The Successor of Peter enjoys full and supreme power of jurisdiction in faith and morals, and in all that concerns the Church’s governance
At the General Audience of Wednesday, 24 February, the Holy Father returned to his catechesis on the mystery of the Church. In the 51st talk of the series on the ministry of Bishops in the Church, the Pope spoke about the Bishop of Rome's authority as universal pastor. The Holy Father spoke in Italian.
1. In an earlier catechesis we spoke of the Bishop of Rome as the Successor of Peter. This succession has fundamental importance for fulfilling the mission that Jesus Christ handed on to the Apostles and the Church.
The Second Vatican Council teaches that the Bishop of Rome, as "Vicar of Christ", has "supreme and universal" power over the whole Church (Lumen gentium, n. 22). This power, as well as that of all Bishops, has a ministerial character (ministerium means service), as the Fathers of the Church had already observed.
It is in the light of this Christian tradition that the conciliar definitions on the Bishop of Rome's mission must be understood and explained, keeping in mind that the traditional language used by the Councils, especially the First Vatican Council, in regard to the powers of both the Pope and the Bishops, employs in its explanation terms proper to the world of civil law, which in this case must be given their correct ecclesial meaning.
Inasmuch as the Church is a group of human beings called to carry out in history God's plan for the salvation of the world, power in her appears as an indispensable requirement of mission. Nevertheless, the analogical value of the language used allows power to be conceived in the sense provided by Jesus' maxim on "power in order to serve" and by the Gospel idea of the pastoral leader. The power required by the mission of Peter and his successors is identified with this authoritative leadership guaranteed of divine assistance, which Jesus himself called the ministry (service) of a shepherd.
Roman Pontiff exercises full and supreme jurisdiction
2. Having said that, we can reread the definition of the Council of Florence (1439), which stated: "We define that the Holy Apostolic See—and the Roman Pontiff—has primacy over the whole world, and that the same Roman Pontiff is the successor of Blessed Peter, Prince of the Apostles and true Vicar of Christ, head of the whole Church, and father and teacher of all Christians; and that upon him, in Blessed Peter, our Lord Jesus Christ conferred the full power of shepherding, ruling and governing the universal Church, as is also stated in the acts of the Ecumenical Councils and the sacred canons" (DS 1307).
We know that historically the problem of the primacy was posed by the Eastern Church separated from Rome. The Council of Florence, trying to foster reunion, expressed the precise meaning of the primacy. It is a mission of service to the universal Church, which necessarily entails a corresponding authority precisely because of this service: "the full power of shepherding, ruling and governing", without prejudice to the privileges and rights of the Eastern Patriarchs, according to the order of their dignity (cf. DS 1308).
For its part, Vatican I (1870) cited the Council of Florence's definition (cf. DS 3060) and, after mentioning the Gospel texts (Jn 1:42; Mt 16:16f; Jn 21:15f), expresses the meaning of this power in further detail. The Roman Pontiff "does not only have the office of inspection and direction", but enjoys "full and supreme power of jurisdiction, not only in matters of faith and morals, but also in those which concern the discipline and governance of the Church dispersed throughout the world" (DS 3064).
There were attempts to reduce the Roman Pontiff’s power to an "office of inspection and direction". Some proposed that the Pope be simply an arbiter of conflicts between local Churches or that he merely give a general direction to the autonomous activities of the Churches and of Christians with his counsel and exhortation. This limitation, however, did not conform to the mission Christ conferred on Peter. Therefore, Vatican I emphasizes the fullness of papal power and defines that it is not enough to recognize that the Roman Pontiff "has the principal role": one must admit instead that he "has all the fullness of this supreme power" (DS 3064).
3. In this regard it would be well to clarify immediately that this "fullness" of power attributed to the Pope in no way detracts from the "fullness" also belonging to the body of Bishops. On the contrary, one must assert that both the Pope and the episcopal body have "all the fullness" of power. The Pope possesses this fullness personally, while the body of Bishops, united under the Pope's authority, possesses it collegially. The Pope's power does not result from simply adding up numbers, but is the episcopal body's principle of unity and wholeness.
For this very reason the Council underscores that the Pope's power "is ordinary and immediate over all the Churches and over each and every member of the faithful" (DS 3064). It is ordinary, in the sense that it is proper to the Roman Pontiff by virtue of the office belonging to him and not by delegation from the Bishops; it is immediate, because he can exercise it directly without the Bishops' permission or mediation.
