If the church isn't a democracy, what is it?

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Article Scripture and Theology

In the year 373 The See of Milan fell vacant and the emperor dispatched Ambrose, governor of the province and scion of an aristocratic Roman family, to reestablish order over the stormy assembly of Catholic faithful, whose duty it was to elect a new bishop. So impressive was Ambrose, so naturally did he exude authority and "presence," that the crowd milling about the cathedral moved unanimously to acclaim him the new bishop, ignoring the inconvenient fact that he was not even a Christian, much less a member of the clergy.

Once the emperor had authorized his appointment, Ambrose was baptized. Eight days later-a symbolic period of waiting in halfhearted deference to the canon law prohibiting a neophyte from ascending to the episcopacy (the office of bishop)-the 34- year-old Roman magistrate was consecrated bishop of Milan, a post in which he served with distinction for 23 years, until his death in 397.

Along the way Ambrose became one of the greatest of the church fathers, championing Catholic orthodoxy over the Arian heresy and ending any hopes of a pagan revival among the Roman aristocracy. In 390 he famously enforced penance on the Emperor Theodosius after the latter had authorized the massacre of 7,000 Thessalonians-accused, without trial, of seditious rioting.

Picking an unbaptized person for the local church's highest office was uncommon in fourth-century Christianity, but the mere act of electing a bishop was not. Indeed, by that time the whole Catholic community, including the laity, had been taking part in the election of bishops and the choice of ministers for at least 200 years.

Like a seasoned politician, Cyprian of Carthage, who died in 258, always touched base with his earthly constituency. "I have made it a rule since the beginning of my episcopate," he confided to a friend, "to make no decision merely on the strength of my own personal opinion without consulting you [the priests and the deacons] and without the approbation of the people."

Can it be that the early church was a democracy? Father Andrew Greeley, Father Hans Kung, and some other knowledgeable commentators say that it was. However, contemporary Catholic bishops, faced with opinion polls showing popular discontent with certain church teachings, are fond of saying that it is not. Who's right?

Both and neither, it turns out.


Party spirit
When late-20th-century Americans think of democracy, we envision it with all the trappings: media-ready candidates spouting slick infomercials for themselves, political parties holding elaborately staged conventions, delegates in straw hats wearing buffoonish buttons and hoisting hyperbolic banners, and everywhere, polls, polls, polls reporting and interpreting the latest twitch of the body politic. The campaign victory parties and inaugural balls, in their opulence and sublime indifference to the vanquished, suggest a decadence that seems somehow beneath the dignity of the church.

Yet it's not hard to discover similar scenes occurring throughout Catholic history. In 395, for example, the cerebral Saint Augustine of Hippo (in present-day Algeria), petulantly described a raucous "inaugural ball" in the nearby town of Sinitum. A procession of the local laity, accompanied by a chorus of consecrated virgins chanting in unison, encircled the newly elected bishop as he ascended the flight of steps leading to his ornate, canopied episcopal chair in the church sanctuary. The assembled multitude was definitely in a party spirit, no doubt in anticipation of enjoying the patronage of the new episcopal administrator, who exercised control over local jobs as well as the sacraments.

A year later rowdy crowds in Hippo pronounced the familiar formula Nos eligimus eum (''We elect him'') over Augustine, who brought a somewhat more dignified bearing to the episcopate.

Fast forward to 18th-century Philadelphia and Holy Trinity Catholic Church, which was established by lay trustees-Catholic men of property who, in the absence of clergy, had established the church with their own funds and were renting its pews to maintain their investment. Lay trusteeism was a widespread phenomenon in the U.S. Catholic Church of the early republic, before the supply of American or European priests could catch up with the growing number of immigrant Catholics.

In 1789 the German immigrant trustees of Holy Trinity, against the will of bishop-elect John Carroll, decided that, like the local Protestants, they could and should exercise popular control over the ministry. Without the approval of Carroll, they therefore ousted their priest and welcomed another, "on the sole appointment of the Trustees of the church." The public denunciations, counter-denunciations, shady deals, and "dirty tricks" that followed would put a Chicago alderman to shame.

Partisan hoopla and skulduggery aside, however, democracy seems like the natural expression, in political terms, of what the Second Vatican Council called the ''inherent dignity of the human person," which demands that "men should exercise fully their own judgment and a responsible freedom in their actions and should not be subject to the pressure of coercion but be inspired by a sense of duty."

