January 2015 Print



by Fr. Jean-Michel Gleize

These are extracts from the lecture given by Fr. Jean-Michel Gleize, Ecône professor of Ecclesiology, to the Dominican Teaching Sisters of Fanjeaux on July 22, 2014. He dealt with the topic of Romanitas in time of crisis. We are Catholics, and thus Roman. But how ought we to be Roman today? After characterizing the Rome of Antiquity and of civilization, he comes to the Christian Rome. And here is the conclusion:

The Roman Spirit of Some and not Others.

At Vatican II, the redefinition of the Church with the expression “subsistit in” [i.e. the Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church—not is the Catholic Church] results in the radical destruction of the Church’s quality of being Roman. This change in definition is the profound explanation for what we have been able to observe in the concrete life of the Church, thrown into confusion by the triple offensive of collegiality, religious liberty, and ecumenism. Collegiality attacks Romanitas in its very being by destroying the primacy; religious freedom attacks it in its governance; and ecumenism attacks it in its roles of teaching and sanctifying.


The root of the problem is the confusion caused by the Council over the power of order and the power of jurisdiction. Until then, the magisterium had always taught that while all bishops, including the pope, receive the same power of order in the same way—by their consecration, they do not receive in the same way the same power of jurisdiction since the pope receives a supreme and universal power directly from God, whereas the other bishops each individually receive a subordinate and limited power, not directly from God but from the pope.

The Constitution Lumen Gentium, Article 21, teaches that episcopal consecration confers both powers. This implies that the power of jurisdiction is received by all in the same way, that is, directly from Christ; it can only involve the same supreme and universal power, a power the subject of which is the College of Bishops. Logically, then, what can the pope receive by his election, if not an honorific power or simple presidency? Such is the deep-seated logic. The full import of this underlying logic was blocked at the time of the Council, and a compromise was agreed upon in Article 22, in which it is asserted that there is a dual subject of the primacy—both the pope and the college with its head the pope (not under its head the pope, or subject to its head the pope, but with him). The Prefatory Note emphasizes the idea that the pope is separately endowed with the primacy, but it says nothing to annul the other idea that the College taken as an assembly of which the pope is simply the president is also the subject of this primacy.

The result is a bifurcated ecclesiology in germ: the traditional one and a new one. According to the new, the pope is only the Bishop of Rome and at the most the official spokesman of the College. It seems that it is this new ecclesiology that was authorized by the Council and that triumphed after the Council if one is to believe what John Paul II declared in his promulgation of the new Code of Canon Law in 1983: “This note of collegiality, which eminently characterizes and distinguishes the process of origin of the present Code, corresponds perfectly with the teaching and the character of the Second Vatican Council,” adding that the new Code intended to present the Church as the People of God, the hierarchical constitution of which “appears based on the College of Bishops united with its Head.”1 From a similar perspective, the Church cannot be Roman since it only could be if the Bishop of Rome were its head in the strict sense of the term, that is to say, the unique titular of the supreme and universal power of jurisdiction.

Religious Freedom

The essential point to keep in mind concerning religious freedom is that the churchmen intended to renounce the exercise of their coercive power by a refusal henceforth to impose penalties. This was one of the essential aspects of the reform undertaken by John XXIII and Paul VI during Vatican II. In the opening speech of the Council, October 11, 1962, Pope John XXIII acknowledged that in the past the Church had unceasingly opposed the errors that threatened the deposit of faith and that she had frequently condemned them with great severity. But “nowadays,” he added, “the Spouse of Christ prefers to make use of the medicine of mercy rather than that of severity. She considers that she meets the needs of the present day by demonstrating the validity of her teaching rather than by condemnations.”2

This new approach was to achieve its logical development in Vatican II’s Declaration on Religious Liberty. Placing itself in formal contradiction with the teaching of Pius IX in Quanta Cura, Dignitatis Humanae sets as a principle the intention of modern churchmen to no longer have recourse to governments to obtain the repression of violators of the Catholic religion by means of temporal penalties. Henceforth is recognized a natural right of all men to not be prevented from professing their religion, whatever it may be, true or false, it being stated that this right is retained even by those who do not live up to their obligation of seeking the truth in matters religious and adhering to it.

We should especially note that the principle of a right to religious liberty is that of the right to be immune from coercion “on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power3—thus, not only the temporal power of civil authorities, but even the spiritual power of ecclesiastical authorities. Vatican II introduced a false right to exemption from any constraint exercised by any social authority, the Church as well as the State. This false right is the very negation of the coercive power that is an essential element of jurisdiction in civil society as well as in ecclesiastical society.


