Responses to the Most Common Objections Against Sedevacantism

 

 

By Bro. Peter Dimond, O.S.B.

*more to be added soon*

 

Objection: The Church cannot exist many years without a Pope… Answer: Theologians teach that the Church can exist for even decades without a Pope… Click here for response

 

Objection: Vatican I’s definitions on the Perpetuity of the Papal Office contradict Sedevacantism… Click here for a detailed answer to these passages, which shows that only the Sedevacantist actually accepts these dogmas on the Papacy, and that Benedict XVI utterly rejects them

 

FR. EDMUND JAMES O’REILLY CRUSHES NON-SEDEVACANTISTS’ MAIN ARGUMENT ON THE LENGTH OF A PAPAL INTERREGNUM BY TEACHING THAT THE CHURCH CAN EXIST DECADES WITHOUT A POPE

 

Fr. Edmund James O’Reilly was an eminent theologian who lived at the time of Vatican I.  Writing after Vatican I and its definitions on the perpetuity of the Papal Office, he taught that God could leave the Church without a Pope for over 35 years – e.g., during the entire span of the Great Western Schism.  Here is a quote from Father O’Reilly’s discussion of the Great Western Schism:

 

We may here stop to inquire what is to be said of the position, at that time, of the three claimants, and their rights with regard to the Papacy.  In the first place, there was all through, from the death of Gregory XI in 1378, a Pope – with the exception, of course, of the intervals between deaths and elections to fill up the vacancies thereby created.  There was, I say, at every given time a Pope, really invested with the dignity of the Vicar of Christ and Head of the Church, whatever opinions might exist among many as to his genuineness; not that an interregnum covering the whole period would have been impossible or inconsistent with the promises of Christ, for this is by no means manifest, but that, as a matter of fact, there was not such an interregnum.”(Fr. Edmund James O’Reilly, The Relations of the Church to Society – Theological Essays, 1882)

 

An interregnum is a period in which the Church has no Pope, a sede vacante period.  Fr. O’Reilly says that an interregnum covering the entire period of the Great Western Schism is by no means incompatible with the promises of Christ about His Church.  The period Fr. O’Reilly is speaking about began in 1378 with the death of Pope Gregory XI and ended essentially in 1414 when the Council of Constance assembled.  That would be a 36-year interregnum (period without a Pope). 

 

Though Fr. O’Reilly was not a Pope or a Doctor of the Church, the following should demonstrate that he was one of the most eminent theologians of the 19th Century:

 

“Cardinal Cullen, then Bishop of Armagh, chose him [Fr. O’Reilly] as his theologian at the Synod of Thurles in 1850.  Dr. Brown, bishop of Shrewsbury, chose him as his theologian at the Synod of Shrewsbury.  Dr. Furlong, bishop of Ferns and his former colleague as professor of theology at Maynooth, chose him as his theologian at the Synod of Maynooth.  He was named professor of theology at the Catholic University in Dublin on its foundation.  The General of the Society of Jesus, Fr. Beckx, proposed to appoint him professor of theology at the Roman College in Rome… At a conference held regarding the philosophical and theological studies in the Society of Jesus, he was chosen to represent all the English-speaking ‘provinces’ of the Society – that is, Ireland, England, Maryland, and other divisions of the United States.  In short, Father O’ Reilly was widely recognized as one of the most erudite and important theologians of his time.”

 

It is obvious that Fr. O’Reilly is on the side of those who, in rejecting the Vatican II Antipopes, hold the possibility of a long-term vacancy of the Holy See.  In fact, on page 287 of his book, Fr. O’Reilly gives this prophetic warning:

 

