Sovereignty: Part One: Ecclesiastical Sovereignty


Sovereignty is, in most sources, considered to be an attribute arising from territorial governance. This paper, by contrast, also considers the contexts in which sovereignty may arise from within the Church before and after the Great Schism of 1054, and goes on to consider the specific cases of the Abbey-Principality of San Luigi, which has claims to sovereignty based both on its territorial and ecclesiastical status, and the Royal House Polanie-Patrikios, which, although holding distinct genealogical (and territorial) rights as a fons honorum, was formally instituted by ecclesiastical authority.


The concept of ecclesiastical sovereignty of course originates in the person of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, who is described throughout the Scriptures as a king, and who is given the full attributes of sovereignty. Both in Christian and pagan societies, we also find the concept of the sacred king combining the functions of monarch, high priest and judge[i]. The Bible offers us the example of King Solomon, while the Mesopotamians attribute similar qualities of divinely-originated wisdom and other powers to Gilgamesh[ii]. The identification of king and shepherd is also found among the ancients, with associated concepts of responsibility and leadership.

In ancient Rome, the pontifex maximus included in his powers the appointment of senatorial priests from the patrician class as a rex sacrorum and the appointment of the rex Nemorensis[iii]. These king-priests had specific religious significance and functions.

It should not be thought that the concept of the sacred king necessarily developed in the modern era into theocracy or was reduced to mere religious attributes attached to a territorial sovereign. In practice, religious and territorial sovereignty continued to be merged, most notably in the office of the Pope and in a number of his appointments, such as those of prince-bishop, prince-abbot and so on. As we shall show, the Pope is first and foremost a religious sovereign, as sovereign of the Holy See, and only secondly a temporal sovereign in respect of the former Papal States, and latterly (more arguably) as sovereign of the Vatican City.

It is worth noting at this point that the Papal definition of sovereignty is not one that excludes suzerainty, and throughout history there are examples of those who are considered sovereign and who have exercised the fons honorum who are in practice subject to the Pope. The Order of Malta is probably the most prominent such example today. While these may be construed in the manner of vassals, as we will shortly demonstrate, the fons honorum can nevertheless continue to subsist fully in such a Papal vassal[iv].

The Papacy had at one point extensive responsibility for territorial governance, and most sources accept that the temporal power of the Holy See developed during the eighth century after Christ. Between that time and 1870, the Pope was temporal ruler of the Papal States. This rule was not without its critics, and Robert Bellarmine argued in his Disputationes (1586-93) that the Pope (following the model of Christ) did not have the necessary theological authority to exercise temporal power. However, the Papal position remained that of a practical ruler, both ruling and defending the Papal States in the same way as any other Western monarch of the time.

Opposition to the temporal power of the Pope developed in the wake of the French Revolution, and successively Napoléon I, the Roman Republic and the Kingdom of Italy sought not only to abstract territories from the Pope but also to delegitimize his position as a temporal sovereign. These acts have cast a long shadow. Since 1929, the Pope has been recognized as sovereign of the Vatican City, but in line with the prevailing theological direction following the Second Vatican Council, the modern Popes have shown limited enthusiasm for any idea that they are temporal rulers in any wider context[v]. Moreover, some, notably Geoffrey Robertson QC, have argued that the Vatican City is not a state, and that the Pope is solely a religious leader[vi]. Against this background, the Popes have continued to exercise their fons honorum. Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI have conferred several titles of nobility, and the Papal Orders of Chivalry continue to be awarded to the present day.

The dual religious and temporal sovereignty of the Popes was exemplified in their possession of two palaces; the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican, which was their official religious residence, and the Quirinal Palace in Rome which was their official residence as sovereign of the Papal States. The former continues to be occupied by the Pope while the latter was lost to the Kingdom of Italy in 1870.

Inevitably, the temporal sovereignty of the Popes must be considered in the light of the forged Donation of Constantine, which purported to grant the Pope territorial governance over a number of lands formerly part of the Western Roman Empire. The Donation was probably written in the eighth century and was used to support claims to papal sovereignty in the medieval era. However, from the time of Pope Nicholas VI (1447) the Donation (which by then had been accepted to be inauthentic) ceased to be referred to by the Popes and was no longer used to support their claims to sovereignty. It is not relevant to the discussions of Papal sovereignty that will follow.


Critics have sought to extend two main arguments from these commonly-agreed historical facts. The first is that the power of the Pope to confer and recognize titles of nobility and to institute and award Orders of Chivalry arises from his present or past territorial governance and not from his religious status. This argument is generally made in order to exclude the possibility that any head of the Orthodox Churches or those other churches deriving from a common root with the Catholic Church might exercise powers of fons honorum similar to the Pope deriving from their religious status (since none today exercise territorial sovereignty).[vii] We will show that it is the Pope’s religious status, and not his territorial sovereignty, which is in operation when the Pope exercises the fons honorum.

The second argument is that, regardless of the first, the Pope’s position as a fons honorum is necessarily unique among Christian leaders, and that the Pope possesses qualities that, since they are lacking in other Christian leaders, renders their exercise of the fons honorum invalid. This argument is a weaker version of the first, advanced for the same purposes[viii]. We will deal with it later by showing that according to Catholic canon law it is in fact possible for a fully valid church to be alienated from Papal jurisdiction indefinitely.

To take the first proposition, let us ask the question: when acting as a fons honorum, is the Pope acting in his religious or his temporal capacity? We must also examine the question of what constitutes Papal sovereignty.

In his comprehensive survey of the Catholic Orders of Chivalry, Peter Bander van Duren also examines the issue of the grant of hereditary noble titles by the Popes. He states that “almost all” of these “are attributed to the conferment of a Pontifical Equestrian Order on an ancestor prior to 1841” [ix].

To establish the position, we must have regard to the wording of the brevets by which Papal honours were granted, as well as to the nature of those honours themselves. Very few of these brevets have ever been made public, but some details have become available in recent years. Bander van Duren says that “the original documentation has usually been lost. It is therefore very difficult, if not impossible, to check on the conferment of such titles.”[x]

Firstly, let us turn to the most direct evidence available to us. If the Pope were acting solely in a temporal capacity, we might expect Papal titles to be titles with territorial predicates, mostly referring to land in the Papal States or the Vatican City. These do indeed proliferate in the medieval era, but they are comparatively rare in the Papal nobility during the nineteenth and twentieth-centuries. The standard wording of brevets from that period is instead that the recipient is created Prince (or Duke, Marquis, Count, Viscount (one case known only), Baron, Noble) of the Holy Roman Church[xi]. This does not suggest that the Popes had given up their temporal sovereignty, but it certainly acts to confirm that by the nineteenth-century, temporal sovereignty was not the sole or primary basis for the grant of titles of nobility.

The majority of latter-day recipients are thereafter addressed with their noble predicate and their surname, e.g. the Duke de Stacpoole, Count John McCormack, or Countess Rose Kennedy. It is required that recipients be Roman Catholics, though a Papal title could in theory descend to an heir who is not a Roman Catholic. The form Count of the Papal Court is also found (for example on the gravestone of Count John McCormack) which is less specific, but this appears from the available evidence not to be the form used on brevets or in official documents.

A study of the Papal grants shows that “The titles were mostly ad personam[xii] but could be hereditary by order of primogeniture either for all male descendants or for the descendants of either sex. The Pope also granted arms to families and issued briefs recognizing and confirming ancient titles.”[xiii]


A comprehensive study of Papal sovereignty is provided by the bishop Dupanloup (1860)[xiv] who offers a theological explanation for the fusion of spiritual and temporal sovereignty in the Papal office (pp.16-17), “the reigning Pope, is really the spiritual sovereign of two hundred millions of souls, scattered all over the globe…this vast moral authority, unparalleled in the world, this spiritual and universal sovereignty exists…This power required an abode, a residence, a seat of some kind here below. The Christian Church is not a vague speculative idea, it was intended to be a living fact, a real society, having consequently at its head a real power, which speaks and governs, and therefore subject to the conditions of other human affairs, the conditions of time and space.”

Moreover, “The question which at first presented itself, and has done so several times since, and which is still the question at the present moment, is, what is to be, in the place of its abode, the external condition of this spiritual power? What is to be the manner of its visible, terrestrial existence? What means, what instruments will God employ to guide it to its end, to enable it to accomplish its work, to sustain and preserve it in life and activity during the whole course of time? The answer is as simple as it is indisputable : God sustains, preserves, and perpetuates it, according to His uniform mode of action, by human means co-operating with His powerful and supernatural assistance; the idea, the work, are from heaven; the instruments are, in part, of the earth: such is the secret of the divine economy.” (pp.17-18)

It follows that the extension of spiritual sovereignty into temporal sovereignty is seen as theologically inevitable and desirable; it is God’s plan that those who have spiritual sovereignty should exercise that sovereignty in the temporal realm as a logical and natural extension of the sovereign principle. Were it otherwise, we would admit that Christianity was not a design for humanity and the means to its salvation, but a mere abstract philosophy to be banished to the realm of the personal and subjective.


In examining the question of the sovereignty of the Popes, history offers an unique opportunity to expose its true nature. The period 1870-1929 was one during which the Popes were deprived of any territorial rule, but nevertheless continued to grant titles of nobility which were recognized (notably in the Lateran Pacts) without distinction from those titles that had been granted prior to 1870. Certainly the Popes protested at the loss of their territories, but was their exercise of the fons honorum merely that of pretenders to a formerly existing territorial throne? Of course this was not the case, and their titles continued to be granted “of the Holy Roman Church”. Indeed, this was a golden era for the granting of Papal titles of nobility, such that a trade grew up even within the Vatican for the sale of such titles, as well as an illicit traffic in forged Papal brevets, aided by the lack of an open registry.

The Kingdom of Italy effectively provided for the recognition of the Pope’s ecclesiastical sovereignty in its Law of Guarantees of 1871[xv], although this was opposed by the Papacy. Significantly, the Law of Guarantees guaranteed sovereign prerogatives to the Pope, although deprived of territory. The Pope’s principal reason for rejecting the law was that if, as mere national law, it were to fail at some point, the Pope’s sovereignty would fail with it. Nevertheless, since the questions raised were not resolved until the Lateran Pacts of 1929, it is important to note that Italy considered that it was perfectly possible for the Pope to remain internationally sovereign without controlling territory (and without basing any claim of sovereignty upon the former control of territory). Perhaps it is a result of the indignant protests of the Popes while “prisoners in the Vatican” calling for the restoration of their territories that we have seen such a move by certain parties to emphasise them as territorial sovereigns then and subsequently.

On the status of the Holy See during the period 1870-1929, Kunz states, “Prior to 1870, there were two subjects of international law: the Papal State and the Holy See. (…) Of these two persons in international law the one, the Papal State, undoubtedly came to an end, under the rules of general international law, by the Italian conquest and subjugation in 1870. But the Holy See remained, as always, a subject of general international law also in the period between 1870 and 1929. That this is so, is fully proved by the practice of states. The Holy See continued to conclude concordats and continued, with the consent of a majority of states, to exercise the active and passive right of legation. The legal position of its diplomatic agents (…) remained based on general international law, not on the Italian Law of Guarantee, a municipal law.”[xvi]

Kunz strongly opposes the idea, advanced by Oppenheim[xvii], that the Holy See held no sovereignty except that based on territory, and therefore that it was not sovereign between 1870-1929, “The Lateran Treaty had the object of liquidating once for all the ‘Roman Question’ and bringing about a reconciliation between the Holy See and Italy, but in no way created or changed the international position of the Holy See. (It is therefore not correct, as Oppenheim (…) states that “the hitherto controversial international position of the Holy See was clarified as a result of the Treaty.”) The treaty concluded between the Holy See and Italy pre-supposses the international personality of the Holy See.”[xviii]

Crawford also notes that, “Though some writers denied that the Holy See had any international standing at all after 1870, the true position is that it retained after the annexation of the Papal States what it always had, a degree of international personality, measured by the extent of its existing legal rights and duties, together with its capacity to conclude treaties and to receive and accredit envoys.”[xix]


The question of the legal status of the Holy See[xx] (as opposed to the legal status of the former Papal States or the present-day Vatican City) has generally brought forward arguments that defeat the first of the propositions raised previously (although a minority of writers deny the Holy See any legal personality).

