The Temporal Power of the Supreme Pontiff

We present here a previously unpublished edition of his Fifth Book of Controversies over the Supreme Pontiff, translated from the English by Fr. James P. Goodwin, S.J.

Chapter I

Remaining is the last topic of dispute over the Pontiff, which concerns his temporal power: about this question three opinions can be found. The first is: the Supreme Pontiff has by divine right the fullest possible power over the whole world, both in ecclesiastical and political matters. In this vein teach Augustinus Triumphus (in his “Summa Concerning Ecclesiastical Power,” question 1, article 1), Alvarus Pelagius (in the first book, “The Lament of the Church,” “De Planctu Ecclesiae,” chapter 13) and many jurists, like Ostiensis, Panormitanus, and Sylvester, and not a few others. Ostiensis even goes further than the others: He teaches that, with the advent of Christ, all dominion of infidel rulers has been transferred to the Church and resides in the Supreme Pontiff as the Vicar of Christ, the highest true King, and therefore, the Pontiff, by his own right, can give the kingdoms of infidels to whomever he wills of the faithful.

Another, I will not call an “opinion,” but a “heresy,” is found at the other extreme. First, the Pontiff, as Pontiff, has no temporal power nor can he in any way command secular rulers, nor deprive them of principality or kingdom, even if they deserve to be deprived. Secondly, it teaches that it is not licit for the Pontiff or other Bishops to accept temporal dominion, which they now have over some cities and provinces, whether such dominion was given to them or they usurped it. For divine law prohibits that the temporal and spiritual swords be entrusted to one and the same man. Thus teach all heretics of today, and especially Calvin (Book Four of his Institutes, chapter 11, paragraphs 8-14) and Peter Martyr and Brentius, Peter a Soto, who included among the traits of the Antichrist that the Pontiff bears two swords, from whatever source he got them.

A third opinion, moderate and common to Catholic theologians, is that the Pontiff has no direct and immediate temporal power but only spiritual, but by reason of his spiritual power he has a certain indirect power, and that of the highest order, over temporal matters. Of this opinion are Hugo of St. Victor whom Alexander Alensis follows. Others are St. Bonaventure, Durandus, Petrus ab Aliaco, John of Paris, Jacobis of Almain, Gabriel Biel, Henry of Gandavo, John Driedo, John of Turrecremata, Albertus Pighius, Thomas Waldensis, Petrus de Palude, Cajetan, Francis Victoria, Dominic de Sotis, Nicholas Sanders, Anthony of Corduba, and a great many others.

What St. Thomas held, is not too certain. For, at the end of the second volume of the Sentences, he says that in the Pope is the culmination of both powers [spiritual and temporal]. Nevertheless, in Chapter 13 of his commentary on Romans, he says clerics are exempt from taxes by a privilege granted by the secular rulers and that clerics can make arrangements for wars to the extent that they relate to a spiritual good which is the purpose of their power. From which it can be gathered that he does not dissent from other theologians.

We will, therefore, treat of the three opinions. First, we will show that the Pontiff does not have by divine right direct temporal power. Secondly, that he has, in some circumstances, by reason of his spiritual supremacy, the highest degree of temporal power. Thirdly, it is not contrary to divine law that Bishops should have, even actively and directly, temporal power over cities and provinces given to them by kings, or acquired by other just titles.