, all Princes, secular and ecclesiastic, non excepted’. And if he believed the pope to be subject in jurisdiction to that of the general council (as the Council of Constance had demonstrated), he still insisted that he regarddd hierarchy as ‘essential’ to the Church, and the pope ‘the first Bishop in it, President and Moderator in Council, but not head or superior’. (142-144)