Plenitudo potestatis

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Plenitudo potestatis was a term employed by medieval canonists to describe the jurisdictional power of the papacy. In the thirteenth century, the canonists used the term plenitudo potestatis to characterize the power of the pope within the church, or, more rarely, the pope's prerogative in the secular sphere.[1] However, during the thirteenth century the pope's plenitudo potestatis expanded as the Church became increasingly centralized, and the pope's presence made itself felt every day in legislation, judicial appeals, and finance.

Although Plenitudo potestatis had been used in canonical writings since the time of Pope Leo I (440-461), Pope Innocent III (1198-1216) was the first pope to use the term regularly as a description of papal governmental power.[2] Many historians have concluded that the pope's jurisdiction within the church was unchallenged. Essentially, the pope was the highest judge in the Church. His decisions were absolute and could not be abrogated by inferior members of the ecclesiastical hierarchy.


  1. ^ Pennington, K. (1976). The Canonists and Pluralism in the Thirteenth Century. Speculum , 35-48.
  2. ^ Brian Tierney, Foundations of the Conciliar Theory (Cambridge, 1955), pp. 144-149.