In modern times, however, Catholic laity have not regularly participated in the decisions of the church. In 1965 Dignitatis humanae, Vatican II's stunning "Declaration of Religious Freedom," articulated and defended the rights of people as citizens of the state and participants in civil society. But it did not apply the principle of religious self-determination to the church's governance of itself.

Yet the council certainly provided ammunition for those who demand consistent, across-the-board application of democratic principles-with no exemptions for the church and its hierarchy. The documents of Vatican II renewed the ancient proclamation that the church is the whole "People of God"-laity as well as clergy, bishops as well as the pope-and issued decrees (in the Revised Code of Canon Law, which was published in 1983) leading to the establishment of consultative bodies, such as parish councils and diocesan synods.

After all the paper was shuffled, however, the bottom line remained essentially the same as it was before the council: according to canon law, final decision-making authority still rests exclusively with the pastor on the parish level, exclusively with the bishop on the diocesan level, and exclusively with the pope and his administrative bureaucracy on the international level.

Thus, even after Pope John XXIII opened the Roman Catholic Church to the modern world, it remained, in political form, closer to a hierocracy (a holy caste) than to a democracy (the entire holy people of God).

This development-or lack of development-was a bitter pill for liberal Catholics to swallow. Theologian Kung spoke for many when he criticized the council fathers for leading the laity to the well but forbidding them to drink. The bishops of Vatican II speak of the participation of the laity in the life of the church, Kung observed, but "they do not all like to speak, at least in official binding documents, of the participation of the laity in the decisions of the church."

He complains: Nevertheless it is precisely here that the question of the status of the laity in the church arises in the most practical way. For, as long as I can contribute advice and work but am excluded from decision making, I remain, no matter how many fine things are said about my status, a second-class member of this community; I am more an object that is utilized than a subject who is actively responsible. Persons who can advise and collaborate but not participate in decision making in a manner befitting their status are not really the church but only belong to the church.

In short, Vatican II raised, without fully answering, some seminal questions about church governance. Does "responsible freedom in their actions" allow confirmed Catholics to determine the leadership of their church? Should the church officially recognize a diversity of ministries corresponding to the different talents and skills of Catholics? And should these ministries be ranked and authorized not hierarchically but according to function?

The New Testament church thought so. The Spirit is given to the whole church, the apostle Paul taught, not exclusively to its leaders (I Cor. 12:1-28; Rom. 12:3-8). Accordingly, no one person or select group of people claimed full authority over the grace-filled ministries exercised in Christ's name. In the apostolic church there was, instead, "a diversity of gifts and charisms . . . all working together as one for the good of the whole," says ecclesiologist Father Richard P. McBrien in his book Catholicism (HarperSanFrancisco, 1994).

"The power which Christian authority has is grounded in the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is available to all."

By the end of the second Christian century, however, an institution with a clearly defined system of authority was in place. Based on the sacred scriptures, creed, Eucharist, and Baptismal rituals, it was led by a ministerial hierarchy of bishop, priest, and deacon. How did this development occur?

The apostle Paul, writing in the decades immediately following the death and resurrection of the Lord, singled out prophesy and teaching as the noblest gifts of the Holy Spirit-with miracle-working, healing, administrating, and speaking in tongues not far behind. But Paul did not rank these ministries in hierarchical order, in part because he was thinking in the apocalyptic short term. Jesus would return soon in glory, he assumed, to culminate the Age of the Spirit and reward the faithful "elect." With such a future, why worry about whose crozier was the fanciest, whose mitre the tallest, whose jurisdiction the broadest?

The Christian Church at this point was rather loosely defined as an ecclesia-a gathering or assembly of the faithful. Later Christians were left to develop an enduring structure for governance.

In 180 Irenaeus of Lyon became upset with Marcion, a renegade theologian, and provided the most compelling theological rationale for the bishop's emergence as the sole authoritative teacher of the local church. The power of the bishop (who represented God the Father in the iconography of the period) gathered momentum in the second and third centuries, while presbyters (representing the Son) and deacons (representing the Holy Spirit) came to be seen as his subordinates.

The problem, as with every potential democracy, was the people, and the sheer numbers of them. The larger the bushel, the greater the chance of a bad apple. And by the second century there seemed to be a bumper crop of bad apples in the Christian harvest. People have opinions, of course-this is what makes them so difficult to govern-and some very able theologians entertained opinions about Christ, God, and redemption that threatened the coherence and unity of established Christian belief and practice.

