22. Just as in the Gospel, the Lord so disposing, St. Peter and the other apostles constitute one apostolic college, so in a similar way the Roman Pontiff, the successor of Peter, and the bishops, the successors of the apostles, are joined together. Indeed, the very ancient practice whereby bishops duly established in all parts of the world were in communion with one another and with the Bishop of Rome in a bond of unity, charity and peace,(23*) and also the councils assembled together,(24*) in which more profound issues were settled in common, (25*) the opinion of the many having been prudently considered,(26*) both of these factors are already an indication of the collegiate character and aspect of the Episcopal order; and the ecumenical councils held in the course of centuries are also manifest proof of that same character. And it is intimated also in the practice, introduced in ancient times, of summoning several bishops to take part in the elevation of the newly elected to the ministry of the high priesthood. Hence, one is constituted a member of the Episcopal body in virtue of sacramental consecration and hierarchical communion with the head and members of the body.
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 and faithful, remains whole and intact. 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.(27*) This power can be exercised only with the consent of the Roman Pontiff. For our Lord placed Simon alone as the rock and the bearer of the keys of the Church,(156) and made him shepherd of the whole flock;(157) it is evident, however, that the power of binding and loosing, which was given to Peter,(158) was granted also to the college of apostles, joined with their head.(159)(28*) This college, insofar as it is composed of many, expresses the variety and universality of the People of God, but insofar as it is assembled under one head, it expresses the unity of the flock of Christ. In it, 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, the Holy Spirit supporting its organic structure and harmony with moderation. The supreme power in the universal Church, which this college enjoys, is exercised in a solemn way in an ecumenical council. A council is never ecumenical unless it is confirmed or at least accepted as such by the successor of Peter; and it is prerogative of the Roman Pontiff to convoke these councils, to preside over them and to confirm them.(29*) This same collegiate power can be exercised together with the pope by the bishops living in all parts of the world, provided that the head of the college calls them to collegiate action, or at least approves of or freely accepts the united action of the scattered bishops, so that it is thereby made a collegiate act.
156 Cf. Mt. 16.18-19.
157 Cf. Jn. 21:15 ff.
158 Mt. 16:19.
159 Mt. 18:18, 28:16-20.
(23) Cfr. Eusebius, Hist. ecl., V, 24, 10: GCS II, 1, p. 49S; cd. Bardy, Sources Chr. II, p. 69 Dionysius, apud Eusebium, ib. VII 5, 2: GCS 11, 2, p. 638 s.; Bardy, II, p. 168 s.
(24) Cfr. de antiquis Conciliis, Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. V, 23-24: GCS 11, 1, p. 488 ss.; Bardy, 11, p. 66 ss. et. passim. Conc. Nicaenum. Can. S: Conc. Oec. Decr. p. 7.
(25) Tertullianus, de Iciunio, 13: PL 2, 972 B; CSFL 20, p. 292,lin. 13-16.
(26) S. Cyprianus, Epist. 56, 3: Hartel, 111 B, p. 650; Bayard, p.154.
(27) Cfr. Relatio officialis Zinelli, in Conc. Vat. I: Mansi S2,1 109 C.
(28) Cfr. Conc. Vat. 1, Schema Const. dogm. 11, de Ecclesia Christi, c. 4: Mansi S3, 310. Cfr. Relatio Kleutgen de Schemate reformato: Mansi S3, 321 B – 322 B et declaratio Zinelli: Mansi 52 1110 A. Vide etiam S. Leonem M. Scrm. 4, 3: PL 54, 151 A.
(29) Cfr. Cod. Iur. Can., c. 227.
This paragraph speaks to the necessary unity between the Roman Pontiff and the bishops throughout the world. The pope is the sign of Catholic unity. He is the successor of St. Peter, first Bishop of Rome and, as such, the first pope. It was to St. Peter that Christ gave the keys of the kingdom. The pope has the authority over the whole Church to teach, sanctify, and govern. He is the universal pastor, the visible head of the universal Church.
Who is the Head of the Church? Christ! Christ is the Head of the Church. That is always the only correct answer to that question.
Now, who is the visible head of the universal Church? The pope.
Who is the visible head of the provincial Church? The archbishop.
Who is the visible head of the diocesan Church? The bishop.
Who is the visible head of the parochial Church? The pastor.
The pope is the visible head of the universal Church and, with all other bishops of the world united under his authority, the college of bishops has the authority to teach, sanctify, and govern the entire Church. Sometimes they do this in a very concrete way. That is, all the bishops of the world are called together, usually directly by the pope but always with his approval, into council or synod, to consider important questions or matters for the Church in that time. This is called an Ecumenical Council. That is precisely what the Second Vatican Council was, and the document being considered in this series of reflections, Lumen Gentium, is a teaching document that came from that Council. As such, it has the highest authority in the Church and all Catholics are bound to submit in mind and heart to its teaching. It is the faith of the Church.
The pope will often call bishops together from all over or by personal invitation to consider an important matter in the life of the Church, such as family life, youth, vocations, etc… These don’t usually address matters of doctrine or discipline, but of thoughts and reflections on how the Church should proceed in addressing these matters. They often provide encouragement to the faithful.
A National Council brings together the bishops of a certain nation, like the United States, to consider questions and matters relevant to that nation. Sometimes, the bishops of an entire continent, or even hemisphere, will gather. Again, any teachings of these councils must be approved by the pope before they are regarded as authoritative.
At times, even the bishop and priests of a single diocese will gather in a Diocesan Synod to consider questions and matters relevant to that diocese.
Conciliarism was a heresy that rocked the Church of the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance, the 14th through 16th centuries, in response to the Great Schism, which saw the rise of as many as three competing claimants to the papal throne, each elected by a separate conclave of competing bishops. The Council of Constance (1414-1418) resolved that conflict, but many bishops exploited the crisis to teach that an Ecumenical Council had supreme authority over the Church, and even over the pope. The Council of Basil (1431-1449) attempted to make this teaching explicit, but it fell apart when the bishops supporting Conciliarism failed to gain enough support. It wasn’t until the Fifth Lateran Council (1512-1517) that Pope Julius II reasserted the supremacy of the pope over councils, thus ending the threat.
There have been twenty-one Ecumenical Councils recognized by the Catholic Church. They are:
- Nicaea I, 325
- Constantinople I, 381
- Ephesus, 431
- Chalcedon, 451
- Constantinople II, 537-555
- Constantinople III, 680
- Nicaea II, 772-795
- Constantinople IV, 869
- Lateran I, 1123
- Lateran II, 1139
- Lateran III, 1179
- Lateran IV, 1215
- Lyons I, 1245
- Lyons II, 1274
- Vienne, 1311
- Constance, 1414
- Florence, 1438-1443
- Lateran V, 1512-1517
- Trent, 1545-1549, 1551-1552, 1562-1563
- Vatican I, 1869-1870
- Vatican II, 1963-1965
Karl Keating at Catholic Answers provides a brief summary of each Council here.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.