March 1, 2010
vol 21, no. 60

Learning Curve, Interrupted

Part 7 of a Series on the SSPX-published book, Sedevacantism - A False Solution To a Real Problem

    The hypocritical hypothesis posed by the SSPX writers could easily have been placed in Griff's other series "The Art of Scholastic Dishonesty" because the twisting of Pope Paul IV's infallible bull Cum Ex Apostolatus Officio denies the real purpose of the decree and why it still stands as one of the strongest arguments for proving that heretics cannot possibly be true Popes, even if mistakenly recognized as pope by the whole Church. Yet, it is the Society of St. Piux X itself that has stumbled all over itself in staving off the inevitable syllogism of sedevacantism because they are afraid to go where Paul IV and the holy Cardinal St. Robert Bellarmine and the infallible, perennial Magisterium of the Church dared to venture in voiding the possibility that a heretic could be a pope. Yes, the SSPX has been there almost from the beginning, but has interrupted Tradition’s learning curve, thus blocking traditional unity and progress in Grace and understanding.

      "So, though the present-day SSPX has in common with those earliest traditionalists a lack of doubt regarding the papal claims of Paul VI (and his successors), it differs most markedly from those early traditionalists in that where their ignorance was purely the product of not having reached the point of that discovery in their learning curve, and as such quite legitimate and innocent, the ignorance of this fact on the part of the SSPX is borne of a refusal to continue any further up the necessary learning curve, which on the part of its clergy is neither legitimate nor innocent. We who have continued on that learning curve, accepting the Sede Vacante finding once we come upon it - and especially if we continue past that to understanding that 'bigger picture' of which the Sede Vacante finding is but one detail and from which the answers to all the other questions posed by it are to be found - we are to be considered the true successors of all of those early traditionalists who heroically managed to do as much as they did, knowing as little as they did back then."

    The Appendix of the book, Sedevacantism - A False Solution To a Real Problem, continues past the point at which we left off discussing it, namely a first series of summarizing bullets, which was discussed in the previous part of this series. The Appendix continues however with some more regular text before again listing a second series of summarizing bullets.

    Let us briefly pick up the threads from where we were with the relevant section from the first part of the Appendix. We had just completed detailing and responding to a series of bullets introduced as "reasons for the failure of the hypothesis of the 'heretical pope.'"

    The text resumes with first a quote from a Cassiciacum thesis advocate who is in the process of belittling the absolute sedevacantist position, then followed by paragraphs going on about the "hypothesis of the heretical pope" as if everything ever said about it was mere "opinion." It is time to set straight the difference between fact and opinion as regards the comments made by various theologians regarding this "hypothesis." Both have a bearing on the nature of this sort of claim.

    When Bellarmine (or Billot, or any of the several other theologians who wrote of this at all) commented on this "hypothesis," the part that was hypothetical was the question of whether such a scenario as a heretical pope could ever arise in the first place. In the lifetimes of all such theologians thus quoted or referenced, the idea truly was "hypothetical" on account of the bare historical fact that the thing had never happened and it was not known by anyone then whether such a thing could ever happen or not. In that sense, it truly was always considered as a hypothesis, for from their standpoint, the whole situation was hypothetical in that it had never occurred and for all any of them knew, it might never occur and perhaps never can.

    One thing however that was not hypothetical about their position was what to make of the situation, if (per impossible) it were actually to arise. The pope who successfully becomes a heretic while in office (whether becoming so gradually after his election or subsequently found to have been secretly a heretic all along) clearly ceases to be a pope. There is nothing hypothetical about that, and the theologians one and all regarded that as an indisputable theological fact, not opinion. The only realm of opinion and "hypothesis" was strictly the question of whether such a situation ever would (or could) arise in the first place.

    IF any of Paul VI, John Paul I, John Paul II, or Benedict XVI were actual popes while promulgating their heresies, THEN in so doing they would indeed have promptly lost the papacy, even if nobody so recognized any of them as having done so. That much is so clearly and unambiguously affirmed by all concerned that it can be quite properly categorized as dishonest for anyone to confuse the issue by spreading the hypotheticalness of the possibility of the situation itself over to the category of what to do if the situation is actually realized.

    So the real big-ticket question we have before us is whether the situation of a heretical pope has arisen or not. The sedevacantist says "no it has not," for they are not popes, and the scenario remains hypothetical, as all classical theologians have treated it. The SSPX (and also the other basic category of resistance as typified by the Abbe de Nantes or Tradition In Action) is that it can, and has. Nearly all SSPX clergy (and all other resistance groups) easily enough admit that the recent and current Vatican leaders have all been open heretics, but have one and all claimed that the theological truth that heretical "popes" must be regarded as non-popes is but an opinion, a mere hypothesis. This is what they have really done, no matter how they dress it up.

    Do you see how they confuse the issue? Let's lay out their case:

    A) It is possible that a pope might be or become a heretic - hypothesis.

    B) Were (somehow) a pope to become or be a heretic, then he is no pope - fact.

