On September 1, LifeSiteNews published the text of the speech that Cardinal Gerhard Müller was to give to the consistory at the end of August, containing a critique of the reform of the Roman Curia desired by Pope Francis with the motu proprio Praedicate evangelium (March 19, 2022). This “conservative” criticism leads us to the heart of the ecclesiological paradoxes of modernism.
The status quaestionis
An article on the site had noted, when the motu proprio on the reform of the Curia was published, that the text had denied the doctrinal novelties introduced by the conciliar constitution Lumen gentium in order to allow lay people to exercise functions requiring ecclesiastical jurisdiction.
According to the doctrine defined by the Church, ecclesiastical jurisdiction, by divine right, can only be received by clerics, as recalled in Canon 118 of the 1917 Code of Canon Law. They do not receive it by ordination, but by the collation of an office by the superior. Only the pope receives this power directly from Christ, and in its fullness.
But Lumen gentium changed this doctrine by stating that for bishops jurisdiction was not received from the Pope, but from the sacrament of Holy Orders itself. This error – condemned by the Church until Pius XII – repeatedly reiterated in subsequent documents (especially by Cardinal Ratzinger) and the new canon law, is the foundation of the error of collegiality and synodal praxis.
How, from a modernist perspective, to resolve the systematic attribution of jurisdiction to the laity? Fr. Gianfranco Ghirlanda, an important canonist created cardinal during the last consistory, explained it in a surprising way during the presentation of Praedicate evangelium.
The prefect of a dicastery, explains the Jesuit, “has no authority because of the hierarchical rank with which he is invested,” but because of the “power” he receives from the pope. “If the prefect and the secretary of a dicastery are bishops, this should not lead to the misunderstanding that their authority comes from the hierarchical rank they receive, as if they were acting with their own power. The vicarious power to exercise an office is the same whether it is received from a bishop, a priest, a consecrated man or woman, a layman, or a laywoman.”
With this sentence, Fr. Ghirlanda cancels the error of Lumen gentium in the blink of an eye, as if nothing had happened, but with the aim of including the laity in the exercise of the power of governance (which is contrary to divine law).
The intervention of Cardinal Müller
Such an “innovation” in relation to the conciliar dictate did not escape Cardinal Müller, who bases his criticism on the “orthodox” hermeneutics of Lumen gentium: “It is not a progress in ecclesiology, but a blatant contradiction to its fundamental principles, if all jurisdiction in the Church is deduced from the jurisdictional primacy of the Pope.”
“Also the great verbiage of ministry, synodality, and subsidiarity cannot conceal the regression to a theocratic conception of the papacy.” The fact that all jurisdiction in the Church comes from the Pope was, before the Council, a fundamental dogma of the Catholic religion.
“Any ecclesiastical jurisdiction is apostolic-sacramental in nature and related to the salvation of souls as distinguished from the politico-juridical nature of the exercise of power in a state, including the Vatican State. Peter acts in the authority of Christ as his Vicar.”
Unfortunately for the cardinal, the Magisterium down to Pius XII teaches that ecclesiastical jurisdiction is not of a sacramental nature; as for opposing it to civil jurisdiction in order to affirm a contrario its sacramentality, this is a sophism of the very first order.
“A Church totally fixated on the pope was and always is the caricature of Catholic teaching about the institution, the perpetuity, the meaning and reason for the sacred primacy of the Roman Pontiff (Lumen gentium 18). With this conception any ecumenism with the Orthodox and Protestants is doomed to fail from the start,” continues the cardinal.
It is therefore evident that the objective of doctrinal changes is ecumenical in nature. There is therefore no revealed truth, but a constant adaptation to external demands.
“Regarding the classic separation of the potestas ordinis and jurisdictionis, which is supposed to establish a total papal jurisdiction, Vatican II renounced it because of its inadequacy. Already according to Thomas Aquinas, the potestas ordinis does not merely mean the authority to administer the sacraments.”
“Rather, potestas ordinis means that in ordination all powers are conferred, even if the pastoral office may be limited in its concrete jurisdiction (S.Th. II-II q. 39 a.3). Thus, there are not two equivalent categories of potestas ecclesiastica, but only the one potestas ordinis, of which the potestas jurisdictionis is an integral but subordinate part.”
The typical conciliar error is reiterated, and the doctrinal change is openly recognized: the Council has “renounced” the traditional doctrine. As for the quotation from St. Thomas, in the text, the holy doctor sets out in more than explicit terms the classical doctrine, which the Council “renounced.” We wonder which edition of the Summa the Cardinal uses.
The rest of the text, which defines the Church as a sacrament, thinking thus to stand out from Protestants, should also be analyzed more closely. Although it seems to fight errors, it enters into paradoxes that deserve a deeper analysis than this short article.
Two Dialectically Opposed Errors
We are therefore faced with a dialectical pattern of opposing errors:
– Ghirlanda’s thesis, which denies the error of the sacramental origin of jurisdiction, but with the sole aim of conferring it also on the laity, falls into an equally serious error. This thesis is solely focused on the participation of the laity in the government of the Church.
– Müller's thesis repeats the error of Lumen gentium and of Ratzinger, according to which jurisdiction originates and is confused with the power of orders, and for this reason cannot be conferred on the laity. This thesis implies that subjects other than the pope receive jurisdiction directly from Christ, undermining the very concept of papacy (apparently for ecumenical purposes).
The Catholic faith as taught by the traditional Magisterium establishes that only clerics can receive ecclesiastical jurisdiction, certainly not by the sacrament of Holy Orders, but always by the plenitudo potestatis of the pope, who is precisely in this sense a spiritual monarch. The two powers are distinct in nature and origin.
It is interesting to note how the more “progressive” error makes use of an apparent return to more “traditional” elements, while the conservative error appeals to an “orthodox” reading of the Council. The key to interpreting these paradoxes, however, is very simple: Modernism adapts doctrine not according to bona fide theological research, but according to the needs of a “political” order.
Yesterday, the papal monarchy had to be demolished and there was talk of the sacramental origin of jurisdiction; today, they must speak of equality between all the baptized and therefore jurisdiction can also be given to the laity. Seeking coherence of thought is totally superfluous and means not having understood the workings of the modernist “faith.”
The conservatives, if they are in good faith, have not understood that “conciliar orthodoxy” was only a dialectical phase; or if they realize it, they are playing the game by getting the “good guys” to react to the novelties of Pope Francis on the basis of their hermeneutics and not that of the traditional Magisterium.