October 8, 2005
vol 16, no. 251
Is Sedevacantism Catholic?
by Richard Cure
"I have heard it said that if the pope says that he does not believe a proclaimed dogma of the Church then we would know that he is a heretic and therefore he would no longer be the pope. This is not true. For one thing, we do not know what is in the heart or mind of the pope and have no right to judge. Even if the pope is 100 percent a heretic, it doesn’t prove that he is not the pope. Just because some have said that if the pope becomes a heretic he then loses the authority of the papacy, this doesn’t make it so. The Church has never taught this, for to do so would undermine the papacy. Such a thing has never happened in all the history of the Church though, as we saw in the times of the Great Western Schism, men have made themselves believe this did happen, but I am sure the pope will never be a manifest heretic because it stands against the purpose of the papacy."
Editor's Note: We provide the four-part article by Richard Cure which first appeared in The Angelus in March 1998 and the URL source below and we do not include any emphasis or embellishments within the article in order to be totally fair in the presentation per se. However, in pursuit of truth, keep in mind that Mr. Cure's arguments based on the paragraph above won't hold up for he is wrong about his claim "the Church has never taught this" for Holy Mother Church has always been a teaching Church and as such, Pope Paul IV clearly defined that a heretic would lose the authority of the papacy in his Papal Bull Cum ex apostolatus officio and it has never been abrogated, but rather, in fact, established and refortified in Canon Law 188: 4: "Any office becomes vacant upon the fact and without any declaration by tacit resignation recognized by the law itself if a cleric: 4. Publicly defects from the Catholic faith; (Pio-Benedictine Code), and how interesting to note, it slipped through as practically intact in the new code of 1983 - 194: 2: "One is removed from an ecclesiastical office by the law itself: 2. one who has publicly defected from the Catholic faith or from the communion of the Church." (editor's emphasis) Therefore, the force and command of Paul IV's decree is still very much in effect and one of the strongest arguments for avering that the conciliar popes and the bishops they have appointed are NOT Catholic, and therefore have no authority in the Roman Catholic Church. Yet, just as conciliarists won't address traditional truths, so also Cure and anti-sedevacantists omit any mention of this vital document. They will not recognize this lawful, definitive Papal Decree issued in 1559 that holds the key to the whole argument. What part of Cum ex apostolatus officio don't they understand? The Magisterium has already ruled on this very question: the chair would be vacant. Ergo, since the last five popes have publicly defected from the Catholic faith ("even one iota") through publicly (not privately) manifesting scandals and heresies, they therefore de jure have lost all authority. Ergo, not having had a lawful Pope since Pope Pius XII, the True Church remains in an extended time of interregnum.
PART 1 OF 4
Our priest, at that time, had circulated a talk given by a
traditionalist priest which stated that we, as Catholics, do not have the right
to judge the Pope. In spite of this information being made available to me and
my having listened to the tape twice, I still didn’t take an anti-sedevacantist
position. Not until we had moved to a town where a Society of Saint Pius X
chapel was located and where the priest took a very negative position towards
sedevacantism, did I take a serious look at this subject or my position. In
talking to many sedevacantists, I have found the beginnings of sedevacantism
follow much the same path in others.
After being confronted with the necessity of making a
decision about just what was the right position, I started doing some research
into the subject. It wasn’t easy since there was nowhere in Catholic writing
that I could find the term "sedevacantism" even mentioned, other than in
writings since Vatican II. It seemed a little unusual for a so-called
traditionalist to be taking a position, in favor of traditionalism, when that
position titled "sedevacantism" couldn’t even be found. The position of
sedevacantism (that of believing that the chair of Peter is vacant even though
the Church Militant doesn’t know it) could be found as an example in history
just before and during the Great Western Schism, which illustrates the fruit of
After reading many different imprimatured articles and
rereading many articles in support of the sedevacantist position, it became
clear to me that there was a great deal of confusion and that there needed to be
an article written quoting the imprimatured articles and books that I had found
in my research. This article is an attempt to summarize what ended up being a
small book of mostly quotations.
SEDEVACANTISM'S MOST INFLUENTIAL ERA: THE GREAT WESTERN
The purpose of our looking at history is at least two-fold:
To understand tradition, and
To better understand our times.
Since tradition would likely be the historical position of
the Church, it is imperative that a traditionalist understand history in order
to truly be a traditionalist. If we are to apply the traditional teaching of the
Church to our times, we must understand history and whether or not sedevacantism
is in conformity to the teaching of the Church or rather a departure from the
teaching of the Church.
One has to look at history with some understanding of how
history arrived at the point one wishes to study. If one doesn’t understand the
background of that point in history, then one can’t understand why the events
took place or actually even what did take place. So that the target point in
history can be understood, some background information is necessary.
During the Great Western Schism, the Church was the world
power in that the Church controlled, more than anyone else, the countries of the
world. As a result, anyone who was very ambitious knew that the place of power
was in the Church as a member of the hierarchy. So we see in the times of the
Great Western Schism very bad churchmen in high places who very much scandalized
the Church then, and who are scandalous to us poor souls today who try to read
the historical accounts. It is not my intent to scandalize anyone, let alone the
Church. But it is important to understand how corrupt things were so that one
can understand why such things could happen and so better understand that things
today aren’t necessarily quite as they appear.
