January 2015 Print

The Papal Profession of Faith


Fr. Christopher Danel

When a Cardinal who is already consecrated a bishop is elected to be the new Pope and accepts his election, he becomes Bishop of Rome ipso facto. This has always been the case in recent centuries. But if the newly elected ecclesiastic is not yet a bishop, as sometimes occurred in earlier centuries of the Church, the protocol for papal succession requires that he be consecrated bishop immediately. This is done with unique liturgical customs and with a triple Profession of Faith made by the new Pope, that he will protect and preserve the Catholic Faith, the laws of the Church, and the liturgy of the Roman Rite. While the Papal Profession of Faith may be the most remarkable element of these ceremonies in light of the current crisis in the Church, the ceremonies as a whole are an intriguing glimpse into the history and grandeur of Papal Rome.

The outline of the ceremonies is found in the Liber Diurnus Romanum Pontificum (contained in Patrologia Latina, 1864 ed., CV, 27 ff.). This compendium of papal protocol dates to the ninth century, but it contains rites from earlier centuries (just as Pope St. Pius V’s 1570 edition of the Roman Missal, for example, contains the ancient liturgy of the Mass as used in the Roman Rite through all of the preceding centuries). The consecration ceremony and the diplomatic requirements of papal succession are all given under the title De Ordinatione Summi Pontificis (Of the Ordination of the Sovereign Pontiff).

Regarding the diplomatic requirements, the Liber Diurnus directs which officials within the Roman Empire were to be informed of the proceedings, and in what terms. After the death of a Pope, an official announcement was sent to the Exarch of Ravenna, who acted as the ambassador to the western territories of the Roman Emperor at Constantinople. (This inclusion also fixes the date of this portion of material of the Liber Diurnus, since the Exarchate of Ravenna only lasted from A.D. 584 to 751, after Ravenna’s role as the capital of the Western Empire, following the sack of Rome, ended.) After the election of the new Pontiff, the Decree of Election was to be drawn up according to the form given in the compendium. It directs that an official notice of the election be sent to the Emperor of Constantinople, to the Exarch of Ravenna, to the Archbishop of Ravenna, and it provides the exact formulary for these notifications. This concludes the diplomatic procedure and the compendium then prescribes the ceremony for consecrating the new Pope if he is not already a bishop, and provides the texts for the Papal Profession of Faith.

Though the seat of the papacy was then at the Lateran Patriarchium, the consecration ceremony takes place at the tomb of St. Peter in the Vatican Basilica. By decree of St. Gregory the Great, being consecrated bishop at the Papal altar at the tomb of St. Peter (ad confessionem) is a privilege reserved to the Roman Pontiff. The Liber Diurnus directs the schola to sing the customary Introit, which would be: “The Lord has chosen thee to be the great Pontiff” (Elegit te Dominus in Pontificem magnum, etc.). The Elect is led in solemn procession from the sacristy, walking amidst seven candlestick-bearers (cf. Apoc. 1:13) to the aforementioned Papal altar, where he makes his first profession of faith, as described below. After the Kyrie eleison, the Bishop of Albano reads a first prayer, then the Bishop of Porto reads a second. (These two bishops come from the “suburbicarian” dioceses surrounding Rome which have long been held by the higher ranking Cardinal-bishops. The principal consecrator is the highest ranking of these, the Bishop of Ostia.) The Evangeliarium, the book of the Holy Gospels, is brought forward, opened, and held over the head of the Elect. It is held in this case by deacons rather than by bishops, who normally fulfill this role. The Bishop of Ostia then consecrates the Elect a bishop, with chrism and the consecratory prayer, and the Archdeacon places upon him the pallium, the black and white wool band worn around the shoulders by the Pope and by the Patriarchs and Metropolitan Archbishops in communion with him. After this, the newly consecrated Bishop of Rome ascends the steps to his throne to intone the Gloria in excelsis Deo and celebrate the remainder of the Mass. It is in fact a special prerogative of the Roman Pontiff that, once consecrated, he himself celebrates the Mass rather than celebrating on a side altar as a newly consecrated bishop usually does. After the conclusion of the Mass, the Pope makes a second profession of faith, and in a subsequent event, greets the faithful of Rome and makes a third profession of faith before them all. It is unclear if these professions of faith have been used in history also by newly elected Popes who were already consecrated bishops or if they have been used only in conjunction with the consecration ceremonies.

