Crosspost: An attorney has written the best summation of the Miller Dissertation yet. “Miller’s Dissertation: The Key to Unlocking Benedict’s Incomplete Resignation”

Full crosspost with permission from The Catholic Esquire. NonVeni Mark will be crossposting this too. And I must point out that it was NonVeni Mark who discovered the Miller Dissertation in a footnote as we were poring over texts in ARSH 2018. I remember reading Chapter 8 for the first time, vividly. This text, also over my transom via NonVeni Mark, is just outstanding and may God reward the author for his work in writing this up. -AB

Miller’s Dissertation: The Key to Unlocking Benedict’s Incomplete Resignation

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The reason most Catholics and the rest of the world incorrectly assume Pope Benedict XVI resigned the Papacy in February 2013 is because they do not view his attempted resignation through the prism of the Nouvelle théologie, which is necessary to understand what really was going on.

What’s becoming more and more clear to me every single day is that this debacle that Pope Benedict XVI caused in February 2013 when he erroneously attempted to resign only his “active” role in the Papacy, while remaining in a “passive” or “contemplative” role, is 100% a product of the Modernist theological errors and the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II).

One of the most important keys, almost a Rosetta Stone so to speak, to understanding both the mind and text of Pope Benedict’s attempted resignation in February 2013, and why he remains the current Pope to this day, can be found in Archbishop J. Michael Miller’s 1980 dissertation penned for the Gregorian University in Rome. He is now the Archbishop of Vancouver. If you want to read the dissertation in its entirety you need to buy a copy here. 

Ann Barnhardt originally turned me on to this academic exercise in post-Vatican II ecumenism and piqued my interest enough to purchase a copy. After I read it, my mind was blown away. Because this is so important to understanding why Benedict and not Antipope Bergoglio (Francis) is Pope to this day, I will summarize the contents of the Miller dissertation for the reader but with sufficient detail so you understand the full context to what can best be described as a summary of Modernist thought concerning the Papacy. 

I will do my best to objectively summarize the material and refrain from making personal comments throughout the summary. However, I will tie Miller’s conclusions back to Benedict’s actions in February 2013 after the summary so you can see why this is so relevant and important. Before I begin the summary, keep the following in mind:

When Pope Benedict attempted to resign a portion of the Papacy, he made an effort to distinguish between a Papal office (Munus) and ministry (Ministerium). While some commentators said this is not a big deal because of the multiple/ambiguous meanings associated with these Latin terms Benedict used, after you understand the Miller dissertation, it becomes obvious that Benedict was not just being lazy and sloppy with his terminology in his resignation speech. He actually chose his words very carefully.

When he could have just said “I hereby resign the Office of the Papacy in its entirety with all its rights and privileges effective immediately,” he chose not to do that. The Miller dissertation explains the WHAT and the WHY behind what Benedict was doing in February 2013, at least theologically.  


Title: The Divine Right of the Papacy in Recent Ecumenical Theology

Author: J. Michael Miller

Date: November 21, 1980

PART I: Historical and Theological Background

In this Part, Miller summarizes the history of what he refers to as the “classical” presentation. The history he is referring to is the historical justification for the Papacy. And this justification was based on the notion of “divine right” or ius divinum. For the remainder of this summary, I will just refer to this concept as divine right.

In this first Part, Miller mentions Pope Leo the Great noting that Leo based his theory on Papal Primacy on evidence from Holy Scripture. Papal Primacy refers to the concept of primacy of jurisdiction, which means the possession of full and supreme teaching, legislative and sacerdotal powers in the Catholic Church. Other later Popes and general Councils agreed with Leo. With some minor differences, the history of the Church’s teaching reinforced the notion that the Papacy was instituted by Christ as found in Holy Scripture. The Papacy, according to this “classical” line of thought says Miller, did not originate from a Council, the Apostles or other types of synods.  

