The Temporal Independence of the Pope According to Theology (2)

November 17, 2020
Statue of Cardinal Pie

Our previous article reiterated the spiritual independence of the Pope from the states, as taught by the Magisterium. This spiritual independence produces temporal independence: this is what must be exposed.

The fundamental principle that forms the basis of this independence in the temporal order is stated as follows: the Church possesses a sovereign right in all that concerns the temporal independence of the Pope.

Opponents of Temporal Independence

Since the disappearance of the Papal States, there has been no shortage of voices to contest this temporal independence. Even today, some would like to see the representation of the Holy See at the United Nations disappear, for example, for the reason that the Vatican is not a state in the full sense of the word.

Thus, according to these opponents, the Church, in terms of public and social power, has no other rights than those recognized by current societies. In particular, she has no rights over purely temporal matters.

However, everything that concerns the temporal independence attributed to the Roman Pontiff, belongs, according to modern corporate law, to a purely temporal or political order of things. As a result, the Church cannot claim anything on her own, but depends on the goodwill of other states.

The Teaching of the Holy See

According to the Magisterium, not only the independence of the Pope considered in itself, but also the means which the Church deems necessary for the maintenance and defense of this independence, fall immediately under the sole authority of the Church.

It flows from this truth: the Church established by Our Lord as a perfect society possesses, by right, complete power over all that belongs to the supernatural end; but also over what has a certain connection with this end.

Leo XIII teaches in the encyclical Immortal Dei that: “Whatever, then, in human things is in every way sacred, whatever pertains to the salvation of souls or the worship of God, whether it is such by its own nature or again is understood as such because of the purpose to which it is referred, this is entirely in the power and judgment of the Church” (Dz. 1866).

Now, as the papal documents teach, what concerns the temporal independence of the Pope and the means of guaranteeing it in a sufficient way for the spiritual good of the faithful, undoubtedly falls within the spiritual authority of the Church.

Pius IX declared that it was his responsibility “to defend the civil principality of the Holy See, together with the rights and possessions of the Holy Roman Church; for the freedom of this same seat which is at one with the freedom and usefulness of the whole Church” (Allocution “Quibus quantisque,” April 20, 1849).

Following his predecessor, Leo XIII explains that: “when the temporal sovereignty of the apostolic see is in question, the cause of the public good and the well-being of all human society in general are also at stake. Hence, We cannot omit, in the discharge of Our duty, which obliges Us to guard the rights of holy Church, to renew and confirm in every particular by this Our letter those declarations and protests which Pius IX, of sacred memory, Our predecessor, on many and repeated occasions published against the seizing of the civil sovereignty and the infringement of rights belonging to the Catholic Church” (Inscrutabili dei consilio, April 21, 1878).

Pope Leo XIII later responds to an objection: “Pontifical statements are not dictated by the spirit of ambition, nor by the cupidity of earthly greatness. In truth, now it is a question of the great cause of the freedom and independence of the Church.”

It is true that this eminently spiritual cause includes a temporal element consisting in the possession of civil authority. But, as Pius IX put it, this element takes on a spiritual character “by virtue of its sacred purpose and its close link with the greatest interests of the Christian religion.”

It is not difficult to understand that temporal goods necessary for the existence of the Church, or indispensable for divine worship, participate in some way in the nature of spiritual goods; therefore, they are the exclusive domain of the Church. It is the same for the civil principality of the Roman Pontiff, because of the very high supernatural ends to which its possession is ordered.

A Beautiful Illustration of Cardinal Pie

This is what Cardinal Pie explains in this beautiful passage: “And let us not be surprised if we speak of sacrilege in connection with the temporal spoliation of the Church. The Son of God made man could only be affected by his executioners in his human nature, in his material body; and the executioners, by tearing his mortal flesh, nevertheless committed the supreme sacrilege which is called deicide.”

“The Church here is the continued person of Jesus Christ. Invulnerable in her purely spiritual essence, it is through her human and temporal side that she can especially be hit; and those who attack her from this side are no less guilty of divine religious treason. The bride of the Word made flesh has the right to occupy and retain, on this terrestrial globe, the material place which is necessary and favorable to her divine action on men, that is, on souls united to bodies, on individuals living in society and as a nation.”

“If it is true that God, by attributing heaven to Himself, gave the earth to the children of men. He did not, however, relinquish the right to possess that without which His religion and His cult, either would not exist, or would not exist with all the desirable developments.”

“Finally, the divine Savior founded his Church on unity; he gave it a monarchical constitution. Above all priests and bishops, above the successors of apostles, there is by divine right a successor of Peter, pontiff and pastor of the whole Church. For this spiritual power, which is exercised over all men and over all empires, a special location is required. The honor, the impartiality, the independence of this supreme and universal authority require that it be free from all possible pressure, from all foreign domination.”

“The Sovereign Pontificate finding in this royal independence, for more than a thousand years, the pledge of his freedom and his dignity for the good government of the universal Church, for the suitable representation of all the sacred interests of which he is responsible, we have said it with Bossuet, and we repeat it to you today in union with the encyclical of Pius IX and with the doctrine of the entire Catholic episcopate: any profane hand which interferes in touching this, in secularizing this, makes itself guilty of sacrilege.”