Preface and Translation by Br. Alexis Bugnolo
After centuries of interference in the Election of the Roman Pontiff by the Emperors of Constantinople and of the Holy Roman Empire, by the military, by the Roman Nobility and by rogue Nobles of diverse parts of Italy, Pope Nicholas II decreed a historic Bull which restricted the right of election — which had from ancient times been vested by Saint Peter the Apostle in the whole Church of Rome, and subsequently to the clergy — to the Cardinal Bishops principally, and then to the other Cardinals, the rest of the Clergy and the Faithful of the Diocese of Rome. This Bull led to the formation of the institutions which we know of today as the College of Cardinals and the Conclave. Due to its crucial importance in the history of the regulation of the election of the Roman Pontiff, the From Rome Blog here presents its own English translation of the Latin Text (which can be download in PDF — the authenticity of which I have presumed from internal criteria). — Following the translation, I will give a commentary.
In Nomine Domini
In the Name of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and Savior, in the One Thousand and Fifty-Ninth year from His Incarnation, in the month of April, in the twelfth indiction, with the sacrosant Gospels laid before Us, with the most Reverend and Blessed Pope Nicholas also presiding in the Patriarchàs Lateran Basilica, which is named the Constantinian: with the most Reverent Bishops, Abbots, Priests and Deacons sitting with him: the same Venerable Pontiff decreeing by Apostolic authority concerning the Election of the Supreme Pontiff, said:
Your Beatitude knows, most beloved Brother (Cardinals), and Co-Bishops, and it is also not hidden to inferior members ( of the clergy), that with the passing of Our predecessor, the divine Stephen, of good memory, how many adversities this Apostolic See, which I serve with God as my author, has born, and how many repeated hammers, and frequent blows, She has been subjected to through the brokers of simonaical heresy: so much, indeed, that the Column of the living God almost seemed to totter, and the net of the Fisherman, with the storms having swelled, would be driven into the depths of shipwreck to be submerged, wherefore if it please thy Brotherhood, We ought, with the God assisting, take care prudently that future cases do not occur, and this by Ecclesiastical statute, lest recurring — far be it — the evils prevail.
The Election of the Pope pertains, first of all, to the Cardinal Bishops, who serve also as Metropolitians, the to the Cardinal Clerics, and the rest of the Clergy, and the People, only proffer their consent to the election.
§1. On which account, having been instructed by Our predecessors, and by the authority of the other Holy Fathers, We decree, and establish, that with the passing of the Pontiff of this Catholic Roman Church, first of all, the Cardinal Bishops, treating most diligently together concerning the election, summon immediately the Cardinal Clerics of Christ; and in this manner let the rest of the Clergy, and the People approach to consent to the new election taking the greatest care beforehand, lest the deadly disease of venality insinuate itself by an occasion, and for that reason let the most religious men be the chief leaders in promoting the election of the Pontiff, but the rest be their followers. Moreover, the certain and even legitimate order here of the election is carefully considered, if it be gathered from having examined the diverse rules of the Fathers, or their deeds, and even that sentence of Blessed Leo, Our predecessor: “No reason permits, that there be had among Bishops, those who have neither been elected from the Clerics, nor requested by the common people, nor consecrated by the co-provincial Bishops with the judgement of the Metropolitans; but because the Apostolic See takes precedence to all other Churches throughout the earth, for that reason She also can have over Her no Metropolitan, the Cardinal Bishops with out doubt serve instead as Metropolitans, who namely, proceed to consecrate the apex of the Apostolic brow, once elected as Bishop“.
The Pope ought to be elected from the womb of the Roman Church if one is found to be suitable, otherwise he is to be elected from another Church.
§2. Moreover, let him be elected from the very womb of the Church, if one is found to be suitable, and/or if one not be found in Her, let him be taken from another; with due honor being served, and reverence for Our beloved son, Henry, who is held as King at the present, and with God conceding hoped as the future Emperor, as We have already conceded to him, just as to the successors of him, who personally begged this right from this Apostolic See.
If the Pope cannot be elected in the City, because of obstacles,
he can be elected elsewhere by the Cardinals, and by others, though few, of whom (We spoke) above.
§3. Wherefore, if the perversity of depraved, and iniquitous men, so prevail, that a pure, sincere and free election cannot be held in the City, the Cardinal Bishops with the religious Clerics, and the Catholic laity, though few, obtain the right of power (ius potestatis) to elect the Pontiff of the Apostolic See, where it might be fitting.
If the elected Pope cannot be enthroned, by these men, here, on account of obstacles, nevertheless he is a true Pope, and can rule the Roman Church, and dispose of all Her faculties.
