Papal oath (traditionalist Catholic)

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While a papal oath can be any oath taken by a pope, such as that which Pope Leo III took on 23 December 800 at a council held in Rome in the presence of Charlemagne declaring himself innocent of the charges brought against him, the term is used in particular for the "Papal Oath" that some Traditionalist Catholics say was taken by the popes of the Catholic Church, starting with Pope Agatho who was elected on 27 June 678. They claim that over 180 popes, down to and including Pope Paul VI, swore this oath during their papal coronations. Pope John Paul I, Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis who had no coronation ceremonies, did not take the oath, and some Traditionalists interpret this fact negatively, even to the point of declaring them to be false popes.

They claim that by this oath the popes swore never to innovate or change anything that has been handed down to them. This coronation oath is at times confused with the oath against modernism that Pope Pius X mandated for those taking up certain offices in the Catholic Church. There is no evidence that any pope took such an oath during his coronation ceremony.


The "Papal Oath" that Traditionalists speak of appears to be loosely based on the text of the profession of faith,[1] addressed to 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 8th or 9th century.[2]

While the collection was used in the papal chancery until the 11th century,[3][4] 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.[5]

The profession of faith explicitly speaks of Pope Agatho (678–681) as already dead.


Following is the text of what the traditionalist Catholics call the Papal Oath or Papal Coronation Oath:[6]

I vow to change nothing of the received Tradition, and nothing thereof I have found before me guarded by my God-pleasing predecessors, to encroach upon, to alter, or to permit any innovation therein;
To the contrary: with glowing affection as her truly faithful student and successor, to safeguard reverently the passed-on good, with my whole strength and utmost effort;
To cleanse all that is in contradiction to the canonical order that may surface;
To guard the Holy Canons and Decrees of our Popes as if they were the Divine ordinances of Heaven, because I am conscious of Thee, Whose place I take through the grace of God, Whose Vicarship I possess with Thy support, being subject to the severest accounting before Thy Divine Tribunal over all that I shall confess;
I swear to God Almighty and the Saviour Jesus Christ that I will keep whatever has been revealed through Christ and His Successors and whatever the first councils and my predecessors have defined and declared.
I will keep without sacrifice to itself the discipline and the rite of the Church. I will put outside the Church whoever dares to go against this oath, may it be somebody else or I.
If I should undertake to act in anything of contrary sense, or should permit that it will be executed, Thou willst not be merciful to me on the dreadful Day of Divine Justice.
Accordingly, without exclusion, We subject to severest excommunication anyone – be it ourselves or be it another – who would dare to undertake anything new in contradiction to this constituted evangelic Tradition and the purity of the Orthodox Faith and the Christian Religion, or would seek to change anything by his opposing efforts, or would agree with those who undertake such a blasphemous venture.

Connection with the Liber Diurnus[edit]

The only historical source claimed for this "Papal Oath" is Migne's Patrologia Latina, referring, it can be supposed, to volume 105, columns 40-44. 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,[7] 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 11th century". It then fell into disuse and was soon forgotten and lost, until a manuscript containing it was discovered in the 17th century.

Its rediscovery in the 17th 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.[8] 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.[4][9][10]

Comparison of texts[edit]

The traditionalists' Papal Oath, if indeed based on the text in the Liber Diurnus, is a serious mistranslation. Much of it has no basis whatever in the historical document,[11] including the paragraphs "I swear ... defined and declared" and "Accordingly, without exclusion ... blasphemous venture" and the phrase "I will put outside the Church whoever dares to go against this oath, may it be somebody else or I".

The traditionalists' Papal Oath is addressed to Jesus Christ,[12] and presents the Pope as his successor,[13] as Vicar of God,[14] endowed with a power of revelation (not just of maintaining an existing revelation) on a par (or almost) with Christ's,[15] and as a "successor" of Tradition.[16]

None of these ideas are present in the Liber Diurnus text.

