Apostolic Authority

© Copyright 2013, T. Stanfill Benns ( All emphasis within quotes is the author’s unless indicated otherwise.)

Definition of authority

A brief survey of the meaning of authority is in order if we are to understand it as the Church Herself understands it. The following is excerpted from Revs. Devivier and Sasia, Vol. II, “Christian Apologetics.” The work by these authors was personally commended by Cardinal Merry del Val and was read by Pope St. Pius X.

“Among the elements of every society whose existence is intended to be permanent, one of the most essential is authority…It is authority that forms and preserves the moral bond among the members composing it; it is authority that leads and directs the common action of the associates, urging them forward, moderating their activity, correcting their errors, as it may be deemed expedient for the good of each and all,” (pgs. 7-8). Christ invested His Apostles with “the authority He had from His Father, which was to bring to salvation all men until the end of time…But a society cannot exist without authority, which is its basis…It was the Apostles who received the necessary powers. It was to them alone that the right belonged to transmit these powers…The authority with which Jesus Christ invested His apostles comprised a two-fold power: the power of Orders and the power of jurisdiction. The power of jurisdiction requires canonical institution, or a definite or authoritative nomination, and it can be withdrawn by the legitimate heads of the Church…” This power of jurisdiction is the “faculty of exercising legitimately the power of Orders and the right to take part in the government of the Church. To belong to the legitimate line of the pastors of the Church, or to the hierarchy of jurisdiction, it is not enough that a bishop should have received the power of Orders; he must have received besides the mission or authorization to govern a diocese…The bishop…must have subjects on whom to exercise his authority or governing power. But one cannot give himself subjects,” (pgs. 32-34).

“A Christian society whose bishops go back to the apostles only through the power of order, and not also through the power of jurisdiction, cannot claim to be apostolic, and consequently cannot be the Church of Christ…That an Apostolic succession is essential for the discernment of the true Church the Fathers unanimously teach…Jurisdiction itself dwells at all times in the heads of the Church, and is always transmitted according to the canonical rules in force at the time. Consequently, whosoever, therefore, has not received jurisdiction according to those rulesdoes not possess it, and even if he should have received the Episcopal character, he does not belong to the hierarchy of jurisdiction. Having no see and no subjects, it is evident that he is not a chief in the Church, and that he does not belong to the Apostolic Succession,” (pgs. 32-35).  Cardinal Hergenrother wrote: “The episcopal power of jurisdiction is therefore not derived ‘immediately from Christ’ insofar as it exists in individuals…It is imparted to [bishops] by the Head of the Church or by bishops he has authorized. Thus the unity of the Episcopate, so much insisted on by the Fathers is fully upheld; the Holy See is the head, root, spring and origin of the spiritual authority,” (pg. 36). So the bottom line here is that true apostolic authority proceeds primarily from the Apostolic See, exactly as Pope Pius XII later infallibly taught in Mystici Corporis and Ad Sinarum Gentum.

And those described in DZ 967, who are not “lawful ministers of the word and of the sacraments,” cannot be successors of the apostles because they certainly never possessed jurisdiction and the Church has never decided if their orders are valid. Church teaching on the matter shows such Orders are questionably valid at best. We must carry this explanation further and observe here that Traditionalists ARE claiming that their sacramental ministrations and Masses are valid and licit either under Can. 2261 §1 no. 2 or 3, both of which require that the pope supply such jurisdiction. This directly contradicts DZ 967, which condemns those who have not been sent “by ecclesiastical and canonical authority.” Nothing today can make these men lawful pastors or validate their acts, as seen below.

Papal law and unlawful ecclesiastical acts during an interregnum

In studying and accepting with an irrevocable assent the teachings of Pope Pius XII contained in the preamble to Vacantis Apostolica Sedis, those wishing to satisfy themselves concerning the apostolicity of those claiming to be priests and bishops today need look no further. It is very easy to arrive at certainty concerning their state with these and only a few other teachings.

If I have unfortunately violated a traffic law that concerns left turns and receive a citation, I go to the motor vehicle book and look up the laws concerning left turns. I follow the law in the future in order to avoid incurring any penalties and fines. I am obligated to do this as a responsible driver and citizen. If the laws of the state bind me in this manner, how much more so the laws of Christ’s divinely established Church, which are passively infallible. Those who claim today to be sedevacantists and especially those regarding the popes since Pius XII heretics and antipopes had a strict obligation to locate and obey any law made by Pope Pius XII or any other pope concerning interregnums, or the vacancy of the Roman See.

