The Temporal Power of the Supreme Pontiff

Chapter V

But certain ones will appear and object. First, the words of the Lord, in Matthew XVIII, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me;” from which can seemingly be inferred that Christ had both a spiritual and a terrestrial kingship; the keys of both kingships He gave to Peter, as Nicholas says in a letter to Mediolanus: “Christ,” he says, “committed to Peter as key-bearer of eternal life both the rights of a terrestrial and a heavenly kingship.”

I reply: The power of which the Lord speaks here is not temporal power like that of earthly kings but only spiritual, as Blessed Jerome and Blessed Anselm explain that this is the meaning of those words, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me,” that is, as in heaven I am King of the Angels, so by Faith I would reign in the hearts of men, or (as Theophylactus adds) there is a certain supreme power over all creatures, not temporal but divine, or most like the divine, which cannot be conferred on a mortal man.

Relative to the testimony of Nicholas I say, in this sense Christ conceded to Peter the rights of an authority at the same time earthly and heavenly, that what he released from or obliged to on earth would be taken as released from or obliged to in heaven. For Nicholas alluded to the words of Matthew XVI: 19. Nor can we otherwise interpret it, unless we were to wish Nicholas II to be in conflict with Nicholas I, who in a letter to Michael expressly teaches that Christ differentiated between the acts, offices, and dignities of both Pontiff and Emperor, in order that neither the Emperor would presume to usurp the rights of the Pontiff, nor the Pontiff presume to usurp those of the Emperor.

Secondly, they advance the scriptural text of Luke XXII, 36-38, where the Lord granted two swords to Peter. For when the disciples said, “Here are two swords, the Lord did not say, “It is too much,” but “It is enough.” Wherefore, Bernard, in Book IV of his Considerations, and Boniface the VIII, in “Unam Sanctam,” deduce that the Pontiff has, by Christ’s institution, two swords.

I reply, there is literally no mention in that citation from the Gospel (of Luke) of either a spiritual or temporal sword of a Pontiff, but simply that the Lord wished by those words to alert His disciples to the fact that at the time of His passion they would be in such distress and fear as those experience who sell their tunic in order to buy a sword; as can be gathered from Theophylactus and other Fathers. Furthermore, Blessed Bernard and Pope Boniface interpreted this place in Scripture in a mystical sense nor do they wish to say that in the same way a Pontiff has two swords, but in two different ways, as we will later explain.

A third objection. All disputes and conflicts, both temporal and spiritual are pertinent to the judgment of the supreme Pontiff; for that is expressly held in Canon “Quicumque litem,” and Canon “Quaecumque Contentiones,” XI, question 4.

I reply: Of those Canons, the first is from the Emperor Theodosius, who from piety, not from justice, deferred it in honor of the Church. Furthermore, by virtue of that canon it was granted not only to the Roman Pontiff but to all bishops, that they could judge civil cases that were deferred to them. Finally, this has already been abrogated by other canons, as the Gloss at that point affirms. Concerning the second of the above canons, it is of uncertain authority; and on that account, it is marked by the word “ancient,” (“palaea”): which cannot be terminated by secular Judges, either because a Judge does not want to administer justice, or the other party does not wish to agree; for then cases devolve on the judgment of the Church by way of fraternal correction, as Innocent III rightly teaches, under the heading, “Novit, de judic.”

A fourth argument. Where the Imperial Throne is vacant, the Supreme Pontiff succeeds to its administration, and uses Imperial power until another Emperor is chosen, as can be gathered from Innocent the Third and from the Council of Vienna, that imperial power derives from the Supreme Pontiff as from the highest temporal Ruler.

I reply: That a Pontiff succeeds an Emperor, when the imperial throne is empty, not in all matters but only in judicial authority, and in bringing to a conclusion only those cases which are wont to be judged only by the Emperor, and which do not readily bear delay. The reason, however, for this is not that the Pontiff is the highest temporal Ruler, but because all cases which cannot be decided through temporal judges devolve upon a spiritual judge, as we shall discuss below and have already, in part, discussed.

