What Romanist Canon Law Claims For The Papacy

He that knowledgeth not himself to be under the bishop of Rome, and that the bishop of Rome is ordained by God to have primacy over all the world, is an heretic, and cannot be saved, nor is not of the flock of Christ.

All the decrees of the bishop of Rome ought to be kept perpetually of every man, without any repugnance, as God’s word spoken by the mouth of Peter; and whosoever doth not receive them, neither availeth them the catholic faith, nor the four evangelists, but they blaspheme the Holy Ghost, and shall have no forgiveness.

All kings, bishops, and noblemen, that believe or suffer the bishop of Rome’s decrees in any thing to be violate, be accursed, and for ever culpable before God, as transgressors of the catholic faith.

The bishop of Rome hath authority to judge all men, and specially to discern the articles of the faith, and that without any council, and may assoil them that the council hath damned; but no man hath authority to judge him, nor to meddle with any thing that he hath judged, neither emperor, king, people, nor the clergy: and it is not lawful for any man to dispute of his power.

The bishop of Rome may excommunicate emperors and princes, depose them from their states, and assoil their subjects from their oath and obedience to them, and so constrain them to rebellion.

The bishop of Rome may be judged of none but of God only; for although he neither regard his own salvation, nor no man’s else, but draw down with himself innumerable people by heaps unto hell; yet may no mortal man in this world presume to reprehend him : forsomuch as he is called God, he may be judged of no man; for God may be judged of no man.

The bishop of Rome may open and shut heaven unto men.
He that maketh a lye to the bishop of Rome committeth sacrilege.

The bishop of Rome is judge in temporal things, and hath two swords, spiritual and temporal.

The bishop of Rome may give authority to arrest men, and imprison them in manacles and fetters.

All manner of causes, whatsoever they be, spiritual or temporal, ought to be determined and judged by the clergy.

And the bishop of Rome may compel by an oath, all rulers and other people, to observe, and cause to be observed, whatsoever the see of Rome shall ordain concerning heresy, and the fautors thereof; and who will not obey, he may deprive them of their dignities.

We obtain remission of sin, by observing of certain feasts, and certain pilgrimages in the jubilee and other prescribed times, by virtue of the bishop of Rome’s pardons.

He is no man-slayer that slayeth a man which is excommunicate.

A penitent person can have no remission of his sin, but by supplication of the priests.

Cranmer’s Collection of Extracts from Canon Law


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  1. Do you know if these excerpts are well attested? I have a very poor understanding of the development of canon law, but at that point, wasn’t some of it official and widespread while other parts were unofficial? Do you know what parts these excerpts would have come from?

    • Archbishop Cranmer was reasonably well informed on canon law. I have a 1985 English translation of The Code of Canon Law. I confess that I haven’t spent a great deal of time in it but I think Cranmer was simply producing brief quotations from Canon Law. He worked on this project, in various ways, for more than 10 years beginning in 1536.

  2. Scott — You are probably aware, when Canon Law was first compiled by Gratian in the 12th century, it was thick, thick, thick with citations from the Pseudo-Isidore Decretals. My understanding (I could be wrong) is that this basically lasted through the 1917 issue of the Code of Canon Law, which was in effect through until 1983, when JPII had the thing re-written. So the 1985 book you have would likely not contain what’s in Cranmer’s list.

    • Thanks John. I am aware of the 1917 revision but I don’t know what is or isn’t in the 1985 English translation I have. I haven’t spent any time with it.

      Thanks for the heads up.

  3. Hi all,

    Scott linked this off my blog where I wrote this qualifier:

    As far as I know, these have never been repudiated by the Vatican… Question: if these “infallible proclamations” are no longer operative, i.e. they are fallible, then how don’t these edicts undermine Rome’s apostolic succession in that they undermine the doctrine of papal infallibility? And since the true ground of the church (in Rome’s view) is the succession of the infallible seat of Peter, how doesn’t this undermine the claim that Rome is the one true church?

    It seems to me that these extracts (whether currently in effect or not) are problematic to the claim of papal infallibility and thus Rome’s claims regarding herself. Something is an infallible decree at one moment then at the next it isn’t. Hmm…

    • I don’t think Rome has ever made any claim of infallibility regarding cannon law. The infallibility applies only to ex cathedra statements by the pope. Don’t get me wrong, there are still plenty of problems with those statements, but I don’t think your argument applies to this particular list.

