The opposite of faith is bureaucracy

February 23, 2016 § 53 Comments

Most people are, naturally enough, scandalized by the idea that a sitting Pope could be a heretic (and nonetheless still legitimately Pope).

My own view is that this is mainly driven by ignorance of Catholic history combined with modern/protestant attitudes toward authority.

Often enough when someone’s world view (in this case the world view of, say, a sedevacantist or the like; or his mirror image the ultramontane) is rooted in ignorance of history, it isn’t enough to dispel the ignorance by presenting the inconvenient facts (e.g. Pope Honorius I, clearly the Pope and yet posthumously anathematized by an ecumenical council). Historical facts tend to be met with some sort of revisionist approach, rather than taking a step back and just accepting that ultramontanism/sedevacantism is another one of those ubiquitous false dichotomies: that the truth must lie not so much somewhere in between the horns of the putative dilemma as somewhere else entirely, somewhere outside the padded walls.

Whatever it is precisely that Vatican Council I meant by the doctrine of infallibility, it can’t mean that it is impossible for a Pope to be a material heretic and it can’t mean that it is impossible for most of the hierarchy to be mired in heresy (see e.g.: the Arian crisis).

It has been pointed out before that the most obvious corollary* to the doctrine of infallibility when speaking ex cathedra is that almost everything that a Pope says and does is, like the acts of any other legitimate human monarch, perfectly fallible. As with other human monarchs, though, fallibility does not call into question his administrative authority.

Modern Catholics (including modern trad Catholics, I’m afraid, although many trads do tend to have better immunities to this than non-trads) are typically modern first and Catholic second. What this means is that we don’t really want to live in a world of messy, fallible, often dysfunctional human authority. So we look for some kind of machinery: some fixed body of text or bureaucratic machinery to substitute for authority, formal machinery which we can depend upon to give us rigorous assurances and treat us fairly.

That is, we lack faith.

Second guessing the Holy Spirit is a fool’s errand, but it wouldn’t surprise me to find out that the people who are really supposed to learn something from the current crisis are the traditionalists — those who truly aspire to be faithful sons of the Church.

And another thing I’ve pointed out before is that it is easy to ‘obey’ king or husband when you agree with what he says; or, even if you disagree, when you are confident in his competence. Who wants to be obedient to the juridical directives of the Clown King? What wife wants to submit to an obsequious whining loser?

I’ll tell you which one.

The one who has faith.


* Another obvious corollary is that although a statement of dogma is infallible when the conditions of ex cathedra are met, the person interpreting that statement of dogma is not infallible – including his interpretation of whether a given statement precisely meets the conditions of speaking ex cathedra! So there is always rather less to infallibility than meets the eye. The Church may speak on matters infallibly here and there — though by all accounts this is rather rare. But I am quite aware of the fact that no matter how infallible the speaker may be in what he is saying, I am not an infallible listener.

[The current post is an elaboration on an OT digression in the combox of this post.]

§ 53 Responses to The opposite of faith is bureaucracy

  • Good post. A fair number of people want to ask me what my thoughts about “this Pope” are, with the obvious subtext that I have to agree with him or I’m not a good Catholic, involved in special pleading, etc. I typically don’t engage, unless it’s a good friend who asks out of a sincere desire to understand.

    The people I’m least likely to engage with? Liberal Catholics.

  • Mike T says:

    As a non-Catholic observer, I am reluctant to immediately believe the “oh no he dinnt” stuff said about the Pope until the dust settles because the media either loves or hates the Pope. When they hate the Pope, every last word is either pure bile or interpreted as heresy to make Catholics look stupid to other Christians. I learned that when I read that Pope JPII actually did not deny that Hell is real, but was speaking philosophically about Hell as a place and how places and pure spiritual existence work (if I understood the gist). It was just philosophical bullcrap spun into a much ado about nothing.

    Similarly, this Pope cannot catch a break. The media wants to claim him or defame him at the same time. They treat him much like a psychopathic girlfriend treats a decent but not terribly bright boyfriend (hot cold hot cold, you raped me last night, now rip off my clothes, etc.)

    Until he came out against the wall and for open embrace of large scale immigration, I was content to ignore him and wish him well. Now I just regard him as an eccentric, economic illiterate.

  • August says:

    I have increasingly noticed my distaste for bureaucracy- going so far as to wonder how well we really do with all these decisions written down and managed so that we will have a record of things. Are we really being better served than when some local lord heard his subjects complaints and made a ruling?

    I do suspect it is a little different with the Pope- you don’t get someone this bad elected to the office unless you have a bunch of bureaucrats electing him in the first place. The work of the Holy Spirit was likely Benedict’s abdication, so that the nature of the problem could be laid bare.

  • Zippy says:


    The Church itself disclaims any specifically political mission or domain expertise; but as an organism composed in part of human beings it cannot avoid direct involvement in politics in terms of its own internal management. Things like politics, science, economics, etc are not the Church’s particular mission or charism, so actual Churchmen tend to be steeped in the conceptions of those things which are dominant in society at large. (This was as true in the days of Ad Extirpanda as it is today).

    That is a long winded way of agreeing with your point: what we see these days in terms of Church governance, all the way to the top, is to a significant extent a reflection of our contemporary preference to be governed by a faceless bureaucracy over acknowledging the authority of actual men. All this ‘synodality’ is really a way for the Pope to try to get the result he wants, but to attribute that result to the faceless bureaucracy as opposed to his own authority to rule.

    I’ve discussed at least briefly before that philosophy of governance and structure of governance are distinct — not totally unrelated, but distinct kinds of things. In effect the present day Catholic Church is a liberal monarchy, with all that that implies.

  • Aethelfrith says:

    Bureaucracy is socialized positivism.

  • Zippy says:

    Yes, that’s good. Social positivism attempts to replace judgment and authority in human affairs with mechanical procedures.

  • AureliusMoner says:

    Zippy, I greatly respect your opinion, but you’ve got me confused on this one.

    Most of the time, people push back against Sedevacantism by arguing that this or that pope is “only” a material heretic, or that we can’t know what he really meant by that, and maybe there’s some way to interpret his words in an orthodox sense.

    I have never yet heard someone say that a pope could flat-out be an heretic, and yet remain a member of the Church, let alone the pope. It is a crystal-clear doctrine of the Church, that the manifest, public heretic (material or formal) is out of the Church. Whether this applied also to material heretics was debated a bit longer, but it became the common teaching that it did. Hence, Ludwig Ott states very clearly in his Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, that:

    “Among the members of the Church, are not to be counted: … b) Open apostates and heretics. Public heretics, even those who err in good faith (material heretics), do not belong to the body of the Church, that is, to the legal commonwealth of the Church…”

    The basic principles of the Tradition on this point, were most lucidly exposited by St. Robert Bellarmine, in his treatise on the papacy. Now, you raised the case of Honorius; you and I both know what an odd case this was. But, St. Robert Bellarmine was aware of the case (obviously), and mentions that, indeed, the case of Honorius proves that the Church feels able to judge a pope in case of heresy, even if Honorius’ case was the result of some confusion at the time. He says:

    “And what is more, in the Fourth Council of Constantinople… Pope Honorius appeared to be legally anathematized, because he had been convicted of heresy, the only reason where it is lawful for inferiors to judge superiors. Here the fact must be remarked upon that, although it is probable that Honorius was not a heretic, and that Pope Hadrian II was deceived by corrupted copies of the Sixth Council, which falsely reckoned Honorius was a heretic, we still cannot deny that Hadrian, with the Roman Council, and the whole Eighth Synod sensed that in the case of heresy, a Roman Pontiff can be judged.” De Controversiis, XXX

    So, St. Robert knew about Honorius. On what grounds, however, does the Church think a pope is able to be judged? St. Robert made it clear that the Church has no authority to depose a pope. And indeed, “prima sedes a nemine iudicatur.” After examining all the opinions on what could be done with an heretical pope, and why, he says:

    “The fourth opinion is of Cajetan. There, he teaches, that a manifestly heretical Pope is not ipso facto deposed; but can and ought to be deposed by the Church.