Alleged use in coronation ceremonies[edit]

The Traditionalist Catholic sources that give what they call the Papal Oath also claim, without citing any source, that all popes from Agatho, who in the Liber Diurnus text is spoken of as already dead, to Pope Paul VI pronounced this text in the course of their coronation ceremonies. The fact that the Liber Diurnus was forgotten for centuries is a difficulty against this account.

The detailed account of the coronation of the 19th-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).

Other oaths[edit]

The Constitutio Romana included an oath of fealty taken by the Pope to the Holy Roman Emperor,[17] beginning in 824 until no later than 884.

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.[18]

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".

See also[edit]

  • The Oath of Leo III


  1. "Profession of faith", not "oath", is the expression used by the authors quoted by Garnier in his comment reproduced in columns 39-40 of Patrologia Latina, 105
  2. Vatican Archives
  3. Catholic Encyclopedia: Liber Diurnus Romanorum Pontificum.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Philip Schaff (1877). "Creeds of Christendom, with a History and Critical notes. Volume I. The History of Creeds". Retrieved 2007-02-26.[permanent dead link])
  5. Notes by Garnier, reproduced in columns 41-42 of Patrologia Latina, 105
  6. Dozens of websites that reproduce this text can be found by searching for "papal coronation oath" on Google. It is quoted also on pages 161-162 of the book, The Great Facade: Vatican II and the Regime of Novelty in the Roman Catholic Church, by Christopher A. Ferrara and Thomas A. Woods, Jr. (Remnant Press, Wyoming, Minnesota, USA, 2002, ISBN 1-890740-10-1 Search this book on Logo.png.).
  7. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2005-10-13. Retrieved 2005-10-05. Unknown parameter |url-status= ignored (help)CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  8. Liber Diurnus Romanorum Pontificum in Catholic Encyclopedia
  9. Percival, Henry R. (1900). Philip Schaff, ed. "The Seven Ecumenical Councils of the Undivided Church, Chapter: Excursus on the Condemnation of Pope Honorius". A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church: Second Series. Christian Literature Company. 3: 351.
  10. Gladstone, William Ewart; Philip Schaff (1875). The Vatican Decrees in Their Bearing on Civil Allegiance: A Political Expostulation. Harper & brothers. pp. 98. Search this book on Logo.png
  11. For purposes of comparison, the text in Migne's Patrologia Latina, vol. 105, cols. 40-44 is:
    In nomine Domini Dei Salvatoris nostri Jesu Christi, etc. Indictione Ill. mense Ill. Ego Ill. misericordia Dei presbyter et Electus, futurusque per Dei gratiam humilis Apostolicae sedis Antistes, tibi profiteor, beate Petre Apostolorum Princeps, (cui claves regni caelorum ad ligandum atque solvendum in caelo et in terra, creator atque redemptor omnium Dominus Jesus Christus tradidit, inquiens: Quaecumque ligaveris super terram, erunt ligata et in coelo; et quaecumque solveris super terram, erunt soluta et in coelis) sanctaeque tuae Ecclesiae, quam hodie tuo praesidio regendam suscepi.
    Hanc verae fidei rectitudinem (quam Christo autore tradente, per successores tuos atque discipulos, usque ad exiguitatem meam perlatam, in tua sancta Ecclesia reperi, totis conatibus meis, usque ad animam et sanguinem custodire, temporumque difficultates, cum tuo adjutorio, toleranter sufferre.)
    Tam de sanctae et individuae Trinitatis mysterio, quae unus est Deus; quam de dispensatione, quae secundum carnem facta est, Unigeniti filii Dei Domini nostri Jesu Christi, et de caeteris Ecclesiae dogmatibus, sicut in universalibus Conciliis, et Constitutis Apostolicorum Pontificum probatissimorum, atque Doctorum Ecclesiae scriptis sunt commendata; item quaecumque ad rectitudinem vestrae nostraeque orthodoxae fidei, a te traditae, respiciunt, conservare.
