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As to Roman Catholic Authorities

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Archives / 1932 / November



As to Roman Catholic Authorities

N.J. Walforf

By Nils John Waldorf



No ecclesiastical organization is more perfectly organized 'than the Roman  Catholic Church, and this provision extends to the minute supervision of the Catholic faith. This is accomplished in this wise: In the Vatican City are numerous Congregations, which are committees of cardinals forming adminis­trative departments of the Roman Curia. Among these Congregations are three in particular which have supervision of the faith of Catholics. They are, first, "The Congregation of Propaganda" (organized in 1622), now presided over by a cardinal-priest, Willem van Rossum, of Dutch nationality, elected in 1911; next, "The Congregation of the Holy Office," for the "Pontifical Work of Preser­vation of Faith," presided over by a cardinal-priest, Francisco Marchetti-Selvag­giani, an Italian, elected in 1930; then, "The Congregation of Religions" (organ­ized in 1586), presided over by a cardinal-priest, Alexis Maria Lepider, of French nationality, and elected in 1927. These three congregations deal mostly with theological issues and controversies.

Besides these there are two others especially active, as follows: "The Congregation of Rites," presided over by a cardinal-deacon, Camillo Laurenti, an Italian, appointed in 1921; and "The Congregation of the Sacraments," presided over by a cardinal-bishop, Michele Lega, also an Italian, elected in 1914. In addition to these there are "The Congregation of the Council," "The Congregation of Studies," "The Congregation of the Consistory," "The Congregation of the Index," and others. (See New Standard Encyclopedia, Vol. V, pp. 266, 267; Vol. XXI, pp. 250, 251.)

All of these Congregations have a specific work to do, as is implied in their names. When any controversy within the Roman Church arises in any country in regard to doctrines, rites, or ordinances, the case is referred to one of these Congregations for solu­tion. If an article of faith is under consideration, it is deliberated upon in the Congregation of the Holy Office, which is composed of the best scholars in the church. Should these doctors of theology and Canon Law disagree in defining the faith, there remains one last court of appeal, namely, the pope, whom, when he speaks ex-cathedra on questions of faith and morals, all must obey. In the light of this viewpoint, it was deemed necessary, by Catholic theologians, to define the "infallible authority" in the Roman Church, hence, the infallibility decree was pro­mulgated in the Vatican Council of Rome in 1870 A. D., in order to preserve the authority and unity of the church.

The historic reason for this decree is, briefly, this: From the year 754 A.D., which marks the beginning of the temporal sovereignty of the popes, right up until 1870 there was continual controversy in the church between the popes and the General Councils. One group in the church maintained that the pope was the highest authority; another group held that the General Councils constituted the highest au­thority. To illustrate: The General Council of Constance, held in the years 1414-18, decreed that a council is of greater authority than the pope. This council deposed Pope John XXIII in 1415, condemned John Huss and turned him over to the secular powers to be burned at the stake, and elected Martin V to the papal chair, who subscribed to the authority of the council. This pope issued a call for another council to be held for the reformation of the church, which council was held in. Basel. This council confirmed the Council of Con­stance. Pope Martin died during the year of the council, and was succeeded by Eugenius IV, who sent a brief from Rome in the month of November, 1433, in which he confirmed the decrees of Basel and Constance.

Soon another General Council con­vened in Florence, in the year 1439 A. D., which decreed that the pope was the true vicar of Christ and held the primacy of the whole Christian world. (See Volume II, pages 104, 105, of "Faith of Catholics,' by the Right Rev. Monsignor Capel, D. D,. domestic prel­ate to Leo XIII, second edition, 1885.) This controversy as to what consti­tutes the highest authority in the Catholic Church was settled in the Vatican Council of 1870 A. D. Since then the final court of appeal has been and is the pope.

The highest authorities in the Cath­olic Church are, then, the decrees of councils and synods, and finally the papal bulls and encyclicals. These are compiled into volumes, and are called the Canon Law of the church. This Canon Law, having received its au­thorized interpretation, constitutes the highest authority in the Roman Catho­lic Church.

Takoma Park, D. C.

* Frequent contact and conflict between the Papacy and this message is inescapable, representing as they do the opposite poles of church polity, and relationship to the teachings and provisions of the gospel. Therefore, a dependable working knowledge of papal polity, and her fundamental digres­sions from the gospel, together with her acknowledged authorities, is desirable for all of our workers. The application of these facts and principles to specific issues will be presented in a later issue.—Editor.

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