by Michael Davies

a. The Power of Order

The power or order (holy orders) makes possible the communication of divine life through the sacraments, particularly the Sacrifice of the Mass. It is conferred upon the sacred hierarchy, especially on the bishops, by the Sacrament of Holy Order. Since this power has for its main object the sanctification of men's souls through divine worship and the administration of the sacraments, it comprises what is generally known as "the care of souls". This power can never be extinguished in the Church. There will always be bishops who can ordain successors so that the faithful will not be deprived of the sacraments. Furthermore, because the sanctification of the faithful is an essential function of the Church's divine constitution, she will never cease to offer her members the means of holiness through valid sacraments, and above all through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The great Jesuit theologian, Francisco de Suarez (1548-1617), added four additional proofs of the divine nature of the Church to the traditional marks of Unity, Holiness, Apostolicity, and Catholicity. Among them was "the lawful use of the sacraments which must always be found in the true Church, at least in what concerns their substance and in what is necessary to accomplish the divine precepts. The lawful use of the sacraments pertains only to the true Church and they are preserved by her alone in their integrity, whereas heretics usurp them unjustly and mutilate them at their will.

The supreme authority in the Church, the Roman Pontiff, utilising his ordinary and universal magisterium, could never command, approve, or authorize as an universal law any liturgical rite or custom that was contrary to sound doctrine, could invalidate the sacrament, or be harmful to the faithful. The reason for this is made very clear by Professor J.P.M. van der Ploeg in his book I Believe: "They (the sacraments) are the instruments given to the Church to sanctify her members. Each human institution must have means at its disposal to enable it to fulfil its purpose. The Church has been founded by Christ to lead us to eternal life, and the sacraments are her means to that end." The Reverend Professor E. Dublanchy, SM, deals with the same question in his authoritative article "The Church" in the Dictionnaire de Théologie Catholique:

He continues:

Cardinal Journet insists that prudential precepts ordained for the general good of the Church are radically and fundamentally infallible:

Cardinal Journet differentiates between the infallible protection given to general or universal laws, guaranteeing that what they command can contain nothing intrinsically harmful for the faithful, and their prudence: "However, it does not necessarily follow that precepts of a general application will always be the most prudent possible." The Pope has the authority to reimpose communion under both kinds upon the Latin Church. It was once the general custom and there is clearly nothing intrinsically wrong with the practice which is the still the norm for the Catholic Eastern rites, but it could be deemed imprudent to impose Communion under both kinds as the norm in the Latin Rite as it might appear to concede that Protestants were justified in attacking Communion under one kind as contrary to a precept of Our Lord.

When Cardinal Journet mentions the unanimous teaching of theologians he is referring to the consensus of the teaching of what are known as approved authors. This consensus constitutes one of the fundamental sources upon which theological science is based,the theological sources (loci theologici or loci communes). * When we

* The number of theological sources is a matter upon which theologians are not unanimous, but the following are generally agreed: (a) Creeds or symbols of faith generally received; (b) dogmatic definitions of the Popes or ecumenical councils, and of particular councils solemnly ratified; (c) the undoubtedly clear and constant teaching of the Apostolate, especially the public and permanent tradition of the Roman Church; (e) universal practice, especially in liturgical matters, where it clearly supposes and professes a truth as undoubtedly revealed; (f) the teaching of the Fathers when manifest and universal; (g) the teaching of theologians when manifest and universal.

speak of an approved author we mean one who is held in general esteem on account of his learning and the Catholic spirit of his teaching. Some approved authors are of acknowledged weight, while others are of only minor importance. When the consensus of approved and weighty theologians (auctores probati et graves) agrees that a doctrine is sufficiently certain and demonstrated this is sufficient to show that the doctrine belongs to the mind of the Church (Catholicus intellectus), and that consequently its denial would incur the censure of rashness. Although the assistance of the Holy Ghost is not directly promised to theologians, nevertheless the assistance promised to the Church requires that He should prevent them as a body from falling into error.

It can be argued that the doctrine of the infallibility of the Pope in universal disciplinary laws, as explained by the approved authors, does not come into the category of de fide teaching, and that theologians may lawfully discuss the limits of the principle. While Dublanchy refers to what is commanded, approved, or authorized, other approved authors appear to refer only to what is commanded, but this does not necessarily mean that they exclude what is approved or authorized for universal use from receiving infallible assistance. Some citations from the teaching of the approved authors now follow.

The Infallibility of the Church in Her Universal Disciplinary Laws

It is the unanimous opinion of theologians of repute (approved authors) that the Church is infallible in her discipline and general practice (including the liturgy), at least in all that is truly commanded by the universal Church. They are equally unanimous in agreeing that in particular laws not destined for the universal Church there can be error. The infallibility of universal disciplinary is taught by Tanquery, Pesch, and Hervé.

Canon J.M. Hervé explains the unanimous view of the approved authors as follows:


This thesis is put forward against the Iconoclasts, the Pseudo-Reformers, especially the Calvinists, the Modernists, the Rationalists and all those who impugn the worship and the laws of the Church.

Two of the sources cited by Hervé are the 22nd Session of the Council of Trent (1562), Canon 7, and the Bull Auctorem Fidei of Pope Pius VI (1794). Canon 7 reads:

Auctorem Fidei condemned 85 articles of the Jansenist Synod of Pistoia (1786). The 78th condemned proposition was the assertion that the Church could impose harmful disciplinary laws (the category into which the liturgy comes). The Synod was condemned for presuming to subject to examination "the discipline constituted and approved by the Church" (disciplinam ab Ecclesia constitutam et probatam). It continued:

Both these condemnations would apply to anyone maintaining that the 1970 Latin Missal is evil or harmful to souls.

The Consensus of Approved Authors

The consensus of approved authors is that in order to be infallible:

1. The general law must be a positive law mandated for the universal Church, or a custom approved and adopted for the universal Church.

2. Within this context the Roman rite must be considered as equivalent to universal as it includes the overwhelming majority of Catholics throughout the world, and is proper to the Holy See itself.

3. The scope of these laws includes everything which in the precepts, decisions and sanctions of the Roman Pontiff contribute visibly to forming the Christian life of the faithful. They include the divine efficacy of the Mass and the sacraments to the extent that they derive from a liturgy approved by the laws and customs of the Church. Official worship must conform to faith.

4. Indefectibility applies only to matters of faith and morals. Therefore the accounts of the lives of the saints in the breviary are not guaranteed to be historically accurate, all that is guaranteed is that these accounts contain nothing contrary to faith or morals. Indefectibility does not guarantee that the new law will be the most perfect possible, or even opportune or appropriate, but only that it will be free from all error implicit or explicit in matters of faith or morals, and consequently cannot harm the spiritual life of the faithful by their observing what the law prescribes. The canonists Wernz-Widal explain: "The Pontiffs are infallible in the elaboration of universal laws concerning the ecclesiastical discipline, such that these can never establish anything that might be contrary to faith and morals even if they do not attain the supreme degree of prudence."

© 1997 Michael Davies.

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Last modified 27th October, 1997, by David Joyce.