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Apostolic Constitution of Pope Pius VI

Super Soliditate (1786)

Bull of Pope Pius VI, issued on November 28, 1786, condemning the errors of Johann Valentin Eybel (1741-1805), also known as “Febronianism”

That the Church was established by Jesus Christ on the solid foundation of the rock (cf. Mt 16:18); that Peter, above all the others, was chosen by the singular favor of Jesus Christ, so that, having the power of his Vicar on earth, he became the Prince of the Apostolic College and received, in consequence, for himself and for his successors to the end of time, the charge and the supreme authority to feed the flock (cf. Jn 21:17), to confirm his brethren (cf. Lk 22:32), to bind and to loose throughout the entire world (cf. Mt 16:19): these are the dogmas of faith received from the lips of Jesus Christ Himself, handed down and defended by the constant teaching of the Fathers, which the universal Church has kept in every age with religious care, and which she has very often confirmed by the decrees of the Sovereign Pontiffs and the Councils against the errors of innovators.

In fact, Jesus Christ willed, in the Primacy of the Apostolic See, to fortify and knit closer the bond of that unity by means of which the Church, destined as she was to spread through the whole world, was to form but one body out of so many scattered members under a single Head. Thus the virtue of that power was to contribute not only to the grandeur of the First See, but even more particularly to the integrity and conservation of the entire body.

Therefore, it is hardly surprising that in past ages those whom the old enemy of the human race has filled with his own hatred of the Church, have been in the habit of attacking in the first place this See which maintains unity in all its vigor: so that by destroying, if it were possible to do so, the foundation, and severing the bond between churches and the Head, the bond which is the principal source of their support, their strength, and their beauty, after having by this means reduced the Church to desolation and ruin by crushing her strength, they might in the end strip her of that liberty which Jesus Christ gave to her, and reduce her to a state of unworthy servitude.

While St. Augustine tells us that “it is in the chair of unity that God has placed the doctrine of truth” (Epistle 105), there is nothing, on the contrary, that the unfortunate writer [Johann Valentin Eybel] does not use to attack and outrage in every possible way this See of Peter where the Fathers have unanimously recognized and venerated that Chair “in which alone unity was to be conserved by all Christians, and from which flow out to all the churches the rights of communion which we must venerate” (Optatus of Mila, Bk. II, contr. Parm.; St. Ambrose, Epistle XI, 1); “with which it is necessary for every church to be in agreement, that is to say, the faithful from whatever area they come” (St. Irenaeus, Adv. Haer., III, 3).

Eybel has not feared to stigmatize as fanatic those whom he has heard cry out at the sight of the Pope: “This is he who has received from God the keys of the kingdom of heaven with power to bind and loose! this is he to whom no other bishop can be compared! this is he from whom the bishops themselves receive their authority as he has received from God the supreme authority! This is the Vicar of Jesus Christ, the visible Head of the Church, the Supreme Judge of the Faithful! Is it therefore fanatic — We say this only with horror — is that word therefore fanatic of Jesus Christ, which promises to Peter, with the power of binding and loosing, the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, those keys which St. Optatus of Mila did not hesitate — following Tertullian — to say had been put into the hands of St. Peter alone to be handed on to others? (Tertullian, Scorp., XI; Optatus of Mila, ibid.)

Must we call fanatic so many solemn decrees, so often renewed, of Popes and Councils, where are to be found the condemnation of those who deny that in blessed Peter, the Prince of the Apostles, the Roman Pontiff, his successor, has been appointed by God, the visible Head of the Church and the Vicar of Jesus Christ; that plenary power has been given to him to govern the Church; that all those who bear the name of Christian owe him a sincere obedience; and that such is the virtue of that primacy which he possesses by divine right that he is above all other bishops, not only by reason of the honor of his rank, but also by reason of the extent of his supreme power?