Fast forward in time to the First Vatican Council (Vatican I). Here, Miller concedes that the Council in Pastor Aeternus condemned those who denied that Christ gave Peter alone a true and proper primacy of jurisdiction. Vatican I also confirmed that Peter received authority immediately and directly from Christ and not through the Church. Vatican I accepted what had always been taught previously that Peter was the rock upon which Christ built His Church, the power of the keys was given to Peter alone, and Peter was directly vested with jurisdiction (authority).  In other words, Peter was given his unique authority by divine right.

Vatican I also taught that there are perpetual successors to Peter’s primacy, also by divine right. Although Miller notes the that the Bishop of Rome succeeds Peter, that is not itself by divine right. Miller says, “Before Vatican II, nearly every twentieth century treatise on the papacy adopted the structure of Pastor Aeternus: Petrine primacy promised and conferred by Christ, the perpetuity of succession in the primacy, and the legitimacy of the Roman bishop’s claim to be successor of Peter.” Miller says that the Vatican I fathers “paid no attention to the difference between that which the historical Jesus instituted and that which originated from the Risen Christ.”

And because the Papacy was instituted by divine right, the classic view was that the papacy itself was unchangeable. This classic view began to be challenged after Vatican I, according to Miller. Some theologians began to suggest that if the structure of the papacy came to exist over the course of time due to historical circumstances, then the structure of the papacy was not by divine right, even if the Papacy itself was.

Miller explains that after Vatican I, there was a shift in how theologians perceived the concept of divine right. Rather than being directly instituted by Christ, the meaning began to expand to include more generally the notion of “God’s will.” This becomes important as we shall see. 

PART II: Lutheran and Anglican Thought

Because the purpose of this dissertation is to promote ecumenical dialogue, presumably in the spirit of Vatican II, Miller summarizes the modern position of the Lutherans and Anglicans with respect to the Papacy. I will not dive into this too deeply in the summary, but just enough to allow the reader to see why changing the idea of the Papacy is needed for ecumenical dialogue in Miller’s mind.

The Lutherans, according to Miller, believe that if a concept has no salvific importance than it cannot be of divine right. However, if a concept is of divine right, then it is going to be found in Holy Scripture. Man-made law is going to be developed over time in history. Lutherans admit there is a need for a “Petrine function” that serves Christian unity. Lutherans have seen this “Petrine function” carried out in different ways such as councils, theology schools and even the Pope. They just don’t believe any particular structure is of divine right.

Therefore, Lutherans will agree that Christ established a “Petrine function” or “ministry” that can be fulfilled in different forms. The Papacy could be one of those options, but not necessarily the only one.

The Anglicans also agree that something like the Papacy would be beneficial to the universal Church to help unite all Christians. However, it is not absolutely necessary. They agree a Petrine “function” was established in the New Testament and that the development of this concept has been divinely guided since the time of Christ in history.

PART III: Modern Catholic Thought

Here, Miller looks at the opinion of modern Catholic theologians. This is important because these ideas form the basis for Miller’s conclusions. Many of the names are familiar ones because they played a very important role in Vatican II. They are part of the Nouvelle théologie. They focused on changing the meaning and/or just removing from ecumenical discussion the concept of “divine right” when it comes to the Papacy.

Gotthold Hasenhüttl and Hans Küng argued that if something was not instituted by Christ directly then it was not of divine right and anything else that developed afterwards over the course of time in history was man-made and therefore reversible. They deny that many institutions Catholics used to think were of divine right were actually instituted by Christ. Rather, they were man-made institutions developed over time, and therefore are changeable.

Other modern theologians take the position that an institution could still be of divine right, even if not instituted directly by Christ, because they developed over time under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Karl Rahner, for example, argued that “if historical circumstances call for it, as in the case for a pastoral synod, an institution of human right shares in the Church’s constitutional structure of divine right; as such it is not simply dispensable.”

According to these theologians, “the Church is constantly led to create new structures to which respond to its needs.” These developments have “as much right to be considered the work of the Spirit as those of the past…[w]hen new structures are needed to fulfill this [missionary] role, and if former ones no longer serve, the Spirit is there to provide the necessary organization.”

Miller says that Catholics are divided as to whether divine right means an institution within the Church needed to be established during the apostolic age or could have been developed over time. This matters because some theologians hold that only those of divine right are irreversible and not subject to change or being abolished.

