Notes Regarding Student-Sent Reading (“The Primacy: The Small Print of Vatican I”)

These are just random notes regarding an article, Garrett Sweeny related to Papal Primacy and Pastor aeternus, “The Primacy: The Small Print of Vatican I”


Note, throughout, the general tone of Sweeny—a bit of a “swinging 68-er” in his interpretation of VII (some pet themes / authors come up—Küng, sensus fidelium as a theological locus in a sense that seems strong and problematic, tone which clearly is not that which we will take in our work together).


[96] It might be good to note why more conservative theologians have been hesitant to address this issue, given the names associated with limiting papal primacy.  (Likewise, too, the work done by JP II / Benedict XVI dissuaded many from wishing to limit the papacy.  Also, the general failure of bishops to actually exercise their rightful authority in a meaningful way theologically, liturgically, etc…..)


[99] “The vote of 5 July…”  This is telling tone regarding his bias. 


[100] “Dissatisfaction with the Constitution…”  You may benefit here from reading O’Malley’s brief and accessible: Vatican I: The Council and the Making of the Ultramontane Church.  Also, see Hittinger’s brief article in First Things:


There are two axes of the jurisdictional primacy issue:  Political; Ecclesial.  It seems that Sweeny wishes to emphasize the first at times, though inconsistently.  Overstates the political ambitions of Rome.  (See remarks below here as confirmation.)  Parse the distinctions here (see Josephinism and Gallicanism as examples of how these do interweave).  We’re more interested in the latter, of course.


[101] Not sure what to make of the “Italianism” claims.  No doubt true, though I wonder if it is a simplification.  Note in the first paragraph of this section, “Ratzinger….”  Sweeny is not clear if he is calling the interpretation of PA erroneous or the document itself.  We are not making the latter claim.  Instead, we are trying to articulate it as being developed more fully.  Be sure to get from me texts on intellectual / dogmatic development for parsing our concerns.


[103] Here is the problematic text about Sensus Fid.  Show the author is a man of his era


[104] Temporal power claims not correct; even by those who wanted to increase papal authority, maintenance of order was a wholly ecclesial affair; Sweeny makes it sound like there was a focus on temporal power in particular (by which he seems to mean political-temporal).  Se text at the very end of 104 and into 105


[105] See quote in first full paragraph; rather arrogant remark about the Orthodox Churches by Gastaldi


[106] “Curious though…”  He focuses on the fact that the V I decree / discussions are marked by that era.  However, one could also say, then, that the discussions after V II swayed a great deal into the direction of democracy (the hopes of the 20th century remained even after the devastations of the two Wars) and Conciliarism.  We’re trying to strike a virtuous middle between these extremes.


It may be good to articulate the way that our discussion of the common good helps us find this virtuous middleNote that our concerns today are actually about trying to deploy the appropriate notions from political philosophy within theology itself—noting, of course, that we’re elevating the notions as we use them.   We’re sharpening the philosophical tools of common good / subsidiarity to make use of them in theology here


[109] The texts on this page are useful.  Find Mansi Latin for any that you think will be of particular help.  I think that the Canon recommendation is interesting and a bit amusing.  (And the Latin is indeed quirky….!)


[110] The understanding of “Ordinary” here at the bottom is a little rhetorically cheap.  It means non-delegated.   See Journet’s discussion of the meaning of this term.  We still can (and must) hold that the Pope (or any leader of a universal whole) has ordinary authority—but that doesn’t mean “ordinary non-subsidiary”.  It just means, “By virtue of this office, He has the authority that he has.”


[111]  “Had the Primacy been debated…”  This is a very interesting point about how things might have been different if the documents were reversed in their writing / approval.


[113] See Zinelli’s mind-boggling quote, perhaps worth keeping for our own use, if only in a footnote: “Is there anyone…”


[114] You marked the “preservation of unity” as the task of the Papacy.  I agree.  However, we need to define this richly enough.  That is an essential part of our task.  Too often, this is presented as being a kind of “preservation of the unity of the parts, for the sake of the parts.”  This is implicitly based upon the model of political liberalism.


[116]  Cf. Deville also regarding the loss of the notion of the patriarch in the West.  I still remain convinced that the papacy is formally and eminently Bishop of Rome and universal authority.  (Cf. Journet)  Thus, there aren’t two parts / roles slapped together side by side.  However, this is somewhat like how (I’m using an analogy, mind you) God is at once Author of Nature and Author of Grace.  We can talk about this, but the point goes beyond our concerns.


[117] The paragraph from 116-117 (long on 117) is of use.


[120-121] I’m looking for an analogy here—it’s not strict and we need to be careful.  However, we need to make sure that “as a principle of unity” we consider the common good of the Church as, in a way, animating the activity of the whole.  The formal cause (which is vitally related to the end, especially in communal matters like this) is in the parts—the parts themselves are only what they are precisely because they are in this whole.   The temptation, too often fallen into, is to focus on the whole and forget the subsidiary role of the parts.  However, analogy involves both yes and no.  Thus, we can consider how the common good of the whole Church indeed animates all the parts (thereby also ensuring the ability of the Pope to be involved locally—but only because of that need of the whole) without thereby ruining the particular role of the part.  In any case, it is very important from a sane vocabulary, philosophically, to parse the part-whole distinctions involved here in the subsidiary elements.