Such language only makes all the more deplorable both the blind temerity of a writer who has been assiduous in reviving in his tract the errors condemned by so many decrees; of a man who does not fear to say, or to insinuate in many places and by a thousand indirections: “That every bishop is called by God as much as the Pope is, to the government of the Church, and that he has received no less power; that Jesus Christ gave the same power to all the Apostles; that what some men believe can be obtained only from the Sovereign Pontiff, and granted only by him, in so far as it depends upon consecration and ecclesiastical jurisdiction, can be obtained equally from every bishop; that Jesus Christ willed his Church to be administered after the fashion of a Republic; that it is true the government of the Church needs a president for the sake of unity, but that this president must not be permitted to meddle in the affairs of others who govern as he does; that his whole privilege consists in the right which he has to exhort the negligent to fulfill their duties; that thus, in virtue of his primacy he has no other prerogative than to make up for the negligence of others, and to provide, by his exhortations and his example, for the conservation of unity; that the Popes have no power in another diocese, except in extraordinary cases; that the Sovereign Pontiff is a Head who has his power and stability from the Church; that the Sovereign Pontiffs have allowed themselves to violate the rights of bishops by reserving to themselves absolutions, dispensations, decisions, appeals, the conferring of benefices.” In a word, the author of this tract here enumerates in great detail all the functions which he puts in the category of reserved cases usurped by the Pontiff to the prejudice of the rights and dignity of the bishops.

This author, less to conciliate than in some way to take by surprise the confidence which he wishes to win for his case, rattles off in a long series the names of the holiest of the Fathers, and, with superb effrontery, misconstrues their pronouncements lifted haphazardly from their works and lumped together, citing passages which stress the episcopal dignity, and maintaining silence on those in which they have exalted the singular preeminence of the Pontifical power. If these Fathers were still living, they would refute the impudent calumny of this writer in the same terms in which they have not only celebrated the primacy of the Apostolic See and their devotedness to this Chair, but have left to all future ages the testimony of this loyalty in their immortal writings.

St. Cyprian expresses himself in the following terms: “There is only one God, only one Christ, only one Church, and only one Chair founded on Peter by the word of Jesus Christ”, and he declares openly “that the Chair of Peter is this principal Church, from which springs the sacerdotal unity to which error has no access” (Epistles XL, LV).

It is St. John Chrysostom who declares without ambiguity that “Peter could, in virtue of his power, choose a successor to replace the traitor Judas” (Hom. III, in Act. Apost.). And Peter himself in later times and his first successors, used this right stemming from the primacy either to found Churches throughout the West, giving them bishops and assigning to them the portion of the flock they were to care for, and this before the holding of any Council, or in designating regions whose limits they had determined as a single See, whose Bishop, in virtue of the apostolic authority, was to have preeminence over his colleagues in the episcopate.

On this institution of churches we have very clear testimony in the writings of Innocent I (Epist. ad Decent. Eugub.). He speaks of it as a well known matter, something anyone can understand, that the authority of the Sovereign Pontiffs has not come from a discipline antecedently established by the Councils, since it was a common practice before any of the disciplinary matters later regulated by Conciliar decrees. It is not less evident that the Sovereign Pontiff himself determined by his decrees that the Church of Antioch would be the head of the dioceses of the Orient (Epist. ad Alexand. Antioch).

It is St. Epiphanius who bears witness that Ursace and Valens, moved to repentance, presented to Pope Julius the writs containing the retractions of their errors, and asked to be admitted to communion and penance (Haeres. LXVIII).

It is St. Jerome who declares profane the man who is not in communion with the Chair of Peter, knowing full well that it is on this rock that the Church has been built. So he addresses himself only to Pope Damasus in the gravest controversies: for it is from him alone that he wishes to learn both the language which is to be adopted in the Church and the persons with whom he can communicate (Epist. XV.).

It is St. Augustine who testifies, after having learned it in the Scriptures, “that the primacy of the Apostles is preeminent in Peter in virtue of a more excellent grace; that this primacy of the apostolate is to be preferred to all episcopal dignity; that the Roman Church, the See of Peter, is that rock which the proud gates of hell cannot vanquish” (De baptism., II, 1; Cont. Petil, II, 51; Psalm. cont. Don.). This is the language which refutes another of the writer’s calumnies: that which pretends that in designating the rock on which he built his Church Jesus Christ wished men to understand, not the person, but rather the faith and the confession, of Peter: as if the Fathers who, because of the marvelous fecundity of the Scriptures, have also given this latter sense to the word of Peter, have by that fact abandoned the literal sense which bears directly on St. Peter, and did not, very openly, retain this literal sense. It is thus that St. Ambrose, St. Augustine’s master, says, “It is to Peter himself that it was said ‘Thou art Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church.’ Therefore, where Peter is, there is the Church” (In psalm., XL, 30).