    Now in my judgment, such an opinion cannot be defended. For in the first place, that a manifest heretic would be ipso facto deposed, is proven from authority and reason. The Authority is of St. Paul, who commands Titus, that after two censures, that is, after he appears manifestly pertinacious, an heretic is to be shunned: and he understands this before excommunication and sentence of a judge. Jerome comments on the same place, saying that other sinners, through a judgment of excommunication are excluded from the Church; heretics, however, leave by themselves and are cut from the body of Christ. But a Pope who remains the Pope cannot be shunned. How will we shun our Head? How will we recede from a member to whom we are joined?

    “Now in regard to reason this is indeed very certain. A non-Christian cannot in any way be Pope, as Cajetan affirms in the same book, and the reason is because he cannot be the head of that which he is not a member, and he is not a member of the Church who is not a Christian. But a manifest heretic is not a Christian, as St. Cyprian and many other Fathers clearly teach…

    “So, the fifth and true opinion, is that a Pope who is a manifest heretic, ceases in himself to be Pope and head, just as he ceases in himself to be a Christian and member of the body of the Church: whereby, he can be judged and punished by the Church. This is the opinion of all the ancient Fathers, who teach that manifest heretics subsequently lose all jurisdiction… The foundation of this opinion is that a manifest heretic, is in no way a member of the Church; that is, neither in spirit nor in body, or by internal union nor external. For even wicked Catholics are united and are members, in spirit through faith and in body through the confession of faith, and the participation of the visible Sacraments. Secret heretics are united and are members, but only by an external union: just as on the other hand, good Catechumens are in the Church only by an internal union but not an external one. Manifest heretics by no union, as has been proved.”

    If Honorius was judged, it was because the Council believed him already to have fallen from the Church, as is the case with all heretics; anathematizations of heretics do not themselves “make” heretics, but they recognize heretics for what they are: self-severed from the Body, as Jerome and all the Fathers and Doctors teach. These principles, apart from being the prior Tradition (as St. Robert and others constantly affirm), are reiterated again and again in all the theological manuals and learned treatises with Imprimaturs and Nihil Obstats, and were clearly restated in Pope Leo XIII’s Satis Cognitum (“The practice of the Church has always been the same, as is shown by the unanimous teaching of the Fathers, who were wont to hold as outside Catholic communion, and alien to the Church, whomever would recede in the least degree from any point of doctrine proposed by her authoritative Magisterium”) and Piux XII’s Mystici Corporis (“Actually only those are to be included as members of the Church who have been baptized and profess the true faith, and who have not been so unfortunate as to separate themselves from the unity of the Body, or been excluded by legitimate authority for grave faults committed.”).

    I have never heard a Catholic say that a manifest heretic could remain a member of the Church, let alone a pope; it is the common teaching that this is not the case, and as Ott (and St. Robert himself) declares, the doctrine that manifest heretics are automatically out of the Church is a “sententia certa,” meaning that the least notes of censure that apply to the contrary belief are: “erroneous, false, temerarious and offensive to pious ears.” I say that not to be provocative, of course, but just to give a sense of the seriousness of the matter.

    How do you come to your conclusion? If it is simply on the fact that some heretics manage to elude censure/deposition for a time, and improperly feign to exercise jurisdiction and pose as hierarchs in the interim, I would say that your opinion is not well-founded.

  • King Richard says:

    It is possible to make statements that are heretical and to even believe things that are heretical without being a full-blown capital-H Heretic; indeed, a huge number of Catholics are in this position, called ‘material heresy’.
    I am a theologian that attends a TLM parish. It usually takes me no more than 15 minutes to figure out which heresy a devout, Traditional, faithful Catholic holds. This doesn’t make them eligible for the stake, it makes them human and in need of gentle correction.
    The key is to not *teach* heresy nor to public argue for heresy in an official capacity nor to oppose the Church’s authority based upon heresy.
    A pope can, yes, be just like all other men – fallible – and have mistaken ideas about matters of dogma and even repeat them without being a Heretic, just a heretic.
    More critically, even a fully-trained Monk theologian Pope speaking extemporaneously on matters he knows well can make statements that appear or even are heretical while conjecturing, making examples, or simply being tired and distracted and not be a Heretic: he just made a mistake.
    I am confident that in about 15 minutes of honest discussion I or another priest or theologian could determine which Dogmas you misunderstand to the point of material heresy – yet you (properly) remain a member of the Church.
    “To avoid rash judgment, everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor’s thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way”
    -the Catechism

    “Every good Christian ought to be more ready to give a favorable interpretation to another’s statement than to condemn it. But if he cannot do so, let him ask how the other understands it. And if the latter understands it badly, let the former correct him with love. If that does not suffice, let the Christian try all suitable ways to bring the other to a correct interpretation so that he may be saved.”
    -St. Ignatius

  • Zippy says:


    I see where you are coming from, but I think part of the problem is that sedevacantists (whose case you express well) are starting the discussion from the wrong place.

    A sedevacantist is a person who, on his own authority and by his own private judgment (however well founded he may be convinced that it is), has concluded that the See is vacant and is acting in accordance with that conclusion, as if the See were in fact vacant.

    Whatever else may be said about ecclesial theology – and I am sure there are plenty of people who know the usual arguments better than I do – the sedevacantist has put himself in the same position as (say) someone who believes that his marriage is null and acts upon that belief by getting ‘remarried’ without first receiving juridical sanction from the Church.

  • Scott W. says:

    “the sedevacantist has put himself in the same position as (say) someone who believes that his marriage is null and acts upon that belief by getting ‘remarried’ without first receiving juridical sanction from the Church”

    I have no queen!

    Catherine’s not my wife!

    No priest can make her so.

    They that say she is my wife
    are not only liars, but traitors!

    Yes, traitors!

    That I will not brook now!


    I will not brook.

    It maddens me!

    It is a deadly canker in the body politic,
    and I will have it out!

  • AureliusMoner says:


    Full disclosure: I am a monk, formerly of the Orthodox Church, converted to the Catholic Faith by a closer study of history and various authors as my Greek and Latin skills improved. I was received by a priest of the SSPX, and have spent the past year very closely examining this issue. I had no “dog in the fight,” because my only goal was to be as faithful to the Catholic Magisterium as possible, having embraced Her as the True Church. I have landed on the sedevacantist side, after long comparison of all sides’ arguments.

    There are two videos I wish I had seen a year ago, because they essentially go through all the pro/con arguments, with rigorous thoroughness and copious citations.

    I hope to see more, charitable discussions on the topic. There are old wounds amongst Catholics on various sides of the issue; as a newcomer, I find it easy to acknowledge that the present crisis is unprecedented and complex, and so Catholics of good conscience and will can exist on various sides of the issue. Both Canon Law and doctrine affirm, that a man who intends to uphold the Magisterium and the papal authority, remains a Catholic even if he errs on matters of fact related to either; I am not rushing to call anyone an heretic, in this debate. But I truly do think the sedevacantist position is the best one, and the main reason for this is an argument that has nothing to do with the pope. It is the first argument mentioned in the first link, above; it is the argument based on the full scope of the Universal, Ordinary Magisterium’s infallibility, and it resonated especially with my Orthodox background, where the ancient Catholic piety of reverence for the Liturgy, laws, customs, etc., as sure rules of Faith, is still very strong.

    Of your charity, I wonder if you would give them a listen (the first is just an audio lecture), and share your thoughts after some reflection. I ask because the issue is critically important, I want to decide well on the matter, and therefore one of the things that most interests me, is to hear clear-thinking Catholics consider the full scope of the arguments, probably for the first time, and then respond. In my experience over the past year, I realized that most who oppose the sedevacantist thesis actually don’t know the main arguments, or they deal with red herrings (like “Cum Ex Apostolatus”) proffered by sedevacantists who don’t really know what they’re doing.

