Pastor aeternus

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Painting to commemorate the dogma of papal infallibility (Voorschoten, 1870). Left to right: Thomas Aquinas, Christ and Pope Pius IX

Pastor aeternus is the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of Christ, issued by the First Vatican Council, July 18, 1870. The document defines four doctrines of the Catholic faith: the apostolic primacy conferred on Peter, the perpetuity of the Petrine Primacy in the Roman pontiffs, the meaning and power of the papal primacy, and Papal infallibility – infallible teaching authority (magisterium) of the Pope.[1]

Petrine and papal primacy[edit]

The Primacy of Simon Peter is closely related to, and indeed essential to, the papal primacy, that is, the idea that the papacy, by divine institution, enjoys delegated authority from Jesus over the entire Church. However, this doctrine of the Catholic Church makes a distinction between the personal prestige of Peter and the supremacy of the office of pope, which Catholics believe Jesus instituted in the person of Peter.

Papal primacy, the primacy of the Bishop of Rome over the whole Catholic Church, is derived from the pope's status as successor to Peter as "Prince of the Apostles" and as "Vicar of Christ" (Vicarius Christi). The First Vatican Council defined papal primacy as an essential institution of the Church that can never be relinquished.

Ex cathedra[edit]

In the primacy of the Bishop of Rome, there is a distinction between ex cathedra (magisterium infallibile et solemne) and ex sede (magisterium ordinarium) based on the munus petrinum veri in terris Vicarii Christi. The Successor of Peter has in the Universal Church a doctrinal gift ("munus doctrinae") and a teaching gift ("officium praedicationis") in faith and morality (in fide et moribus) for the special charisma (peculiare charisma Petri ) of the "Prince of the Apostles" (Princeps Apostolorum). The Successor of Peter, for his singular and communional gift of primacy ("singulare et communionale munus primatialis") has an apostolic power ("potestas apostolica") and an episcopal power ("potestas episcopalis"). Only the Bishop of Rome is in the Universal Church Primas and Apostolicus.[2] The Church of Rome, in fact, is theological place (locus theologicus) of doctrine (ex cathedra) and teaching (ex sede) of the Universal Church ("cathedra et sedes universalis Ecclesiae"). The gift of the Roman Pontiff is expressed in his title of Magister and Doctor. Only the Church of Rome is the "Mother" (Mater) and "Teacher" (Magistra) of all churches.[3] This is the reason because the First and Apostolic See of the Church of Rome is Nutrix ac Doctrix.[4] The See of Rome is "Genitrix spiritualis".[5]


Magisterium is a teaching authority of the Catholic Church.[6] The word is derived from Latin magisterium, which originally meant the office of a president, chief, director, superintendent, etc. (in particular, though rarely, the office of tutor or instructor of youth, tutorship, guardianship) or teaching, instruction, advice.[7]

In the Catholic Church the word "Magisterium" refers to the teaching authority of the church. This authority is understood to be embodied in the episcopacy, which is the aggregation of the current bishops of the church, led by the Bishop of Rome (the Pope), who has authority over the bishops, individually and as a body, as well as over each and every Catholic directly. According to Catholic doctrine, the Magisterium is able to teach or interpret the truths of the Faith, and it does so either non-infallibly or infallibly (see chart below).

"The task of interpreting the Word of God authentically has been entrusted solely to the Magisterium of the Church, that is, to the Pope and to the bishops in communion with him."[8]

Dogmatic definition of 1870[edit]

The infallibility of the pope was thus formally defined in 1870, although the tradition behind this view goes back much further. In the conclusion of the fourth chapter of its Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Pastor aeternus, the First Vatican Council declared the following, with bishops Aloisio Riccio and Edward Fitzgerald dissenting:[9]

According to Catholic theology, this is an infallible dogmatic definition by an ecumenical council. Because the 1870 definition is not seen by Catholics as a creation of the Church, but as the dogmatic definition of a Truth about the Papal Magisterium, Papal teachings made prior to the 1870 proclamation can, if they meet the criteria set out in the dogmatic definition, be considered infallible. Ineffabilis Deus is an example of this.

Opposition and criticism[edit]

The Catholic priest August Bernhard Hasler (d. 3 July 1980) wrote a detailed criticism of the First Vatican Council, presenting the passage of the infallibility definition as orchestrated.[10] Mark E. Powell, in his examination of the topic from a Protestant point of view, writes: "August Hasler portrays Pius IX as an uneducated, abusive megalomaniac, and Vatican I as a council that was not free. Hasler, though, is engaged in heated polemic and obviously exaggerates his picture of Pius IX. Accounts like Hasler's, which paint Pius IX and Vatican I in the most negative terms, are adequately refuted by the testimony of participants at Vatican I".[11]


  1. ^ Hardon, John. Modern Catholic Dictionary. Eternal Life. 
  2. ^ Council of Reims (1049): "declaratum est quod solus Romanae sedis pontifex universalis Ecclesiae Primas esset et Apostolicus": vide Mansi, "Sacrorum conciliorum nova et amplissima collectio", ed. G. D. Mansi, Firenze-Venezia 1759−1789, XIX, 738; Anselme de Saint-Remy, Histoire de la dédicace de Saint-Remy, a c. di J. Hourier, in La champagne benedictine. Contribution a l’année saint Benoit (480-1980), Reims 1981 (Travaux de l’Académie Nationale de Reims 160), 240.
  3. ^ see Leo IX, Epistula Albizoni, PL 143, 649D; see Gregory VII: sanctamque Romanam aecclesiam omnium aecclesiarum matrem et magistram (Gregory VII, Ep. vag. n. 54: ed. H. E. J. Cowdrey, 133) and sancta Romana aecclesia, communis mater, omnium gentium magistra et domina (Gregory VII, Ep. vag. n. 55: ed. H. E. J. Cowdrey, 134); see Innocent III, Sermones de tempore, Sermo VII: PL 217, 341B.
  4. ^ Hincmar of Rheims, "De divortio Lotharii regis et Theutbergae reginae, praef.", ed. L. Böhringer, MGH Conc. IV, Suppl. I, Hannover 1992, 107 (vide etiam PL 125, 623A).
  5. ^ See Leo IX, Libellus leoninus or Epistula ad Michaelem Constantinopolitanum, vide C. Will, Acta et scripta, quae de controversiis ecclesiae Graecae et Latinae saeculo undecimo composita extant, Lipsiae-Marpurgi 1861 (rist. 1963), page 80, 6-7b; vide etiam PL 143, 762D; vide Michele Giuseppe D'Agostino, Il Primato della Sede di Roma in Leone IX (1049−1054). Studio dei testi latini nella controversia greco-romana nel periodo pregregoriano, Edizioni San Paolo, Cinisello Balsamo 2008, p. 292−326.
  6. ^ "magisterium". Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary.
  7. ^ "Perseus", Lewis and Short.
  8. ^ Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed. 1997, pt. 1, sect. 1, ch. 2, art. 2, III [#100].
  9. ^ "Catholic Encyclopedia: Vatican Council". New Advent. Retrieved January 20, 2014. 
  10. ^ Hasler, August Bernhard (1981). How the Pope Became Infallible: Pius IX and the Politics of Persuasion. Doubleday:  translation of Wie Der Papst Unfehlbar Wurde: Macht und Ohnmacht eines Dogmas [How the Pope Became Infallible], R. Piper & Co. Verlag (1979).
  11. ^ Papal Infallibility: A Protestant Evaluation of an Ecumenical Issue, (ISBN 9780802862846 Published by William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.)], p. 23