Collegiality in Light of Tradition: Is Collegiality a Novelty of Vatican II or the Traditional Doctrine on the Episcopate?


Collegiality in Light of Tradition
Is Collegiality a Novelty of Vatican II or the Traditional Doctrine on the Episcopate?

Robert J. Siscoe 

Part I


Of all the controversial teachings of the Second Vatican Council, collegiality, as taught in chapter three of Lumen Gentium, is without question the one that is least understood.  It was also one of the most hotly debated topics during the Council, even requiring a last-minute intervention by “a higher authority” (Paul VI), in the form of a Nota praevia (clarifying note), the purpose of which was to provide an authoritative explanation for how certain aspects of the teaching contained in the chapter are to be understood.  This clarifying note had been occasioned, in part, by concerns expressed by the conservative Fathers on the Coetus Internationalis Patrum, who feared that certain individuals intended to interpret the text after the Council in a way that would undermine the authority of the Pope. The Nota, which became part of the final document, satisfied their concerns, and in the end, the teaching on the episcopate was approved by a vote of 2515 to 5. [1]

Although the final text was approved almost unanimously by more than 2500 bishops at an ecumenical council, the SSPX and the Sedevacantists (many of whom were trained in SSPX seminaries) allege that the teaching of Lumen Gentium (LG for short), according to which the body of bishops together with the Pope “is also the subject of supreme and full power over the universal Church” (Lumen Gentium, No. 22), is “heretical because it is contrary to the teaching of Vatican I on the uniqueness of the Pope's power” (Fr. Mauro Tranquillo, SSPX).[2]  The Society further maintains that this teaching of LG represents a “new ecclesiology” and a “new definition” of the Church.[3]

Bishop Williamson, the former rector of the SSPX seminary in Ridgefield, denounced the teaching as “a departure from tradition,”[4] while Fr. Gleize, current professor of ecclesiology at Econe, declared that it is “impossible” to reconcile with pre-conciliar magisterial teachings, because, in his words, it “contradicts” Pastor Aeternus (Vatican ).[5]  Their position, of course, originated with the founder of the SSPX, Archbishop Lefebvre, who said: “…this doctrine of double supremacy,” as he characterized the teaching of LG, “is contrary to the definitions of Vatican Council I, and to Pope Leo XIII's encyclical Satis Cognitum. The Pope alone has supreme power.”[6] 

The Sedevacantist bishop, Donald Sanborn, former rector of the SSPX Seminary in Ridgefield, points to this teaching of LG as "proof" that Vatican II teaches a “new religion”: 

“Vatican II changed the constitution of the Catholic Church. …  It says that the subject, or possessor of the supreme power of the Church, is the college of bishops with Peter as its head. … Christ did not confide to the college of bishops the supreme authority of the Church. … Lumen Gentium founded a new religion. … If we are to maintain the faith in this time, we must resist these changes of Vatican II.” (Bp. Donald Sanborn)[7] 

Are they right?  Is collegiality a “new ecclesiology” that contradicts Pastor Aeternus (Vatican I) and changed the divine constitution of the Church?  If not, why have none of the usual apologists for Vatican II even attempted to defend it? Even Archbishop Vigano now claims that “collegiality" was "invented at Vatican II.”[8]

After years of hearing about the heresy of collegiality, but admittedly never quite understanding it, I finally decided to delve into the controversial topic to find out exactly what Vatican II taught and why it is wrong. To my surprise, what I discovered is that collegiality, as taught in Lumen Gentium, chapter III, and in the new Code of Canon law, is entirely traditional from start to finish. There is absolutely nothing novel about it, and nothing that conflicts in the least with Pastor Aeternus, or anything else taught in Vatican I.  Quite the contrary, as we will see.  

The Advice of Archbishop Lefebvre 

 During a Conference Archbishop Lefebvre delivered to his seminarians in 1983, the founder of the SSPX said he does not like hearing people say, “I have the same thinking as Msgr, Lefebvre.”  He told his seminarians it was not his thinking, but the thinking of the Church that he was imparting to them. He then gave them some very wise advice which, he said, he often gave to his seminarians at Econe: 

“I say always to the seminarians of Econe, that you have a big library, with all the books filled with the Tradition ... all these books are written before Vatican II. You can consult these books and see if I do not give you the doctrine of the Church. It is not my doctrine, it is not my ideas, that is very important because that is what gives us the Truth [.]" (Lefebvre, Conference St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary, April 2, 1983). 

In this article, we will do what Archbishop Lefebvre challenged his seminarians to do, namely, we will consult the manuals that were used to train priests before Vatican II, and other approved pre-conciliar books, to find out what was taught before Vatican II concerning the subject of supreme authority in the Church, as well as other aspects of Lumen Gentium, Chapter III, that the Archbishop and the SSPX denounce as erroneous or heretical. 

Do the pre-Vatican II books teach, for example, that the supreme power resides in the Pope alone, as Lefebvre taught, or do they teach that it resides in the Pope and also in the body of bishops together with the Pope, as LG teaches?  Do they teach that the episcopal “college” is something that the Pope “brings into existence” every hundred years or so during a council, as the SSPX maintains, or do they teach that the college of bishops is a permanent reality that succeeds the Apostolic College, as Lumen Gentium teaches?  And what precisely do the pre-Vatican II books teach about the collegiate power?  Does it exist? If so, what is it and what is its nature and its purpose?  

The Text of Lumen Gentium

 We will begin by reading the controversial text from Lumen Gentium concerning the subject (possessor) of supreme authority, in context: 

In virtue of his office, that is as Vicar of Christ and pastor of the whole Church, the Roman Pontiff has full, supreme and universal power over the Church. And he is always free to exercise this power. The order of bishops, which succeeds to the college of apostles and gives this apostolic body continued existence, is also the subject of supreme and full power over the universal Church, provided we understand this body together with its head the Roman Pontiff, and never without this head.” (Lumen Gentium, chapter III, no. 22). 

Notice that the Pope possesses the supreme power singly by virtue of his office, while the body of bishops, together with the Pope, is also the subject of the supreme power.  The Nota Praevia clarifies that the subjects are 1) the Pope, considered separately, and 2) the body of bishops together with the Pope.  The bishops considered without the Pope do not possess the supreme power.  Hence, when there is no Pope (during an interregnum), there is no supreme authority in the Church. 

Cardinal Journet on Collegiality (1941) 

The first pre-Vatican II book we turn to is The Church of the Word Incarnate, by Cardinal Journet, which was originally published in 1941. I will be quoting from the English translation that was published in 1955.  Archbishop Lefebvre served with Journet on Vatican II’s Central Preparatory Commission, and later praised him as “a great theologian and deep thinker."[9]  Cardinal Journet’s cause for beatification has been approved and he currently enjoys the title Servant of God.

In Chapter VIII of The Church of the Word Incarnate, Journet distinguishes between 1) the universal jurisdiction that the Pope enjoys by virtue of his office, 2) the particular jurisdiction that other bishops enjoy as the head of a diocese (or particular Church), and 3) the collegiate power.  These distinctions are foundational for a proper understanding of the Episcopate, and specifically for the traditional doctrine now known as collegiality. 