“The great schism of the West suggests to me a reflection which I take the liberty of expressing here.  If this schism had not occurred, the hypothesis of such a thing happening would appear to many chimerical [absurd].  They would say it could not be; God would not permit the Church to come into so unhappy a situation.  Heresies might spring up and spread and last painfully long, through the fault and to the perdition of their authors and abettors, to the great distress too of the faithful, increased by actual persecution in many places where the heretics were dominant.  But that the true Church should remain between thirty and forty years without a thoroughly ascertained Head, and representative of Christ on earth, this would not be.  Yet it has been; and we have no guarantee that it will not be again, though we may fervently hope otherwise.  What I would infer is, that we must not be too ready to pronounce on what God may permit.  We know with absolute certainty that He will fulfill His promises… We may also trust that He will do a great deal more than what He has bound Himself by his promises.  We may look forward with cheering probability to exemption for the future from some of the trouble and misfortunes that have befallen in the past.  But we, or our successors in the future generations of Christians, shall perhaps see stranger evils than have yet been experienced, even before the immediate approach of that great winding up of all things on earth that will precede the day of judgment.  I am not setting up for a prophet, nor pretending to see unhappy wonders, of which I have no knowledge whatever.  All I mean to convey is that contingencies regarding the Church, not excluded by the Divine promises, cannot be regarded as practically impossible, just because they would be terrible and distressing in a very high degree.” (Fr. O’Reilly, p. 287.)

This is an excellent point.  Fr. O’Reilly explains that if the Great Western Schism had never occurred Catholics would say that such a situation (three competing claimants to the Papacy with no thoroughly ascertained head for decades) is impossible – just like those today who say that the Sedevacantist “thesis” is impossible, even though the facts prove that it is true. 

 

The Great Western Schism did happen, Fr. O’Reilly says, and we have no guarantee that worse things that are not excluded by divine promises won’t happen.  There is nothing contrary to indefectibility in saying that we haven’t had a Pope since the death of Pope Pius XII 1958.  There is everything contrary to the indefectibility of the Catholic Church in asserting that true Popes could promulgate Vatican II, officially endorse false and pagan religions, promulgate the Protestant New Mass, and hold that non-Catholics don’t need to convert for salvation.  Leaving the Church without a Pope for an extended period of the Great Apostasy is the punishment inflicted by God on our generation for the wickedness of the world.

 

Prophecy of St. Nicholas of Fluh (1417-1487): “The Church will be punished because the majority of her members, high and low, will become so perverted.  The Church will sink deeper and deeper until she will at last seem to be extinguished, and the succession of Peter and the other Apostles to have expired.  But, after this, she will be victoriously exalted in the sight of all doubters.”

 

ANSWERS TO SPECIFIC PASSAGES FROM VATICAN I CITED BY NONSEDEVACANTISTS – AND THE ABSURDITY OF A “POPE” WHO DOESN’T BELIEVE IN VATICAN I

 

In his attack on Sedevacantism Mr. Ferrara cites three passages from Vatican I which he thinks disprove the Sedevacantist “thesis.”  I will specifically address all three of those passages.  Before I do that I must emphasize again that it is a fact that there have been long periods of time when the Church has had no Pope.  This occurred every time a Pope died (over 200 times in Church history), and it has lasted for years. 

 

Since there is no teaching which puts a limit on such a papal interregnum (a period without a Pope), and since the definitions of Vatican I on the perpetuity of Papal Office make absolutely no mention of papal vacancies or how long they can last, if the definitions on Vatican I disprove the Sedevacantist thesis they also disprove the indefectibility of the Catholic Church – every single time the Church finds itself without a Pope.

 

In order to be consistent, non-sedevacantists who quote Vatican I against the Sedevacantist “thesis” must argue that the Church can never be without a Pope, not even for a moment (a patent absurdity).  But this is exactly what Mr. Ferrara argues in a very interesting slip-up in his article.  This serves to reveal his profound bias and the errors at the heart of his position:

 

Chris Ferrara, “Opposing the Sedevacantist Enterprise,” Catholic Family News, August 2005, p. 19: “Never in Her history has the Church, even for a moment, been without a successor to Peter, validly elected upon the death of his validly elected predecessor.’”

 

The truth always comes out.  False teachers and heretics always expose and contradict themselves, so that the faithful will be able to identify and expose their errors.  Mr. Ferrara states that “Never” in the Church’s history, not even for a moment,” has the Church been without a successor to Peter.  This is obviously absurd and completely false.  Ferrara knows that this is false because, in the next sentence, he declares:

 

Ferrara: “Indeed, the longest interregnum between two popes in Church history was only two years and five months, between the death of Pope Nicholas IV (1292) and the election of Pope Celestine V (1294).”

 

I guess there have been quite a few “moments” in Church history that the Church has been without a Pope.  Why would he say that the Church cannot be without a Pope “even for a moment” when he knows that this is not true?

