False Principles of Sedevacantism (Part 2)

In our first article in this series, we examined how the principles of Sedevacantism require us to divide the person of the pope from the Petrine unity that inheres in the pope's office; since the unity of the Church is safeguarded and guaranteed in the person of the pope, as Vatican I taught, a denial that there is any legitimate pope is a denial of Vatican I and also destroys the Church's unity, which is one of her Four Marks. In this post we will continue on refuting the errors of the Sedevacantists, specifically those dealing with "public, manifest heresy."

In this article, we will look at some disputed historical minutiae surrounding the cases of John XXII, as well as more debates about the cases of Honorius and Liberius, as well as the Council of Florence and Pius XII.

Let us begin with a quote from Dr. Ott:

“That the Primacy is to be perpetuated in the successors of Peter is, indeed, not expressly stated in the words of the promise and conferring of the Primacy by our Lord, but it flows as an inference from the nature and purpose of the Primacy itself. As the function of the Primacy is to preserve the unity and solidarity of the Church; and as the Church, according to the will of her Divine Founder, is to continue substantially unchanged until the end of time for the perpetuation of the work of salvation, the Primacy also must be perpetuated. But Peter, like every other human being, was subject to death, consequently, his office must be transmitted to others. The structure of the Church cannot continue without the foundation which supports it: Christ’s flock cannot exist without shepherds.” (Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, pg. 282)

When illustrating this concept, it is actually helpful to make use of some arguments put forth by the Sedevacantists themselves. The following quotes (in red) are from the Sedevacantists known as the "Dimond Brothers", who submitted these arguments in response to the prior post in this series. We will examine and rebut their arguments one at a time. The interlocutor begins by quoting a point from the previous article that the Church has had heretical popes before but none had lost their office.

The Cases of Popes Honorius I and John XXII
"Honorious I permitted a cousin heresy of monyphysitism, monothelytism (that our Lord had only one divine will and not a human will also) to be taught. He wrote so in a document and was condemned by a future Pope, Pope St. Agatho and an ecumenical council. No one said that Honorious lost his office, and neither that he ceased to be Pope after writing his infamous letter. He did not meet the conditions for infallibility. Likewise with Pope John XXII, who professed a heresy that particular judgment of the soul was delayed until final judgment. Scholastic theologians did not say that John XXII lost his office. The latter submitted his position to a commission of theologians who said that he taught error. No one said that John XXII had lost his office, not even Cardinal Orsini who was a true schismatic and supported an anti-Pope. His claim was that John XXII was invalidly elected, not that by heresy he lost his office."

You proceed here with still more lies, corruption of facts, and corruption of history itself. But the truth will be revealed here.

Unsavory Company: Citing these cases puts you in some very unsavory company: Opponents of papal authority — protestants, eastern schismatics, Conciliarists, Gallicans, the anti-infallibilists at Vatican I, etc. — routinely pointed to John XXII and Honorius to shore up attacks against Catholic teaching.

Missing Elements: Your citings of these cases fail on several points, because in both, one or several of the elements required for a heretical pope to lose office were missing.

On the contrary, the facts of the case bear this out and separate our arguments completely from those mentioned by the interlocutor (Gallicans, Protestants, etc.). I said Honorius allowed monophysitism to be taught. I did not say he taught it. Protestants and the Orthodox claim that he actually taught it, which is a different matter altogether.

Second, as I noted these did not meet the conditions for infallibility. Protestants and Conciliarists claim it did. The letters were not known about until after Honorius' death. The former claim that they were teachings of the Church by example. Maybe so, but that does not meet the condition of infallibility and certainly does not prove that the pope lost his office. What they do prove is that the assertion of certain Sedevacantists that if a Pope fails to condemn error he loses his office is false, since when Pope Agatho condemned Honorius for accepting a conciliatory condition, he mentioned nothing of the Pope losing his office for allowing a heresy to be taught in his private capacity. The argument is not dependent on who knows, but on what a Pope actually does.

The interlocutor continues:

(1) John XXII (1316-1334) preached a series of sermons in Avignon, France in which he taught that the souls of the blessed departed do not see God until after the Last Judgement. But this case fails because:

(a) The doctrine on the Beatific Vision had not yet been defined, so a denial of it would not constitute heresy.