During the Great Western Schism there were many times when
the different factions believed the pope to be a heretic who should be deposed,
but, in every case, history has proven that those judging the pope were not only
wrong in their conclusion but were also wrong in their belief that they had a
right to judge the pope as the turn of events proved; for by judging the pope,
they only caused confusion and schism with as many as three claimants to the
papacy at one time. These churchmen had other than the Church’s interest at
heart; instead, it was usually their own personal gain or nationalism.
By 1294 the Church had had a number of popes who were poor
churchmen and some who had been scandalously corrupt. But the good cardinals
upon the death of the reigning pope elected Peter Morone, a pious, saintly
hermit, to the papacy as Pope Celestine V. The hermit had no experience in such
matters and in a short time had made quite a mess of things. He had protested
upon being elected. He hadn’t wanted to leave his hermitage and wanted only to
return to it. After a short time, Celestine V resigned so that another pope
could be elected.
Boniface VIII was the replacing pope. Since Boniface’s
enemies were saying that Celestine hadn’t or couldn’t resign, Boniface had
Celestine apprehended so that there wouldn’t be a schism.1 Celestine died while
in custody and was later canonized. These events clouded the beginning of
Boniface’s pontificate. When additional events are added, the people of the
time, who where so inclined, had reason to question the papacy of Boniface.
During the reign of Boniface VIII, Philip the Fair, the king
of France, wanted to take possession of some of the Church’s properties and
piling rights so as to increase his power and ability to tax. Philip used some
arguments based on what the Church had allowed in France, discussed later under
the title Gallicanism. Boniface countered with the idea that the pope had the
right to rule the states because the kings had come to the pope to be crowned.
Boniface prepared to excommunicate Philip.
Anticipating these developments, Philip had made plans to
capture the pope and bring him before a council to be judged and deposed.2 As a
result of Gallicanism, Philip had rationalized that he had the right to commit
these atrocities against the Church. Philip sent two thousand mercenaries who
captured Pope Boniface VIII and held him captive for three days. After having
been freed, the pope lived only ten days. The next pope also opposed Philip the
Fair and died suddenly, it is believed by poisoning. He was later canonized.
These episodes much weakened respect for the papacy and brought about
Gallicanism and sedevacantism which can only survive in an atmosphere of
disrespect for the pope and the papacy.
During the reign of the next couple of popes, Philip tried to
force the popes to condemn the dead Boniface, which they would not do. After the
death of Boniface’s personal enemies, even the French accepted the legitimacy of
the reign of Boniface.3 We often see in history how men or groups of men will
paint a distorted picture of someone or some event which then affects history
for some time.
Rome had been a world center for many centuries and with the
coming and going of so many people, it was a hotbed of disease. Since it was
also a center of power, a convergence of factions almost like separate nations
within the city caused free movement and dissemination of information to be a
problem. Because of the heat and humidity of summer, the hierarchy liked to
leave the city.4 This along with the extreme nationalism (particularly French),
led to the establishment of a papal palace at Avignon which was on the border of
Pope Clement V took up residence in Avignon beginning what
was termed "the Babylonian Captivity" because the reign from Avignon lasted
about as long as the Babylonian Captivity and was under the influence of the
French court. France had been controlling the papal elections, electing
Frenchmen to the office. This is one of the reasons the papal palace had been
set up in Avignon.
After Clement V died, there was a two-year, three-and-a-half
month period during which there was no pope. John XXII was finally elected to
the papacy, but damage to the respect for the papacy resulted from such a long
Pope John XXII took the same position as Boniface in that he
insisted that kings had no right to rule until the pope had given the Bestowal
of Imperial Dignity. King Louis of Bavaria would not submit to Pope John so the
Pope excommunicated him. The King then went to Italy and had one of the pope’s
enemies proclaim John XXII a heretic, usurper, and oppressor of the Church and
deprived John XXII of all his papal dignities, supposedly. The King then
proclaimed an enemy of the pope, anti-pope Nicholas V. Through his position on
papal right to rule nations, John XXII caused quite a stir, but it wasn’t
anything compared to what was to come.
Pope John XXII had stated before his election that he
believed the soul didn’t posses the Beatific Vision upon death. He also gave a
series of five sermons stating his belief. At the University of Paris, a group
of theologians gave the opinion that the pope was seriously wrong, but that he
had not made an ex cathedra statement. As a result, it was not binding and was
simply a private belief of the pope. John stated that he had not intended to
teach contrary to Holy Scripture or the rule of Faith and before his death
declared his belief that souls separated from their bodies enjoyed the Beatific
Vision.5 Clearly the Pope was not imposing his views or teaching ex cathedra.6
Here we have an example from history of a pope taking positions contrary to the
traditions of the Church, but history shows that the man was still Catholic and
indeed the Pope. We all err, but to be obstinate in our errors after being shown
our error or after being obstinate after being shown by the Church that one is
in error is when one rejects the Church’s teaching. Even though John XXII
corrected his wrong, much disrespect for the papacy resulted from his actions.
FOOTNOTES for PART 1
1 Warren H. Carrol, The Glory of Christendom (Christendom Press,
2 Catholic Encyclopedia, (1913), Vol. II,
“Boniface VIII,” p.668.
3 Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. IV, “Clement V,”
4 Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. IV, “Clement V,” p.20.
5 Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. VIII, p.433.
