“In default of the Roman clergy the right will belong to the Church universal.”
Image: Cardinal Journet, by Armand Niquille, Wiki Commons.
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Continuing the series on papal elections in the absence of the Cardinals, we are now publishing (in two parts) Charles Journet’s treatment of papal elections, and of the state of the Church during the vacancy of the Holy See, taken from his work The Church of the Word Incarnate (and for UK readers).
In both extracts, he closely follows the Dominican theologian of the sixteenth century, Thomas de Vio Cajetan.
This first extract considers several aspects of papal elections – but its significance for this series is that it specifically considers what would happen in the absence of the regular electors.
The second extract will deal with the continuation and exercise of jurisdiction – including the appointment of diocesan bishops, it seems – and the potential extent of error that could come from an imperfect council of all bishops, in the absence of the Roman Pontiff. This, of course, is key for explaining how Vatican II could have promulgated its particular documents.
We are sometimes told that, if it there were to be an extended vacancy of the Apostolic See, or if there were no more cardinals, then we would be in a “dead end,” with no way of obtaining or electing a new successor of St Peter.
The argument often proceeds: There must be perpetual successors to St Peter, and therefore, it cannot be the case that we are in an extended vacancy of the Apostolic See, or that there are no more cardinals.
But in fact, similar (even if not identical) situations to our own have been considered by significant theologians in history.
Journet, following Cajetan, gives his answer in the third section below:
“In a case where the settled conditions of validity have become inapplicable, the task of determining new ones falls to the Church by devolution, this last word being taken, as Cajetan notes not in the strict sense (devolution is strictly to the higher authority in case of default in the lower) but in the wide sense, signifying all transmission even to an inferior. […]
“… when the provisions of the Canon Law cannot be fulfilled, the right to elect will belong to certain members of the Church of Rome. In default of the Roman clergy the right will belong to the Church universal, of which the Pope is to be Bishop.”
He explains further in the extract below.
Journet’s The Church of the Word Incarnate has a wealth of interesting detail, especially on historical matters. It is now extremely expensive and difficult to find.
It is possible that some part of Journet’s current “popularity” is rooted in his endorsement in this work – more modest and tentative than often admitted – of Cajetan’s earlier position on a heretical pope. We will publish material on this in due course, but in passing, Ulrich Horst writes:
Returning to Journet, it is worth repeating two points. First, he was given his Cardinal’s red hat by Paul VI in February 1965. Second, about seven months later, he gave a decisive address at Vatican II in favour of the supposed orthodoxy of the council’s doctrine on religious liberty. De Mattei writes:
“With a printed intervention that was decidedly Maritainian, he wanted to bring to bear in support of the declaration on religious liberty his authority as a theologian, asserting that it deserved the utmost approval: ‘Mihi videtur maxime approbanda.’”
These are two interesting facts. We could add to them that he was criticised by Mgr Joseph Clifford Fenton, of the American Ecclesiastical Review, who claimed that his ideas were detrimental to the visibility of the Church.
It would be wrong – as I may have suggested previously – to think that these points negate the value of his work as a whole. Fenton himself says that Journet “has given evidence of extraordinary erudition in his book.” But notwithstanding this very evident erudition, and the unquestionable value of his work, these points do suggest a need for caution.
In any case – as already stated in our introduction to the extract from Bellarmine – we are not publishing this text as if it settles the question. We are merely showing that it is false to say that there are no solutions to a long interregnum. Even a solution which is practically unworkable (at least, at present) refutes such claims.
Nor are we declaring how the current crisis will end, or how a new Roman Pontiff be elected. We do not feel any need to adopt an opinion on this topic, or present a “plan” to restore the Church – as if it belonged to any of us to do so.
Nor is there anything “ironic”, as has been suggested, about referring to Cajetan’s opinion on elections, given his earlier position on an heretical pope retaining office until deposed. First, as a matter of fact, it seems that Cajetan changed his view on this topic. Second, even if he persevered in the refuted “Fourth Position,” what is that to us? Cajetan was a great theologian whose opinions naturally deserve respectful hearing. Third, this is not a team sport: if we choose to follow Bellarmine rather than Cajetan on the matter of the Heretic Pope question, this is by no means a wholesale rejection of Cajetan – nor does it somehow prohibit us from following him on other matters. Finally, there is no element of “sifting” going on here, as has been suggested. To call the mature exercise of Christian liberty amongst tolerated theological opinions “sifting” is either juvenile, or a mere rhetorical game – both of which are unworthy of Catholics.
