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Pastor aeternus

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Pastor aeternus is the incipit of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of Christ, issued by the First Vatican Council, July 18, 1870. According to The Modern Catholic Dictionary, Pastor aeternus defines four doctrines of the Catholic faith: the apostolic primacy conferred on Peter, the perpetuity of the Petrine Primacy in the Roman pontiffs, the meaning and power of the papal primacy, and the infallible teaching authority (magisterium) of the Roman Pontiff.[1]

Primacy of Simon Peter

The Primacy of Simon Peter is closely related to, and indeed essential to, the Papal Primacy, that is, the idea that the papacy, by divine institution, enjoys delegated authority from Jesus over the entire Church. However, this doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church makes a distinction between the personal prestige of Peter and the supremacy of the office of pope which Catholics believe Jesus instituted in the person of Peter.

Petrine doctrine

Vatican Council I defined the primacy of the bishop of Rome over the whole Catholic Church as an essential institution of the Church that can never be relinquished. This primacy is thus crucial to the understanding of the church from a Catholic viewpoint.

Papal primacy

Papal primacy is the apostolic authority of the Pope (Bishop of Rome), from the Holy See, over the several churches that comprise the Catholic Church in the Latin and Eastern Rites. It is also termed "papal primacy", [1] "primacy of Peter", [2] or "Roman primacy"; [3] one might encounter "Peter in primacy over the universal Church," [4] "Successor of Peter", [5], "Petrine Theory" and other related expressions.

Chapter 3 of the dogmatic constitution on the Church of Vatican Council I (Pastor aeternus) is the principal document of the Magisterium about the content and nature of the primatial power of the Roman Pontiff. Chapter 4 is a development and defining of one particular characteristic of this primatial power, namely the Pope's supreme teaching authority, i.e. when the Pope speaks ex cathedra he teaches the doctrine of the faith infallibly.

Magisterium

Magisterium is a "teaching authority, of the Roman Catholic Church"[2]. The word is derived from Latin magisterium, which originally meant the office of a president, chief, director, superintendent, etc. (in particular, though rarely, the office of tutor or instructor of youth, tutorship, guardianship) or teaching, instruction, advice.[3]

In the Roman Catholic Church the word "Magisterium" refers to the teaching authority of the church. This authority is understood to be embodied in the episcopacy, which is the aggregation of the current bishops of the church, led by the Bishop of Rome (the Pope), who has authority over the bishops, individually and as a body, as well as over each and every Catholic directly. According to Catholic doctrine, the Magisterium is able to teach or interpret the truths of the Faith, and it does so either non-infallibly or infallibly (see chart below).

"The task of interpreting the Word of God authentically has been entrusted solely to the Magisterium of the Church, that is, to the Pope and to the bishops in communion with him."[4]

Dogmatic definition of 1870

The infallibility of the pope was thus formally defined in 1870, although the tradition behind this view goes back much further. In the conclusion of the fourth chapter of its Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Pastor Aeternus, the First Vatican Council declared the following, with bishops Aloisio Riccio and Edward Fitzgerald dissenting:[5]

We teach and define that it is a dogma Divinely revealed that the Roman pontiff when he speaks ex cathedra, that is when in 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 in defining doctrine regarding faith or morals, and that therefore such definitions of the Roman pontiff are of themselves and not from the consent of the Church irreformable.

So then, should anyone, which God forbid, have the temerity to reject this definition of ours: let him be anathema. (see Denziger §1839).

— Vatican Council, Sess. IV , Const. de Ecclesiâ Christi, Chapter iv

According to Catholic theology, this is an infallible dogmatic definition by an ecumenical council. Because the 1870 definition is not seen by Catholics as a creation of the Church, but as the dogmatic definition of a Truth about the Papal Magisterium, Papal teachings made prior to the 1870 proclamation can, if they meet the criteria set out in the dogmatic definition, be considered infallible. Ineffabilis Deus is an example of this.

Opposition and criticism

The Catholic priest August Bernhard Hasler (d. 3 July 1980) wrote a detailed analysis of the First Vatican Council, presenting the passage of the infallibility definition as orchestrated.[6] Roger O'Toole described Hasler's work as follows:[7] "

  1. It weakens or demolishes the claim that Papal Infallibility was already a universally accepted truth, and that its formal definition merely made de jure what had long been acknowledged de facto.
  2. It emphasizes the extent of resistance to the definition, particularly in France and Germany.
  3. It clarifies the 'inopportunist' position as largely a polite fiction and notes how it was used by Infallibilists to trivialize the nature of the opposition to papal claims.
  4. It indicates the extent to which 'spontaneous popular demand' for the definition was, in fact, carefully orchestrated.
  5. It underlines the personal involvement of the Pope who, despite his coy disclaimers, appears as the prime mover and driving force behind the Infallibilist campaign.
  6. It details the lengths to which the papacy was prepared to go in wringing formal 'submissions' from the minority even after their defeat in the Council.
  7. It offers insight into the ideological basis of the dogma in European political conservatism, monarchism and counter-revolution.
  8. It establishes the doctrine as a key contributing element in the present 'crisis' of the Roman Catholic Church."

Mark E. Powell, in his examination of the topic from a Protestant point of view, writes: "August Hasler portrays Pius IX as an uneducated, abusive megalomaniac, and Vatican I as a council that was not free. Hasler, though, is engaged in heated polemic and obviously exaggerates his picture of Pius IX. Accounts like Hasler's, which paint Pius IX and Vatican I in the most negative terms, are adequately refuted by the testimony of participants at Vatican I".[8]

References

  1. Hardon, John. Modern Catholic Dictionary. Eternal Life.. 
  2. Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary
  3. Lewis and Short
  4. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed. 1997, pt. 1, sect. 1, ch. 2, art. 2, III [#100]
  5. "CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: Vatican Council". http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15303a.htm. 
  6. Hasler, August Bernhard (1981). How the Pope Became Infallible: Pius IX and the Politics of Persuasion. Doubleday. 
  7. Roger O'Toole, Review of "How the Pope Became Infallible: Pius IX and the Politics of Persuasion" by August Bernhard Hasler; Peter Heinegg, Sociological Analysis, Vol. 43, No. 1. (Spring, 1982), pp. 86-88, at p. 87.
  8. Papal Infallibility: A Protestant Evaluation of an Ecumenical Issue, (ISBN: 9780802862846 Published by William B Eerdmans Publishing Co), p. 23
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