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Church History Forum: The Monarchial Church?

by Catherine Frakas 11 Dec 2001

The Monarchial Church? QUESTION from Aaron Lim September 12, 2001 This is a reply to the previous posting I sent regarding about the Balance of power in the Vatican. Praises and many thanks for clarifying for me the actual nature of infallibility. Sorry to say this but, I'm still a little confused here. What do you mean by the infallibility of the Pope's magisterium and the church's ordinary magisterium? Why do we have to call it a magisterium? Now back to what you mentioned at the last bit of your previous answer. You mentioned that you'd like to go on about the monarchial nature of the Church (or the Pope?). Yes, indeed. If you'd be generous & kind enough, I'd like you to explain a little more on the monarchial nature of the Church [is it pertinent to say authocratical nature?] What makes the Church so monarchial? How has this nature affected the church in the past and what would the correct perception of normal catholics at grass root level be towards the Holy See and the Pope in this somewhat sensitive issue? Thanks and God bless.
ANSWER by Q & A Staff on September 17, 2001 Dear Aaron,
By ordinary magisterium of the Church I mean the teaching authority of the Episcopal College, whether in an ecumenical council or dispersed throughout the world, when they teach with a moral consensus (in union with the Pope), a doctrine on faith or morals. This is the normal source of infallible teaching, the Pope's infallibility being qn extraordinary magisterium. The term magisterium simply means teaching authority.
I hope this clears up the first part of your question. Now I will turn to the second part, the question of the monarchial nature of the Church's authority.
I think it would be helpful to say what monarchial authority is NOT. First, monarchial authority is not democracy. When Jesus came He did not speak about the democracy of God but rather of the Kingdom of God. In this Kingdom Christ is the King. Read through the New Testament and see how often the idea of the Kingdom of God is presented.
Also note that monarchial authority does not mean simply constitutional monarchy. This is the type of monarchy which obtains in countries such as Spain; the King is a constitutional Monarch, as head of state, but he does not rule with supreme authority in the sense the Scriptures employ.
Because the Catholic Church is the Kingdom of Christ on earth(since it's head is Christ the King), then the society which is the Church is in a very true sense a monarchy. You are correct in your question in suggesting that this idea is hard for people in the West, who have a democratic and even anti-monarchial outlook, to grasp in its fullness. However it must be borne in mind always that Christ, in his kingly role, set up the Church which is then His kingdom, NOT His democracy. It cannot then be run as a democracy, however much the Western mindset would like to have it.
On the subject of the Pope, it should be understood that the Pope is the Vicar of Christ on Earth . As such he holds the position of ruling on earth until Christ returns in glory.
If you do not have it already, I recommend you buy a copy of Stephen K. Ray's Upon This Rock (available from explores in detail this idea of St. Peter being appointed by Jesus the vicar, or prime minister, in Christ's absence.
The giving of the keys was an important symbol used by Christ in Matt. 16:19 as this was exactly the procedure used by a monarch handing authority to a deputy. We see the premier example of this in Isaiah 22:22 in relation to Eliakim: And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.
This example is the foundation to understanding what happens in Matthew 16:13-19, especially verse 19: I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
This is when Jesus gives the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven to Peter. So we see that Peter is given the role already established in the Old Testament of deputy in the place of the King. Throughout the New Testament there are many indications of Peter's primacy, for example his decision to call for a replacement for Judas (Acts 4), his ruling at the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15), his name being mentioned more than any other apostle, his name being listed first in the lists, his being commanded to feed My sheep in John 21, and of course the all-important passage in Matthew 16:16-19.
But there is more to be said regarding the monarchial authority of the Pope. I have just spoken a little about St. Peter and the primacy given to him, but it must be remembered also that Christ established this primacy as something to continue through time, i.e it was not to end with the death of Peter. We see proof of this in the context, again, of the Old Testament model where the death of one deputy for the king does not mean the office of deputy dies out. And so with the New Testament. Further, there is abundant proof from writers such as St. Irenaeus and St. Augustine, among others, that the primacy of the Bishop of Rome existed from the very earliest days. And not only do we have Scriptural and historical evidence, but the See of Rome is the only See which has claimed the primacy of Peter. Since no other See makes this claim, this stands as further proof, if proof be needed, that the Bishop of Rome is the sole Vicar of Christ on earth.
(As an aside, this understanding of the monarchial nature of the Church serves as a useful apologetic against Mormon claims. Mormons do not view their church as the kingdom of God because their head is titled a President. A kingdom doesn't have a president. Has anyone ever heard of the President of England?)
So to conclude, this sums up the basis for the primacy of the Roman pontiff, and hence of the monanrcy of the Church. The Church, remember also, is not simply monarchial in authority, but every aspect of it's existence is bound up with the idea that it is the Kingdom of God on earth, and is therefore, in a very real sense, a true monarchial society.
Thanks Aaron.
God bless, Sean.
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