Such is the unanimous language of the Fathers. Such is the perpetual tradition of the Doctors: a tradition which St. Bernard, who had gathered it from the ancients, condensed in these few words addressed to Pope Eugene (De Consid., II, 8): “It is in your hands that the keys of heaven have been placed; to them that the sheep have been entrusted… Other shepherds have each their own flocks assigned to them; but to you all the flocks are entrusted, as a single flock to a single Pastor. You alone are the only Pastor, not only of all the sheep, but of all the shepherds.” It is on the milk of this doctrine that have been nourished all those who have grown to manhood in the Church of Christ; it is this milk, if they will remember, that was given from their earliest years to those — whoever they are — who are allowing themselves to be driven about by every wind of doctrine. In every age it has been preached as the teaching of the Gospel that the sheep were entrusted to Peter, by Christ for him to provide for their food, not Peter who was entrusted to the sheep to receive his spiritual nourishment from them.

Moreover, on this point the Ecumenical Councils have never strayed from the teaching of the Fathers. The Fathers assembled at Chalcedon (451) proclaimed that they heard the very words of Peter in the mouth of Leo. They have recognized also that it was not from any other bishop, but from Leo as from their Head, that they were to draw the strength and the stability of what had been done in this Council: and it was for this reason that they begged him to confirm it.

The eighth General Council, in its first session (Constantinople, 869) approved the tenor of a formula read before the holy assembly in which, after many great eulogies on the authority of the Roman Pontiff, it was prescribed that “in the celebration of the sacred mysteries there should not be recited the names of those who had been separated from the communion of the Catholic Church, that is to say those who were not in accord with the Apostolic See.” Even more, since it remained to pass on certain dispensations which the good of the Church seemed urgently to demand, the Fathers (of the Council) did not dare take it upon themselves to grant them; they believed that they should be petitioned from the Holy See by the Patriarch Ignatius; thus recognizing that the Patriarchs themselves did not have the power to dispense from the Canons.

The great Council of the Lateran, which was the fourth of that name (1215), declares (Can. V.) that the Lord has ordained that the Roman Church enjoys the primacy of ordinary power over all the other churches, since she is the Mother and Mistress of all the faithful of Jesus Christ.

In the second Council of Lyons (1274) the profession of the Greeks was published, bearing witness to the fact that they recognized that the Roman Church has a primacy over the entire Catholic Church, and a principality which is both sovereign and plenary, a prerogative which she has received, with fullness of power, from the Lord Himself in the person of Blessed Peter, the Prince, or the Chief of the Apostles, whose successor is the Roman Pontiff. Following the line of these last Councils, the Council of Florence (1439) by a famous decree sanctioned the Catholic dogma of this primacy.

Inspired by the same divine Spirit the Fathers of the Council of Trent declared “that the Sovereign Pontiffs, in virtue of the Supreme power over the whole Church which has been given to them, have the right to reserve to their special judgment certain graver cases of a criminal nature” (Session XIV, cap. VII.). It follows from the language of the Fathers of the Council of Trent that the power of the Sovereign Pontiffs extends to the whole Church; that it embraces equally in its authority all the spiritual functions which the author of this tract endeavors, against all reason, to strip from it; that this power does not come to the Pontiffs from an external source; that it is not conferred upon them by subordinates, but that it is inherent in the primacy by ordinary right, jure ordinario. This must be recognized by anyone who has the intimate conviction that the heavenly wisdom of the Councils is of more worth than all the vain disputes of human ignorance.