Unless, of course, Christ intended those divine institutional structures to be only temporary. This was the argument of Cardinal Avery Dulles. Dulles argued that even if institutions were established by divine right that does not mean they could not be changed over time.

Another theologian who believed that what Christ instituted could be changed if historical circumstances called for it was Edward Schillebeeckx. He argued that even though it was divinely instituted, the Church must reorganize the Church’s tripartite apostolic ministry structure. According to Miller, Schillebeeckx argued “the present-day Church cannot limit itself to only the hierarchical form of ministerial structure, even those it is based on ius divinum.”

If the notion of divine right applies to institutions that have changed over the years, the meaning of Papal Primacy must also be reexamined. What matters, according to Küng, are not papal rights or the chain of succession, but how the Petrine ministry is carried out.

Theologians such as Küng use the distinction between Petrine ministry and the papacy in their explanations as to why the Papacy can be abolished or changed. The Petrine ministry is a permanent function of the Church given to it by Christ. “Someone, or some institution, must be entrusted with assuring the unity of the universal Church.”  While admitting most theologians associate this Petrine ministry with the papacy as we know it today, referring to these theologians like Küng, Miller notes

 “this small group does not insist on a necessary continuity between the primacy in its papal form and all future forms of the Petrine function.  For them it is at least conceivable that the Petrine function be fulfilled in the episcopal college, a synod, or any other number of structures designed for that purpose.”

In a footnote to this discussion on the distinction between the Petrine ministry and the Papacy, Miller quotes from Rahner:

“In this case the Petrine function would exist iure divino, but it need not be exercised by a single individual.”

In the same footnote, Miller notes Cardinal Dulles makes the same point as Rahner:

“In theory, the Petrine function could be performed either by a single individual presiding over the whole Church or by some kind of committee, board, synod or parliament—possibly with a ‘division of powers’ into judicial, legislative, administrative, and the like.”

Miller, then, takes an interesting turn to discuss the notion of “Church as sacrament,” a teaching resulting from Vatican II. With respect to the Papacy, the idea is that the Papacy should be considered “quasi-sacramental.” The reason for doing this, according to the theologians that Miller refers to, is that it avoids juridical terminology—it is more ecclesiological than canonical. This, in turn, provides a “new context” for the discussion of the theological justification for papal primacy. This concept of “quasi-sacrament” attached to the Papacy actually aids in ecumenical dialogue with protestants because they accept the idea of an invisible grace from Christ made available to man through outward visible forms such as the Papacy. The Papacy could symbolically represent Christ’s unifying action in this sense.


In this Part, Miller summarized various proposals that ecumenical commissions among Catholics, Lutherans and Anglicans put together. The point of these commissions, and indeed the point of Miller’s dissertation, is to find ways that the Papacy can be considered that harmonizes the teaching of the Church with various protestant “communities”. I will avoid summarizing all these proposals and discussions in effort to move on to Miller’s final conclusions.


In this final part, Miller puts all of these strains of thought together with the purpose of opening the door for further “dialogue” with protestants on the Papacy. Miller’s ultimate thesis seems to be that if you replace the use of the term “divine right” with regard to the institution of the Papacy, then this opens the door of dialogue with protestants (especially Lutherans and Anglicans).

Moving away from classical notions of divine right (of which the Papacy was traditionally considered at Vatican I), Miller sees an opening for ecumenical dialogue with protestants because modern Catholic theologians have broadened the notion of what divine right actually means. While the Petrine ministry or function was established by Christ, it’s form (structure) is really a product of the Holy Spirit working in conjunction with human factors over time, which means the structure of the Papacy is subject to change.

The key is the use of the term “Petrine function”, which refers to the “Petrine Ministry” given to Peter by Christ. When viewed in a broader way, this provides an opportunity to Catholics for “considering changes in the way the Pope fulfills the Petrine function.”