    For example, your own analogy in reply seems to have aimed well to one side of the point.

    I will admit that the sedevacantist is in a position of having to make this difficult decision, seemingly without the approval of any authority. But his situation is not at all comparable to a Catholic waiting for the competent judgment of ecclesiastical authority on a routine, canonical matter, for two reasons.

    In the first place, as St. Robert reiterated in what I had quoted from him, above: “Pope Honorius… had been convicted of heresy, the only cause, for which it is lawful for inferiors to judge superiors.” Inferiors have no right to judge superiors in a canonical process, but they do in cases of heresy. Also, Canon Law makes it clear that heretics are out of the Church even before any juridical decision (JPII Code: 194.1.2; 1364.1; Pio-Benedictine Code: 2314.1). JPII’s code explicitly states that “the law itself,” i.e. not a juridical decree, excommunicates the heretic. The older code says they are excommunicated “by the very fact” of being heretics. Canon Law is upholding a critical point, here. Furthermore, Canon Law itself is careful to spare persons from incurring any penalties levied against them, when they act because they honestly feel compelled by a state of emergency or need (1321.1; 1323.4, 5, 7); some people want to add the caveat, “yes, but ‘honestly’ as judged by the competent authorities” – yet it should be enough to point out that the law is here specifically sparing people from erroneous judgments of the competent authorities, and to cite the age-old principle, “de internis non iudicat ecclesia.” Commentators on Canon Law have affirmed that the perception of a threat to the continuity of the Faith or of the Church would be a state that justified such actions.

    None of this is to say that a final judgment of authority would be superfluous; on the contrary, it would be very expedient. But the perennial piety of the Church has always reckoned that suffering one’s faith to be stained by communing or submitting to heretics, is a far worse sin than mere disobedience. Historically, therefore, the Catholic faithful broke with heretics as a matter of conscience while waiting for such judgments to play out, and we see that both doctrine and Canon Law affirm the principles involved in this course of action, to the point of protecting those who undertake it in good faith. We now live in a time where the Apostasy is so widespread, and human respect is so prevalent, that it has been impossible for the Catholics to coalesce from a clear position of authority and to expel the heretics. There is a precedent of some similarity, in the Arian crisis. During that time, St. Athanasius defied the judgment of pope Liberius – the supreme authority – and violated canons that would have applied (if his opponents were orthodox Catholics) in order to ordain orthodox Catholic clergy for the faithful in other dioceses.

    What was the Church’s judgment, after the dust settled? That the impious judgments of the “approved” hierarchy were null, void and illicit; pope Liberius would be the first pope NOT numbered amongst the Saints in the Roman Martyrology, and Saint Athanasius has been remembered forever as a great Saint, Father and Doctor of the Universal Church. The Faith and the salvation of souls are the Supreme Law. That episode of Church history entirely affirms what I am saying here: the Church’s Tradition is that heretics are automatically out of the Church, and the faithful certainly have been praised for acting on this fact, and for not allowing heretics to do more damage than is necessary, on the mistaken belief that they must wait with bated breath for a declaration of the obvious. Heresy is the one matter where inferiors should judge superiors, cling to the Faith, and even violate proper canonical order when necessary; sound doctrine, Canon Law and Church history support this view with eloquence.

    Does one take a risk? Could an heretic cite such things in his own defense? Yes. But so can an orthodox Catholic. Those who do so will be vindicated or condemned sooner or later by history, and ultimately by God. Both sides should remember this – those who subjected themselves to heretics, being negligent or inexact in their fidelity to the Faith and the authentic Magisterium, will also have to give an account of themselves. Abusus non tolit usum, in any case.

    In the second place, your analogy would have to be modified, to more closely conform to the situation at hand.

    Imagine there is a lukewarm but orthodox Catholic, who left his wife for a younger woman. The local ordinary notices that he never receives the Eucharist, and asks the man to come see him the next morning. Upon arriving the next day, the local ordinary is seen on the steps of the rectory, wearing a tie-died shorty robe, kissing his lover goodbye as he rushes off to his day-job at the condom factory. The man bites his tongue and goes in. After hearing the man’s reason for abstaining from Communion, the ordinary looks at him with dead eyes, and says: “Man, you sound like a self-absorbed promethean neopalagian; that’s a very childish and legalistic way to think; we live in a grown-up age, where the truth is a surprise that we discover as church together. Who cares? You’re with Yolanda now, and you love her, and that’s all God cares about.”

    Still, the man says that his conscience won’t let him receive Communion. The ordinary rolls his eyes and sputters “Ohmigosh, fine!” He then asks all kinds of questions: “Did you have a drink before the wedding, to calm your nerves? Had you ever dated anyone else, or was this ‘love at first sight?’ Was this a shogtun wedding? Have you ever had any homosexual urges? Were you living with your parents, and was it an happy home, before you married?” The man admits that he was still living on the family farm, and working there, but was always at odds with his father and was eager to move on. “Well, there ya go! That is sufficient reason to think that your consent was incomplete, and influenced by the psychological pressure to escape your home situation.” The Ordinary grants an annulment, and, thanks to the new procedural streamlining from first merciful pope in two millennia, he doesn’t bother to submit it for review. He informs the man that their meeting must now come to an end, as The View will be on presently.

    Our lukewarm but Orthodox layman gets into his car, annulment in hand, and knows that his consent was not really impaired. But, that is the judgment of the Ordinary…

    Sadly, that is not much of an exaggeration, of the situation that many Catholics find themselves in, today (by analogy, of course). When the judgment of “authority” is so obviously mired by pastoral neglect and a total lack of Catholic sensibility, I am not so sure that the faithful should trust it over what they know to be true. And, as I said, it’s beside the point, because in matters of heresy the faithful have obligations entirely different from their obligations in a routine, canonical matter. When it is obvious that the prelates are apostates, I think the sedevacantists have the right answer: such persons are out of the Church and have no jurisdiction or authority; this is why their judgment and doctrine is so bad, and it is why they are not bound to follow them. In my opinion, the crisis in the Church continues, precisely because the modern laity suffer under a diminished awareness of their moral duty to combat heresy, even when it means resisting their superiors. Laity in past ages were not so uncertain; indeed, JPII would have been lucky to escape Assisi alive, if he had pulled such shenanigans even a century ago.

    I apologize for the length; it’s a complex issue, though.

  • Pope St. Marcellinus committed apostasy, and yet “the first see is judged by none”.

    AureliusMoner, I don’t mean to sound uncharitable, but you simply have no competence here (and neither do I). We can argue all day about whether the the bishops could depose a heretical pope (although when they had on their hands a Pope who had actually committed apostasy, they refused to do so), but that’s neither here nor there. The fact of the matter is that if the situation sedevacantists suppose to exist is consistent with Christ’s promise that the gates of Hell will not prevail against the Church, then that promise is completely empty and meaningless.

  • Inquirer says:

    Aurelius – those are troubling videos. I leave it to better educated and clearer thinking Catholics to respond, but I have a few questions for you, if I may.

    1. What is your position on the validity of Confirmation and Marriage if performed in the NO rite?

    2. What is your position on groups like the FSSP?

  • Zippy says:

    I may at some point be able to review and reflect upon the videos; however, like ArkansasReactionary I believe this question to be beyond my competence – in the older sense of ‘competence’ which includes an element of authority, not merely technical expertise.

    And, as I said, it’s beside the point, because in matters of heresy the faithful have obligations entirely different from their obligations in a routine, canonical matter. When it is obvious that the prelates are apostates, I think the sedevacantists have the right answer: such persons are out of the Church and have no jurisdiction or authority; this is why their judgment and doctrine is so bad, and it is why they are not bound to follow them.

    This closely – too closely – mirrors John Wyclif’s theories, it seems to me.

    In my opinion, the crisis in the Church continues, precisely because the modern laity suffer under a diminished awareness of their moral duty to combat heresy, even when it means resisting their superiors.