Eybel appeals to the Council of Constance. But he should have reminded himself that there the Conciliar Fathers condemned the errors of Wycliffe, who advanced the position that “it is not necessary to salvation to believe that the Roman Church occupies the first rank among the other churches, nor that the Pope is the proximate and immediate Vicar of Christ.” Likewise, the errors of John Huss who held that Peter is not, and he never was, the Head of the holy Catholic Church. Martin V, offering the language of sound doctrine to these errors, laid down that those suspected of holding them should be interrogated, and that they were to be asked “if they believed Blessed Peter was the Vicar of Jesus Christ, having the power on earth to bind and loose?” Further, “Whether a Pope canonically elected was the successor of St. Peter, having supreme authority in the Church of God?” And, “Whether they believed that the Pope had the power to grant indulgences to all Christians; and whether each bishop could grant indulgences to those under his jurisdiction, according to the limits prescribed by the sacred Canons?” This is a clear refutation of Eybel’s error, who, speaking of indulgences, dared to write that “every bishop can grant indulgences in the same way as the Pope.”

Any man who will meditate attentively and fairly on these documents drawn from the Fathers and the Councils without allowing himself to be blinded by his prejudices, will have no difficulty in convincing himself that they give evidence, as far as the Sovereign Pontiff is concerned, of an authority far superior to one which would be limited, as has been claimed, to a simple direction with respect to the bishops, or that the Pope’s authority is confined to exhorting them, warning them, and supplying for their deficiencies.

Let us go even farther. The Fathers of the Council of Basel themselves declare (Session V) openly and profess that they believe in the response which they addressed to the Bishop of Taranto, “that the Roman Pontiff is the head and the Primate of the Church, the Vicar of Jesus Christ; raised to this dignity not by men or by Councils, but by Jesus Christ; that he is the Pastor of the faithful; that to him the Lord has given the keys; that to him alone it was said ‘Thou art Peter’; that he alone has been called to the plenitude of power, while the other bishops have received only a share in solicitude (for the flock).” Eybel should blush at the impudent audacity with which he attempts to weaken the plenitude of powers which the assembly at Basel places among the capital points of our doctrine, as so well known, so widely held that it is superfluous to recall them.

Moreover, the way in which St. Augustine expresses himself, as We have just cited it, witnesses to the fact that “the principality of the apostolic Chair has always been in vigor in the Roman See” (Epistle XLIII, 3), that this principality of the apostolate has always been preeminent over any episcopal dignity; this language, We say, can be verified, among other things, by this remarkable observation: that the successor of Peter, by the very fact that he occupies the place of Peter, has, by divine right, under his authority the entire flock of Jesus Christ; so that he receives, with his function of Pontiff, the power to govern the entire Church. While it is necessary, on the other hand, that a special part of the flock be assigned to each of the other bishops, not by divine right, but by ecclesiastical law, not by the lips of Jesus Christ Himself, but by the hierarchical order, so that over this restricted part of the flock he can employ the ordinary power with which he has been invested to govern it.

He who would wish to take from the Roman Pontiff the sovereign authority which he has to make these assignments would find himself under the necessity of impugning the legitimacy of succession of the multitude of bishops who, all over the world, govern individual churches, and for the government of which these prelates have received their mission from the Sovereign Pontiff. Therefore, it is impossible, without causing very great disturbance in the Church, and without exposing episcopal authority itself to imminent danger, it is impossible to attack this great and marvelous assemblage of power which God has deigned to grant to the Chair of Peter; power in virtue of which, as St. Leo the Great says, “Peter personally governs all those whom Jesus Christ governs principally: in such wise that if Jesus Christ has willed that there should be something in common between Peter and the other Princes of the Church, it is only through (and by) Peter that He has given what He has not refused to the others” (Serm. IV, in anniv. suae assumpt.).

Eybel is loud in his praises of the bishops and doctors of the Church of France. But this is all in vain: for who among them are the ones he is trying to represent as sharing his opinions? Are they the most ancient, or those who, in the Middle Ages, or in more recent times, have made that Church illustrious by their learning and holiness? We will cite, from among the most ancient, only a few among many.

Let him not despise the testimony of St. Caesarius of Arles and St. Avitus of Vienne. The first, in a petition addressed to Pope Symmachus, says: “As the source of the episcopate comes from blessed Peter, so it is necessary for Your Holiness to show clearly to each one of the Churches what must be observed, laying down for them suitable rules of discipline.” St. Avitus, addressing Pope Hormisdas, writes, “I beg you to let me know how I should answer your sons who are my brothers in Gaul, if they should consult me: for their devotion for the Apostolic See is such that I can in all security speak not only for those of Vienne, but I can also promise you that every one of them in France will welcome with the same eagerness whatever you shall decide in matters of faith.” The Fathers of the Council of Orleans (538. Canon III.) recall the form to be observed in the election of metropolitans as laid down in the decrees of the Apostolic See.

