For some years now, a theory has been circulating, and even attracting more attention and followers, that Pope Emeritus Benedict’s resignation was invalid. Consequently, proponents say, Pope Benedict remains the pope, and Pope Francis is not really the pope.
Various proposals have been put forward to argue for the invalidity of Pope Benedict’s resignation, but one of the more plausible ones, because it appeals to publicly recognized facts and not just speculations, relates to the language that Pope Benedict himself used in his announcement of Feb. 10, 2013.
The argument is this. Pope Benedict expressly resigned from the ministerium of the papacy. Canon 332 Sec. 2, however, concerns the resignation of a pope from the munus of the papacy. Therefore, Pope Benedict did not validly resign the papacy in accordance with the canon, owing to a difference of the terms used.
Indeed, the proponents of this theory say that ministerium means active ministry whereas munus means the office itself. Nullity of the resignation, then, arises because Pope Benedict did not resign, or did not intend to resign, the munus.
This argument is not sound. Recall that an argument is valid if the conclusion actually follows from the premises and sound if the premises are actually true. I contend that there is at least one faulty premise.
In the first place, ministerium and munus are indeed synonymous, and the distinction attempted is not based on a correct interpretation of the words.
A Latin Dictionary by Lewis and Short, which is a standard, well-respected dictionary of long standing, states simply that ministerium and munus are synonyms. See the entry for munus.
But to indulge the proposed argument, we can look into this more diligently. Here is a remarkable resource for doing so: A Guide to Dictionaries of Latin Synonyms – How to Tell the Difference.
- Robert Douthat, p. 96. “Munus” (qua debt or duty) “as a performance or function.” (emphasis added)
- Ferdinand Schultz (art. 280): “Munus (and in the plural, the seldom used munia) denotes the exercise of an obligation that is public and political” (emphasis added). Whereas officium arises more from the internal voice of conscience. Döderlein, the most comprehensive expert in this field, says likewise, v. 5, p. 352, art. 345.
Thus, the purported distinction between munus and ministerium is false, and the argument is not sound. But let us press further and indulge the supposition that Pope Benedict intended a distinction. Let us leave aside how proponents of the theory could claim to know Benedict’s intentions with greater certainty than the rest of us.
We consider, then, a conceptual distinction between an officeholder and an administrator. Often, the officeholder is the administrator: such as a president, general, bishop, or pastor. But sometimes the administrator is not the officeholder: e.g. an acting president, or one pro tempore, or an administrator of a diocese without a bishop at present.
A key point here, and the pun is very much intended: The Supreme Pontiff, in virtue of his office, has a right to act pursuant to that office.
Can. 331 (Latin) — Ecclesiae Romanae Episcopus, in quo permanet munus a Domino singulariter Petro, primo Apostolorum, concessum et successoribus eius transmittendum, Collegii Episcoporum est caput, Vicarius Christi atque universae Ecclesiae his in terris Pastor; qui ideo vi muneris sui suprema, plena, immediata et universali in Ecclesia gaudet ordinaria potestate, quam semper libere exercere valet (emphasis added).
Can. 331 (English) — The bishop of the Roman Church, in whom continues the office given by the Lord uniquely to Peter, the first of the Apostles, and to be transmitted to his successors, is the head of the college of bishops, the Vicar of Christ, and the pastor of the universal Church on earth. By virtue of his office he possesses supreme, full, immediate, and universal ordinary power in the Church, which he is always able to exercise freely (emphasis added).
If a pope renounces the administration of his office, he necessarily renounces the office itself, because the office per se (vi muneris) entails the right to act.
Thus, Pope Benedict’s renunciation of his administration entails renunciation of the papal office. That is why he goes on to express the results, which he is clearly cognizant of: the Chair of St. Peter will be vacant, and a new pope must be elected.
Finally, it is worth looking more closely at the conditions for a pope to relinquish the papal office.
Can. 332 Sec. 2 (Latin) — Si contingat ut Romanus Pontifex muneri suo renuntiet, ad validitatem requiritur ut renuntiatio libere fiat et rite manifestetur, non vero ut a quopiam acceptetur.
Can. 332 Sec. 2 (English) — If it happens that the Roman Pontiff resigns his office, it is required for validity that the resignation is made freely and properly manifested but not that it is accepted by anyone.
Interestingly, it does not have to be accepted by even the Roman College of Cardinals.
What is important to note here is that what is necessary is proper manifestation, not necessarily a set form of expression. There is not a set text, for example, which the Pope must recite publicly, with his right hand on the Holy Gospels, in order for the renunciation to be valid. There is no requirement for him to use any specific word, whether munus, ministerium, officium, papatus, or any other.
Thus, this whole discussion ad nauseam about munus and ministerium is actually a red herring.
The resignation has indeed been made manifest. The fact speaks for itself. Res ipsa loquitur. With Pope Emeritus Benedict standing by, Pope Francis has named bishops and cardinals, canonized saints, declared Doctors of the Church, modified canon law, and significantly modified at least one decree by Pope Benedict himself (Summorum Pontificum), which can be done only by the Supreme Pontiff.
For our part, then, we must fulfill the munus of filial piety that God has given us.
Please do not feed the trolls.
BRIGGS: Fr Rickert also has two other earlier articles on this subject: Countering The Claim That Francis Is An Antipope, and Antipope Claims: Substantial Error. Recently, Ed Feser answered the hypothetical consequence if the munus, ministerium distinction were real, and finds this only adds additional complications.
BRIGGS: Even if some of us still disagree about this, fighting or falling out among ourselves in this age is insane. We have more than enough enemies; we don’t need to do their work for them.
Buy my new book and learn to argue against the regime: Everything You Believe Is Wrong.