Miller proposed to stop using the term “divine right” when referring to the Petrine function and instead use divine institution (institutio divina) and divine design (ordinatio divina).   Using these terms permits emphasizing the elements of human decision and historical factors in the development of the Papacy as we know it today. These terms affirm that the Petrine function is of divine origin (divine institution). But the structure of the papacy involves human decision making with the Holy Spirit (divine design). These terms avoid misunderstandings when Catholics use the term “divine right” because that term implies that the form (or structure) of the Papacy cannot be changed since Christ instituted it.

In conclusion, Miller recommends avoiding the term “divine right” because of its “association with past polemics” and that it should be replaced so that the Petrine function can be distinguished “from its realization in the historic papacy.”

Second, Miller argues the action of the Holy Spirit must always be taken into account when describing the emergence of the Papacy rather than focusing on the Christological origins that cause so much conflict in ecumenical dialogue.   “New perspectives” are opened when considering the Spirit’s guidance in continuing the work of the Church.

Third, the use of the term “Petrine function” allows non-Catholics “to reconsider their present experience of a need for a ministry of unity directed to the universal Church, without limiting their reflections to the present form of papacy.” In turn, Catholics must ask themselves, says Miller “What really belongs to the Petrine function of the Pope?”

Finally, distinguish between the Petrine function as a divine institution and its realization in the historic papacy as divine design. “Contemporary discussion can benefit from making this distinction between the dominical institution of Petrine primacy and the divine design of its concrete realization in the papacy.”


Implication of Miller’s Dissertation

After reading this summary of Miller’s dissertation, I hope the reader is able to see why the distinction between the munus and ministerium is so important to understanding Benedict’s actions in February 2013. 

Benedict, along with the Nouvelle théologie, do not look at the Papacy the same way most Catholics do. Most of us look at it the way Vatican I taught us to look at it—consistent with what the Church always taught. He doesn’t, which is why this is so confusing to others and Benedict is given a pass for his drawn-out resignation speech and needless use of confusing terminology. No one bothered to look at the ecclesiology behind what Benedict was doing. If you understand the Papacy like Benedict, it wasn’t needlessly confusing at all, it actually makes perfect sense if you happen to be well versed in Catholic “new” theology.  

Viewing the Papacy as a broad quasi-sacramentalPetrine ministry instituted by Christ subject to ongoing guidance from the Holy Spirit over the course of history, as opposed to a rigidly defined juridical office, opens the door for many changes.  It makes possible the notion that Christ did entrust St. Peter with a special ministry but that the structure or form that this ministry takes remains changeable over time. For Miller, this was very important for purposes of ecumenical dialogue with protestants who rejected the idea that the Bible teaches Christ instituted an office to be held by one man, the successor of Peter with supreme juridical authority over the Church.

For Benedict in 2013, this is important because while he believed the Petrine ministry was “forever” in the nature of a sacrament (essentially precluding his ability to give up that ministry entirely)(this is the “munus“), the Petrine ministry is not so limited to preclude the possibility of dividing up the particular functions of the ministry among others (this is the ministerii). Benedict could still, therefore, resign the administrative duties or active component of this Petrine ministry, while still retaining a more passive role or function.

Now, this notion of an expanding Petrine ministry to allow for potentially two or more different participants serving different functions at the same time may all seem contrary to what the Vatican I fathers taught in Pastor Aeternus. And it is, which is why Benedict was in substantial error when he attempted to pull this off. But, you see, this is what Miller’s dissertation was all about.  

Miller was trying to find a way to square the “classical” teaching of the Church concerning the Papacy (set forth in Vatican I) with the Modernist ecumenical ideas taught by the Nouvelle théologie. Almost like he was engaging in a hermeneutic of continuity! 

Because Vatican I kept using this phrase “divine right,” which implied that Christ instituted a papal office with one man (the successor of Peter) holding supreme juridical authority that could never change, Miller saw an opening and honed in on the use of that term and concluded the best thing to do is to just stop using it.  

You see, according to Miller and other Modernists, if you just stop using phrases like “divine right” that they used in Vatican I (and Council of Trent and what all Catholics used to use for that matter) then it makes it easier to split hairs and justify new concepts of the Papacy without doing violence to the teachings of Vatican I. Changing terminology and redefining accepted concepts is a key weapon for the Modernist. It’s just another sleight of hand. 