Robert Graham writes, “The fact that the Holy See is a non-territorial institution is no longer regarded as a reason for denying it international personality. The papacy can act in its own name in the international community. It can enter into legally binding conventions known as concordats. In the world of diplomacy the Pope enjoys the rights of active and passive legation. (…) Furthermore, this personality of the Holy See is distinct from the personality of the State of Vatican City. One is a non-territorial institution and the other a state. The papacy as a religious organ is a subject of international law and capable of international rights and duties.”[xxi]

Recognition cannot create sovereignty. However, it can act rather like a mirror in that it makes the existence of sovereignty obvious to the observer. The international personality of the Holy See can be argued to have arisen through its recognition by other states. Ian Brownlie, for example, argues that the personality of the Holy See “as a religious organ apart from its territorial base in the Vatican City” arises from the “principle of effectiveness”, that is, from the fact that other states voluntarily recognize the Holy See, acquiesce to having bilateral relations with it, and in fact do so, in a situation where no rule of ius cogens is breached. For Brownlie, though, the international personality thus conferred is effective only towards those states prepared to enter into diplomatic relations with it.[xxii] James Crawford similarly holds that the recognition of a number of states is important evidence to acknowledge the legal personality of the Holy See, so that, today, it cannot be denied.[xxiii]

A third theory is that the international legal personality of the Holy See is based mostly, but not only, on its unique spiritual role. Robert Araujo says that “it is generally understood that the Holy See’s international personality emerges from its religious, moral and spiritual authority and mission in the world as opposed to a claim over purely temporal matters. This is an incomplete understanding, however, of the grounds on which its claim as a subject of international law can be justified”, since, in his view, the Holy See’s claim to international personality can also be justified by the fact that it is recognized by other states as a full subject of international law.[xxiv] The Lateran Treaty itself seems to support this view. In article 2, Italy recognized “the sovereignty of the Holy See in the international domain as an attribute inherent in its nature, in accordance with its tradition and with the requirements of its mission in the world.”This third theory is also supported by Bander van Duren, who says, “…the Holy See is also considered an international juristic person. It possesses the characteristics of that status which is required by international law inasmuch as it exists and operates within the international community as the juridical personification of the Church, and it enjoys the right to negotiate agreements and treaties with other international subjects (jus foederum ac tractatuum), as well as exercises the active and passive right of legation (jus legationis).[xxv]

and “The Holy See was recognised as a person in international law long before the Lateran Treaty was signed on 11 February 1929; this is attested by the position the Pope held in the international community by virtue of his spiritual authority and temporal sovereignty from the Middle Ages to the present day, and the fact that the Holy See was one of the two parties to the negotiations and the signing of the Lateran Treaty (and not the Supreme Pontiff himself) was based on its capacity to act relevantly in the international domain.”[xxvi]

Bander van Duren could well have substituted the phrase “spiritual sovereignty” for “spiritual authority”. That is precisely where his argument leads, for if, as he admits, the Holy See has the rights and status that he acknowledges, then it must also possess sovereignty. It cannot both possess those rights and that status, and then legitimately be denied the attribute of sovereignty purely on the grounds that it is not a territorial state[xxvii].

Indeed, Bander van Duren explicitly acknowledges this later in his work, “The Lateran Treaty of 1929 expressly assigned the sovereignty to the Holy See. During the period of Sede Vacante, after the death of a pope and before the new pope has been elected, the sovereignty of the Holy See remains undiminished. A Camerlengo heads the government of the Church, the Holy See and of the Vatican City State as a caretaker for the next Sovereign Pontiff.”[xxviii]

In this matter we should also have regard to the definitive opinion of Professor Giuseppe Antonio Pensavalle de Cristofaro dell’Ingegno in his work “Questions being examined by the Magistracy”, “Internationally sovereignty is not attributed exclusively to the State, no matter what its form. There are significant examples of this, the most illustrious and convincing being that of the Roman Pope, Head of the Catholic Church. If the figure of the Roman Pope were reduced to Head of the State of the Vatican City, it would not only belittle his existence but would deny it altogether, which would mean supporting an inexact situation at international level. The Roman Pope, as Head of the Catholic Church, has the maximum sovereign power in His person: to the extent that, when the Apostolic Seat is vacant no-one could succeed to the supreme power, which is passed directly onto the Pope’s heir through moral continuity. It is evident in this case that the sovereignty belongs to the person and accompanies the person everywhere, and is not restricted to the territory, which for a State is a fundamental element.

No matter where he is, the Pope maintains all his powers which are recognised as such, not only by millions of believers throughout the world, but also by numerous different foreign powers, as is shown by the historic period from 1870 to 1929 when, even though He had lost the territory of the State, he maintained intact His great prestige in international relationships. Even Italy, after being annexed to Rome, recognised the special position by issuing Law no. 214 on 13 May 1871 called the Guarentigie.

Prior to 1870, the Pope had the dual function of Head of the Papal States and Head of the Catholic Church, thus becoming the representative of two different bodies with other States: religious relationships as Head of the church and legal and political relationships as Head of the Papal States. Therefore in his dual function, he was the source of the Nobility he created.

In 1870, the Pope was deprived of his temporal power and only in 1871 was he returned his Sovereign honours in the Kingdom by the Italian Government, maintaining the prominence of honour recognised him by the Catholic Sovereigns, granted all the honorary prerogatives of sovereignty and all the immunity he needed to carry out his High Ministry. However among these honorary prerogatives, one of the most important, because it integrates one of the highest attributes of Sovereignty that of granting noble titles and knighthoods, no mention is made in the law, giving rise to the problem as to whether the Pope had the faculty to confer noble titles, even after the temporal power had lapsed. Here we should remember that, even before 1870, the Pope did not always grant honours and noble titles as Head of his States, because even when he granted concessions to foreigners, He acted in his position of Spiritual Leader of the Church, and awarded good actions towards the Church.”[xxix]

We can learn from this, therefore, that the principal basis of the sovereignty of the Holy See is not temporal, but religious. The recognition of its sovereignty is based upon the actions of other states which recognize it, notably the Kingdom of Italy, but also of course the one hundred and eighty states with which the Holy See maintains formal diplomatic relations today. The Holy See is thus a non-territorial entity that has a legal personality in international law that is like that of a state, but that nevertheless is not a state. Brownlie describes it as a “sui generis entity”. In practice, as we shall show, the Holy See is actually not alone in holding this status. The sovereignty of the Order of Malta is of a similar nature because of the Order’s union with the Holy See[xxx]. Such sovereignty can also belong in certain rare circumstances to a church formerly in union with the Holy See that maintains the necessary conditions of validity but that has since become independently-governed.

The contrary arguments have been convincingly overcome. It is not the case that the Holy See lacked sovereignty absent from territorial governance, and therefore only acquired sovereignty in the post-1870 period under the Lateran Pacts of 1929. The 1871 Law of Guarantees and the 1929 Lateran Pacts contradict this explicitly in their acknowledgement of the extant sovereignty of the Holy See, to which territorial governance only adds. The minority of writers such as Geoffrey Robertson who do not regard the Vatican as a state presumably do not regard the Pope as an ecclesiastical sovereign either, but their position is undermined by the recognition accorded to the Holy See by the United Nations and many states, including the United Kingdom. Recognition does not create sovereignty, but it acknowledges its existence.

Nor, pace a number of the writers we have referenced, does the Holy See regard itself as a state. We read, “Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, former Secretary for Relations with States of the Secretariat of State of the Holy See, has underlined that we must avoid the temptation of assimilating the Holy See and its international action with that of a State, with their thirst for power. For him, the Holy See is unquestionably a sovereign subject of international law but of a predominantly religious nature.[xxxi]


In recent years, the Popes have been sparing in their grant of titles of nobility, but they have not ceased to exercise this right. Such titles are today granted within the personal gift of the pontiff, and they are not recorded in the Official Acts of the Holy See. While an administration exists to deal with the titles granted within the Holy See, no list of such titles has ever been made public, nor are the brevets of grant officially published or even unofficially generally available in the form of photographs, even for prominent deceased public figures. This secrecy has given rise in the past to extensive fraud and misrepresentation.

It is also certainly the case that well into the twentieth-century the Popes prioritized the award of titles to wealthy Catholics who donated money and other valuables to the Holy See. In doing so, they were hardly alone; this was after all the era when Lloyd George sold British peerages[xxxii]. In the post-1870 period, titles of nobility became another means by which the Holy See could reinforce its financial position, and the openness with which this was acknowledged in the wider Catholic world both encouraged suitable candidates to come forward and allowed Protestant and other critics to observe a certain snobbery against the holders of Papal titles.

Bander van Duren opines that “it is doubtful that any [hereditary Papal titles] are dated after the Lateran Treaty of 1929”[xxxiii]. This is not the case. Pope St John Paul II granted several titles of count, while Pope Benedict XVI has also created several new papal counts through the Vatican Secretariat of State. In the case of the former, there were also several private grants of comital titles that were unpublished and effectively issued motu proprio. The reform of the Papal Court by Pope St Paul VI in the 1968 apostolic letter Pontificalis Domus removed the Papal nobility as a constituent body of the Papal household, and effectively relegated it to a much less prominent position than hitherto. While it would seem unlikely that Pope Francis will grant any titles of nobility, he has as yet taken no steps that would prevent his successors from doing so.

We can therefore see that the Pope acts when creating titles of nobility and in his protection and award of Orders of Chivalry purely in his capacity as Vicar of Christ and Pontifex Maximus of the Catholic Church, and as the religious sovereign of the Holy See, not in his capacity as a territorial sovereign of the Vatican City, nor previously of the Papal States.


Let us now turn to the second argument put forward above, that the Pope’s fons honorum is unique among the heads of Christian churches. To refute this, we cite the study of the ecclesiastical fons honorum by Claude Chaussier[xxxiv] which addresses a number of relevant points and therefore merits quotation at some length,

“Indeed, in accordance with an ancient tradition now older than a millennium, the Bishops, Archbishops, Abbots of monasteries, but also the Metropolitans (Metran) and Patriarchs possess a real “ius honorum”, which is exercised only partly. The “ius honorum” is the prerogative and the right of a sovereign (and/or spiritual) power, authorized by the law and/or the custom to create and to grant the nobility, noble titles, the knighthood, coat of arms, and honorary decorations and distinctions of merit. The “fons honorum” (source or fountain of honors) rests within the person, the assembly or the elected body entitled to the “potestas” or to the public powers as materialized by the political or spiritual sovereignty, and sometimes both. The “fons honorum” is within a reigning or abdicated monarch (in exile) or the head of royal houses. Usually the latter ones don’t grant nobility and noble titles, but only chivalric dynastic orders and honorary decorations.

The “fons honorum” finds also its source in an organized and instituted religion. It is just simply confided to the supreme or local head of such church. The pontiffs, bishops, etc., who are by tradition and by historical right have held in past times all the “ius honorum” and thus retain still some of its prerogatives. Among these ones, is the right to create orders of chivalry, to grant knighthood and decorations of merit, such as the Chivalric Order of the Holy Cross (by the late Greek-Melkite Patriarch Maximos V Hakim), the Order of Saint Stephen (by the late Cardinal König of Vienna), the Order of Saint Augustine (by the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury) , the Order of Mount Athos, the Order of Saint Andrew the Apostle (by the late Oecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras), and the Holy Chivalric Order of St. Michael the Archangel (by Archbishop Mar Melchizedek, Eparchy of Nebraska), as well as the Medal of Merit of Saint Rombaut (Cardinal Danneels, Archbishop of Brussels) etc.

The Roman Order of the Holy Sepulchre is led by a Grand-Master who is always a Cardinal. Some Orthodox patriarchs and bishops grant the nobiliary title of Archon (Oecumenical Patriarchate) and also the title of Vidame. The Roman Pope, as sovereign of the Papal State, the Vatican, has granted for ages the nobility and noble titles, and also as head of the Roman Catholic Church the knighthood, with decorations and medals to deserving persons. Since Pope Paul VI’s reign, these noble concessions have become rather the exception, yet continue in the appointment of honorary or titular prelates.