6 The Glory of Christendom, p.372.
PART 2 OF 4
The next four popes lived in Avignon which, along with their extreme French
nationalism, reduced the papacy to a very low level of respect.7
Saint Bridget of Sweden spent the last 30 years of her life in Rome. She wrote
to the popes at Avignon and told them that she feared that if they didn’t soon
return to Rome they would lose their temporal and spiritual authority.8
Saint Catherine of Siena persuaded Pope Gregory XI to return to Rome in 1377.9
This ended a 41-year absence from Rome by the popes. But the loss of respect for
the papacy was to continue, for Gregory XI continued to practice extreme French
nationalism by imposing Frenchmen over the Italians, and this caused many riots.
The events which brought about the Great Western Schism had
been established by:
Loss of respect for the papacy,
Concern of churchmen for other than
the Church, and
Establishment of the non-Catholic
philosophy of Gallicanism and its ideals (sedevacantism).
Upon Gregory XI’s
death, Pope Urban VI was elected in Rome while mobs outside, and some inside,
were demanding the selection of a Roman or at least Italian pope. The cardinals
did elect Urban VI, an Italian, but before he could get to Rome to accept the
position, the mobs became violent. For fear of their lives (note this was after
the new pope had been elected), they dressed an Italian cardinal in the robes of
the pope and presented him to the crowd as the new pope. The fake pope protested
such deception, but to no avail. Once Urban VI arrived he was announced as the
pope and was accepted by all.
Urban appeared to be a very easy-going fellow before being
elected to the papacy, but once he was elected he became extremely aggressive in
attacking those improperly using the Church. Cardinal Robert told the Pope that,
as he (the Pope) was diminishing their power and respect, they (the cardinals)
would diminish the Pope’s power.10 The French cardinals, who
comprised most of the Sacred College, were tired of deadly Roman fevers and the
dilapidated Rome and wanted to return to Avignon where it was more comfortable.11
Soon the cardinals, mostly French, met outside of Rome and decided that, even
though they had elected, accepted and announced Urban to the world as the Pope,
they would now take the position that the election had been forced and that they
now regarded the Holy See to be vacant.12 They proceeded to
elect Cardinal Robert as the anti-pope to rule from Avignon.
Saint Catherine of Siena’s letter to these cardinals stated:
know the truth, that Pope Urban VI is truly pope, the highest pontiff, chosen
in orderly election, not influenced by fear, truly rather by divine
inspiration than by your human industry. And so you announced it to us,
which was the truth. Now you have turned your backs, like poor, mean knights;
your shadow has made you afraid. You have divided yourselves from the
truth which strengthens us, and drawn close to falsehood, which weakens soul
and body, depriving you of temporal and spiritual grace. What made you
do this? The poison of self-love, which has infected the world. This is what
has made you pillars lighter than straw-flowers which shed no perfume, but
stench that makes the whole world reek! ... This is not the kind of
blindness that springs from ignorance. It has not happened to you because
people have reported one thing to you while another is so. No, for you
know what the truth is; it was you who announced it to us, and not we to you.
Oh, how mad you are! For you told us the truth, and you want yourselves
to taste a lie! Now you want to corrupt this truth, and make us see the
opposite saying that you chose Pope Urban from fear, which is not so; but
anyone who says it –speaking to you without reverence, because you have
deprived yourselves of reverence –lies up to his eyes." 13
There is a saying:
“The ultimate punishment of a liar is that he believes his own lies.” Once a
liar believes his own lies, he has no way to correct his errors because he can’t
recognize them. So the Great Western Schism began as the different nations
decided which of the popes to accept.
The world soon realized the Church was in turmoil and wanted
the schism ended. When pope or anti-pope died, the new popes were required to
agree to do what they could, even resign, if the counter-part would do the same
so a new pope could then be elected to resolve the question of who was the real
pope. In their embarrassment and anger, the French theologians dealing
with the issue began to take positions contrary to the immemorial traditions and
teaching of the Church, which in time became the full-fledged heresy of “conciliarism.”
14 This philosophy had evolved from Gallicanism. The solution was said to
be that of a council to depose the popes and elect a new pope who would then be
unquestionably received as the true pope by all, thereby uniting the Church
again. Note: This was not a Catholic ideal, but a solution they came up with to
try and correct the problem without condemning those who started the schism.
It was said that pope and anti-pope were in heresy because
they were a party to the schism, but there were those who sounded the warning
that “no mere human being has any right to judge him (the reigning
Pope)....nor has an assembly of bishops, and still less, one of the cardinals
... They are trying to force the hand of the Holy Ghost!” 15
In spite of tradition and other warnings, a council was called at Pisa. The two
popes were invited but neither attended. Their hierarchy did attend, but,
without a pope to convene the council, they were obviously working in opposition
to the true pope.
At the Council of Pisa, “all were stirred when the
Patriarch of Alexandria, Simon de Cramaud, addressed the august meeting”:
"Benedict XII and
Gregory XII, [the two popes at the time] are recognized as schismatics,
the approvers and makers of schism, notorious heretics, guilty of perjury and
violation of solemn promises, and openly scandalizing the universal Church. In
consequence, they are declared unworthy of the Sovereign Pontificate and are
ipso facto deposed from their functions and dignities and ever driven out of
the Church. It is forbidden to them henceforward to consider themselves to be
Sovereign Pontiffs, and all proceedings and promotions made by them are
annulled. The Holy See is declared vacant and the faithful are set free from
the promise of obedience." 16
Sounds like some sedevacantists of today. In June of 1409, Cardinal Philarghi was unanimously
chosen to fill the presumably vacant papal chair:
was soon questioned and the world was chagrined to find that instead of two
popes it now had three." 17
"There were now
three popes, and three colleges of cardinals, in some dioceses three rival
bishops, and in some religious orders three rival superiors." 18
In spite of previous
lessons, the world still looked toward another council to correct the problem.