(b) The pope, who had been a theologian before his election, proposed his teaching only as a “private doctor who expressed an opinion, hanc opinionem, and who, while seeking to prove it, recognized that it was open to debate.“ (Le Bachlet, “Benoit XII,” in Dictionnaire de Théologie Catholique, 2:662.)
In the pope’s second sermon, moreover, he said the following: “I say with Augustine that, if I am deceived on this point, let someone who knows better correct me. For me it does not seem otherwise, unless the Church would so declare with a contrary statement [nisi ostenderetur determinatio ecclesie contraria] or unless authorities on sacred scripture would express it more clearly than what I have said above.” (Le Bachelet, DTC 2:262.) Such statements excluded the element of “pertinacity” proper to heresy. Furthermore, how convenient that you failed to mention point (a) in your article... (2) Honorius I (625-638) wrote several letters relating to the Monothelite heresy (=Christ had only one will, the divine), for which he was later accused, variously, of being a heretic himself or being soft on heresy. The ins and outs of this complex case need not detain us, except to mention the following fact: The disputed formulas came to light only after Honorius died. According to the theologian Hurter, it is certain that “the letters of Honorius were unknown [ignotae] until the death of the Pontiff and [the Patriarch] Sergius.” (Medulla Theologiae Dogmaticae, 360.) Hence, even if heretical, Honorius’ statements could not have constituted the “public” heresy required for a pope to lose office.

With all due respect, we've already dealt with that. Pope Agatho at the 2nd Council of Constantinople condemned Honorius as a heretic. That means he was formally declared to be a heretic, which is the Church’s judgment of his pontificate. Nowhere did his worst detractors teach that he lost his office or that his acts had to be annulled. I never mentioned the fact that the letters to Sergius only surfaced after the death of Honorius because they are irrelevant to the question. The issue is that Honorius was perceived as a heretic on account of it, but no one claimed that his ecclesiastical office was void from the time he had apparently lapsed into heresy.

Second with John XXII, it should be obvious from the quote of St. Francis de Sales I provided in the original post, that I am well aware that John XXII was not obstinate. However the doctrine of the beatific vision is attested to in the tradition; if it were not the case John XXII would not have received the correction which he did, nor the rebuke of the Parisian theologians. The doctrine of the beatific vision was always and everywhere believed, and John XXII’s teaching was a novelty. Moreover it was widely believed on account of this that he was a heretic (often as a pretense to resisting this Pope in general), and if it was the case that a Pope ipso facto lost his office for a mere heresy in his private opinion (as Sedevacantists hold with the last five Popes) then his enemies surely would have declared John XXII to have completely lost his office. This did not happen.

The interlocutor attempts to sum up his arguments:

(D) Failed Analogies: To sum up, your attempt to refute sedevacantism with FALSE facts about these 2 popes and with an analogy to the cases of both these same Popes fails because these popes were not public and manifest heretics, which is a requirement for loss of papal office. Furthermore, what you write about both these cases is completely false, if anyone wants to know the real facts about these cases, just read the Catholic Encyclopedia. Your reasoning in both these cases is thoroughly dishonest, and you are either: A): Ignorant of the real facts of these cases; or B): Concealed the true facts on purpose, which is even worse.

Pause. How could Mr. Dimond know that? This is more private judgment, now of another individual rather than the Magisterium. I haven’t concealed anything, I only omitted things which you think were important but in fact were not.

Whichever it was, they prove nothing against Sedevacantism.
Additionally, are you completely oblivious to the fact that every Saint, theologian, Canonist, Pope, etc. that dealt with the matter of a heretical Pope losing office (and answered in the affirmative, should such a case happen said that it would happen for a Pope as a private person? Why are you talking about papal infallibility? The case of a heretical Pope losing his office has nothing to do at all with Papal infallibility, nor if what he said met the requirements for it, nor anything of the sort whatsoever. You are confused in this issue, and are inventing false conditions for a Pope to lose office.