In the Middle Ages, let Eybel listen to Hincmar of Rheims who, protesting that he has always shown himself faithful and obedient in all things to the Apostolic Chair, the mother and mistress of all the Churches, and to the Pontiffs who occupy it, declares openly what is due to the Holy See, what he is persuaded the faithful owe it, by the very fact that he wishes to insist he has never failed in this duty (Council of Douay, 871). Let him listen to Yves of Chartres, reprimanding with the strongest expressions the boldness of those who raise proud heads against the Apostolic See, saying “that when one opposes it with one’s own judgments and constitutions, one incurs the charge of heretical perversity; that it belongs absolutely and without exception to this See to confirm or invalidate the consecration both of metropolitans and of other bishops, to reexamine their constitutions and their judgments; while this See must maintain without variation what it has pronounced and not tolerate any inferior assuming the right to judge it or correct it” (Epist. VIII ad Rich. Senon.). He further supports this by the authority of Pope Gelasius.

If, from those ancient times, we come down to a more recent period, Eybel ought not to have been in ignorance about the very grave censures leveled against the notorious apostate De Dominis, Archbishop of Spalato, by the distinguished Faculty of Theology of Paris. He would there have seen the Condemnation to be anticipated for his own tract. In fact, these are the errors which this Faculty did not hesitate to stigmatize as heretical and schismatic in the writings of this unworthy prelate: “To say that the Apostles were not equal in power is to advance a proposition which is only a human invention, and which has no foundation in the Holy Gospels, or in the inspired writings of the New Testament.” (The Faculty declares this proposition heretical and schismatic, understood with reference to the ordinary apostolic jurisdiction which existed only in St. Peter.)

“It cannot be said that there is only one supreme head in the Church, or only one ruler, unless one understands by this Jesus Christ.” “All the bishops together and in one body govern the same Church, each one with full power.” “The Roman Church has, it is true, the first rank among the other churches, because of its nobility, its reputation, its name, and the authority of its dignity; but not because of its primacy of government and of jurisdiction.” (The Faculty declares this proposition heretical and schismatic because it openly alleges that the Roman Church has not, by reason of divine right, the authority over the other churches.) “Each bishop is universal, by divine right.” “The monarchical form of government in the Church was not immediately instituted by Christ.” “It is false to hold that the union of the Catholic Church consists in the unity of a visible head.” De Dominis having added that “the teaching of the doctors of Paris, understood as it should be, differed in nothing from his own,” the latter immediately refuted this calumny with which the innovator attempted to blacken them, and declared that “this was a pure libel against the Faculty of Paris” (C. D’Argentre, Coll. Judic., II, p. 105, ff.).

In the Assembly of 1681, the Bishops of France published, on this subject of the primacy of the Roman Pontiff, a striking testimony fully in accord with that rendered by the Theological Faculty of Paris, and with the constant tradition of their predecessors. “The Pope is above all the Bishops, he is the Head of the Church, the center of unity, and he possesses the primacy of authority and jurisdiction over us given him by Christ Jesus in the person of St. Peter. If one fails to admit these truths, he is a schismatic, yes, and a heretic” (Coll. P.V., Vol. V, p. 355).

The author of this tract could not have been entirely ignorant of the documents which can be culled from all past ages on the subject of Roman primacy. His bad faith is made all the more remarkable because of his stubborn opposition to the Holy See, since unable to blot out or destroy these brilliant testimonies of the Fathers, he does not blush — and here his insolence is excessive — to present them as allegories which have been badly interpreted; whence it happens in great measure — according to him — that for many centuries the Pope has been believed to be what in fact he is not: as if these Fathers eminent in sanctity, whom God has given to his Church as Pastors and teachers, could, on a matter of the greatest importance and which touches on the very constitution of the Church, have unanimously fallen into error, or become the cause of deceiving the faithful! As if Eybel did not, rather, stand convicted of a criminal error, since he is determined to embrace, in the matter of the Sovereign Pontificate, a different belief from the one which has been handed down by all the centuries past!