    A background assumption seems to be of the existence of an orthodox laity in materially significant numbers, who can even tell the difference between heresy and orthodoxy. I see that kind of assumption often in (a small number of) recent converts and also in some folks (students, families, professors) in the orbit of “Newman Guide” type institutions.

    As a cradle Catholic brought up on felt banners in a large diocese that all looks rather precious to me, honestly.

  • Josh says:

    I wonder how many clergy can trace their succession to Christ without a heretical bishop in there somewhere.

  • Zippy says:

    Right Josh, if material heresy results in latae sententiae excommunication qua individual and ends capacity to confect sacraments as an apostolic successor qua Eius persona agant, the integrity of the Church is simply impossible to maintain. We are all Protestants, in effect.

  • Proph says:

    I don’t see why it’s impossible to “shun” a materially heretical Pope in the relevant sense (i.e., refusing to receive with docility his distortions of the faith, and likewise warning others that his innovations are not to be trusted) while still remaining obedient to his legitimate commands.

  • Zippy says:

    It is a very American way to look at the Church, when you think about it: adherence to propositions versus incarnate sacramental integrity, where the latter is treated as a kind of ‘accident of birth’.

  • Zippy says:

    Right Proph– what to do about a bad king? The American answer is to depose him, that he is only king because of arbitrary heredity anyway, and he can’t be king if he doesn’t adhere to the right propositions, etc. I can’t help but see sedevacantism as a very Americanist or Protestant ecclesiology.

    That doesn’t mean I have no sympathy for it when a particular monarch is especially bad. But we’ve seen where it leads.

  • King Richard says:

    A citizen of Edan once related this story to us:
    “My friend, call him Adam, became convinced that Vatican II was a sham and, as a new Sedevacantist, sought out an SSPX chapel. He was relatively content there for a year until he was speaking to another sedevacantist at a conference. This new person chided him for associating with the heretical SSPX; after all, they used the 1962 missal!
    “So Adam moved to the SSPV, a group expelled from the SSPX for being even more sedevacantist. He was happy there for a time until he ran into a Dutch Catholic who chided him for associating with such heretics. The dutchman was a member of the Old Catholics that rejected the Church after Vatican I.
    “He was seriously considering moving to the Old Catholics when he received an email from someone chatisizing him for not knowing that there had only been one properly consecrated bishop alive at a time since the time of Pope Clement XI.
    “At that point Adam went to his local parish, went to Confession, and returned to the Catholic Church. He had realized that sedevacantism is anti-popes all the way down”
    I mean, who could follow a pope that publically denied Christ THREE TIMES!

  • Half on topic, but nobody is mentioning this gem of a quote from the Pope in their haste to yell at him about Trump and contraception:

    Thompson: Does that mean [divorced couples] can receive Communion?

    Pope Francis: This is the last thing. Integrating in the Church doesn’t mean receiving communion. I know married Catholics in a second union who go to church, who go to church once or twice a year and say I want communion, as if joining in Communion were an award. It’s a work towards integration, all doors are open, but we cannot say, ‘from here on they can have communion.’ This would be an injury also to marriage, to the couple, because it wouldn’t allow them to proceed on this path of integration. And those two were happy. They used a very beautiful expression: we don’t receive Eucharistic communion, but we receive communion when we visit hospitals and in this and this and this. Their integration is that. If there is something more, the Lord will tell them, but it’s a path, a road.

    It’s a fairly “Francis” way of putting it, but you really, really can’t get more unambiguous than that. Shouldn’t we all be happy about that? I’m really not sure if the Pope is a heretic anyway.

  • The contraception comments are admittedly much worse. The Pope speaks of “The lesser of two evils” as if the only choices are two evils. This is, of course, completely wrong: Another possibility is abstinence.

    Even if the Pope Paul VI story was true – which it wasn’t – the situations would STILL be fundamentally different, because the danger in that case was rape – sex against their will. The folks in danger of the Zika virus are not in danger because of forced sex, they are in danger because of something they choose to do.

    So what we really have is a choice between one grave moral evil – artificial contraception to enjoy recreational sex – and one terrible natural outcome (the effects of the Zika virus), and one good: Abstinence. Therefore the only proper choice in this scenario is abstinence. This should be straightforward.

  • AureliusMoner says:


    Thank you for considering a look at the videos; I don’t ask the favor of you in an argumentative fashion; I am a Catholic honestly looking for the teaching of the Magisterium, and an understanding of my own moral duties. Whatever is true, I wish to believe. Sharp minds can sharpen one another.

    I’ll make my replies to those who have responded, and then bow out, and cease clogging your combox with more interminable posts. I’ll start with you:

    I assume that, if the Catholic Church taught that bad kings were automatically deposed, you would believe it? Well, the Catholic Church does teach that heretics are automatically deposed, and doubly so in the case of the pope (since he cannot be deposed otherwise), so I’m not sure what is Protestant or American about assenting to this truth. As to laity discerning such a situation, we know from Catholic doctrine that the faithful can know the truth with certainty on many points, through reason. This is especially true of moral theology, since we all have the duty to make correct moral choices. What to do in regard to heretical prelates, is absolutely an element of moral theology. Besides, the Church’s teaching on the matter would be merely theoretical, if it taught that heretics were self-deposed before a juridical decree, yet taught that nobody could make the judgment until a juridical decree came. And, as I already mentioned, some historical episodes, and Canon Law, also take the side of the faithful who have so acted.

    @Inquirer – Those videos certainly are quite thorough and distressing; they lay out the situation in its full desolation. As you may understand from them, one of the clearest signs that the post-conciliar body is not the Catholic Church, is that she promulgates so many impious or erroneous things in sources that would be Magisterial in the actual Church. Not to trouble you further, but, while some Novus Ordo rites give no reason to doubt their validity, it seems morally certain that the new rite of episcopal consecration is invalid. This is the result of trusting to a body that no longer closely guards the Catholic Faith; she errs in ways that the Church cannot. Cardinal Ottaviani himself, when head of the Holy Office/CDF, expressed the opinion that the new rite of episcopal consecration seemed invalid – so this is not a “kooky” idea.

    He was silenced with the reply that the consecratory prayer was an evolved form of St. Hippolytus’ prayer, found in a Coptic Rite for consecrating a bishop – and who would dare question the validity of the Coptic rites? Everyone left it at that. Much later, however, someone bothered to actually read the Coptic prayer; the prayer used in the Novus Ordo rite is not the same prayer (it is heavily edited), and, most importantly, the prayer is not a prayer for the consecration of a bishop; it is a prayer for promoting a man who is already a bishop, to the rank of archbishop. In other words, the reason it so clearly lacked necessary elements, as defined by Pius XII in Sacramentum Ordinis (such as the “univocal expression of the order conferred”), is because the prayer was never intended to consecrate a bishop. I am thus of the opinion that we have moral certainty that bishops consecrated since 1967 (in this rite) are not actually bishops; the priests they ordain are not priests, and therefore, whatever rite they use – even if they say the Latin Mass in the FSSP – they are not celebrating any Sacraments at all. It is also another plank in the Sedevacantist thesis – for, while certain men could theoretically be pope-elect and exercise some jurisdiction before their episcopal consecration, a man who is not a bishop is not the bishop of Rome, is not St. Peter’s successor, does not have infallibility and is not a member in any sense of the Magisterium. For a full discussion of the matter:

    Is it any surprise that there was a mass apostasy, when so many people failed to do their due diligence and examine the matter thoroughly, right away? This seems to be the result of an error in the wake of Vatican I, whereby the proclamation of Infallibility led many Catholics to lose their sense of caution and responsibility, in a blind trust of Rome. Who can doubt that a pope is supreme? But we know of anti-popes in the past, and of heretical opinions, bad acts, etc.; it is foolish to simply assume that anything emanating from the Vatican Hill must be valid and unproblematic.