The Difference in Species between Universal and Particular Jurisdiction 

Journet begins by explaining that the difference between the universal jurisdiction proper to the Pope (as head of the universal Church), and the particular jurisdiction proper to other bishops (as the head of a diocese), is not merely quantitative; it is qualitative. In other words, the Pope doesn’t merely have more jurisdiction than other bishops, or a greater part of the same form of jurisdiction; rather, the universal jurisdiction proper to the Pope is of a different species (form) than the particular jurisdiction proper to other bishops.  Journet writes:

"The jurisdictional power is ‘proper’ both in the Sovereign Pontiff and in the bishops. … However, it appears in the bishops and in the Pontiff under forms that are clearly distinct. 

"The jurisdiction proper to the Pope is universal. The jurisdiction proper to the bishops is particular.   These two forms do not differ only in a quantitative way, according to more or less.  They differ also in a qualitative way, in species.  The universal jurisdiction is not simply a sum total of particular Churches, and the jurisdictional order of the universal Church is not simply a sum-total of particular orders.” 


"If therefore each bishop, in virtue of his episcopate, possesses properly only a particular jurisdiction, it follows that the sum of the bishops possess, in virtue of their episcopate alone, only a sum-total of particular jurisdictions; which sum in no wise amounts to a universal jurisdiction." (Journet, The Church of the Word Incarnate, Sheed and Ward, 1955,p. 409) 

He goes on to explain that this is why a council without a Pope can never possess authority equal to that of the Pope alone. Such an “imperfect council” would only possess the sum total of the particular powers of the bishops present, which would not amount to the universal jurisdiction that the Pope is vested with by virtue of his office.  Bellarmine, Cajetan, and many others use the identical argument to refute the heresy of Conciliarism (i.e., that a Council has authority superior to the Pope).

Journet also explains that if all the bishops of the world, excluding the Pope, were gathered in a council, the cumulative authority of all bishops would not suffice for them to render judgments that are proper to the jurisdiction of the Pope, such as issuing decrees that regulate the universal Church.  Universal jurisdiction is required to render judgments that bind the universal Church.

One final point that should be noted is that the Pope receives his jurisdiction directly from Christ when he is elected and accepts the papacy. The Cardinal electors merely designate the person chosen to be Pope, and then Christ bestows upon him the supreme authority.  Other bishops receive their particular jurisdiction directly from the Pope when they are appointed to their office (i.e., to a legitimately established particular church); but once it is received, bishops possess their jurisdiction by divine law and will retain it even after the Pope who conferred it upon them dies.

But what is important to note at this point, is that the particular jurisdiction of all the bishops, taken collectively, will never equal the supreme universal jurisdiction proper to the Pope, since particular jurisdiction, even when all the particular powers are combined, is of a different species than universal jurisdiction. 

The Collegiate Power 

 Journet goes on to describe the collegiate power, which is qualitatively distinct from particular jurisdiction. The collegiate power is the form of jurisdiction that the college of bishops together with the Pope participates in habitually.

“I have mentioned the proper jurisdiction of the bishops. It is distinct from the universal jurisdiction of the Supreme Pastor.  The first is ordered to the good of a particular Church, the second to the good of the universal Church. And we know that the good of a whole and the good of a part differ qualitatively as to species, and not merely quantitatively, according to more or less. …

“But, besides this particular jurisdiction which they possess as properly theirs, the bishops, taken as a college, in virtue of their close union with the Sovereign Pontiff, participate in the universal jurisdiction proper to the Pontiff. …

“So, we must distinguish in the bishops the power of particular jurisdiction which finds in each of them its proper subject, from the power of universal jurisdiction which finds in each of them a supplementary subject.  I have said that the particular jurisdiction of the bishops is distinct [in species] from the universal jurisdiction of the Pope; it is superadded to it, not so as to make up more (greater) power, ‘majus in potestate’, but many powers, ‘plures potestates’. On the other hand, the collegiate jurisdiction of the bishops is not numerically added to the universal jurisdiction, but is one with it.” (Ibid. p. 411).

The collegiate power “is one with” (same species as) the supreme universal jurisdiction that is proper to the Pope. The body of bishops, considered collectively, are a “supplementary subject” of the same universal jurisdiction that the Pope enjoys singly, by virtue of his office.  Since the collegiate power is the species of jurisdiction that is ordered to the good of the universal, the body of bishops are endowed with the capacity to act as “true judges and definitors” during an ecumenical council, in matters that concern the universal Church. The particular jurisdiction bishops possess as the head of a diocese alone (which is only ordered to the good of a portion of the Church) would not suffice for this.

This latter point was affirmed during a meeting of the Directive Commission of Cardinals that took place during the preparations for the First Vatican Council, in which it was said: “It is on the universal jurisdiction which is common to all bishops” that “the right of to vote in councils is based; indeed, residential bishops do not vote in councils from the [particular] jurisdiction they have over their particular churches, but as teachers or governors of the whole church in general when they are united as one body with the visible head of the church.”[10]  .

Cardinal Journet continues with his explanation of the collegiate power:

“In other words, the power to rule the universal Church resides first of all in the Sovereign Pontiff, then in the episcopal college united with the Pontiff; and it can be exercised either singly by the Sovereign Pontiff, or jointly by the Pontiff and the episcopal college: the power of the Sovereign Pontiff singly and that of the Sovereign Pontiff united with the episcopal college constituting not two [supreme] powers adequately distinct, but one sole supreme power – considered on the one hand in the head of the Church teaching [the Pope], in whom it resides in its wholeness and as in its sourceand on the other hand as at once in the head and in the body of the Church teaching, to which it is communicated and in which it finds its plenary and integral subject.” (Ibid., p. 412) 

The supreme power to rule the universal Church resides in 1) “the Sovereign Pontiff,” and in 2) “the episcopal college united to the Pontiff.”  This is the teaching of Lumen Gentium, and it is found all throughout the pre-Vatican II books, which is where Archbishop Lefebvre told his seminarians they should look to determine if what they were being taught in his seminaries was “the doctrine of the Church.”  

It should be noted that the body of bishops do not participate in the Primacy, “which is distinct from the Episcopate,” as Cardinal Manning observes,[11] but they do participate collectively in the same supreme authority that he who holds the Primacy (the Pope), enjoys singly by virtue of his office. 

Cardinal Journet continues by providing the scriptural foundation for the collegiate power:

“…the regularpermanent, collegiate power to rule the universal Church, is not solely, but certainly comprised in Jesus’ promise to all the Apostles: ‘Whatsoever you shall bind upon earth shall be bound also in heaven, and whatsoever you shall loose upon earth shall be loosed also in heaven’ (Mt. 18:18).  These words had previously been addressed to Peter (Mt. 16:19).  They were addressed now to the whole apostolic college. What does that mean if not that the apostolic college was to share in Peter’s power, that it was to share with Peter in the supreme jurisdiction over the universal Church, and that this supreme jurisdiction was to be given first to Peter and to his successors, so as to devolve next on the Apostles and on their successors?”[12] 

He goes on to explain that the college is a permanent reality, which can act even outside the context of a council.  One way he says the college can perform a collegial act outside of a council is by declaring a doctrine infallibly (Denz. 1683).  The possibility of performing a collegial act outside of a council is another traditional teaching of Lumen Gentium that the SSPX rejects.