It seems wise to have as many ideas on the table as possible. It is not obvious that there can be only one single way out of our situation; nor does it seem that the various parties at the Council of Constance were agreed on what they should do (or what was in fact happening) with regards to the three claimants, or the exact mechanism by which the later Pope Martin V was elected.
In any case, the point is this: theologians have long considered how the Church might obtain a pope without any cardinals, and far from denying the possibility outright, they have presented solutions. This is sufficient to refute the objection at hand.
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The Church of the Incarnate Word
Sheed and Ward
London and New York
Trans. A.H.C. Downes
Some line breaks and headings added for clarity.
References removed from the text and included as footnotes
On the Election of a Pope
During a vacancy of the Apostolic See the Church, as far as the supreme jurisdiction is concerned, possesses only the power of proceeding to the election of a new Pope; either through the cardinals, or, in default of them, by other ways:
“Papatus, secluso papa, non est in Ecclesia nisi in potentia ministerialiter electiva, quia scilicet potest, sede vacante, papam eligere, per cardinales, vel per seipsam in casu.”
“The Papacy, when there is no Pope, does not exist in the Church but in the ministerial elective power, since, in fact, she can elect the Pope when the see is vacant, or through the Cardinals or by herself, as the case may be.”
Cajetan here expresses astonishment at Gerson’s grave errors.
Nature of the election
(1) Nature of the election. All that the Church can then do, as far as supreme jurisdiction is concerned, is to designate him on whom God, in virtue of the Gospel promises, will send it down directly. “The power to confer the pontificate belongs to Christ alone, not to the Church, which does no more than designate a particular subject.” (John of St. Thomas.)
Can the Pope directly designate his successor?
(2) Can the Pope directly designate his successor? It is not fitting, and all theologians are here agreed, that the designation of a successor should be made by the Pope himself. The act of electing a Pope precedes, strictly speaking, any exercise of the papal power; and so it is fittingly assigned to the Church and not to the Pope. Such in fact is the usage, conformable, as Cajetan says, to the divine prudence which assigns a proper time for everything. “Be not therefore solicitous for to-morrow, for the morrow will be solicitous for itself. Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof.” (Matt. vi. 34.)
For certain theologians indeed, the direct election of a successor by the Pope would be invalid – for example, Cajetan, according to whom the power to elect a successor resides in the Pope not in a formal manner, apt to pass into act (as the mason’s art is in the mason), but in an eminent manner, inapt for immediate exercise (as the mason’s art is in the architect).
For many others, however, it would be simply contra-indicated in the present state of things. History records the case of Felix IV who, in 530, chose his successor, Boniface II. But did the latter become Pope in virtue of this election or in virtue of the later ratification by the Roman clergy? Boniface II, in his turn, made the Roman clergy promise to maintain after his death the choice he had made of Vigilius as his successor: but fearing, later on, for the consequences of such an act, he publicly retracted it.
In whom does the power to elect the Pope reside?
(3) In whom does the power to elect the Pope reside? If the Pope is not concerned to designate his successor directly, it belongs to him, on the other hand, to determine or modify the conditions of a valid election: “The Pope” says Cajetan, “can settle who the electors shall be, and change and limit in this way the mode of election to the point of invalidating anything done outside these arrangements.” Thus, resuming a usage introduced by Julius II, Pius IX decreed that if a Pope should chance to die during the sitting of an Oecumenical Council, the election of his successor would be made not by the Council, which would be at once interrupted ipso jure, but by the College of Cardinals alone. This same provision is recalled in the constitution Vacante Sede Apostolica, of Pius X, 25th Dec. 1904.
In a case where the settled conditions of validity have become inapplicable, the task of determining new ones falls to the Church by devolution, this last word being taken, as Cajetan notes not in the strict sense (devolution is strictly to the higher authority in case of default in the lower) but in the wide sense, signifying all transmission even to an inferior.