In 1413 Sigismund (King of Germany) invited all three popes to a council. He had
an agreement from John XXIII (the replacement Pope after the death of the Pisan
pope, an anti-pope) that he would issue the convocation bull to open the Council
of Constance. John had the largest support and at first dominated the council.19
John resigned and then changed his mind and fled. He latter was captured and
brought back to the council and submitted to the council.
The legitimate pope, Gregory XII, even though his obedience
had practically vanished, then resigned with the dignity expected from a true
pope.20 Before he resigned, Gregory convoked the council and
authorized its succeeding acts. Two years later, before the election of a new
pope, Gregory XII died in the odor of sanctity.21 Even though
the true pope had resigned and the council was in place to elect the new pope,
it appears that the Holy Ghost’s hand was not to be forced as the new pope
wasn’t elected until the chair was truly vacant, due to Gregory’s death.
The Council of Constance agreed to establish an assembly
divided into six nations, each speaking a different language, who then elected
six representatives from each nation to vote for a new pope along with the 23
cardinals.22 So the Church, still divided by a schism, was to
be reunited by a council started by nationalism and convoked by a schismatic.
Moreover, the council was under the guidance of a civil authority and consisted
of an electorate made up of 30 out of 53 electors who had been selected by their
respective nations. Often we find in history that the way problems are resolved
are the reverse of how they came about. Cardinal Odo Colonna of the famous (and
sometimes infamous) Colonna family, which was party to starting the schism by
undermining the true pope, was elected Pope Martin V by the Council of
The Colonna family went to work to restore the Church. The
Church was relieved to be rid of the Great Western Schism, but the problems
caused by Gallicanism and sedevacantism had not been solved.
In 1904 the Gerarchia Catholica reaffirmed that the
popes of Rome were the legitimate popes and that the anti-popes of Avignon were
not the true popes. Future legitimate popes took the names of the anti-popes of
Avignon.23 We see that through declining respect for the papacy
and confusion on the issues relevant to the papacy the Great Western Schism was
brought about. Future councils addressed the relevant issues and condemned many
of the supporting errors that brought about this confusion.
"A temporal kingdom
would have succumbed thereto; but the organization of the spiritual kingdom
was so wonderful, the ideal of the papacy so indestructible that this, the
most serious of schisms, served only to demonstrate its indivisibility."
FOOTNOTES for PART 2
7 The Glory of Christendom, p.390.
8 Fr. John Laux, Church History (Rockford: Tan Books and
Publishers, Inc., 1989, originally 1930), p.401.
9 Church History, p.401.
10 The Glory of Christendom, p.431.
11 Church History, p.404.
12 The Glory of Christendom, p.433.
13 Ibid., p.425.
14 Ibid., p.460.
15 Ibid., p.471.
16 Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. XII, “Pisa, Council of,”
17 Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. I, “Alexander V,”
18 Church History, p.407.
19 Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. VIII, “John XXIII,”
20 Catholic: Encyclopedia, Vol. IV, “Constance, Council
21 Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. VII, “Gregory XII,”
22 Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. IV, “Constance, Council
23 Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. XIII, “Schism” p.541.
24 Ibid., p.541.
PART 3 OF 4
“Gallicanism: This term is used
to designate a certain group of religious opinions for some time peculiar to the
Church of France, or Gallican Church, and the theological schools of that
country. These opinions, in opposition to the ideas which were called in France
“Ultramontane,” tended chiefly to a restraint of the pope’s authority in the
Church in favor of that of the bishop and the temporal ruler.” 25
These ideas stemmed
from times when the popes made concessions to Pepin and Charles the Great in the
ruling of the Church in their countries which were to be exercised only under
papal control.26 These ideals were brought forward and promoted
more to promote an argument than as a “deliberate opinion maturely conceived
and conscious of its own meaning.”
The first glimmerings of the Gallican ideas surfaced during
the conflict between Philip the Fair and Boniface VIII in the 1300’s.28
In 1681 a General Assembly of the French clergy summoned by Louis XIV, King of
France, obtained the “Declaration of the Four Articles,” known as the
Four Gallican Propositions, namely that:
The Pope may
not interfere directly or indirectly with the temporal concerns of princes.
matters a General Council is superior to the pope.
and customs of the Gallican church are inviolable.
The Pope is
not infallible, even in matters of Faith, unless his decision is confirmed
by the consent of the Church.29
From the second proposition or ideal came the idea that a
pope can be judged by a council and of course if a council can judge the pope
then so can individuals because individuals make up the councils. This Gallican
proposition is the tap root of sedevacantism:
"Stricken to death, as a free
opinion, by the Council of the Vatican (I), Gallicanism could survive
only as a heresy; the Old Catholics have endeavored to keep it alive under
this form." 30
It is from the roots of
the Old Catholics that some of today’s sedevacantist bishops come.
In considering sedevacantism, one of the key issues is
that of infallibility, not just of the pope, but also of councils and of the
Church as a whole.