On the contrary, it has everything to do with papal infallibility, because it is intrinsically connected with the promise of Christ to protect his Church. Infallibility as defined by Vatican I protects the Church from a Pope proposing error, and gives us a clear sign of how to navigate the current crisis in the Church. By denying the conditions for infallibility (along with so many innumerable teachings and hermeneutics of Catholic interpretation of doctrine) Sedevacantists are setting up the condition for their false teaching which is leading Catholics out of the true Church.

After giving all those false examples, you confidently state: "What we gain from this consideration is that Vatican I , studying all of this, saw the demonstration of the principles which they later laid down, and was able to safely decree there would be a valid succession of Popes forever. Every generation." Hahaha. Yeah. Sure. "Every generation" eh? Where did Vatican I assert such? As I proved above, you are mistaken on Vatican I's definition. Next, you say: "By laying down the principles by which the Pope is infallible, Vatican I by extension is admitting when he is not infallible, and in those instances he can say something heretical. It doesn't matter what saint has theorized about the loss of papal office. The Church teaches us infallibly that there will be a valid succession of Popes for every period until the end of time."

Such a statement is completely false.
Answer the following: -Where did Vatican I state, in its definition of Papal Infallibility, that, in his fallible capacity, a Pope can say something heretical and remain Pope??? -It doesn't matter what Saint has "theorized" about the loss of papal office eh? Did you know that even two Popes taught this? (Popes Paul IV and Innocent III) Did you know that St. Robert Bellarmine said that the teaching of immediate and ipso facto loss of office for public and manifest heretics, be it a Pope, Bishop or anyone, is the teaching of all the Ancient Fathers??? (De Romano Pontifice). -You (and every other anti-Sedevacantist) show again your hypocrisy for completely dismissing what Saints and Doctors have said about this matter, when it doesn't benefit you, but when it does benefit you, you don't hesitate to present the Saints as infallible teachers.

Saints and doctors do not have authority by themselves, Councils in union with the Pope do. I have never produced the witness of a saint or doctor of the Church for anything other than to demonstrate a tradition behind Papal teaching. I have never presented a saint or doctor of the Church as an infallible teacher, because there is only one, the Pope speaking ex cathedra.

Second, by asserting that the Pope is only infallible when speaking ex cathedra, Vatican I is also asserting the negative, that outside of that condition the Pope can err. This is common sense.

Third, Innocent III’s quote proves nothing, and Paul IV’s teaching was juridical in nature and superseded by the 1917 code of Canon Law (see below). No Pope has taught that the Magisterium will survive when for 51 years there is no true Pope and the whole Church defects to honor anti-Popes as Popes, and all the Bishops defect to an “anti-Church”.

Fourth, by saying “successors”, Vatican I is asserting that there will be a valid succession of physical men who will occupy the Papal office. If a man does not occupy that office, the powers of the papacy are useless since they can be wielded by none other than the successor of St. Peter. If they are not in use, they are not handing down the dogmas of the faith to every successive generation. If a generation of Catholics come and go with no Pope, there is a break in the succession and consequently the succession is no longer perpetual.

The interlocutor now attempts again to assert that a heretical pope would de facto lose his office and that this is the perennial teaching of the Church:


Your statement that "If it was possible for the Pope to lose his office through some form of heresy, Vatican I would have indicated that this could happen." is irrelevant, because Vatican I was not touching on those matters, which you and everyone else have misunderstood, and besides, the Church has already taught that it is possible for a Pope to lose his Office through heresy. This teaching is rooted in the Dogma that heretics are not part of the Church, nor can they hold any office whatsoever. Theologians, Saints, Popes, etc. have merely explained how this happens in the case of a Pope, to avoid confusion; they didn't say it couldn't happen.

Sed Contra, that some theologians have taught that the Pope would lose his office were he a manifest heretic does not establish that the Church teaches that, especially when it can be shown that several theologians do not agree with this proposition. We also come to the problem again of a heretic vs. someone who has lapsed into heresy with no obstinacy in the will (at least that can be proven). Only the public authority of the Church can determine if someone is a heretic.

You then say: "The fact is that in history Popes have taught error, but Vatican I never declares that these Popes lost their office."
And we saw that all your "examples" of this were completely false and untrue. What history has taught is that the ones who appeared to have been heretics (Honorius) was later condemned as a heretic, and the one who appeared to be a heretic (Liberius) was deposed and considered to have fallen from office.

