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Book review of Papal Monarchy by Dom Prosper Guéranger, Fitzwilliam, NH: Loreto Publications, 2003, 307 pp.
Dom Prosper Guéranger wrote The Papal Monarchy to
refute the 19th century re-emergence of the error of Gallicanism, a bad
doctrine similar to Anglicanism that had infiltrated the ensemble of
Bishops of France. Indeed, Gallia is the old Latin name for today’s
France. From its beginnings, this movement refused to admit the
authority of the Pope over the king's temporal dominion or the Pope's
superiority to a general council. The revived Gallicanism affirmed that
infallibility rested with the French Bishops.
This work constitutes a methodic and ample refutation of those who
sought to undermine the Papacy and provides an affirmation of the
doctrine of papal infallibility that would be decreed dogma shortly
after its publication.
At the time, several Gallicans had produced works to deny the thesis of
the dogma of the upcoming Vatican Council (known now as Vatican I). The
Bishop de Sura, Henri Maret, published his Gallican opinions. Dom
Guéranger wrote to refute him. Although the work is directed at
arguments and persons that are long since dead, The Papal Monarchy
is useful for us today because it defines a framework for the limits of
bishops’ power and, perhaps more importantly today, provides the
definitions and conditions of papal infallibility.
In 1870 Bishops from across the globe had gathered in a Rome besieged.
The revolutionary forces of the Masonic Vittorio Emanuelle were
preparing for their final attack on the Papal States, as the papal
armies prepared for their last defense of the Sovereign Pontiff. It was
in the shadow of this gathering storm that Pope Pius IX, in union with
the Bishops of the world, was to pass a judgment on a doctrine that
opposed all the secular machinations of the Revolution: Papal
Contradictions of Gallicanism
Dom Guéranger made a comprehensive exposition of the foundation of papal infallibility
Dom Guéranger begins with an attack on Gallicanism. As a philosophy it
was resurging not because of any inherent truth, but because of the
fashionable politics of the 19th century that favored liberal democracy.
As the Church is above nations and times, it is an error to believe
that she must change to adapt to the moods of the world. Only
revolutionaries were advocating a more democratic Church.
The Gallican position defended that the doctrine of the Church should be
determined by ecumenical councils, but Guéranger attacks this system as
imperiling the Church. He argues that a system of teaching that must
await for the consent of a convention of bishops risks allowing serious
errors to take root. Even if a council were to assemble every 10 years,
the dangers of a potentially heretical doctrine seeping into the Church
would be serious. The notion that dogma could be defined by the
unanimity of bishops is equally unfeasible, as agreement between bishops
is rarer than the councils that summon them.
Guéranger methodically demonstrates the precedent for Papal
Infallibility, beginning with Scripture and working through Church
tradition. Throughout History, papal anathemas have been treated as the
word of God. When two councils failed to render a verdict on the
doctrine of Pelagianism, a papal condemnation settled the matter. St.
Augustine himself cited this as definitively ending the controversy:
“Rome has spoken, the case is closed” - Roma locuta, causa finita est. It was always the Saints who were on the side of Papal Monarchy and the enemies of the Faith who were against it.
The author argues that if such pronouncements are fallible, then the
Pope can err in his condemnation of doctrines and the foundation of
Church dogma can be subject to error. Since it is by divine mandate that
the gates of Hell shall not prevail against the Church, it follows that
such pronouncements must be preserved from error by the Holy Ghost. To
hold otherwise is to accuse Our Divine Lord of lying when He spoke those
famous words to St. Peter giving him the keys of the kingdom of Heaven
Papal infallbility was proclaimed at the ecumenical Vatican Coucil I
The author goes on to support his attack with extensive historical
proofs. In 1497, Spanish theologian Pedro d'Orma was formally declared a
heretic for promulgating doctrine that claimed the Pope could err. By
reason the opposite stands true; the Pope possesses infallibility. Both
St. Thomas Aquinas and Suarez favored papal infallibility. Several
ancient councils had no force of law until they were later validated by
Popes. As Guéranger demonstrates, the Fathers of the Church also
supported this doctrine, with St. Cyprian, St. Ephrem and St. Jerome as
just a few of its chief advocates.
Finally, Our Lord invested supreme authority over the Church in St. Peter, not
the disciples as a whole. As such, papal infallibility was established
by Our Lord long before ecumenical councils were ever convened.
As a final measure of assuaging concerns, Dom Guéranger enumerates the conditions for infallibility:
It can only apply when the Pope is teaching on matters of doctrinal
truth or revealed morals and when he is teaching with full authority of
It must be a manifest decision that commands a submission of faith and also anathematizes those who do not adhere to it.
Only under these precise conditions do we assent to a dogma as though it
came from the lips of Our Blessed Lord. Thus crumble the outcries that
the Pope is always claiming infallibility, that everything he says is
infallible or that he can make infallible pronouncements on secular
Truth should not be silenced for the sake of secular expediency. Papal
Infallibility was declared dogma in 1870 in the face of internal
opposition and external war. Since that time, the democratic delusions
of the 19th century have given way to Socialism, by its nature opposed
to the Church and papal authority over temporal society. To make matters
worse, today we are obliged to respect a Pope who seems to do all in
his power to disrespect the dignity of his own office, though this does
not invalidate him as Pope.
Dom Guéranger effectively demonstrates the soundness of Papal
Infallibility. The First Vatican Council saw the glorification of this
truth. By contrast the Second Vatican Council produced no declaration of
faith and no definition of doctrine. Infallibility has not been
exercised by any of the contemporary progressivist Pontiffs.
Pius IX declared the doctrine of Papal Infallibility to be dogma after
the Bishops of the world had reunited in an Ecumenical Council to affirm
what had been believed since the time of Our Lord. Let this phalanx of
canonized Saints, pious Popes, holy Doctors, blessed theologians,
legions of faithful and the words of Our Lord himself assure us of the
divine rock of the See of St. Peter. Against this Church the gates of
Hell shall storm in vain.