It is interesting to note that Fr. Tranquillo, one of the Society’s experts on the alleged heresy of collegiality, criticized Lumen Gentium for referencing Matthew. 18:18, along with Matthew 16, as the scriptural basis for the two subjects of supreme power. He wrote: “Like the worst Gallican Episcopalians, the Council is not afraid to cite Mt. XVIII, 18 (putting it in parallel with Mt. XVI, 16) in support of its thesis.” (Fr. Tranquillo, SSPX, Episcopat Et Collegialite).

This criticism is surprising since virtually all the Catholic theologians before Vatican II (and after Vatican I), reference these passages when speaking of the two subjects of supreme power, just as Cardinal Journet did above. What this objection of Fr. Tranquillo indicates, is that he has not read what the pre-Vatican II theologians taught about the episcopal college.  What else is indicative of this omission on his part, is every other argument that he uses against the teaching of Lumen Gentium, since they are all answered in the pre-Vatican II books. 

Before continuing, let us summarize the salient points we have seen thus far:  

Summary of Salient Points 

·         The Pope is vested with supreme universal jurisdiction by virtue of his office (as part of his ordinary jurisdiction.  

·         Other bishops are vested with particular jurisdiction (ordinary jurisdiction), as the head of a diocese. 

·         The Pope receives his jurisdiction directly from Christ when he is elected and accepts. 

·         Other bishops receive their particular jurisdiction directly from the Pope when they are appointed, after which they possess it by divine law and retain it even after the Pope who conferred it upon them dies. 

·         Universal jurisdiction is not a sum total of the particular jurisdictional powers, but is qualitatively distinct, according to species, from particular jurisdiction. 

·         The collegiate power is identical to (same species as) the supreme jurisdiction proper to the Pope.  

·         The Pope enjoys the supreme universal jurisdiction, singly, by virtue of his office; the other bishops share in it collectively, as members of the episcopal college.  The supreme authority exists in the College (second subject), and the College consists of the head (Pope) and body (bishops). As such, if there is no Pope (during an interregnum), there is no college, properly so-called, and hence there is no supreme power. If the bishops were to gather in a council without at least the tacit consent of the Pope (or when there was no living Pope), they would not be able to exercise the supreme power.  This, in fact, is what makes an “imperfect council” imperfect.  The perfection that it lacks is the supreme universal jurisdiction. 

More Pre-Conciliar Teaching on the Two Subjects of Supreme Power 

“Chapter 3 of the constitution Lumen Gentium presents a new definition of the hierarchical constitution of the Church, better known by the name of ‘collegiality’. … According to this new ecclesiology, however, in the Church there is a numerical distinction between two subjects of the same supreme authority, and this distinction is found between 1) the pope alone, considered apart from the college and without it and; 2) the college, still including its head…” (Society of St. Pius X).[13] 

Van Noort discusses the two subjects of supreme power in his dogmatic manual, Christ’s Church, which was originally published in 1920.  In the following quote, he is replying to the objection of those who maintain that because all the Apostles received “the full and supreme jurisdiction” to bind and loose on earth (Mt. 18:18), nothing special was given to St. Peter when he was promised the same (Mt. 16:19). Here is Van Noort’s reply: 

“It may readily be granted that the power of binding and of loosing anything whatsoever implies the fullness of power, but the words, ‘whatever you bind,’ etc. are addressed not to each of the apostles individually, but to all of them together as a group.  And so one cannot legitimately conclude that each of the apostles [individually] was promised fullness of jurisdiction.  The conclusion is rather that this power was promised to the whole apostolic college, including Peter. A comparison of Matthew 16 with Matthew 18 shows that there will be in Christ’s Church a twofold subject, not too sharply distinct, of full and supreme jurisdiction: Peter alone, and the Petro-apostolic college. And this is the Catholic teaching, as Innocent III, among others, testifies: 


‘But should you discover that it was spoken to all the apostles together, still you will recognize that the power of binding and loosing was bestowed not upon the others without him [Peter], but that it was given to him apart from the others so that what the others could not do without him, he could do without the others; and this because of the privileges conferred upon him by the Lord, and because of the fulness of power which had been granted him’ - Pope Innocent III.” (Van Noort, Christ’s Church, p. 67-68).  

The “full and supreme jurisdiction” resides in the Pope, and also in the body of bishops together with the Pope, just as Lumen Gentium taught forty years later.  And Van Noort references Mt. 18:18 and Mt. 16:18 as the scriptural basis for the doctrine.

Only St. Peter was given the “keys” (Mt. 16:19), but the Apostles together with St. Peter were given the same supreme power that St. Peter received along with the keys. 

There is an identical parallel between the two subjects of supreme universal jurisdiction and the two subjects of infallibility.  In both bases, the Pope enjoys the prerogative singly, by virtue of the Primacy, and the body of bishops participate in it collectively, as members of the episcopal college.

During the First Vatican Council, all acknowledged that the entire episcopate – Pope together with the bishops - enjoyed the prerogative of infallibility. The question that was disputed is whether the Pope enjoyed it singly, or "separately".  The Gallicans believed he did not.  They maintained that the one subject of infallibility was the entire episcopate.  Hence, they held that if the Pope defined a doctrine ex-cathedra, it would only be irreformable (infallible) if it was accepted by the entire episcopate – what they believed to be the one subject of infallibility.  This error was condemned in the last sentence of the dogma of Papal Infallibility, which declares: “Therefore, such definitions of the Roman Pontiff are of themselves, and not by the consent of the Church, irreformable” (Pastor Aeternus, cap IV, n. 9)

Hence, just as Van Noort teaches that there are two subjects of supreme jurisdiction, so too does he teach that there are two subjects of infallibility:

Van Noort: “The special discussion of the subject of infallibility fits more conveniently into the second of this treatise.  Suffice it to mention here, in anticipation of the fuller discussion, that the subject is both the body of the Church’s rulers together with their head, in other words, the Roman Catholic college of bishops, and the supreme ruler of the whole Church, the Roman Pontiff.” (Van Noort. Op. cit. p. 104)

The Pope enjoys supreme authority and infallibility singly, by virtue of the Primacy, and the body of bishops together with the Pope possesses both privileges collectively, as members of the Episcopal College.

In Ius Canonicum (1905), the esteemed canonist, Fr. Franz Xavier Wernz, teaches that “bishops together with the Roman Pontiff constitute another subject (alterum subiectum) of supreme authority in the Church, only inadequately distinct from the Roman Pontiff.”[14]  Earlier in the same book, he writes the following in reply to the Protestant Canonist Paul Hinschius: 

But Hinschius confuses the true and the false, and most importantly does not consider that an Ecumenical Council and the Roman Pontiff, even after the definition of the Vatican Council, are two subjects (duplex subiectumof supreme ecclesiastical power, not adequately but only inadequately distinct. Since this distinction is indeed only inadequate, it cannot possibly be said that there is only one subject of supreme power, whether in an ecumenical council or outside of it.”[15] 

In De Religione et Ecclesia (1905), the eminent Cardinal Mazzella, who held the chair of theology at the Gregorian during the Pontificate of Leo XIII, says all of Tradition confirms that there is a double subject of supreme power: 

“If we compare the all the testimonies of Scripture and tradition, we find, as it were, an inadequately distinct double subject of supreme power (supremæ potestatis); that is to say, Peter alone - 'whatever thou shall bind' etc. [Mt. 16:19] and the body of Apostles with Peter - 'whatever ye shall bind' etc. – [Mt. 18:18].” (Mazzella De Religione et Ecclesia, 1905). 