 

Certainly anyone can make a slip of the tongue or a slip of the pen, but Ferrara’s emphatic – and completely false – declaration (not “even for a moment”) reveals that he is totally biased and bent on proving a point, even to the degree of uttering the absurd.  This statement from Ferrara also serves as a striking confirmation of my point above, which is:  In order to be consistent, non-sedevacantists who quote Vatican I against the Sedevacantist “thesis” would have to argue in favor of the patent absurdity that the Church can never be without a Pope. 

 

That being said, let’s look at the passages quoted by Mr. Ferrara:

 

  1. Vatican I declares that the Papacy is the Perpetual Principle and Visible Foundation of Unity

 

Vatican I, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of Christ, Sess. 4, July 18, 1870: “But, that the episcopacy itself might be one and undivided, and that the entire multitude of the faithful through priests closely connected with one another might be preserved in the unity of faith and communion, placing Peter over the other apostles He established in him the perpetual principle and visible foundation of both unities, upon whose strength the eternal temple might be erected, and the sublimity of the Church might rise in the firmness of this faith.” (Denz. 1821)

 

That what Christ instituted in St. Peter (THE OFFICE OF PETER) is the perpetual principle and visible foundation of unity EVEN TODAY, AND ALWAYS WHEN THERE IS NO POPE, is proven every time a Catholic who is a Sedevacantist converts an Eastern “Orthodox” Schismatic to the Catholic Faith. 

 

The Catholic (who is a Sedevacantist) charitably informs the Eastern Schismatic that he (the Eastern Schismatic) is not in the unity of the Church because he doesn’t accept what Christ instituted in St. Peter (the office of the Papacy), in addition to not accepting what the successors of St. Peter have bindingly taught in history (the Council of Trent, etc.).  This is a clear example of how the Office of Papacy still serves – and will always serve – as the perpetual principle of visible unity, distinguishing the true faithful from the false (and the true Church from the false).  This is true when there is no Pope, and for the Sedevacantist today.  This dogmatic teaching of Vatican I doesn’t exclude periods without a Pope and it is not contrary to the Sedevacantist thesis in any way.

 

In fact, while this definition remains true for the Sedevacantist, it must be stated clearly that THIS DEFINITION OF VATICAN I ONLY REMAINS TRUE FOR THE SEDEVACANTIST.  THIS DEFINITION OF VATICAN I ON THE PAPACY BEING THE PERPETUAL PRINCIPLE AND VISIBLE FOUNDATION OF UNITY MOST CERTAINLY IS NOT TRUE FOR THOSE UNDER BENEDICT XVI, SUCH AS MR. FERRARA.  This is because Mr. Ferrara’s own “Pope” teaches that accepting the Papacy is not essential for unity!

 

“Cardinal” Ratzinger, Principles of Catholic Theology (Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 1982), pp. 197-198: “Against this background we can now weigh the possibilities that are open to Christian ecumenism.  The maximum demands on which the search for unity must certainly founder are immediately clear.  On the part of the West, the maximum demand would be that the East recognize the primacy of the bishop of Rome in the full scope of the definition of 1870 [Vatican I] and in so doing submit in practice, to a primacy such as has been accepted by the Uniate churches.  On the part of the East, the maximum demand would be that the West declare the 1870 doctrine of primacy erroneous and in so doing submit, in practice, to a primacy such as has been accepted with the removal of the Filioque from the Creed and including the Marian dogmas of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  As regards Protestantism, the maximum demand of the Catholic Church would be that the Protestant ecclesiological ministers be regarded as totally invalid and that Protestants be converted to Catholicism;… none of the maximum solutions offers any real hope of unity.”

 

Ratzinger (now Benedict XVI) specifically mentions, and then bluntly rejects, the traditional teaching of the Catholic Church that the Protestants and Eastern Schismatics must be converted to the Catholic Faith and accept Vatican I (“the full scope of the definition of 1870”) for unity and salvation.  He specifically rejects that the dogmatic definition of Vatican I (accepting the Papacy, etc.) is binding for Church unity.  Besides the fact that this is another clear example of manifest heresy from the Vatican II Antipopes, this proves that BENEDICT XVI (THE MAN THEY ACTUALLY CLAIM IS THE “POPE”) DENIES THE VERY DOGMA FROM VATICAN I THAT FERRARA IS CITING!  Can you perceive the madness?