    Well, since the word "hypothesis" has been used somewhere in the above, the whole thing can be taken as mere "hypothesis" - not only A, but also B as well, so hopefully no one will notice the way we have confounded one with the other as we claim that any obligation to ignore the papal claims of an evident heretic is but a mere hypothesis. Q. E. D.

    In that tiny nutshell of only the three sentences above, I have perfectly and completely summarized the entirety of all anti-sedevacantist arguments. What a pathetic fallacy, even more simple-minded than the fallacy I pointed out in the previous installment! We know we cannot act officially on the basis of a "hypothesis," nor can we command others, or even their consciences, upon any mere hypothesis, and that is why they must confound the fact with the hypothesis, making it ALL merely hypothetical. At least here we can give credit to Atila Sinke Guimarães who got it straight, writing in his anti-sedevacantist book Resistance Versus Sedevacantism, "The opinion that the pope can fall into heresy is supported by 135 authors quoted in the work. And the thesis that the heretical Pope loses his pontificate is supported by St. Robert Bellarmine, Suarez, Cajetan, Torquemada, Cano, and Billot. [emphasis mine]"

    The fact on the other hand carries with it obligations, uncomfortable and difficult ones to be sure, but obligations none the less. A simple layman, not cognizant of the degree and seriousness of the heresy, might well be excused for not acting on that duty, and even perhaps an under or ill-instructed cleric, but to be part of the solution it is essential to be willing to admit the facts, and to face them squarely.

    "For them the premise that Paul VI and his successors have not been popes is an obvious and given fact." Of course it is! If ever that were to cease to be true, the whole sedevacantist cause would at once have to fold up and disappear. We are not sedevacantists merely because it feels good or whatever, but because it is the truth, and to deny an evident truth is to kill a piece of the universe that God created.

    All of St. Robert Bellarmine, Pope Paul IV's declaration Cum Ex Apostolatus Officio, Billot, and so forth are brought in as documentation to the effect that

    A) an evident heretic cannot be followed as pope,

    B) it is OK to avoid a heretic, even if mistaken for a pope by many, and

    C) to illustrate some possible scenarios that might go some way towards explaining and reconciling the present situation with the promises of God to His Church.

Good God! We don't bring in Bellarmine and Paul IV to prove that "Paul VI and his successors" are heretics, but rather to show what it means to have discovered their heresy, and what ramifications that must therefore have.

    The book next acknowledges "that the Guérardians do not use this argument in their demonstrations," though only a few paragraphs later it will deny that by stating that they do use this argument in their demonstrations. This is of course merely another example of the sort of things that happen when multiple authors with multiple opinions attempt to attack the unity of the truth from their various differing perspectives. Yet another one of these self-contradictory couplets occurs only a few sentences later in the same paragraph. The author who acknowledged what he did about the Guérardians goes on to say that we sedevacantists "also manifest the attitude of someone who intends to square theology with reality." Again, after only a few more paragraphs another author will chime in and deny that, but let's look at this as it stands.

    Yes, we do attempt "to square theology with reality," and this is no mere attitude on our part but our open and explicit and avowed policy. All theology is meant to be squared with reality, for both theology and reality come from the same Divine Author Who created them both. It is absurd in the extreme for theology to cut itself off from reality and exist only in some fantasy world, with no real connection to reality at all. Yet such a position seems to be the outlook of that particular SSPX book author. Needless to say, he has no theologians to back him up other than condemned heretics of history.

    The Church has always formulated Her theology around the reality, first of Christ and His miracles, teaching, and founding of a Church, and secondly around the reality of the Church itself through history. For example, when confronted with the reality of a pope (John XXII) teaching (in his private capacity and not actually as pope, though he was one at the time) a heresy, the Church was forced to allow theologically that a pope CAN err in his capacity as a private teacher, a position that up to that point had only "hypothetical" value, if even that. This is what squaring theology with reality means, and it is what the Church has always and regularly done from the beginning.

    We now have the situation of an evident heretic being somehow widely regarded as being a pope. That is reality, and the Church now has a duty to stop denying that reality and instead attempt to square Her theology with that reality, to attempt to come up with some way to explain such a thing occurring. Denying it does not make it go away, and the absurdity of those who actually act as if they think it does can only prove most painfully embarrassing to watch.

    The book's next recourse is to quote from a Guérardian citing Cum ex Apostolatus Officio, bringing it up, but then discussing weaknesses in that argument, which the book describes as being "With praiseworthy honesty." The Guérardian writer quoted brings up the point that there are two problems with the Cum ex Apostolatus Officio argument, one being that "what Paul IV perhaps did not foresee - like all the classical writers on the question of the 'heretical pope' - was that no authority would arise in such a case to make the admonitions required by Scripture and the canons," and the other problem being the question of whether the document has been abrogated, and if so what provisions might nevertheless still apply owing to their basis in Divine Revelation. Let us take up the first one.