The reason the two subjects are only inadequately distinct is because the Pope – the head of the college – is included in both.

Now, in a private email, Fr. Gleize (SSPX), the Society’s premier experts on the alleged heresy of collegiality, attempted to explain away the above quotations from Fr. Wernz and Cardinal Mazzella by  claiming that what they taught is that the two subjects of supreme power were only inadequately distinct, whereas Lumen Gentium, he insisted, teaches that the two subjects are adequately distinct.  He said the teaching of two inadequately distinct subjects of supreme authority “is the traditional teaching”!

When I asked him to explain why he believes Lumen Gentium teaches that the two subjects are adequately distinct, he didn’t reply.  I will allow Cardinal Journet to reply to Fr. Gleize’s objection…

After Vatican II, Cardinal Journet wrote two Appendixes (1965 and 1966) to be included in the next printing of his book, The Theology of the Church (1958).  As luck would have it, one of the Appendixes was dedicated to Chapter III of Lumen Gentium. Here is what the Servant of God wrote about Lumen Gentium’s teaching on the two subjects of supreme authority:

“The supreme jurisdictional authority over the universal Church (the power to teach and to govern) resides, by the will of Christ and thus by divine right, in a twofold subject: (1) in the pope alone and (2) in the pope together with the episcopal college. Hence, for one and the same power there are two subjects, two exercises, which can be distinguished only inadequately since the presence of the supreme pontiff is required in either case.” (Journet, The Theology of the Church) 

Lumen Gentium does indeed teach two inadequately distinct subjects of supreme authority, which Fr. Gleize himself admitted “is the traditional teaching.”

Fr. Gleize's Error on the meaning of two subjects "only inadequately Distinct"

    The reason Fr. Gleize rejects the teaching of Lumen Gentium is because he doesn't understand what is meant by an inadequately distinct double subject of supreme authority.  The thinks it means the Pope alone is the subject that possesses supreme authority; that  is, the Pope is the subject of supreme authority when he is by himself, and he is also the subject of supreme authority when he gathers with the other bishops. That is what he thinks the older theologians mean when they speak of two inadequately distinct double subjects.   But if that were the case, there would only be one subject of supreme authority, not two, since in either case the Pope alone is the subject who possesses it. The Pope is also the subject of supreme authority when he says a public Mass, but that doesn't make the faithful who attend his Mass an inadequately distinct subject of his authority.  

Unfortunately, not only did Archbishop Lefebvre - and every priest that has been formed in one of his seminaries - reject the traditional teaching by insisting that “The Pope alone has supreme power,”[16] but he also rejected the new Code of Canon Law because it incorporated the traditional teaching on the episcopate into the Church’s canonical language: 

“The new Code is designed to bring conciliar ecclesiology into legal and canonical language. ... you now have two subjects of supreme power. Go and figure something ... How can there be two subjects of supreme power? ... "(Archbishop Lefebvre, Conference at Ecône, January 18, 1983)”    

Again, from Lefebvre: 

“It is impossible for us to accept the Canon Law as it stands, because it is precisely in the line of Vatican II and in line with the reforms of Vatican II. The pope himself says so. He is in this new ecclesiology, which does not correspond to traditional ecclesiology and therefore indirectly affects our faith, and is likely to lead us, at least in a number of essential points of law, to heresies, favoring heresy.” (Lefebvre, Ecône, March 14, 1983) 

The priests formed in Archbishop Lefebvre’s seminaries (SSPX, Sedevacantists, Sedeprivationist, Independent, Resistance, etc.) have been surprisingly successful in convincing Catholics that this traditional teaching on the Episcopate is heretical.  

One of their victims is Fr. Michael Oswalt, a former priest of the diocese of Rockford Illinois, who fell into the Sedevacantist heresy and left the Church in 2009.  In a public letter that Fr. Oswalt wrote to his former diocese to defend his actions, he pointed to the “heresy” of collegiality as proof that the Roman Catholic Church has become an “Imposter Church.” The following excerpt from Fr. Oswalt’s public letter is taken, verbatim, from numerous articles found on Sedevacantist websites.  He writes:

“The fourth heresy is that of collegiality which alters the monarchical constitution of the Catholic Church, with which she was endowed by the Divine Savior. The doctrine of Vatican II, confirmed by the 1983 Code of Canon Law, which states that the subject (the possessor) of the supreme authority of the Church is the college of bishops together with the pope, is contrary to the defined doctrine of the Council of Florence and of Vatican I.” (“Rejecting the Imposter Church,” Fr. Michael Oswalt).[17] 

After leaving the Roman Catholic Church, Fr. Fr. Oswalt joined the CMRI, which is a non-Catholic Sedevacantist sect that was founded by one of the first (of many) Sedevacantist Antipopes, Francis Schuckardt aka Antipope Hadrian VII.  In 1971, Mr. Schuckardt was ordained to the priesthood and then consecrated a bishops (one day later) by a married bishop of the Old Catholic church (communicatioi in sacris).  Schuckardt eventually split from the CMRI that he founded when it was discovered that he had been abusing drugs and having inappropriate sexual relations with his male seminarians.  And Fr. Oswalt thought he was leaving an Imposter Church!  

The Church is a Monarchy of Its Own Kind (Sui Generis) 

The SSPX and Sedevacantists maintain that if the college of bishops participate in the supreme authority, the Church would not be a monarchy, but rather a democracy or an aristocracy.  On the contrary, as Cardinal Billot explains, the supreme authority residing in the whole college does not prevent the Church from being a true monarchy, but it does make the Church's government a monarchy of a unique kind – a monarchy sui generis.  Christ established the Church this way, says Billot, as a means of manifesting and achieving that perfect unity for which He prayed for the Apostles at the Last supper.  The following is taken from Billot’s De Ecclesia Christi, which, in 1963, Fr. Fenton called “the best theological treatment on the Church produced during the course of the past hundred years.”

De Ecclesia Christi, Vol. I, Thesis XXVII: “To emphasize the unity for which he prayed for the apostles at the Last Supper, when he said, 'That as we are one, they may be one in us, that they may be perfect in one,' Christ arranged the apostolic college as a stable and perpetual institution, united to Prince Peter, to share in the supreme power. Hence the monarchy of the Church is a monarchy of its own kind (sui generis), which, while retaining without limitation the full character of a monarchy in all respects, yet has a régime of individual bishops conjoined to it (coniunctum), so that the one indivisible supreme authority may be wielded by the body of bishops united to its head.

The truth of this assertion is clear from Mt. 28-20, John 20-21, and even more clearly from Mt. 18-18, where Christ, in addressing the entire community of the apostles, said, ‘Amen I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’  These words, previously spoken to Peter alone, imply the exercise of the fullness of power, as has been explained above, Thes. 25 § 1. Therefore, just as in Peter (one subject) there was the fullness of ecclesiastical authority, so too is it in the whole college (second subject), considered collegially.” (Billot, De Ecclesia Christi, Vol. 1, 1909). 