It was in the course of the disputes on the respective authorities of Pope and Council that the question of the power to elect a Pope came up in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. On this point Cajetan’s thought is as follows.
He explains first that the power to elect the Pope resides in his predecessors eminently, regularly and principally. Eminently, as the “forms” of lower beings are in the angels, who, however, are incapable in themselves of exercising the activities of bodies. Regularly, that is to say as an ordinary right, unlike the Church in her widowhood, unable to determine a new mode of election save “in casu”, unless forced by sheer necessity. Principally, unlike the widowed Church, in whom this power resides only secondarily.
During a vacancy of the Apostolic See, neither the Church nor the Council can contravene the provisions already laid down to determine the valid mode of election. However, in case of permission (for example if the Pope has provided nothing against it), or in case of ambiguity (for example, if it is unknown who the true Cardinals are or who the true Pope is, as was the case at the time of the Great Schism), the power “of applying the Papacy to such and such a person” devolves on the universal Church, the Church of God.
Cajetan affirms next that the power to elect the Pope resides formally – that is to say in the Aristotelian sense, as apt to proceed directly to the act of electing – in the Roman Church, including in that Church the cardinal bishops who, in a way, are suffragans of the Bishop of Rome. That is why, according to the canonical rule provided, the right to elect the Pope belongs in fact to the cardinals alone. That again is why, when the provisions of the Canon Law cannot be fulfilled, the right to elect will belong to certain members of the Church of Rome. In default of the Roman clergy the right will belong to the Church universal, of which the Pope is to be Bishop.
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The modes of election in history
(4) The modes of election in history. If the power to elect the Pope belongs, by the nature of things, and therefore by divine law, to the Church taken along with her Head, the concrete mode in which the election is to be carried out, says John of St. Thomas, has been nowhere indicated in Scripture; it is mere ecclesiastical law which will determine which persons in the Church can validly proceed to election.
At different times and with various qualifications the following have taken part in the election: the Roman clergy (whose right seems to be primary and direct), the people (but only in so far as it consents to and approves the election made by the clergy), the secular princes (whether licitly by simply giving their consent and their support to the person elected, or by an abuse, as when Justinian forbade the elect to be consecrated before the Emperor’s approbation), and lastly the cardinals who are the first of the Roman clergy, so that to-day it is to the Roman clergy that the election of a Pope is once again confided. The Dict. de théol. cath. has an article, “Election des papes”, containing an historical account of the various conditions under which the Popes have been elected.
The constitution Vacante Sede Apostolica of Pius X, dated the 25th December 1904, provides for three modes of election:
a. by inspiration, when the cardinals, prompted by the Spirit, unanimously proclaim the Sovereign Pontiff;
b. by compromise, when the cardinals agree to leave the election to three, or five or seven of their number;
c. by scrutiny, when two-thirds of the voices (exclusive of that of the elect himself) are obtained.
Validity and Certitude of Election
(5) Validity and certitude of election. The election, remarks John of St. Thomas, may be invalid when carried out by persons not qualified, or when, although effected by persons qualified, it suffers from defect of form or falls on an incapable subject, as for example one of unsound mind or unbaptized.
But the peaceful acceptance of the universal Church given to an elect as to a head to whom it submits is an act in which the Church engages herself and her fate. It is therefore an act in itself infallible and is immediately recognizable as such. (Consequently, and mediately, it will appear that all conditions pre-requisite to the validity of the election have been fulfilled.)
Acceptance by the Church operates either negatively, when the election is not at once contested; or positively, when the election is first accepted by those present and then gradually by the rest.
The Church has the right to elect the Pope, and therefore the right to certain knowledge as to who is elected. As long as any doubt remains and the tacit consent of the universal Church has not yet remedied the possible flaws in the election, there is no Pope, papa dubius, papa nullus. As a matter of fact, remarks John of St. Thomas, in so far as a peaceful and certain election is not apparent, the election is regarded as still going on. And since the Church has full control, not over a Pope certainly elected, but over the election itself, she can take all measures needed to bring it to a conclusion. The Church can therefore judge a Pope to be doubtful. Thus, says John of St. Thomas, the Council of Constance judged three Popes to be doubtful, of whom two were deposed, and the third renounced the pontificate.
