Support Site Improvements

The Decrees Of The Vatican Council

Promulgated in the 4th Session of the Holy Œcumenical Vatican Council


Servant of the servants of God, with the approval of the Sacred Council for Perpetual Remembrance

THE Eternal Pastor and Bishop of our souls, in order to continue for all time the life-giving work of His Redemption, determined to build up the Holy Church, wherein, as in the house of the living GOD, all who believe might be united in the bond of one faith and one charity. Wherefore, before He entered into His glory, He prayed unto the Father, not for the Apostles only, but for those also who through their preaching should come to believe in Him, that all might be one, even as He the Son and the Father are one. As then He sent the Apostles whom He had chosen to Himself from the world, as He Himself had been sent by the Father; so He willed that there should ever be pastors and teachers in His Church to the end of the world. And in order that the Episcopate also might be one and undivided, and that by means of a closely united priesthood the multitude of the faithful might be kept secure in the oneness of faith and communion, He set Blessed Peter over the rest of the Apostles, and fixed in him the abiding principle of this twofold unity and its visible foundation, in the strength of which the everlasting temple should arise, and the Church in the firmness of that faith should lift her majestic front to heaven. And seeing that the gates of hell with daily increase of hatred are gathering their strength on every side to upheave the foundation laid by GOD’s own hand, and so, if that might be, to overthrow the Church: We, therefore, for the preservation, safe keeping, and increase of the Catholic flock, with the approval of the Sacred Council, do judge it to be necessary to propose to the belief and acceptance of all the faithful, in accordance with the ancient and constant faith of the universal Church, the doctrine touching the institution, perpetuity and nature of the sacred Apostolic Primacy, in which is found the strength and solidity of the entire Church; and at the same time to proscribe and condemn the contrary errors so hurtful to the flock of CHRIST.

WE therefore teach and declare that, according to the testimony of the Gospel, the primacy of jurisdiction over the universal Church of GOD was immediately and directly promised and given to Blessed Peter the Apostle by CHRIST the LORD For it was to Simon alone, to whom He had already said: “Thou shalt be called Cephas,” that the LORD, after the confession made by him, saying, “Thou art the CHRIST, the Son of the living GOD,” addressed these solemn words, “Blessed art thou, Simon, Bar-Jona, because flesh and blood have not revealed it to thee, but My Father, who is in heaven. And I say to thee that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven.” And it was upon Simon alone that JESUS after His resurrection bestowed the jurisdiction of Chief Pastor and Ruler over all His fold in the words, “Feed My lambs, feed My sheep.” At open variance with this clear doctrine of Holy Scripture, as it has ever been understood by the Catholic Church, are the perverse opinions of those who, while they distort the form of government established by CHIRST the LORD in His Church, deny that Peter in his simple person preferably to all the other Apostles, whether taken separately or together, was endowed by CHRIST with a true and proper primacy of jurisdiction; or of those who assert that the same primacy was not bestowed immediately and directly upon Blessed Peter himself, but upon the Church, and through the Church on Peter as her minister.

If anyone, therefore, shall say that Blessed Peter the Apostle was not appointed the Prince of the Apostles and the visible head of the whole Church militant, or that the same directly and immediately received from the same our LORD JESUS CHRIST a primacy of honour only, and not of true and proper jurisdiction; let him be anathema.

THAT which the Prince of Shepherds and great shepherd of the sheep, JESUS CHRIST our LORD, established in the person of the Blessed Apostle Peter to secure the perpetual welfare and lasting good of the Church, must, by the same institution, necessarily remain unceasingly in the Church, which, being founded upon the Rock, will stand firm to the end of the world. For none can doubt, and it is known to all ages, that the holy and Blessed Peter, the Prince and chief of the Apostles, the pillar of the faith and foundation of the Catholic Church, received the keys of the kingdom from our LORD JESUS CHRIST, the Saviour and Redeemer of mankind, and lives, presides, and judges to this day, always in his successors the Bishops of the Holy See of Rome, which was founded by Him and consecrated by His Blood. Whence, whosoever succeeds to Peter in this See does by the institution of CHRIST Himself obtain the primacy of Peter over the whole Church. The disposition made by Incarnate Truth (dispositio veritatis) therefore remains, and Blessed Peter, abiding in the rock’s strength which he received (in accepta fortitudine petrœ perseverans), has not abandoned the direction of the Church. Wherefore it has at all times been necessary that every particular Church—that is to say, the faithful throughout the world—should come to the Church of Rome on account of the greater princedom it has received; so that in this See, whence the rights of venerable communion spread to all, they might as members joined together in their head grow closely into one body. If, then, anyone shall say that it is not by the institution of CHRIST the LORD, or by divine right, that Blessed Peter has a perpetual line of successors in the primacy over the universal Church; or that the Roman Pontiff is not the successor of Blessed Peter in this primacy; let him be anathema.

