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Papal deposing power

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The papal deposing power was a significant aspect of the political authority claimed by and on behalf of the Pope, in medieval and early modern thought, amounting to the assertion of the Pope's power to declare a Christian monarch heretical and deposed as a ruler.

The claim was contested by both Catholic and Protestant rulers, as part of the ongoing discussion of the demarcation of spiritual and temporal authority. Catholic writers differed on the question of whether the deposing power was an integral part of the Catholic faith, an issue that was debated intensively in the early seventeenth century. The political points involved were later swept up in the formulation of Gallicanism as a distinctive doctrine limiting papal authority.

The Oath of Allegiance (1606) formulated for James I of England contained a specific denial of the deposing power. It triggered the Catholic Roger Widdrington's opposition to the unconditional acceptance by Catholics of the deposing power. Widdrington instead used the language of probabilism from moral theology, claiming that the deposing power was only a 'probable' doctrine, not a matter of faith.[1].


  1. John Bossy, The English Catholic Community (1603-1625), p. 93, in Alan G. R. Smith (editor), The Reign of James VI and I (1973).

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