    @Arkansas Reactionary: Related thereto, I would point out that this does not in any way destroy Christ’s promise that the Gates of Hell will not overcome the Church. There has been a devastation of the Latin Rite, though even there some few souls have found a plank in the shipwreck. The Eastern Churches (Eastern Catholics, obviously) still exist with valid Apostolic Successors and Sacraments. There have been many times in history, when the faithful would have been tempted to say, “This gives the lie to Christ’s promise” – the Arian crisis, the Great Western Schism, the Protestant apostasy, etc. Our Lord’s promise means that there will still be visible Catholics and successors to the Apostles, until the end. But even He predicted that there would be an immense apostasy and a powerful delusion, going so far as to ask: “When the Son of Man returns, think you that He will find faith upon the earth?” I think we can come to these conclusions simply from the authoritative sources of our Faith, but past that we have several Marian apparitions and many admonitory, papal encyclicals in the years prior to the crisis, warning that an infiltration of the Church was at hand, an unprecedented punishment of Western apostasy and immorality would be meted out, “the Church will be in eclipse,” “the apostasy will go all the way to the top,” etc. It is not like this situation is a surprise, given what we know from Scripture, Tradition and approved apparitions/prophecies. The Church will always exist; but who could doubt that her state will be quite deplorable as we draw near to the end of things? St. Athanasius said, “Even if Catholics faithful to tradition are reduced to a handful, it is they that are the true Church of Jesus Christ.”

    @Proph – you can’t shun an heretical pope and still let him be the pope, because you owe “obsequium religiosum,” interior submission of the will and intellect, to his teaching even when it is not infallible. Indeed, the entire Ordinary Magisterium of the Church is owed our assent, not on grounds of the duty of Faith, but on grounds of the duty of obedience to Mother Church, Who is always the divinely appointed teacher of the faithful, even when she is not teaching with the Supreme and Infallible Magisterium. This is part of how we know that the post-conciliar body must not be the Catholic Church. JPII’s Canon Law and Catechism posit things contrary to Divine Law (communion with heretics), papal encyclicals from the time of Pacem in Terris have smacked of Modernism, Phenomenology, etc., and Francis’ documents range from the absurd and undignified, to the smacking of heresy (his teaching on Jews in Evangelii Gaudium). Catholics can’t offer this pseudo-magisterium their obsequium religiosum, without jeopardizing the Faith.

    @ King Richard: I am well aware of the distinction between formal and material heresy – and, in fact, your view of material heresy may itself be too broad. Cardinal Billot and the more recent treatises on the Church point out that heresy is not so much a false opinion, as it is a departure from the Magisterium. The distinction is subtle, but you probably grasp it – i.e., a Catholic who is striving to adhere to the Magisterium, but is accidently wrong, is not even a material heretic; he is in error of fact. A Protestant who is not making any effort to adhere to the Magisterium because he is unaware of it, is a material heretic, even though he errs in good faith. Cardinal Billot and other theologians spoke as if no Catholics would be material heretics, because they naturally assumed that any Catholic would be aware of his duty towards the Magisterium, and thus an errant Catholic would either be a formal heretic, or merely mistaken. But I think, in the wake of Vatican II, we can and do have a situation where many neo-catholics have such a vague idea of the Magisterium, that their concept of conforming to it is much altered. I think there are many material heretics amongst post-conciliar folk who describe themselves as Catholics.

  • Zippy says:


    I assume that, if the Catholic Church taught that bad kings were automatically deposed, you would believe it?

    In my experience all manner of mischief starts with hypotheticals, which are merely a species of storytelling, and which typically beg all kinds of questions – often in a manner in which those posing them are completely unaware.

    What if there were no such thing as hypotheticals?

    Well, the Catholic Church does teach that heretics are automatically deposed, and doubly so in the case of the pope (since he cannot be deposed otherwise) …

    Of course hypotheticals are not the only pervasive source of mischief, by a very long shot. The parenthetical, just for example, simply assumes that we live in a universe in which Popes can be deposed, or in which it ought to be possible for Popes to be deposed (by human beings — obviously God can depose monarchs and in fact universally does depose monarchs).

    I’ve had a lot of people over the years tell me all sorts of things which, by their lights, ‘the Catholic Church does teach’. Sometimes they are right (in some sense or other) and quite often they are wrong; but (again in my experience) very few are aware of the philosophical baggage they are bringing to the table — even when they are right (in some sense or other).

  • Zippy says:


    I started playing the first video and then realized that it is four hours long. FOUR HOURS!

    There is simply no way I am going to sit through podcasts of that length while concentrating on what is being said; so I am going to decline the invitation to review them at all let alone take the time to develop considered opinions.

    In general I encourage people to send me transcripts or written documents, if they are interested in my views on the subject matter covered (whatever it may be). The present obsession with podcasts and videos is a terrific waste of time: a shifting of the burden from people who have something to say onto the people to whom they are trying to say it.

    I can read the full transcript of a multi-hour event in a matter of minutes. I can’t and therefore don’t examine and do due diligence on everything I am sent in depth, though I try as a matter of courtesy to at least give each item a glance if a reader has taken the time to send it to me. I don’t have a large enough readership to excuse me from granting my readers back the simple courtesy they give by reading my stuff in the first place.

    But promiscuous videos and podcasts strike me as just frankly contemptuous of the audience.


  • Aethelfrith says:

    In general, I find intellectual converts to Catholicism to be in a dangerous place–they covertly discover a system that conforms to their prejudices while proclaiming loudly (to others, and mostly to themselves) that they have found “the truth.”

    The danger here is that the same line of reasoning that leads them into the faith can lead them right out of it, provided that their prejudices/prior commitments/fundamental axioms change.

    Positivism is annoying enough, positivism with changing goalposts triply so.

    How about instead of relying on Dueling Church Fathers or Encyclical Showdowns, we instead put our hope on God the Holy Trinity for salvation, visitation and enlightenment?

  • GJ says:


    In general, I find intellectual converts to Catholicism to be in a dangerous place–they covertly discover a system that conforms to their prejudices while proclaiming loudly (to others, and mostly to themselves) that they have found “the truth.”

    I have had the impression that many convert to Catholicism due to exhaustion with the postmodernism; to escape the messiness of Protestant anarchy they flee to the seemingly safe Church which can, with Magisterium and Tradition, tell them what to believe doctrinally. Then they discover that no, not everyone or every authority there is ‘safe’.

  • Aethelfrith says:

    It reminds me of a saying which I will paraphrase–People wander into Orthodoxy thinking it is the perfect religion, only to realize that Greek prisons are full of Orthodox criminals.

  • Hrodgar says:

    Speaking as an intellectual convert, I can only say that there is a great deal of truth in Aethelfrith’s description of the dangers. It is rather an odd place to find oneself, using private judgement to determine that private judgement must subject itself to the authorities of the Church and her Traditions. It might be worth here printing an excerpt from a comment ( I saw about a year ago and have found very helpful in dealing with them:

    “… some people seem to think that the way to know that Catholicism is true is to consider a list of doctrines (salvation, Mary, etc) that Catholicism teaches, decide whether the Catholic Church’s teachings regarding those doctrines are true, and then becoming a Catholic … in my understanding, if a person did what I describe above, he hasn’t become a Catholic; he is a Protestant who chooses the Catholic ‘denomination.’”

    Zippy’s own series of posts on the misconception of the Church as a proposition factory was also very helpful, and I highly recommend it to folks who have this particular problem.

    As to GJ’s impression of the motives of intellectual converts, it may or may not be true at large. I don’t actually know any other intellectual converts very well, and cannot even confidently say I’ve met another in the flesh. I can only say, as a single data point, that it does not apply in my own case. I became Catholic because it was the only place left at all unless I was willing to chuck the whole Christianity thing altogether, not because it seemed “safe.” I had plenty of kooks in the hierarchy in my old denomination, expected more of the same, and have not been very much disappointed.

  • P.B. says:

    It is worth noting that heresy is the obstinate denial or obstinate doubt about a truth requiring divine and catholic faith. The prohibition of contraception by itself doesn’t actually fall under that category as far as I know. So even if the Holy Father straight up said “yeah man contraceptives are cool,” he would not necessarily be a heretic. He would still be wrong of course.

