Vatican II and the question of Collegiality 


October 1963


Intervention connected with the schema The Church, Chapter 2.

Archb. Marcel LEFEBVRE CSSp [1]


This third intervention  related to the question of collegi­ality, which some wanted to introduce into the Church's doctrine concerning the relative powers of the Pope and bishops. The term "college" had already been in use in the Church for many centuries, but all those who used it readily admitted that it meant a college of a particular nature.

The attempt to apply the term "collegiality" to the rela­tions which united the Pope and the bishops meant that an abstract and generic notion was being applied to a particular college. The "college" was in danger of no longer being con­sidered as a particular college having an individual at its head, a person with full power vested in himself. Instead the ten­dency would be to diminish the autonomy of this power and to make it dependent in its exercise on the other members.

It was clear that this was the aim envisaged-to set up a permanent collegiality which would force the Pope to act on­ly when surrounded by a senate sharing in his power in an habitual and permanent way. This was, in fact, to diminish the exercise of the power of the Pope.

The Church's doctrine, on the other hand, states that for the College to be qualified to act as a college with the Pope, it must be invited by the Pope himself to meet and act with him. This has, in fact, only occurred in the Councils, which have been exceptional events.

Hence the emphatic interventions which occurred, in par­ticular that of Bishop Carli.


Text of the Intervention


Venerable Brethren,

I am speaking on behalf of several Fathers, whose names I am handing to the General Secretariat.

It has seemed to us that if the text of chapter 2, nos. 16 and 17, be retained as it is at present, the pastoral intention of the Council may be placed in grave danger. [2]

This text, in fact, claims that the members of the College of Bishops possess a right of government, either with the Sovereign Pontiff over the universal Church or with the other bishops over the various dioceses.

From a practical point of view, collegiality would exist, both through an international Senate residing in Rome and governing the universal Church with the Sovereign Pontiff, and through the national Assemblies of Bishops [i.e. Episcopal Conferences] possessing true rights and duties in all the dioceses of one particular nation.

In this way national or international Colleges would gradu­ally take the place in the Church of the personal government of a single Pastor. Several Fathers have mentioned the danger of a lessening of the power of the Sovereign Pontiff, and we are fully in agreement with them.

But we foresee another danger, even more serious, if possible: the threat of the grad­ual disappearance of the essential character of the bishops, namely that they are “true pastors, each one of whom feeds and governs his own flock, entrusted to him in accordance with a power proper to him alone, directly and fully con­tained in his Order.” The national assemblies with their com­missions would soon —and unconsciously— be feeding and governing all the flocks, so that the priests as well as the la­ity would find themselves placed between these two pastors: the bishop, whose authority would be theoretical, and the assembly with its commissions, which would, in fact, hold the exercise of that authority. We could bring forward many examples of difficulties in which priests and people, and even bishops find themselves at variance.

It was certainly Our Lord's will to found particular churches on the person of their pastor, of whom He spoke so eloquently. The universal Tradition of the Church also teaches us this, as is shown by the great beauty of the liturgy of episcopal consecration.

That is why the episcopal assemblies, based upon a moral collegiality, upon brotherly love and mutual aid, can be of great benefit to apostolic work. But if, on the contrary, they gradually take the place of the bishops because they are founded upon a legal collegiality, they can bring the greatest harm to it.

In order then to avoid transmitting to colleges the func­tions of the Sovereign Pontiff and of the bishops, we suggest another text in the place of nos. 16 and 17, and we submit it to the Conciliar Commission.


New text suggested in the place of that in Chapter 2, no. 16, page 27, of the schema “The Church”


No. 16: The Episcopal College and its Head According to the Gospel, St. Peter and the other Apostles formed a College, instituted by Our Lord Himself, insofar as they remained in communion among themselves under the authority of St. Peter. Similarly, the Roman Pontiff, Peter's Successor, and the bishops, successors of the Apostles, are united among themselves.

Holy Scripture and the Tradition of the Church teach us that only in extraordinary cases did the Apostles and their successors meet together in Councils, and act as a collegiate body, under the guidance of Peter or of the Roman Pontiffs. The Apostles, in fact, fulfilled their mission personally and transmitted their power to their successors as they themselves had received it from Our Lord.

The Holy Council, basing itself on these sacred traditions, confirms that the Roman Pontiff alone possesses in his own person a full, ordinary episcopal power over the universal Church. As to the bishops, the successors of the Apostles, as true pastors, they feed and govern their own flock entrusted to them, each bishop with a personal power, direct and com­plete, deriving from his sacred consecration.

