A Perpetual Legal (Moral) Person and Jurisdiction
The Catholic Church is a perpetual legal (moral) person.
Some self-appointed lay “theologians” say that Traditional Catholic bishops and priests don’t have a legal right to administer the Sacraments during the vacancy of the Holy See. They say that bishops and priests act illegally administering the Sacraments and saying Holy Masses in such a period, and therefore are guilty of a violation of Canon Law. But these “theologians” are wrong.
Answering to these unjust and incompetent accusations of the “theologians”, at first one should say that a periodically repeated vacancy of the Holy See is a component of the historical, ecclesiological and canonical context of the Catholic Church. There is no Catholic Church without the Supreme Pontiff, but there is no Catholic Church without a periodical vacancy of the Holy See as well. That is neither our “crime” nor invention, and we did not come up with it. That is an obvious reality.
Both the Divine Law of the New Testament and Canon Law were established by Our Lord Jesus Christ himself and by the Church for the common good of all people.
A HANDBOOK OF MORAL THEOLOGY:
Law, therefore, is but another name for the divine will, recognized as the standard of human conduct. In a narrower sense law may be defined as "an ordinance of reason for the general good, promulgated by him who has the care of the community."
The source and measure of all law, physical, spiritual, and ethical, is the lex aeterna, i. e., the intellect and will of God commanding men to observe the right order and forbidding its disturbance. (1)
Canon Law neither explicitly nor implicitly prohibits administering all the Sacraments during the vacancy of the Holy See.
The Church is obliged to say the Holy Masses and administer all the Sacraments always since it is the order of Divine Law of the New Testament "Do this for a commemoration of me" (St. Luke 22:19) and "Going therefore teach ye all nations: baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever l have commanded you: and behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world." (St. Matthew 28:19-20).
Our Lord Jesus Christ gave primacy and proper jurisdiction over the whole Church Militant to St. Peter and all his successors. St. Peter himself exercised this right, and all his successors do the same by the institution of Christ Himself. (St. Matthew 16:16-19; St. John 21:15-22; 4th Session of the Holy Ecumenical Vatican Council 1869-1870).
Yes, Our Lord Jesus Christ said to Simon Peter "Feed my lambs" and "Feed my sheep". But the problem is that the “theologians”, acting in a sectarian manner, ignore the following words of Our Lord which He also said to St. Peter: "Amen, amen, I say to thee: when thou wast younger, thou didst gird thyself, and didst walk where thou wouldst. But when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and lead thee whither thou wouldst not. And this he said, signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when he had said this, he saith to him: Follow me." (St. John 21:15-22).
Our Savior said to St. Peter the Apostle not only "Feed my lambs" and "Feed my sheep", but also "Follow me", signifying by what death Peter should glorify God, and we see that by these words Jesus Christ did not say to St. Peter that he would be immortal.
Not only to feed the Lord’s lambs and sheep, but also to give “his life for his sheep" (St. John 10:11-15) and to glorify God by death is an integral part of St. Peter’s duties. According to Our Lord Jesus Christ's words we are obliged to accept not only the supreme primacy of St. Peter, but also his death and the reality of periodically repeated vacancy of the Holy See.
THE LIVES AND TIMES OF THE ROMAN PONTIFFS:
“Saint John, the beloved disciple, called Peter by the title of Apostle (Chap. xxi. 15-17), as having received from Jesus Christ, in reward of his attachment the Pastorate, which Saint Ambrose (on Luke xxiii.) so well entitles the Vicarship of Love. The gift of that function, as related by the Evangelist, was made at the very place where Jesus had given to Simon the name of Peter, which was afterwards confirmed to him by his calling to the government of the Church of Christ. Here Peter learned that, following Jesus Christ, he would suffer like him, and would be glorified in martyrdom.” (1.0)
THE BOOK OF SAINTS:
“Being crucified, it is said, head downwards under Nero, June 29, A.D. 67.” (1.1)
If somebody does not believe in these Lord's words about the death of St. Peter ((St. John 21:18-19), he commits a sin of idolatry and heresy, making a “god” out of St. Peter, to whom he pays perverted adoration.
All Catholic bishops and priests are obliged to recognize the supreme primacy of St. Peter and all his successors, and to administer the Sacraments only in unity with them, i.e. with the Holy See. All laymen also are obliged to recognize the supreme primacy of St. Peter and all his successors as well.
But neither, God's Law, nor Canon Law (human law) says anything that the Church, i.e. Catholic bishops and priests, does not have a legal right to administer the Sacraments during the vacancy of the Holy See.