Vatican II teaches that “many elements of sanctification and of truth can be found outside of her visible structure [compago, social structure]. These elements, however, as gifts properly belonging to the Church of Christ, possess an inner dynamism toward Catholic unity” (Lumen Gentium 8). “Moreover some, even very many, of the most significant elements of endowments which together go to build up and give life to the Church herself can exist outside the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church: the written word of God; the life of grace; faith, hope, and charity, along with other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit and visible elements. All of these, which come from Christ and lead back to Him, belong by right to the one Church of Christ....It follows that these separated Churches and Communities, though we believe they suffer from defects already mentioned, have by no means been deprived of significance and importance in the mystery of salvation. For the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as means of salvation which derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Catholic Church” (Unitatis Redintegratio §3).

We find once again the negation of papal primacy because the valid administration of the sacraments, the profession of a dogma or adherence to a truth revealed in Sacred Scripture are only salutary if they are accomplished in the order willed by God, that is, in dependence on the Vicar of Christ and in the framework of the divinely instituted social activity that results from the governance of the Bishop of Rome. By the very fact that they are outside the scope of the governance of the pope, who is the only visible head able to prolong here below the reign of Christ, the sacraments, dogmas, and Sacred Scripture, they cannot be salutary.

The assertion that they are salutary is an implicit assertion that the Catholic primacy of the Bishop of Rome is not an institution necessary to the Church of Christ and intended by God for the continuation of the sanctifying and teaching work of Christ. All of the documents published after 1965 by the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in order to justify and explain the founding principles of ecumenism, even as they attempt to neutralize the excesses of a “para-Council,” nonetheless uphold the absolutely false idea of a Church of graduated boundaries,4 for which reason the papacy no longer appears to be the exclusive principle of unity of the Church, the rock on which the whole edifice rests. Papacy needs to be sold off for ecumenical reasons.

“Subsistit In”: A New Definition of the Church

This remaindering of the papacy can be explained by Vatican II’s new definition of the Church. Vatican II said in effect that “the Catholic Church is the Church of Christ” but did not say that “the Church of Christ is the Catholic Church.” Rather, it said that “the Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church.” The difference in wording (est vs. subsistit in) corresponds to a difference in the definition of the Church, for it means that the Church of Christ is not equivalent to the Catholic Church, the first being larger than the second.

One may say that the Catholic Church perfectly achieves the unity willed by Christ, it identifies itself with the Church of Christ. But one may state as much in function of radically divergent reasoning. If we adopt the traditional logic, unity results from the social order of the unity of faith and worship as it has been established by the authority of its divinely instituted hierarchical government.

If we adopt the logic of Vatican II, the unity of the Church is conceived of in terms of plenitude, which is equal to the total sum of all the elements of sanctification and of truth instituted by Christ. In the Catholic Church, we have plenitude. But outside of the Catholic Church, in the schismatic or heretical communities, we also have elements, not all, but a certain number, more or less large. These are elements which, without being able to constitute unity, nonetheless more or less approximate unity: they tend to unity. It is as if Catholicism had ten out of ten, while the schismatics would have nine out of ten (they lack only the Bishop of Rome) and the heretics would score eight, seven or six out of ten (they lack not only the Bishop of Rome, but also some of the sacraments). The Church of Christ is gradated.

By this logic, the Bishop of Rome is not the constitutive element of ecclesiastical order, the pivot on which the order rests, the rock established by Christ. He is merely one element among others, and composes with others the quantitative unity of fullness. Fundamentally, this presupposes that the Bishop of Rome is a mere bishop among others and not the titular of the primacy of jurisdiction. His role fits into the logic of a certain symbolism: the Catholic Church is a sacrament; it bears witness and, in order to be sufficiently representative of the Church of Christ, it ought to accord with the fullness of the representative elements of the idea it is supposed to evoke.

Conclusion: Roman Despite Rome?

We desire to remain unshakably attached to the Holy Roman Catholic Church and to the successor of Peter, the Vicar of Christ, the supreme head of the Church. This resolve is absolutely paramount, for it is the consequence of a necessary principle: Outside of the Church there is no salvation. It is also a fact that since the last Council the popes, from John XXIII to Francis, maintain in principle and put into practice ideas and orientations that result in the destruction of the Church and the denial of the very reality of the divine institution of papal primacy. There is a new religion, a conciliar ideology.

But for all that, there is not (at least not so far) a new Church distinct in act from the Catholic Church. There is only a new Church in potency or in germ, like a parasite that develops in an organism, with the danger that the new orientations may result in schism. Consequently, we need to protect ourselves against these new orientations if we do not want to let ourselves be contaminated, and we ought at the same time to combat them and to extirpate them for the good of the entire Church. All the more so that three recent serious events confirm the existence of a state of emergency: the canonization of John Paul II, the very equivocal declarations of Pope Francis who always refers to himself as “the Bishop of Rome” without further clarification; and the debate over the administration of Holy Communion to remarried divorcees.