    The quote was so particularly useful to the SSPX authors precisely because the Guérardian quoted is making a big mistake in his understanding of Cum ex Apostolatus Officio, one not seen elsewhere, but occurring here purely as a mistake, an artifact only. What Paul IV was really talking about was not the scenario of someone subjecting a pope to some sort of heresy trial, but rather that someone previously convicted of heresy was to be rejected, even if accepted by all. That is, he meant to rule out not someone who becomes (or for the first time reveals himself to be) a heretic in the papal office, but rather someone convicted of heresy by the Church (or even by his own admission - also recognized by the Church) in the time previous to their election. Perhaps he felt that even if the person were to have repented, whatever intellectual weakness enabled him to profess the heresy in the first place might compromise his ability as pope.

    So now, through this quote, the SSPX book has put the attempted use of the Paul IV document on the altogether wrong footing, as if it were about a pope being a heretic instead of being about a heretic being elected pope. After all, it speaks of the time of the election itself, ruling out the heretic from the election onwards and not waiting for some heretical profession subsequent to being elected (and accepted) to the papacy. And what can be known at that time, even to the "inner circle," who are privy before anyone else ever is, as to the identity of the newly elected pope, except through the man's own past record?

    Rather than draw attention to having put this papal document on the wrong footing, it instead jumps to the conclusion that "These valuable clarifications show that the bull is insufficient to demonstrate the vacancy of the See." Ah, wonderful! Here we have sedevacantists themselves reducing one of their own chief arguments to the realm of private opinion! What a coup! Because one sedevacantist writes clumsily and carelessly, the whole sedevacantist cause is thereby disproved! What a misdirection. By the same method have Protestants used quotes from Catholic writers, who in exhorting caution and balance in the use of certain minor devotions and devotional practices, thereby "prove" that all such devotions and devotional practices are unchristian and not to be done at all.

    But then the book is forced to perform some serious backpedaling. The Guérardian writer has, none the less (and the book admits this) shown that the document of Paul IV invalidates Billot's whole case, and truly does reduce Billot's position to the rank of mere private opinion. For such it truly is, as even the main body of the work so treats it. But here in the Appendix it has all along been treated as some sort of superdogma, capable of applying to even the most absurd extremes, as if Billot spoke for all theologians, and as if he and the mysteriously anonymous others he purportedly represents all mean that even a heretic (or woman or unbaptized person who refuses to be baptized or married man who refuses to leave his wife, etc.) automatically becomes a real pope merely because everyone (or perhaps even merely some unknown "sufficiently significant number" of persons) think him to be one. And now here is the Holy Father himself (Paul IV) completely knocking the wind out of any such absurd contention.

    Why should the SSPX writers so significantly damage their own case by even admitting that? I can only put it down to the fact that the quote is so massively useful, not only for the direct use of quoting sedevacantist against sedevacantist, but also (more secretly) of putting the whole meaning of what the pope wrote on the wrong footing. But it couldn't be brought in without having to glance, however briefly, at the obvious and actual intent of the Guérardian writer. At this point the SSPX writers found no recourse other than innuendoes against the intellectual honesty of the duly quoted Guérardian (and presumably, all sedevacantists) followed by a direct denial of what had been said only a few paragraphs earlier.

    Recall how the book acknowledged "that the Guérardians do not use this argument in their demonstrations" only a few paragraphs earlier, now it is saying "we cannot fail to underline that the difficulty of sedevacantism in the face of Billot's argument is such as to constrain the Guérardians to revive an argument characteristic of rigorist sedevacantism, whose inconsistency they admit." With nothing but an innuendo against the intellectual integrity of the sedevacantist writers and a complete about-face as to whether the Guérardians use rigorist sedevacantist arguments, the book anomalously concludes the paragraph with the triumphant declaration that "This is yet another proof of the force of Billot's argument."

    Huh? The Pope just blew their great "Billot's argument" right out of the water, and that is somehow supposed to constitute proof of its persuasiveness? Did I miss something here? And by the way, while we are on that subject, allow me to point out that Paul IV in that bull also wrote,

    "it shall not be possible for it to acquire validity (nor for it to be said that it has thus acquired validity) through the acceptance of the office, of consecration, of subsequent authority, nor through possession of administration, nor through the putative enthronement of a Roman Pontiff, or Veneration, or obedience accorded to such by all, nor through the lapse of any period of time in the foregoing situation."

    So, even if the heretic (and one determined and somehow capable of sustaining his heresy while being elected into the papal office and accepting same) were to sit tight on his heresy at first (during which the Church really might peacefully and universally accept him as pope), there is no amount of time that can pass such that the Church's failure to have recognized him to be a heretic has made it become "too late" to do anything about it. So regardless of whether the heretic-elect marches straight to the balcony over St. Peter's Square and promptly declares his heretical position, or sits tight on it for some few weeks, or even years, makes no difference. Everything he has ever done is null and void from the get-go.

