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Reverend Father Angelo,

hoping to hear from you soon, I am writing to ask you to solve a “dilemma” I have been caught in. 

The Pope is such because he is the bishop of Rome; to put it differently, his dignity as the Vicar of Christ stems from the fact that he is the Successor of Peter. 

Rebus sic stantibus, I wonder how can we explain that Adrian V, for instance, was a real Pope of the Catholic Church for all intents and purposes (although for a very short time), despite the fact that he died just a month before having ascended the papal throne  l and without ever being  proclaimed bishop. 

Thank you

The priest’s answer


  1. First, let me point out that at that time (namely in the second half of the thirteenth century), the sacramentality of the episcopate had not been defined yet. Back then, the sacrament of the Holy Order was divided into two typologies.

There were three major orders: priest, deacon and subdeacon. 

There were four minor orders: porter, lector, exorcist and acolyte.

It is only since the Second Vatican Council that the Holy Order  has been defined  in the three degrees of the episcopate, presbyterate and diaconate. 

Beforehand, episcopate was not regarded as a sacrament but as a sacramental. 

  1. Furthermore, in the early Church episcopate and presbyterate seemed to be equivalent . Therefore, as underlined by a theologian of the first half of the twentieth century:

It is not easy to prove that the Ordination conferred to Timothy and mentioned by Saint Paul was a specifically episcopal ordination, distinct from a prior priestly ordination. If it were certain, as some claim, how could such a large number of Catholic theologians (among whom there are some authoritative ones, such as Saint Thomas Aquinas) deny the sacramentality of the episcopacy, and continue to question it today? (Gutberlet, Dogmatik, X, p. 265). [Translator’s note: I was unable to find an English edition of the text quoted by Father Angelo, therefore this is just my own translation of the passage. I apologize with the readers.]

  1. Everyone, even in the past, agreed upon the excellence of the episcopate, but it was an excellence in dignity, in pastoral government and in the cure of souls. 

Saint Thomas used to say that the episcopate conferred an indelible power, but it did not impress a character. 

Nowadays it is held that episcopal consecration impresses the sacred character. 

Saint Thomas used to say that a bishop could do more fully all that a common “parish priest” could do. (Cfr. Sentences, IV, d. 17, q. 3, a. 3, q. 5).

  1. Hence, with papal election a priest was conferred a larger power and a greater grace. This power and this grace derived from the election and not from the episcopal consecration, which was considered a sacramental, not a sacrament. 
  2. Therefore, Adrian V was a real pope, albeit only for one month. He was elected bishop of Rome. But before being ordained he was already the Pope because episcopal ordination was regarded only as a sacramental. 

I wish you all the best, I remember you to the Lord and I bless you

Father Angelo

Translated by: Alessandra N.

Verified by:Simona F.