The issue isn’t so much whether or not the pope is
infallible, but rather whether the Church will always have a pope that remains
infallible. Some of the authorities say such things as: “To be taught to all
men in all ages to every generation” 31 and, “Hence, Saint
Peter is here promised the authority necessary to keep the Church together and
to make it endure. Unless this is so, Christ’s words are meaningless,”
32 and the Church was not made for a single generation alone. She was to
continue according to Christ’s promise, “until the consummation of the
world.” What had been instituted by Christ, in Peter, must
necessarily, when Saint Peter died, be left to the heirs of his power. It is an
undeniable historical fact that these heirs were the bishops of the City of Rome33
and the headship must also endure until the end of time. The divinely
established constitution of the Church cannot be changed; otherwise the Church
would cease to be Christ’s Church. If a visible authority was needed so close to
Christ’s own lifetime, it was surely necessary when the Church had grown with
the passage of time,34 and on the practical plane:
"As a nation has its responsible ruler, a judiciary its
supreme court, an army its commander-in-chief, and a ship its captain so must
the Catholic hierarchy have a responsible, recognized head, who shall give a
final decision in matters of faith and morals. And this has always been the
It seems there should be no question but that there is to be
a pope in all ages. The longest period of time in the history of the Church
(even in times of extreme persecution) for the seat of Peter to be vacant was a
little over two years.
Once one agrees that there will always be a pope, the
question may remain: “When is the Pope infallible?” A quotation from the
dogmatic Vatican Council I describes the condition for the infallibility of his
extraordinary (or ex cathedra) Magisterium:
"That is why, by attaching ourselves faithfully to the tradition which
comes down to us from the origins of the Christian faith, for the glory of God
our Savior, the exaltation of the Catholic religion and the salvation of the
peoples, with the approval of the sacred Council, we teach and define that it is
a divinely revealed dogma that the Roman Pontiff, when he speaks ex cathedra
—that is, when exercising his office as Shepherd and Teacher of all Christians,
by virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine concerning
faith or morals which is to be held by the universal Church —thanks to the
divine assistance promised to blessed Peter, he enjoys that infallibility which
the divine Redeemer wished to confer on His Church in the definition of
doctrines of faith or morals; and therefore the definitions of the same Roman
Pontiff are, by themselves and not by virtue of the consent of the Church, irreformable." 36
“This does not mean that the Pope
cannot make a mistake or commit a sin or that he can teach on any subject which
strikes his fancy or that he is inspired by God. It does mean that under certain
conditions the Pope is preserved from error, namely:
speaks ex cathedra, as supreme shepherd and teacher of all Christians, and
successor of Saint Peter;
When he defines a doctrine, i.e., when he makes it clear that the
doctrine must be believed with a firm, interior assent of faith;
When the doctrine defined concerns faith or morals, i.e., when it
belongs to the doctrinal teachings or the moral principles of the Catholic
religion as found in Scripture or Tradition;
When he speaks thus to the whole Church, intending to bind all its
members throughout the world
The pope does not claim to speak infallibly unless all of
these conditions are simultaneously present." 37
As we saw in a study
of the times of the Great Western Schism, popes in the past have taken positions
contrary to the teaching of the Church but never has there been a pope who has
spoken ex cathedra (with authority) against the teaching of the Church.38
To drive home the point, here is another quote on the subject of the conditions
The conditions required for ex cathedra teaching are
mentioned in the Vatican [I Council] decree:
pontiff must teach in his public and official capacity as pastor and
doctor of all Christians, not merely in his private capacity as a
theologian, preacher or elocutionist, nor in his capacity as a temporal
prince or as a mere ordinary of the Diocese of Rome. It must be clear that
he speaks as spiritual head of the Church universal.
is only when, in this capacity, he teaches some doctrine of faith or
morals that he is infallible....
it must be sufficiently evident that he intends to teach with all the
fullness and finality of his supreme Apostolic authority, in other words
that he wishes to determine some point of doctrine in an absolutely final
and irrevocable way, or to define it in the technical sense....
for an ex cathedra decision it must be clear that the pope intends to bind
the whole Church, to demand internal assent from all the faithful to his
teaching under pain of incurring spiritual shipwreck. 39
The teachers of sedevacantism tell us that if the pope errs and takes a position contrary to the
teaching of the Church, then he is no longer a Catholic and therefore is not the
pope, therefore the Chair of Peter would be vacant. Not true, as the
histories of Pope John XXII, 40, 41 Pope Saint Liberius, Pope
Honorius and Pope Vigilius 42 have shown us, and the above
imprimatured statements truthfully show.
But the teachers of sedevacantism say that the Church is
infallible and cannot err, and that the Novus Ordo Church teaches error,
therefore it is not Catholic, and that any man who claims to be the pope of such
a church is not Catholic, therefore the Chair of Peter is vacant. They base
their ideas on some truth but it is twisted and distorted. The following
quotation contains some of the basis for their ideas:
"We said already that the pope uses his infallibility when the
conditions requisite for its exercise are present. He is personally infallible;
no other bishop is. But, as a body, united to their head, the pope, the bishops
are infallible when they teach peremptorily. This they can do in two ways:
ordinary day-to-day united teaching by means of catechisms, ceremonies,
traditional liturgical rites, pastoral letters, general condemnations,
provincial or plenary councils, the tacit approval of the unanimous
teachings of theologians. When the bishops are morally unanimous in
teaching a doctrine as a of faith or morals, or in reprobating one as a
heretic they are infallible in their ordinary teaching;
By assembling in general or ecumenical
councils. A general council is a gathering of the bishops of the whole
world, or of so many of them that they represent the whole world. To be
ecumenical a council must be convoked by the pope; presided over by the
pope, either in person or through his legates; ratified by the pope. An
assembly of bishops without the pope would not be ecumenical or
The element of truth
here is that the unanimous teachings of the Church as guaranteed by the
infallibility of the ordinary Magisterium. The Second Vatican Council, however,
does not fit the criteria of unanimity in time and place. The Arian heresy
proved that most of the Church could accept error with even the pope failing to
condemn it.44 , 45 , 46 The Church, like the pope, may
establish infallible dogma in a dogmatic council, but neither are impeccable.