    Yet the book's writers seem to think that such discretion as to wait a few weeks before professing one's heresy somehow makes a difference. It says, "in practice no one considered Paul VI to be a heretic at the time he was elected. Therefore the bull, inapplicable in this case, turns out to be perfectly compatible with what Billot maintains about the recognition of a pope on the part of the universal Church. Furthermore, the formal heresy of Paul VI at the moment of his election remains indemonstrable." No, maybe he was a heretic all his life, then for five minutes decided not to be a heretic, went through with being elected and accepting same, and then being utterly safe and secure in his new role, he returned to the heresies he had believed up until that "five minutes." (I say that in sarcastic irony.) Of course he was a heretic. And even though he was a complete dark horse to the whole world, to the electors he had to have been rather well-known, and indeed quite notorious. We all recall how somehow the fact of a file labeled "Suspect of Modernism" existed for Angelo Roncalli at the time of his election. Can you imagine the scope and scale of a similar file that simply has to have existed for Giovanni Montini, given his many widely documented intrigues and plots against the Church, a lifetime of continuous and obvious betrayal, even though the existence of this file has never been publicly divulged? How can anyone declare so cavalierly, as this book does, that his heresy was not known to the Church (at least here in the person of the papal electors) at the time of his election?

    And then it is precisely at this point where that "wrong footing" I spoke about gets used. The book directly continues, "If we consider the fact that pertinacity in the face of warnings from the competent authority is requisite for being a heretic in the eyes of the Church, the bull of Paul IV turns out to be, in our case and all comparable ones, even less applicable." Why? Because there exists no "competent authority" authorized to provide such canonical warnings to the Supreme Pontiff. And just in case you forgot about that wrong footing introduced some paragraphs ago, it directly continues, "as Sodalitium also quite rightly emphasized: 'What Paul IV perhaps did not foresee - like all the classical writers on the question of the "heretical pope" - was that no authority would arise in such a case to make the admonitions required by Scripture and the canons (vide supra).'"

    Again, later on it sustains this false footing by going on to say that "Paul IV's document in fact concerns the election of a heretic to any ecclesiastical office, including the papacy. In the latter case, however, its application is impossible, insofar as the case appears to be metaphysically impossible if the elected pope is universally recognized as such." But then at that point the book makes its one grudging admission of the correct interpretation of Paul IV (in case the reader might be aware of it), that "In fact, if someone is a heretic before the Church and is then elected pope, it's not easy to understand how his election could be universally uncontested and recognized by that Church for whom he is and remains a heretic." By now, in view of recent history, it should be easy to see how that could be arranged.

    And as I have pointed out, the question was never one of a pope being canonically warned, but rather of a person, prior to their election to the papacy, having been canonically warned, and having persisted in pertinacity against it, and for which there most certainly does exist the necessary "competent authority." Paul IV himself made this clear when he wrote in the same document,

    "In addition, that if ever at any time it shall appear that any Bishop, even if he be acting as an Archbishop, Patriarch or Primate; or any Cardinal of the aforesaid Roman Church, or, as has already been mentioned, any legate, or even the Roman Pontiff, prior to his promotion or his elevation as Cardinal or Roman Pontiff, has deviated from the Catholic Faith or fallen into some heresy..."

    So as can be seen here, both the quoted Guérardian and the SSPX book writers have got it plainly wrong, and in fact accusing the Pope (Paul IV) of a most grave and reckless oversight. Paul IV was not expecting that some unknown "authority would arise in such a case," nor had he forgotten that "the Roman Pontiff, ... is the representative upon earth of God and our God and Lord Jesus Christ, who holds the fullness of power over peoples and kingdoms, who may judge all and be judged by none in this world." He was talking about those judged by the Church prior to their election.

    There then comes a very bizarre paragraph in the book that even a hundred readings of it cannot clarify for me what the authors even intend to say. First I will present the paragraph itself and then I will step through it in detail to show and emphasize exactly what is so confusing about it. The paragraph itself reads, in full:

On a purely speculative level the bull may seem to be less reconcilable with Billot's words: then is a heretic elected and universally recognized as pope truly a pope or not? The difficulty, which is not here at issue because it passes from the case of Paul VI to the level of hypothetical abstractions, seems nevertheless easily resoluble. To begin with, it is significant that Billot, like the great majority of theologians who treated De Ecclesia, redacted their work after the promulgation of the bull of Paul IV. The objection formulated by Sodalitium seems at first sight somewhat pretentious. It maintains that only today, thanks to the illuminating arguments of sedevacantism, do we perceive that a dogmatic fact - a theologically certain conclusion that has been borne out by the unanimous consensus of authors (authors who wrote after the promulgation of the bull in question) - is contrary to the Magisterium of the Church, which had already spoken and legislated in this regard for more than four centuries! A more serious and measured approach to the question seems therefore opportune.

    The first sentence promises much, since it alone actually mentions directly and explicitly what lies at the whole core of the Church's problem with this little SSPX book, namely "is a heretic elected and universally recognized as pope truly a pope or not?" It is clear that the book's authors really do mean to teach that a heretic "elected and universally recognized as pope" truly is a pope. And just as clear is the Church's universally-held position to the contrary, particularly as explicitly clarified by Pope Paul IV. Unfortunately, the book, rather than admit this position or address the conflict directly somehow instead merely sidesteps the question altogether. The remainder of the paragraph, and for that matter, of the book, nowhere directly takes up an attempt to answer that question, though indirectly it is quite clear what the book's authors believe, as distinct from what the Church teaches.