The same supreme authority that resides in Peter also resides in the whole college. To prove it, Billot references Mt. 16:19 and Mt 18:18, and notes that the binding and loosing power that was given to Peter “has the same term and the same form” as that which was given to “the college.”  In both cases, he says, the “power is signified in the genus of unlimited ecclesiastical power (potestatis eccleiasticae illimitata).” (Ibid.) He goes on to explain, as Carinal Journet did earlier, that the collegiate power is not the sum total of the particular powers of all the bishops.  Rather, because  “the power of the college is the supreme power,” the “power of the college is adequately distinguished from the sum of the particular powers of the individual members of the college.”

He then explains why, despite the entire college possessing the identical supreme authority as the Pope, the other bishops are not to be considered as equal to the Pope.  His answer shows the relation between the Primacy and the Episcopate: 

“One thing, therefore, remains to be said: By Christ's institution, the identical supreme power which was wholly in Peter alone, should also be in him together with the subordinate members of the Apostolic Senate, which constituted one body, one tribunal, and one plenary and fully competent subject of authority, yet in this body, considered as the depositary of supreme authority, Peter and the rest of the Apostolic College are not to be regarded as on equal terms, since the position of Peter as Head always remains intact, according to Matt. XVI, John XXI, and Luke XXII.   First, without Peter and apart from Peter there would be in the Apostolic College no supreme authority at all; for it was not to a headless body that: Christ said ‘Whatsoever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, etc.’ (Mt 18:18).  Secondly, within the Apostolic College Peter is not like the President in a Parliament, simply the first among equals; but is always the Rock of the Church, the Confirmer of his brethren, and the Pastor of both the sheep and lambs alike; he is also the one fount and reason of the supreme authority of the whole Apostolic College cohering with him. Thirdly, Peter is in no way subject to the Apostolic College, while the other Apostles are subject to the Senate of which they form a part. Lastly, the Apostolic College invested with supreme power is nothing else than the whole body of subordinate Prelates as assumed into their Head, Peter, for the unity of one governing agency, and this for the manifestation of that unity of “the whole body . . . compacted and fitly joined together by which every joint supplieth" which Christ willed should be the touchstone and everlasting miracle of His true Church.” (Billot, De Ecclesia 1,Thesis XXVII 569-572). 

Even though “the fullness of ecclesiastical authority” resides in “the whole college, considered collegially,” the Church is a true monarchy in all respects, due to the divinely established privileges that the Pope enjoys by virtue of the Primacy, which he alone holds. 

Cardinal Billot goes on to explain that the Apostolic college will be perpetuated in the episcopal college until the end.  He then declares that “the supreme authority of the whole episcopate”– which is the doctrine that the SSPX and Sedevacantist declare to be heretical - is an explicit dogma of the Catholic Faith: 

Now, it is hardly necessary to demonstrate that the institution which began with the apostolic college should be perpetuated in the episcopate until the end. And, of course, all the quotations we have seen from the Gospels testify that it is undoubtedly the perennial and perpetual state of the Church. Moreover, there is nothing more explicit in the Catholic faith from the beginning than the dogma of the supreme authority (suprema auctoritate) of the whole episcopatewhether united in an ecumenical council or dispersed throughout the world.  It is concerning this collegiate authority of all the bishops together with Peter their head, that the teaching of St. Cyprian (De Unit. Eccl. n. 5) is rightly understood: ‘The episcopate is one, of which each has a share in Solidium’." (Billot, Tractus De Ecclesia, Thesis XXVII” (Billot, De Ecclesia 1,Thesis XXVII). 

“The supreme authority residing in the whole episcopate,” even when the bishops “are dispersed throughout the world” is “the perennial and perpetual state of the Church.”  That is the doctrine of LG that the Society and Sedevacantist priest accuse the Roman Catholic Church of heresy for teaching at an ecumenical  Council. 

It is interesting to note that in a report Fr. Gleize wrote to his fellow priests in reply to the book, Le synode des Evêques et la Collégialité (which is a defense of collegiality), he admitted that Cardinal Billot taught that bishops participate, by divine right, in the same supreme power as the Pope. “Billot says it clearly,” wrote Fr. Gleize.  What Fr Gleize failed to mention, however, is that Carinal Billot, who Archbishop Lefebvre called “one of his masters,” and praised as “a true disciple of St. Pius X,” said the doctrine (that the SSPX rejects) is an explicit dogma! 

Vatican I on the Two Subjects of Supreme Power 

If we turn to the Acts of Vatican I, we find the same "explicit dogma" taught in numerous places.  For example, after the council approved Pastor Aeternus, which defined the prerogatives of the Pope and the Primacy, the Council Fathers began work on a Second Constitution on the Church, which was to define the prerogatives of the Episcopate. Unfortunately, the council was suspended due to the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War before the Constitution could be completed, but not before two schemas had been drafted.

The first schema (Supremi Pastoris), which had been written by the Preparatory Commission before the Council began, was not well received by the Fathers as a whole. Therefore, the renowned theologian, Joseph Kleutgen, who had been the principal redactor of the revised schema De Fide Catholica, which later became the Constitution De Filius, was entrusted with the task of preparing a revised text, which would take into account the objections that had been raised by the Fathers against original schema.  In the relatio that accompanied the revised schema, Kleutgen said, 

“the total plenitude of supreme power …  resides in a double subject, in the body of the bishops together with the pope, and in the pope alone. " (relatio, Tametsi Deus, Mansi 53, 321). 

Kleutgen went on to explain that “the supreme authority is not attributed to the body of bishops simpliciter, but to the body of bishops together with the pope” which is the same clarification that the Nota gives concerning the second subject of supreme power.

The teaching of Lumen Gentium that the Society insists “contradicts” Pastor Aeternus (along with the identical clarification that is given in the Nota), was taught during Vatican I after Pastor Aeternus had been approved and promulgated.

The teaching of the two subjects of supreme power was also taught by Bishop Zinelli, during the relatio he delivered on Chapter III of Pastor Aeternus.  In reply to a Council Father who believed the entire episcopate together with the Pope, possessed greater authority that the Pope alone, Bishop Zinelli, his official capacity as the spokesman for the Deputation De Fide, replied as follows:

“We willingly agree that supreme and total ecclesiastical sovereignty over all the faithful resides also in ourselves [bishops] as gathered in an ecumenical council, in ourselves, the bishops, united to their head (second subject).  Yes, this perfectly fits the Church united to the head.  The bishops gathered with their head in an ecumenical council (second subject) - in which case they represent the whole Church - or dispersed, yet in union with their head (second subject) - in which case they are the Church herself - truly have supreme authority.  But all the words of Christ should make everything clear.  If by the fact that he promised to be with the Apostles, with Peter and his successors, and granted other such things, we can infer that this truly full and supreme power is in the Church [bishops] united with her head (second subject), by the same reason, from the fact that similar promises were made to Peter alone and to his successors, we can conclude that truly full and supreme power was given to Peter and his successors (first subject), even independently of their acting in common with the other bishops.   (…) We admit that a truly full and supreme power exists in the Supreme Pontiff as in the head (one subject) and that the same truly full and supreme power is also in the head joined to its members, that is, in the Pope with the bishops (second subject) [.]” (Mansi, 52.1109). 

The same “supreme and total ecclesiastical sovereignty over all the faithful” that resides in the Pope, said Zinelli, also resides in the body of bishops united to the Pope, even when they are dispersed. 

