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   St. Robert Bellarmine

On Papal Authority

  Chapter 4  
That the Pope has no merely temporal power by divine law.

What remains, now, is that we demonstrate that the Pope is not the temporal Lord of any locale [by divine law]. This is the express teaching of John of Turrecremata, in Book Two of his "On the Church," chapter 114; and of Cajetan, in his Apology, Part II, chapter 13, in response to 8; and of Navarre, in the chapter, "Novit," notably 4, where the language of Cajetan is as follows: "The power of the Pope is directly in regard to spiritual matters relating to the highest end of mankind; therefore, two observations relate to his power, first, that it does not pertain to temporal matters; secondly, that it is related to temporal matters only to the degree that they are ordered to spiritual affairs." This point is manifestly proved by the following reason: Christ, as man, so long as He lived on earth, did not accept nor did he want any merely temporal dominion over any province or town; the Supreme Pontiff, however, is the Vicar of Christ and represents for us Christ in the way He was so long as He lived among men; therefore, the Holy Father, as Vicar of Christ, has merely temporal jurisdiction over no province or town.

Both propositions of this reasoning should be proved. Above all, the first proposition must be proved. For, from the false principle, that Christ as man was a temporal King have been generated two contrary errors: For, from this source, certain individuals have concluded, as from a principal foundation, that the Pope who is the Vicar of Christ is a King and a Pontiff at the same time. To the contrary, however, the followers of Wycliff deduce from the same principle that Kings are superior to, and have greater dignity than Pontiffs, because Kings are Vicars of Christ the King and Pontiffs are Vicars of Christ the High Priest. Christ, however, was more a King than a Pontiff, for he descends from the royal tribe of Juda and the family of David, not from the tribe of Levi and the family of Aaron; and, therefore, by hereditary succession He was a King not a High Priest.

In order, then, that this principle be both explained and proved, that Christ was indeed forever, as Son of God, the King and Lord of all creatures in the same way that His Father was, but that this kingdom is eternal and divine and does not take away the dominions of men, nor would the opposite be compatible with the office of Pontiff. Moreover, Christ as man is the spiritual King of all men and has the most extensive spiritual power over all men, both faithful and infidel, in the order of eternal salvation, in such a way that he can oblige them to the duty of Faith and the reception of His Sacraments: and also He could have, through His spiritual power, have made dispositions concerning all temporal matters in so far as He judged they could promote His spiritual purpose: this spiritual kingdom of Christ will continue to exist after the day of judgment even in a visible way that is manifest, and so the glory of this kingdom has begun in Christ our Head when He rose from the dead; in other respects this is not a temporal kingdom such as belongs to our kings nor could such be communicated to the Pontiff, because it presupposes the resurrection. Finally, Christ as man could have, if He had wished and it had seemed expedient to Him, accepted regal authority; nevertheless, He did not wish nor in practice did He accept or possess either the exercise of regal authority or the authority or power itself of such a temporal kingdom. It is evident that if he had such dominion, it would through hereditary succession, or election, or by conquest, or by a special gift of God. For every kingdom is acquired by some one of these means, either by hereditary succession, or election by the people, or by conquest, or by the gift of a superior authority.

Christ the man did not have a hereditary kingdom: for, although He descended from a royal family, it is nevertheless not clear whether He was closer to David than many others who were of the same family: and, moreover, the kingdom was taken from the family of David, with God concurring, Who had also foretold that from the family of Jeconiah there would be no future king of a temporal kind, of the same kind that David was and his successors: in Jeremiah, XXII, we read about Jeconiah: "Thus says the Lord, write that the sterile man will be one who will not prosper in his time. For there will not be from his seed a man who will sit on the throne of David and have any longer power in Juda." But it is clear, from Matthew I, that Christ descends from Jeconiah.