WHEREFORE, resting on plain testimonies of the Sacred Writings, and adhering to the plain and express decrees both of Our predecessors the Roman Pontiffs, and of the General Councils, We renew the definition of the Œcumenical Council of Florence, by which all the faithful of CHRIST must believe that the Holy Apostolic See and the Roman Pontiff possesses the primacy over the whole world; and that the Roman Pontiff is the successor of Blessed Peter, Prince of the Apostles, and is true Vicar of CHRIST, and Head of the whole Church, and Father and teacher of all Christians; and that full power was given to him in Blessed Peter, by JESUS CHRIST our LORD, to rule, feed and govern the universal Church: as is also contained in the Acts of the Œcumenical Councils and in the Sacred Canons.

Hence We teach and declare that by the appointment of our LORD the Roman Church possesses a sovereignty of ordinary power over all other Churches, and that this power of jurisdiction of the Roman Pontiff, which is truly episcopal, is immediate; to which all, of whatsoever rite and dignity, both pastors and faithful, both individually and collectively, are bound, by their duty of hierarchical subordination and true obedience, to submit, not only in matters which belong to faith and morals, but also in those that appertain to the discipline and government of the Church throughout the world; so that the Church of CHRIST may be one flock under one supreme Pastor, through the preservation of unity, both of communion and of profession of the same faith, with the Roman Pontiff. This is the teaching of Catholic truth, from which no one can deviate without loss of faith and of salvation.

But so far is this power of the Supreme Pontiff from being any prejudice to that ordinary and immediate power of episcopal jurisdiction, by which bishops, who have been set by the HOLY GHOST to succeed and hold the place of the Apostles, feed and govern each his own flock, as true pastors, that this same power is really asserted, strengthened and protected by the supreme and universal Pastor; in accordance with the words of St Gregory the Great, “My honour is the honour of the whole Church. My honour is the firm strength of my brethren. Then am I truly honoured, when the honour due to each and all is not withheld.”

Further, from this supreme power possessed by the Roman Pontiff of governing the universal Church, it follows that, in the exercise of this office, he has the right of free communication with the pastors of the whole Church, and with their flocks, that they may be taught and ruled by him in the way of salvation. Wherefore We condemn and reprobate the opinions of those who hold that the communication between the supreme Head and the pastors and their flocks can lawfully be impeded; or who make this communication subject to the will of the secular power, so as to maintain that whatever is done by the Apostolic See, or by its authority, for the government of the Church, cannot have force or value unless it be confirmed by the assent of the secular power.

And since, by the divine right of apostolic primacy, one Roman Pontiff is placed over the universal Church, We further teach and declare that he is the supreme judge of the faithful, and that in all causes the decision of which belongs to the Church recourse may be had to his tribunal, but that none may reopen the judgement of the Apostolic See, than whose authority there is no greater, nor can any lawfully review its judgement. Wherefore they err from the right path of truth who assert that it is lawful to appeal from the judgements of the Roman Pontiffs to an Œcumenical Council, as to an authority higher than that of the Roman Pontiff.

If then any shall say that the Roman Pontiff has the office merely of inspection or direction, and not full and supreme power of jurisdiction over the universal Church, not only in things which belong to faith and morals, but also in those things which relate to the discipline and government of the Church spread throughout the world; or assert that he possesses merely the principal part, and not all the fullness of this supreme power; or that this power which he enjoys is not ordinary and immediate, both over each and all the Churches and over each and all the pastors of the faithful; let him be anathema.

MOREOVER, that the supreme power of teaching (magisterii) is also included in the apostolic primacy, which the Roman Pontiff, as the successor of Peter, Prince of the Apostles, possesses over the whole Church, this Holy See has always held, the perpetual practice of the Church confirms, and Œcumenical Councils also have declared, especially those in which the East with the West met in the union of faith and charity. For the Fathers of the Fourth Council of Constantinople, following in the footsteps of their predecessors, gave forth this solemn profession: “The first condition of salvation is to keep the rule of the true faith. And because the sentence of our LORD JESUS CHRIST cannot be passed by, who said, ‘Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church,’ these things which have been said are proved by events, because in the Apostolic See the Catholic religion has always been kept undefiled, and her well-known doctrine has been kept holy. Desiring, therefore, not to be in the least degree separated from the faith and doctrine of this See, we hope that we may deserve to be in the one communion, which the Apostolic See preaches, in which is the entire and true solidity of the Christian religion.”

