Dominican Fr Philippe Denis will speak on “The Exercise of Authority in the Catholic Church: from Conciliarism to Collegiality” on Saturday 30th November at 10h00 in Mowbray, Cape Town

My message is that, even though the Catholic Church may look monarchical and even autocratic, there has been a constant “democratic” or if you like “constitutionalist” tradition from the start in the history of the Church. It  is the doctrine of pontifical supremacy which was the novelty, and not the People of God ecclesiology (to use Vatican II terminology).  Conciliarism as a doctrine appeared in a time of crisis in the early 15th century (there were three concurrent popes at the time) which affirms that the authority of the Council is higher than that of the pope. The pope in that perspective is a sort of prime minister, not an absolute monarch, and the Council, which includes priests, bishops and secular leaders has the last word. I am writing a book which looks at the legacy of this doctrine in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. In some way Vatican II’s doctrine of collegiality – which Pope Francis tries to restore after the savage attacks made against it by his two predecessors – is a continuation of conciliarism.