The episcopal “fons honorum” is more or less extensive in the the Latin and Oriental Catholic Churches. Moreover, in the Byzantine, Oriental and Orthodox traditions, the Abbots of monasteries with episcopal status are considered as heads of “cities of God” ,as in the ancient state-cities of the Greece. Therefore, such Abbots may also be a “fons honorum”, if they so desire. According to tradition, the Orthodox Patriarchs of the national Greek, Russian, Coptic Churches, etc , including the Roman Pope (as Patriarch of Occident or the Latin Church) are also authentic and legitimate sources of honors particularly in the area of knighthood. The Orthodox patriarchs and bishops bestowed since centuries honors of distinction which help the Church in its spiritual mission, e.g. the Orthodox Patriarchs of Jerusalem, Moscow, the Archbishop of Sinai, the Orthodox Metropolitan or bishop of the Eparchy of Nebraska (U.S.A.) etc.

Religious leaders also grant honors in a sovereign state where the Monarch himself awards honors. In this way the Tzar of all Russia was crowned by the Patriarch of Moscow, as still today the King or the Queen of England being crowned by the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury and in the past time the kings of France by the Archbishop of Reims. Moreover in the Orthodox tradition, the faithful recognize without hindrance the right of their hierarchs to grant honors because the Canon Law excludes from their side all submission to a temporal authority (although each Orthodox jurisdiction is geographic or national by nature).

The “ius honorum” of the Patriarchs, Metropolitans or Bishops was never based on a territorial sovereignty whereas such was generally the case with the Western clergy. Moreover, the actual Canon Law of the Roman Catholic Church recognizes indirectly yet clearly the existence of the “fons honorum” by the Bishops, Archbishops, Patriarchs and their Pope. Let us read specially: Canon 1336, §1-Poenae expiatoriae quae delinquentem afficere possunt aut in perpetuum aut in tempus praefinitum aut in tempus indeterminatum…hae sunt: …2° privatio potestatis, officii, muneris, iuris, privilegii, facultatis, gratiae, tituli, insignis, etiam mere honorari;…” [Canon 1336: §1-The expiatory penalties which can affect a delinquent, either in perpetuity or for a determined time in advancement…are the following: …2° the deprivation of a power, an office, a charge, a right, a privilege, a power, a title , a regalia of distinction, also if purely honorary.

The “potestas episcopalis” And The Episcopal “ius honorum” From the 8th century on, the episcopal throne is the symbol of the “potestas episcopalis”. The Old Testament brings to the forefront the throne as royal attribute and the throne of God as image of the universal kingship of the Lord and of his infinite glory. This symbol is also directly linked to the imperial throne of Occident and Orient, and to the “cathedra Petri”, the Holy See of saint Peter, pontifical throne and supreme rostrum of the master who teaches.

Moreover the bishop holds a sometimes important part of the public power. In these times he is responsible for the Christians of “his” city”. As spiritual father he exceeds rapidly his Church’s mission and assumed also a part of the public mission confided by the State, and that from the Roman Empire up to the “Ancien Régime”, and locally even beyond that time. Still from the end of the Roman Empire to the Middle Ages, and especially in several places until the 17Ith century, the “potestas episcopalis”, partially sovereign, makes an Occidental and Oriental bishop a kind of monarch governing his clergy and his believers. The faithful have to be governed in the name of God by the Prince and the Bishop with respectively the “potestas principalis” (power of the Prince) and the “potestas episcopalis” (episcopal power) which are complementary and reciprocal.

Thus the authentic episcopal principalities appeared, as well as duchies and earldoms where the bishop enjoyed a temporal and spiritual sovereignty. This also applies partially to the Abbotical power; for instance, in Italy the monastic territories of Cava, Cassino, or still Seborga with its Prince-Abbot, or also bishoprics as the episcopal principality of Liège (Belgium in the sphere of influence of the Holy Roman Empire). In this context of the exercise of the double “potestas episcopalis et publica” by the bishops and sometimes by abbots we recognize the charge of “defensor” (defender) who will later be in charge of Vidames and Advocates in accordance with the “ius honorum” linked to the Titulars of the “potestas episcopalis”.

This shows that the fons honorum within the Church cannot by nature be confined to the Pope, but inasmuch as the Pope exercises it, he does so as Pontifex Maximus of the Catholic Church. As we shall later show, the Catholic Church while holding for itself a position of primacy, admits that there are other valid churches, and in that these are valid, these also inherit the same ecclesiastical jurisdiction as does the Bishop of Rome.

One interesting question raised by Chaussier is that of jurisdiction. Although there are many cases in history where a state grants a title of nobility to a foreigner, these are the exception rather than the rule. For the Popes, almost all titles of nobility have been conferred upon persons who are not citizens of the Papal States or the Vatican City, and therefore their exercise of such powers might in certain circumstances be seen as infringing upon the territorial prerogatives of the sovereign concerned. We will come to this issue with specific reference to the United Kingdom at a later point.

For now, we can state simply that the constituency for potential grants of Papal nobiliary titles is conceived not in the manner of a territorial sovereign, but religiously, in keeping with the universality claimed by the Catholic Church. Indeed, that religious sovereignty can be argued to be superior to territorial sovereignty in that the Pope asks no permission from the territorial sovereign before honouring his Catholic citizens, yet is not perceived as rendering any diplomatic discourtesy through that act.


A related consideration is the noble status of the clergy by virtue of their office. This subject is discussed by Marquis Jan-Olof von Wowern in his paper Catholic Hierarchy[xxxv].

Of this he says, “Catholic priests have since time immemorial held rank equivalent to that of an (untitled) nobleman, nobile. It is from a nobiliary standpoint interesting to reflect upon the Lateran Pacts of 1929 between the Holy See and Italy. The Vatican City State is recognized as a sovereign country and the Supreme Pontiff as its Sovereign, in this capacity equal to the King of Italy. Article 21 of the “Conciliation Treaty” states that “All Cardinals shall enjoy, in Italy, the honours due to Princes of the Blood”. (For the text, see ).

This means that the two top levels of the noble hierarchy are defined, and they correspond to equal ranks of the priesthood. The other steps follow by extrapolation in the only way possible.

Catholic Hierarchy ≅  Noble hierarchy

Pope ≅ Monarch

Cardinal ≅ Prince

Archbishop ≅ Duke/Marquis

Bishop /Aux. Bishop ≅ Count/Baron

Monsignore/Priest ≅ Noble”

von Wowern points out that in the Lateran Pacts of 1929, in the Concordat Art 42, “Italy shall admit the recognition of titles of nobility conferred by the Supreme Pontiff, even after 1870, and of those that shall be conferred in the future”. This however was superseded in 1947 when the Italian Republic abolished the recognition of all titles of nobility; a subsequent decision of the Italian Council of State in 1969 appears to have established that the recognition in the Lateran Treaty still exists in theory, but in practice has no overt means of expression, such as the inclusion of titles on passports or other official documentation. According to von Wowern, the Almanach de Gotha also concedes the rank of Prince to Cardinals.

The princely status of the clergy was not always merely personal and symbolic. We might also reflect on the Hungarian Archbishop of Esztergom who was designated Prince-Primate and the Fürstprimas Archbishop Dalberg of Regensburg.

Returning to the Prince-Primate Archbishop of Esztergom, we are told that, “By ancient custom, he had the right to crown the King of Hungary and anoint the queen. By a gift of archiepiscopal property he was at one time able to confer nobility (Prädialadel), another rarely delegated princely prerogative (usually only knighting was allowed to non-sovereign nobility).”[xxxvi]

This appears to be in effect the creation of feudal titles in that the titles were attached to some portion of land. It stands as evidence that the Pope could and did delegate his fons honorum to a prelate who would then (unlike the Pope) introduce a territorial element into his nobiliary grants. Interestingly, Christoph Weber suggests that an identical right to create Landadel or Prädialadel was conceded to the Archbishop of Agram and the Bishop of Raab.[xxxvii]

These examples and others show that one major principle of the theory of sovereignty does not apply completely to the ecclesiastical context. This is that the sovereign condition is summed up as “superiorem non recognoscere nec habere” (not recognizing nor having any superior). This is true of territorial sovereigns but it is not true within the Church, where the fons honorum may be delegated by the Pope to a major archbishop, or indeed where a combination of territorial and ecclesiastical sovereignty exists, such that the territorial sovereignty is effectively symbolic and the ecclesiastical sovereignty is in fact the operative authority. Indeed, can superiorem non recognoscere really be true of any Christian monarchy, which is in fact subject not only to God but also in moral matters to the Church? Certainly it is not if the Pope is permitted to confer titles and knighthoods upon its citizens without seeking the permission of the king concerned.

In practice, medieval theorists also evolved the idea of rex-imperator­ in which the authority of a king and an emperor is likened; “the king possesses within his territory the same powers which the emperor enjoys within the empire as a whole.”[xxxviii] In European history there are examples of sovereign structures such as the Holy Roman Empire and later the German Empire where, although the Emperors held the supreme sovereignty, the kings and princes under them were also considered sovereign, maintained effective territorial rule, and exercised the fons honorum. We can see the Pope as an “emperor” in this way, and we can also understand the position of the Ottoman Sultans towards the Rum Millet (as will be discussed subsequently) similarly.


So much for the Papal fons honorum, what now of those churches which assert that the powers of the Pope have descended to them despite their not being an explicit part of the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church? We have previously established that the sovereignty of the Pope is divine in origin. In examining the potential descent of that sovereignty, we exclude from discussion those who claim to have received sovereign powers by strictly supernatural means, such as in dreams or visions of Our Lord. We follow solely the law and tradition of the Catholic Church in such matters. In doing so, we judge clergy and churches that are not in full communion with the Holy See not by their own canons and positions, but throughout by those of the Catholic Church.

In Catholic canon law, the hierarchy of Holy Orders is threefold, consisting in ascending order of deacons, priests and bishops. Only the bishop, possessing the fullness of Holy Orders, can exercise the authority of the Church in ordaining other men deacon and priest, and in consecrating a priest to become a bishop. In practise, all higher ranks of the Church, such as archbishop, cardinal, patriarch, or Pope, are filled by bishops.


Given that the Catholic Church claims for herself both supremacy and exclusivity, it may come as a surprise that she acknowledges that valid ordination, and indeed a valid expression of the Church, may come about outside the immediate jurisdiction of the Holy See.

Pope Leo XIII addresses this issue in Apostolicae Curae (1896), “If … a person has seriously and correctly used the due matter and form [of a sacrament], he is … presumed to have intended to do what the Church does … a sacrament is truly a sacrament, even if it is conferred through the ministry of a heretic, or of one who is not himself baptised, provided the catholic rite is used” (para 33).

The context of this discussion is the validity of the Holy Orders of the Church of England. Interestingly, the Catholic Church concedes that the Church of England could have preserved valid Holy Orders after Henry VIII’s breach with Rome in 1533. After all, it began that year with a full set of valid Catholic clergy. But because the Edwardine Ordinal of 1549 was deemed defective, and because it was not replaced by a valid alternative until 1662, the valid hierarchy died out and were replaced by invalidly ordained clerics, since the service used to ordain them did not make it clear that they were to be ordained as priests rather than merely as ministers.[xxxix]

Let us consider more recent examples of developments away from Rome where there is no question of defective rites. This subject is discussed by ecclesiastical lawyer Philip Jones, “Pope Leo did not hold that Anglican orders are invalid because the Church of England left the Catholic Church at the Reformation.  On the contrary, orders may be validly conferred outside the Catholic Church.

This conclusion was reaffirmed in the case of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, who was excommunicated in 1988 for ordaining bishops in breach of canon law.  Lefebvre’s ordinations were said to be valid but unlawful.”[xl]

There are several similar cases in the twentieth-century, such as the excommunicated Roman Catholic bishops Carlos Duarte Costa[xli] and Emmanuel Milingo[xlii], who have gone on to consecrate others as bishops. These consecrations are similarly valid according to Catholic canon law, but unlawful since there is no mandate from the Holy See. In theory, there is nothing that would prevent the reconciliation and recognition of such clergy by Rome in the event that both parties were willing, and in a few very limited cases this has happened, such as that of bishop Salomao Ferraz[xliii], who was consecrated independently by Carlos Duarte Costa in 1945 but reconciled with the Holy See in 1959 and was appointed Titular Bishop of Eleutherna.