      • Nathaniel,

        It’s true that Rome does not claim infallibility for canon [note the spelling] law but she does claim infallibility for a wide range of authoritative proclamations and positions, which doctrines are reflected in the claims presented in Cranmer’s extracts. Canon law says:

        Can. 749 §1. By virtue of his office, the Supreme Pontiff possesses infallibility in teaching when as the supreme pastor and teacher of all the Christian faithful, who strengthens his brothers and sisters in the faith, he proclaims by definitive act that a doctrine of faith or morals is to be held.

        §2. The college of bishops also possesses infallibility in teaching when the bishops gathered together in an ecumenical council exercise the magisterium as teachers and judges of faith and morals who declare for the universal Church that a doctrine of faith or morals is to be held definitively; or when dispersed throughout the world but preserving the bond of communion among themselves and with the successor of Peter and teaching authentically together with the Roman Pontiff matters of faith or morals, they agree that a particular proposition is to be held definitively.

        §3. No doctrine is understood as defined infallibly unless this is manifestly evident.

        Can. 750 §1. A person must believe with divine and Catholic faith all those things contained in the word of God, written or handed on, that is, in the one deposit of faith entrusted to the Church, and at the same time proposed as divinely revealed either by the solemn magisterium of the Church or by its ordinary and universal magisterium which is manifested by the common adherence of the Christian faithful under the leadership of the sacred magisterium; therefore all are bound to avoid any doctrines whatsoever contrary to them.

        §2. Each and every thing which is proposed definitively by the magisterium of the Church concerning the doctrine of faith and morals, that is, each and every thing which is required to safeguard reverently and to expound faithfully the same deposit of faith, is also to be firm-ly embraced and retained; therefore, one who rejects those propositions which are to be held definitively is opposed to the doctrine of the Catholic Church.

        In its 1986 letter to Fr. Charles Curran, a Roman priest who dissented from Rome’s teaching on contraception, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith declared:

        First of all, one must remember the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, which clearly does not confine the infallible Magisterium purely to matters of faith nor to solemn definitions. Lumen Gentium, No. 25 states: “When, however, they (the bishops) even though spread throughout the world, but still maintaining the bond of communion between themselves and with the successor of Peter, and authentically teaching on matters of faith or morals, are in agreement that a particular position ought to be held as definitive, then they are teaching the doctrine of Christ in an infallible manner.” Besides this, the church does not build its life upon its infallible Magisterium alone but on the teaching of its authentic, ordinary Magisterium as well.

        In light of these considerations, it is clear that you have not taken into adequate account, for example, that the church’s position on the indissolubility of sacramental and consummated marriage, which you claim ought to be changed, was in fact defined at the Council of Trent and so belongs to the patrimony of the faith. You likewise do not give sufficient weight to the teaching of the Second Vatican Council when in full continuity with the tradition of the church it condemned abortion, calling it an “unspeakable crime.” In any case, the faithful must accept not only the infallible Magisterium. They are to give the religious submission of intellect and will to the teaching which the supreme pontiff or the college of bishops enunciate on faith or morals when they exercise the authentic Magisterium, even if they do not intend to proclaim it with a definitive act. This you have continued to refuse to do.

        Here is Vatican I on infallibility:


        The Roman catechism says:

        891 “The Roman Pontiff, head of the college of bishops, enjoys this infallibility in virtue of his office, when, as supreme pastor and teacher of all the faithful – who confirms his brethren in the faith he proclaims by a definitive act a doctrine pertaining to faith or morals. . . . The infallibility promised to the Church is also present in the body of bishops when, together with Peter’s successor, they exercise the supreme Magisterium,” above all in an Ecumenical Council.418 When the Church through its supreme Magisterium proposes a doctrine “for belief as being divinely revealed,”419 and as the teaching of Christ, the definitions “must be adhered to with the obedience of faith.”420 This infallibility extends as far as the deposit of divine Revelation itself.421

        2034 The Roman Pontiff and the bishops are “authentic teachers, that is, teachers endowed with the authority of Christ, who preach the faith to the people entrusted to them, the faith to be believed and put into practice.”76 The ordinary and universal Magisterium of the Pope and the bishops in communion with him teach the faithful the truth to believe, the charity to practice, the beatitude to hope for.

