Railing in Vain…and Reaping the Whirlwind

Those of you who are familiar with my work here on conciliarism and its relationship to the Protestant Reformation will appreciate this observation from one of the leading Catholic scholars of conciliarism, Francis Oakley:

…During the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, accordingly, appeals from the judgement of the pope to that of a future general council were frequent. In our standard general histories of the period, the importance customarily attached to Pius II’s bull Execrabilis (1460), which prohibited such appeals as nothing less than ‘an execrable abuse’, has been very much an exaggerated one. In its own day, the bull was viewed less as some sort of binding or definitive judgement than as simply the understandable reaction of a single faction, one that witnessed less to the marginal or heterodox nature of the alleged abuse than to its very currency. Certainly, the half-century and more between the ending of Basel and the onset of the Protestant Reformation was punctuated by such appeals to the judgment of a future general council. The canonists themselves defended the procedure, and against it not only Pius II (1458-64) but also Sixtus IV (1471-81) and Julius II (1503-13) railed in vain. [The Conciliarist Tradition: Constitutionalism in the Catholic Church, pg. 54]

Things to take away from this passage:

(1) The later 15th century high monarchical papalists were in their own day considered by large sections of the Church and Christendom to be a mere faction advocating a highly debatable view of papal power,

(2) For the fifty or more years between the Council of Basel and the outbreak of the Reformation, numerous appeals were made from the judgment of the pope to that of a future general council, and not only did the canon lawyers support this idea but a succession of inflexible popes were completely unable to stamp it out.

(3) Put this with what I’ve chronicled on this website in many posts and research papers about the roots of conciliarism in the orthodox pre-Reformation catholic tradition and the continuity of some of the Reformers’ aims with that of the conciliar tradition, and you have every reason in the world to be suspicious of present-day Roman Catholic propagandizing about the papacy’s supposedly divine and historically and theologically unchallengeable position of supremacy in Christendom. As I said at the end of my work “Catholic Conciliarism and the Protestant Reformation,” the papacy ignored the conservative voices of reform for too long, and, having sowed to the wind reaped the whirlwind.

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