    I find this statement rather difficult to parse, grammatically: "Billot, like the great majority of theologians who treated De Ecclesia, redacted their work after the promulgation of the bull of Paul IV." Given that Billot was a Nineteenth/Twentieth Century theologian, I suspect that everything he ever did, including get himself born, was done "after the promulgation of the bull of Paul IV," which the book goes out of its way to mention, with a footnote to this paragraph, that this promulgation took place in 1559. So let's try again. Perhaps what this means is that as the great theologian that he was, he was called upon to prepare corrected editions ("redacted" in this context means that footnotes are added to the work of those other previous theologians to note that subsequent Magisterial teachings have rendered some opinions or hypothesis posed by them obsolete, as for example how current editions of the Summa of St. Thomas Aquinas clarify that his conclusion expressed therein regarding the Immaculate Conception of our Lady is no longer accepted) of the works of other previous theologians, presumably those whose writings come chronologically after the promulgation of the bull of Paul IV in 1559. A footnote to this paragraph mentions Vatican I, as if that Council may have been the cause for which Billot (or anyone) would be called upon to "redact" the work of previous theologians.

    But then try to reconcile this with what is said later in the paragraph: "a theologically certain conclusion that has been borne out by the unanimous consensus of authors (authors who wrote after the promulgation of the bull in question) - is contrary to the Magisterium of the Church." By extending Billot's opinion to some vast number of unknown theologians, it is clear from context that by "a theologically certain conclusion that has been borne out by the unanimous consensus of authors" the book means Billot's opinion, and that by "the Magisterium of the Church" it means the 1559 bull of Pope Paul IV. So now let's try to sort this out. If the theologians writing since 1559 incorporated that papal declaration into their thinking and published works, then it can hardly be said that they were in any way "contrary to the Magisterium of the Church." On the other hand, if for some reason some substantial number of theologians from that period basically ignored the pope and wrote to the contrary, such that they actually were "contrary to the Magisterium of the Church," then I guess we are supposed to believe that they must, in disagreeing with the pope, been teaching what Billot supposedly teaches, and in that case whatever "redaction" he might have done to their works would have been on other topics having no bearing on this issue since they would have been agreeing with him that the pope was wrong all along. So which is it, guys?

    Perhaps it is all just more typographical errors, and the paragraph may merely need to be corrected in some future edition. But here again one sees the extraordinary claim that this position attributed to Billot is "a theologically certain conclusion that has been borne out by the unanimous consensus of authors," and a footnote to a later paragraph explicitly states that "the morally unanimous consensus of theologians on a specific point of doctrine represents a theologically certain opinion (theologice certum) and is a certain criterion of Divine Tradition... We find just such a morally unanimous consensus to the effect that an elected pope universally recognized as such is indeed pope." Well, that is a declaration which is seriously wanting of proof, for not a single theologian (apart from Billot) is quoted, or even named, as being in support of such a claim. Even the quote from Billot (as provided in the main body of the book and quoted earlier in this series) cites no theologians, either specifically by name or even in general, and in fact does nothing in the way of citation other than to make vague appeals to general Scriptural axioms that are quite open to some degree of interpretation on this point. His "thesis," in fact expressed in only a small handful of sentences, is written in a style that suggests something new being propounded; this is not some long or widely-held teaching that could have easily been supported with copious footnotes or references.

    Moving on a couple paragraphs down, one interesting point the book does bring out is how the election to the papacy has been known to make a non-heretic of someone with at least heretical leanings before their election to the papacy. They bring up the case (one I had not heard of elsewhere) of Pope Pius II who, before his elevation to the papacy, was quite partial to the conciliarist heresy, but who upon his election promptly abandoned that heresy. Similar to that is the case of Pope Calixtus, who before his elevation to the papacy, had supported and taught the Monarchianist heresy of Sabellius, but abandoned that heresy on becoming pope, and again the case of Pope Vigilius, who as antipope (but universally recognized at that time by the whole Church as pope), taught the monophysite heresy and also advanced several monophysite heretics to some of the most prominent sees. Even Pope Pius IX must have done something wrong, since the Freemasons rejoiced upon learning of his election because at last they felt that they finally had "their man" on the Chair of Peter. As we all know, he completely disappointed them at every point once he was pope.

