Transition to Tradition (oct10ttr.htm)

October 10, 2005
vol 16, no. 253

A Brief on Sedevacantism

Dr. Rama P. Coomeraswamy

If the chair is not empty, then those who believe John Paul II was - and now Benedict XVI is - a true pope, must accept what he imparts and not pick and choose as if they were the Magisterium.

    "The sedevacantist position makes no attempt to define the nature of the post-conciliar popes - be they "usurpers" or "anti-popes." What it states is that the Chair of Peter is at this point in time empty - the Chair however continues to exist as it always will - but that the commands of those who are supposedly sitting in this Chair are without authority. To those who are horrified by the idea of sedevacantism, and who proclaim their conviction in the legitimacy of the present hierarchy, one can with sadness only say, "if he (and the bishops in union with him) are true popes, then obey them." It makes no sense for those who loudly proclaim JP II [and now Benedict XVI] is a true pope, to complain about the New Mass or some teaching of Vatican II. Such is simply not Catholic. Rather, they must embrace with love all his teachings and actions and extend every effort to fulfill his expectations."

      To adhere to a false Bishop of Rome is to be out of communion with the Church.
      St. Cyprian

    In the discussion that follows there is no intention of binding anyone's conscience. Nor is it claimed that there are no other ways of explaining the current chaos that has its roots in Rome. However, what is attempted is to show that the sedevacantist position is both logical and based on sound Catholic principles.

    The sedevacantist position makes no attempt to define the nature of the post-conciliar popes - be they "usurpers" or "anti-popes." What it states is that the Chair of Peter is at this point in time empty - the Chair however continues to exist as it always will - but that the commands of those who are supposedly sitting in this Chair are without authority. To those who are horrified by the idea of sedevacantism, and who proclaim their conviction in the legitimacy of the present hierarchy, one can with sadness only say, "if he (and the bishops in union with him) are true popes, then obey them." It makes no sense for those who loudly proclaim John Paul II [and now Benedict XVI] is a true pope, to complain about the New Mass or some teaching of Vatican II. Such is simply not Catholic. Rather, they must embrace with love all his teachings and actions and extend every effort to fulfill his expectations.

    What is important above all, is the need for one to remain Catholic, for on this rests the hope of our salvation.

Catholics know or should know that they owe obedience and subjection to the Pope when he is functioning as Pope. As Gueranger said, He is the "universal pastor whom none can disobey without disobeying God Himself." (Liturgical Year, Nov. 23.) Similarly Pius IX tells us "we must obey the Apostolic See, "not only with respect to faith, but even with respect to discipline. Anyone who denies this is a heretic. Anyone who recognizes this and doggedly refuses to obey him is worthy of anathema." (Apostolic Letter Quae in patriarhatu) .One could provide other authoritative quotes, such as Denzinger 1608, but the principle is so well accepted that such would be redundant.

    The reason for this is easy to understand. Once a Pope has been elected and has accepted this function, he is "one hierarchical person with our Lord." That is to say, he becomes Christ's representative or Vicar on earth. Of him it can be said, "He who hears you hears Me." Since he is speaking or functioning in unity with Christ, it is clear that the charism of infallibility resides with him (and by extension with those in unity with him). This has always been the case, though because it was disputed - especially after Pius IX promulgated his Syllabus of Errors - it had to be made explicit at Vatican I. It should be clear that this infallibility does not reside in a pope's every statement or action, but only with those within his function as Pope. Hence the importance of clearly delineating these functions.

    There are two ways of doing this. One is to follow the rulings of Vatican I which affirmed the infallibility of the Ordinary Magisterium and declared that when the pope speaks on matters of faith and morals in such a way that it is clear that he intends to instruct the Catholic faithful, he is infallible. The other is to look at the function of the Pope in terms of his Triple authority, namely Teaching, Governing and Sanctifying. We will discuss each of these in turn.

    With regard to his teaching function, this is usually expressed as the Magisterium (from the Latin Magister or teacher). Now there is currently considerable confusion about what constitutes the Magisterium and one or two doctrinal points have to be clear.

    1) There is only one Magisterium, though it may be given expression as "Ordinary" or as "Extraordinary." Both are equally true. Both are protected by the same charism of infallibility. It is not necessary that the Church or anyone at all agree with the Pope for this charism to apply. (This principle was changed at Vatican II under the name of "collegiality" which teaches that the bishops must agree with the pope.) Normally, the agreement of the hierarchy with the Pope extends his infallibility to them, but should they teach differently than the pope, they are on their own. This is the meaning of the phrase, "The Pope and those in union with him."