 

I rest my case, and will move on.

 

2.  The Papacy will endure forever

 

Vatican I, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of Christ, Sess. 4, Chap. 2: “Moreover, what the Chief of pastors and the Great Pastor of sheep, the Lord Jesus, established in the blessed Apostle Peter for the perpetual salvation and perennial good of the Church, this by the same Author must endure always in the Church which was founded upon a rock and will endure firm until the end of ages.” (Denz. 1824)

 

Yes, what Christ instituted in St. Peter (i.e., THE OFFICE OF THE PAPACY) must endure always until the end of ages.  What is the Office of the Papacy?  The Office of the Papacy is the office of St. Peter which is occupied by every true and lawful Bishop of Rome.  This means and guarantees that every time there is a true and valid occupant of the Office he is endowed by Christ with infallibility (in his authoritative and binding teaching capacity); he is endowed with supreme jurisdiction over the universal Church; and he is the visible head of the Church.  That remains true for every true and lawful occupant of the Papal Office until the end of time.  This doesn’t mean that the Church will always have such an occupant, as Church history and more than 200 papal vacancies prove, nor does it mean that Antipopes reigning from Rome are an impossibility (such as Antipope Anacletus II, who reigned in Rome from 1130-1138).  This definition proves nothing for the non-sedevacantist, so let’s move on.

 

3.  Peter will have perpetual successors in the Primacy over the Universal Church

 

Pope Pius IX, First Vatican Council, Sess. 4, Chap. 2, [Canon]. “If anyone then says that it is not from the institution of Christ the Lord Himself, or by divine right that the blessed Peter has perpetual successors in the primacy over the universal Church, or that the Roman Pontiff is not the successor of blessed Peter in the same primacy, let him be anathema.” (Denz 1825)

This is the favorite canon of those who argue against the Sedevacantist “thesis”; but, as we will see, it also proves nothing for their position.  Words and distinctions are very important.  Understanding distinctions and words can often be the very difference between Protestantism and Catholicism. 

The canon from Vatican I condemns those who deny “that Peter has perpetual successors in the primacy over the universal Church.”  This, as we have seen, does not mean and cannot mean that we will always have a Pope.  That is why it doesn’t say that “we will always have a Pope.”  Everyone admits that we didn’t have a Pope just a few months ago when Antipope John Paul II died.  So what does the canon mean?

In understanding this canon we must remember that there are schismatics who hold that St. Peter himself was given the primacy over the universal Church by Jesus Christ, but that the primacy over the universal Church stopped with St. Peter.  They hold that the Bishops of Rome aren’t successors to the same primacy that St. Peter had.  They hold that the full-blown force of the primacy doesn’t devolve [descend] to the Popes, even though they succeed St. Peter as Bishop of Rome.  Again: the “Orthodox” schismatics would admit that the Bishops of Rome are successors of St. Peter in a certain way because they succeed him as Bishops of Rome, but not successors with the same jurisdictional primacy over the universal Church which St. Peter held in his life. 

This is the heresy that is the subject of the canon above.  This heresy – which denies that a Pope is the successor of St. Peter in the same primacy perpetually (that is, every time there is a Pope until the end of time, he is a successor in the same primacy, with the same authority St. Peter possessed) – is precisely what this canon condemns.

Pope Pius IX, First Vatican Council, Sess. 4, Chap. 2, [Canon]. “If anyone then says that it is not from the institution of Christ the Lord Himself, or by divine right that the blessed Peter has perpetual successors in the primacy over the universal Church, or that the Roman Pontiff is not the successor of blessed Peter in the same primacy, let him be anathema.” (Denz 1825)

When we understand this one clearly sees the meaning of this canon.  This is emphasized at the end by the words “or that the Roman Pontiff is not the successor of blessed Peter in the same primacy” let him be anathema.  The canon is not declaring that we will have a Pope at all times or that there won’t be gaps, as we clearly have had.  The meaning of the canon is clear from what it says.  It condemns those who deny that Peter has perpetual successors in the primacy – that is, those who deny that every time there is a true and lawful Pope until the end of time he is a successor in the same primacy, with the same authority that St. Peter possessed.