Avoiding the use of “divine right” and replacing it with other terms that recognize a Petrine ministry (the munus) instituted by Christ while at the same time recognizing smaller changeable components (the ministerii) that make up the structure of that larger Petrine ministry opens the door to changing how the Papacy is exercised without reallychanging the Papacy.

When viewed in this way, it is possible to associate the “office” of the Papacy with the Modernist notion of the “Petrine Ministry” (the overarching, quasi-sacramental concept instituted by Christ) and then distinguish it from its component and changeable parts or structure. Such components while not strictly defined could, just for example, include an administrative function, spiritual function or suffering function not limited to one person. These components could properly be described as “ministries” within the Papal office or overarching Petrine ministry.  

Application to Benedict’s Resignation

With this background from Miller in mind, now let’s go back and review the text of Benedict’sresignation letter on February 10, 2013 with my comments in BOLD RED:

I have convoked you to this Consistory, not only for the three canonizations, but also to communicate to you a decision of great importance for the life of the Church. After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry [here he is talking about the “munus” or enlarged Petrine ministry instituted by Christ.] I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature [he sees this as a spirtual office or quasi-sacramental duty, not just a juridical one], must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering. However, in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern [that’s a juridical term] the barque of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me. For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, [he uses “ministerio” here to make it clear he is resigning the smaller administrative or “active” component of the larger “munus” he was talking about above. It’s interesting he connects the Bishop of Rome with this administrative function of the Papacy, which implies he does not believe the Bishop of Rome and Papacy are inseparable. This was touched on in the Miller dissertation] entrusted to me by the Cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter [that is the administrative component], will be vacant and a Conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is. [It makes sense that a conclave would be needed because remember he is trying to expand the Petrine ministry/office. If he is appointing a delegate to handle administrative functions, it would not be an expansion of the Petrine ministry or change of structure.]

Dear Brothers, I thank you most sincerely for all the love and work with which you have supported me in my ministry [he uses “ministerii” here because he is still talking about this smaller administrative/active component not the Petrine ministry/office]and I ask pardon for all my defects.  And now, let us entrust the Holy Church to the care of Our Supreme Pastor, Our Lord Jesus Christ, and implore his holy Mother Mary, so that she may assist the Cardinal Fathers with her maternal solicitude, in electing a new Supreme Pontiff. With regard to myself, I wish to also devotedly serve the Holy Church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer.

And then be sure to check out a portion of his Papal audience on February 27, 2013. I will not add additional commentary. It speaks for itself.

“The “always” is also a “forever” – there can no longer be a return to the private sphere. My decision to resign the active exercise of the ministry does not revoke this. I do not return to private life, to a life of travel, meetings, receptions, conferences, and so on. I am not abandoning the cross, but remaining in a new way at the side of the crucified Lord. I no longer bear the power of office for the governance of the Church, but in the service of prayer I remain, so to speak, in the enclosure of Saint Peter. Saint Benedict, whose name I bear as Pope, will be a great example for me in this. He showed us the way for a life which, whether active or passive, is completely given over to the work of God.”


Miller’s dissertation was written for ecumenical purposes with the goal of rethinking the Papacy in such a way that protestants would find acceptable. In normal times, this would just fly under the radar as another post-Vatican II attempt to water down the Church’s perennial and unchanging dogmas–in this case the Papacy. 

However, these are not normal times. This dissertation contains the theological keys for making sense of what Benedict attempted to do in February 2013. Of course, these ideas are all erroneous and contrary to the teachings of Vatican I. And as a result, Benedict was in substantial erroraccording to Canon 188 when he attempted to resign only a portion of the Papal office, leaving an administrative/juridical function to be filled by someone else after a “conclave” was called. 

All of this information is in the public sphere and available to those who actually care to look into it. I invite all those who insist Jorge Bergolgio is the Pope right now to do just do a little work and read the documents for themselves and use a basic level of logic to piece two and two together.

Bruce Jenner is a man. And furthermore I consider that islam must be destroyed.