This is what We have thought it Our duty to expose at some length, following in this the example given to Us by Our predecessors in similar circumstances, and as We are required to do by the nature of Our office. Here it is not Our own advantage that We have before Our eyes, but the good of souls. Our desire is to maintain unity in the bond of peace; and We have no other motive, in exposing the deceits of those who abuse the names of the Fathers to give false meaning to their words. Let all understand that there is no teaching which the Fathers have more at heart than that all should be kept in unity, attached to this Chair which alone Christ has made mother and mistress of all the others.

The Church is certainly the one flock of Jesus Christ, who is reigning in heaven, its one Supreme Pastor. He has left it a visible Pastor here on earth, a man who alone is his supreme Vicar, so that in hearing him, the sheep hear in his voice the voice of Jesus Christ Himself, lest seduced by the voice of strangers they be led astray into noxious and deadly pastures.

So that the faithful confided to Our solicitude may avoid with greater care profane and useless discourse which leads to impiety; so that they may remain constantly attached to this Chair of unity where Peter still lives and presides as in his own See, whence he communicates the truth of faith to those who seek it; so that they may not be misled into believing that what has been established by the order of Christ Himself has been extorted by ambition, or yielded through ignorance, or granted as a result of flattery, or sought and obtained by criminal artifice, We have ordained that this work be submitted to the examination of competent theologians [***]; in possession of their consultations, having heard the votes of Our Venerable Brothers, the Cardinals of Holy Roman Church, general inquisitors throughout the Christian republic against heretical depravity, expressed in Our presence, motu proprio and for certain knowledge, with the fullness of apostolic power we reprove and condemn the aforesaid pamphlet whose Latin title is “Quid est papa? Con dispensa della Cesarea commissione regale delle censure dall’apposizione del nome dell’autore. Vienna, presso Giuseppe Edlen de Kurzbeck, 1782”, and in Greek an equivalent title, since it contains propositions that are false, scandalous, reckless, insulting, schism-inducing, erroneous, heresy-inducing, heretical, and others already condemned by the Church; we wish and decree that this book be reproved and condemned forever.

We further grant that no one who is a member of the faithful of Christ, of whatever rank or dignity, even if worthy of special mention, shall dare or presume to read or retain the above-mentioned booklet, whether printed or in manuscript, either in its original text or in any other version, or shall dare reprint it or have it printed, under penalty of suspension a Divinis in the case of ecclesiastical persons, and under penalty of excommunication in the case of secular persons: penalties to be incurred ipso facto without any other declaration. We reserve for ourselves and our successor Roman Pontiffs the absolution and remission of these penalties, with the sole exception — with regard to the aforementioned excommunication — that any confessor may absolve from this censure in articulo mortis [at the point of death].

We further order booksellers, printers, and all individuals of whatever rank, condition, and dignity, ecclesiastical and secular persons, even those in need of special and individual mention, that if the aforementioned booklet, printed in the original language or in any other language, or even in manuscript, should ever come into their hands, they are to bring it immediately to the local Ordinaries, under the same penalties of suspension a Divinis and excommunication, respectively.

In order that this letter may come more easily to the knowledge of all, and that no one may claim that he does not know it, we wish and command that, as usual, it be published by some of Our assistants at the doors of the Basilica of the Prince of the Apostles, of the Apostolic Chancery, of the General Curia in Montecitorio and in the square of Campo di Flora in Rome, and that copies be posted there. So published, it is understood that it binds all and everyone concerned, as if it had been personally delivered and made known. The transcripts of this letter, that is to say, the copies, even printed, signed by the hand of some public notary and bearing the seal of a person of ecclesiastical dignity, are to be given the same weight — both in court and elsewhere, in any place — as would be given to this letter if it were exhibited and shown.

Given at Rome, at Saint Peter’s, under the ring of the Fisherman, on November 28, 1786, the twelfth year of Our Pontificate.

[Translated from the original Latin found in Cardinal Pietro Gasparri, ed., Codicis Iuris Canonici Fontes, vol. 2 [Typis Poliglottis Vaticanis, 1938], n. 473. Up to [***] marker, translation taken from Papal Teachings: The Church, nn. 20-52; italics given. Remainder translated using; amended. Full text available in Italian here.]

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