Since the pope has the potential of being infallible and that
infallibility comes from God and not from any action of man, it is a function of
infallibility that man can not judge the pope. The Eighth General Synod put it
"If a universal synod be
assembled and any ambiguity or controversy arise concerning the Holy Church of
the Romans, the question should be examined and solved with due reverence and
veneration, in a spirit of mutual helpfulness; no sentence should be audaciously
pronounced against the supreme pontiff of the elder Rome." 47
I have heard it said
that if the pope says that he does not believe a proclaimed dogma of the Church
then we would know that he is a heretic and therefore he would no longer be the
pope. This is not true. For one thing, we do not know what is in the heart or
mind of the pope and have no right to judge. Even if the pope is 100 percent a
heretic, it doesn’t prove that he is not the pope. Just because some have said
that if the pope becomes a heretic he then loses the authority of the papacy,
this doesn’t make it so. The Church has never taught this, for to do so would
undermine the papacy. Such a thing has never happened in all the history of the
Church though, as we saw in the times of the Great Western Schism, men have made
themselves believe this did happen, but I am sure the pope will never be a
manifest heretic because it stands against the purpose of the papacy.
In the case of John XXII, as we saw in the times preceding
the Great Western Schism, he took a view which was contrary to the tradition of
the Church, and it was a heretical position, but a heretic may not understand
the malice of his position until the Church officially corrects the heretic, as
the University of Paris did John XXII. Upon receiving notice of the Church’s
teaching, John XXII had a study made of the issue and corrected his error. As a
result, he never was a formal heretic. To make a mistake is expected of humans,
but to hold to that mistake when shown one’s mistaken belief is where guilt of
heresy is established.48
The Church teaches that, when the pope speaks
ex cathedra (infallibly), we are required to follow his teaching or lose
the Faith. The personal opinions of a pope may stray from defined dogma but the
Church remains the same and we are obliged to follow the dogmas and traditions
of the Church.
If sedevacantism were simply a misunderstanding about whether
or not the present pope is pope, there wouldn’t be much reason to spend time or
energy in exposing and opposing it, for men make wrong choices all the time.
However, sedevacantism doesn’t simply stand by itself, but has supporting ideals
which oppose the Faith. Sedevacantism must be exposed and opposed, as we saw
with Gallicanism, because of its disrespect for the pope and the desire for the
right to judge the pope.
The strongest reason for opposing sedevacantism is that
it stands against the visible Church. We have had popes who have been anti-popes
but this occurred while there were true popes. The confusion was with men, not
the Church ... :
" ... it is clear
that the Church founded by Christ is a visible church not a purely spiritual
association. The Church of Christ is a public society consisting of rulers and
subjects. This society had to be public and visible in order that those desirous
of salvation might be able to find it and join it." 49
" ... Christ
established a society ruled by a single supreme head. We have seen also that
that society was to endure until the end of time. Therefore, the headship must
also endure until the end of time [my emphasis]. The divinely established
constitution of the Church cannot be changed; otherwise the Church would cease
to be Christ’s Church." 50
that the chair can, in a way that would be misleading, be vacant. This violates
the first quotation which reminds us that one of the main purposes of the Church
is to be visible so those seeking the Faith can find it. In the second
quotation, we are reminded that the Church is to endure to the end of time and
thus the papacy. True, we have seen that the papacy was vacant for some time,
but all knew it was vacant and anxiously awaited a new pontiff. So the position
being vacant didn’t serve to confuse as to where the one true Church was. There
had been imposter popes who caused confusion as to which pope was the true pope,
but there was no confusion as to what was the one true Faith. The belief of
sedevacantism that the accepted pope could no longer be the pope while the
faithful still believed he was would lead men not to the Faith but to a false
religion which opposes the purpose of the Church.
Some other similar sources state the importance of the
visibility of the papacy:
"Moreover, it is
entirely necessary that there should be a supreme head, visible to all."
51 "...Him who is the visible foundation of the Church’s
From the Council of Trent:
one, the pope, who as legitimate successor of Peter, the Prince of the Apostles,
fills the Apostolic chair... It is the unanimous teaching of the Fathers that
this visible head is necessary to establish and preserve unity in the Church."
From the I Vatican
Council’s Dogmatic Constitution:
"He made Peter a
perpetual principle of this twofold unity and a visible Foundation." 54
"...the Church, besides an invisible Head in heaven, must have
a visible head on earth. The body and members of the Church are visible; why not
also the Head? “The Church without a supreme Ruler would be like an army without
a general, a navy without an admiral, a sheepfold without a shepherd, or like a
human body without a head.” 55
Again from the Council of Trent, “A
visible Church requires a visible head....” 56; and finally,
“As Saint John Chrysostom so truly said: ‘It is easier for the sun to be
quenched than for the Church to be made invisible.’” 57
FOOTNOTES for PART 3
25 Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. VI, “Gallicanism,” p.351.
