This decision has many presuppositions. First it was necessary to give to the term “tradition” a definite sense. One now distinguished between ecclesiastical and apostolic tradition. The apostolic tradition is the old traditions which came into the Church through ways which are not given in the Bible. But the ecclesiastical tradition is the tradition about which the Pope has to decide, whenever it appears in Church history. This was the situation; the ecclesiastical tradition, which was the only living tradition, was identical with the papal decisions. This is the positive statement.
And now its negative side: The Jesuits more and more undercut all other authorities. In contrast to Thomas Aquinas they undercut conscience and made themselves the leaders of the consciences of the princes, and of the other people too, But their important role was that in this period of Reformation and Counter- Reformation, where the Jesuit order was born in Spain, most of the deciding political personalities had Jesuitic advisors around themselves who were leaders of their consciences. Now if you guide, the conscience of a prince, you can apply this guidance to all political decisions because in all of them some moral elements are included. And that is what the Jesuits did. They turned the consciences of the Catholic princes towards all the cruelties of the Counter-Reformation. So the conscience was no authority any more.
Also the authority of the bishops was undercut by the Jesuits. The episcopalian primacy in the Councils was undercut by Jesuitic interpretation. The Councils themselves and their decisions have to be confirmed by the Pope. This was the complete victory of the :Rope over the Councils. This was done in Trent. The Pope was accepted by the majority of the bishops in Trent as he who has to confirm the Council of Trent. This means that no council can have validity ever since, which is not confirmed by the Pope. Therefore the Pope is beyond criticism.
Even the Church Fathers are undercut by the Jesuits. The Jesuits were especially anti-Augustinian. There is only one Father of the Church, namely the living Pope.
All earlier Church Fathers are full of heretic statements, of errors, even of falsifications. The Jesuits, as you see from this, were very modern people. They knew about the historical problems and used them in order to undermine the authority of the Church Fathers. The Protestant historiography did the same thing, in order to make possible the prophetic authority of the Reformers. So the criticism was made by both: by the Jesuits in order to give absolute power by the Pope; and by the Protestants in order to liberalize the authority of the Bible.
The constitution of 1870: “Pastor Eternus” If you read a papal bull, you will always find two or three words at the beginning which serve also as the title of the bull – e.g. , “Una Sancta,” etc. This means the first words of the text are put into the title.
Pastor eternus has a very full sound – the eternal shepherd – and immediately implies the feeling for the eternal function of the earthly shepherd. First pp the Pope is declared as the universal power of jurisdiction over every power of the Church. There is no legal body which is not subjected to the Pope. Secondly he is declared universal bishop. This means, practically, that he has power over every Catholic of New York, through the bishop of New York; but if this doesn’t work, he can have episcopal power directly and can revolutionize the subjects of the other bishops against their bishops, if he likes to. Thirdly, the Pope is infallible if he speaks ex cathedra. This of course is the most conspicuous decision of the Vatican Council and a decision which has even separated some of the Catholics who, as they called themselves, became “Old Catholics,” but they remained a very small group in Western Germany, and never took over the Roman church. On the contrary. Your generation has experienced, in the year 1950, the first cathedra decision since 1870, and therefore a decision which is de fide, namely, a decision about the bodily ascension of the Virgin Mary. Now here you see how things go – the Pope has asked most of the bishops before he made this decision. The majority was on his side; a minority was not. The Pope asked about the tradition – the tradition is more than a thousand years old; we have pictures in many periods of Church history about Mary elevated to Heaven and crowned by Christ, or received by God. But now the question was: Is this a pious opinion in the Church which is tolerated, and even further? or is it a matter de fide? As long as it is a pious opinion, every Catholic can disagree with it, without losing the salvation of his soul. In the moment in which it is declared de fide, as it was done in the year 1950 by the Pope, in this moment every Catholic is bound to accept it as truth, and nothing can relieve him from this necessity. Many Catholics were deeply shaken about this, but they subjected themselves.