Thus at times the bishops also, either some of them or al­together, upon a summons from or with the approval of the Roman Pontiff, meet as a true and proper College, acting with a single authority to define and rule the interests of the universal Church or of individual churches.

Such is the constant and unanimous Tradition of the Cath­olic Church and no one can call it in question. Such is the in­effable and wonderful Constitution of the Church, which has remained unchangeable up to the present day and is destined to remain so up to the end of time, in accordance with Our Lord's promises.

It is true that present circumstances make it advisable for the bishops to meet more frequently, united in the charity of Christ, in order to share in common their thoughts, desires, decisions and pastoral cares, keeping always perfect unity, however, without diminishing the power of the Roman Pon­tiff, or that of each individual bishop.


Commentary on the Session by Archbishop Lefebvre.

The result of these interventions was an important modifi­cation of the text, but it was not yet, however, completely satisfactory. The Holy Father was therefore respectfully urged to make a clear statement which would avoid any ambiguous interpretation of the text. And it was the inser­tion of the Nota explicativa that restored the traditional teaching. This note was very unwillingly accepted in Liberal circles. Henceforth it forms part of the Acts of the Council and modifies Chapter 2 of the schema The Church.


Fourth Intervention




6 November 1963



This intervention concerned the schema entitled De pasto­rali munere episcoporum in Ecclesia. This schema returned to the relations of the bishops with the Pope and again tried to introduce new formulae which would limit the freedom of the Pope in the exercise of his functions.

In the schema proposed, it was stated on page 6, no. 3, lines 16-20: "The power of the Roman Pontiff remaining un­changed as regards reserving to himself in all things the causes that he himself shall judge fit to retain, whether they come within his jurisdiction of their very nature, or to keep the unity of the Church . . . ."

The second reason mentioned here introduced a new ele­ment which changed canon 220. The latter says, in effect, "Those causes are called major which because of their im­portance revert to the Roman Pontiff alone, whether by their nature or whether by a positive law."

Thus, instead of a positive law which is none other than Canon Law, a criterion was introduced which would allow the powers that the Pope reserves to himself -"the guardian­ship of the unity of the Church"- to be contested.

Moreover, on page 7 of the schema the question arises of the choice of the bishops who could assist the Roman Congre­gations by their work. A distinctly democratic climate was in­troduced here: "Bishops of different nations, each designa­ted by his national episcopal conference, shall be nominated by the Apostolic See in the various Congregations."


Text of the Intervention


Venerable Fathers,

The introduction clearly states: "The Second Vatican Council now begins to deal with subjects which are strictly and truly pastoral." Nevertheless, these subjects cannot be studied thoroughly and honestly unless one bases one's ex­amination on definite theological principles.

Thus two statements must be made, in my opinion, about Chapter I, which deals with the relations between the bish­ops and the Sovereign Pontiff.

1. As it has been drawn up, this chapter is clearly based —­and that most excellently— on principles of divine Catholic doctrine which are certain and already defined, especially by the First Vatican Council.

Furthermore, this chapter is in very close agreement with the words of the Sovereign Pontiff in his recent addresses. Speaking of the bishops associated with him in the exercise of his functions, the Sovereign Pontiff explicitly used the phrase "in conformity with the teaching of the Church and with Canon Law." The judgment of the Sovereign Pontiff in no way postulates a new principle. Canon 230 had already declared: "The Most Reverend and Most Eminent Cardinals form the Senate of the Roman Pontiff and assist him in the government of the Church as his principal counsellors and auxiliaries."

Nevertheless, in order to safeguard in every way what are certain basic principles, two amendments seem to me to be essential:

Page 6, line 16: for the words "or to keep the unity of the Church," let the terms of Canon Law, Canon 220, be substituted, "or by positive law."

Page 7, lines 22-23: let the words "should be desig­nated by the national episcopal conference" be re-worded in order to safeguard fully the liberty of the Sovereign Pontiff in the exercise of his power.

2. As the relations between the bishops and the Sovereign Pontiff must be based upon principles which are absolutely certain, in no way can mention be made of the principle of juridical collegiality. In fact, as His Eminence Cardinal Brown pointed out, this principle of juridical collegiality cannot be proved.

If, by some miracle, this principle should be discovered in this Council, and solemnly affirmed, it would then be logical­ly necessary to assent, as one of the Fathers has almost de­clared: "The Roman Church has erred in not knowing the fundamental principle of her divine Constitution, namely, the principle of juridical collegiality. And that over many centuries."

Logically, too, it would have to be stated that the Roman Pontiffs have abused their power up to the present day, by denying to the bishops rights which are theirs by divine law. Could we not then say to the Sovereign Pontiff what some have said to him in equivalent terms: "Pay what thou owest"?