        2035 The supreme degree of participation in the authority of Christ is ensured by the charism of infallibility. This infallibility extends as far as does the deposit of divine Revelation; it also extends to all those elements of doctrine, including morals, without which the saving truths of the faith cannot be preserved, explained, or observed.77

        2036 The authority of the Magisterium extends also to the specific precepts of the natural law, because their observance, demanded by the Creator, is necessary for salvation. In recalling the prescriptions of the natural law, the Magisterium of the Church exercises an essential part of its prophetic office of proclaiming to men what they truly are and reminding them of what they should be before God.78

        Then there is this “General Audience” from 1993 on infallibility.

        There’s discussion of papal infallibility here on the HB:



    • Thanks for the correction. I have some Romanist friends who have made the point I made about infallibility and I will make good use of these sources next time it comes up.

  4. Nathaniel,

    I take your point and I do think you are right as to how Rome applies or defines infallibility when it comes to statements by the pope. I’ve run into this before when it comes to modern RCC apologists wanting to dodge theological bullets. That said, these statements are problematic (as you indicate) even if they don’t meet that rarified threshold as they hold today… especially when one considers the unequivocal nature of these canon laws regarding the office of the pope and his heavenly and earthly power and how medieval RC’s understood them. They are unqualified statements of the papacy asserting things that would be rejected out of hand today, but maybe not all of them.

    Any way, the idea of Rome dismissing these statements as no longer in effect doesn’t wash because it sidesteps the issue: Can the papal spring bring forth both sweet and bitter theological water?

    • Oh, I agree. These statements are more than problematic. I know a number of RCs and I don’t think a single one of them would agree with almost anything on this list. In fact, I have heard several of them flat out deny that the RCC teaches these things. Now I have to go get a modern copy of canon law to see if they are still in there.

  5. The roman claim of infallibility comes down to this: The Magisterium is always right. Whatever definition of infallibility various romanists may give to suit their purpose, that is the operational principle.
    In a way, Rome is similar in operation to Islam, in the sense that the doctrines emphasized depend on circumstance. For example (rough guesstimate) in Islam’s holy book, holy war is mentioned about 500 times, about 400 of which refer to killing anyone who is not of Islam (or won’t convert). However, in western media, proponents of Islam don’t quote those passages, they carefully choose from the other minority when defining holy war. However, in certain parts of Asia and north central Africa, they quote from the majority texts.
    Rome is good at being “seeker sensitive” (to steal a term from American evangelicalism), or speaking in cultural context. In the same way they might morph the local gods and their festivals into saints and saint days in South America, in modern America, they emphasize things that are attractive to a quasi evangelical audience. If Rome’s principle doctrine is the infallibility of the Magisterium, which precedents from canon law would they choose to emphasize if they had the power to enforce them? I’d suggest that the answers to that can be found in history.

  6. Nathaniel,

    The Code of Canon Law is online:


    In its 1979 condemnation of Hans Küng, for daring to point out the obvious, that the Roman magisterium has erred, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith declared:

    This fact is particularly evident in the matter of the opinion which at least puts in doubt the dogma of infallibility in the Church or reduces it to a certain fundamental indefectibility of the Church in truth, with the possibility of error in doctrinal statements which the Magisterium of the Church teaches must be held definitively. On this point Hans Küng has in no way sought to conform to the doctrine of the Magisterium. Instead he has recently proposed his view again more explicitly (namely, in his writings, Kirche-Gehalten in der Wahrheit?, Benziger Varlag, 1979, and Zum Geleit, an introduction to the work of A.B. Hasler titled Wie der Papst Unfehlbar Wurde, Piper Verlag, 1979), even though this sacred congregation had affirmed that such an opinion contradicts the doctrine defined by Vatican Council I and confirmed by Vatican Council II. Moreover, the consequences of this opinion, especially a contempt for the Magisterium of the Church, may be found in other works published by him, undoubtedly with serious harm to some essential points of Catholic faith (e.g., those teachings which pertain to the consubstantiality of Christ with his Father, and to the Blessed Virgin Mary), since the meaning ascribed to these doctrines is different from that which the church has understood and now understands.

    So Rome asserts that the magisterium has never erred. If, however, the church has contradicted herself (via conciliar canons/decrees or declarations from the congregation for the doctrine of the faith etc or papal bulls) then she is not infallible. She has contradicted herself, ergo she is not infallible. That’s why Küng wrote what he did. He was being honest.

    The emperor has no clothes.

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