A final Objection. St. Thomas, in the Third Book of his “De Regimine Principum” (“Concerning the Rule of Princes”), chapters 10 and 19, affirms that the Supreme Pontiff has by divine right spiritual and temporal power throughout the world, as the highest King of the entire world, so that he can impose contributions on all Christians, and can destroy cities and encampments to preserve Christianity. St. Thomas says the same thing in II. sent. dist. 44, prope finem: that in the Pope is the apex of both powers, spiritual and temporal. Many other Doctors follow St. Thomas, to the extent that this opinion can be said to be the “common opinion of theologians.” I reply: not without reason do some learned men have doubts about the author of the books, “De Regimine Principum,” which are included among the minor works (“opuscula”) of St. Thomas; for many things point to the fact that St. Thomas is not the author of those books, but especially what is found in Book III, chapter 20, concerning the succession of the Emperors Adolph and Albert; for the author of those writes that in his time it happened that Adolph succeeded Rudolph and Albert succeeded Adolph. But it is beyond question that St. Thomas died in the year of salvation 1274 but Adolph succeeded Rudolph in the year 1292, and Albert succeeded Adolph in the year 1299, nor are there any disagreements with these given dates. It could not be possible, then, that St. Thomas was the author of those books, since he departed life so many years before the imperial rule of Adolph and Albert, unless perhaps that narrative portion were inserted into the work of St. Thomas by someone else. But whoever was the author of those books, he does not seem to dissent from our position, unless perhaps in the manner of speaking. For although he sometimes says the Supreme Pontiff has authority in all temporal matters, he nevertheless explains himself in many places, and teaches that the power of the Supreme Pontiff, properly, per se, and directly, is spiritual, but through him a disposition can be made concerning the temporal affairs of all Christians, when that is required to attain the purpose of his spiritual power, to which are subordinate the ends of all temporal powers. In this way he speaks in Book I, chapter 14: “Therefore, the ministry of this Kingdom (namely, the spiritual, which Christ instituted), that the spiritual might be distinct from the worldly, it was committed not to worldly Kings but to priests, and principally, to the High Priest Successor to St. Peter, the Vicar of Christ, the Roman Pontiff, to whom it is proper that all kings of Christian peoples be subordinate, as to Jesus Christ our Lord; for thus, those should be subordinate to him to whom concern for the ultimate goal [of man] belongs, since the former are occupied with the more immediate, not the ultimate, goals of man. Thus far, the author of the disputed opusculum of St. Thomas. He most clearly distinguishes earthly kingdoms, which have for their purpose temporal peace, from the spiritual kingdom of Christ and his Vicar, which has eternal life for its purpose. Once again from the same author: “It is sufficient, apparently,” he says, “that the dominion of Christ is oriented to the salvation of the soul, although it is not excluded from temporal affairs to the extent that they impact spiritual concerns.” Also, in the same place: “There is,” he says, “another reason why our Lord took a lowly station, even though He is the Lord of the World, in order to imply for all to see the difference between His authority and that of other rulers: although He was the Lord of the World in time, He directly ordered His life to a spiritual sovereignty.” Thus far, the author. By his words he signifies that Christ had temporal dominion of the whole world, but indirectly: directly, however, He had only spiritual dominion; wherefore, in the same book that author does not say that the Supreme Pontif can absolutely impose taxes on all Christians and destroy encampments and cities, but only in the event that the preservation of Christianity requires it: to accomplish which that is sufficient which the Supreme Pontiff has, namely, the most ample spiritual power over the whole Chrisitan world. Relative to that which St. Thomas writes in the “Sentences, II, d. 44, that there is in the Roman Pontiff the culmination of both powers, spiritual and temporal, a response can be made in two ways. First, that St. Thomas speaks of the power which the Roman Pontiff has over the temporal location of the Roman Church. For he had said a bit previously, that in those matters which pertain to the salvation of the soul, there is a greater obligation to the spiritual authority than to the secular; on the contrary, in those matters which pertain to the civil good, there is a greater obligation to obey the secular rather than the spiritual. Then he adds an exception, unless a secular authority be joined to a spiritual authority, as in the Roman Pontiff, in whom is the culmination of both powers. For, because the Roman Pontiff is not only the Pastor of the Church but also the secular Ruler of many provinces; therefore, in those provinces there is a greater obligation to obey, both in spiritual matters and in secular affairs, the Roman Pontiff than any other power whether spiritual or secular. Secondly, the response can be made: that St. Thomas wishes the culmination of both powers with respect to the whole Christian world, but not in the same way: for the culmination of spiritual power is in him directly and per se; but the culmination of secular power is in him only indirectly, and consequently, neither is it probable that St. Thomas was of the opinion that in merely civil matters the Roman Pontiff was more to be obeyed than one’s own king, even in those provinces not subject to the Roman Church; the contrary can be openly gathered from the rescripts of the very Pontiffs cited above, with which, without any doubt, St. Thomas is not at variance. Therefore, St. Thomas wanted only that even in civil matters one should obey the Roman Pontiff rather than a secular ruler, if the salvation of souls depends on those civil matters: not however independently, for the most ample power of making dispositions of the temporal affairs of all Christians is linked to the fullest possible spiritual power of the Pontiff, as we will demonstrate in the following chapter. Moreover, I am persuaded that this is the meaning of St. Thomas from the fact that he states that clerics are exempt from taxes by a privilege granted by secular rulers, and also from the consensus of the followers of St. Thomas: for I see that, by the closest possible agreement, that opinion is taught by the disciples of St. Thomas which attributes to the Pontiff power over temporal matters, only indirectly and by derivation, as is clear, from Peter de Palude, John of Turrecremata, John of Paris, Thomas Cajetan, Francis Victoria, Dominicus a Soto, Bartholomew Medina, and others, of whom it is not at all credible that, in a matter of such importance, they would have wanted to depart from the steps of St. Thomas. Nor would it be difficult to call back some theologians, who seem to hold the contrary opinion, to agreement with the others: for even Augustinus Triumphus himself who seems most openly to assign to the Supreme Pontiff temporal power over the whole earth explains that temporal power is had differently by the Pontiff and by a King: for it is had by the Pontiff when he confirms or corrects but by the King in the process of administration. In article 8 (de potestate Pontificis), he writes more clearly that the Pope has spiritual power but, through it, makes dispositions that affect temporal matters. And in article 9, he demonstrates that Christ was not a temporal King but a spiritual one.