To guard against all uncertainties that might affect the election the constitution Vacante Sede Aposlolica counsels the elect not to refuse an office which the Lord will help him to fill; and it stipulates that as soon as the election is canonically effected the Cardinal Dean shall ask, in the name of the whole College, the consent of the elect.
“This consent being given – if necessary, after a delay fixed by the prudence of the cardinals and by a majority of voices – the elect is at once the true Pope and possesses in act, and can exercise, the full and absolute jurisdiction over all the world.”
(6) Sanctity of the election. These words do not mean that the election of the Pope is always effected with an infallible assistance since there are cases in which the election is invalid or doubtful, and remains therefore in suspense. Nor does it mean that the best man is necessarily chosen.
It means that if the election is validly effected (which, in itself, is always a benefit) even when resulting from intrigues and regrettable interventions (in which case what is sin remains sin before God) we are certain that the Holy Spirit who, overruling the Popes, watches in a special way over His Church, turning to account the bad things they do as well as the good, has not willed, or at least permitted, this election for any but spiritual ends, whose virtue will either be manifest, and sometimes with small delay, in the course of history, or will remain hidden till the revelation of the Last Day. But these are mysteries that faith alone can penetrate.
Let us single out this passage from the constitution Vacante Sede Apostolica:
“It is manifest that the crime of simony, odious at once to God and man, is absolutely to be condemned in the election of the Roman Pontiff. We reprobate and condemn it once more, and we declare that those guilty of the same incur the penalty of excommunication ipso facto. However, we annul the measure by which Julius II and his successors have invalidated simoniacal elections (from which may God preserve us!) that we may remove all pretext for contesting the validity of the election of the Roman Pontiff.”
From Charles Journet – The Church of the Incarnate Word
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 Ulrich Horst, Juan de Torquemada und Thomas de Vio Cajetan, Akademie Verlag, Berlin, 2012, p 172. Extracts translated via DeepL. https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=gj7nBQAAQBAJ&lpg=PA172&ots=LCNiTInqCK&dq=%22ex%20quo%20tamen%20idem%20habetur%22%20cajetan&pg=PA172#v=onepage&q&f=false
 Mgr Joseph Clifford Fenton, ‘Father Journet’s Concept of the Church’ in the American Ecclesiastical Review, CXXVII No. 5, November 1952, pp 370-80. Available at: https://wmreview.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/06/Father-Journets-Concept-of-the-Church.pdf
 Ibid 373
 Cajetan, De Comparatione Auctoritatis Papae et Concilii, cap. xiv, no. 210. Translation by Mr Cristian Jacobo.
 II – II, q. 1-7; disp. 2, a. 1, no. g, vol. VII, p. 218
 Apologia de Comparata Auctoritate Papae et Concilii, cap. xiii, no. 736
 cf. L. Duchesne, L’Église au VIe siècle, Paris 1925, pp. e42-6
 cf. T. Ortolan, art. “Elections des papes”, Dict, de théol. cath., col. 2284.
 De Comparatione Auctoritatis Papae et Concilii, cap. xiii, no. 201
 Acta et Decreta Sacro sancti Oecumenici Concilii Vaticani, Rome 1872, p. 104 et seq.
 Apologia, cap. xiii, no. 745
 Apologia, cap. xiii, no. 736
 No. 737.
 De Comparata, cap. xiii, no. 202
 ibid., no. 204
 Apologia, cap. xiii, no. 742
 ibid., nos. 741 and 746
 cf. John of St. Thomas, II-II, q. 1, a. 7; disp. 2, a. 1, nos. 21 et seq. ; vol. VII, pp. 223 et seq.
 Nos. 55-7.
 cf. John of St. Thomas, II-II, qq. 1-7; disp. 2, a. 2, nos. r, 15, 28, 34, 40; pp. 228 et seq.
 loc. cit., a. 3, nos. 10-11 ; vol. VII, p. 254
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