In the present era, those who have left the Catholic Church to receive the episcopate in some other communion are often deprived of the exercise of their Holy Orders as a punishment upon their reconciliation with the Catholic Church, although the validity of their Orders is not denied[xliv]. A further deterrent option for the Holy See is administrative laicization.[xlv] The Holy See today holds that those Roman bishops who consecrate without a Papal mandate incur automatic latae sententiae excommunication both for themselves and those who receive Holy Orders at their hands (if they are or have been Roman Catholics), but this is relatively recent in imposition. Bishops descending from hierarchies whose separation from Rome predates the 1917 Code of Canon Law and who have never been Roman Catholics incur neither suspension nor automatic excommunication.


The Roman Catholic Church has acknowledged explicitly that there exist churches apart from the jurisdiction of the Pope that are valid churches.

The Declaration of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith Dominus Iesus (2000) states, Therefore, there exists a single Church of Christ, which subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the Successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him. The Churches which, while not existing in perfect communion with the Catholic Church, remain united to her by means of the closest bonds, that is, by apostolic succession and a valid Eucharist, are true particular Churches. Therefore, the Church of Christ is present and operative also in these Churches, even though they lack full communion with the Catholic Church, since they do not accept the Catholic doctrine of the Primacy, which, according to the will of God, the Bishop of Rome objectively has and exercises over the entire Church. (IV:17)[xlvi]

We are then given the conditions for a church to be a “true particular church”, viz. Apostolic Succession and a valid Eucharist. In practice, the second condition is only possible if the first is present.

Moreover, such separated churches are not separate in that they do not belong to the Catholic Church, “The Christian faithful are therefore not permitted to imagine that the Church of Christ is nothing more than a collection — divided, yet in some way one — of Churches and ecclesial communities; nor are they free to hold that today the Church of Christ nowhere really exists, and must be considered only as a goal which all Churches and ecclesial communities must strive to reach”. In fact, “the elements of this already-given Church exist, joined together in their fullness in the Catholic Church and, without this fullness, in the other communities”.

Therefore, these separated Churches and communities as such, though we believe they suffer from defects, have by no means been deprived of significance and importance in the mystery of salvation. For the spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as means of salvation which derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Catholic Church”.

It follows that the separated churches draw upon the same divine essence as the Catholic Church. They are elements of a single church, not a sign of a church that consists of many disparate parts. It follows that they are as much partakers of the Holy Roman Church as is the Holy See. It is then for them to define the nature of their relationship with Rome[xlvii].

Validity requires that Holy Orders are conferred for and within the Church. As such, we can concede validity only to an organized body of the Christian faithful and not to an individual acting in a way that may be perceived as for their own or another’s benefit. That body of the faithful may be very small indeed, but so long as it constitutes itself in a way that preserves the essentials of the Sacraments, it will nevertheless be a valid expression of the Church. In our view, the canonical and jurisdictional status of churches separate from Rome is important. There is a clearer and more obvious validity in a church that does not originate in schism, that has a clear organization and canonical structure, and that can claim an unbroken history of a century or more, than in a line of wandering bishops, each of whom has broken communion with his predecessor.

Even this, however, is probably overly cautious. Regarding the necessary matter, form and intent to confect a sacrament validly, Pope Leo XIII in “Apostolicae Curae – On the Nullity of Anglican Orders” (1896) says, “The Church does not judge about the mind and intention, in so far as it is something by its nature internal; but in so far as it is manifested externally she is bound to judge concerning it. A person who has correctly and seriously used the requisite matter and form to effect and confer a sacrament is presumed for that very reason to have intended to do (intendisse) what the Church does.”

The twentieth-century theologian Ludwig Ott puts the position thus: “Every validly consecrated bishop, including heretical, schismatic, simonistic or excommunicated bishops, can validly dispense the Sacrament of Order, provided that he has the requisite intention, and follows the essential external rite (set. Certa). Cf. D 855, 860; CIC 2372. (…) In antiquity and in the early Middle Ages, numerous re-ordinations occurred, that is, repetitions of Orders administered by heretical, schismatic or simonistic bishops. The Fathers and theologians of early Scholasticism were uncertain about this question. Petrus Lombardus does not venture to make any decision in view of the contradictory patristic authorities (Sent. IV 25,1) St Thomas confirms the validity of Orders confirmed by heretical bishops separated from the Church.  (Suppl 38, 2)”[xlviii]

This position is confirmed by the canonist Woywod, “A validly consecrated bishop can validly confer all orders from the minor orders to the episcopate inclusively … For this reason the ordinations performed by the bishops of the Old Catholics are considered valid.”[xlix]

The case of the consecrations conducted by the excommunicated Roman Catholic archbishop Pierre Martin Ngô Đình Thục[l] has been the subject of a detailed study into their validity by the late Fr. Anthony Cekada, a leading sedevacantist formerly of the Society of St Pius IX and the Society of St Pius V[li].

Cekada states,“All that is required to perform an episcopal consecration validly is an imposition of hands, a 16-word formula and the minimal intention “to do what the Church does.”

Similar views are to be found in Fr. Cekada’s critique of Bishop Clarence Kelly of the SSPV[lii], in which he cites the canonist Fr Coronata,“The common doctrine is this: Virtual intention is necessary and sufficient in the minister to confect the sacraments… Virtual intention, as we have already seen, is an actual intention itself which is operating along with distraction. Such an intention is certainly present in someone who regularly performs sacramental actions— for example, a priest who goes early to the church, puts on vestments, goes to the altar, celebrates Mass, and consecrates a host or hosts presented to him at it, even though he does not think about the intention of consecrating.”[liii]

Cekada sums up the position thus, “This minimum, obviously, is not very hard to meet. (…)A priest who says otherwise is either ignorant of the principles of sacramental theology or dishonest — because he knows better, but refuses to abandon a foolish position.”

Therefore it follows that validity is the default presumption when a sacrament is confected. The moral character, formal education or theological expertise of the priest or bishop is irrelevant[liv]. To say the prescribed words of the service and to perform the necessary actions is to do as the Church intends. Even if the bishop in question is heretical, or the service simonistic, the Church provides for a default level of validity in order to safeguard the faithful; their Mass is far more likely valid than not, whoever the celebrant may be.

Cekada again, “As regards sacramental intention (a topic consistently misunderstood and misrepresented over the years by countless traditionalists, both clerical and lay), theologians and canonists teach that merely virtual intention in the minister suffices for him to confer a sacrament validly.

This is a technical concept which need not detain us here. We merely note how theologians teach that putting on vestments and going to the altar to perform a rite is sufficient to prove virtual intention in the minister of a sacrament”[lv].

While clearly there is a range of opinions on individual cases of validity of this or that bishop, within traditional Catholic canon law, there is in fact a very limited number of people who are empowered to undertake any official challenge to validity,

“Church law provides that, when Holy Orders is conferred in a given case, only three people can dispute its validity: the recipient, his ordinary, and the ordinary of the diocese where the order was conferred. All others lack the right to accuse.”[lvi]

Where ordination is repeated, it may either be sub conditione, where there is prudent doubt about the validity of the previous ordination, or ad cautelam, where there is little doubt but circumstances render it prudent to achieve certainty as to the matter. The ecumenical use of conditional consecration as a means to enable a bishop to minister validly in another communion that may not accept his original consecration is outside the scope of the present study.

It should not be thought that validity is affected by the effluxion of time. The Eastern Orthodox Churches ceased to be in communion with Rome in 1054 but have maintained sacraments that are seen by Rome as valid ever since[lvii]. If Eastern Orthodox clergy wish to exercise their ministry in Rome, they are not reordained, but are received in their Orthodox orders[lviii]. The Catholic-Orthodox Joint Declaration of 1965 between the Holy See and the Ecumenical Patriarchate lifted the respective excommunications that had existed since 1054. Can we then say that the sacraments, including the ordinations, of the Orthodox are considered valid but unlawful? This again is not accurate. Rome accepts the validity of Orthodox sacraments and vice versa, but for individuals who have never been Roman Catholics, the Code of Canon Law does not apply, and therefore there can be no unlawful state.

It is also the case that those who are ordained by a bishop who is schismatic do not themselves become schismatic by that act. This has been discussed by Fr. Daniel B. Ahern, “Does the reception of orders from a schismatic render one schismatic? If the willful reception of holy orders from a schismatic per se rendered one schismatic, then such an action would always be gravely sinful, and should be punished as schism, i.e. with excommunication.

But the Church, in spite of her general and severe prohibition, has allowed absolution to those who planned to approach a schismatic bishop for orders, and punishes schismatic ordination much less severely than schism. Fr. Ignatius Szal discusses the matter in his dissertation The Communication of Catbolics with Schismatics:

In spite of the teaching set forth in the instruction Sanctissimus of Clement VIII, the Holy Office seemed to take a rather lenient view toward permitting ordination by schismatics in its response of June 7, 1639. It was asked how one should act toward those who when coming to confession had the intention of presenting themselves to a Greek Bishop for the reception of sacred orders, and in particular to a bishop who was a schismatic or a heretic, or who was involved in simony inasmuch as his consecration had been accompanied with a payment of money. The answer was given that those who for a just cause wished to approach a schismatic bishop who, if excommunicated, was nevertheless not a vitandus, could be absolved, since the desire, motivated by a just cause, did not entail a sin. However, it was not permissible for one to entertain the arbitrary desire to approach a simonical bishop for the reception of Orders. At the same time it was asked whether it was licit to absolve those who approached the confessor in good faith, thinking namely that they had not sinned and that they had not incurred any censure or any penalty by having received sacred Orders from dissidents and simonical bishops, and further, whether they should be left in good faith. The Holy Office stated that they could be absolved, in so far as they needed absolution, by one who had the requisite authority, and that they were to be given a warning or an admonition in the same sense in which it was called for in relation to other sins.

On this same matter there was still another response of the Holy Office on November 21, 1709. No Armenian Catholic bishops were available for ordaining priests who were needed in Ispahan, and so it was asked whether sacred Orders could be received from schismatical or heretical bishops. The Holy Office replied that in no way could that be allowed, and that those who had been ordained by such bishops were irregular and suspended from the exercise of their Orders.

The reception of holy Orders from the hands of schismatic bishops has practically always been forbidden by the Church. Rarely has the Holy See ever considered it necessary to receive orders from a schismatic bishop.

Those who presume to receive sacred Orders from a schismatic bishop arc punished with a suspension reserved to the Holy See. Those who have received Orders from a schismatic in good faith are not suspended, but irregular, and may not exercise the orders so received until they have received a dispensation. There is no mention of abjuration or schismatic status, hence it seems that there is no presumption of schism. Fr. Szal closes his discussion of Orders from schismatics with what prove to be prophetically ironic words: ‘In present it is impossible to imagine a situation in which necessity the would warrant the reception of Orders from the hands of a schismatic contrary to the prescriptions of the Church.”

Conclusion: The reception of holy orders from a schismatic does not per se render one schismatic.”[lix]

Later in the same work, Fr. Ahern raises some important points concerning “schism” and the way in which this term is perceived from a traditionalist viewpoint, “The formality of schism is a refusal of submission to the Roman Pontiff and/or a refusal of communion with those who are subject to him. Evidence of schism may include an explicit declaration, repudiation of the commands and laws of the pope, the establishment of a counter-hierarchy, the concoction of one’s own liturgy, repudiation of the name Catholic, rejection of the disciplinary laws of the Church, adherence to a body that is professedly schismatic, or repudiation of Catholics in good standing. The present situation in the Church renders it difficult to discern schism, for enemies have occupied the places of authority, and resistance to the usurpers is often difficult to distinguish from resistance to the office usurped.”

We should then turn directly to Papal authority to establish who may consider themselves a member of the Catholic Church. Pope Pius XII says, ” Actually only those are to be included as members of the Church who have been baptized and profess the true faith, and who have not been so unfortunate as to separate themselves from the unity of the Body, or been excluded by legitimate authority for grave faults committed.”[lx]

In discussing the Prince-Abbots of San Luigi, we find only one case of an excommunication in Prince-Abbot Joseph III in 1901, and that was formally remitted by the Holy See in 1925. Neither his predecessors nor his successors, nor the Heads of the Royal House Polanie-Patrikios and their ecclesiastical progenitors, have been excommunicates, nor have they led schisms[lxi]. The continual use of the word “Catholic” to describe their ministries stands as evidence of the way they have regarded themselves[lxii].