Notes regarding authority and freedom (re: Student thesis)

Certain texts are of interest in Yves R. Simon, Freedom and Community, ed. Charles P. O’Donnell (New York: Fordham University Press, 1968).  Upon second glance, the tone of the potentially relevant essays is only of secondary interest (though they are not without their applicability, albeit remotely).    If so inclined, see in particular “Liberty and Authority,” “Freedom and Community,” and “Autonomy and Authority.”  In any case, given the overall concern with political-philosophical questions, which often contemporarily deal with the basic issue of individual and society, the thematic treatment of institutional subsidiarity gets somewhat placed in the background.

Another theme of interest here are comments that Simon makes elsewhere, sane remarks doubtlessly made by others, though with great clarity.  (I believe an example text can be found in The Definition of Moral Virtue.)  The great deceit of the “nature vs. culture” dichotomy is that we are led to think that the “natural man” (or, “the human person in a natural state”) is actually that which is most natural to the human person.  In fact, human nature only comes to its fullest development in society.  Here, your intuition regarding one’s idea of freedom is quite appropriate.  If one considers freedom primarily as indetermination, one is trapped either in absolute voluntarism or in the pessimism of a kind of Epicurean theory of freedom that searches for a non-deterministic escape from the determinism of causes through some artifice (like the atomic swerve)—ultimately, I’ve always thought that such positions must end up in some kind of pan-voluntarism like that of Schopenhauer.  In any case, one is in a very different situation is one imagines freedom in terms of the natural super-determination of the will to the good as such (in the order of nature) and to God in His inner mystery (in the order of grace by charity).  Thus, our freedom of choice comes from the “overdetermined” nature of our will in comparison with all of reality.  In that case, law becomes the rational expression of a particular ordering of this freedom.  True law expresses the ways and means for freedom to be be free we could say.

Here, we see that the law vs. freedom dialectic, which plagues much moral theology on this matter following the probabilist debates, is deceptive.  The moral law is “binding”, but it is experienced as such only because of our fallen tendencies.  (There are some very lucid points said in this regard in Maritain’s Neuf leçons, which we should include if you make this point.)  In any case, the debates came to center on when the “law holds” and when “freedom holds.”  Thus, moral casuistry became concerned with when a given precept binds and when one had freedom of choice.  (Thus, there were various positions staked out around the axes of “safety” (tutus) and probability.)  I can provide you with some references here.  Recent studies include:

Julia Fleming , Defending Probabilism: The Moral Theology of Juan Caramuel

Stefania Tutino, Uncertainty in Post-Reformation Catholicism: A History of Probabilism

Rudolf Schuessler, The Debate on Probable Opinions in the Scholastic Tradition

I have the first, the library at BCS has the second, and we’ll perhaps get the third when it is released.  (Brill texts are expensive… Though, this volume looks like it could be quite good if done well.)  Fleming and Tutino do not come at things the same as I do of course.  I would also recommend, albeit in French, the famous articles by Th. Deman, OP on these matters.


In any case, those details won’t be necessary for us.  It is most important to note this general problem in the background, namely that law is seen as being binding, something that distorts one’s understanding of law itself!  Here, I agree with Pinckaers.  (I do not, however, agree with his carte-blanche approach to critiquing all the Thomists before him.  There is a haughtiness to his generation, as though they will reinvent theology themselves on their own terms.)  That being said, his text here is admirable and important.  I also recommend for understanding freedom in a sane way:

Yves Simon, Freedom of Choice

The relevant passages of Jacques Maritain, Bergsonnian Philosophy and Thomism (An excellent précis of the Garrigou-Lagrange text noted below)

Also, see Maritain’s essay “Freedom” in Existence and the Existent

Finally, more technical reflections on this matter can be found in Garrigou-Lagrange, God: His Existence and His Nature, vol. 2


In any case, we thus come back to the issue of nature and culture noted above, for this same issue is found on the axes of freedom and law.  Just as nature is most truly natural in culture, so too freedom is most truly free in the context of law, provided that law is understood as a right ordering of practical reasoning for the structuring of that reasoning in terms of the common good (which integrally contains the flourishing of the social being that is the human person).  Freedom is not free in absolute autonomy but precisely as being actualized in line with the deep élan that animates as being ordered to the search of that which is good in itself


To this end, I am still finding it difficult to track down the quote I’m thinking of in Simon’s The Definition of Moral Virtue, but there are very relevant points made in the first chapter, much in parallel to the fundamental intuitions of Pinckaers.


Doubtless, certain points of interest can be found to this end in Adler’s lengthy study from the 1950s.  We likely won’t have time to incorporate that.


Also, for some thoughts on authority and representation (which is philosophically important for articulating these matters—though, I’m trusting that you’re also looking into the various necessary historical sources patristically, given some of the texts you have cited), see Simon’s treatment of this in The Philosophy of Democratic Government, "Authority in Democracy" in  In particular, see the discussions directly related to the papacy in “The Transmission Theory” ( I can get you pagination when you have citations.