28 August 2021


[1] Now, the bestowal of all of these orders accompanies some sacrament, as was said, and the sacraments of the Church require some ministers for their dispensing; there must, therefore, be a superior power in the Church with a higher ministry which dispenses the sacrament of orders. And this is the episcopal power, which, although it does not exceed the power of the priest in the consecration of the body of Christ, does exceed the priestly power in what touches the faithful. For the priestly power itself flows from the episcopal power, and anything particularly difficult to be performed for the faithful is reserved to the bishops; by their authority, even priests are empowered to do that which is committed to them to be done. Hence, even in the tasks which priests perform they employ things consecrated by bishops; thus, in the Eucharistic consecration they use a chalice, an altar, and a pall consecrated by the bishop. Clearly, then, the chief direction of the faithful belongs to the dignity of the bishops.

[2] But this, too, is clear: Although people are set apart according to differing dioceses and states, yet, as the Church is one, so must the Christian people be one. Therefore, as for the specific congregation of one Church one bishop is called for who is the head of that Church; so for the entire Christian people there must be one who is head of the entire Church.

[3] Then, too, the unity of the Church requires that all the faithful agree as to the faith. But about matters of faith it happens that questions arise. A diversity of pronouncements, of course, would divide the Church, if it were not preserved in unity by the pronouncement of one. Therefore, the unity of the Church demands that there be one who is at the head of the entire Church. But, manifestly, in its necessities Christ has not failed the Church which He loved and for which He shed His blood, since even of the synagogue the Lord says: ‘What is there that I ought to do more to My vineyard that I have not done to it?” (Isa. 5:4). Therefore, one must not doubt that by Christ’s ordering there is one who is at the head of the entire Church.

[4] No one should doubt, furthermore, that the government of the Church has been established in the best way, since He has disposed it by whom “kings reign, and lawmakers decree just things” (Prov. 8:15). But the best government of a multitude is rule by one, and this is clear from the purpose of government, which is peace; for peace and the unity of his subjects are the purpose of the one who rules, and one is a better constituted cause of unity than many. Clearly, then, the government of the Church has been so disposed that one is at the head of the entire Church.

[5] The militant Church, moreover, derives from the triumphant Church by exemplarity, hence, John in the Apocalypse (21:2) saw “Jerusalem coming down out of heaven”; and Moses was told to make everything “according to the pattern that was shown you in the mount” (Ex. 25:40; 26:30). But in the triumphant Church one presides, the one who presides over the entire universe—namely, God—for we read in the Apocalypse (21:3): “They shall be His people and God Himself with them shall be their God.” Therefore, in the militant Church, also, there is one who presides over things universally.

[6] Hence it is that we read in Hosea (1:11): “The children of Judah and the children of Israel shall be gathered together; and they shall appoint themselves one head.” And our Lord says: “There shall be one fold and one shepherd” (John 10:16).

[7] But let one say that the one head and one shepherd is Christ, who is one spouse of one Church; his answer does not suffice. For, clearly, Christ Himself perfects all the sacraments of th Church: it is He who baptizes; it is He who forgives sins; it is He, the true priest, who offered Himself on the altar of the cross, and by whose power His body is daily consecrated on the altar—nevertheless, because He was not going to be with all the faithful in bodily presence, He chose ministers to dispense the things just mentioned to the faithful, as was said above. By the same reasoning, then, when He was going to withdraw His bodily presence from the Church, He had to commit it to one who would in His place have the care of the universal Church. Hence it is that He said to Peter before His ascension: “Feed My sheep” (John 21:17); and before His passion: “You being once converted confirm your brethren” (Luke 22:32); and to him alone did He promise: “I will give to you the keys of the kingdom of heaven” (Mat. 16:19), in order to show that the power of the keys was to flow through him to others to preserve the unity of the Church.

[8] But it cannot be said that, although He gave Peter this dignity, it does not flow on to others. For, clearly, Christ established the Church so that it was to endure to the end of the world; in the words of Isaiah (9:7): “He shall sit upon the throne of David and upon His kingdom to establish and strengthen it with judgment and with justice from henceforth and forever.” It is clear that He so established therein those who were then in the ministry that their power was to be passed on to others even to the end of time; especially so, since He Himself says: “Behold I am with you all days even to the consummation of the world” (Mat. 28:20).

[9] By this, of course, we exclude the presumptuous error of some who attempt to withdraw themselves from the obedience and the rule of Peter by not recognizing in his successor, the Roman Pontiff, the pastor of the universal Church.


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