Pope Benedict XVI’s “Resignation” in Light of the 1917 Code of Canon Law

Ever since I went public regarding my position that Benedict XVI is the true pope, a few people have complained that my use of the 1983 Code of Canon Law should be of concern because it weakens my argument in that the 1983 Code is the fruit of Vatican II.  What these people have failed to fully comprehend is that the 1983 Code of Canon Law is the current legislation of the Catholic Church despite the fact that it does contain some bad canons.  It was promulgated by Pope John Paul II, who they and I accept was a true pope, and therefore had the right to promulgate a new code.  It is the legislation that was in effect when Pope Benedict XVI allegedly resigned from the papacy.  Therefore, it only makes sense that the validity of the “resignation” be tested against the 1983 Code.  Nevertheless, I have decided to take on the challenge to test the validity of the “resignation” against the 1917 Code of Canon Law.

Since I don’t have a full English version of the 1917 Code, I will rely on “A Commentary on the New Code of Canon Law” by Dom Charles Augustine, O.S.B., professor of Canon Law.  In Volume II (this is the only volume I will use throughout this article) of his work, Dom Charles Augustine explains those canons regarding the clergy and the hierarchy.  The first canon we will look at is Canon 145, which deals with the definition of “ecclesiastical office”:

Can. 145 – §1. Officium ecclesiasticum lato sensu est quodlibet munus quod in spiritualem finem legitime exercetur; stricto autem sensu est munus ordinatione sive divina sive ecclesiastica stabiliter constitutum, ad normam sacrorum canonum conferendum, aliquam saltem secumferens participationem ecclesiasticae potestatis sive ordinis sive iurisdictionis.

§2. In iure officium ecclesiasticum accipitur stricto sensu, nisi aliud ex contextu sermonis appareat.[1]

Can. 145 – §1. Ecclesiastical office in the wide sense is any responsibility exercised legitimately for a spiritual end; in the strict sense, however, it is a divinely or ecclesiastically ordered responsibility, constituted in a stable manner, conferred according to the norms of the sacred canons, entailing at least some participation in ecclesiastical power, whether of orders or of jurisdiction.

§2. In law, ecclesiastical office is taken in the strict sense, unless it appears otherwise from the context of the words.[2]

As with the 1983 Code, the 1917 Code contains the term “munus” in the very definition of “officium ecclesiasticum” (ecclesiastical office).[3]

Dom Charles Augustine, on page 102, states the following:

“An ecclesiastical office must convey ecclesiastical power.”

Remember that a power belongs to an office, cannot be separated from that office, and is exercised in virtue of that office.  The power of an office (and its corresponding exercise), however, can be delegated to another.  Nevertheless, he who occupies that office rightly possesses that power and may therefore withdraw it from the delegate.

On page 170, which begins “Title V:  Ordinary and Delegated Power”, Dom Charles Augustine states the following regarding Canon 196:

“…..the natural foundation and end of every office (is) the power of jurisdiction.”

In regards to Canon 199, Dom Charles Augustine states on page 175 (italics in original):

“The Pope may delegate his power of jurisdiction wholly or partially to another, except in certain matters.”

The pope would not, for example, be able to delegate his power of jurisdiction to define a matter of Faith or Morals.

On page 207, which begins “Title VII:  The Supreme Power”, and the subsequent pages, Dom Charles Augustine explains Canons 218 to 221, which directly concern the Roman Pontiff.  Here are some of the points that he makes (italics in original; bold mine):

“The Roman Pontiff, lawfully elected, obtains by divine right full power of supreme jurisdiction at the moment when he accepts office…..

“If the Roman Pontiff resigns his office, the resignation is valid without its acceptance by the cardinals or any one else…..

“It (the pope’s jurisdiction) is the plentitude of power, because it comprises all and every power needed for the attainment of the end for which the Church was founded.  Therefore (a) all matters of faith and morals are subject to this power by reason of the infallible magisterium; (b) the whole ecclesiastical administration belongs to it in virtue of the sacred ministerium; (c) the whole government of the Church may be claimed by the Pope by reason of the full and undivided imperium…..

“This power (of jurisdiction)…..is imparted through and with the office of the successor of St. Peter and rests with him as long as he holds that office, from the moment he accepts the lawfully performed election until his death or resignation.”

The key points, then, related to Pope Benedict XVI’s alleged resignation are:

1.  An ecclesiastical office is a munus.
2.  An ecclesiastical office conveys the power of jurisdiction.
3.  The power of jurisdiction (and its corresponding exercise) may be delegated in whole or part, but the right to that power always remains with an office.
4.  The jurisdictional power of the pope contains that which is needed for the attainment of the end for which the Church was founded, namely the glory of God and the salvation of souls.
6.  The jurisdictional power of the pope gives him the right to exercise the sacred ministerium[4] for the attainment of the end for which the Church was founded.
7.  When a pope resigns, it is his office that he must resign.  Otherwise, the resignation does not take place.
8.  Pope Benedict XVI renounced his ministerium and not his munus.  Therefore, he remains pope.
9.  In effect, Pope Benedict XVI delegated that part of his power of jurisdiction that permits the delegate to exercise the sacred ministerium.

In conclusion, the 1983 Code of Canon Law is consonant with the 1917 Code of Canon Law in regards to an ecclesiastical office, its power of jurisdiction, the exercise of that jurisdiction (which includes the sacred ministerium), and papal resignation.  Therefore, the use of either Code shows that Benedict XVI’s renunciation of the ministerium does not renounce the office; he remains pope.


[1] https://ecclesiamilitans.com/1917_Code_of_Canon_Law_Latin.pdf

[2] Peters, Edward N. The 1917 or Pio-Benedictine Code of Canon Law: In English Translation with Extensive Scholarly Apparatus. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2001.p.72

[3] Remember that the key argument of my paper was that Pope Benedict renounced his “ministerium” (ministry) and not his “munus” (office).  Since Canon 332 §2 of the 1983 Code requires the renunciation of the “munus”, Benedict XVI remains pope.

[4] The following is what Fr. E. Sylvester Berry teaches about the “Apostolic Ministry” on pages 9 and 10 of “The Church of Christ:  An Apologetic and Dogmatic Treatise” (Wipf and Stock Publishers’ Edition):

“The founder of a society need only formulate the necessary plans and authorize suitable persons to put them into execution.  Christ did this in regard to the Church, when he instituted the Apostolic ministry, sending forth the Apostles with authority to teach, govern, and sanctify, and obliged all men to submit to their threefold authority.”

So given everything that was said in this article and my previous paper, the Apostolic office conveys the power; the power is exercised via the ministry; the ministry is exercised for the sake of the glory of God and salvation of souls.  Hence, the office and ministry are distinguished, and it is only through the resignation of the office that all is relinquished.


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