    2) There are those who like Michael Davies hold that the Ordinary Magisterium can contain error. This is an heretical position, and clearly if such were the case, then we would have no assurance that the Magisterium was a source of infallible truth. 1

    3) The idea that a reigning Pope can change what a previous Pope has established. This is of course true of disciplines such as rules for fasting, but it could never be true of Doctrine for the simple reason that Truth cannot change and the Holy Spirit cannot contradict Himself. Thus St. Paul tells us that even if an angel from heaven were to teach us some other doctrine than what he taught, it would not be true.

    With regard to the pope's teaching function: When the Pope teaches on matters of Faith and Morals in such a way that it is clear that he intends to instruct the Catholic faithful, he is infallible. This may be through the Ordinary or the Extraordinary Magisterium. How do we know that he intends to instruct the faithful? By the manner of expression, such as Encyclical letters, by approval of Conciliar documents, by pronouncements to the world at large (urbs et orbe - to the city of Rome and the world), or in any other manner that makes this clear..

    Let us examine some of the teachings which Catholics "faithful to the present Pope" implicitly accept. Both Paul VI and J-P II have told us that the documents of Vatican II are the "supreme form of the ordinary Magisterium," and that we owe them our intellectual assent. When Archbishop Lefebvre wished to be free to "interpret" them" in accordance with tradition," Paul VI told him that he was usurping his papal function, and if any interpretation was necessary, he would do it. And so it is that those who recognize the authority of the post-Conciliar popes must give their intellectual assent to all these documents contain. Now quite apart from their terrible ambiguity, these documents contain a host of theological errors. (One must not be deluded by such phrases as "theological error." In the context of doctrine, this means they contain lies, and their promulgation with supposed magisterial authority is spitting in the face of Christ for Christ is the Truth - the phrase may seem harsh, but this is what happened during His passion.) Those who wish to "pick and choose" what they will give their assent to, are in fact playing the Protestant game. But that is not all. They must also accept the socialist ideation and evolutionary thinking that pervades the post-Conciliar Church which has its delineation both in these documents and in the various Encyclical and other statements made by JP-II. What is more, they must agree with his opinion that the United Nations is the "hope of the world," and above all with his Apokostastic views that all men are saved - indeed, saved from the moment of their conception.

    Some will argue that they know nothing of all these heresies without judging anyone's individual culpability, it should be remembered that none of us know every aspect of the Magisterium. However, our attitude is one of accepting all the Magisterium contains, whether or not we know some matter which may not impact on our life. There is certainly enough evidence that something is wrong for people who take their religious seriously, to investigate and study the contents of the documents of Vatican II. Moreover, the Pope's Encyclicals are not promulgated without the intent that they should be read and studied. Those who are capable and who refuse to study what is being taught in the name of Christ are simply indifferent, or deliberately hiding their head in the sand. One wonders how indifferent they will be at the Final Judgement.

   Governance is often combined with Sanctification as both depend upon what is called the power of Jurisdiction. Both are closely tied to what is called the "Apostolic Succession." Without a valid Apostolic Succession the authority for governance and the power of confecting the Sacraments is absent. With regard to governance, it is often forgotten that at one time the popes were heads of state (and still are since the Vatican City is an independent state).. The purpose of governance is the salvation of souls and the obligation that falls upon the Pope (and those in union with him) is the fostering a social order that has the true goods of mankind in mind. The former is well explained by Boniface VIII put it:

   "We are taught by evangelical words that in this power of his are two swords, namely spiritual and temporal... Therefore each is in the power of the Church, that is, a spiritual and a material sword. But the latter, indeed, must be exercised for the Church, the former by the Church. The former (by the hand) of the priest, the latter by the hand of kings and soldiers, but at the will and sufferance of the priest." (Denzinger 469)

