Sunday, 16 September 2012

Papal Authority

The Extent of Christendom

Papal authority was essentially and seemingly confirmed by imperial decree in the Donation of Constantine, which although was later proved to be a complete forgery, offered at the time of Becket proof that the Pope as Bishop of Rome had primacy over all Christendom.

Of all the many titles later presumed by the Popes was the ancient office of Pontifex Maximus, the Chief Priest of Rome - bridge builder. This had also been a title of the former Emperors of Rome. The Popes seemed to have taken this title in presumption of their ultimate spiritual authority over all Christendom, most especially in the West because of this.

At Rheims in 1049 Pope Leo IX summoned a Council or Synod of the the French bishops, at which it was pronounced that the Pope alone was the universal primate of all Christendom, the Apostolicus, spritual ruler of the Church and thereby all Christendom. It was publicly declared that lay rulers received their authority from the Church at their coronations, popes receiving their authority through apostolic succession all the way back to St. Peter, first bishop of Rome, who had been given his keys by Christ Himself. This declaration was essentially confirmed later at another Council, convoked by Pope Calixtus II and also held at Rheims, in 1119.

The Popes presumed the right to determine what was and what was not Canon Law, through the issue and system of decretals or decrees. A papal decretal or decree, usually pronounced in the form of a papal letter giving a decision on a point or question of the Canon Law or delivered at Councils or Synods of the Church. The Popes ruled by these decrees.

Extract From the Codex Theodosianus

The Authority of the Pope

Liber XVI 1.2


Imppp. gratianus, valentinianus et theodosius aaa. edictum ad populum urbis constantinopolitanae. cunctos populos, quos clementiae nostrae regit temperamentum, in tali volumus religione versari, quam divinum petrum apostolum tradidisse romanis religio usque ad nunc ab ipso insinuata declarat quamque pontificem damasum sequi claret et petrum alexandriae episcopum virum apostolicae sanctitatis, hoc est, ut secundum apostolicam disciplinam evangelicamque doctrinam patris et filii et spiritus sancti unam deitatem sub parili maiestate et sub pia trinitate credamus. (380 febr. 27).


Hanc legem sequentes christianorum catholicorum nomen iubemus amplecti, reliquos vero dementes vesanosque iudicantes haeretici dogmatis infamiam sustinere nec conciliabula eorum ecclesiarum nomen accipere, divina primum vindicta, post etiam motus nostri, quem ex caelesti arbitrio sumpserimus, ultione plectendos. dat. iii kal. mar. thessalonicae gratiano a. v et theodosio a. i conss. (380 febr. 27).

Book 16 1.2

I, 2. IT IS Our will that all the peoples who are ruled by the administration of Our Clemency shall practice that religion which the divine Peter the Apostle transmitted to the Romans, as the religion which he introduced makes clear even unto this day. It is evident that this is the religion that is followed by the Pontiff Damasus and by Peter, Bishop of Alexandria, a man of apostolic sanctity; that is, according to the apostolic discipline and the evangelic doctrine, we shall believe in the single Deity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, under the concept of equal majesty and of the Holy Trinity.

We command that those persons who follow this rule shall embrace the name of Catholic Christians. The rest, however, whom We adjudge demented and insane, shall sustain the infamy of heretical dogmas, their meeting places shall not receive the name of churches, and they shall be smitten first by divine vengeance and secondly by the retribution of Our own initiative, which We shall assume in accordance with the divine judgment (28 February 380).

The Western Roman Catholic Church was a kind of theocratic empire, or an institution striving to become one. Its aims were universal peace in Western Christendom with the Pope as supreme representative of God on Earth. It presumed the right to declare holy war upon the muslims and to summon the lay rulers of the various Christian kingdoms to provide troops for crusades against those who invaded the Holy Land. The Pope had his personal fiefdom in the form of the Papal States in Italy, and a limited ability to raise other monies from the Christian kingdoms, Peter's Pence and the like. The Church reserved for itself the right to crown kings and emperors. And to enforce Christianity as the sole religion allowed in Christendom, though the crusader states were more relaxed about this. And the kings of the Christian kingdoms were happy to allow Jewish communities as long as they funded their wars and provided loans for other national expenses. If the debts got too high expulsion was always available. Later the Inquisition was to become more particular about other religions and heresy.


Tom Reuter

-  Papal authority and church reform in the early twelfth century

Brooke, Z.N.. "Pope Gregory VII's Demand for Fealty from William the Conqueror." The English Historical Review 26.102 (Apr 1911) pp: 225-238. OUP [].

Henry Charles Lea (1869). "Papal Omnipotence"Studies in church history: The rise of the temporal power.--Benefit of clergy.--Excommunication. H. C. Lea.

Oliver O'Donovan; Joan Lockwood O'Donovan (1999). "Pope Gregory VII: Dictatus Papae". From Irenaeus to Grotius: A Sourcebook in Christian Political Thought, 100-1625. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. pp. 242–. ISBN 978-0-8028-4209-1. 

Vol. 20 (1964), pp. 179-317
Published by: Cambridge University Press
Stable URL:

Pope Gregory VII and the Origin of The Crusades 

Pope Gregory VII, early in his papal reign [1073-85], made a proposal that he should lead an army of 50,000 men to the east, and once a base had been established then push on the liberate the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

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