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Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Temporal Power of the Pope

is a phrase susceptible of two meanings which are very distinct from each other, and the confusion of which has led to frequent and serious misunderstanding.

I. In one of these senses it means the sovereign power possessed by the pope as ruler of the Papal States, or STATES OF THE CHURCH (See STATES OF THE CHURCH) (q.v.), where the history of its origin, progress, and downfall is briefly detailed. The question as to the necessity or utility of such power vested in the hands of a spiritual ruler, and even its lawfulness and its compatibility with his spiritual duties, has been warmly debated. This controversy is not of entirely recent origin, for many of the medieval sectaries urged the incompatibility of the spiritual with the temporal power in the same person, not only in relation to the pope, but also to the baron-bishops. Such were the doctrines of the Vaudois, of Pierre de Bruis, and especially of Arnold of Brescia. In the centuries following, the antipapal controversies turned so entirely upon doctrine that there was little attention paid to this question. It did not enter in any way into the conflict of Gallican and Ultramontane principles. Even Bossuet not only admitted the lawfulness of the pope's temporal sovereignty, but contended that it was in some sense necessary to the free exercise of his spiritual power. The controversy only assumed any practical interest during the conflict between Pius VII and Napoleon I, the design of the latter of annexing papal territory to France being one of the main causes of dispute. No formal and authoritative judgment of the Roman Church has been pronounced regarding the question of temporal power, but a strong and almost unanimous expression of opinion was tendered to the late pope, Pius IX, in the form of letters and addresses from bishops and others in every part of Catholic Christendom. They profess that the possession of temporal power is no essential part of the privileges of the successor of Peter, but they regard it as the means providentially established for the protection of the spiritual independence of the pope and the free exercise of his functions as spiritual ruler of the Church.

II. By the second signification of the phrase "temporal power of the pope" is understood what would more properly be called the claim of the pope, in virtue of his office, to a power over the temporalities of other kings and states. This power may be of two kinds:

1. Directive, or the power, as supreme moral teacher, to instruct all members of his Church, whether subjects or sovereigns, in the moral duties of their several states.

2. Coercive. If the power be regarded as coercive, it is necessary to distinguish the nature of the coercion which may be employed. Coercion may either consist in the threat or infliction of purely spiritual censures, or it may involve temporal consequences, such as suspension or deprivation from office, forfeiture of the allegiance of subjects, and even liability to the punishment of death. In the former sense it may be regarded as the natural consequence of the spiritual headship of the Church, which is acknowledged by all Catholics. But the claim to authority over the temporalities of kings has gone far beyond these limits. From the 10th century popes have claimed and repeatedly exercised a power of coercing kings, and have punished them when refractory by suspension, by deprivation, and by the transfer of the allegiance of their subjects. This claim has been a subject of controversy between the Gallican and Ultramontane schools, and in the latter two theories have been devised for its explanation. The first and most extreme supposes that this power was given directly by God to Peter and his successors; that the two powers are foreshown by the "two swords" (Luke 22:38); and that the temporal power is a privilege of-the primacy by divine law equally with the spiritual sovereignty itself. The second, or indirect, theory holds that the temporal power is not directly of divine institution, but is an indirect though necessary consequence of the spiritual supremacy, and is only given as' a means of completing and, in a corrupt and disorganized state, rendering more efficacious the work which the spiritual supremacy is directly instituted to accomplish. In this latter form the theory of the temporal power was defended by cardinal Bellarmine, and the celebrated declaration of the Gallican clergy in 1862 was directed against it.

A third view of the temporal power was propounded by Fenelon, and is generally described as the "historical theory of the temporal power." According to this, the pope does not possess, whether by direct divine appointment or in virtue of the necessities of his spiritual office, any temporal power whatsoever; but he possesses the plenitude of spiritual power which is required for the government of the Church, and is empowered to enforce it by spiritual penalties, and especially by excommunication. Although these penalties are purely spiritual, yet the religious sentiment and awe with which the Church is regarded by many invest them with certain temporal effects. In several countries, as England (A.D. 859), France, Spain (A.D. 638), and Germany, the forfeiture of certain civil rights was attached, in the case of private persons, to the spiritual censure of excommunication. The same spirit of the age is seen in the form of the oath taken at the coronation of the sovereign in many countries, by which the monarch swore to be the protector and defender of the sovereign pontiff and the holy Catholic Church thus making their kingdoms feudatory to the see of Rome. From these and similar indications of the public feeling of the medieval time, the advocates of this theory of the temporal power infer that orthodoxy and obedience to the pope were accepted as a condition of the tenure of supreme civil authority. On the other hand, it is difficult, if not impossible, to reconcile this theory with the language used by the popes in enforcing their claims to temporal authority, and with the fact that such power continued to be claimed and exercised until very recent times. See Barnum, Romanism As It Is; Elliott, Delineation of Romanism; and the articles PAPACY (See PAPACY) and (See STATES OF THE CHURCH).

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Temporal Power of the Pope'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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