From which it clearly follows that Christ could not have had a temporal kingdom by hereditary succession, unless the prophecy were false which predicted in express language that no one of the posterity of Jeconiah would ever have power in Juda. Nor can the reply be made that the posterity of Jeconiah had a right to the kingdom but, in fact, did not sit on the throne of David. For to what purpose would be the right of a kind that the holders would never use? And this is confirmed from the Fathers (of the Church): For Jerome, commenting on this text, and Ambrose, ask how this prophecy of Jeremiah is not opposed to the prophecy of Gabriel the Archangel, who, in Luke I, says: "The Lord God will give Him the throne of David His Father." And they reply that there is no contradiction because Jeremiah is talking about a temporal and carnal kingdom but Gabriel about a spiritual and eternal kingdom. Augustine agrees with them (in Book XVII of The City of God, chapter seven), where he says: "The people that would have lost a kingdom would be ruled by Christ our Lord not by an earthly but by a spiritual rule."

Nor, also, was Christ a temporal King by election, as is clear from that text of Luke, in his Chapter XII: "Man, who has constituted me Judge or arbitrator between you," that is, neither the Emperor, nor the State has chosen Me as a Judge. Also, from the text, John VI, 15: "Jesus realized that they would come and carry Him off to make Him king, so He fled back to the mountain alone." It is therefore evident He did not will to accept His choice as king.

But neither was He a temporal king by conquest: for His war was not with mortal kings but with the Prince of darkness, as is clear from John, XII, 31: "Now will the prince of this world be cast out." And from Colossians II, 15: "Thus did God disarm the principalities and powers. He made a public show of them, and leading them off captive, triumphed in the person of Christ." And I John III, 8: "For this the Son of God appeared that He might undo the works of the Devil." Therefore, by right of war, Christ acquired for Himself a spiritual kingdom, that He might reign in our hearts through Faith and grace, where before [we were ruled] through vices and sins.

That, finally, He was not a temporal King by a special gift of God, is manifest from that text of John, XVIII, 36, "My kingdom does not belong to this world." And, in the same place, "My kingdom is not here." For as the Fathers (Chrysostom, Theophylactus, Cyril and Augustine interpret this Scriptural text and as Ambrose comments on the last part of the Gospel of Luke, the Lord, by His words, wished to liberate Pilate from the suspicion that He was enamored of a temporal kingdom of the Jews. Therefore, the meaning is: "I am indeed a King but not in the same sense as Caesar and Herod, for my kingdom is not of this world, that is, it does not consist in worldly honors, wealth or power, and the like." And this interpretation is confirmed, first by the testimony of many authorities: for St. Thomas teaches this interpretation in his commentary on the 18th chapter of John, St. Bonaventure, in his book on poverty, and Augustine de Ancona, in his Apology for Poverty, writing about the power of the Church, in question I, article 9; Cornelius Jansen, on the passage in Luke, "The Lord will give him the throne of David," Adam Sasbout, on the ninth chapter of Isaiah; Thomas Waldensis, in the second book on the doctrine of the Faith, in chapters 76, 77 and 78; Alvarus Pelagius, in book two of The Lament of the Church (de planctu Ecclesiae) article 57, Durandus, in his treatise on the origin of jurisdiction, 3rd question, John Driedo, in his work on the dogma of the Church, book 3, chapter 4, part 1, and others (Abulensis, on chapter XX of Matthew, q. 67, Albertus Pighius, lib. V, de Eccl., Adrianus Finus, Victoria, de Soto, Bartholomew Medina, and Navarrus). In sum, nearly all the interpreters of the passage in John XVIII, "My kingdom is not of this world." This is confirmed, secondly, by the fact that Christ never exercised regal power in this world: for He came "to serve, not to be served;" to be judged, not to judge; therefore, He would have received regal authority to no purpose, for that power is empty which is never reduced to action.

They reply: Christ exercised this power when He ejected from the Temple those who were selling sheep and cattle, in John, chapter 2. But, in the first place, to eject some persons from the Temple is not a duty of a King but of Priests. For, if Priests ejected the King himself, namely Ozias, from the temple, as in II Paralipomenon, XXVI, how much more easily could they have ejected some merchants? But, in addition, it should be acknowledged that they did not eject those men from the Temple by a kind of high priestly or regal power, but in the manner of the Prophets out of a certain divine zeal, such as that which motivated Phineas when he slew "scortatores," and Elijah the prophets of Baal; and for that reason, the Jews said to the Lord, "What sign do you show us why you do these things?" That is, whereby we can know that you are a Prophet, and sent by God with power of this kind.

