My Favorite Book on the History of the Papacy and its relationship to the Church

My favorite book on the history of the Papacy and its relationship to the Church in history is a volume of 8 lectures delivered before the University of Oxford in 1942 by the late Rev. Dr. Trevor Jalland, an Anglican historical theologian. This volume was published by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge in a couple years after the lectures were delivered, and one can get this by searching the author name with the title of the volume, “The Church and the papacy: An Historical Study”.

Jalland was not a Catholic, but he was extremely fair with the history of the Papacy, not denying the force of the evidence, even if he never came around to believing it. He was a man of England’s Church, but I’ve never seen a fairer treatment of the subject. My only criticism would be that he overplays the dichotomy between the Apostolic nature of the Latin Papacy versus the secular nature of the Greek symphonia between Church and Empire, as if it boiled down to a conflict between a Papal institution versus a Ceasaro-Papist East. There is a great deal of that, but more research on the matter has brought scholars far more to balance such that it shouldn’t be thought of as egregiously as Jalland painted it.

Nevertheless, when Jalland gets to describing the Vatican Council’s definition of Papal infallibility, I was very pleased to see how well he actually understood what the bishops of Vatican I were aiming at, as opposed to the caricature that often gets passed around in common internet discussion. He understood that while the ex cathedra exercise of authority enjoyed certain unique and exclusive rights, the manner in which its exercise must be done follows the collective testimony of the whole Church, which is, in the first place, infallible. The infallibility of the Pope is a share in the charism of the infallibility of the universal church, and must therefore work in harmony one with the other. I give below the summary of the doctrine by a sincere Anglican theologian who sought truth rather than cheap ammunition for the sake of promoting polemics:


“It is often supposed that infallibility must mean the capacity to deliver an immediate true answer to any given question, after the manner of an oracle (hence the phrase ‘oracular infallibility’). But in view of what has already been said, w can be quite confident that , however much certain of the more extreme section of the Ultramontanes may have desired, the plain meaning of the chapter on the papal magisterium altogether excludes anything of the kind… Hence, belief in the infallibility of the Church seems to amount to this; it is the conviction that those interpretations to which the consensus of the Church has been given will correctly .mediate the original depositum, and therefore cannot be misled. The essence of this belief is that the consensus, of which we have just spoken, is a sufficient guarantee that a particular interpretation or expression of doctrine corresponds with the continuous, uninterrupted and general experience of the living society which is the Christian Church itself. At first sight it would seem that the Vatican Constitution denies the need for any such consensus, by affirming that ‘decisions of the Roman Pontiff of that sort (sc. ex cathedra) are irreformable of themselves, and not as a consequence of the consent of the Church.’ There can be no doubt that this phrase was intended to exclude the view that papal definitions acquired their finality only if the subsequent consent of the Church was forthcoming. On the other hand, considerable care was taken, as we have already pointed out, to introduce a section into the earlier part of the same chapter, the object of which was to call attention to the fact that the Popes had always been in the habit of ascertaining, by means of councils or other methods, the nature of the Church’s tradition, before actually issuing a decision in its name on a point at issue. If, as was true, Pius IX when about to proclaim the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception had taken certain precautions to ascertain the existing mind of the Roman Catholic episcopate, it might be reasonably expected that his successors would do the same… it remains true that the ultimate dependence of the Roman see in issuing a definition of the consensus of the Church, as judge of the consistency or inconsistency of a particular dogma with the original depositum or paradosis of the Christian revelation, is recognized in some sense even in the Vatican constitution, and that thus we are once more referred back to the pre-condition of the infallibility of the Church.”

4 thoughts on “My Favorite Book on the History of the Papacy and its relationship to the Church

  1. Hi Erick. I have a question regarding Pope Hadrian’s first letter to the council. we all know that first part of Pope’s first letter is different in Greek and Latin, but what about the second part of his first letter? is the second part of Pope’s first letter where he complains about Tarasius being called ecumenical present in the Greek version or is it only in Latin?

    • I am doing a whole segment on this question on the evening of November 4th on the YouTube channel “Intellectual Conservatism” around 8:30 pm central time . I’ll be posting it to my blog too

      • Yeah I know about the upcoming stream, so you’ll be doing a segment on the issue, great! Looking forward to that. Thank you Erick.

  2. I struggle with the idea that papal infallibility is contingent on the consensus of councils and the sort. Let’s not forget that the teaching on birth control by Paul VI in Humanae Vitae was chosen from the minority report of Pontifical Commission (probably more aptly named Prodigal Commission). I understand that it was in better accord with previous teachings, and so it doesn’t really contradict your point. Were we to treat the majority report as infallible we’d have a different problem on our hands.

    So my question is: What meaning does papal infallibility have if it is entirely dependent on consultation with the Church?

    I think there must be an autonomous component to it. Barring apostacy, the holder of the keys, the vicar of Christ, must not require approval to teach.

    “…therefore such definitions of the Roman Pontiff are irreformable of themselves, and **not from the consent of the Church**.” — Pastor Aeternus

    Great discussion, by the way. I really enjoyed your interview on Crisis Point.

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