26 Ibid., Gallicanism, p.352.
27 Ibid., Gallicanism, p.353.
28 Ibid., Gallicanism, p.353.
29 Church History, p.508.
30 Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. VI, “Gallicanism,”
31 Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. VII, “Infallibility,”
32 Rev. Francis J. Ripley, This Is the Faith (Guild
Press, Inc., 1960, first published in 1951), p.147.
33 Vladimir D’Ormesson, The Papacy (Hawthorn Books, 1958,
as volume 81 of the Twentieth Century Encyclopedia of Catholicism),
34 This Is the Faith, p.160.
35 Stoddard, Rebuilding a Lost Faith, p.144. Quoted in,
Rev. John Laux, M.A., A Course in Religion (Benzinger Brothers, Inc.,
36 The Papacy, pp.114 and 115.
37 This Is the Faith, p.170.
38 Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. VII, “Infallibility,”
39 Ibid., p.796.
40 Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. VIII, “John XXII,” p.433.
41 The Glory of Christendom, pp. 371-373.
42 Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. VII, “Infallibility,”
43 This Is the Faith, pp.172-173.
44 Warren H. Carroll, The Building of Christendom (Christendom
College Press, 1987), pp.15-53.
45 Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. I, “Arianism,” pp.708-710.
46 Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. II, “St. Athanasius,”
47 Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. IV, “Councils,”
48 Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. XIII, “Schism,”
49 Rev. John Laux M.A., A Course in Religion, Part IV (Benzinger
Brothers, Inc., 1934), p.96.
50 This Is the Faith, p.160.
51 Msgr. Joseph Clifford Fenton, The Catholic Church and Salvation
(The Newman Press, 1958), p.82.
52 Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. VII, “Infallibility,”
53 Catechism of the Council of Trent (Madan Publications, 1972),
54 Jesuit Fathers of Saint Mary’s College, The Church Teaches
(Tan Books and Publishers, Inc., 1973, originally published, 1955), p.95.
55 James Cardinal Gibbons, The Faith of Our Fathers (Tan Books
and Publishers, Inc., 1980, originally 1876), p.80.
56 Catechism of the Council of Trent, p.104.
57 This Is the Faith, p.126.
PART 4 OF 4
To consider sedevacantism without considering the
seriousness of schism would be like studying a rattlesnake without considering
how deadly it can be.
"Formal separation from
the unity of the Church, a separation from communion with the Church;
separation from the head of the Church or from the jurisdiction of the
supreme pontiff. The movement of any person or group of persons of the
Church who refuse to recognize the central authority of the Church; and
denial of the authority of the pope of Rome."
Here are some quotations about the seriousness of schism:
“Anyone becomes a schismatic who, though desiring to remain a Christian, rebels
against legitimate authority.” 59 Saint Cyprian said:
"Know that the bishop is in the
Church and the Church in the bishop and that if anyone is not with the bishop
he is not in the Church...what rascal, what traitor, what madman would be so
misled by the spirit of discord as to believe that it is permitted to rend, or
who would dare rend the Divine unity, the garment of the Lord, the Church of
Jesus Christ?" 60
Saint Jerome says..:
"...there is no schism which does
not trump up a heresy to justify its departure from the Church."
But as Saint Jerome
remarks, practically and historically, heresy and schism nearly always go hand
in hand; schism leads almost invariably to denial of the papal primacy. 61
From the Catechism of the Council of Trent, a quote of Saint Jerome:
"I as united in communion with
your Holiness, that is, with the chair of Peter, I know that on that rock is
built the Church. Whoever will eat the Lamb outside this house is profane:
whoever is not in the ark of Noah shall perish in the flood."
in sacris with schismatics, e.g., to receive the sacraments at the hands of
their ministers, to assist at Divine Offices in their temples, is strictly
forbidden to the faithful." 63
And from Saint Catherine of
"That is what has
made you pillars lighter than straw-flowers which shed no perfume, but stench
that makes the whole world reek!" 64
Candid reader, do
you not profess to be a member of Christ’s flock? Yes, you answer. Do you take
your spiritual food from Peter and his successor, and do you hear the voice of
Peter, or have you wandered into the fold of strangers who spurn Peter’s voice?
Ponder well this momentous question. For as Peter is authorized to feed the
lambs of Christ’s flock, the lambs should hear Peter’s voice.65
However, not every disobedience is a schism; in order to
possess this character it must include, besides the transgression of the
commands of superiors, denial of their divine right to command.66
To this point we have looked at schism in a sane or at least
semi-sane world. What is schismatic in a world where tradition is condemned?
Where councils support heresy? Where the pope will not condemn heresy and
condemns those who continue to uphold tradition? Where better can we find a good
example to answer the above questions than to examine the life and times of
Saint Athanasius stood up against the Arian heresy which was a heresy that
stated that Jesus was not God. “For almost all of the astonishing 45 years
of his episcopate, it was Athanasius against the world and for the Faith.”