Countless more quotations could be cited, but in light of what we have seen, suffice it to say that the teaching, according to which the college of bishops, together with the Pope, is a subject of supreme authority, is not a “departure from tradition” (Bishop Williamson), or a “new ecclesiology” of Vatican II that altered the monarchical constitution of the Church and “founded a new religion” (Bp. Sanborn); nor is it a “heresy” that “contradicts” Pastor Aeternus (Fr. Tranquillo, Fr. Glieze).   On the contrary, it is the traditional teaching of the Church – a revealed truth - that the great Cardinal Billot did not hesitate to call an explicit dogma!

In fact, even Vatican II’s original schema – the one prepared by the Central Preparatory Commission that Archbishop Lefebvre took part on - teaches that “the college of bishops" together with the Pope, is the “subject of full and supreme power over the whole Church.” (Vatican II, Draft of A Dogmatic Constitution on The Church, No 16.) 

Everything the Society objects to concerning Lumen Gentium’s teaching on collegiality is taught in the original schema on the Church, which Archbishop Lefebvre praised as being "absolutely orthodox" (Open Letter to Confused Catholic, chapter 14).

Foundational Error
Equating the Supreme Authority with the Primacy

This foundational error of the SSPX is equating supreme authority (or universal jurisdiction) with the Primacy, and then interpreting Lumen Gentium as teaching that there are “two subjects of the Primacy”.  Based on this they conclude that Lumen Gentium contradicts Pastor Aeternus, since it teaches that the Pope alone holds the Primacy.  And they don’t merely equate the two terms in their mind and then draw the false conclusion: they explicitly state that their error is what Lumen Gentium teaches.  Here are just two examples out of many:   

“Lumen Gentium [no 22] … says that there is a twofold subject of the primacy, on the one hand, the pope and on the other hand the college together with its head. … Moreover the College, the second subject of the primacy, is presented—to use the precise wording—as being ‘with’ the pope and not as being ‘under’ the pope or ‘dependent on’ its head, the pope.” (SSPX, General House)[18]


Bishop Fellay: “After having shaken the Church’s unity of Faith, the texts of the Council also disturbed the Church’s unity of government and hierarchical structure. The expression “subjectum quoque” (LG, 22) [i.e., “is also the subject”] means that the college of bishops united to the Pope as to their head is also, besides the Pope alone, the habitual and permanent subject of the supreme and universal power of jurisdiction in the Church. …  This idea of a permanent double subject holding primacy is, in fact, contrary to the Church’s teaching and practice, especially to the constitution Pastor Aeternus of Vatican I (DS 3055) and Leo XIII’s encyclical Satis Cognitum.” (April 2014 - Superior General's Letter #82) 


    They do the same when referring to Pastor Aeternus.  Instead of saying Pastor Aeternus teaches that the Pope is the unique subject of the Primacy, they say it teaches that he is the unique subject of supreme power. For example:

 Fr. Glieze: “The doctrine on collegiality, as expressed in n ° 22 of the constitution Lumen Gentium, including n ° 3 of the Nota praevia, contradicts the teachings of the First Vatican Council on the uniqueness of the subject of supreme power in the Church, contained in the Constitution Pastor Aeternus.” (Fr. Gleize) [19] 

The Primacy and supreme authority are distinct, just as the Primacy and the Episcopate are distinct; and because they are distinct, the bishops can participate in one (supreme authority) without participating in the other (the Primacy).  This is evident from the fact that all the Apostles had universal jurisdiction (and no Apostle had particular jurisdiction over a diocese until later in their ministries), yet they nevertheless remained subject to St. Peter because he alone held the Primacy.

In fact, many theologians maintain that the other Apostles had universal jurisdiction, singly (not only collectively), as an extraordinary privilege, yet even so, as Salaverri explains, they would still have been subject to St. Peter because he alone held the Primacy: 

“Therefore, having supposed also the extraordinary universal jurisdiction of the Apostles, their power can be aptly reconciled with their subordination due to St. Peter by reason of the Primacy, according to this principle: although by reason of the Apostolate they were equal to St. Peter, still by reason of the Primacy they were subject to St. Peter, and indeed not only indirectly, but also directly.” (Salaverri, Sacrae Theologiae Summa I B, n. 278) 

Lumen Gentium itself clearly distinguishes between the Primacy and supreme authority, and it explicitly teaches that the Pope has the Primacy “over all,” which includes the bishops. 

“But the college or body of bishops has no authority unless it is understood together with the Roman Pontiff, the successor of Peter as its head. The pope's power of primacy over all, both pastors (i.e., bishops) and faithful, remains whole and intact. … the bishops, faithfully recognizing the primacy and pre-eminence of their head, exercise their own authority for the good of their own faithful, and indeed of the whole Church…” (Lumen Gentium, No. 22) 

In the quotation above from the SSPX, the author says Lumen Gentium presents the bishops “as being ‘with’ the pope and not as being ‘under’ the pope.”  In reality, as we just saw, Lumen Gentium explicitly teaches that the Pope’s power of Primacy is “over all, both pastors (Bishops) and faithful.” 

So, the SSPX accuses LG of teaching what it does not teach (two subjects of the Primacy), and of not teaching what it does teach (that the Pope’s primacy is over all.)  

    In April of 2012, Bishops Fellay, then Superior General of the SSPX, signed a doctrinal agreement with Rome, which professed the following: 

“We declare that we accept the doctrine regarding the Roman Pontiff and regarding the college of bishops, with the Pope as its head, which is taught by the dogmatic constitution Pastor Aeternus of Vatican I and by the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium of Vatican II, chapter 3 (de constitutione hierarchica Ecclesiae et in specie de episcopatu), explained and interpreted by the nota explicativa praevia in this same chapter.” 

    This 2012 Declaration, combined with the fear that the SSPX may join the Roman Catholic Church, outside of which "there is no salvation nor forgiveness of sins," is what eventually led to the split within the SSPX that resulted in the various “Resistance” groups. 

    During the Society’s General Chapter meeting, which took place later that year, Fr. de Jorna, Rector of the SSPX Seminary at Econe, and considered one of the Society’s best theologians, rose up to explain why the SSPX cannot accept the doctrinal agreement signed by Fellay.  Here is what he said: 

“We cannot accept the doctrine of ‘Lumen Gentium’ chapter III. Even understood in the light of the Nota previa, no. 22 to ‘Lumen Gentium,’ it retains all its ambiguity because it still implies that there is in the Church a double subject of the Primacy (the Pope alone, AND the Pope with all the bishops) and opens the door to the denial of the teaching of Vatican I (DS 3054).


“Archbishop Lefebvre insisted on this error on the occasion of the publication of the new 1983 Code of [Canon Law]. … Archbishop Lefebvre would never have signed these statements and (moreover) there is no reference to ch. III of ‘Lumen Gentium’ in the1988 Protocol of agreement.” 

    The Society’s best theologian rejects the traditional teaching on the Episcopate (approved almost unanimously by over 2500 bishops at an ecumenical council, including Lefebvre himself), because he does not understand the difference between supreme authority and the Primacy and errs by equating the two.