As I showed last time my historical examples were on point, and the claim that Liberius was lawfully deposed and replaced by another Pope is unique to Bellarmine, completely false since it contradicts all historical evidence, and no historian since the event has ever maintained that and the official list of popes throughout the centuries has always accounted Felix II as an anti-Pope, not to mention that he was consecrated by Arian bishops. Moreover, at Felix’s ascension as an anti-pope, Liberius had not yet submitted to sign the first creed of Sirmium, hence he could not have been counted as a heretic.

We also have another problem. If Honorius was condemned as a heretic, (by a public act of the Church, an ecumenical council and decree of a Pope) how can he have been maintained to have kept his office if in fact he was no longer a member of the Church? The Council anathematized him while he was Pope, which means he was a heretic while he was Pope. No one claimed his pontifical acts were invalid. All historical lists of Popes never mentioned Honorius having been declared to have lost his office and become an anti-Pope, and his pontifical acts null and void. There is no history of re-ordination, and there is neither a history that the Church responded the way Sedevacantist teaching claims she would have to if the Pope was a heretic.

Further, your completely mistaken and inadequate example, if I understood it correctly, of Pope Pius XII teaching "heresy" in his Encyclical Sacramentum Ordinis, for changing (not declaring incorrect) the form of the Council of Florence for Holy Orders, reveals once again that you do not know what you are talking about, at all.

Actually, this turns the other way since you did not understand my argument, which is typical of what happens when you run out of material on Sedevacantist websites to plagiarize. NOWHERE did I teach that Pius XII taught a heresy (I would never say anything about such a great and holy Pope ). What I said was:

A perfect example of this is a declaration of the Council of Florence, approved by the Pope that the form of Holy Orders is the handing of the chalice and patten to the new priest. Pope Pius XII, utilizing historical research, taught in his encyclical Sacramentum Ordinis that this teaching was incorrect and promulgated the correct teaching.

I never said Pius XII taught heresy. You probably don’t have any clue what I’m talking about and didn’t bother to look into it before going on copying stuff off of websites.

For a refresher, and a fuller explanation of what I wrote in the original, the Council of Florence taught that the essential matter of the sacrament of order in conferring priestly orders was “the matter of which is that through whose transmission the order is conferred: just as the priesthood is transmitted through the offering of the chalice and with wine and of the paten with bread” (Denz 701)

However this was historically not the matter and Pius XII corrected this teaching. The ordinary magisterial teaching of Florence was in fact mistaken. This however should not bother us in the least because the ordinary Magisterium is not infallible and irreformable in and of itself, it may be if it is passing on what the Church has always and everywhere believed.

What this demonstrates for us, is that a pastoral council such as Vatican II, or the past 5 Popes may in fact make mistakes, even in the ordinary magisterium, but at the same time not become formal heretics.

The interlocutor now tries to argue that the Second Vatican Council changed the form of the sacrament of the Eucharist because the vernacular of "pro multis" in the new Mass was often rendered "for all":

So this example you gave, far from proving anything for your position, proves one more thing for the sedevacantists: the Church does not have, nor any Pope, the power to change the substance of the Sacrament which Our Lord instituted, like the Eucharist, but this is exactly what they did with the form of the Consecration for the New "mass", when they were creating it: in the vernacular, they altered the form of the Sacrament from "for you and for many", which were Our Lord's words, to "for you and for all". This sacrilege ran rampant in every single Novus Ordo "mass" said in the vernacular, up until 2006, supposedly, but some still say it, but that doesn't matter, because the point is that they did change it, when they couldn't, but they really didn't change anything because they had no authority at all.

This teaching is inane and worthless.  The altering of “for you and for many” to “for you and for all” in the vernacular does not and can not invalidate the Mass because it is not a part of the essential form. This is an opinion held long before the Council.

Next time, we will look at the issue of Cum Ex Apostolatus and the concept of loss of office. Click here for the first article in this series.

This article was originally published by Ryan Grant on the blog Athanasius Contra Mundum on 2/17/09