By similar reasoning, Alvarus Pelagius seems to have wished to make both Christ and his Vicar temporal Kings of the whole world; nevertheless, in the second part of the same work, in article 17, he teaches openly and profusely that Christ on earth did not have temporal dominion over the whole world but only a spiritual kingdom: and the Roman Pontiff as Christ’s Vicar does not have, directly and of himself, temporal power but only spiritual, although by virtue of the spiritual he could regulate the temporal when a spiritual necessity requires it. Thus, also, Durandus, who has these words: “It must be observed that whoever says that Christ did not have all spiritual and temporal power contradicts the Gospel.” And, further on, “After the resurrection, Christ conferred on Peter the whole rule over the Church, insofar as it was necessary for the regulation of the whole Church and because both temporal and spiritual powers are necessary; therefore, He conferred both powers on Peter.” Thus far Durandus, who then explains himself by saying: There are true limits to spiritual and temporal jurisdictions from the the foundation of the Church which it is not permitted to transgress, because the temporal jurisdiction in no way extends to the spiritual, about which it knows nothing: spiritual jurisdiction, however, extends primarily and principally to spiritual matters but secondarily and, as a certain consequence, to the actions of men relating to temporal matters which are ordered to the spiritual as to their purpose.” And, further on: “Nor do we intend to say that Christian rulers or kings hold their territories or kingdoms as if they were fiefs of the Church, as some have occasionally wrongly believed; but only this, precisely, we wish to say, that the regimen of Kings and all other Christian princes is subordinate to the regimen of the Church, to the extent that if it yields to the subversion of Faith or morals, correction and direction by very right belongs to the Church.” Thus far the author.

Also St. Bonaventure, in his book on the hierarchy of the Church, writes that the Supreme Pontiff can depose Emperor or Kings, as one who has supreme power over the Christian world; and, nevertheless, he himself, in the same book, says that the power of bishops is purely spiritual, the power of kings, however, purely temporal; and, in chapter 1, p. 2, he repeats that the priestly power, also of the Supreme Pontiff, is entirely spiritual but greater than the temporal, in such a way that the temporal is subject to the spiritual, and not contrariwise; and this is the judgment and confession of all Catholics. Finally, while omitting more recent authors, the first who attribute temporal power, by the institution of Christ, to the Supreme Pontiff, appear to be: Hugo of St. Victor and St. Bernard; but Alexander, Bonaventure, Henry, Durandus, and others of a later date followed the previous two. Moreover, Hugo writes, indeed, that because of the more important spiritual power which is had by the Supreme Pontiff, there is a right to judge and correct the temporal power of kings: nevertheless, in the same place, he writes explicitly that the principal holder of temporal power is the king, just as the principal holder of the spiritual power is the Pope. Saint Bernard, however, says that both swords, are had by the Supreme Pontiff; nevertheless, in many places of the same work he openly demonstrates that the power of the Supreme Pontiff is properly spiritual not temporal. “Your power is over crimes not possessions,” he writes. Finally, he assigns to the Church both swords, but he places the spiritual in the hand of the Pontiff and the temporal in the hands of earthly rulers; nevertheless, he says that both belong to the Church, both because the two swords should be at the service of the Church and because the temporal sword should be subordinate to the spiritual, as shall be elaborated in the following chapter.