After rejecting the Doctrinal Declaration signed by Fellay, the General Chapter promptly voted him out and replace him with a new Superior General.  Here is what the soon-to-be Superior General, Fr. Pagliarani, said immediately after Fr. de Jorna’s criticism of the text signed by Fellay: 

"Dear colleagues! We are surely not going to give a slap in the face to our superior by demanding a retraction from him! This will be done implicitly in the final Declaration of the Chapter." 

And indeed it was. Here is the implicit retraction in the final Declaration of the Chapter: 

“For this reason, it seems opportune that we reaffirm our faith in the Roman Catholic Church, the unique Church founded by Our Lord Jesus Christ, outside of which there is no salvation nor possibility to find the means leading to salvation; our faith in its monarchical constitution, desired by Our Lord himself, by which the supreme power of government over the universal Church belongs only to the Pope, Vicar of Christ on earth;” 

What do you think Cardinal Billot would say about this doctrinal Declaration of the SSPX, which contradicts what he called an explicit dogma? 

Consequent Error:
Denying that Bishops Possess the Collegiate Power

Now, since the SSPX is acutely aware that Pastor Aeternus (Vatican I) teaches that the Pope alone holds the Primacy, their foundational error of equating supreme authority with the Primacy necessarily forces them to deny that bishops possess supreme authority (universal jurisdiction).  In their mind, to admit that bishops possessed supreme authority is to deny that the Pope alone holds the Primacy.

Consequently, the SSPX only recognizes 1) the particular jurisdiction that bishops enjoy as the head of a diocese, and 2) the universal jurisdiction that the Pope enjoys by virtue of his office. This can be seen in the following quote from an article by an SSPX priest (whose name is not given):

“The First Vatican Council summarizes this state of affairs (i.e., the divine constitution of the Church) by means of a very expressive formula: each bishop individually pastures and governs the particular flock that has been assigned to him. Thus the pope is the sole subject of the supreme authority of jurisdiction in the Church.”

Notice, that this Society priest only recognizes in bishops the particular jurisdiction they enjoy over their particular flock and then concludes (signified by the word “thus”) that “the Pope is the sole subject of supreme authority of jurisdiction in the Church.”  This is the logical result of their foundational error of equating supreme authority (collegiate power) with the Primacy. 

Since the SSPX believes the Pope alone possesses supreme authority, they conclude that the “collegiate power” is really “a collegiate manner in which the Pope can exercise his supreme authority: he can exercise his authority alone, or he can exercise it “collegially” in the presence of the bishops.  They  refer to the two ways in which the Pope can exercise his authority (i.e., alone or with the bishops) as two “subjects of the exercise of his authority”. But however he exercises it, whether alone (one subject) or in the presents of the bishops (second subject), they insist that Pope is the only one who possesses the supreme authority, and therefore is the only subject in which the supreme authority resides.  This is seen in what the author of the article quoted above writes next:

“There is at most a duality at the level of the manner in which this authority is exercised: alone or collegially. The collegial manner corresponds to the holding of councils, and it is extraordinary; … the pope is the one who brings into existence the College, in order to make it the temporary subject of the exercise of his own authority, by causing it to participate in his own acts as Supreme Pontiff. … a distinction should be made between two modes by which the same subject [the Pope] exercises the same supreme authority.”

Since the Society believes the collegiate power is really a collegiate manner in which the Pope can exercise his authority, they believe the “college” is something the Pope “brings into existence,” every hundred years or so, so he can exercise his authority collegially.  They deny that the college is a permanent reality, just as they deny that bishops possess the collegiate power (universal jurisdiction).

We will conclude with a historical example of a bishop who not only possessed the collegiate power, but possessed it and exercised it outside of a council

St. Eusebius Exercises the Collegiate Power During the Arian Crisis

The historical example of a bishop who possessed and exercised the universal power outside of a council is St. Eusebius, who did so during the Arian crisis, by consecrating bishops and “installing pastors” in dioceses other than his own.  In fact, Eusebius is the historical precedent that the Society appeals to to justify the illicit episcopal consecrations performed by Archbishop Lefebvre, yet they claim Eusebius acted by virtue of the nebulous and all-encompassing power of “supplied jurisdiction,” and not by the universal power, which they deny that bishops possess.   Let us begin by seeing how the Society presents the case of Eusebius.  

The book that the Society references for the case of Eusebius is Dom Grea’s De l’Eglise Et De Sa Divine Consitution, (1905), which is a fantastic book on the Episcopate, or what today we would call “collegiality.” The specific page that the Society references is p. 218, but interestingly, they never quote more than partial sentences from Grea’s book.  Before seeing what Grea actually says on the page, let us see how the Society presents it.   

The following is taken from the Society’s Theological Study of the 1988 Consecrations, under the heading “The doctrine on ‘supplied jurisdiction’ is applied regarding a bishop who in an extraordinary necessity consecrates another bishop”

“Dom Grea, whose attachment to the pope is above all suspicion testifies (De l’Eglise Et De Sa Divine Consitution, vol. I) that not only at the beginning of Christianity did the "necessity of the Church and the Gospel" demand that the power of the episcopal order be exercised in all its fullness without jurisdictional limitations, but that in successive ages extraordinary circumstances required "even more exceptional and more extraordinary manifestations" of episcopal power (ibid., p.218) in order "to apply a remedy to the current necessity of the Christian people" (ibid. and ff.), for whom there was no hope of aid on the part of the legitimate pastors nor from the pope. In such circumstances, in which the common good of the Church is also at stake, the jurisdictional limitations vanish and "that which is universal" in episcopal power "comes directly to the aid of souls" (ibid., p.218): ‘Thus in the 4th century St. Eusebius of Samosata is seen passing through the Oriental Church devastated by the Arians and ordaining Catholic Bishops for them without having any special jurisdiction over them.” 

Here is how the Society present the same events in the book, Is Tradition Excommunicated

In the history of the Church there are any number of cases of bishops who, in extraordinary circumstances, when they found themselves in some of the same difficulties as these of the early centuries and, consequently, where the necessity arose of using their episcopal powers in all their fullness, consecrated bishops without adhering to the disciplinary norms of the time. They did so by virtue of this "law of supply [Ecclesia supplet]" which exists in the Church, as it does in all organizations, when the functioning of necessary and indispensable organs becomes endangered. Thus in the 4th century, St. Eusebius of Samosata travelled throughout the Eastern Churches laid waste by the Arians and consecrated and installed Catholic bishops [84]. 

Footnote 84 references Grea’s book. 

Now, since the Society included the phrase “Ecclesia Supplet” (the Church supplies = supplied jurisdiction) in brackets after the phrase “law of supply,” with you may have assumed that "law of supply" is an archaic phrase that Eusebius himself used in place of supplied jurisdiction, and that Dom Grae simply quoted the phrase that Eusebius used.  After all, why would the Society have put the phrase in quotations marks and then referenced Grea’s book, if Grea didn’t use the phrase? Well, if that’s what you thought, you were mistaken. Nowhere in the book does Grea speak of supplied jurisdiction or “the law of supply.”