Fortunately the popes made consulting canon law much easier than in the past. Pope St. Pius X summarized and codified the papal election laws over the centuries in beginning codification of the Code of Canon Law. Pope Pius XII assisted in this codification as a young priest. Later, as Pope, he merely rearranged St. Pius X’s laws and added a few necessary provisions. So reading this law is reading a composite of all papal election law. Reading this law and obeying it would have dispelled all doubts in the minds of anyone about the still-binding nature of Canon Law and papal law, or the conduct demanded by the pope in our present situation.

The law forbids usurpation of papal jurisdiction; ergo, there can be no supplied jurisdiction in any form during an interregnum, since only the popes have ever supplied such jurisdiction. There can be no consecration of bishops, for this requires a papal mandate and without such a mandate bishops presuming to confer orders likewise presume papal jurisdiction and those consecrated do the same in exercising any orders given.

It is not even per se a question of validity. Bishops consecrated without such a mandate — even by one who was validly ordained and consecrated but later adhered to the Traditionalist and/or Conciliar church — are consecrated by schismatics who have incurred infamy. Schismatics cannot convey lawful orders even when the See is occupied, (DZ 1087). And they are not obliged to perform ordinations when requested by the faithful, because those wishing to become priests must be chosen first by their proper bishop; it was never a practice of the Church for such men to present themselves.

The infamous cannot perform valid or legitimate acts, nor can they be promoted to Holy Orders without the dispensation of the pope. Papal jurisdiction for this act is again presumed. According to Pope Pius XII’s law, during an interregnum validly and licitly ordained and consecrated bishops, far less schismatic bishops, are forbidden to convey ANY orders because Vacantis Apostolica Sedis declares any violation of papal law null and void, and this infallibly.

Traditionalists never became clerics

Traditionalist bishops who pretend to erect seminaries without papal permission and grant those they recruit tonsure have no power to do so and tonsure is never granted. Hence the men they call priests never even become clerics (Can. 108). All the actions they attempt are null and void. They remain laymen, incur infamy of law (Can. 2294, 2314 §3) and cannot advance to orders of any kind.

Now these men have neither been rightly ordained nor sent; and they certainly do not come from canonical authority; therefore they cannot be “lawful ministers of the word and of the Sacraments,” (DZ 967). Because in order to claim apostolicity, i.e., direct descent from the apostles, they must be both valid and licit. Without apostolicity they are not lawful pastors. And if they are not lawful, they are ‘thieves and hirelings’ who are not of Christ’s Church, (DZ 970). Using these very words of Christ’s, Pope Pius XII rendered an authentic interpretation of Can. 147 in 1950 proclaiming any who would dare to act without canonical appointment as ipso facto excommunicated, which excommunication is specially reserved to the Holy See. Truly this decision was one made based on Divine and Catholic faith, (See Canon Law Digest 3, under Can. 147).  As Rev. Patrick Madgett reminds us, Canon Law also is infallible, and certainly Pope Pius XII’s interpretation of this law makes it clear that this is indeed the case.

On this head the Catholic Encyclopedia writes under Apostolicity: “Hence in tracing the mission of the Church back to the Apostles, no lacuna can be allowed; no new mission can arise; but the mission conferred by Christ must pass from generation to generation through an uninterrupted lawful succession. The Apostles received it from Christ and gave it in turn to those legitimately appointed by them and these again selected others to continue in the work of the ministry. Any break in this succession destroys Apostolicity…there must be an unbroken, lawful succession which is called Apostolicity…In all theological works the same explanation of Apostolicity is found, based on the Scriptural and patristic testimony just cited.”

This is the unanimous opinion of theologians; the constant teaching of the Church, the confirmation of the supreme jurisdiction of the Roman Pontiffs. As we read in DZ 967, it is their lawfulness that is lacking and this is all that is necessary to quash their apostolicity. They also must possess apostolicity of doctrine, but in denying the necessity of jurisdiction and obedience to Canon Law, also the necessity of the papacy, there can be no apostolicity of doctrine.

In many respects the jurisdiction controversy all these years was only a planned distraction; these men were always questionably valid and were never lawful priests or bishops. They are correct in saying that canonical jurisdiction is now really a dead issue, for it was, all along, papal  jurisdiction that was lacking and was being violated in every respect. Even if they were certainly validly ordained and consecrated, they would not have been successors of the Apostles anointed by Jesus Christ, for this requires both orders AND jurisdiction. The Church has said it and we must therefore believe it.

(See the article on apostolicity at /articles/a-catholics-course-of-study/the-church/apostolic-succession-are-schismatic-clergy-and-laymen/ )

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