  • CJ says:

    Zippy – Your rant against podcasts and videos is the most important thing you have ever written. If we lived in a just world it would gain you a plenary indulgence.

  • GJ says:


    That was a great excerpt. I should add that I can’t say for sure that my claim is true of most of the converts, it’s just something I sensed which may be completely off.



  • Zippy says:

    P.B. (and others):

    There is a possible solution to (a certain view of) the sedevacantist dilemma.

    I have to stipulate a bunch of things I don’t necessarily endorse (partly because I haven’t done the due diligence required to form a firm view myself) to get there – even to state the dilemma at all – so bear with me.

    Stipulate that heresy properly understood results in automatic excommunication. (I was under the impression that excommunication latae sententae was a relatively late development in Western canon law with respect to certain particular offenses in the Western rite only, and that it does not apply at all in Eastern rites in communion with Rome. IOW it is not a universal principle binding the whole Church but is a particular feature of canon law in particular rites with regard to particular kinds of offenses, in which case it is governed by the Pope’s will in the first place as universal monarch of the whole Church. But we need to assume otherwise here).

    Stipulate that the latae sententae excommunication of a sitting pope means that he is no longer pope: that it does not have merely personal implications for the man but invalidates both his authority and his sacramental faculties.

    Relevant digression: as far as I know, excommunicating a priest or bishop does not invalidate his sacramental faculties, it just renders his exercise of them illicit, that is, against Church law. He sins in exercising sacramental ‘faculties’ which he is forbidden by duly constituted authority to exercise, but he does not cease to actually have those faculties ontologically. If he hears confessions for example those confessions are valid but illicit: if the penitent is not aware of the priest’s excommunication the sacrament is fully efficacious. The priest exercises his sacramental faculties at peril to his own soul much as someone who receives communion unworthily does so at peril to his own soul. But the exercise of his faculties is illicit, against the law, not invalid, that is, unreal. (I almost certainly used some terminology in a technically incorrect way in all that, but hopefully you get the point).

    Stipulate that no earthly authority can depose a sitting pope.

    The way we can know, then, that the See is vacant is when God deposes the pope. We can’t do it ourselves, so we have to have faith (getting back to the OP) that God will do it when He sees fit. Meanwhile we act in good faith ourselves, just like the penitent who acts in good faith in confessing to a priest he does not know to be excommunicated.

    Our God is not a trickster God, and sacraments are not a magician’s book of spells such that innocently saying the wrong words lands you in eternal torment in Hell when you otherwise would have spent an eternity in bliss.

  • King Richard says:

    “Our God is not a trickster God, and sacraments are not a magician’s book of spells such that innocently saying the wrong words lands you in eternal torment in Hell when you otherwise would have spent an eternity in bliss.”
    An excellent summary of part of the issue.
    I am an ‘intellectual convert’, as it is put here, and as a theologian I see this as an outgrowth of legal positivism and as a root of a great deal of sedevacantism. Look at the SSPV; they broke away from the SSPX because of changes in the wording of prayers in the 1962 missal exactly as if changing the words meant that everything involved was invalid; a perfect example of Zippy’s analogy. Many sedevacantists honestly believe contemporary priests aren’t “real” priests because they changed the words of the rite of the Sacrament of Holy Orders. When you drill down, truly *push*, people who reject Vatican II point to a single word as making the entire council invalid and rendering the See vacant.
    In short, they are inventing a checklist of rules and requirements and if, in their opinion, you didn’t meet the entire list you (meaning ‘anyone from peasant to pope’) are not a REAL Catholic like them.
    And yet these same people go to Confession….

  • […] By all accounts Pope Francis’ airplane interview story, about Paul VI authorizing nuns in danger of rape to use contraceptives, is false. It would almost be better if it were true, because the fact that it is false seems to be leaving everyone deceived. I’ll address one particular way in this post. (I addressed a different way in the previous post). […]

  • ACThinker says:

    The major problem I have with the Sedevacist position is this.

    If the chair of Peter is vacant, and has been since 1958, wouldn’t that indicate that the gates of hell had prevailed against “the rock”? (Matthew 16:13-20 esp 18). This would seem to make the protestant claims valid about the pope, or rather about his lack of authority, not the others that are more scandalous(whore of Babylon type stuff).

  • ACThinker says:

    I realize that post could be considered a “intellectual approach” but remember that Faith AND Reason are like 2 lungs we use to breath to understand God’s creation. And the scholastics thought that God could be found not just in studying Scripture, but in studying nature. For as a painting will reveal the thoughts of an artist, so will nature reveal the thoughts of God.

    I’m not saying that to say that being an intellectual is more important, it isn’t. Our God will not say to us upon the Judgement day “what do you know” but rather “what did you do? (see Matt 25)” It is to say however that Catholic positions do not collapse because they are only supported by Faith, rather that there is a reasonableness to them.

  • AureliusMoner says:

    @Zippy – I’m sorry to provide the audio; I find that many people today would rather listen to audio, though I sympathize with you. (On the other hand, sometimes audio is convenient for a long car trip, or something). In fact, the most pertinent part of the lecture conference is only the first hour. I’ll see if I can find a transcript.

    My hypothetical was not so much focused on raising an hypothetical, as at pointing out the flaw in your premises. You said you thought Sedevacantism came from a Protestant/American attitude of overthrowing authority. My point was that is a sentential certa, and an Apostolic Tradition, reiterated in the Fathers, Doctors, Papal Encyclicals and Canon Law, that heretics are automatically deposed, and doubly so in the case of the Pope. Therefore, we believe the teaching of the Church; whether it appeals to Protestants and Americanists is irrelevant.

    @ACThinker – There have been antipopes and longish periods of sede vacante before; eminent theologians have commented, long before the modern era, that there is nothing that would prohibit the Church from functioning in the absence of a pontiff for quite a long period of time, though of course it is De Fide that the Petrine Office is a perduring element of the Church. Nothing in the Sedevacantist thesis implies that the Church has been overthrown. St. Athanasius ignored Liberius and did his thing; the Church was saved by the people who acted in despite of the pope – but NOT in despite of the Catholic Faith and Tradition.

    @King Richard and others: Sedevacantism has nothing to do with the opinions of some more or less eccentric people on any number of issues. It has to do with one thing: that we may know the Holy See is vacant and the Conciliar body largely apostate, on two counts: 1) the antipopes of recent years have routinely expressed heretical views or committed acts formerly regarded as acts of apostasy, in a manner that indicates their slighting of the Magisterium; while the provisions in Canon Law for ipso facto excommunications are new(ish), they are rooted in the definite,ancient and universal doctrine of the Church, that heretics are self-deposed. 2) The proof of this is in the pudding: recent antipopes, and the bishops subject to them, have introduced laws and customs that are contrary to Divine Law, rites that are objectively impious, and numerous heterodox opinions and declarations in synodal and even curial statements and decrees. While no one act of any one of these Magisterial sources is infallible, we know that their consonant teaching is the Infallible, Universal, Ordinary Magisterium – such that, where we find such a consonant teaching of error, and an almost total absence of sound, Catholic teaching and practice, we know we are dealing with an apostate body, and no longer with the Catholic Church. This is not to imply that many of the confused faithful subject to them, may not still be reckoned as members of the Church.

  • Zippy says:


    You said you thought Sedevacantism came from a Protestant/American attitude of overthrowing authority.

    It is fair to point out that there is nothing new under the sun, but that observation does have limited value.

    Therefore, we believe the teaching of the Church; whether it appeals to Protestants and Americanists is irrelevant.

    Or at least your understanding of it. It would be helpful if there were a distilled body of actual doctrinal pronouncements by the Magisterium on the question. Every time I’ve attempted to even begin due diligence on sedevacantist claims I have encountered a wall of citations of saints, etc, or juridical laws, etc. interspersed with copious interpretation.

