The Papal Oath is an oath (see text below) that some Traditionalist Catholics say was taken by the popes of the Catholic Church, starting with Pope Saint Agatho, who was elected on 27 June 678. They claim that over 180 popes, down to and including Pope Paul VI, swore the oath during their papal coronations. Pope John Paul I, Pope John Paul II, and Pope Benedict XVI, who had no coronation ceremonies, clearly did not take the oath, and some Traditionalists interpret this fact negatively, even to the point of declaring them to be false popes (see sedevacantism).
They claim that by this oath the popes swore never to innovate or change anything that has been handed down to them. Some of them confuse the alleged oath with the oath against modernism that Pope Pius X mandated for those taking up certain offices in the Church. There is no evidence that any pope took such an oath during his coronation ceremomy.
The "Papal Oath" they speak of appears to be loosely based on the text of the profession of faith, addressed to Saint Peter, included, as part of another document, in the Liber Diurnus Romanorum Pontificum, a collection of formularies for correspondence or decrees, some of which may even date from before the time of Pope Gregory I (590-604), while others may be of the time of the three existing manuscripts, and so of the eighth or ninth century.
While the collection was used in the papal chancery until the eleventh century, the content of the document that contains the profession of faith shows that this formulary can have been used only at some time or times in the short period between the election of Pope Conon (686-687) and that of Pope Zachary (741-752); and the profession of faith speaks of the Third Council of Constantinople (680-681) as having been held recently ("nuper"), making the beginning of that period the most likely.
The profession of faith refers to Pope Agatho (678-681) as already dead.
Patrologia Latina, 105, columns 9-188 reproduces, with notes and commentary, the full text of Garnier's 1680 edition of the Liber Diurnus Romanorum Pontificum. The article in The Catholic Encyclopedia on this book states that Garnier's edition "is very inaccurate, and contains arbitrary alterations of the text"; it describes as the first good edition the one published by Eugène de Rozière in 1869. Later editions have been able to take into account not only the oldest surviving manuscript, which is preserved in the Vatican and is described on the website of the Vatican Secret Archives, but also two other manuscripts of slightly later date, which were rediscovered, one in 1889, the other in 1937. The Liber Diurnus Romanorum Pontificum is in fact a "miscellaneous collection of ecclesiastical formularies used in the papal chancery until the eleventh century". It then fell into disuse and was soon forgotten and lost, until a manuscript containing it was discovered in the seventeenth century.
Its rediscovery in the seventeenth century caused surprise precisely because the text declared acceptance of the condemnations of the Sixth General Council, which were directed also against Pope Honorius I.In the opinion of one writer, the oath had the effect of confirming that an ecumenical council could condemn a Pope for open heresy and that Honorius was justly condemned.
The Papal Oath is addressed to Jesus Christ, and presents the Pope as his successor, as Vicar of God, endowed with a power of revelation (not just of maintaining an existing revelation) on a par (or almost) with Christ's, and as a "successor" of Tradition.
None of these ideas are present in the Liber Diurnus text.
The detailed account of the coronation of the nineteenth-century Pope Leo XIII that can be consulted at this site makes no mention of the taking of this particular oath, or of any coronation oath, by the Pope.
In fact, all evidence of papal coronations, including that of Pope Paul VI on 30 June 1963, which was the last, excludes the taking of any oath by the Pope in the course of the ceremony. The claim that Pope Agatho and his immediate successors took the alleged oath at their coronation ceremonies is also evidently false: popes of that time had neither crown nor, in consequence, coronation (see Papal Tiara).
More closely related to the subject of this article is the "profession of the supreme pontiff" that the 23rd session (26 March 1436) of the Council at Basel decreed should be made by anyone elected Pope as a condition for his election to be valid.
By this profession, the Pope was to declare adherence to the eight "universal" councils (down to the Fourth Council of Constantinople) and the later "general" councils (down to that of Basel, to which the Pope would thereby be obliged to grant recognition).
The profession in the Liber Diurnus Romanorum Pontificum, a book that had fallen out of use four centuries before, declared acceptance only of the first six ecumenical councils.
The Council of Basel wished the newly elected Pope to read this profession again at his first public consistory, and it was to be read to him every year on the occasion of the anniversary of his election or coronation.
This "profession of the supreme pontiff" seems to be referred to as an oath in the formula that each cardinal was also called upon to swear before voting in the conclave. The cardinals were to declare: "I shall not make obeisance to anyone elected as pontiff before he takes the oath prescribed by this council of Basel." The text of the "profession of the supreme pontiff" and of the oath of the cardinals can be consulted on the Internet.
Antipope Amadeus VIII, Duke of Savoy, made the profession drawn up by the Council of Basel; but as none of the recognized Popes ever made it, there is no justification for calling it a papal oath, still less for referring to it as "the Papal Oath".
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