    This historical fact certainly raises a significant point, namely that a man's previous record of heresy need not invalidate his service as pope, providing of course he truly comes to occupy the papal office for real and remain therein, thus protected by the Holy Ghost from error. One does therefore have to regard it as a matter of discipline as to whether someone with a history of heresy is to be barred from the papacy or not. Pope Paul IV had set up a rule that would have expressly prohibited popes Calixtus, Vigilius, Pius II, and Pius IX from really being popes at all, thereby inviting anyone to challenge their election thereto. And yet they were all popes, as universally accepted both in their own times as well as ever since by the whole Church. But the key thing here is that whatever things these men had in their past, or whatever disciplinary policies as to the election of a pontiff as may be set up or taken down as pope after pope modifies the ongoing policy, these men have at least adequately, if not heroically, served as true popes of the Church. Here would indeed be some examples of where Billot's thesis would indeed apply. Could their elections have been challenged on the basis of the bull of Paul IV? If still in effect, perhaps they could have been so challenged, but as they gave no valid Catholic reason for any such challenge, either immediately upon their election or anytime subsequent, clear to the end of their lives, the Church allows their papal claims to stand for all time.

    But the point remains valid that Pope Paul IV plainly stated that it is at least theoretically possible that a man universally recognized by the Church as pope would in fact not be one, at least per a policy that a pope such as himself indeed has the authority to set up. Ergo, universal recognition of a man as pope does not a pope make. The book states "To oppose Paul IV to Catholic theology is in any case discreditable." No, gentlemen, to posit a supposed "Catholic theology" that is itself in fact merely an extreme and ludicrous extrapolation of an opinion of a single theologian (that anyone knows of), and that dares to oppose itself to the Magisterium is that which is in any case discreditable.

    Next, the book takes up the fact that a certain Sodalitium article actually takes on the "Billot thesis" case, attempting to make it sound as if the Guérardians' bare willingness to take on that case implies their thinking that it might carry some weight. It does not. It is clear that the sequence of events that led up to the production of this Appendix, and possibly the whole book, began with some anti-sedevacantist perusing theologians looking for juicy quotes to mine as ammunition against the obvious factualness of the Sede Vacante finding. At some point he came across the relevant Billot statements and said to himself, "Ah hah! Billot teaches that if a man is universally recognized as pope then he is pope, no matter what doubts there may be about him or his election. Take that, you dirty rotten sedevacantists!" But of course there really is nothing here, as is readily and trivially demonstrated, both by the Guérardians who wrote in the various issues of Sodalitium quoted in this SSPX book, and by myself here in this humble little series. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately, in the backhanded sense that their book has occasioned the writing of this far more useful series), rather than accept that his little thesis had been totally shot down and move on to other supposed "proofs" against sedevacantism, somebody just would not let it go, and it is clear that this is the driving force behind the writing of this little SSPX book. In trying to sustain the ridiculous they have invented whole flocks of hypothetical "theologians" who all agree with a hypothetical "Billot" who supposedly teaches that universal recognition of a heretic as pope makes the man a pope indeed, even should he persist in his heresy and impose it upon the whole Church.

    And then, is it even universal? Many Catholics at least questioned, if not outright rejected, the claim of Paul VI being pope even before his own passing. That they failed to do this on the day of his election (when practically no one even knew who he was, and what few who did know either didn't care or else were culpably involved with the attempted destruction of the Church) hardly matters. For the Magisterium has spoken (in the bull of Paul IV) that no amount of passed time can ratify the election of a heretic to any ecclesiastical post, even that of pope, past all repudiation, recourse, or accountability. But then there are those who maintain the universal recognition of Paul VI as pope by "all" Catholics. How could anyone do this? Really quite simple, if you don't mind using circular arguments. It goes like this:

    1) Everyone who questions or rejects the claims of Paul VI to the papacy is no Catholic.

    2) Therefore all Catholics accept Paul VI as pope.

    3) Therefore Paul VI really is pope.

    4) Therefore everyone who questions or rejects the claims of Paul VI to the papacy is no Catholic.

Mercifully, this SSPX book, even in this Appendix, stops just short of actually stooping to such an argument, but as we know, it has been made by others.

    The relevant portion of the Appendix concludes with another series of bullets. (There is one further section of the Appendix which addresses another point, namely that of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre's reaction to this whole question, but that properly can wait for the concluding installment of this series, and so I will not address it now.)

    The first bullet points to Paul VI's promulgation of the Declaration on Religious Liberty (Dignitatis Humanae) as a reasonable point of clear heresy taught by Paul VI and chronologically the first point at which the non-papacy of Paul VI was clearly, explicitly, and inescapably demonstrated. But it points out that this comes two years and six months after his election. Perhaps we are supposed to infer that if only Paul VI had been boneheaded enough to promulgate this declaration from the balcony window over St. Peter's Square on the day of his election instead of waiting as long as he did, then the Church might have been able to do something (canonically) that the Church has somehow lost the canonical ability to do in the intervening two years and six months. I think this "point" has been successfully refuted in the paragraphs above and need not be belabored any further.

    The second bullet makes the claim that even at that point, not a soul seems to have questioned his claim to the papacy, even as all faithful portions of the Church roundly rejected that declaration. This ties in with something else I will get to regarding the early traditionalists who took some time before questioning his supposed papacy. The third and fourth bullets develop this theme further, and again, I will get to that presently.

    The fifth bullet is where the book reiterates, for the last time, the absurd logical fallacy I exposed in the previous installment ("Since we can't be sure whether the burglar brought the gun in the house with him or just found it somewhere in the house, does that prove that he never handled the gun at all?")