On the other hand, there are some communions that have clearly had validity but then lost it. Heresy is not enough to create invalidity, but apostasy (as is found, for example, among some Gnostic and occultist groups) is. While bishops who have ordained women in other communions have been received validly by Rome (such as Graham Leonard, late Bishop of London in the Church of England, who was received in his Anglican priestly orders by Rome and given the title of Monsignor[lxiii]), those who have been ordained by women would not be considered to be valid. Nor does Rome now concede validity to the Brazilian Catholic Apostolic Church (ICAB) established by Duarte Costa, although there are political factors at work there as well, since ICAB has been an open rival to the Roman Catholic hierarchy in Brazil[lxiv].


Having established that it is possible for an entire church to maintain validity separately from Roman jurisdiction, the question then arises as to what is alienable from Rome as the parent body. There are some churches which claim that the Roman Catholic Church is in profound error since the Second Vatican Council, and that the true Church of Christ is now vested in a remnant rather than the mainstream, endorsing the beliefs defined variously as sedevacantism, sedeprivationism or sedeplenism[lxv]. An example of a sedeplenist group is the Society of St Pius X (SSPX) whose first leader, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, has already been mentioned. There are further traditionalist groups, and a few sedevacantists have even elected their own antipopes, forming a traditionalist Vatican-in-exile. However, it is not necessary for a church to model itself on the Roman hierarchy to such a close extent to remain valid. The chief bishop of any of these churches, even though he has no Papal pretensions, still possesses the spiritual and other powers that he has inherited from the Pope, and can still exercise these to the full within a canonical governing framework, just as Rome herself does.

While all traditionalists trace their Apostolic Succession to Roman Catholic bishops, there are many different lineages within their groups. Some come from the SSPX, others from the Duarte Costa or Thuc lineages, and others from the Old Catholic Church, which separated from Rome in 1870 as a result of the First Vatican Council. Because of changes in the Code of Canon Law, it is likely that the pre-1917 departures from Rome are of greatest significance since their bishops have not incurred automatic canonical suspension or excommunication. Nonetheless, as will be seen, there are some isolated examples of descents from Roman bishops who did not in fact leave the jurisdiction of the Holy See.

There is inevitably tension between separated groups and Rome when questions of recognition arise. This is most usually because a separated group wishes to maintain its independence while at the same time maintaining that Rome recognizes them and that they therefore constitute an alternative source of validity. Understandably, Rome does not take the view that it is in the interests of the Church for separatist groups to proliferate, particularly when they are highly critical of the contemporary position of the Holy See, and the official tone tends to be one of discouragement and grudging acknowledgement at best. Moreover, there is very little case law or official discussion of these issues from Rome to draw upon. Nevertheless, Rome cannot change what has been the doctrine of centuries past, and it is only necessary to examine Rome’s own published canons and statements to establish the facts.

The position of the separated groups that we are discussing here is in technical terms that they are in partial or imperfect communion with the Holy See according to the provisions of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1992), 838[lxvi] and 1271. They remain Catholic in faith and practice and preserve valid sacraments, but they are not under the jurisdiction of the Pope or part of the Catholic hierarchy. Were they to come under the jurisdiction of the Pope, they would then be in full communion with the Holy See.

How then can anyone establish the bona fides at any essential level of a Catholic clergyman who is not part of the formal hierarchy of the Holy See? Fr. Cekada’s paper on the Thuc consecrations addresses this issue succinctly,

“When things were normal in the Church, it was easy to ascertain the fact that an episcopal consecration took place. You went to someone with authority. He looked up the particulars in an official register. If an authorized church official had duly recorded the consecration in the register, church law regarded it as a fact-“proven” in the eyes of church law. The same goes for baptisms, confirmations and priestly ordinations.

If these official registers were lost or accidentally destroyed, you took another route. You brought the evidence to someone with authority-a diocesan bishop or a judge in a Vatican tribunal, say. The official examined the evidence and issued a decree stating that so-and-so had received the sacrament.

These officials enjoyed a legal power called ordinary jurisdiction – authority, deriving ultimately from the pope, to command, make laws, punish and judge. Part of that authority consisted in the power to establish in the eyes of church law the fact that a given sacramental act took place – to function as a sacramental , counterpart to the Registrar of Deeds.

In both cases – that of either official registers or hierarchical decrees – someone with ordinary jurisdiction was exercising his power. He judged he had sufficient legal evidence that, say, a particular ordination had been performed. He entered it into the official register, or issued a decree. The fact of the ordination was then, established before the law. In contrast to this, consider my own ordination. It’s a fact that Archbishop Lefebvre ordained me to the priesthood in Econe, Switzerland on 29 June I977. But that fact has not been legally established. It’s not recorded in the ordination register of the Diocese of Sion, as church law would require. Should normalcy return to the Church in my lifetime, I’d go to someone with ordinary jurisdiction. He would then rule on the evidence and issue a decree which would legally establish the fact of my ordination.

Where does this leave the fact of the Thuc consecrations? In the same place it leaves my ordination, the Lefebvre consecrations and all sacraments traditional Catholic clergy confer: in a sort of legal limbo. Since no one in the traditional movement possesses ordinary jurisdiction, no one has the power to rule on the legal evidence that a particular sacrament was performed and then establish it as a fact before church law. That’s a function of church officials who have received their authority from a pope.”

In the absence of such authority, there are several reference works that contain the details of consecrations. The most comprehensive, reliable, and recent of these (though regrettably now some thirty years old) is Independent Bishops: An International Directory by Gary Ward, Alan Bain and Bertil Persson (Apogee Books, 1990). This is a publication by the Institute for the Study of American Religion at the University of California, Santa Barbara, which remains the only mainstream university centre to have undertaken a specialist mission of research and the collection of information on this subject. The extensive archives of the Institute are the basis for the work.

A related question is how, absent from a mandate deriving from the Pope’s authority, clergy if validly ordained can possess the authority to undertake a sacramental ministry. Within the Roman Catholic Church, clergy are given faculties or a mandate; what happens when there is no such central source of authority for clergy who are not under Papal jurisdiction? This question is given a detailed treatment by Bishop Bernard Tissier de Mallerais of the SSPX in his paper Supplied Jurisdiction and Traditional Priests[lxvii], on which Fr. Peter Scott comments,

“It is clear that, given the present circumstances of crisis in the Church and the principles of Canonical Equity, given the general principles of the law, and the Church’s continuous practice of supplying jurisdiction for the good of the faithful whenever it foresees that this lack of jurisdiction would be to their detriment, traditional priests receive supplied jurisdiction from the law. This is with the understanding that personal jurisdiction is unjustly refused to them simply because of their attachment to the Faith and its traditional expression (inseparable from the Faith), and that the faithful cannot be expected to continually search out and judge for themselves which confessors in the Conciliar Church[lxviii] might be acceptable and might give them the spiritual advice they need (given that the vast majority do not).

In conclusion, therefore, it is obvious that, besides the case of common error, besides the case of probable and positive danger of death as interpreted in the broad sense of spiritual death, traditional priests receive a iure (from the law itself) a supplied jurisdiction for all cases in which this jurisdiction is required. This is simply the application of Canon 20, notably of Canonical Equity[lxix]. There are no solid arguments against this and since there is at least a positive and probable doubt in favor of this argument, and we know that in such a case the Church certainly supplies jurisdiction, then traditional priests can and must act accordingly and the faithful can and should approach them for Confession.”

This point was also addressed by the late Bishop Terence R. Fulham, “Our reply consists in this short principle: traditional clergy are justified in functioning without faculties, because all and only those canons which limit their power to function have intrinsically ceased to bind because of a higher law – the salvation of souls.

Please note – we do not say that all law has ceased to bind. Not all the law is impossible to observe hence it still functions. Law does not depend upon an authority who obliges us to obey it, it binds us by its own force after promulgation.

In the matter of cessation of law, it is not necessary that an authority decide which laws have ceased. “Intrinsic cessation” means that a law of itself has ceased because it now hinders the attainment of the common good of its subjects. Cessation may be partial or total as we have said before. Thus we conclude that a partial cessation of canon law has occurred. As to which laws have ceased, the matter must be left to the prudent judgment and common opinion of men well-versed in the study of canon law. Hence it may not be decided by private individuals who are unaware of the principles governing the interpretation of canon law.

We feel constrained to adopt the position of a moderate intrinsic cessation of law since this position alone explains how a traditional priest can administer the sacraments to all and sundry and thereby establish a habitual, universal hard and fast rule. Epikeia does not do this. A complete cessation would be contrary to the nature of law itself. (…)

In conclusion, the answer to the question: How can a priest without faculties function ? must ultimately be found in that most unfathomable of all the mysteries of God – his merciful love.”[lxx]

We should recall, however, that there are structures even within the Roman Catholic Church that are effectively autocephalous. The Second Vatican Council contains the following clarification,

“The patriarchs with their synods are the highest authority for all business of the patriarchate, including the right of establishing new eparchies and of nominating bishops of their rite within the territorial bounds of the patriarchate, without prejudice to the inalienable right of the Roman Pontiff to intervene in individual cases.

What has been said of patriarchs is valid also, in harmony with the canon law, in respect to major archbishops, who rule the whole of some individual church or rite.”[lxxi]


We should rather ask, if the fons honorum of the Pope derives from his ecclesiastical sovereignty as head of the Holy See and not from his temporal rule of the Papal States or the Vatican City, on what basis could his fons honorum not be alienated if it is possible for entire valid churches to exist for centuries independently of papal control?

The number of cases where the fons honorum has been exercised by separated Catholic churches is quite high in respect of the creation and protection of Orders of knighthood. Whether or not such Orders are considered to be chivalric in character is a highly subjective matter. Certainly some claim to be, and in some cases, they are modern revivals of extinct or dormant medieval Orders. We might mention inter alia the Holy Order of St Michael and St George of the British Old Catholic Church, the Order of St Willibrord of the Old Roman Catholic Church of Great Britain, the Order of St Raphael originally attached to the Pre-Nicene Gnostic Catholic Church, and the Order of the Holy Cross of Jerusalem of the Old Holy Catholic Church. There are many more examples. The creation of titles of nobility among such churches is rarer, but certainly not entirely unknown.

The power of ius honorum exercised in these acts can be seen to be inherent in the divine commission to the Church; it is not dependent on any secular authority for its origins. We have seen above Chaussier’s argument that the ius honorum subsists within all churches with a common root in the undivided (pre-1054) Church. It is not the case that there is anything indigenously Western about it, nor indigenously papal, although the Catholic model is that most frequently encountered as a reference-point.


Inevitably there are differences between the Catholic and Orthodox views of papal supremacy, with the Orthodox conceiving the Pope as primus inter pares among the major patriarchs[lxxii], and the Catholic maintaining that the Pope has a primacy not of courtesy but of active jurisdiction. This latter interpretation ultimately finds expression in the highly controversial proclamation of the First Vatican Council (1870) that the Pope is infallible in matters of faith and morals, a matter which prior to that date had been held either as mere pious belief or, in the case of most Catholics in the British Isles, not held at all. It does not follow from this, however, that prior to 1054 the Pope held an ecclesiastical fons honorum that was denied to the other major patriarchs. There is no writing from that period that confirms such a view, and any later argument to such an effect is a construction based on wishful thinking.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, most of the Old Catholic Churches, which left papal jurisdiction in protest against the First Vatican Council, do not accept papal infallibility. Their beliefs are summarized in the Declaration of Utrecht[lxxiii] which states in its second item,

We therefore reject the decrees of the so-called Council of the Vatican, which were promulgated July 18th, 1870, concerning the infallibility and the universal Episcopate of the Bishop of Rome, decrees which are in contradiction with the faith of the ancient Church, and which destroy its ancient canonical constitution by attributing to the Pope the plentitude of ecclesiastical powers over all Dioceses and over all the faithful. By denial of this primatial jurisdiction we do not wish to deny the historical primacy which several Oecumenical Councils and Fathers of the ancient Church have attributed to the Bishop of Rome by recognizing him as the Primus inter pares.


One point in common between the historians of Papal sovereignty and the Orthodox Churches is an acknowledgement that all sovereignty is necessarily of divine origin. Likewise, if we turn to an examination of Russian history, we find a great similarity to the merger of ecclesiastical power and temporal power that subsists in Rome.