   Formerly the Church owned large tracts of land in Italy and was fully responsible for its administration. These of course have long since been taken away from her. But the principle that the Church had the right to direct the civil power has been repeatedly demonstrated throughout history, though the civil powers have for several hundred years refused to acknowledge such. Following upon Vatican II Paul VI told those few countries such as Spain and Argentina who still had in their constitution the statement that they were "Catholic," that such was no longer acceptable. He insisted that they remove such phraseology from their constitutions. He made it clear that the new Church was no longer going to interfere in the political sphere of nations in a Catholic manner.. Again, we have the bland acceptance of Socialist ideas, despite the fact that Leo XIII and Pius IX clearly taught that it is impossible for a Catholic to be a socialist. This of course is part of the program aimed at bringing the Church into the modern world as a participant, and hence it is not surprising that JP II should tell the United Nations that "you are the hope of the world." And this in a speech in which he didn't even mention the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

   Sanctification is also tied to the power of Jurisdiction, and covers every aspect of religion, above all the Sacraments. Now, everyone who is not blind or deaf knows that all the Sacraments have been changed. Many arguments are raised as the validity of the new Sacraments, but without going into these in detail, no one questions but that they are "doubtful." Without a valid Apostolic Succession, there can be no valid priesthood, and hence however correctly Mass or the other Sacraments are administered, they are invalid. Anyone can say the words, but without the power conveyed by Ordination and or Consecration, nothing is effected. Now for all practical purposes the post-Conciliar Church has rendered the Apostolic Succession invalid. Pius XII in a de fide statement specified what was required in the form and matter for the passing on of this power. (Such had not previously been necessary as no one questioned it). The new rites for consecrating bishops have only one word in common with what Pius XII specified as essential, namely "et" meaning and. This makes all the bishops and in turn their ordinands (priests) at least dubious - and it is a principle of sacramental theology that a dubious sacrament is no sacrament at all, and indeed Catholics are forbidden to partake of doubtful Sacraments. A Tridentine Mass properly said by a priest improperly ordained effects nothing. And beyond this, even the most beautifully performed Novus Ordo Mass remains at least doubtful for three simple reasons (apart from the doubtful ordination of the priest-president).: 1) the words of Christ have been changed2; and 2) the Novus Ordo is tied to the definition in paragraph 7 of the General Instruction which provides the rubrics and understanding for saying it; and 3) there is no true sacrifice. (Those who doubt all this should read the General Instruction which accompanies this rite). It should be stressed however that the invalidating of the consecration of bishops is in many ways more serious than the issue of the Mass, for a properly ordained priest can always go back to the true Mass, but a priest without valid orders is in a much more difficult position.

    Many will claim that they know nothing of all this, and so they continue to accept all the changes - be they doctrinal or ritual without question. But once again, it is almost impossible for people not to know that something has drastically changed in their religion. One has only to enter a post-Conciliar Church to become aware that the tabernacle has been moved and the altar turned into a table. Anyone who sees priest-presidents saying funeral masses in white and shaking hands with relatives of the deceased without ablution - i.e., when his hands have presumably just touched the body of our Lord - should wonder what is going on. If religion is of any importance in our lives - and it should be the most important thing in our lives, surely it behooves us to investigate what is happening.. Our failure to do so, especially when they have been pointed out to us, is culpable.

    There is of course a mystery in all this. Christ could have stopped His Crucifixion, but within the divine economy, it was necessary that he suffer on the Cross. In a sense His Church is also being Crucified. He could stop it if He wished. But the Crucifixion of His Church is also within the providence of God. One must remember that the Catholic Faith is not dependant on the structure of the Church as it exists today. An entirely different structure existed during the first three hundred years of its existence. Yes there was a pope and there were bishops and priests. But it was an underground Church. During the English Reformation the Church again became an underground organization, at least in England. It is clear that the post-Conciliar Church is in the process of self-destruction. Such may well be what will once again happen.

    In stating that one is a sedevacantist, much more than the status of the post-Conciliar popes is involved. The pope is not alone in all this, and truly it is the Pope "and the bishops (if such they are) in union with him." The reality is that the present Church organization is simply not Catholic and hence is to be rejected - its pseudo Sacraments and its false doctrines.

    One must be careful of how things are worded. To say that the Church as we know it is dead is not to say that the Church is dead. The Church which is the body of Christ, the presence of Christ in this world, can never die. The Truth can be obscured, but never destroyed. Christ will not leave us orphans. We have legitimate bishops and priests - not many, but in sufficient numbers. It is incumbent on us to seek them out and support them in any way we can. In all that is going on, there is nothing that stops us from being Catholic, but to be Catholic demands a great deal of work and effort on our part. And perhaps - here I would ask that my presumption be forgiven - this is what our Lord really wants - namely that we put forth this very effort. The salvation of our souls may well depend upon it.