Now, this is grotesque and without the slightest founda­tion.

To conclude: if we are speaking of moral collegiality, who will deny it? Everyone admits it. But such collegiality only produces moral relations. If we are speaking of juridical col­legiality, on the other hand, then, as Bishop Carli has said so well: "It can be proved neither by Holy Scripture, nor by theology, nor by history."

It is thus more prudent not to have recourse to this princi­ple, since it is by no means certain.


The Intermediate Session (1964)



In preparation for the Third Session, meetings were held at Solesmes: around Dom Prou were gathered Bishop Moril­leau, Bishop Sigaud, and the well-known theologians, Dom Frenaud, Canon Berto (who had kindly accompanied me to Rome in the capacity of peritus), and myself.

Several important documents emerged from these meet­ings:

1. A letter to the Holy Father [June 1964] on the danger of the ambig­uous expressions often used in the wording of the Council's schemas. It remained unanswered.

2.  An important work on the schemas De Revelatione and De Ecclesia which should be in the hands of all who stu­dy the Conciliar texts.

3.  A note addressed to the Sovereign Pontiff [October 18, 1964] concerning the first three chapters of the schema Constitutionis de Ec­clesia. This very complete note on the Apostolic College and Collegiality was drawn up by Cardinal Larraona and signed by certain Cardinals and superiors of religious congregations. I most willingly added my signature to it.

It received a reply in the Pope's own hand, utterly disap­pointing and disconcerting.[…]


Document No. 2


Cardinal Arcadio María LARRAONA


1.  In this note —reserved to the Holy Father alone— mention is made of the first three chapters of the schema Constitutio­nis de Ecclesia, and in particular of chapter 3 De Constituti­one hierarchica Ecclesiae et in specie de Episcopatu.[…]

2.  Speaking in all sincerity and loyalty, the judgment we must in conscience bring to bear on chapter 3, De Constitu­tione hierarchica Ecclesia et in specie de Episcopatu, is very different.

While fully recognizing the good it contains, we cannot re­frain from expressing serious reservations on this chapter as a whole. […]

3.  In fact, after careful study, we think it our duty to say in conscience and before God, that chapter 3:

i. As far as doctrine is concerned brings us:

a. doctrines and opinions that are new;

b. doctrines and opinions which are not only uncertain, but not even probable or solidly based on probability;

c. doctrines and opinions that are often vague or insuf­ficiently clear in their terms, in their true meaning, or in their aims.

ii. With regard to the arguments put forward, chapter 3 is:

a. very weak and full of fallacy as much from the histor­ical as from the doctrinal point of view. The proof of this is that those who drew up the final version mere­ly followed the method of excluding from the Bibli­cal Commission's reply to the questions of Your Holi­ness the words indicating the lack of incontestable scriptural proof of what is put forward;

b. curiously careless of fundamental principles, even of those emanating from earlier Councils or from solemn definitions;

c. so permeated by these faults that an undoubted and readily proved partiality can clearly be seen, stem­ming from the influence of certain forceful currents that are not doctrinal in their nature, the aims and methods of which are not above reproach;

d. inaccurate, illogical, incoherent and encouraging -if it were approved- endless discussions and crises, painful aberrations and deplorable attacks on the unity, disci­pline and the government of the Church. […]

4. The principal points of the schema with which we find ourselves in disagreement or which fill us with grave reserva­tions, concern:

i. The manner of speaking of the Primacy, [3]          of its meaning and of its essential purpose;

ii. The power and personal qualities of the Apostles and how far these are handed down to the bishops;

iii. Ecumenical collegiality in the case of the Apostles and in that of the bishops, and territorial collegiality;

iv. The meaning and consequences of a possible Conciliar declaration on the sacramental nature of the episcopate, and membership of the "episcopal college" by virtue of episcopal consecration;

v. The succession of the episcopal college to the Apostolic College, in the ministries of evangelization, sanctifica­tion and even of the government of the universal Church and this of divine right;

vi. The power and hierarchy of order and those of jurisdic­tion.

In the accompanying documents we shall try to make clear at least briefly, the matters to which we are drawing atten­tion, and to put forward the pressing theological reasons involved which, not without cause, awaken our apprehen­sions.