The Eastern Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia has published a study on Russian sovereignty that contains the following observations, “But in Orthodox Russia there once existed a society composed not of “church and state” (such as existed in medieval Europe) but of “government and priesthood”-a holy commonwealth. The Tsar was never placed outside the Church or “above the law,” but always within the Church and subject to the law of Christ. He was very much the “servant of the Gospel”: he was required to live by it and rule by it in order to be worthy of the blessings of God upon himself, his family, and his nation…

An Orthodox monarch receives his authority from God, but by what means and in what manner does it come to him? Authority to govern in the Name of God and perform the highest earthly ministry descends upon a Tsar in the Sacrament of Anointing, at the time of his coronation. After the crowning he is told that “this visible and material adornment of thy head is to thee a manifest sign that the King of Glory, Christ, invisibly crowneth thee.” The Anointing takes place after the reading of the Gospel in Divine Liturgy. The chief hierarch anoints the Tsar with Holy Chrism on the brow, eyes, nostrils, lips, ears, breast, and hands, saying each time: “The Seal of the Gift of the Holy Spirit.” Thus, Nicholas II received his authority through a Sacrament. The Holy Spirit was upon him!”[lxxiv]

Related to this is an article on the fons honorum of the Russian Orthodox Church by Michael Y. Medvedev, which attempts to answer the common but erroneous assumptions that the fons honorum is purely temporal in nature. He says in his introduction,

“Although the very term “Order”, applied to the most exalted and solemn premial institutions, originally came from the ecclesiastic life, today the Orders of honour – that is to say, the Orders of chivalry or of merit – are understood as a temporal phenomenon. Indeed such an Order may occasionally constitute an ecclesiastical body under the canon law, or to enjoy certain ecclesiastical privileges; but this is an additional, secondary quality.

It is generally accepted in our days that an Order of chivalry or of merit may be instituted only by a temporal power and, more precisely, by a Sovereign State, represented by its Head, Parliament, or another competent body or official. The “Orders” founded privately are generally, and justly, considered as “created without proper authority”, “quasi-orders”, “soi-disant”, and even “bogus”. Thus the word “Order” appears to be a kind of a title, which cannot be just assumed.

In this aspect, the ecclesiastic Orders of the Eastern Churches (the Orthodox Churches and the Eastern Churches in union with Rome) present a problem. They constitute a firmly established phenomenon and their existence is widely accepted; yet they are neither State nor House Orders and have no appropriate temporal legal background. Some authors are trying to justify their existence by attesting them as pure cult phenomena (rather than public honours), or as exclusively inner awards of the correspondent Churches. Both arguments are wrong; moreover, both are irrelevant. Basically, these Orders either deserve this name, or they do not.

In several cases their existence may be explained as a historically justified extension of the general concept of temporal honours. Thus, the Orthodox Patriarchs under the Ottoman rule were vested with certain temporal responsibility (the ethnarchy), and continued some Imperial practices including nominations of laic dignitaries. It is this traditional worldly leadership which in 1966 was continued by HH Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras in creation of an Order of St.Andrew, roughly equating the old rank of archons with that of knights. The Order of the Holy Sepulchre of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, which predates that of the Ecumenical Patriarchate for at least a century, if not much more, was certainly founded as a reflection of the worldly prominent role of the Patriarchate. It is worth mentioning that this institution was recognised in the Imperial Russia as a fully genuine foreign Order, and its insignia were allowed to be worn by correspondent Imperial permissions.

Another curious example is the Order of the Holy Lamb [God’s Lamb] of the Archbishopric of Finland, which is a branch of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, but also one of the two official State Churches of Finland, which imported at least certain temporal component and resulted in the Order’s effective integration into the national honours system.

The majority of other Orders of the Eastern Patriarchates and independent Metropolies seem to be founded as an imitation of neighbours’ practices, following the principle of the equality of the sister Churches. As to the logic, this is maybe a liberty (the spiritual equality does not presume the identity of the temporal prerogatives belonging for historical reasons to this or that Church), but this explains why the existence of the ecclesiastical Orders en masse is seriously linked with the ecclesiological tradition, and thus may at least tolerated by specialists in the Orders-lore.”[lxxv]

Medvedev’s intellectual transit here is instructive. He begins with the common assumptions of someone who has absorbed the common tropes of certain chivalric commentators, notably the International Commission on Orders of Chivalry. But as an enquiring mind, it is not long before he realizes that the evidence before him does not fit the theory that the ICOC and others have put forward in a dogmatic manner. Since it is beyond question that those cases he is discussing, being of the Russian Orthodox Church, are morally beyond reproach and in all other respects genuine, he must then account for the anomaly. As he says, either they are Orders, or they are not. As we will encounter in more detail below, he refers to the sovereignty of the Orthodox churches under Ottoman rule until 1922. Yet that in itself is not enough to explain the phenomenon he describes. He almost arrives at the correct answer in saying, “the existence of the ecclesiastical Orders en masse is seriously linked with the ecclesiological tradition” but stops short of the proper conclusion, which is that these Orders originate in the selfsame ecclesiastical sovereignty that we have established belongs to the Holy See and descends to the Orthodox Churches as valid heirs of the united, pre-1054, Church.

Writing on the headship of non-regnant European dynasties, Baron Salvatore Fonte delle Camorrie expressed the following viewpoint, “Like its pastoral and sacramental practices, the view of the Orthodox Church toward dynastic matters may be said to be somewhat more spiritual, and less legalistic, than that of the Papacy. (This, incidentally, explains why the nature of Orthodox orders of chivalry differs greatly from that of most Catholic ones, and why the former are so widely misunderstood in the West.) To Russia’s ecclesiastical Orthodox hierarchy, for example, one’s position as a Russian prince (or grand duke) is quite simply more important spiritually and canonically than an Italian royal prince’s position vis-a-vis the Pope.”[lxxvi]

Certainly the sovereignty of the Eastern Orthodox patriarchs, metropolitans and other hierarchs was acknowledged in the Ottoman Empire. The Rum Millet[lxxvii] was instituted by Sultan Mehmet II in the fifteenth-century as the intended continuation of the Eastern Roman Empire, into which all Christians of whatever denominational allegiance were gathered. The Ecumenical Patriarch was recognized as the highest Christian leader. Until the nineteenth-century the Rum Millet was essentially self-governing under Ottoman suzerainty; it collected and distributed its own taxes and established its own laws, and ran its own schools and hospitals. Along with the wider Ottoman Empire, the Rum Millet began to disintegrate in the latter half of the nineteenth-century, faced with increasing ethnic self-determination. However, it would not be brought formally and practically to an end until the abolition of the Ottoman Empire in 1922.

The Syrian Catholic Patriarch[lxxviii] awards the Patriarchal Order of St Ignatius of Antioch, and while this Order has Papal support, it is not one of the Papal Orders. According to its official literature, the Order was instituted in 1988 and has its basis in two authorities; firstly the authority of the Patriarch, and secondly his prerogatives with relation to the Syrian nation recognized by Ottoman Sultan Abdul-Majid on 8 May 1845.[lxxix] This stands as evidence that the head of an Eastern Catholic Church draws upon the same joint basis of ecclesiastical and temporal sovereignty as does the Pope, and secondly that the sovereignty of the Rum Millet, albeit under the suzerainty of the Ottomans, is considered sufficient by the Syrian Catholic Church (and by extension the Holy See) to provide the temporal basis for sovereignty of the Syrian Catholic Church and the consequent fons honorum arising from it.

The Syrian Orthodox Patriarch was during this time a senior cleric of the Rum Millet and was accorded sovereign powers within the Ottoman suzerainty. On 30 December 1873, the Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate was accorded its own millet, separate from the Armenians and Greeks, by the issue of a Firman by the Ottoman Sultan to the Syrian Orthodox Patriarch[lxxx]. The responsibilities of the Patriarch included sovereign functions, and as seen in the Roman examples given earlier, the fact that these were exercised as devolved functions within a context of suzerainty does not negate the sovereignty of the Patriarch at that time. During 1874-75 the Patriarch visited Great Britain, where he was treated with due courtesy as the head of a millet and received on several occasions by Queen Victoria.


In 1880, the Syrian Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius Peter III/IV (“Peter the Humble”) was approached by Gaston Fercken to provide support for a chivalric order that would continue the medieval tradition of the Knights Templar, known as the Order of the Crown of Thorns. It was not until 1891 that the Patriarch would act upon this initiative, establishing the Order and appointing Fercken as its first Grand Master. Such an act might be seen as overly Western since the Orthodox Churches had no tradition of chivalry, but this can be understood since Patriarch Peter III was in fact strongly interested in Western ecumenism, had already consecrated a missionary bishop for the British Isles, and had initiated a Western Rite church in Goa under his aegis. Indeed his openness to Western ecumenism was unparalleled not only in Orthodoxy of his era but among Syrian Orthodox Patriarchs before and since.

The Order of the Crown of Thorns was thus the first and at that time the only chivalric order to be established by the Syrian Orthodox Church. It was not established as a purely religious body as a division of the Patriarchate, but followed the model of the Papal Orders (and later of the Orders of the Eastern Catholic Churches) in being self-governing under a Grand Master. During Fercken’s Grand Mastership several senior bishops of the Syrian Patriarchate were appointed as members of the Order of the Crown of Thorns.

In 1892, Patriarch Peter III consecrated Joseph René Vilatte as Metropolitan for the Old Catholics in America. The Patriarch had been approached by Vilatte in an awareness of his openness to Western missionary endeavours, and indeed relations between the Patriarchate and the American Old Catholic church established under Vilatte would continue until the 1930s[lxxxi]. In 1893, Fercken resigned the Grand Mastership of the Order of the Crown of Thorns in favour of Vilatte.[lxxxii]

The position of the Order of the Crown of Thorns is therefore that it was created in the same manner as the Order of St Ignatius of Antioch; by Patriarchal authority that was on the one hand based in ecclesiastical sovereignty and on the other hand based on temporal governance delegated to the Syrian Orthodox Patriarch by the Ottoman Sultan Abdulaziz on 30 December 1873. Unlike the Order of St Ignatius, which was created many years after the end of the Ottoman Empire, citing the retrospective effect of the 1845 recognition, the Order of the Crown of Thorns was established while that Empire was very much in force.

The Order of the Crown of Thorns has consistently claimed that it possesses the attributes of sovereignty deriving from the Patriarchate. Specifically, from its earliest years, it accorded its highest ranks the title of Prince of the Crown of Thorns. In claiming sovereignty, it is affirming its status as an Order of the Patriarchate even though the Statutes of the Order do not affirm any ongoing role for the Patriarch within the Order nor do they describe any ongoing relationship with the Patriarchate. The Order was independent under its Grand Master, and there was a sense in which the Patriarch’s actions towards the Order were in the nature of the rehabilitation of an old title (recalling the Order’s medieval origins) in favour of a third party, an activity which of course had precedent in the practice of the Popes.

Lest this be misunderstood, it should be recalled that Patriarch Peter III was an ecumenist without parallel in the Syrian Patriarchate. In the person of Vilatte he provided a bishop for the Old Catholics in America (without expecting that he would be obedient to the Syriac hierarchy or even in such matters as the filioque); previously in 1866 he had sent a missionary bishop, Jules Raimond Ferrette, to the British Isles with a similar looseness of jurisdiction. He had expressed a wish to attend the Old Catholic Conference. In the event, his death in 1894 prevented him from taking any wider part in the affairs of the Order; and his successors proved to be wholly indifferent to it. In the event, active relations with the Syrian Patriarchate continued until a few months after Vilatte’s death in 1929, and no definitive statement severing relations ensued until 1938, when Anglican pressure brought this about. It is clear from the correspondence of Prince Edmond I de San Luigi, however, that the Syrian Patriarchate was mortally offended by Vilatte’s reconciliation with Rome in 1925.

In 1899, Vilatte, having inherited through the Abbey-Principality of San Luigi the independent branch of the Order of the Crown of Thorns that had been founded by the first Prince of San Luigi in 1883, merged this branch with the Order of the Crown of Thorns as restored by the Syrian Orthodox Patriarch in 1891. Thereafter, he considered the Patriarchal Order to have primacy.