In the physical absence of the successor of St. Peter, i.e. a Pope, the primacy of the Holy See continues, and all bishops and priests still have a legal right and an obligation to continue to administer the Sacraments in the unity with the Holy See. The laymen have natural right and obligation to continue to receive the Sacraments in the unity with the Holy See as well. And that is because both God's Law and Canon Law were promulgated by the lawgivers for the common good of all people. Since according to God's Law and Canon Law the seven Sacraments of the New Testament were established by God for the common good of all people, therefore administration and reception of the Sacraments are for the common good of all people as well.
A COMMENTARY ON THE NEW CODE OF CANON LAW Rev. P. Chas Augustine:
“The nature and purpose of the Church is the same as that for which Christ was sent into the world, viz.: the establishment of the Kingdom of God. This end and purpose is plainly supernatural or religious.” (5)
One can add that during the vacancy of the Holy See the nature and purpose of the Church is the same, unchangeable - "the establishment of the Kingdom of God."
If God did not want bishops and priests to administer the Sacraments during the vacancy of the Holy See, He would issue a special law. But God did not issue such a law. And that means that God wants bishops and priests to administer the Sacraments always, even during the vacancy of the Holy See.
Perpetual administration and reception of the Sacraments is the standard of human conduct based on the Divine Law of the New Testament.
Self-appointed lay “theologians” say that Traditional Catholic bishops and priests don’t possess jurisdiction during the vacancy of the Holy See, because all jurisdiction is issued from the Pope. But this statement is false in the first part.
Yes, Canon Law says that for lawful administration of the Sacraments, bishops and priests should possess jurisdiction. But Canon Law does not say that bishops and priests don’t possess jurisdiction during the vacancy of the Holy See. According to Canon Law, the Church supplies jurisdiction so that the laity may receive the Sacraments even in a situation when questions about the jurisdiction of the priest arise.
A DICTIONARY OF CANON LAW:
“Jurisdiction in the external forum also holds for the internal (202, 1). The Church supplies jurisdiction for both forums (1) in common error, and (2) in a positive and probable doubt of fact as well as of law (209).” (2)
"Legal persons are bodies of men instituted by the authority of the Church (99). The Catholic Church and the Holy See have the nature of a legal person by divine ordinance. Other legal bodies get their personality either by law or by the concession of competent ecclesiastical authority. At least three physical persons are required to constitute a collegiate legal body. A legal person is perpetual (101)." (2)
A CATHOLIC DICTIONARY:
Thirdly, jurisdiction may be either ordinary or delegated. Ordinary jurisdiction is that which belongs to anyone of his own right, or by reason of his office, in virtue of some law, canon, or custom. Delegated jurisdiction is that which a man has, not of his own right, but by the commission of another, in whose place he officiates. Ordinary jurisdiction may be acquired in three ways: (1) by commission from the supreme ruler, conceded either to the dignity or to the individual; (2) by law or canon; (3) by custom or prescription.
Thus, by the Supreme Pontiff are constituted as ordinary judges, legates, patriarchs, primates, archbishops, bishops, the officials of the Curia, &c. By the supreme lay power are constituted, in the civil order, viceroys, governors, prefects, magistrates, &c., who all enjoy ordinary jurisdiction. By law or canon those are constituted ordinary judges who are elected to office by public bodies according to the statutes of their foundation, and by public functionaries according to law. This is the case with the rectors of universities, the superiors of convents, the provosts of chapters, and the vicars-general of bishops. The third way is by custom; a jurisdiction which has been exercised without challenge for forty years is held to be validated by prescription, and is considered ordinary. … The jurisdiction of the priest is of ecclesiastical right, so far as its bestowal, enlargement, and restriction are concerned, for it is the Church which confers it, and in such a manner as she deems to be expedient in the Lord; but it is of divine right inasmuch as the faculty of remitting sin, for the sake of which it exists, is "conferred on the priest in ordination through the power of the Holy Ghost.'' Conc. Trid. Sess. xiv. 7. (Ferraris, Jurisdictio.) (3)
Having the nature and purpose - "the establishment of the Kingdom of God", - and being a perpetual legal (moral) person, the Church does not interrupt unity with the Holy See during the vacancy of the Holy See, and thus has an authority to supply jurisdiction for bishops and priests to exercise their spiritual power even during the Sedevacante period. Jurisdiction is always conferred by the Church in conjunction with the Holy See even physically not being occupied by a Pope, since the Church and the Holy See is perpetual legal (moral) person. In the absence of a Pope, a visible head of the Church Militant, the Church itself remains to be alive and therefore has right and obligation to carry on its mission - the salvation of the souls.