5. In this document we do no more than stress that:

i. In our opinion, the doctrine set forth and contained in the schema -as a whole, and, in particular, in the points enumerated above- is a new doctrine which, until 1958 or rather 1962, represented only the opinions of a few theologians; even these opinions were less common and less probable. It was the contrary doctrine which even recently was common and encouraged by the Church's Magisterium.

ii. The common doctrine, accepted in the Church as sound and more probable until 1962, was at the root of con­stitutional discipline and also concerned the essential va­lidity of acts, and this as much in the sphere of the Councils, whether ecumenical, plenary or provincial, as in that of government (at all stages: pontifical, regional, provincial, missionary, etc.).

iii. The new doctrine has become neither more certain nor objectively more probable than before as a result of the disturbing campaign of pressure groups who lobbied the Council in a deplorable way and threw certain bishop­rics into confusion. Nor has it become more certain as a result of the actions of many experts who, unfaithful to their true ministry, made biased propaganda instead of objectively enlightening the bishops by acquainting them with the status quaestionis. And, finally, it has not become more probable through wide coverage of the press which, with its characteristic methods -methods made use of by the Progressives- has created an atmos­phere which makes calm discussion difficult, fettering and hampering true liberty by making those who do not show approval appear ridiculous and unpopular. In such an atmosphere, scientific argument can no longer exert its legitimate influence in any practical way and is not even given a hearing.

iv. Thus, the new doctrine is not ripe […]because of their inability in practice, to follow technical documents, because of the propaganda already alluded to, because of formularies which are inaccurate and not clear, and moreover, be­cause of the fact that the accounts themselves are not fully objective and enlightening, not to mention that they deliberately conceal certain facts)-and still less for Conciliar approval, which can only be granted when there is absolute certainty, when the Fathers are fully aware of the value of certain doctrines and their impli­cations. Thus a period of mature consideration is essen­tial on account of the gravity both of the matter under discussion and of the nature of an ecumenical Council.

6.  […] we wish to emphasize that it would be new, unheard of and exceedingly strange that a doctrine which, before the Council, was considered less common, less probable, less weighty and less well founded, should suddenly become­ particularly because of publicity and not on account of the gravity of the discussions -more probable, even certain- or truly mature to the extent of being included in a dogmatic Constitution. This would be contrary to all standard ecclesi­astical practice, as much in the sphere of infallible pontifical definitions (cf. Gasser, Conc. Vat. I), as in that of non-infalli­ble Conciliar definitions. […]

7. Finally, if we consider the gravity of the questions dealt with and solved in this schema, we must weigh their conse­quences from the hierarchical point of view. Considered thus it may well be said that the schema changes the face of the Church

i. From being monarchical, the Church becomes episco­palian and collegiate, and this by divine right and by virtue of the episcopal consecration,

ii. The Primacy is injured and emptied of its content

(a) Because, not being based on a sacrament (as the bishop's power is) people logically tend to consider all bishops as equal, by virtue of a common sacra­ment, and this leads them to believe and state that the Bishop of Rome is no more than a primus inter pares;

(b) Because the Primacy is almost solely considered in its extrinsic function, or rather, in extrinsic function of the hierarchy alone only serving to keep it united and undivided;

(c) Because in several passages of the schema […] the Pontiff is not presented as the Rock on which the whole Church of Christ, hierarchy and people, rests; he is not described as the Vicar of Christ, who must strengthen and feed his brethren; he is not presented as he who alone has the power of the keys, but he unfortunately assumes the un­attractive face of the policeman who curbs the divine right of the bishops, successors of the Apostles. One can easily imagine that this will be the main theme that will be used to claim new rights for the bishops. Moreover, the comment of many of the bishops […] when the Holy Father read the Motu Proprio Pasto­rale Munus is well known: "The Pope is restoring to us -by a kindly concession- a part of what he had robbed us of."

iii. Discipline, and with it Conciliar and Pontifical doc­trine, are injured by the confusion between the Power of Order and the Power of Jurisdiction. In short, the schema injures the system of Ecumenical Councils, of the other Councils, of Pontifical as well as provincial and diocesan government, of the administration of the missions. It injures the rules concerning the functioning of the Power of Order (always valid even if it is illicit) and of the Power of Jurisdiction (which can be invalid, even if one has the Order conferring the essential Power concerned).

Finally, all this injury is because the distinction be­tween the powers has not been respected, and because account has not been taken of what issues, surely and objectively, from the Power of Jurisdiction.

iv. The Hierarchy of Jurisdiction, as distinct from that of Order -which the text declares again and again to be of divine right- is shaken and destroyed.