§4. Plainly, after the election has been completed, if there be a bellicose conflict, and/or if the struggle of any kind of men resists by the earnestness of wickedness, such that he, who has been elected, cannot prevail to be enthroned in the Apostolic See according to the custom, nevertheless, the elect obtains as the true Pope the authority to rule the Roman Church, and to dispose of all Her faculties, which Blessed Gregory, We know, did, before his own consecration.
The pope elected against the form of this Decree is to be punished, as this one was, with his supporters.
§5. On which account, if anyone has been elected, or even ordained, or enthroned, against this Decree of Ours promulgated by Synodal sentence, whether through sedition, and/or presumption, or any guile, let him be cast down by the Divine Authority, and that of the Holy Apostles, Peter and Paul, by a perpetual anathema with his promoters and supporters and followers as one separated from the thresholds of the Holy Church, just as the Anti-Christ, both an invader and destroyer of the whole of Christendom, and let no audience be given him over this, but let him be deposed from every ecclesiastical grade unto whatever was before his, without any objection made, to whom if anyone whatsoever adheres, and/or exhibits any kind of reverence as to the Pontiff, or presumes to defend him in anything, let him be abandoned by equal sentence, which if anyone shows himself to be a violator of this sentence of Our Holy Decree, and has tried to confound the Roman Church by his presumption, and to raise disturbance against this Statute, let him be damned by perpetual anathema and excommunication, and let him be reputed among the impious, who shall not rise again in judgement, let him know the wrath of the Omnipotent One against him, and that of the Holy Apostles, Peter and Paul, whose Church he has presumed to fool, let him know a ravaging madness in this life and in the future; let his dwelling become deserted, and let there be no one who dwells in his tents: let his sons be orphans, and his wife a widow, let him be shaken completely to madness, and may his sons go about begging, and be cast out of their dwellings, may the money-lender ravage all his substance, and may foreigner lay waste to his labors: Let the whole world fight against him, and let all the other elements be against him, and may the merits of all the Saints resting above confound him.
For the observers of this Decree, the Pope prays for the grace of God and pardon for their sins.
§6. Moreover, let the grace of the Omnipotent One protect the observers of this Our decree, and let the authority of the Blessed Apostles, Peter and Paul absolve them from all the bonds of their sins.
Oh the faith and zeal of the men of God of ages past! How shining their nobility of mind, how forthright their speech, how determined their mind, how strong their justice against all wickedness, how prudent in particulars, how unbending in ideals and purpose. Many a Catholic reading of the Church in ages past has commented thus of our forebears in faith, who on account of the distance of the ages, we can assuredly count among some of our relatives of old.
What makes them so different from our own age, is that with the passing of time, and the corruption of men, the mystical body of the Antichrist has grown up inside the Church, pretending to be one of the faithful, but deceiving all, to such an extent, that the mass and number of the wicked in the Church has reached critical stage and the likeness of the monster of iniquity is taking form inside the members of the Church long dead and separated from the vital sap of Our Lord, the True Vine of the Father.
We can see openly how less a corrupt age it was, by the few precepts to be had to govern a papal election. This was not because the age knew nothing of Law. The great legal works of the Emperor Justinian and the Roman Jurist Ulpian had long before been written and studied. No, it was the rarity of the boldness of demonic impiety, which is now common day and an every day manifestation, which made this first Papal Decree on the Election of the Popes so simple and direct.
Yet, in its simplicity it shows forth several important legal institutions and principles which would characterize papal law on the election of the Roman Pontiff for the next nearly thousand years. Let us examine them in their order of appearance in the Decree.
Three Conditions for the man Elected
The Ancient and Apostolic custom of the Church of Rome was ever that three conditions prevail for the election of a Roman Pontiff: his selection by the Clergy of the City, his approval by the faithful of the city, his consecration by the Metropolitian, or what we call the suburbican Bishops, of the ecclesiastical province: the Bishop who oversaw the dioceses immediately adjacent to Rome.
This custom was the orderly application of the Apostolic Right by which the Roman Pontiff was elected from the time of the Apostle Peter’s death, and may have been suggested by the Apostle St. Paul, who ministered in the City for a year or more before his own decapitation and martyrdom.
Pope Nicholas II by this decree modifies the ancient custom and restricts the discernment and selection of the one to be elected to the Cardinal Bishops. They are then to summon the other Cardinal Clergy, the rest of the clergy of the City and all the Faithful and ask for their consent.
No Elections in secret
The wisdom of this institution prevented the usurpation of the Church by foreigners, the election of men who were unknown to the local clergy, and or who did not enjoy an honest reputation among the faithful of the city. It also prevented simony — the offering of money for votes — to some extent, since you cannot bribe everyone, and without any obligation of proceeding in secret, the motivation for voting for this one or that, would certainly come out and quickly become known to all.