What Grea is explaining in the chapter that the Society references is that bishops possess the general mission the Apostles receive, which includes universal jurisdiction without territorial restriction, in addition to the particular jurisdiction they have over a particular Church.  On the page the Society references (p. 218), Grea is explaining the extraordinary cases in which bishops exercised this power during the early centuries.  He says there are only two cases that Bishops can exercise the power singly: 1) When they are in an area in which no particular Church has been established; in the early years, bishops were allowed to exercise the power by founding particular Churches. 2) When they are in an area in which a particular Church, which had been established, has been laid waste by persecution, heresy, or some other grave event that either destroyed the local hierarchy or impeded them from acting.  Here is the quotation from Grea’s book, in context: 

“In the founding of the church, the apostles and their first disciples (bishops) acted by virtue of this general (universal) mission: “Go, make disciples from all the nations” (Mt 28,19) … this mission belongs to the episcopate; it has been given properly to the episcopal college, which is to endure until the end of the world, according to the sacred text, “I will be with you all days, even until the end of the world” (Mt 28, 20). …


This [general and universal] mission was given before any delimitation of territory and before any bishop had a particular power over a determinate people. It preceded the founding of [particular] churches, and therefore necessarily belongs to each member of the college; for the bishops have received, in the persons of the apostles, the primitive and general mission of proclaiming the truth of the Gospel to the infidel nations. …


“But it is not only in the establishment of the Church that the properly apostolic and the universal power of bishops, which is always subordinate in its substance and in its exercise to the vicar of Jesus Christ, has manifested itself. There is another way it has been manifested, even more exceptional and more extraordinary still.  …


"...when a particular church has been overthrown by persecution, heresy or some other grave event that impedes the action of their pastors; this is the rarest case in which the extraordinary intervention of the episcopate comes to the aid.


"For, as we have already said, one conceives, that in the absence of particular pastors, that which is universal in the powers of the hierarchy remains alone, and that the universal Church, by the general powers of her hierarchy and of the episcopate, holds, so to speak, the place of the particular Churches, and comes immediately to the aid of souls. We see this in the fourth century, when Saint Eusebius of Samosata traveled the churches of the East, which had been devastated by the Arians, and ordained orthodox pastors for them, without having particular jurisdiction over them. Those are truly extraordinary actions, like the circumstances which have given occasion for them. But these manifestations of the universal power of the episcopate being exercised in places where the local hierarchy had already been established, and had not entirely perished, have always been very rare.”


"First, this universal power of the episcopate, although habitual in its substance is extraordinary in its exercise upon a particular Churches, and its use is not permitted as long as the order of these Churches has not been destroyed. Second, for the exercise of the power to be legitimate, it is necessary that recourse to the Sovereign Pontiff is impossible…” (Grea, De l'Église Et De Sa Divine Constitution, Vol. I, 1905.)


Eusebius is defending the very doctrine that the SSPX accuses Vatican II of heresy for teaching, namely, that the members of the episcopal college, together with the Pope, possess “the universal power of the episcopate” (collegiate power), as well as particular jurisdiction over a diocese.   The teaching of Grea refutes every objection that the Society raises against the two subjects of universal jurisdiction, since St. Eusebius, who was part of the “second subject,” not only possessed the “universal power of the Episcopate” (which the SSPX claims bishops to not “possess”), but he possessed it and exercised it outside of a council (while dispersed), thereby proving that the college is a permanent reality.  This is what Cardinal Billot referred to as an evident dogma.  

Billot: “Moreover, there is nothing more explicit in the Catholic faith from the beginning than the dogma of the supreme authority (suprema auctoritate) of the whole episcopate, whether united in an ecumenical council, or dispersed throughout the world.” (Op. cit.). 

The explicit dogma is what the SSPX and Sedevacantist priests have managed to convince virtually all Traditional Catholics is heresy.

Beware of the errors on the Right. They are more dangerous than those on the Left for at least three reasons: 

1)      They are more difficult to detect;

2)      They masquerade under a very thin veneer of orthodoxy, since the priest who spread them wear cassocks, celebrate only the traditional Mass, and they all claim to be ‘defending the faith’ by speaking out against the alleged “heresies of Vatican II” (such as the “heresy” of the supreme authority of the whole episcopate, which Billot calls a dogma);

3)      The errors on the Right don’t merely cause someone to believe what is false; they cause them to leave the Church, since one of the chief error on the Right is a false notion of the Church – a notion of the Church that is identical to the Protestant concept of the Church.

I will conclude with questions for the Society’s experts on collegiality.

Questions for the SSPX 

1)      Does the Society acknowledge that the supreme authority to govern the universal Church is distinct from the Primacy?

2)      Does the Society acknowledge that Lumen Gentium never teaches that there are two subjects of the Primacy?

3)      If the SSPX believes the supreme authority is one and the same with the Primacy, what prerogatives does the SSPX believe the Episcopate possesses?

4)      What role does the Society believe bishops play at a council?

5)      If the SSPX believes bishops act as true judges and definitors, how is this possible without each bishop at least temporarily possessing universal jurisdiction?

6)      If each bishop temporarily possesses universal jurisdiction, and if universal jurisdiction is one and the same with the Primacy, why would the Pope not be "the first among equals" during a council?

7)      Considering that Fr Gleize acknowledges that the two inadequately distinct subjects of supreme authority “is the traditional teaching,” why does the SSPX believe Lumen Gentium’s teaching on the two subjects is heretical, when it too teaches that the subjects are only inadequately distinct (Cardinal Journet).

8)      Does the SSPX acknowledge the episcopal college is a permanent reality, and not something that the Pope “brings into existence” when he convokes a council, and that the members of the college participate in the collegiate power habitually, even when dispersed?

9)      Does the SSPX believe the bishops together with the Pope can perform a collegial act outside of a council, as LG teaches? If not, why?

10)  Does the SSPX acknowledge that the college of bishops succeeds the Apostolic college, as LG teaches? If not, why?  

11)  Does Fr. Tranquillo acknowledge that Catholic theologians regularly appeal to Mt. 16:19 and Mt. 18:18 as the scriptural basis for the two subjects of the supreme power?  If so, why does he accuse LG - and hence those who approved the document - of acting like “the worst Gallican Episcopalians” for doing the same? 

In Part II we will address another alleged heresy that the SSPX accuses Lumen Gentium – and by extension the Roman Catholic Church - of teaching, namely, that bishops received their jurisdiction from Christ through the episcopal consecration. 

In responding to this accusation, we will in turn address one of the heresies of Archbishop Marcell Lefebvre and Bishop Tissier de Mallerais which seems to be the official teaching of the Society of St. Pius X to this day.  Stay tuned.

*    Bullet Point Notes for Collegiality

[1] Rhine flow into the Tiber, p. 240.

[2] “LG's doctrine of the two supreme powers, in spite of the Nota praevia, is heretical because it is contrary to the teaching of Vatican I on the uniqueness of the Pope's power.” (Fr. Tranquillo, Une Tentative De Justification De La Collegialite: Le Livre Du Pere F. Dupre La Tour.


[4] Williamson Letters, from the Rector, Volume 2: The Winona Letters, 1992 p. 231


[6] Open Letter to Confused Catholics, p. 101.




[10] Mansi, Sacrorum Conciliorum nove et amplissima collection, 49, 1923, col. 525 f.

[11] Manning, The Pastoral Office, p. 15

[12] Church of the Word Incarnate, p. 413


[14] Wernz, Ius Canonicum p. 259-60

[15] Ius Canonicum Vol I. p 160-161)

[16] Open Letter to Confused Catholics, p. 101.