In fact, if it be ad­mitted that episcopal consecration, being a sacrament of Order, brings with it not only the Powers of Order (as the ordination of the priest and deacon bestows them in its own degree), but also expressly and by divine right, all the Powers of Jurisdiction, of Magisterium and of Government, not only in the bishop's particular church, but also in the Universal Church, it is clear that the ob­jective distinction between the Power of Order and that of Jurisdiction becomes artificial -at the mercy of a whim and terribly insecure. And all this-let it be noted -while the sources, the solemn doctrinal declarations of the Council of Trent or more recent ones, the funda­mental discipline- all proclaim that these distinctions are of divine right.

The distinction between Power and Hierarchy of Or­der or of Jurisdiction is objectively shaken even if one tries to set up "bulwarks" (pretty futile, however) to save the appearances of the Primacy […] because, even if we accept the sincere good faith and the best intentions of those who proposed or accepted these "ramparts" or limitations, for many others who give a different meaning to the Primacy, considering it purely as vinculum exterioris unitatis, the logical conse­quence will be: if the divine right of the episcopate, as derived from the sacrament of Holy Orders, confers the actual and formal Power of Jurisdiction, the latter of necessity follows the norms of the episcopal Order from which it proceeds and is thus always valid in its exercise. The Primacy, on the other hand, which does not come from a sacrament, will be able at most to make the use of jurisdiction illicit.

And this will be neither the only nor the final conse­quence. We have only to think of the repercussions on the greatly desired union with our separated Eastern brethren: this would be logically thought out in accor­dance with their ideas and thus without full acceptance of the consequences of the Primacy. […]

8.  […] we venture to add an extremely important reflection of a theological and historical nature: if the doctrine proposed in the schema were true, the Church would have been living in direct opposition to divine law for centuries! Hence it would follow that, during those centuries, its supreme "infallible" organs would not have been such, since they would have been teaching and acting in opposition to divine law. The Orthodox and, in part, the Protestants, would thus have been justified in their attacks against the Primacy.

In consequence of these considerations, we think it our duty to ask the Holy Father

i. To separate from the schema De Ecclesia and other schemas based on this part of the latter, all that touches the points we have just enumerated, deferring indefinite­ly their final discussion and approval. […]

ii. That, this being done, a complete and technical revision of these matters be proceeded with, a revision which must be made entirely outside the Theological Commis­sion and its environment. This Commission has already given us its finished work: it is natural that the majority should defend it energetically, whilst the minority­ which despite its repeated efforts is not satisfied with it -is in the position of not being able henceforth to do anything. The text should then be submitted to a Con­gregation of Theologians which, composed of persons of the highest quality, objective and unrelated to the Theological Commission, would make constructive criti­cism of it.

iii. That this Congregation of Theologians, chosen and ap­pointed by the Holy Father, by his personal mandate, should reconsider the situation in two particulars:

(a) It should take from the schema all that is mature and certain, all that can now be accepted as a posi­tive result of the discussions that have taken place up to the present, and then re-draft chapter 3 in such a way that the doctrine put forward is fully and in all points in harmony with that defined in previous Councils and contained in the Magisterium. (Such a Congregation of Theologians would thus have a task identical with that of the celebrated Congregations of minor theologians who so largely contributed to the success of earlier Councils.)

(b) It should judge calmly the matters under discussion in order to point out the doctrines that Catholic scholars could accept and those which should be left to research and subsequent discussion, without try­ing to impose them for non-doctrinal reasons.

iv. This work could be carried out after the Third Session, without fixing the date for the Fourth Session, so that the Holy Father should be completely free to come to a decision in accordance with the course and result of the labours of this Congregation of Theologians. […]

At the same time, the Holy Father would of course be able to appeal to the fact that many Fathers of the Council, from all parts of the world, have stated their fears and put forward arguments which demonstrate the imprudence of setting out to unbalance questions which are in dispute.

Most Holy Father, we have put forward sincerely and frankly that which in conscience we have deemed it our duty to bring to your notice and which, in our opinion, is of vital importance to the Church, and we are sure that you will see in this approach a fresh sign of our absolute loyalty to your person as Vicar of Christ and to the Church.

At a moment in history which we believe to be grave we place all our confidence in you who have received from Our Lord the charge to "strengthen thy brethren," a charge which you have generously accepted when you said, "We will defend the Holy Church from errors of doctrine and morals which, within and without her boundaries, threaten her integrity and obscure her beauty."


[1] Taken from “I Accuse the Council!” of Archb. Marcel Lefebvre, Angelus Press. 2nd edition, 1998.

[2] Cf. The definitive text of the Constitution Lumen Gentium Nos. 22-23.

[3] The primacy, or pre-eminence of the Roman Pontiff as Successor of St. Peter, was defined by the First Vatican Council (Denz., 1831).