This situation calls for heightened vigilance on our part regarding all those who foment error. But this vigilance must take into account the fact that these tools of error are the appointed representatives of the divinely instituted hierarchy, the Vicar of Christ and the successors of the Apostles. In order to understand and justify this vigilance, it behooves us to know exactly what we mean. If we are speaking of the errors of the new religion, we are happy not to share them, but unhappy that the authorities do. If we speak of tools of error and the present state of the hierarchy of the Church, we are unhappy about the present state of the Church, to wit, the fact that these authorities are infected with modernism, that they no longer preach the Faith whole and entire, that they propagate errors and reject us.

And with that, we are happy to be protected from the baneful influence of these authorities by reason of the situation that has existed, especially since the Episcopal consecrations of 1988, which is that of a certain breach in fact with the authorities. But this relative good fortune takes place precisely because of a breach that subtracts us from their bad influence: the good fortune is not in the rupture but in the accidental result, because the fact of a breach between Rome and us is in itself an evil over which we cannot absolutely rejoice, but only incidentally, that is to say, not by reason of the breach itself, for it is evil, but by reason of the good it occasions.

The distinction may seem subtle, but it is what makes the difference between the attitude of Catholics in a time of crisis and that of schismatics and heretics at all times. The schismatics and heretics have in common a congenital hatred of Romanitas. In his renowned treatise on Tradition, Jean-Baptiste Franzelin even observes that the Protestants at the end of the 19th century wanted to establish “hatred of Rome” (der Hass gegen Rom) as a note of the authentic Gospel5—a note, that is, a distinctive sign by which the members of a group can recognize one another and distinguish themselves from their adversaries.

So be careful: far from inspiring mistrust, the notion of Romanitas, as we have been attempting to explain thus far, ought to inspire a complete adherence on the part of a Catholic, even if a legitimate distrust of the men who, from Rome, have been poisoning the whole world with their errors is warranted. And our adherence should be even firmer, as we hope we have shown, from the fact that hatred of Romanitas lies at the center of the new ecclesiology which emerged from the Second Vatican Council: a hatred in principle that has been circulating in the very bosom and heart of the Church like the poison of error taken from the adversaries of the Catholic Faith, a poison that has entered the very marrow of the representatives of the hierarchy and that ought to be for all of us Catholics worthy of the name a subject of a keen apprehension and anguish.

Such a situation is far from comfortable. It requires of us continual alertness and constant attention to all the eventualities. The great historian of Rome, Pierre Grimal, has left us a detailed description of the ruins of Ostia. The reflections inspired in him by the ruins of the ancient port are worth considering:

“It is not long,” he writes, “before one experiences a kind of uneasiness before this all too perfect city....What lies before one is a city of the second century of our era, at a time when the power and wealth of the Empire were at their apogee, at a time when the spirit was beginning to fail. These well-ordered buildings, these markets in which the wheat of Africa, Sicily, and Egypt were stored up, testify to deliberate organization, but one wonders if a society that has reached such a level of perfection like this one is not already moribund....

“Discomfort, and maybe even misfortune, are needful for the spirit to live. The human condition seems to be subject to this hard law. When differences have been effaced and the balance is perfectly horizontal, vital motion dies away and comes to a stop.”6

The heritage of Rome has to be handed on, whatever the cost, and Providence should give us the means of doing so in every age of the history of the Church. But comfortable solutions are rarely providential. The men who rule at Rome are in the process of destroying Rome, and we hope we have shown—to synthesize all the virulence of the poison inoculated in the Church since Vatican II—that all of these errors target the very reality of the papacy, the Catholic dogma of the primacy of the Bishop of Rome, and ultimately the very idea of Romanitas.

St. Pius X said that the moves of modernists plotting the ruin of the Church were all the surer because they knew best of all where to strike. A century later, this assessment still holds true. Vatican II will have been the great evil of the last two centuries, but through divine wisdom will have led us to better realize that His ways are inseparably those of the Church and of Rome: those of the Holy Roman Church.


Translated by A. M. Stinnett and edited by Angelus Press.


1 John Paul II, Apostolic Constitution Sacrae Disciplinae Leges, January 25, 1983 [online at vatican.va].

2 The Documents of Vatican II, ed. Walter M. Abbott, S.J. (New York: Herder and Herder, 1966), p. 716.

3 Declaration on Religious Freedom §2, The Documents of Vatican II, p. 679.

4 Literally: d’une ecclésialité à géométrie variable.

5 Jean-Baptiste Franzelin, La Tradition, Thesis 4, No. 38, n. 21 (Courrier de Rome, 2008), p. 55.

6 Peter Grimal, Rome: Les siècles et les jours (Arthaud, 1982), p. 37.