Auctoritas vs Potestas – Council of Hippo 393

Canon 5:

Ut propter causas ecclesiasticas, quae ad perniciem plebium saepe ueterescunt, singulis quibusque annis concilium conuocetur, ad quod omnes prouinciae quae primas sedes habent de conciliis suis ternos legatos mittant, ut minus inuidiosi minusque hospitibus sumptuosi conuentus plena possit auctorias esse. De Tripolo uero propter inopiam episcoporum, unus episcopus ueniat.

This canon states that the general council of Africa, commonly called “Plenary” councils, are empowered to decide cases by virtue of its ‘full authority’ (plena auctoritas). For those who wish to say that auctoritas has a purely moral authority while potestas, in contrast, carried binding authority , will have to permit themselves to be corrected by this canon. For who is going to say that the African councils said they would resolve their cases by less-than-binding decrees?

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Citations from St. Cyril of Alexandria, St. Gregory of Nyssa, and 6th century Greek Monks

“In an instrumental sense, Peter is ‘the rock’ or ‘rock’: grafted by the power of God onto the divine Rock, in order to become the first stone of Christ’s edifice. How did Simon (Peter) become ‘rock’? By confessing Jesus as Messiah and Son of the Living God.” (His Broken Body: Understanding and Healing the Schism between the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches, Fr. Laurent A. Cleenerwerk, page 262)

“We may conclude that the early church Fathers and Christian writers recognized Peter’s position of honor and preeminence in the New Testament period. He was the spokesman for the group of the twelve, the leader, the shepherd, and the martyr. Their interpretations of Jesus’ promise to Peter — ‘You are Peter , and on this Petra I will build My Church” — converge with those of modern exegetes: the rock is Peter. But they also interpreted the rock as Peter’s confession. The Church is built on Peter, or the Church is built upon the rock, which is Peter’s confession. We cannot find two distinct groups of exegetes, one of whom states that the ‘rock is Peter’, while the other concludes that ‘the rock is Peter’s confession’. In the writings of any given author, one can often find both interpretations simultaneously” (Primacy of Peter edited by Fr John Meyendorff, page 65)

“Not undeservedly, therefore, was he pronounced blessed by the Lord, and derived from the original Rock that solidity which belonged both to his virtue and to his name, who through revelation from the Father confessed the selfsame to be both the Son of God and the Christ” (Tome of St. Leo to Chalcedon 451)

“Therefore the Holy Church of God, the mother of your most Christian power, should be delivered and liberated with all your might (through the help of God) from the errors of such teachers, and the evangelical and apostolic uprightness of the orthodox faith, which has been established upon the firm rock of this Church of blessed Peter, the Prince of the Apostles, which by his grace and guardianship remains free from all error” (Letter of Pope St. Agatho to Constantinople 681)

“Your most sweet Holiness has spoken much in your letter to me about the chair of Saint Peter, Prince of the apostles, saying that he himself now sits on it in the persons of his successors” (St. Gregory the Great, VII – 40)

424 Moved by the grace of the Holy Spirit and drawn by the Father, we believe in Jesus and confess: ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’8 On the rock of this faith confessed by St. Peter, Christ built his Church. (Catechism of the Catholic Church )

“Therefore whoever succeeds to the chair of Peter obtains by the institution of Christ himself, the primacy of Peter over the whole Church. So what the truth has ordained stands firm, and blessed Peter perseveres in the rock-like strength he was granted, and does not abandon that guidance of the Church which he once received ” (Council of Vatican 1870)

Repentance Will Not Save Us….


In the beginning, God had said to Adam that if he had transgressed the commandment, he would “surely die” (Gen 3). How then do we think that if we want to be saved, all we need to do is repent and reform our lives? As St. Athanasius tells us, God cannot go back on the sentence of His word, and if God were to reverse the course of death, of which He said was certain for the transgressor, He would prove to be a liar (Chapter 7, On the Incarnation)

Thus, repentance, says St. Athanasius, will not suffice to meet the requirement for man’s salvation, because the process of corruption, which was the sure penalty of death which Adam had earned by his sin, cannot be “cleaned up” by our moral reformation. He writes:

But repentance would, firstly, fail to guard the just claim of God. For He would still be none the more true, if men did not remain in the grasp of death; nor, secondly, does repentance call men back from what is their nature— it merely stays them from acts of sin. Now, if there were merely a misdemeanour in question, and not a consequent corruption, repentance were well enough.” (Chapter 7)

So you see that something more ontological is at stake here which personal moral reform does not resolve. The sentence of death is irreversible because of the unchangeableness of God. No, Repentance will not save us….

Death must run its course.
But how then do we find life? Are we doomed forever?
Nothing less than death finding its full termination point by an event which makes it turn in on itself, and which totally fulfills its last act, can put it to stop. This, of course, is what occurs when the eternal Son of God, coming to share in our nature as man, takes on death upon Himself. By having our nature, he takes His position as One, like us, destined to die. Death, it might seem, would have its way with Jesus Christ.
But because He was sinless, and because He was the eternal God for whom death nor sin have any possession, death not only finds its end in His death, but since He is “eternal life itself”, He could not be held there, but broke out of the bonds of death and re-constituted human nature in the life of the resurrection. What a marvel! God dips into our own corruption via the medium of human nature, only to break it apart from the inside, so as to make human nature… united to the eternal life of God!

Only by sharing in His death and resurrection, then, can man be saved. Repentance is no match for this awe inspiring intervention of God on our behalf. Maintaining the truth of God, He also fulfills the will of God to offer redemption from the curse which man incurred through sin, out of His eternal love. This is why in Catholic theology, so much emphasis is put on the concept of “partaking of Christ” or being “conformed to Christ”. It is because our release from death can only come by linking up with Him who destroys death in Himself and re-created humanity in the perfect glory of God. Indeed, as St. Paul says, circumcision nor un-circumcision, and we can add, nor repentance or impenitence, avails anything – only a new creation. St. Paul calls it the “washing of regeneration” (Tit 3:4-7), and it is the effect of baptism.

Now , to be clear, we must repent. In fact, without repenting, we cannot enjoy the life which is supplied in Christ’s resurrection, for by returning to a sinful lifestyle, we can withdrawal ourselves from the Divine. But let us not mistake what really grounds our redemption – some thing which only God can do. The plight our race has entered “in Adam” (Rom 5:12-19) is far too deep a problem for mere moral reformation to fix. Our personal repentance, holiness, and interior purity, as beautiful and pleasing to God as it is, is still no match for what St. Ignatius said was the medicine of immortality, the Body of our Eternal Lord and Savior, crucified and alive again, and always whose eternal living is the source of our life.