Marcion created quite a stir for Irenaeus by rejecting the Old Testament as the work of an evil and inferior demi-God, thereby positing a decidedly unchristian antipathy toward creation. Others, in a similar vein, denied that the spirit of God had been fully incarnate in Jesus. The fragmentation of the Christian community into competing sects, each following its own popular leader, loomed on the horizon as a real and troubling development.

But Irenaeus would have none of it. Heresy-the willful departure from the beliefs established by the worshiping community-must be checked by a fortified Catholic orthodoxy. And orthodoxy requires an enforcer, a boundary setter, an authority empowered to determine who's in and who's out. Irenaeus would not watch powerlessly.

Other bishops of the Catholic world agreed with Irenaeus on the need to centralize and consolidate spiritual authority to defend the rule of faith against heresy and protect the integrity of the authoritative list of apostolic writings. Such authority, furthermore, resided in the special ministry that they exercised as bishops-a ministry conferred neither by the people nor directly by the Spirit but by the laying on of hands by "elders."

This practice of ordination by elders was already present in some communities of the early church, according to the pastoral epistles of Paul to Timothy and Titus. At first the elders governed the church collectively. Gradually, however, one man took over the power and concentrated the various ministries in his hands as bishop (from episkopos, originally a secular Greek expression meaning ''supervisor'' or ''overseer'').

Ignatius, the bishop of Antioch (martyred in the year 107), believed that the bishop should be the focal point of the congregation, with all important functions and full authority vested in him. Around the same time the Didache, a Syrian catechetical manual, also endorsed the transition to this ordered ministry and instructed the congregation to elect bishops and deacons if prophets and teachers are in short supply.

Nothing in the job description of the monarchical bishop necessarily undermined the spirit of democracy or impeded the practice of the popular election of the bishop-nothing, that is, except the argument, advanced compellingly by Irenaeus, that the monarchical bishop stood in a direct line of succession reaching back to the apostles themselves. Irenaeus portrayed Rome as the preeminent example of a church whose fidelity to the teaching of Jesus and the apostles was guaranteed by the fact that its bishops were direct successors to Peter and Paul. And the status and authority accorded the bishop, and the aura of divinely ordained monarchy surrounding him, grew with the acceptance of apostolic succession as a criterion of orthodoxy.

Rise to the top
In the third and fourth centuries, bishops met in legislative synods and increasingly understood themselves to be an elite company of specially chosen priests. Certain churches assumed authority over other churches, and some acquired metropolitan status, which elevated them over the churches of a province. Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch acquired super-metropolitan status. The Catholic hierarchy quickly became a formidable reality.

At the pinnacle of the hierarchy was the pope, who began to assert claims of supreme spiritual authority over other churches, in part by creating and empowering administrative extensions of himself. In the year 250 Pope Fabian divided Rome into seven diaconates. Elected by the community, the deacon brought Communion to the people and alms to the poor, led the Prayer of the Faithful at Mass, and generally served as the bishop's right-hand man. His control of church funds assured the deacons of special influence, and many graduated directly to the episcopate without passing through the priesthood. As the church spread into the countryside, the bishop shared certain sacramental powers with the parish priest, who presided at the Eucharist, preached, and absolved penitents.

Gradually the church was developing a clergy (from the Greek kleros, meaning ''official'') set apart from the laos (''people''). The distancing of the hierarchical ministry from the laity took a dramatic turn during the reign of the Emperor Constantine, who conquered Rome under the sign of the Cross and outlawed the persecution of Christians (in the Edict of Milan of 313). In gratitude for his victory, Constantine surrendered his Lateran Palace to the bishop of Rome for use as a papal residence and bestowed important privileges on the Christian clergy, recognizing it as a distinct social class and exempting priests from military service and forced labor.

Set on the road to union with the state, the church suffered a loss of independence and a weakening of its prophetic voice. But it was also strengthened internally: Constantine invested the judicial decisions of the bishops with civil authority and bolstered papal power over church and state in the West when he conveniently moved the capital of the empire to the Eastern city of Byzantium. Into the resulting power vacuum stepped the new pontifex maximus-the pope.

However, for fans of democracy, Catholic style, Constantine did no favors by conferring official status on the members of the clergy.

