Monday, June 18, 2007

Do Modern Roman Catholic Apologists Care about Pope Leo X?

Do Modern Roman Catholic Apologists Care about Pope Leo X?
Do they fear the automatic excommunication he set in place?

The reason I ask is this.

Leo X, on June 15, 1520, issued a bull, Exsurge Domine, in which (among other things) he demanded the following:
With the advice and consent of these our venerable brothers, with mature deliberation on each and every one of the above theses, and by the authority of almighty God, the blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and our own authority, we condemn, reprobate, and reject completely each of these theses or errors as either heretical, scandalous, false, offensive to pious ears or seductive of simple minds, and against Catholic truth. By listing them, we decree and declare that all the faithful of both sexes must regard them as condemned, reprobated, and rejected….We restrain all in the virtue of holy obedience and under the penalty of an automatic major excommunication....
Moreover, because the preceding errors and many others are contained in the books or writings of Martin Luther, we likewise condemn, reprobate, and reject completely the books and all the writings and sermons of the said Martin, whether in Latin or any other language, containing the said errors or any one of them; and we wish them to be regarded as utterly condemned, reprobated, and rejected. We forbid each and every one of the faithful of either sex, in virtue of holy obedience and under the above penalties to be incurred automatically, to read, assert, preach, praise, print, publish, or defend them. They will incur these penalties if they presume to uphold them in any way, personally or through another or others, directly or indirectly, tacitly or explicitly, publicly or occultly, either in their own homes or in other public or private places.

In case you missed it, it states that all the faithful of either sex is (under penalty of automatic major excommunication) forbidden even to read the books or writings of Martin Luther.

Nevertheless, some lay apologists have recently begun reading, and indeed republishing on the Interent various portions of Luther's writings. I've even seen some (but certainly fewer) go so far as to praise Luther's writings.

Now, Leo's bull, which summoned the authority of both Peter and Paul, is almost 500 years old. Perhaps these lay apologists have merely forgotten it. Or perhaps some later council or Pope, by some higher authority than Peter and Paul has set aside this bull. I do not pretend to have an exhaustive knowledge of the machinations of the Vatican.

Can anyone shed any light on the subject? As far as I can see, all of those lay apologists (and perhaps even some ordained apologists) are under Leo's automatic major excommunication. Furthermore, as Leo pointed out (negatively) in the same bull, it is (according to Leo) an error to suppose that "Christians must be taught to cherish excommunications rather than to fear them." So then, if Leo is to be trusted (and I certainly would say he should not - but then again I am not in communion with Pontificus Maximus) then those lay (or ordained) apologists should be in fear. But I have not detected any hint of this fear. How can it be? Have I missed some subsequent overruling of Leo's dispensation of Peter's and Paul's power? Or perhaps Luther's rebuttal (use the bull as kindling) was sufficient to revoke the bull.

Ah yes, for the truly dubious, here is the obligatory link to source. (link) See also (link).



Anonymous said...

I followed the links. That's a lot of bull.

Turretinfan said...

Dear Godith,

Somehow, I think you would have gotten along well with Luther.

Perhaps sometime I'll have to post a "fun with false cognates" entry.


TheoJunkie said...

Apparently JP II said the following in a 2001 general address:

4. The visit to Elizabeth is sealed by the canticle of the Magnificat, a hymn that has come down through all Christian centuries as a perennial melody: a hymn that unites their hearts of Christ's disciples beyond the historical divisions, which we are committed to overcoming in view of full communion. In this ecumenical atmosphere, it is good to remember that in 1521 Martin Luther devoted a famous commentary to this "holy canticle of the Blessed Mother of God", as he expressed it. In it he says that the hymn "must be learned well and remembered by all", because "in the Magnificat Mary teaches us how we should love and praise God.... She wants to be the greatest example of God's grace in order to spur everyone to have trust and to praise divine grace" (M. Luther, Scritti religiosi, edited by V. Vinay, Turin 1967, pp. 431-512).

Further (or previously), JP II revealed that the church has gotten some more revelation from God since those dark years...

"In the commemorative year just past of Martin Luther’s birth, we have been able to discern that the efforts of Evangelical and Catholic research offer us a more complete picture of the person and teaching of Luther, as well as a more adequate view of the complicated historical events of the sixteenth century. "

So... it would SEEM that Leo X was (of course) perfectly discerning and lead by the Spirit in accordance with the time at hand... but that God in his providence has found mete to lead his church in a slightly modified direction now that those times have changed.

Do not question the Eternal God and His Wisdom in leading his apostles....

blah blah blah blah .... I shall now return to my dark hole of cynicism...

Turretinfan said...

Dear TJ,

Yes, both JP2 and Ben16 appear to be among the RCC apologists that have read (and praised) Luther's writings, especially Ben 16.