    Citing saints and copious interpretation are great – I do it myself all the time – but if someone wants to convince me that John XXIII forward (or wherever it is supposed to start) are all anti-popes, they’d better have something very clear, magisterial, and doctrinal (not juridical) to back up that assertion. I can’t claim myself to have done the work to figure out if something clear, magisterial, and doctrinal exists; but if it does it ought to be pretty simple to put it right up front in the ‘elevator pitch’ or abstract of the case being made. The fact that I never see it in the abstract makes me suspect that it doesn’t exist: that what is being built is a highly theoretical construction made from lots of disparate puzzle pieces combined with heavy doses of private judgment filtered through a particular metaphysic.

    Obviously any doctrine raises all sorts of follow-on questions, and it is the nature of an abstract or elevator pitch to defer those follow on questions. But I can easily find straightforward magisterial statements condemning interest on mutuum loans. Where is the ‘smoking gun’ magisterial statement which says that Popes are automatically deposed if they say anything contrary to Church doctrine?

    If sedevacantists want to write a brief arguing their case, they probably need to do a substantially better job of it. (Alternatively, if they have already done so I haven’t encountered it). Show me the elevator pitch, the abstract, and if it is credible enough I might take the time to read the rest of the business plan.

  • Zippy says:

    Abstract of my own argument:

    Either the sedevacantist case is weak, or it is poorly presented.

  • roobydob says:

    Hi Zippy & Aurelius,

    I have read this with interest, and I’ve read the comments with interest.

    I’m not a cradle Catholic: I converted to Catholicism while at University. However, I am not an ‘intellectual convert’. I was led to the Church by the Hound of Heaven, and since conversion, I have not found the Church or Her teachings to be intellectually lacking in any way. In other words, I haven’t been on an intellectual journey to find the “True Church”, but the Church satisfies all my intellectual questioning.

    I think the intellectual search for the “True Church” can lead one into ever decreasing circles of intellectual purity and I think it is putting the cart before the horse.

    Theology is, in the words of Aquinas, “Faith seeking Understanding”. It is the response of the Intellect to the consequences of the experience and experiences of Faith. Theology follows Faith. Theology is not the essence of Faith.

    To say that the See of Peter is vacant is to discount the promise of Jesus that the gates of hell shall not prevail …

    The search for the intellectual certainty that one is ‘in the right place’ is the opposite of Faith seeking Understanding.

  • ACThinker says:

    The seat has defiantly been vacant between death and election, sometimes for years. And there have been anti-popes, most notably when there were 2, then 3 and 4 popes at a time during the 1300’s. But to say that the seat is vacant when by all appearances it isn’t, and that there is no counter competing pope to the anti-pope in Rome would seem to mean the promise in Matthew 16:18 is invalid.
    Additionally the Secadvist position seems to support at least the Orthodoxy claim that there is nothing special about the pope, if not the Protestant claims that go further.
    Excommunication as described in the Bible implies that affirmative action must be taken on the part of the church to excommunicated someone, and it is an invention of the modern Code of Cannon law that people are ‘self excommunicated’ by persisting in grave scandal.
    If a heretical position is enough to have the pope dethroned, and excommunicated, how do you deal with Peter and circumcision in Galatians? Granted by the council of Jerusalem in Acts, he is on board with Paul, but clearly he wasn’t before that.

  • ACThinker says:

    Your quote on Theology by Aquinus is a better statement of my 2nd comment on the 26th about Faith and Reason.

    I’ll go one further. In the end, we must believe. Not blindly, but not with perfect sight either. Any honest mathematician will admit that all geometric proofs in the world start with some basic premises, and those are assumed, or believed true, not provable.

    We must take these things we can’t clearly see and step out in Faith that our predecessors in Faith thought about this or that thing in depth and when we look at their work, we will find it sufficient. Which is what you said of your own searches.

  • Laura Wood says:

    Thank you for the discussion of sedevacantism. It is good to see Catholics give serious consideration to this issue.

    A couple of quick points:

    Zippy, Sedevacantists typically rely on the Magisterium and the well-defined teachings of the Church. They rely on the popes, who all taught the exact same religion. The Apostle’s Creed alone, if understood at a basic level, helps us identify heresy. We are obligated to know and understand our faith. To not understand it well enough to be able to spot public, basic heresy is a dereliction of duty. To say sedevacantists rely on private judgement is similar to saying a Catholic in the confessional relies on private judgment in determining his sins. It’s judgment informed by the teachings of the Church.

    Pope Honorius was not a heretic. The First Vatican Council studied the issue and concluded he was not.

    Roobydob, To say that a pope can teach error and thus lead souls to hell is to say that the gates of hell have prevailed.

    If the see is vacant, all is still ordered to the papacy. The institution of papal authority remains intact and inviolable. Christ never said there would always be a pope. He said the gates of hell would not prevail against the rock, the papacy itself. The papacy is a divinely guaranteed institution that will never fail.

    See more here:

    Catholics do not commit doctrinal error by refusing to submit to a man who espouses heresy and yet claims to be pope. Catholics do embrace error when they defy and disregard the teachings of the man whom they believe to be pope.

    If one believes Francis is the pope, one is obligated — yes, obligated — to believe that the Jewish Covenant is still valid, as Francis taught in his apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium. If the Jewish Covenant is still valid, the Church is not indefectible because it was then in error in the past. It is not Apostolic. It is not holy. It is not one. Am I relying on private judgement to come to that conclusion?

    The crisis before us is nothing but an affirmation of prophecies, God’s promises and the grandeur of the papacy. There is devastation on an unprecedented level when error is taught by “popes.”

    It is the time for us to love the papacy all the more.

  • Zippy says:

    Laura Wood:

    While I am a very long way from embracing any kind of sedevacantism myself, I agree with two of the principles you have articulated here. First:

    To say sedevacantists rely on private judgement is similar to saying a Catholic in the confessional relies on private judgment in determining his sins. It’s judgment informed by the teachings of the Church.

    Ultramontane Catholics rail against ‘private judgment’ all the time. This rests on a fundamentally Protestant view of text and meaning. Whatever may be said about the teacher, it is clear that the student is always fallible and must rely on both his own judgments and the input of outside authority in order to grasp any meaning at all.

    To say that a pope can teach error and thus lead souls to hell is to say that the gates of hell have prevailed.

    I agree that the ‘gates of Hell’ objection cuts both ways. If X means that the gates of Hell have prevailed then X must be wrong, so the ‘gates of Hell will not prevail’ becomes a rhetorical way of begging the question.

    Whatever else may be true, either sedevacantists have done a poor job arguing their case or there exists some sedevacantist canon of which I am unaware. I explained what it might look like, if it exists, in my last comment to AureliusMoner upthread.

    I think it would be an interesting exercise for someone who supports the sedevacantist position to attempt to put that kind of brief together, to actually make the case concisely from actual magisterial citations (again not scattershot from saints, etc — as interesting as that is, we know that various saints believed and taught all sorts of false things), leaving all the supporting arguments for later.

    If sedevacantists can’t or won’t (which seems to be the situation so far), it looks to me like the sedevacantist position is weak and engages in a kind of Moldbuggian logorrhea for much the same reason as Moldbuggians. There are some fairly banal if countercultural/reactionary scattered arguments underneath which amount to something rather less profound than the kind of gnostic worldview which is painted over the top: a bag of angry cats tossed on top of the same basic worldview errors from which the view supposedly frees us. If that is all too poetic, well, see my previous comment to AM.

    I rather suspect that sedevacantists are doing the classic conservative thing to do: falling into an older, more venerable but less fashionable error than the newfangled errors of the neoconservatives and liberals. When the protestants revolted, too many Catholics counter-assaulted with ultramontanism: if the Pope is badly in the wrong, it follows (for the ultramontane) that he can’t really be the Pope at all.