In their lifestyle, the Roman Catholic clergy at first were not sharply differentiated from the laity. They, too, married, raised families, and earned a living by working at some trade or profession. But as the practice grew in the Constantinian era of paying them for their clerical work, the presbyters withdrew from secular pursuits. By the end of the fourth century, notes church historian Thomas Bokenkotter in his Concise History of the Catholic Church (Doubleday, 1979), such withdrawal was deemed obligatory.

The rise of monasticism during the Middle Ages, when the Roman empire and Western civilization was being overrun by barbarian tribes, provided further theological and spiritual justification for describing the church as a two-tiered system, with the purity-seeking holy monks set apart from the rabble.

In fact monasticism emerged partly as a reaction against the Catholic hierarchy's dalliance with state power under Constantine. The monk was a new type of martyr, a disciplined spiritual athlete who renounced worldly desires to live a life on the margins of society, seeking God alone and preserving classical culture in the monastery. Not all monks were priests, and certainly not all priests were monks, but the notion that some men are "called to the perfection of holiness" gradually permeated the clerical ranks.

The cultic and ritualistic aspects of the Christian ministry received greater emphasis as a result. Whereas the presbyters and elders of the apostolic era had studiously avoided any resemblance to the pagan or Jewish priest-according to Bokenkotter, they centered their ministry on preaching the Word rather than celebrating sacraments-some of their successors in the early Middle Ages saw themselves in a different, semimonastic role.

This meant abstinence from sex because sexual intercourse was deemed incompatible with the sacred character of the clerical state. Celibacy was first required of the clergy by a fourth century synod of Spanish bishops and then by the popes beginning with Siricius, who enforced the discipline in their legal decrees.

"After Constantine and the breakdown of the separation between the church and the world," Bokenkotter writes, "the polarity between sacred and profane was transformed into one between sacred clergy and profane laity." Bishops and some priests were clothed in a supernatural aura, and in distinct ecclesiastical dress. By the year 428, according to a letter from Pope Celestine to the bishop of Provence, the "learned and more virtuous" clergy were wearing a special gown, doubtless of monastic origin, to distinguish them from the faithful masses. So much for the common touch.

Western society in the Middle Ages was complex, vibrant, litigious, and Roman Catholic to the core. During the first half of the 12th century the legal scholar Gratian of Bologna collected, organized, reconciled, and synthesized the various rulings of past popes and councils, along with relevant scriptural and theological teachings concerning the moral codes and procedural norms of the church. In so doing Gratian basically invented the discipline of canon law. His collection of Decretals became the basic textbook for generations of medieval canon lawyers, who attempted to strike a balance between papal power and the "divine rights" of the Catholic community at large.

The divine rights of the community? Did this community still include, in practice as well as theory, lay Catholics, whose level of education and literacy had fallen well below that of the monks, friars, and elite clergy? Who had, at best, only a sketchy knowledge of what Saint Thomas Aquinas and other professionally trained medieval scholastics called sacra doctrina (''sacred doctrine'')?

Unfortunately, ordinary Catholics saw their stock as electors fall precipitously during the age of feudalism. Democracy in the church from 900 to 1500 really amounted to clerocracy, the election of priests by other priests. The bishop in major cities, for example, was elected by a chapter of canons (priests attached to the cathedral) rather than by the people at large.

By the High Middle Ages the ground had completely shifted: the bishop was understood to receive his authority from the divine law structure of the church itself rather than from the church's people. Despite the elimination of direct popular election of the bishop, however, the democratic notions of representative government and the accountability of elected officials did not vanish from the church altogether. In Democratic Catholic Church: The Reconstruction of Roman Catholicism (Crossroad, 1993) by Eugene C. Bianchi, canon lawyer John Beal notes that "authority still came to the bishop through human mediation in the form of election by the majority of canons, a body that was understood to represent, however inadequate that representation may seem to us, the whole local church."

The cathedral chapter did not disperse once it had elected the new bishop, but retained its own properties, rights, and powers. When the system worked, the bishop and the chapter governed the local church together. When collegial relations broke down, however, the bishop and the chapter found themselves in mortal combat over their respective prerogatives.

Priests electing other priests is not exactly what Americans have in mind when they think democracy, of course. Take the duplicity of lawyers, for example. The medieval canonists, in a classic fit of legal double-talk, defined the church as a corporate person whose legal authority resided ultimately in the Catholic people but was exercised by officeholders chosen according to the norms of divine and ecclesiastical law-law that was defined, of course, by the officeholders themselves. (Apparently "conflict of interest" was not one of the concepts passed along to Western constitutionalists).