I'm sure the sedavacantist Roman Catohlics would tend to think that this means that by Leo's (and Peter's and Paul's) decree JP2 and Ben16 were subject to automatic major excommunication.

Others must have other ideas. I guess we'll see. It would be interesting to see if Luther ended up actually reforming the RCC 500 years after his death.


Reginald de Piperno said...

Hello Turretinfan,

Automatic major excommunication no longer exists as a penalty in canon law.

The index of prohibited books was abolished in 1966. The obligation to guard one's faith and conduct remains, however.

Turretinfan said...

Dear Reginald,

Thanks for the tip. I'll see if I can track that down. I remember the '60s ushering a wide variety of canon law changes, but was unaware of that one.

a) Is the sense then that all previous papal decrees that had such penalty are consequently dispensed entirely with, or merely reduced to a lesser penalty?

b) I thought (though I could be wrong) that the RCC was still using that tool (though perhaps without the "major") as the sanction against ordaining bishops contrary to papal decree. If I recall correctly this issue arose in China fairly recently (i.e. within the last decade).

c) Did whoever promulgated the change appeal to a higher authority than Leo did?


Reginald de Piperno said...

Hello Turretinfan -

The reference for the abolition of the Index is: Acta Apostolicae Sedis, 1966, p. 445. I don't have a specific primary reference on the changes dealing with major excommunication, but there is an article by Jimmy Akin dealing with it here. I apologize if that is insufficient for your purposes, but it's the best I can do at this time.

With regard to a): I don't really know.

With regard to b): there is such a thing as an automatic excommunication, but it's not quite the same, as far as I know, as what Leo X declared. For example, a woman would be automatically excommunicated if she had an abortion. I don't understand the mechanics of how this is administered, however (I'm not a canon lawyer, and by God's grace I hope never to be subject to excommunication!). I believe, as you say, that ordaining men (to any office) contrary to the laws of the Church would probably result in automatic excommunication: I think I remember the same thing concerning China, and I think this is what happened with Archbishop Lefebvre of SSPX fame.

With regard to c): I haven't read the text of the actual decree abolishing the Index, so I don't know. I would infer that such an appeal would be unnecessary, considering that Paul VI was Peter's successor no less than Leo X. The authority is invested in the office and not in one appeal or other.

Peace be with you.

Turretinfan said...

Dear Reginald,

Thanks again for your valuable tips! That will really provide assistance to me in tracking this matter down.

May God's blessing rest on you,


Drew said...

In matters of discipline, Papal bulls are binding as Church Law insofar as they are incorporated into Canon Law. They are not binding insofar as they are abrogated by Church Law--except, of course, for matters of doctrine, which Catholics believe never change.

It was Canon Law, therefore, that forbid the reading of certain books, by the establishment of the "Index of Forbidden Books."

The Index of Forbidden Books, and its authority in Canon Law, were abolished in the 1960s by Pope Paul VI. It is no longer the case that Catholics incur any ecclesiastical penalties for reading any particular material at all.

Even when the Index of Forbidden Books existed, scholars were allowed to get permission to read "forbidden" books from their local bishop. Catholic professors from the 1950's report to me that this permission was never denied.

Surely you can find substantive things to disagree with the Catholic Church about. Trumped up charges make all your disagreements, even the substantive ones, seem petty or mean-spirited.

Drew said...

"Is the sense then that all previous papal decrees that had such penalty are consequently dispensed entirely with, or merely reduced to a lesser penalty?"

Whenever canon law includes the phrase "anything to the contrary not withstanding," it overturns any disciplinary precedent or previous ruling. Note that this addresses matters of discipline, not matters of faith; the Church claims to be infallible only with respect to matters of faith (the content of what is to be believed) and not matters of regulatory discipline.

Turretinfan said...

Dear Drew,

Thanks for the reminder that the discipline of the Roman Catholic Church does not purport to be infallible.

I would certainly agree with your gloss on the phrase "anything to the contrary notwithstanding."

I'm not sure your comment directly answers the question, though.

Is Leo's sanction reduced to automatic excommunication, or is it simply totally revoked, by a subsequent decision in canon law (promulgated, presumably, by adequate ecclesiastical authority) that discontinues the use of automatic major excommunication?


Turretinfan said...


You wrote: "In matters of discipline, Papal bulls are binding as Church Law insofar as they are incorporated into Canon Law."

Your statement may, indeed, be the actual policy of the Roman Catholic Church. Leo X's Bull does not give any indication of it. Indeed, it seems to be self-executing.

May I ask for some citation to authority?

After all, surely a document that bears the pope's signature and a claim to be exercising his supreme pontifical authority (and summoning, as Leo did, the authority of Peter and Paul) does not require further authorization by the other bishops of the church. Or am I mistaken?


Turretinfan said...


As for this being an example of "trumped up charges," I exhort you to read the post to see whether I ask for light on the subject, or whether I dogmatically assert that all those who are reading Luther are excommunicants.