BENEDICT XVI COMPLETELY REJECTS THIS CANON AND VATICAN I

“Cardinal” Ratzinger, Principles of Catholic Theology (1982), p. 198: “Certainly, no one who claims allegiance to Catholic theology can simply declare the doctrine of primacy null and void, especially not if he seeks to understand the objections and evaluates with an open mind the relative weight of what can be determined historically.  Nor is it possible, on the other hand, for him to regard as the only possible form and, consequently, as binding on all Christians the form this primacy has taken in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries [ed. This means the schismatics don’t have to accept Vatican I].  The symbolic gestures of Pope Paul VI and, in particular, his kneeling before the representative of the Ecumenical Patriarch [the schismatic Patriarch Athenagoras] were an attempt to express precisely this and, by such signs, to point the way out of the historical impasse... In other words, Rome must not require more from the East with respect to the doctrine of the primacy than had been formulated and was lived in the first millennium.  When the Patriarch Athenagoras [the non-Catholic, schismatic Patriarch], on July 25, 1967, on the occasion of the Pope’s visit to Phanar, designated him as the successor of St. Peter, as the most esteemed among us, as one who presides in charity, this great Church leader was expressing the ecclesial content of the doctrine of the primacy as it was known in the first millennium.  Rome need not ask for more.

Ladies and gentlemen, this means that, according to Benedict XVI, all Christians are not bound to believe in the Papacy as defined by Vatican I in 1870!  This means that the “Orthodox” schismatics are free to reject the Papacy.  This is a blatant denial of Vatican Council I by the man who claims to be “the Pope”!  Who will cry out against this abominable madness?  

Pope Pius IX, Vatican Council I, 1870, Sess. 4, Chap. 3, ex cathedra: "… all the faithful of Christ must believe that the Apostolic See and the Roman Pontiff hold primacy over the whole world, and the Pontiff of Rome himself is the successor of the blessed Peter, the chief of the apostles, and is the true vicar of Christ and head of the whole Church... Furthermore We teach and declare that the Roman Church, by the disposition of the Lord, holds the sovereignty of ordinary power over all others… This is the doctrine of Catholic truth from which no one can deviate and keep his faith and salvation." (Denz. 1826-1827)

Moreover, notice that Ratzinger (Benedict XVI) admits that Paul VI’s symbolic gestures with the schismatic Patriarch “were an attempt to express precisely this” – that is to say, his gestures (such as kneeling before the representative of the non-Catholic, schismatic Patriarch Athenagoras) expressed that the schismatics don’t have to believe in the Papacy and Vatican I!  Consider this a smashing vindication of all that we have said with regard to John Paul II’s incessant gestures toward the schismatics: giving them relics; giving them donations; praising their “Churches”; sitting on equal chairs with them; signing common declarations with them; lifting the excommunications against them. 

We pointed out again and again that these actions alone (not even considering his other statements) constituted a teaching that the schismatics don’t have to accept the dogma of the Papacy.  Countless false traditionalists and members of the Vatican II Church denied this and tried to explain these gestures away as either merely scandalous or something else, but not heretical.  Well, here we have Ratzinger – now Benedict XVI, the new “head” of the Vatican II Church – admitting “precisely” what we said.

Ratzinger (Benedict XVI) also says that the reason that we cannot expect the “Orthodox” to believe in the Papacy (the primacy of supreme jurisdiction of the Popes, not just a primacy of honor) is because it wasn’t even held in the first millennium!  Benedict XVI holds that the Papacy (the primacy of supreme jurisdiction) is just a fiction, an invention of later ages, not held in the early Church.  He says that the schismatic position of Athenagoras (which holds that the successor of St. Peter possesses a mere primacy of honor) is “the doctrine of the primacy as it was known in the first millennium” and that “Rome need not ask for more”!  Notice how directly this MANIFEST HERETIC denies the dogmatic teaching of Vatican I, which declared that in all ages the primacy of jurisdiction was recognized:

Pope Pius IX, Vatican Council I, Sess. 4, Chap. 2, ex cathedra: “Surely no one has doubt, rather all ages have known that the holy and most blessed Peter, chief and head of the apostles and pillar of faith and foundation of the Catholic Church, received the keys of the kingdom from our Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior and Redeemer of the human race; and he up to this time and always lives and presides and exercises judgment in his successors, the bishops of the holy See of Rome, which was founded by him and consecrated by his blood.  Therefore, whoever succeeds Peter in this chair, he according to the institution of Christ himself, holds the primacy of Peter over the whole Church.” (Denz. 1824)

 

But there is more… In his book Principles of Catholic Theology, Ratzinger (now Benedict XVI) not only says that the Papacy need not be accepted by the schismatics, but he also declares that the Eastern “Orthodox” position on the Bishop of Rome (i.e., their denial of the primacy of supreme jurisdiction of the Popes) may, in fact, be the true position!  Here is what he says:

 

“Cardinal” Ratzinger, Principles of Catholic Theology (1982), pp. 216-217: “Patriarch Athenagoras [the non-Catholic, schismatic Patriarch] spoke even more strongly when he greeted the Pope [Paul VI] in Phanar: ‘Against all expectation, the bishop of Rome is among us, the first among us in honor, ‘he who presides in love’.  It is clear that, in saying this, the Patriarch [the non-Catholic, schismatic Patriarch] did not abandon the claims of the Eastern Churches or acknowledge the primacy of the west.  Rather, he stated plainly what the East understood as the order, the rank and title, of the equal bishops in the Church – and it would be worth our while to consider whether this archaic confession, which has nothing to do with the ‘primacy of jurisdiction’ but confesses a primacy of ‘honor’ and agape, might not be recognized as a formula that adequately reflects the position that Rome occupies in the Church – ‘holy courage’ requires that prudence be combined with ‘audacity’: ‘The kingdom of God suffers violence.’”

 

Anyone who has any experience trying to convert Eastern Schismatics or knows anything about the theological issues involved with the Eastern “Orthodox” will immediately recognize that Benedict XVI just denied the dogma of the Papacy and the teaching of Vatican I.  He announces the position of the schismatic Patriarch, which acknowledges no primacy of supreme jurisdiction of the Pope, and he not only tells us that the position of the schismatic is acceptable (as we saw already), but that the schismatic position may in fact be the true position on the Bishop of Rome!  In other words, the Papacy (the supreme jurisdiction of the Popes over the universal Church) may not exist at all.  This is an astounding, incredible and huge heresy from an anathematized heretic!

 

Pope Pius IX, Vatican Council I, Sess. 4, Chap. 3, Canon, ex cathedra: “If anyone thus speaks, that the Roman Pontiff has only the office of inspection or direction, but not the full and supreme power of jurisdiction over the universal Church, not only in things which pertain to faith and morals, but also in those which pertain to the discipline and government of the Church spread over the whole world; or, that he possesses only the more important parts, but not the whole plenitude of this supreme power… let him be anathema.” (Denz. 1831)

So, please tell me, dear reader:  who denies Vatican I?  Who denies the dogmas on the perpetuity, authority, and prerogatives of the Papal Office?  Who denies what Christ instituted in St. Peter?  Is it the Sedevacantists, who correctly point out that a man who denies Vatican I is outside the Church, outside of the unity – since he rejects, among other things, the perpetual principle of unity (the Papacy) – and therefore cannot occupy an office or head a Church which he doesn’t even believe in?

 St. Robert Bellarmine (1610), Doctor of the Church: "A pope who is a manifest heretic automatically (per se) ceases to be pope and head, just as he ceases automatically to be a Christian and a member of the Church.  Wherefore, he can be judged and punished by the Church. This is the teaching of all the ancient Fathers who teach that manifest heretics immediately lose all jurisdiction."

St. Francis De Sales, Doctor of the Church:

It would indeed be one of the strangest monsters that could be seenif the head of the Church were not of the Church.”

Or are the real deniers of the Papacy and Vatican I those who profess union with a man who clearly doesn’t even believe in Vatican I; a man who doesn’t even believe that the Papacy and Vatican I are binding on all Christians; a man who doesn’t even believe that the Papacy was held in the first millennium?

The answer is obvious to any sincere and honest person who considers these facts.  It is Antipope Benedict XVI, and all who obstinately insist on union with him, who deny the Papacy; it is the Sedevacantists who are faithful to the Papacy.

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