Respect for Tradition
Pope Nicholas shows his respect for the Apostolic right by quoted Pope Leo the Great, who explains the manner in which the election was conducted in his age, some five centuries before, when all the clergy has the right to vote, not just the Cardinals.
Preference for a Roman
To prevent foreign influence and contro and to guarantee not only the independence of the Church of Rome but that She have a pastor who saw himself as Her shepherd by innate ties and bonds, Pope Nicholas urges the election of a man born at Rome and Roman. This hearkens back to the Old Testament where God required that the people select one of their own kin to rule over them.
Flexibility in non essentials
Pope Nicholas II shows the sanity of the medieval mind, by allowing the election under special circumstances of necessity to be conducted outside the city. There was no fixed or prescribed place for the election, and this prevented it being controlled from beforehand, as well as from being prevented or impeded in its execution.
A Man is made pope by Election, not consecration or enthronement.
Here there is a principle which comes down from at least the time of Pope Gregory the Great, namely, that the man elected Pope, from that moment becomes the pope, even if he has not yet been consecrated a Bishop and even before he is enthroned in the Lateran Basilica (the Cathedral of Rome prior to the 14th century).
Grave Sanctions for those who transgress
Finally, Pope Nicholas II imposes the most grave and extreme sanctions upon those who transgress his Law on Elections: anathema, excommunication, reduction to the state in which he was prior to the election or usurpation. And this punishment is extended to all his promoters, supporters and followers. A promoter is he who encouraged his candidacy, a supporter is he who voted for him, and a follower is he who joined his faction and vied that it prevail.
Just read n. 5 above, if you want to know how a usurper of the office of Pope should be treated for his crime. It makes you understand the moral gravity of the crime, a thing which a godless cleric has no understanding of.
Equity and Wisdom
In this Decree, one can see that Pope Nicholas II is trying to balance the different and disparate forces which were vying to control the election of the Roman Pontiff in his own age, and to place that election securely in the hands of those who could be more trusted to elect a man of God, without however, restricting the process so much as to prevent a man of God being elected. His emphasis that the holier members of the Church take a principle part in the election is a strong reminder to our own age of the folly of legislation which thinks that in the precise observance of minutiae one can guarantee holiness. For this reason, Nicholas II promulgated a law which was to have a lasting effect on papal legislation for a thousand years. May God grant the clergy of Rome a similar wisdom and courage to execute their duties before God.
Pope Nicholas II has gone to his reward, so I will allow myself to make one criticism of his papal law, and that is this: by restricting the right to vote to Bishops alone he imposed on the Roman Church the practice which prevailed in the provinces and in the Eastern Churches. This ended up helping the papacy, in one sense, to have men who had experience in government and fiscal management, but, on the other hand, tended to restrict candidates to the class of the landed gentry. It would end the habit of popular candidates, who sometimes, not always, in the past had been men who corrected the wrongs and injustice of the landed class and returned the Apostolic See to a more evangelical road.
What if, God forbid, Pope Benedict XVI dies while the Cardinal Electors remain fast with the Antipope?
I get a lot of questions from the Catholic Faithful who hold that Benedict is still the Pope because they simply follow the norm of Canon Law, unlike the precipitous and rash College of Cardinals who did not even implement canons 40 and 41 following the Declaratio of Pope Benedicct XVI on Feb. 11, 2013. For that reason, the Cardinals are in de facto schism from Christ and His Church, because they have violated canon 359 and Universi Dominici Gregis, n. 37, by electing another Pope when there was no legal sede vacante.
For that reason many of the faithful worry that the Petrine Succession might be abolished or lost, if when Benedict dies, the Cardinals do not convene in Conclave to elect his successor. This is because, the current papal law, published in an age in which there has not be an Anti-pope for nearly 500 years, does not address what is to happen if it should be that all the Cardinal Electors who are canonically valid (appointed by Popes John Paul II or Pope Benedict XVI) omit convening in Conclave after Benedict’s death.
I explained the theological, legal and historical reasons why this presents no fundamental problem in my Disputed Question: Whether, with all the Cardinal Electors defecting...
In such a case, whatever Cardinals, Archbishops, Bishops, Monsignori, Priests and Deacons, who are incardinated in the Diocese of Rome or at the Vatican, remain in communion with Benedict and assemble after his death, whomsoever they elect by a simply majority will be the Pope. In such an election the laity can also participate, since the Apostolic Right pertains to the whole Church. — If Arcibishop Vigano shows at such an assembly, he would probably be surely elected.
The Church desperately needs a popular candidate for the papacy, because, as in times prior to the law of Pope Nicholas II, In Nomine Domini, the Church is need of a dire correction in its pastoral objectives and needs a reformer who will return the Faith to Her rightful queenship of governance in the Church. Pope Benedict XVI by his evangelical prudence or by mistake, has providentially prepared, perhaps, the next papal election to proceed in just such a manner.
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