  • AureliusMoner says:


    I’m grateful to all for their feedback. I already feel rude for having taken up so much space in your combox, so I’ll make this my last post of any real length, and invite you, if you like, to write another article after you’ve had a chance to digest some of the Magisterial sources on the question. We could discuss the matter more in focus that way, rather than making the rather broad points that have been raised in the thread, thus far. And of course, maybe you don’t care to discuss the matter.

    I have found a transcript of the first lecture from that conference, which I think is the most important, the best cited, and my main reason for being a sedevacantist – i.e., an argument that has nothing to do with the pope himself, but with the Universal, Ordinary Magisterium. Here it is:

    I would also like to thank you for two things: first, for acknowledging that you have not done your due diligence on the question. I feel rather confirmed in my opinion after studying the matter for almost a year; because I find you to be a careful thinker on the matters upon which you have done due diligence, I truly would be very interested in your considered opinion at some future point.

    Second, I thank you for agreeing that the faithful obviously are required to use their personal judgment to grasp any meaning at all in the things proposed to their intellect; the difference for the Catholic, is that he defers in both obedience and Faith to the Church as his teacher, and informs his judgment with her authoritative propositions, whereas the Protestant arrogates to himself the power to judge of divine matters, rejecting divinely-constituted authority and revealed truths, in a hubris greater than that of any pagan hero exceeding his station. I get frustrated when some Catholics speak, as though adhering to the Magisterial definitions of history were somehow “Protestant” or “pseudo-Catholic proof-texting,” and that Catholics differ from Protestants by looking to the “living” authority, now. But of course, the implication of this would be that a “Magisterium Mothership” is beaming out a 24/7 brain ray of Catholic Truth to the faithful; for, even as the words are falling off of the pope’s lips, or even as they are set to the vellum of his encyclical letter, they have already entered “the past,” and all we can do is interpret the text/words in good faith, trying to adhere to their sense with the virtues of Faith and obedience. And obviously, since this is always true, it is absurd to say that the faithful cannot hope for any certainty in understanding the doctrine proposed by the Church; this turns the doctrine on the Magisterium into a matter of mere theory. Why else does she propose teaching? The living authority of the Church exists to deal with new problems that arise from matters of discipline, or ambiguity in doctrine; but the definitions of the past century are not any less clear or authoritative than the definitions of the past 30 seconds. They are both clear, definitive, and proposed on the assumption that the faithful can understand their meaning, and cleave to it.

    Finally, as to a lack of Magisterial argumentation. This is why I proffered the videos; anyone who has watched them will understand all the fundamental arguments but one (that from the invalidity of the New Rite of Episcopal Consecration), and will see the many Magisterial citations, which you have not yet seen. I would also point out that the consensus of the Fathers and Doctors (i.e., their morally unanimous opinion) is considered morally certain teaching (at a minimum) in the Church. And as you know, prior to the current crisis, the writings of saints were subject to rigorous scrutiny so that the faithful could be free from hesitation in considering their writings to be of soundly Catholic doctrine and piety. In fact, one of the Magisterial documents I cited for you (Leo XIII’s Satis Cognitum) put forth the cogent point of doctrine (i.e., that it has always been the doctrine and Holy Tradition of the Church, to consider heretics automatically excommunicated) precisely on the grounds of the unanimous prior teaching of the Fathers and Doctors.

    I also cited the statements of the Relator at Vatican I, Pius XII’s Mystici Corporis, and the consistent teaching of the approved theological manuals which had formed the basis for Pius XII’s clear reaffirmation of the Patristic teaching, as crystallized and exposited by St. Robert Bellarmine. To me, that’s all very Magisterial. I would not believe sedevacantism, if I thought it was a vague theory put together by a lot of “maybes.” The transcript I gave, and the videos, go into (almost) all of it and give exhaustive citations of the Magisterial documents. I hope you’ll give it all a look. But if not, I understand. It’s your blog and your time, obviously.

  • Evaluating the Claims I: Validity of the New Ordination Rites

    The central point of contention, before Cum ex apostolatus, is that the Pope cannot be the source of evil done to the faith. One would be hard pressed to find a graver evil than an absence of Sacraments, which is precisely what sedevacantists allege the Council and new liturgy accomplished. The new rite for ordaining priests, they argue, is doubtful and the new episcopal consecration is certainly invalid. Why? Because they fail the tests of Sacramentum Ordinis (Pius XII 1947) and Apostolicae Curae (Leo XIII 1896).

    The first bull, by Pius XII, defines the exact formula for the consecration of a bishop according to the pre-1968 episcopal rites. He found the formula to be: “Perfect in Thy priest the fullness of thy ministry and, clothing him in all the ornaments of spiritual glorification, sanctify him with the Heavenly anointing” (S O 5). Of course were Paul VI not Pope the new rite could not be valid in contrast to the older rite merely because it is not the Roman rite. Then again neither is the Maronite rite. What would the new rite be to a sedevacantist? A schismatic rite of course. When was the last time a Pope judged the validity of a schismatic rite? When in 1896 Leo XIII declared ordinations done according to the ordinal of Edward VI invalid in his Apostolicae Curae. In this document Pope Leo determines that the form can be judged based upon what it means to say rather than its historical precedent. The intention of Anglican clergy was not to ordain priests and bishops in the Catholic sense, using the terms as euphemisms for other ideas and invalidating the rites on the grounds of form and intent (AC 33). More plainly: “A person who has correctly and seriously used the requisite matter and form to effect and confer a sacrament is presumed for that very reason to have intended to do (intendisse) what the Church does. On this principle rests the doctrine that a Sacrament is truly conferred by the ministry of one who is a heretic or unbaptized, provided the Catholic rite be employed. On the other hand, if the rite be changed, with the manifest intention of introducing another rite not approved by the Church and of rejecting what the Church does, and what, by the institution of Christ, belongs to the nature of the Sacrament, then it is clear that not only is the necessary intention wanting to the Sacrament, but that the intention is adverse to and destructive of the Sacrament.”

    What does the new rite of episcopal consecration say? “So now pour out upon this chosen one that power which is from you, the governing Spirit whom you gave to your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, the Spirit given by him to the holy apostles, who founded the Church in every place to be your temple for the unceasing glory and praise of your name.” What is wrong with it? According to Fr. Cekada, working off of Pius XII directly and Leo XIII indirectly, a rite needs the explicit statement of what it confers and the grace of the Holy Spirit. Does the new rite have this? Fr. Cekada says no. The Rad Trad says yes!

    Indeed, while the older rite is far more beautiful with its talk of perfection and fulfillment it is not on its own very clear and is given context by the examination before the Mass, by the anointing rites during the ceremony, by the enthronement, and by the blessing of the people (all things retained in revision in the new pontifical books). The newer rite is actually clearer on both counts. The much disputed “governing Spirit” term refers both to the Holy Spirit, Who came at Pentecost and is passed on in ordinations and consecrations, and the authority to teach and govern God’s Church that He brings. Indeed, if Fr. Cekada is right and context does not save an iffy form then must we not conclude that the old rite, not the new, is invalid? This would be ridiculous of course, as would be declaring the new rite invalid.

  • TomD says:

    The Pope is an authority, of the father type. It’s even in the name. What act could your father do that would make him not your father? There is none. Now a Pope is selected, and can abdicate, both of which fathers cannot do, but I suspect that abdication is basically the only thing a Pope can do (besides die) that makes him not-Pope.

    Now in the interest of science we need a large group of Popes and papables, and have them commit different types of heresies to different degrees, and see what happens. Perhaps a Pope intending to use the language of infallibility to contradict the Magisterium will inexplicably die before he can do it; with a large enough sample size we can figure this out!

  • […] just note that the one thing on which nearly everyone agrees is that the Current Year is so very, very special.  As long as […]

  • […] itself.  The crafting of positive rules, the writing of text onto paper, is not a sacrament. Bureaucracy cannot become a substitute for fathers, daycares cannot become a substitute for mothers, and formal […]

  • […] avoid the problem entirely by anointing themselves supreme intellect, but alas, this option isn’t available to believers. Protestants resolve the issue by […]

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