  1. Although the most usual type of sovereignty is temporal, alongside this there exists a much rarer sovereignty deriving from ecclesiastical status.
  2. Ecclesiastical sovereignty derives ultimately from the sacraments instituted by Jesus Christ and the church founded by him, which remained essentially undivided until the Great Schism in 1054.
  3. The Holy See is the most visible manifestation of ecclesiastical sovereignty. Although it is often mistakenly thought that the Popes are merely temporal sovereigns, the position between 1870 and 1929 when the Popes were deprived of territory, the non-state nature of the Vatican City, and the views cited (including those from within the Vatican itself) indicate that the primary sovereignty of the Popes is not temporal but in fact ecclesiastical.
  4. The ecclesiastical sovereignty of the Holy See includes the exercise of the fons honorum such that the Popes have the power to grant titles of nobility, to institute and protect chivalric Orders, to rehabilitate titles granted by others, and to grant arms. They do these things first and foremost in their capacity as the Pontifex Maximus of the Catholic Church, not as the temporal sovereigns of the former Papal States or the Vatican City.
  5. All Catholic clergy also have a noble status that attaches to their ordained state. In the case of Cardinals this corresponds to the status of a prince.
  6. There are cases where the Popes have delegated the fons honorum to other Catholic major bishops. The titles thus created are generally regarded as valid despite being created under a form of suzerainty. The Order of Malta also asserts sovereignty, but in practice, this is under the same suzerainty, being subject to the Pope.
  7. The Holy See acknowledges explicitly that all the attributes of being a valid church may exist in churches that are not under the jurisdiction of the Pope. The Orthodox Churches are the most prominent examples of this. However, there are other examples too, including the Old Catholic churches and the Society of St Pius X.
  8. Since the full attributes of validity exist in these churches, as descendants of the undivided pre-1054 Church, an identical ecclesiastical sovereignty and the fons honorum exists in them through their chief bishops as well as in the Holy See, whether or not this is exercised. The continuous nature of a church and its non-dependence on territory means that, unlike territorial sovereignty, ecclesiastical sovereignty can continue to exist in a church even if dormant.
  9. The Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate held both ecclesiastical sovereignty as a descendant of the pre-1054 Church and temporal sovereignty as a self-governing entity of the Ottoman Rum Millet under the Sultan’s firman of 1873. In 1891 it exercised this sovereignty in the re-establishment of the Order of the Crown of Thorns by the Syrian Orthodox Patriarch (which merged in 1899 with the Abbey-Principality of San Luigi).
  10. The temporal sovereignty of the churches within the Rum Millet is also acknowledged by the Syrian Catholic Church (which is in full communion with Rome), which cited its temporal sovereignty within the Rum Millet (as acknowledged in 1845) when establishing a chivalric Order, the Order of St Ignatius of Antioch, in 1988. This then establishes a directly parallel status between the Order of St Ignatius and the Order of the Crown of Thorns.


[i] And from this originates the concept of the Divine Right of Kings which asserts that a monarch is not accountable to an earthly authority (such as a parliament) because their right to rule is derived from divine authority. The monarch is thus not subject to the will of his people, of the aristocracy, or of any other estate of the realm. See (retrieved September 14 2020). Note that this concept is related to the ancient Catholic philosophies regarding monarchy, in which the monarch has the role of God’s vicegerent upon the earth and therefore subject to no inferior power. Nevertheless, in Roman Catholic jurisprudence, the monarch is always subject to natural and divine law, which are regarded as superior to the monarch. The possibility thar monarchy might decline morally, overturning natural law, and degenerating into a tyranny oppressive of the general welfare was answered theologically with the Catholic concept of extra-legal tyrannicide, which would ideally be ratified by the pope. Until the unification of Italy, the Holy See did, after the time Christianity became the Roman state religion, assert on that ground its primacy over secular princes; however this exercise of power never, even at its zenith, amounted to theocracy, even in jurisdictions where the Bishop of Rome was the temporal authority.

[ii] For further discussion see Frazer, James George, Sir The Golden Bough. 1922, New York: The Macmillan Co. The idea can also be found in a number of Romantic and Romantic-influenced writers, including Julius Evola.

[iii] Frazer, op. cit.

[iv] Something similar exists in the “conditional sovereignty” relationship – effectively suzerainty – between France and Monaco, whereby under the 1918 Franco-Monegasque Treaty, were the Monegasque line of succession to fail, Monaco would have automatically become a French protectorate, and had no independent defence policy. The former provision was not changed until 2002. Other examples would include the “puppet states” with limited sovereignty created by the Axis powers during World War II, such as the Empire of Vietnam and the Empire of Manchukuo, and in the First World War by Germany in respect of Lithuania and the United Baltic Duchy.

[v] See also Tarcisio Cardinal Bertone, quoted in Card. Bertone: The Spiritual Meaning Of Territorial Sovereignty (2009) at retrieved September 16 2020, “It is clear for everyone, we hope so, that the Supreme Pontiff will only have the material territory which is actually necessary (…) We like to see the earthly territory reduced to such small dimensions, so that the territory itself, too, may (and shall) be regarded as spiritualized by the immense, sublime and really divine spiritualism which that territory is bound to uphold and serve”.

[vi] Geoffrey Robertson, Put the pope in the dock in The Guardian, 2 April 2010 (retrieved September 14 2020) “…the papal states were extinguished by invasion in 1870 and the Vatican was created by fascist Italy in 1929 when Mussolini endowed this tiny enclave – 0.17 of a square mile containing 900 Catholic bureaucrats – with “sovereignty in the international field … in conformity with its traditions and the exigencies of its mission in the world”. The notion that statehood can be created by another country’s unilateral declaration is risible…”

[vii] As exemplified in Stephen Kerr y Baca’s work The Entitlement to Rule in Chapter 5, published online at retrieved September 14 2020. “”Sovereignty . . . [is] a purely secular [political, civil, or governmental] form of authority . . . ,” not a religious one…Since no religious leaders or organizations have sovereignty, an order that only has a spiritual patron, is not a valid order of chivalry.  However, there is the exception, the Catholic Pope, because he actually holds sovereignty as the legitimate monarch over a tiny, but independent sovereign dominion, is a sovereign, and therefore his orders are valid.” The author goes on to express views concerning the principle of prescription and the Christian stance on nobility which are beyond the scope of this work to address in full, but with which we disagree strongly. See also the article on Pontifical Decorations in The Catholic Encyclopedia (1908) by P.M.J. Rock, published online at (retrieved September 14 2020) which merely states without qualification or further reference, “The titles range all the way from prince to baron inclusive, and are bestowed by the pope as temporal sovereign.”

[viii] Some aspects of this argument are clearly present in the curious polemic by Robert Gayre, The Knightly Twilight, A Glimpse at the chivalric and nobiliary underworld, 1973, Lochore Enterprises, Malta.

[ix] Bander van Duren, Peter, Orders of Knighthood and of Merit: The Pontifical, Religious and Secularised Catholic-founded Orders and their relationship to the Apostolic See, 1995, Colin Smythe Ltd., ISBN: 0-86140-371-1 / 978-0-86140-371-4, p.35.

[x] Bander van Duren, op. cit., p.35

[xi] See for example “[Kennedy] was conferred the title of Countess of the Holy Roman Church.” See also for a report of a much more recent case (2009) p. 28 “John L. Grady, MD, Benton, Tenn., was honored with the title of “Count of the Holy Roman Church” by the Sovereign Pontiff Pope Benedict XVI.” See further “Common Titles of Nobility of the Holy See…Duke (Duke of the Holy Roman Church)” (URLs retrieved September 14 2020)

[xii] In certain cases, they seem to have been subject to unusual conditions. For example, the title of countess bestowed on Annie Leary by Pope Leo XIII in 1903 expired with that pontiff’s death, and was recreated by his successor. See the discussion by R.J.U. Juchter van Bergen Quast at retrieved September 14 2020. “The only other papal countess in the United States is the Countess Annie Leary, whose title was given by Pope Leo XIII, and expired at the pontiff’s death. One of the first acts of Pope Pius’ administration waa to renew the Countess Leary’s title, with that of other temporary nobility.”

[xiii] “Dr Pangloss” (pseudonym) Still more random thoughts on the French Nobility (Continued): Papal Ennoblements published online at the website “Caltrap’s Corner”, retrieved from October 1 2020.

[xiv] Dupanloup, Felix, Papal Sovereignty viewed in its relations to the Catholic Religion and the Law of Europe, English translation, London, Catholic Bookselling and Publishing Co., 1860.

[xv] See (retrieved September 14 2020).

[xvi] Josef L. Kunz, “The Status of the Holy See in International Law” 46 American Journal of International Law (1952) pp. 309-313.

[xvii] In Oppenheim’s International Law, p. 328, cited by Geoffrey Robertson at (retrieved September 14 2020). Robertson argues here against the recognition of the Vatican as a state, and maintains that the Pope should be invited to make an official visit overseas “as the head of a major church rather than as the head of a state.”

[xviii] Kunz, op. cit.

[xix] James Crawford, The Creation of States in International Law, (1979), p.157.

[xx] See retrieved September 14 2020.

[xxi] Robert Graham, Vatican Diplomacy, A Study of Church and State on the International Plane (1959) pp. 186, 201.

[xxii] Ian Brownlie, Principles of Public International Law, 4th ed. ISBN 0-19-825639-6 (1990) p. 65.

[xxiii] Crawford, op. cit., pp. 158-59.

[xxiv] Robert Araujo and John Lucal, Papal Diplomacy and the Quest for Peace, the Vatican and International Organizations from the early years to the League of Nations, Sapienza Press (2004), ISBN 1-932589-01-5, pp. 4-5.

[xxv] Bander van Duren, op. cit., p.36.

[xxvi] Bander van Duren, op. cit., p.37.

[xxvii] See also in this regard Noel Cox, The Continuing Question of Sovereignty and the Sovereign Military Order of Jerusalem, of Rhodes and of Malta (2006) 13 Australian International Law Journal pp. 211-232, retrieved from September 23 2020: “That [the sovereign status of the Order of Malta] is an on-going controversy is the result of what Breycha-Vauthier and Potulicki called ‘a somewhat regrettable confusion of the Order’s permanent position as an international organisation and its role as a territorial Power’. The character of the Order did not originate simultaneously with its territorial sovereignty, and therefore did not disappear with the latter. We must, therefore, be on guard against attaching too much significance to the characterisation of a particular entity as a ‘State’. The Order may be sovereign in a limited sense, but not necessarily a State. It may also be true that recent debate surrounding the nature of State sovereignty has gone some way to tempering the hitherto rigid adherence to nineteenth century notions of State sovereignty.” p.1.

[xxviii] Bander van Duren, op. cit., p.40.

[xxix] Quoted and translated at retrieved September 14 2020. Original: Pensavalle, G.A., Questioni al vaglio della Magistratura, Secolo d’Italia, 28 February1959.

[xxx] We accept the argument advanced by Dr Hendrik Johannes Hoegen Dijkhof  that “No Order of St. John can in our view legally and legitimately claim to be a direct descendant of the original Order” and this includes the Order of Malta, which is a nineteenth-century Papal creation which (like many other bodies) takes as its foundation the original Order of St John that ruled Malta until 1798 (The Legitimacy of Orders of St John, Doctoral thesis, University of Leiden, The Netherlands, 2006, p. 417).

[xxxi] Jean Louis Tauran, “Etica e ordine mondiale: l’apporto specific della Santa Sede“, in Giulio Cipollone, La Chiesa e l’ordine internationale, Roma: Gangemi Editore (2004) p. 184. (Italian)

[xxxii] See also Hanham, H. (1960). The Sale of Honours in Late Victorian England. Victorian Studies, 3(3), 277-289. Retrieved September 9, 2020, from The author notes that “[Honours] had been sold quite openly in the seventeenth-century” (p.1) and attributes the rise in purchased honours in the latter part of the nineteenth-century to the rise of the nouveaux riches and the decline of the landed aristocracy.

[xxxiii] Bander van Duren, op. cit., p.35.

[xxxiv] Claude Chaussier Vidamie And The Episcopal “fons honorum” published at retrieved at the Internet Wayback Machine at October 1 2020.