Vatican I's definition, however, does not assign to the Pope a power or responsibility to intervene daily in the local Churches; it means only to exclude the possibility of imposing norms on him to limit the exercise of the primacy. The Council expressly states: "This power of the Supreme Pontiff does not at all impede the exercise of that power of ordinary and immediate episcopal jurisdiction with which the Bishops, appointed by the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 20:28) as successors of the Apostles, shepherd and govern the flock entrusted to them as true pastors. . ." (DS 3061).
Bishops' jurisdiction not absorbed by the Pope's
Indeed, we should keep in mind a statement of the German Episcopate (1875) approved by Pius IX that said: "The Episcopate also exists by virtue of the same divine institution on which the office of the Supreme Pontiff is based: it enjoys rights and duties in virtue of a disposition that comes from God himself, and the Supreme Pontiff has neither the right nor the power to change them". The decrees of Vatican I are thus understood in a completely erroneous way when one presumes that because of them "episcopal jurisdiction has been absorbed by papal jurisdiction"; that the Pope "is taking for himself the place of every Bishop"; and that the Bishops are merely "instruments of the Pope: they are his officials without responsibility of their own" (DS 3115).
4. Now let us listen to the full, balanced and serene teaching of Vatican II, which states that "Jesus Christ, the eternal Shepherd, ... willed that the Bishops (as successors of the Apostles) should be shepherds in his Church until the end of the world. In order that the Episcopate itself, however, might be one and undivided he put Peter at the head of the other Apostles, and in him he set up a lasting and visible source and foundation of the unity both of faith and of communion" (Lumen gentium, n. 18).
In this sense Vatican II speaks of the Bishop of Rome as "pastor of the entire Church", having "full, supreme and universal power" (Lumen gentium, n. 22). That power is "primatial authority over all, whether pastors or faithful" (ibid.). "Consequently, the Bishops, each for his own part, ... are obliged to enter into collaboration with one another and with Peter's Successor, to whom, in a special way, the noble task of propagating the Christian name was entrusted" (Lumen gentium. n. 23).
According to the same Council, the Church is also catholic in the sense that all Christ's followers must work together in the overall mission of salvation, each in his own apostolate. The pastoral work of all, however, and especially that collegial activity of the whole Episcopate, attains unity through the Bishop of Rome's ministerium Petrinum. The Council again says: "The Bishops, while loyally respecting the primacy and pre-eminence of their head, exercise their own proper authority for the good of their faithful, indeed even for the good of the whole Church" (Lumen gentium, n. 22). We should also add from the Council that, if the collegial power over the whole Church attains its particular expression in an Ecumenical Council, it is "the prerogative of the Roman Pontiff to convoke such Councils, to preside over them and to confirm them" (ibid.). Everything, then, depends on the Pope, the Bishop of Rome, as the principle of unity and communion.
5. At this point we should again note that, if Vatican II adopted the tradition of the ecclesiastical Magisterium on the topic of the Bishop of Rome's ministerium Petrinum previously expressed at the Council of Florence (1439) and at Vatican I (1870), to its credit, when it repeated this teaching, it brought out the correlation between the primacy and the collegiality of the Episcopate in the Church. Because of this new clarification the erroneous interpretations often made of Vatican I's definition are rejected and the full significance of the Petrine ministry is shown in its harmony with the doctrine of episcopal collegiality. Also confirmed was the Roman Pontiff's right "within the exercise of his own office to communicate freely with the pastors and flock of the entire Church", and this in regard to all rites (cf. Pastor aeternus, ch. II: DS 3060, 3062).
This does not mean claiming for the Successor of Peter powers like those of the earthly "rulers" of whom Jesus spoke (cf. Mt 20:25-28), but being faithful to the will of the Church's Founder, who established this type of society and this form of governance to serve the communion in faith and love.
Pope fulfils mission in humble service
To fulfil Christ's will, the Successor of Peter must assume and exercise the authority he has received in a spirit of humble service and with the aim of ensuring unity. Even in the various historical ways of exercising that authority he must imitate Christ in serving and bringing into unity those called to be part of the one fold. He will never subordinate what he has received for Christ and his Church to his own personal aims. He can never forget that the universal pastoral mission must entail a very profound participation in the Redeemer's sacrifice, in the mystery of the cross.
Regarding his relationship with his brothers in the Episcopate, he must remember and apply the words of St Gregory the Great: "My honour is the honour of the universal Church. My honour is the solid strength of my brothers. I am truly honoured, then, when each of them is not denied the honour due him" (Epist. ad Eulogium Alexandrinum; PL 77, 993).
L'Osservatore Romano March 3, 1993