Rev. STANISLAUS WOYWOD in A Commentary and Summary of the New Code of Canon Law says:
77. The Catholic Church and the Apostolic See have the nature of a legal person by Divine ordinance. (Canon 100.)
79. A legal person is of its very nature perpetual. It may be extinguished by suppression by the legitimate authority, or by having ceased to exist for a space of one hundred years. If at least one individual of a collegiate legal person remains, the rights of all rest with that individual. (Canon 102.) (7)
DORSCH, A. Insitutiones Theologiae Fundamentalis:
“The Church therefore is a society that is essentially monarchical. But this does not prevent the Church, for a short time after the death of a pope, or even for many years, from remaining deprived of her head. Her monarchical form also remains intact in this state.…
“Thus the Church is then indeed a headless body.… Her monarchical form of government remains, though then in a different way — that is, it remains incomplete and to be completed. The ordering of the whole to submission to her Primate is present, even though actual submission is not…
“For this reason, the See of Rome is rightly said to remain after the person sitting in it has died — for the See of Rome consists essentially in the rights of the Primate. These rights are an essential and necessary element of the Church. With them, moreover, the Primacy then continues, at least morally. The perennial physical presence of the person of the head, however, is not so strictly necessary.” (4)
The Holy See is perpetual by its nature, and if the Holy See has not been physically occupied by the Pope for a space of one hundred years, it does not cease to be a legal (moral) person. According to divine ordinance the Holy See remains to be a perpetual legal (moral) person until the end of this world. Consequently, the Catholic Church remains in perpetual legal (moral) conjunction with the Holy See until the end of this world as well.
It is important to note that up to the twelfth century the missio canonica was believed to be included in ordination. And that is quite a long period, i.e. more than half of the history of the Catholic Church. Therefore, one may reasonably presume that the same principle can work during the current very long Sedevacante period, since October 1958 till nowadays in 2019. Traditional Catholic bishops and priests, administering the Sacraments and saying Holy Masses, don’t commit a “crime”, as lay “theologians” say. On the contrary, all Catholics, both clergy and laity have perpetual natural right and the duty to participate in the nature and purpose of the Church - "the establishment of the Kingdom of God". In the absence of a Pope, one may reasonably presume that it is the will of God and the will of the Church, and therefore it is lawful and required of the clergy, to carry on the mission of the Church to save souls.
A COMMENTARY ON THE NEW CODE OF CANON LAW Rev. P. Chas Augustine:
The “missio canonica” is necessary for all who are inferior to the Pope. For as the Lord sent his Apostles, so in turn they sent others to exercise their spiritual power with authority, and without such credentials no one has authority in the Church. Formerly (up to the twelfth century) the missio canonica was believed to be included in ordination, but now that absolute ordination is possible, a distinct missio canonica, by which jurisdiction is conferred, is always required. (5)
Canon Law says that the Catholic Church and the Apostolic See have the nature of a legal (moral) person by Divine ordinance, and that a legal (moral) person is of its very nature perpetual, and that by Baptism a person becomes a subject of the Church of Christ, with all the rights and duties of a Christian. All Christians have the same general rights and obligations with regard to spiritual favors and aids to salvation.
Being a legal perpetual person by Divine ordinance, the Church has perpetual legal right and duty to administer the Sacraments to the faithful. Consequently, the Church in unity with the Holy Apostolic See can supply jurisdiction for priests by the missio canonica even during the vacancy of the Holy Apostolic See.
The Church forms a juridical person only in conjunction with the Roman Pontiff. "The Supreme Pontiff (Apostolic See) would form a moral person even if the entire body of the faithful would cease to exist" (A COMMENTARY ON THE NEW CODE OF CANON LAW Rev. P. Chas Augustine). (5) The Church forms a juridical person always, because it always remains in conjunction with the Supreme Pontiff (Apostolic See). Consequently, the Church always possesses a legal right to supply jurisdiction to its ministers.
Imagine what could have happened if the Church had lost the right to supply jurisdiction during the vacancy of the Holy Apostolic See.