Pleased with themselves, no doubt, the canonists inspired a quasidemocratic movement in the church called conciliarism. "If what touched all members of the corporate body had to be approved by all, or at least by their legitimate representatives," Beal notes, "then the membership of general councils, in which the highest and most solemn form of the church power of governments of teaching were exercised, should be representative of the church as a whole." Thus when Pope Innocent III convoked the Fourth Lateran Council in 1213, he summoned not only the bishops and abbots but also the representatives of cathedral chapters, collegiate churches, religious orders, and even secular authorities.

Conciliar theory held that an ecumenical council of bishops is the highest authority in the church, superior even to the pope. The earliest form of conciliarism, advocated by Marsilius of Padua in the 14th century, taught that a general council represents the whole church, not merely an assembly of autonomous bishops. In this vein the Council of Constance of 1414-18 decreed that "this synod holds its power directly from Christ; all persons, of whatever rank or dignity, even a pope, are bound to obey it in matters relating to faith and to the end of the schism as well as to the reform of the Church in its head and in its members."

Although derived from sound principles of canon law, the conciliarism represented at Constance had a much longer and richer life in secular political theory than in the church. For various reasons the church needed a strong executive branch-so strong, in fact, that it eventually absorbed the legislative and judicial branches within itself.

Conciliarism was eventually eclipsed by ultramontanism, the tendency of local Catholic officials to look "over the mountains" (the Alps) to Rome and the papacy for direction on a variety of matters. Increasingly plagued in the late Renaissance and early modern period by new and virulent forms of heresy, the church responded to the Protestant dissenters of the 16th century in much the same way as Irenaeus and other monarchical bishops had responded to the heretics of the second century: by centralizing authority and consolidating power at the top.

Renaissance men
The Renaissance and Reformation popes were in no mood to dialogue with the likes of Martin Luther, and they responded poorly to his invitation to reconsider the whole papacy thing altogether. Fidelity to the apostolic church, Luther and other reformers suggested, meant a royal priesthood of all believers, with ministers of word and sacrament serving at the behest of the local congregation. The hierarchical priesthood-men set apart by a special mark of grace on their soul-was not warranted by the New Testament and therefore not warranted at all.

For the Roman Catholic bishops at the Council of Trent (1545-63), however, reform meant something very different: a stronger ordained priesthood; a reformed and standardized seminary system; a pope defined as "universal bishop," with clear-cut authority over a council of bishops; and the centralization of all significant power in the Vatican.

Thus Catholicism after Trent moved ever further away from democracy and even from clerocracy. To many in the church, this policy seemed to be a prudent measure in reaction to the rise of nationalism, the secular rationalism of the Enlightenment, and the democracy-loving, church-hating liberalism of the 19th century. Perhaps the council fathers at Trent had been farsighted to build a fortress around the church and strengthen the power of the commander-under-siege.

The first ecumenical council in 300 years, Vatican I (1869-70), added an exclamation mark with its declaration of papal infallibility. It is difficult to find any room for conciliar democracy, much less popular democracy, in the wording of its dogmatic constitution: "The primacy of jurisdiction over the whole Church was immediately and directly promised to and conferred upon the blessed apostle Peter by Christ the Lord." The power of primacy, inherited by "whoever succeeds Peter in this Chair, according to the institution of Christ Himself," is full and supreme over the whole church, Vatican I proclaimed, not only in matters of faith and morals but also in matters that pertain to the discipline and government of the church throughout the world.

By the 19th century the popes had already accrued the power to name bishops. In 1918 the Code of Canon Law merely made it official by granting the right of episcopal nomination exclusively to the pope-without any essential participation of the other Catholic bishops, much less of the lower clergy or laity.

In equal measure Vatican II pursued French ressourcement (selective recovery of the past), Italian aggiornamento (updating), and American revolution (in the new teaching on religious liberty). But how did Vatican II influence the question of church governance? On the one hand, the council recovered the traditional teaching that the deposit of faith is given to the whole church and not just to the official teachers. According to Dei verbum, the council's document on divine revelation, the magisterium "is not above the word of God, but serves it by teaching only what has been handed on." As teachers, the bishops cannot isolate themselves from the church but must consult the faithful as well as the biblical scholars and theologians who spend their lives studying the Word of God.

