JMC : The Catholic Religion / by Charles Coppens, S.J.

The Bishops and the Councils.

110. Catholic Bishops are known to be such by their communion with the Holy See. They have authority to teach; and from the assured permanence of the Church (n. 68) we know that this teaching body will never fail, though individual Bishops may fall into heresy. Some think that the Pope himself may do so, except in ex cathedra teachings; but most theologians believe with Suarez that God will not allow this to happen. Every Bishop has authority to teach and govern his own subjects but this teaching is not irreformable nor can his laws oppose the general legislation of the Church.

111. Councils, or Synods, (late from the days of the Apostles (Acts XV). Diocesan Synods consist of the clergy of a diocese, under their Bishop; Provincial Synods, of the Bishops of the ecclesiastical province, under the Metropolitan; Plenary Synods, which are of rarer occurrence, represent a whole nation. All these Councils exercise in their districts the same sort of authority as the Bishop does in his diocese.

112. A General, or Ecumenical Council (oikoumenê, world-wide), is one gathered from the whole Church and has authority over the whole. It has no more power than the Supreme Pontiff, but it gives him strong moral support, (n. 113); and occasions may arise when some great evil cannot be checked without it. As representing the whole teaching body of the Church, it cannot fail in faith (n. 72). The right to convoke such a Council belongs to the Pope alone; and without his consent or ratification it is no General Council. Already in the time of Pope Julius I, about 340, we find the principle well recognized that nothing could he done validly without the consent of the Roman Pontiff. He has also the right to preside in every General Council, which right he has exercised by himself and by his legates.

The right to be summoned to Ecumenical Councils belongs to Bishops in charge of dioceses. Cardinals, even when they are not Bishops, and Bishops without dioceses may also be summoned, and all these have a decisive vote. Generals of Religious Orders, theologians, and even laymen have been admitted; but they do not vote.

113. During the great Western Schism, from 1378 to 1417, before Martin V was elected and accepted by all parties as Supreme Pontiff (n. 82), the Gallicans (n. 108) had prevailed on the assembly at Constance to decree that a General Council is superior to the Pope and can depose him. But Martin V. repudiated the decree, and many subsequent Popes have done the same. The Vatican Council, by defining the Divine institution of the Pontiff's power (n. 108), has settled the question forever.

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