If the Church loses the right to supply jurisdiction with the death of a Pope, because "the Church itself no longer exists", as self-appointed “theologians” say, then the cardinals will not have a legal right to elect a new Pope, because they are no longer the cardinals of the Catholic Church. A Mass of the Holy Ghost said by the cardinal dean in the beginning of the election would be a Liturgy outside of the Catholic Church. The cardinal dean himself and all the cardinals would be guilty of a Schism. Schismatic cardinals would be able to elect only a pope of a new Schismatic church. All bishops and priests would not have a right to administer the Sacraments and say Holy Masses until a new Pope is elected, and if the bishops were obliged to receive a “jurisdiction” from a new Schismatic pope, they would become Schismatic as well. Priests, who received a “jurisdiction” from those Schismatic bishops, would be Schismatic as well. But nothing of the kind happens, because if it happened, it would mean that the absurd had overcome the right reason, and an iniquity had overcome the Law.
Also, we should say that Canon Law doesn't give us answers to some questions. For example, we don’t have an answer to the question of how the cardinals should act in a case when a Pope becomes insane, or personally a heretic.
We find the answer in THE CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA:
“No canonical provisions exist regulating the authority of the College of Cardinals sede Romana impedita, i. e. in case the pope became insane, or personally a heretic; in such cases it would be necessary to consult the dictates of right reason and the teachings of history.” (6)
But that does not mean that we should stop to administer the Sacraments and say the Holy Masses even in case the pope became insane, or personally a heretic. In any emergency the Church still has the natural and legal right and duty to continue this holy service as the Church does it during a natural vacancy of the Holy See.
It is neither our fault nor our desire that the current period of Sedevacante lasts too long. We want and pray this period to expire as soon as possible with the election of a true Pope.
This could probably be compared with monarchist movements in many countries of the world when while the same period of time every country can have own monarch. Not having a monarch, the monarchists continue to be monarchists, and do not lose a hope that one day someone could become a real monarch. Despite of the fact that there is no monarch in a country, the monarchy as a perpetual legal person still exists, or having ceased to exist for a space of one hundred years.
In the Catholic Church the situation is not the same but similar. While the same period of time the Catholic Church has only one Pope. Not having a Pope, we continue to be Catholics, and do not lose a hope that one day someone will become a real Pope. Either with a Pope or without a Pope, the Holy See still exists as a perpetual legal person until the last day of this world's existence. Consequently, either having a Pope or not having a Pope, the Catholic Church still exists as a perpetual legal person until the last day of this world's existence as well.
- In the physical absence of a Pope, i.e. during the vacancy of the Holy See, Traditional Catholic bishops and priests have legal right and obligation to administer all the Sacraments and to say Holy Masses lawfully in accordance with the will of God and of the Church, on the basis of both the Divine Law of the New Testament and Canon Law;
- The laymen as well have natural right and obligation to receive the Sacraments based on the same basis;
- Since both the clergy and laity are doing that lawfully, the Catholic Church acts in a manner as should act a legal (moral) perfect society established by God;
- By Divine institution the clergy is distinct from the laity in the Church. All the faithful should owe the clergy reverence according to their various rank and offices, and the faithful become guilty of sacrilege if they do personal injury to the clergy. (Canon 119) (7);
- During the vacancy of the Holy See, the Church celebrates the Holy Masses and administers all the Sacraments in accordance with the following principles:
Divine laws oblige more strictly than human laws.
In a conflict of obligations the higher one takes precedence.
Divine positive law takes precedence over human legislation. (8);
- No private opinions of self-appointed lay “theologians” can block the Church from carrying the holy mission, because the salvation of the souls is the supreme law always, either in a normal situation or in an abnormal situation, such as the current vacancy of the Holy See, lasting more than sixty years.
The quotes from the Holy Scripture taken from: THE HOLY BIBLE PUBLISHED WITH THE APPROBATION OF THE CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOPS AND BISHOPS OF IRELAND. The Douay Version of the Old Testament of 1609, and with the Rhemish Version of the New Testament of 1582, Given at Dublin, May 4th, 1857.
(1) A HANDBOOK OF MORAL THEOLOGY
BY THE REVEREND ANTONY KOCH, D.D. Professor of Theology
Adapted and Edited by ARTHUR PREUSS
MORALITY, ITS SUBJECT, NORM, AND OBJECT
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(1.0) THE LIVES AND TIMES OF THE ROMAN PONTIFFS
FROM ST. PETER TO PIUS IX.
By the CHEVALIER ARTAUD BE MONTOR,
TRANSLATED FROM THE FRENCH
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(4) DORSCH, A. Insitutiones Theologiae Fundamentalis. Innsbruck: de Ecclesia 2:196–7. Rauch 1928.
(5) A COMMENTARY ON THE NEW CODE OF CANON LAW
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A Commentary and Summary of the New Code of Canon Law
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Professor of Canon Law at the Catholic University, Washington
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