[xxxv] von Wowern, Jan-Olov, Catholic Hierarchy, published online at retrieved September 14 2020.

[xxxvi] Aldásy, A. (1909). Archdiocese of Gran. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved September 14, 2020 from New Advent:

[xxxvii] Weber, Christoph, Episcopus et princeps: italienische Bishofe als Fürsten, Grafen und Barone vom 17 bis zum 20 Jahrhundert, Peter Lang A.G., 2010,  p.181, note 207, citing Scherer, Handbuch des Kirchenrechts, 1564.

[xxxviii] Canning, J. The Political Thought of Baldus de Ubaldis, Cambridge University Press, 2003, p. 97, note 16.

[xxxix] See the full discussion at Michael Davies’ The Order of Melchisedech, chap. 4, at retrieved September 14 2020, “On 20 June 1555, Pope Paul IV issued his Bull Praeclara Charissimi in which he ruled that “those who have been promoted to Ecclesiastical Orders . . . by anyone but a bishop validly and lawfully ordained are bound to receive those Orders again.” The Bull was received in England and duly promulgated, as is recorded in Cardinal Pole’s register (preserved at Douai) under the date 22 September 1555…However, it was felt that the Bull did not make the matter clear enough and further guidance was sought from Rome. An explanatory Brief was issued on 30 October 1555…The Brief explained that the intention of the Bull had been:

That it is only those bishops and archbishops who were not ordained and consecrated in the form of the Church that can not be said to be duly and rightly ordained, and therefore the persons promoted by them to these Orders have not received Orders, but ought and are bound to receive anew the said Orders from their ordinary according to the tenor and content of our aforesaid letters. The Brief then explains that those who had been ordained or consecrated according to the Pontifical had received valid orders and could exercise them after receiving the dispensation of His Holiness from the Legate.

[xl] Philip Jones, Holy Orders: Validity and Legality, published online at, retrieved September 14 2020.

[xli] retrieved September 14 2020

[xlii] retrieved September 14 2020

[xliii] retrieved September 14 2020

[xliv] One example is that of Douglas Titus Lewins, who was Archbishop of the Old Roman Catholic Church of Great Britain from 1993 (being ordained and consecrated in the Old Catholic succession) before reconciling with Rome in 1998. The letter from the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, signed by the future Pope Benedict XVI (ref. 35/98-06452 dated 30 April 1998) explicitly acknowledges that he was “ordained later to the presbyterate and episcopate in the Old Roman Catholic Church”, thus admitting that he was validly ordained priest and bishop, but directs that he is to be received as a layman to all effect and that his petition to exercise a priestly ministry cannot be considered. The Diocese of Chelmsford, where Archbishop Lewins resided and attended Mass until 2006, permitted him to dress and be addressed as a bishop, but not to exercise his ordained ministry, however allowing for limited exceptions where he was permitted to act as a deacon.

[xlv] This, however, can only be performed where the person is in valid Holy Orders, and thus the act of laicization is an explicit acknowledgement by the Holy See of such validity. The former Archbishop Milingo was laicized by Rome in 2009, although he has continued to ordain clergy since that time. According to John L. Allen, Jr. The last act in the Milingo story? retrieved September 14 2020, “In Catholic theology, ordinations by a bishop without papal authorization are considered valid but illicit – meaning that the men ordained by Milingo are really bishops, but they have no authority to exercise any ministry…The Reverend Ciro Benedettini of the Holy See Press Office, who was responsible for publicly issuing the press conference communique on Milingo, told reporters that any ordinations that the excommunicated Milingo had performed prior to his laicization were “illicit but valid”, while any subsequent ordinations would be invalid.”

[xlvi] retrieved September 14 2020.

[xlvii] Often this definition involves the expression of a specific character or mission, but the use of the word Catholic both in the names and the descriptions of churches makes their origin clear. Two examples of such a usage are the Catholic Apostolic Church (Catholicate of the West) and the Apostolic Episcopal Church (The Holy Eastern Catholic and Apostolic Orthodox Church).

[xlviii] Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, 1952, Ed. James Bastible. Trans. Patrick Lynch. 2nd ed. St. Louis: B. Herder, 1957, Rpt. Rockford, IL: TAN Books, 1974 (most recently, 2009). Rpt. Fort Collins, CO: Roman Catholic Books, 2012 (hardback). (German: Grundriß der Katholischen Dogmatik. Freiburg: Herder, 1952.) (1952 original: ISBN 978-1-929291-85-4) p.458.

[xlix] Rev. Stanislaw Woywod OFM, A Practical Commentary on the Code of Canon Law, 1957 revised and enlarged edition, Joseph F. Wagner, Inc., Vol. 1, sec. 881 p. 558,

[l] For details see retrieved September 14 2020.

[li] Fr. Anthony Cekada, The Validity of the Thuc Consecrations, 1991, published at retrieved September 14 2020.

[lii] Fr. Anthony Cekada, The Great Excommunicator, 2002, published at retrieved September 14 2020.

[liii] Coronata, De Sacramentis: Tractatus Canonicus 1943, 1:56., quoted in Cekada, op. cit.

[liv] See St Augustine, Treatise VI on John “If Peter baptizes, it is Christ who baptizes; if Paul baptizes, it is actually Christ who baptizes; if Judas baptizes it is still Christ. For if the holiness of baptism is affected by the degree of merit, then, since there are differences in merit, there will be different baptisms. And a person will be regarded as having received something better insofar as he seems to have received it from someone better”

[lv] Fr. Anthony Cekada, Letter to Robert Hess, 3 March 1998, cited in Most Revd. Terence R. Fulham, IHR, Hoist With Their Own Petard” or The Moving Goal Posts, 2003 published at retrieved 2006.

[lvi] Fr. Donald J. Sanborn, The Thuc Consecrations: A Postscript, 1993, cited in Fulham, op. cit.

[lvii] Canon 844§2 “Whenever necessity requires it or true spiritual advantage suggests it, and provided that danger of error or of indifferentism is avoided, the Christian faithful for whom it is physically or morally impossible to approach a Catholic minister are permitted to receive the sacraments of penance, Eucharist, and anointing of the sick from non-Catholic ministers in whose Churches these sacraments are valid.” retrieved from September 28 2020.

[lviii] The Roman Catholic Church unconditionally recognizes the validity of ordination in the Eastern churches. See Vatican II, Orientalium Ecclesiarum 25 “Eastern clerics, seeing that a valid priesthood is preserved among them, are permitted to exercise the Orders they possess on joining the unity of the Catholic Church, in accordance with the regulations established by the competent authority.” Some Eastern Orthodox churches will reordain Catholic priests who convert, whilst others accept their Roman Catholic ordination using the concept of ekonomia (church economy).

[lix] Fr. Daniel B. Ahern, Mount Saint Michael, A Systematic Study in Sacerdotium, vol. X., pp. 76-78, quoted in Fulham op cit.

[lx] Pope Pius XII, Mystici Corporis, Pontifical Teachings 1022, published at retrieved September 14 2020.

[lxi] For the definition of a schismatic, see Canon 1325-2 of the Catholic Church, “If one, after the reception of baptism, while retaining the name of Christian, pertinaciously… refuses submission to the Supreme Pontiff or rejects communion with the members of the Church subject to the latter, he is a schismatic.” The term pertinaciously is defined in Coronata, Institutiones Juris Canonici, 4:1858 as “which presupposes bad faith, such that the schismatic knowingly and willing tears asunder the unity of the Church.”

[lxii] In order to prove that any of them were schismatic, it would be necessary to show beyond doubt that the prelates concerned had refused to be subject to the Roman Pontiff, had rejected communion with those subject to the Pope and that they had done this pertinaciously. Since this would necessarily require a knowledge of a person’s interior disposition (something which even the Church cannot judge as Pope Leo XIII pointed out in Apostolicae Curae) this would be impossible.

[lxiii] Mgr. Leonard was so received since he was able to show that he was in the succession of bishops of the Utrecht Union of the Old Catholic Churches, which is recognized as valid by Rome and which has been in communion with the Anglican Communion since the Bonn Agreement of 1931.

[lxiv] See for a full discussion Edward Jarvis (2018). God, Land & Freedom: The True Story of ICAB. Berkeley CA: The Apocryphile Press. ISBN 9781947826908. The author takes a highly unfavourable view of ICAB throughout.

[lxv] Sedevacantism: that there is no valid Pope. Sedeprivationism: that there is a valid Pope but since he is a heretic he has no authority either to teach or to govern. Sedeplenism: that the Pope is valid.

[lxvi] retrieved September 14 2020 “838: “The Church knows that she is joined in many ways to the baptized who are honored by the name of Christian, but do not profess the Catholic faith in its entirety or have not preserved unity or communion under the successor of Peter.” Those “who believe in Christ and have been properly baptized are put in a certain, although imperfect, communion with the Catholic Church.” With the Orthodox Churches, this communion is so profound “that it lacks little to attain the fullness that would permit a common celebration of the Lord’s Eucharist.” and “1271: Baptism constitutes the foundation of communion among all Christians, including those who are not yet in full communion with the Catholic Church: “For men who believe in Christ and have been properly baptized are put in some, though imperfect, communion with the Catholic Church. Justified by faith in Baptism, [they] are incorporated into Christ; they therefore have a right to be called Christians, and with good reason are accepted as brothers by the children of the Catholic Church.” “Baptism therefore constitutes the sacramental bond of unity existing among all who through it are reborn.”

[lxvii] Published at retrieved September 14 2020.

[lxviii] That headed by the Pope.

[lxix] See also “Epikeia may be defined, therefore, as a moderation of the words of law where in an extraordinary case, on account of their generality, they do not represent the mind of the lawgiver; which moderation must be made in the manner in which the law-giver himself would have made it, had he thought of the case, or would make it now, were he consulted.” J. McHugh OP / C. Callan OP, Moral Theology Vol 1, New York 1958, pp 145/6.

[lxx] Most Revd. Terence R. Fulham, Jurisdiction in Crisis, published at retrieved 2006.

[lxxi] Second Vatican Council, Decree on the Catholic Churches of the Eastern Rite (1964) 9-10, retrieved from September 30 2020.

[lxxii] Jerusalem, Antioch, Constantinople and Alexandria as well as Rome.

[lxxiii] retrieved September 14 2020.

[lxxiv] Anonymous article, On Orthodox Monarchy and Saint Nicholas II, published at retrieved September 14 2020.

[lxxv]Michael Y. Medvedev, The Orders of Merit of the Russian Orthodox Church, Centra za Istrazivanje Pravoslavnoga Monarhizma (Centre for research of Orthodox Monarchism) published at retrieved September 14 2020.

[lxxvi] Baron Salvatore Fonte delle Camorrie, On the Headship of Non-Regnant European Dynasties, published online at Caltrap’s Corner, retrieved from October 18 2020.

[lxxvii] See Victor Roudometof Globalization and Orthodox Christianity: The Transformations of a Religious Tradition, 2013, Routledge, p. 69

[lxxviii] The Syrian Catholic Patriarchate or Syrian Catholic Church is an Eastern Catholic Church in full communion with the Holy See.

[lxxix] Official booklet, Ordine Patriarcale di Sant’Ignazio d’Antiochia, no date or publisher, p. 11 and also Ignace Joseph III Younan, patriarca di Antiochia dei Siri, patron dell’ICOC in Il mondo del cavaliere, no. 52, Oct-Dec. 2013, p.102

[lxxx] William Taylor, Narratives of Identity: The Syrian Orthodox Church and the Church of England 1895-1914, 2013, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, ISBN-13 : 978-1443845267, p. 87-88. According to Taylor, a copy of the Firman is kept in Lambeth Palace Library.

[lxxxi] Vilatte first attempted to reconcile with Rome in 1900, whereupon Rome’s response was to excommunicate him. The excommunication was lifted and he reconciled with Rome in 1925, and Rome caused an official statement to be placed in the press (Bayerischer Kurier, 11 July 1925, no. 189) stating the facts of Vilatte’s consecration by the Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate.

[lxxxii] Ordre chevaleresque et religiieux de la Couronne d’Epines: Statuts, 1900, Chamuel, Paris, pp. 6-7. During 2019 a comparison between this and the 1893 English-language copy of the same document held in the Vilatte Archive in Missouri, USA, was undertaken, and they were found to be identical in content.