And, with the approval of the Second Council of Lyons, the Greeks professed that: “the holy Roman Church enjoys supreme and full primacy and princedom over the whole Catholic Church, which it truly and humbly acknowledges that it has received with the plenitude of power from our LORD Himself in the person of Blessed Peter, Prince and Head of the Apostles, whose successor the Roman Pontiff is; and as the Apostolic See is bound before all others to defend the truth of faith, so also, if any questions regarding faith shall arise, they must be defined by its judgement.”

Finally, the Council of Florence defined that: “the Roman Pontiff is the true Vicar of CHRIST, and the head of the whole Church and the father and teacher of all Christians; and that to him in Blessed Peter was delivered by our LORD JESUS CHRIST the full power of feeding, ruling and governing the whole Church.”

To satisfy this pastoral duty, our predecessors ever made unwearied efforts that the salutary doctrine of CHRIST might be propagated among all the nations of the earth, and with equal care watched that it might be preserved genuine and pure where it had been received. Therefore the bishops of the whole world, now singly, now assembled in synod, following the long established custom of Churches and the form of the ancient rule, sent word to this Apostolic See of those dangers especially which sprang up in matters of faith, that there the losses of faith might be most effectually repaired where the faith cannot fail. And the Roman Pontiffs, according to the exigencies of times and circumstances, sometimes assembling Œcumenical Councils, or asking for the mind of the Church scattered throughout the world, sometimes by particular synods, sometimes using other helps which divine Providence supplied, denned as to be held those things which with the help of GOD they had recognized as conformable with the sacred Scriptures and apostolic traditions. For the Holy Spirit was not promised to the successors of Peter, that by His revelation they might make known new doctrine, but that by His assistance they might inviolably keep and faithfully expound the revelation or deposit of faith delivered through the Apostles. And indeed all the venerable Fathers have embraced and the holy orthodox Doctors have venerated and followed their apostolic doctrine; knowing most fully that this See of Saint Peter remains ever free from all blemish of error, according to the divine promise of the LORD our SAVIOUR made to the Prince of His disciples: “I have prayed for thee that thy faith fail not; and when thou art converted, confirm thy brethren.”

This gift, then, of truth and never-failing faith was conferred by heaven upon Peter and his successors in this Chair, that they might perform their high office for the salvation of all; that the whole flock of CHRIST, kept away by them from the poisonous food of error, might be nourished with the pasture of heavenly doctrine; that, the occasion of schism being removed, the whole Church might be kept one, and resting in its foundation, might stand firm against the gates of hell.

But since in this very age, in which the salutary efficacy of the Apostolic office is most of all required, not a few are found who take away from its authority, We judge it altogether necessary solemnly to assert the prerogative which the Only-begotten Son of GOD vouchsafed to join with the supreme pastoral office.

Therefore, faithfully adhering to the tradition received from the beginning of the Christian faith, for the glory of GOD our SAVIOUR, the exaltation of the Catholic religion, and the salvation of Christian people, with the approval of the Sacred Council, We teach and define that it is a dogma divinely revealed: that the Roman Pontiff, when he speaks ex cathedra, that is, when in discharge of the office of Pastor and Teacher of all Christians, by virtue of his supreme Apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine regarding faith or morals to be held by the universal Church, is, by the divine assistance promised to him in Blessed Peter, possessed of that infallibility with which the divine Redeemer willed that His Church should be endowed in defining doctrine regarding faith or morals; and that, therefore, such definitions of the Roman Pontiff are of themselves, and not from the consent of the Church, irreformable.

But if anyone—which may GOD avert!—presume to contradict this our definition, let him be anathema.

Given at Rome in public session, solemnly held in the Vatican Basilica in the year of our LORD one thousand eight hundred and seventy, on the eighteenth day of July, in the twenty-fifth year of our Pontificate.

In conformity with the original.


Secretary to the Vatican Council.

Copyright ©1999-2023 Wildfire Fellowship, Inc all rights reserved