The same reason is confirmed in a third way. For kingly power was neither necessary for Christ nor useful to Him, but rather clearly superfluous and useless. For the purpose of His coming to earth was the redemption of the human race; but for this purpose temporal power was not necessary but only spiritual; especially if He could dispose of all temporal affairs in a manner He judged expedient for human redemption. That, however, merely temporal power would have been useless to Christ can be understood from this, that Christ had to persuade men of a contempt for glory, delights, wealth, and all those things in which the kings of this world are affluent. "Remember, those who dress luxuriously are to be found in royal palaces." (Matt. 11: 8)

It is confirmed, fourthly, from the fact that Christ was truly a poor man, not merely in practice but also in lack of ownership, as St. Bonaventure proves in his book on the poverty of Christ. Which also Nicholas III declared when he said that Christ taught the poverty of religious both by word and deed, a poverty without any possessions. Also, Clement VI says that Christ was the Model of the heavenly life such as described in the rule of St. Francis. Nor is this opposed to the contention of John XXII, that Christ sometimes had places and possessions in common with the Apostles, which were given to them as alms; but he does not deny that sometimes He had nothing, even in common; and he expressly teaches that Christ taught a life of religious which is without any possession, at least individual. But if Christ sometimes lacked any property, how could He always be the temporal Lord over all things?

The point is confirmed, finally, from the fact that all places in Scripture where there is question of the Kingdom of Christ must be understood as referring to the spiritual and eternal kingdom of Christ; accordingly, it cannot be deduced from Scripture that there has been any temporal kingdom of Christ. Psalm II treats of the kingdom of Christ, where it is said: "I myself have set up my king;" but in the same place it is added, "[Praedicans proeceptum ejus]," in order that the kingdom may be shown to be a spiritual one. Likewise, in Daniel II, 44, "In the lifetime of those kings, the God of Heaven shall set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed or delivered up to another shall stand forever." In Luke I, 33: "Of his kingdom there will be no end."

But temporal kingdoms are not eternal, and if Christ were a King of the Jews of a human sort, while He lived on earth, He certainly refrained from ruling that way when He ascended to the Father. How, then, will there be no end of His kingdom? And since the same kingdom was occupied a little later by the Romans, then by the Saracens, and now by the Turks, in what manner has what Daniel spoke about been fulfilled, that His kingdom would not be given to another people? Therefore, Christ was not a temporal King of the Jews but the spiritual King of the Church; the figure of Whose kingdom was the temporal kingdom of David and Solomon; of this sort of kingdom, the Father gave to Christ, the throne of His father David, that He might reign "over the house of Jacob forever." [in the words of Gabriel to Mary, Luke 1: 32]

But now the assumption of the first argument must be explained. We say, therefore, the Pope holds that office which Christ had when He lived on earth in a human manner among men; for we cannot confer on the Pontiff the offices that Christ has as God, or even as an immortal and glorified man, but ony those statutes that He had as a mortal man. For since the Church is composed of men, it needs a visible Head, living in a human manner. Therefore, when Christ ceased to live in a human way, that is, after the resurrection, He left Peter in His place, in order that he might exhibit in His stead that visible and human governance that the Church had before Christ's Passion, as is clear from His words in John XX, 21: "As the Father has sent me, so I send you."

Add, too, that the Pontiff does not have all the power which Christ had as a mortal man. For He, because He was both God and man had a certain power, as they say, of excellence, by reason of which He was preeminent to both faithful and infidel: to the Pope He entrusted only His sheep, that is, the Faithful. Moreover, Christ was able to institute the Sacraments and perform miracles by His own power, which the Pontiff cannot do. Likewise, He was able to absolve from sins without the Sacraments, which the Pontiff cannot do. He communicated to the Pontiff only that power which could be conferred on a mere man and which was necessary so to govern the Faithful that without hindrance they could attain to eternal life. It evidently follows, therefore, from the fact that Christ, as a mortal man, had no temporal kingdom, nor does the Pontiff as the Vicar of Christ have any kingdom of the same sort.