    Sancta quoque universalia Concilia, Nicaenum, Constantipolitanum, Ephesinum primum, Chalcedonense, et secundum Constantinopolitanum, quo Justiniani piae memoriae Principis temporibus celebratum est, usque ad unum apicem, immutilata servare.
    Et una cum eis pari honore et veneratione sanctum sextum Concilium quo nuper Constantino piae memoriae Principe, Agathone Apostolico praedecessore meo convenit, medullitus et plenius conservare, quaeque vero praedicaverunt, praedicare; quaeque condemnaverunt, ore et corde condemnare.
    Diligentius autem et vivacius omnia decreta praedecessorum Apostolicorum nostrorum Pontificum, quaeque synodaliter statuerunt, et probata sunt, confirmare, et indiminute servare, et sicut ab eis statuta sunt, in sui vigoris stabilitate custodire; quaeque vel quosque simili autoritatis sententia condemnaverunt, vel abdicaverunt, simili autoritatis sententia condemnare.
    Disciplinam et ritum Ecclesiae, sicut inveni, et a sanctis praecessoribus meis traditum reperi, inlibatum custodire.
    Et indiminutas res Ecclesiae conservare, et ut indiminutae custodiantur, operam dare.
    Nihil de traditione, quod a probatissimis praedecessoribus meis servatum reperi, diminuere vel mutare, aut aliquam novitatem admittere; sed ferventer, ut vere eorum discipulus et sequipeda, totis viribus meis conatibusque tradita conservare ac venerari.
    Si qua vero emerserint contra disciplinam canonicam, emendare; sacrosque Canones et Constituta Pontificum nostrorum, ut divina et coelestia mandata, custodire, utpote tibi redditurum me sciens de omnibus, quae profiteor, districtam in divino judicio rationem, cujus locum divina dignatione perago, et vicem intercessionibus tuis adjutus impleo.
    Si praeter haec aliquid agere praesumpsero, vel ut praesumatur, permisero, eris, mihi, in illa terribili die divini judicii, depropitius.
    Haec conanti et diligenter servare curanti, in hac vita corruptibili constituto, adjutorium quoque ut praebeas obsecro, ut irreprehensibilis appaream ante conspectum judicis omnium Domini nostri Jesu Christi, dum terribiliter de commissis advenerit judicare, ut faciat me dextrae partis compotem, et inter fideles discipulos ac successores tuos esse consortem.
    Quam professionem meam, ut supra continetur, per Ill. Notarium et Scriniarium me mandante conscriptam, propria manu subscripsi, et tibi, beate Petre Apostole et Apostolorum omnium Princeps, pura mente et conscientia devota, corporali jurejurando sinceriter obtuli.
    Subscriptio. Ego qui supra Ill. indignus presbyter Dei gratia electus hujus Apostolicae sedis Romanae Ecclesiae Episcopus, hanc professionem meam, sicut supra continet, faciens jusjurandum corporaliter tibi, beate Petre Apostolorum Princeps, pura mente et conscientia obtuli.
  12. "Thou", "Thee" and "Thy" are given upper-case initials, and there is reference to "Thy Divine Tribunal". It is therefore addressed to one of the Persons of the Trinity. "Through the grace of God, Whose Vicarship I possess with Thy support" shows that the person addressed ("Thy") is not God the Father, who is mentioned in the third grammatical person.
  13. The "Papal Oath" speaks of "Christ and His Successors", and presents the Pope as claiming to replace Christ: "I am conscious of Thee, whose place I take".
  14. "through the grace of God, Whose Vicarship I possess"
  15. "I will keep whatever has been revealed through Christ and His Successors."
  16. "as her (i.e. of "the received Tradition") truly faithful student and successor"
  17. Kurtz, Johann Heinrich (1889). Church History. John Macpherson. New York: Funk & Wagnalls. pp. 489. Search this book on Logo.png
  18. See "COUNCIL OF BASEL (1431-1445)". Eternal Word Television Network. Retrieved 2007-02-27.

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