67 The Council of Arles in 353, except one bishop, including even
the two papal legates, condemned Athanasius.68 At the Council
of Milan, 355, “All present but the three staunch bishops and the two papal
legates signed the condemnation of Athanasius.”69
Athanasius was not condemned because he was a heretic, but rather because he
stood against everyone else including the councils of the times. He was
condemned because of the disunity he was causing in the Church and because of
false charges brought against him by his enemies. The popes, though, stood
beside Athanasius until Pope Liberius was sent into exile by the emperor:
"Liberius began to
sink under the hardships of his exile,..that he yielded to the snare laid for
him, to the great scandal of the Church. He subscribed the condemnation of Saint
Athanasius, and a confession or creed, which had been framed by the Arians at
Sirmium, though their heresy was not expressed in it." 70
Pope Liberius upon
his cross at Sirmium, used and scorned by his enemies, pitied and abandoned by
his friends, alone, fearfully alone, “a worm and no man,” strong bulls
of Bashan all around him, bones like water, heart like wax, laid in the dust of
death. Did he cry, with the Psalmist and with his Lord: “Be not far from me,
for trouble is near and there is none to help”?
Undoubtedly he did —in spirit, if not in spoken word. For he
did not sign the Second Formulary of Sirmium. At the final step, at the eleventh
hour, the Arians were balked. As was to happen again to their like on several
similar occasions later in the history of the Papacy, they simply could not
understand how and why and by Whom they had been frustrated. For a whole year
they held Liberius at Sirmium, doubtless confident that any day the final break
would come. It never did.
Christendom paused. The prayers of the suffering Pope, of Athanasius the hunted fugitive and his loyal monks in the desert and among the
tombs of Egypt, of the simple faithful rose silently to Heaven.
Slowly, at first wholly imperceptibly, the tide began to turn
—but in strange ways, that no man could have predicted.71 The emperor
died, relieving the political pressure and Pope Liberius, who had been released
went, to work with Saint Athanasius to re-establish the faith and to reconcile
the schismatics. One bishop by the name of Lucifer would not have anything to do
with the reconciled schismatics or any of the faithful that would have anything
to do with the reconciled schismatics. Which established a schism of its own.72
Our look at Saint Athanasius gave us a very interesting view
of schism. Here was a man who was in opposition to most of the hierarchy of the
Church, at one time, even to the point of being condemned by the Church, but
yet, as we saw, he was the strength of the Church.
right did he come back to his see after being condemned by a council? By what
right did he continue to function as a bishop after the pope had joined in the
condemnation of him? The basic answer lies in the fact that Saint Athanasius
knew who was in control (and it was not the pope). Saint Athanasius knew the
pope was controlled by the emperor and wasn’t free to rule as he saw fit. So the
laws, passed by them, which stood against tradition held no real weight. As a
result Saint Athanasius’ duty was to do that which he knew the pope would want
him to do if the pope were free to instruct him. A word to fit this type of
situation is epikeia.
Epikeia as defined by the Concise Catholic Dictionary
"An interpretation of a law
whereby it is considered not to bind in a particular case because of some
special circumstances; an interpretation of the law in a particular instance
against the letter of the law but in keeping with its spirit; an interpretation
of the mind of the lawmaker which reasons that he, knowing the conditions, would
not wish his law to bind in this particular case."
this land of epikeia. It is so easy for one’s pride to cloud one’s
thoughts. But in the case of Saint Athanasius he knew what tradition had taught.
He knew better than any of the hierarchy the reasoning against the Arian heresy.
It is very important to note that Saint Athanasius did not
condemn all those opposed to him and true doctrine. Although he did oppose and
repel all formal Arians in his diocese, he didn’t set up a parallel Church. He
knew that God, in His own good time, would straighten out the Church and that it
was his duty to uphold the one true Church. He simply practiced his faith as it
was given to him by the teachings of his apostolic predecessors, the upholders
Saint Athanasius must have appeared to be a schismatic in his
time to a good percentage of the people of his day. In reality he was not a
schismatic because he not only recognized the pope and the papacy, but he
constantly applied to Rome for solutions, for he knew that in God’s good time
the solution would come from Rome. Meanwhile Saint Athanasius continued to
practice his faith as tradition had given it to him.
The use of epikeia in a situation is like being
“between the devil and the deep blue sea” as the saying goes. If Saint
Athanasius would have gone along with the norm and stood against the traditional
teaching of the Church he would have been an “all right fellow” in the
eyes of his world. But in the eyes of God he, no doubt, would have been severely
judged if he had gone along with the world and against the traditional teachings
of the Church.
So we see today that in standing against the modernists who
are in control of the Church one may be required to look like a schismatic in
order to practice the one true Faith. The line is very thin and hard to define.
The hard-core sedevacantists are way over the line even though they may not be
able to see it. The hard-core sedevacantists reject the Church in the same
manner that Lucifer (bishop) did during the time of Athanasius. They reject the
pope and everyone but themselves. They reject the papacy by claiming it is
vacant while misquoting infallibility and ignoring the visibility of the Church,
and they lean on the teachings of Gallicanism to obtain bishoprics whose roots
come from Old Catholic bishops and their seminaries. Indeed, may we all pray for
FOOTNOTES for Part 4
58 Concise Catholic Dictionary.
59 Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol XIII, “Schism,” p.529.
60 Ibid., p.531.
61 Ibid., p.529.
62 Catechism of the Council of Trent, p.102-103.
63 Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. XIII, “Schism,”
64 The Glory of Christendom, p.425.
65 The Faith of Our Fathers, p.83.
66 Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. XIII, “Schism,”
67 The Building of Christendom, p.15.
68 Ibid., p.27.
69 Ibid., p.28.
70 Rev. Alban Butler, Butler’s Lives of the Saints; St.
Athanasius, (Sarto Books, 1992, originally published
71 The Building of Christendom, p.32.
72 Ibid., p.53.
For previous articles in this same vein, see ARCHIVES