The first profession of faith corresponds in its placement to the Iuramentum (oath) made by a bishop-elect who is to be consecrated (cf. Pontificale Romanum), and it is given more weight. It is written out by the Pope in his own hand, pronounced upon the tomb of St. Peter, and officially notarized. It contains in brief all of the principal elements that later appear in the second and third ones. The second profession, and the third in particular, elucidate in detail many of the theological controversies of the preceding centuries with all of their respective protagonists and antagonists, while the first profession succinctly limits itself to the doctrine, discipline, and ritual to be protected and preserved. Thus the text here presented is that of the primary of these professions, the first. As to its date, certain elements in the text itself allow it to be dated to at least the end of the pontificate of Pope St. Agatho (681), while the eminent 16th-century liturgist Caesar Cardinal Baronius dates some of its additional elements to A.D. 869, around the time when the compilation of the Liber Diurnus was completed. It is to be kept in mind, to avoid misreading the text, that the profession is directed to the Prince of the Apostles, Saint Peter, as it is made upon his tomb and calls upon his assistance for ruling the Apostolic See. What follows is an exact translation from the original source.

The Papal Profession of Faith

“In the name of our God and Savior Jesus Christ, etc. On N. day in N. month, I, N.N., by the grace of God a priest [or Cardinal-Priest] and by the mercy of God elected to be Pontiff of the Apostolic See, make this profession to thee, Blessed Peter, Prince of the Apostles, to whom the Creator and Redeemer of all, Our Lord Jesus Christ, gave the keys to the kingdom of Heaven, to bind and to loose in heaven and on earth, saying, ‘Whatever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven,’ as I today begin to reign thy holy Church, under thy protection.

“I vow to preserve the rectitude of the Faith, which I have, in my unworthiness, received passed on from Christ through thy successors and disciples in thy holy Church, and I vow to preserve it with all my strength, even unto my soul and my blood, even in difficult times, which I will patiently endure with thy assistance.

“I vow to preserve the dogmas of the Church, of the mystery of the holy and indivisible Trinity Who is One God, of the incarnation of the Only-begotten Son of God, Our Lord Jesus Christ, and of all other dogmas of the Church, expounded in the universal Councils, the Apostolic constitutions of the most worthy Pontiffs, and the writings of the Doctors of the Church. I vow to conserve all that regards the rectitude of thy and our orthodox Faith, which has been handed on from thee.

“I vow to preserve entirely unchanged the holy and universal councils, of Nicaea, of Constantinople, the first of Ephesus, of Chalcedon, and the second of Constantinople which was celebrated in the time of the Emperor Justinian of blessed memory, and with them to give equal honor and veneration to the sixth holy Council which recently united the Emperor Constantine [IV] and my Apostolic predecessor Agatho. I vow to most deeply and fully preserve them, to preach what they preached, and to condemn what they condemned, with my tongue and with my heart.

“I vow to most diligently and vigorously confirm, and preserve untainted all the decrees of my predecessors, our Apostolic Pontiffs, which have been duly decreed and promulgated, and since these were issued by the same, to conserve them in the stability of their strength; and that which by their authority they condemned or nullified, I vow to condemn with the judgments of the same authority.

“I vow to preserve unblemished the discipline and rite of the Church which I have received by my holy predecessors, and to conserve the things of the Church undiminished, and see that they be maintained.

“I vow not to encroach upon, to alter, or to permit any innovation to the Tradition I have found preserved by my worthy predecessors, but rather as their disciple and successor, to fervently safeguard and venerate that Tradition, with my whole strength and utmost effort; to correct anything that may emerge that is in contradiction to the canonical order; to guard the Holy Canons and Decrees of our Popes as if they were the Divine ordinances of Heaven, as I know that I must render strict account to thee in Divine justice of all this that I profess, to thee whose place I take through the grace of God, and whom I represent, aided by thy intercession.

“And if I shall have presumed to act contrary to this, or to permit such a presumption, thou wilt be unsparing to me in that fearful day of Divine judgment.

“Endeavoring and taking care to diligently observe this, while constituted in this mortal life, I plea that thou send forth thy aid, that I may appear irreprehensible before the face of the judge of all men, Our Lord Jesus Christ, Who shall come in power to judge our deeds, that He may place me with those on His right hand, that I may be numbered among thy faithful disciples and successors.

“This my profession, containing all of the above, noted by N. the Notary and Copyist by my mandate, I have written by my own hand, and with a clear mind and devoted conscience I sincerely make to thee, swearing upon thy altar and upon thy holy tomb.”