    Father Gruner and his associate Christopher Ferrara have presumed to inform the faithful that sedevacantism is not a legitimate position for Catholics to take and that indeed all Catholics must accept the post-Conciliar “popes” as true and valid Popes.

    Mr. Ferrara tells us that if the changes of Vatican II were imposed de jure, he would find the Sedevacantist position more understandable. This presumably refers to the position that these “popes” have declared the Council to be “pastoral” in nature. Lest one accept this seeming saving statement, we must start by showing that the opinion that JP-II never used his infallibility and hence could not be guilty of heresy is false. While Mr. Ferrara does not allude to this directly, it should be clear that JP II has frequently used his supposed “powers of infallibility” – for example, every canonization is considered an infallible statement. While it may be true in that he never spoke with the authority of Christ, he certainly has used the infallibility of his office to promulgate error.

    Now returning to the question of Vatican II, allow me to share with you what Paul VI told Archbishop Lefebvre who wished to interpret the documents of Vatican II “in accordance with tradition.”

    "You have no right any more to bring up the distinction between the doctrinal and the pastoral that you use to support your acceptance of certain texts of Vatican Council II and your rejection of others. It is true that the matters decided in any Council do not all call for an assent of the same quality; only what the Council affirms in its 'definitions' as a truth of faith or as bound up with faith requires the assent of faith. Nevertheless, the rest also form a part of the SOLEMN MAGISTERIUM of the Church, to be trustingly accepted and sincerely put into practice by every Catholic."(Epistle Cum te, Oct 11,1976 Notitia #12, 1976)

    Just for the record, the Ordinary Magisterium is binding on our conscience and to declare the entire content of the documents of Vatican II to be part of the SOLEMN MAGISTERIUM and clearly such a statement carries with it – if Paul VI was pope – all the marks of infallibility. Similarly, John Paul II held:

    John Paul II has expressed his full agreement with Paul VI whom he considers as his "spiritual father", and has further stated that the Council was "inspired by the Holy Spirit", and that "obedience to the Council is obedience to the Holy Spirit." 3 Still elsewhere he has stated that the Council is "the authentic teaching of the Church." Clearly in his eyes to refuse to give our assent to the Council is equivalent to "sinning against the Holy Ghost."

    What confuses me about the Anti-Sedevacantists is their claim to be Catholic. Let us consider how the Church considers the function of a true Pope. According to the theologians he is “one hierarchical person with our Lord.” This being so, when he speaks within his function, it is our Lord who speaks – teaches, governs and sanctifies. These are the areas of his authority, the basis of his triple crown, and to say he has not used them is absurd. In so far as he appoints his Bishops and provides Jurisdiction, he is governing. Similarly, in declaring the Novus Ordo Missae to be the “normative” mass, he is sanctifying. And in declaring the documents of Vatican II to be the Supreme form of the Magisterium, he is teaching.

    It is quite beyond my understanding how individuals who recognize the post-Conciliar “popes” to be a true and valid Popes, have no problem in disobeying them when they say things we do not like or agree with. Paul VI also told Archbishop Lefebvre that it was his task – not Lefebvre’s to determine what was and was not traditioinal. But people like Ferrara and Gruner are happy to guide us as to when we do and do not have to follow the teachings of these seeming papal individuals. The number of groups willing to guide us down what is essentially a Protestant path are legion.

    What Father Gruner and Mr. Ferrara do not seem to understand is that the post-Conciliar Church (a name they chose for themselves) is a new and different religion. It is not the Catholic religion. The argument put forth that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” is indeed true. For the true Catholic Church is true and as such can never be destroyed – and God will be with it “unto the consummation of the world.” But we know that in the “end times” only a Remnant will remain Catholic, and obviously, it is with this remnant that God will remain. These Scriptural statements are verified by the fact that throughout the world there are a small but significant number of traditional Catholics who reject the post-Conciliar Church, and retain the true Catholic Faith As Catherine Emerick said, if there is only one Catholic left at the end, the Catholic Church will be found in him. To call this Remnant that has not changed their beliefs or practice “rebellious,” “schismatic” or subject to anathemas, is obviously absurd.