    Finally, in the sixth bullet, we sedevacantists are accused of squaring our theology, not with reality (as we were accused of earlier) but with non-reality. It reads, "The argument seems to begin with a judgment rendered a priori and inconsonant with reality, on the basis of which it is necessary to reread and rewrite all of theology and reality itself. Finally, the general inconsistency of the argument and the contrivances on which it is based further and definitively confirm our demonstration." So once again, which is it, guys? Earlier we were accused of squaring our theology with reality. Guilty as charged! (Along with every known saint, pope, doctor, father, and theologian the Church has ever had, so at least we are in good company.) Now we are accused of squaring our theology with unreality. Where does this suddenly come from? Go figure, huh?

    But now there is one last point from bullets 2, 3, and 4, together with a quote given before the bullets and the final paragraph after them. Let's give the relevant passages from each of these:

The sedevacantists would deprive it [Billot's thesis as extrapolated by the SSPX book, as if it carried any weight] of its intrinsic value in practice by a logical pirouette that merits all our attention.

    If the thesis of Billot were in fact true, one would have to conclude that, in fact, the whole universal Church did not adhere to Paul VI and his successors, insofar as all did not adhere to the new teaching of Paul VI, rejecting, for example, religious liberty. In this case they did not follow Paul VI as the living regula of the faith, but rather implicitly but objectively reckoned him to be illegitimate, even though they may have paid him the recognition of lip service.

    In order to save itself in extremis the argument is constrained to make appeal to the positions of those who did not reject the authority of Paul VI at the same time as they opposed the Council. Now this position - in practice that of the Society of St. Pius X - is considered, from the sedevacantist point of view, Gallican and schismatic. One therefore wonders what ecclesial value such positions can have for them.

    The current existence of such positions - systematically condemned by sedevacantism - in perfect continuity with the first rejection of conciliar teachings, demonstrates a fortiori that, in the immediate post-conciliar period, the authority of Paul VI was in fact and objectively recognized by all "traditionalists," and not only "in words." The perfect historical continuity of this position, inadmissible and unjustifiable for sedevacantism, gives clear evidence of the objective intentions of those who held it from the very beginning.

    We intend to conclude these last reflections on a note of hope. While we consider the last illustrated argument a great and inconclusive contrivance, we consider positive and providential the fact that, faced with certain difficulties, sedevacantism is constrained to make appeal, in the illustrated terms, to the position currently maintained by the Society of Saint Pius X. It is devoutly to be hoped that sedevacantism may have the humility and the courage to deduce the ultimate consequences of the recognition of this necessity, so that the traditionalist world might rediscover that original unity that was lost on the day of the proclamation of the vacancy of the Apostolic See.

    I have to admit I really don't see where any "logical pirouette" ever took place in what is obviously a logical and utterly straightforward reasoning on the part of the sedevacantist writer quoted just before the bullets. It really follows logically. Paul VI was rejected as pope from the moment of his resignation onward by the whole (faithful portions of the) Church. That this was at first only implicit in the Church's rejection of the conciliar novelties really doesn't matter. It was a big learning curve for all concerned, as many ordinary parishioners at first assumed that all that was changing was the music and going from Latin to English (or whatever vernacular they had). Only when any of them compared the texts of their new missalettes against their previous Roman Missals did the seriousness of the changes show them that they were not merely saying the same thing as always, only in the vernacular, but in fact saying something quite else. And then someone had to make the observation that the very form of the sacrament itself had been corrupted. Even then some tried to assume that since "the pope" promulgated it, it must somehow be fine, even though they knew it wasn't fine at all.

    Then all the warm and lovey-dovey ecumenical bear hugs slowly began to be recognized for what they truly were, not mere diplomacy or "good neighbor policies" but in fact actual compromises of the Faith. Then the question began to arise as to where all of this was coming from. Of course, "the pope" could not possibly be the source of it all, so it must be all of those evil "handlers" and "henchmen" who are failing to convey well, no, deliberately distorting, the pope's actual intent. Or else it was the local bishops or priests who had gone crazy, or else to those above them who got suddenly all too "soft" to rectify the craziness that was going on. And then once it began to become clear that all of this was actually coming from Paul VI, then they began placing hope in the thought that "Paul VI is just some crazy irregularity; the next pope will surely put things right again, and may God give us one soon." What was going on, and why were some few beginning to do ordinations and consecrations seemingly "outside the Church" and so forth? Amidst complicated and furiously busy lives, various individuals came to various realizations as to the seriousness and scope of the problem at various times.

    Bear in mind too that it had been centuries since such abstract theological questions as that of the "heretical pope" had been considered except among the most rarified circles, and even those circles (of "professional" theologians) were increasingly being compromised with all manner of erroneous teaching and ill-training, such that they were going whole hog into the New Order without caring in the least about its obvious differences from Catholicism as it had heretofore been known. So, of course, a big part of the delay in sedevacantism arising as anything of a coherent and recognizable movement can be put down to nothing more than a "failure of imagination." The fact that someone widely thought of as "pope" was not really a pope was something that simply did not occur to anyone in the first place. Had the idea been explicitly announced or proclaimed that day by anyone, there is no room to doubt that many, once learning of the theoretical possibility as long considered by theologians, would have promptly embraced the finding and proceeded onward with the task of coming to understand the present situation.