On the other hand, the council's actual directives-and the way they were interpreted by the popes-nudged the church in the direction of collegiality, where everyone has an equal voice. The introduction of parish councils, presbyterial conferences, episcopal synods, and other innovative measures in the wake of Vatican II were designed to increase participation in church governance at all levels. And for a time after the council, liberal Catholics, hoping for the best, tended to see collegiality as a process that would trickle down from the hierarchy to the parish level, ultimately involving the laity in a thoroughly democratic Catholic Church. They were wrong on both counts.

The collegial spirit of Vatican II, it turns out, is quite different from the conciliar spirit of the Council of Constance. Whereas conciliarism fostered a measure of independence from the pope in order to provide checks and balances on monarchical power, collegiality views the collective episcopacy as acting in union with the pope and under his direction.

In case there was any doubt that Vatican II did not significantly check the momentum of ultramontanism in the modern church, Pope Paul VI dispelled it in 1968 when he rejected the majority report of a commission of bishops, theologians, and laity he had established for the purpose of reviewing the teaching on birth control.

When the commission recommended that the church relax the ban on artificial birth control, Paul VI disbanded the commission, considered their recommendations, and then did just the opposite. His subsequent encyclical, Humanae vitae, reinforced the ban, with the pope claiming that he could not allow the commission to reverse the tradition of the church.

Public opinion seemed to turn against the pope, who did not issue another major encyclical during the remaining ten years of his pontificate. Many U.S. Catholics merely ignored the encyclical and voted with their practice similar to American Protestants, who had neither a traditional ban against artificial birth control nor a pope to defend it.

A consensus please
An important line was crossed in the controversy over Humanae vitae: the Catholic laity, and significant voices within the clergy, began to question any expression of authority exercised in seeming defiance of the consensus of the faithful.

"Pope Pius XII once spoke of the place of public opinion in the Church," the American Jesuit Father John McKenzie noted. "Whatever he may have meant, we have not yet found a way to make public opinion in the church meaningful. Public opinion in the church, if it is limited to enthusiastic approval of all hierarchical and pastoral decisions, has as much meaning as an election in Russia. Public opinion is meaningful only when it reviews and, when necessary, criticizes the decisions of authority."

During the long pontificate of John Paul II, the ground has continued to shift toward Vatican restrictions on collegial practice of any kind. In the spring of 1995, 40 U.S. bishops became so frustrated with the Vatican's failure to consult with them on major pastoral decisions that they took the unusual step of publicly endorsing a document of protest. "One cannot speak of our structure and process without talking about the need to take more fully into account the sensus fidelium [the mind of the faithful]," the bishops said. Important official documents, such as the "Teaching Ministry of the Diocesan Bishop" and the English translation of the Universal Catechism, were issued, the bishops complained, "without any prior discussion and consultation with our conference." As a result, pastoral authority "was taken completely out of our hands." Thirty years after the close of Vatican II, Milwaukee Archbishop Rembert G. Weakland, O.S.B. found it necessary to call for "more effective structures of dialogue with Rome." For proponents of authentic collegiality, not to speak of democracy-embracing conciliarism, these are troubling days indeed. Thirty years after Vatican II, McKenzie's words, written in 1966, still ring true: We must under present forms await the decision of authority for any modification in the structure. The great change initiated by John XXIII is that he invited public discussion of such problems . . . [but] real change means that authority in the Church recognizes the power and authority which belong to the faithful by the constitution of the Church, not by pontifical largesse.

Glossary of terms

Cathedra: a bishop's official throne

Cathedral: as in cathedral chapter, representing the chair of authority, i.e. the bishop

Clerocracy: government of the church by the clergy; the election of priests by priests

Collegiality: shared decision making in matters of church governance; refers primarily to the bishops' collaboration with the pope, but applies, as a model, to diocesan and parish levels, as well

Conciliarism: style of church government in which a council of bishops fosters a measure of independence from the pope to provide checks and balances on monarchical power

Ecclesia: a gathering or assembly of the faithful, i.e. the church

Ecclesiastical: of, or relating to, the church

Episcopacy: office of bishop

Hierocracy: rule or government by a holy caste system or hierarchy of priests

Magisterium: the teaching authority of the church, i.e. the pope and bishops together in union with the pope

Presbyter: in the early Christian Church, precursors to modern priests, who centered their ministry on preaching the word rather than celebrating the sacraments

Synod: an ecclesiastical governing or advisory council

Ultramontanism: a movement that favors greater or absolute supremacy of papal authority over national or diocesan


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