    The argument that the Remnant will always have a living Pope with it is has no basis in fact. It is a pure opinion – indeed as is the claim that if there is no pope, there is no Church. That the Church continues to exist despite the absence – temporary – of a pope in no way denies the statement of Vatican I. Indeed the saints tell us that at some time in the future Sts. Peter and Paul will return and inform us as to who the real pope is.

    Christopher Ferrara informs us that were a Pope to be a manifest heretic he would ipso facto cease to be pope. Now ipso facto means just that. It doesn’t require a council to decide the facts. The pope, like all of us, is endowed with free will and he can walk away from the Church without the help of a council. Now apparently Mr. Ferrara doesn’t think these post-Conciliar popes have ever denied an article of the Catholic faith with pertinacity. It seems clear that Mr. Ferrara doesn’t know how to recognize heresy when it hits him in the eye. Of course he will claim that these “popes” never used their infallibility and so what they had to say on a multiplicity of issues is quite beside the point. Or he suggests a host of excuses – he even seems to postulate that perhaps he has lost his mind, or made some awful mistake in his choice of words, or been subject to some compulsion such as a threat to his life. Moreover, he suggests the need for a general council to declare a given pope to be heretical. Of course, it might be argued that we are hardly qualified to judge the doctrine of a pope. But surely we have the obligation to recognize error – if not why would we not all be Protestants or communists?

    Much is made by anti-Sedevacantists about their freedom to “resist” a Pope. Resisting is very different from refusing to accept a Pope’s teaching when couched in infallible terms – that is to say, when he speaks within his function as “one hierarchical person with our Lord,” or as the theologians often put it, “from the chair of Peter.”

    An example of resisting the Pope is provided by Bishop Grosseteste who refused to provide a prebund for a cousin of the Pope because the cousin didn’t know English. The Pope in question was angry but could do nothing about it. This is very different from refusing to accept the teaching of a Pope when he speaks within his function as the spokesperson for Christ. Such is clearly a rejection of Christ’s teaching – that is if the Pope concerned is a true Pope, and is the worst form of disobedience, for it is a rejection of the truth.

    Mr. Ferrara raises the issue of Vatican I’s declaration on the Papacy. Let it be quite clear, Sedevacantists fully accept this teaching. We are not attacking the Papacy – indeed, it is because we love the Papacy that we refuse to admit these pretenders have any true authority. Most traditional priests in saying Mass do so “in union with the Apostolic See.” They do not say in union with the post-Conciliar popes, for such would be to declare their apostasy.

    Father Gruner in a separate epistle goes so far as to warn sede-vacantists that “the devil is Ready to snare you,” and that “sedevacantism could ultimately lead to the loss of [their] souls in hell.” One wonders where he gets his theology – perhaps from Vatican II. In any event, he is not the judge of souls, and such threats on the part of one who is in intimate union with the post-Conciliar “popes” borders on the absurd.

    Now one thing is clear. If we as Catholics believe we have an obligation of obey the pope, then we face a dilemma. If we obey these popes we must give up our Catholic Faith. Hence it is that all sorts of solutions are considered – solutions that avoid recognizing the real issue. The bottom line is one cannot obey these individuals and remain Catholic. Hence it is that one must declare that they have no authority – that they do not speak as one hierarchical person with Christ. It matters little how one labels them – anti-popes, usurpers, materialiter popes, or no popes at all. The bottom line is that they have no authority to speak in Christ’s name. [For myself, if I thought they spoke in Christ’s name, I would never go to any mass but the novus ordo (quod absit), and I would accept all the errors of Vatican II.]

    (I have not raised the issue of the legitimacy of their elections. Obviously, one cannot elect a non-Catholic to the Papacy. But this issue of before, during or after is not the crux of the matter.)

Rama P. Coomaraswamy, MD

    1. Davies argues that only what was once determined can be relied on. This implies that the Magisterium is dead and that no true pope can explain or determine issues that may not have previously required explication.

    2. Not necessarily in the Latin, though even in Latin the context is altered - and how often is it said in Latin.

    3. Redemptor Hominis and Speech to the Sacred College reported in Documentation Catholique (Paris), 1975, pp. 1002-3.

For past articles of Transition to Tradition, see 2005ttr.htm Archives

    October 10, 2005
    vol 16, no. 253
    Transition to Tradition