    Still others began to define down the definition of papal infallibility. The Novus Ordo limits its "infallibility" quite exclusively to declarations of the supreme and extraordinary magisterium, that is to say, nothing more than the occasional sentence that comes out, perhaps only one or two per century, and that all else is totally fallible. So it became easy for the likes of Michael Davies to allow Paul VI (and John Paul II) to teach all manner of errors and heresies in their "ordinary magisterium" since "only the extraordinary magisterium is infallible." Never mind the not-so-well-known fact (back then) that traditionally the Catholic magisterium is infallible not only in its supreme and extraordinary manner, but also in any of quite a list of various parts of its ordinary magisterium as well. Just how "bad" can a pope get? But these guys were getting downright popular, with John Paul II obviously more popular as a "superstar" than a good many rock musicians. And he seemed so nice, especially when he forgave that man who shot him! What a saint! He must be OK.

    The theological difference between being such a "nice guy" versus being a reliable rule of Faith was something that many even now have not yet grasped, and yet without that knowledge the Sede Vacante finding itself can only seem quixotic at best. So as persons have become forced to become canon lawyers so as to figure out whether the SSPX was really suspended (or later on, excommunicated), and doctors of theology in sacramental theology so as to tell who is and is not validly ordained, or whose Mass is valid or not, etc., all sorts of persons came to realization of various facts in various different orders and at different speeds. Some leaped ahead of all the rest, seeming to them to have jumped to some conclusions, while other dragged their feet, knowing deep down that they ought to look into all of this but conveniently never quite finding the time. With that, it was only a matter of time before various camps would form, and which would later on gradually consolidate and harden into the various "positions" as we know them today.

    In other words, the experience of the whole Church in the face of this incalculably vast crisis has been one truly vast and humungous "learning curve." Given the factualness of the Sede Vacante finding, it was inevitable that this finding would eventually surface along with all the others that have surfaced, even though it took quite some time. And then, finally, when people did begin to think of it, quite an intimidating array of further problems immediately posed themselves, enough to make many turn back and give up on ever understanding the situation, other than (maybe) to continue to react against individual abuses as they arose. The SSPX book prays for the time that "the traditionalist world might rediscover that original unity that was lost on the day of the proclamation of the vacancy of the Apostolic See." In fact, the proper prayer is for the traditionalist world to rediscover that original unity that was lost on the day that certain Catholics, unable to face the reality of the vacant see, turned their back on any further attempt to learn of the scope and scale and nature of the present situation regarding the Church.

    So, though the present-day SSPX has in common with those earliest traditionalists a lack of doubt regarding the papal claims of Paul VI (and his successors), it differs most markedly from those early traditionalists in that where their ignorance was purely the product of not having reached the point of that discovery in their learning curve, and as such quite legitimate and innocent, the ignorance of this fact on the part of the SSPX is borne of a refusal to continue any further up the necessary learning curve, which on the part of its clergy is neither legitimate nor innocent. We who have continued on that learning curve, accepting the Sede Vacante finding once we come upon it - and especially if we continue past that to understanding that "bigger picture" of which the Sede Vacante finding is but one detail and from which the answers to all the other questions posed by it are to be found - we are to be considered the true successors of all of those early traditionalists who heroically managed to do as much as they did, knowing as little as they did back then.

    As for the refusal to pursue further understanding of the present situation, as practiced by all confirmed Motarians and resistance types, the academic aridness and vacuousness of their lack of understanding can only prevent them from taking any productive part in the eventual restoration of the Church to normalcy, as they have nothing useful (theologically speaking) to contribute to the discussion. Their own language confirms as much. For example, Atila Sinke Guimarães wrote that "Our intention was not to judge John Paul II. In the traditional Thomistic formula of seeing, judging, and acting, we remained in the first stage. Remaining there, we are different from other traditionalists who have gone further." This far (whatever it is that "we" are doing, be it resisting, or pointing out heresies, or continuing the succession and making priests, or whatever) we can go, but no further, all none-sedevacantists say in one form or another. Indeed they can go no further in understanding what our present situation is because they have been stymied at the point of learning of the vacancy of the Holy See. Rejecting that truth, no alternative path of theological inquiry into the nature of our current situation presents itself. That is, academically speaking, the real dead end.

    Next installment I shall return to the main body of the book, where I left off.

Griff L. Ruby

        Griff's book is available from Books for $26.95 or can be read on-line at We at The Daily Catholic strongly urge you to share it with all you can for that could be the gentle shove that moves your friends back to where the True Faith resides forever, rooted in the Truths and Traditions of Holy Mother Church as Christ intended and promised.

Griff Ruby's STRAIGHT STUFF Monday, March 1, 2010, Volume 21, no. 60