…I can’t fathom how someone could be a sedevacantist.
The following comes from Session IV of the First Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, chapters 1-2, which predates any supposed apostasy at Vatican II by almost one century (cf. DS 1822-1825 [or 3056-3058 in newer editions]):
[In order] 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 the blessed Peter over the other apostles [Christ] 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 to be raised to heaven might rise in the firmness of this faith. And, since the gates of hell, to overthrow the Church, if this were possible, arise from all sides with ever greater hatred against its divinely established foundation, We judge it to be necessary for the protection, safety, and increase of the Catholic flock, with the approbation of the Council, to set forth the doctrine on the institution, perpetuity, and nature of the Sacred Apostolic Primacy, in which the strength and solidarity of the whole Church consist, to be believed and held by all the faithful, according to the ancient and continual faith of the universal Church, and to proscribe and condemn the contrary errors, so pernicious to the Lord’s flock. …
[U]pon Simon Peter alone Jesus after His resurrection conferred the jurisdiction of the highest pastor and rector over his entire fold, saying: “Feed my lambs,” “Feed my sheep” [John 21:15 ff.]. To this teaching of Sacred Scriptures, so manifest as it has been always understood by the Catholic Church, are opposed openly the vicious opinions of those who … affirm that the same primacy was not immediately and directly bestowed upon the blessed Peter himself, but upon the Church, and through this Church upon him as the minister of the Church herself. …
This all, of course, debunks the sedevcanatist notion, not simply rejecting the idea that the Church can abide without a living, visible successor of Peter, but also that the Church sans Peter could restore the Petrine office–from without, as it were. Notice above all the parallelism between the perpetuity of the Petrine ministry and the endurance of the faith as such.
And there’s more.
If anyone then says that the blessed Apostle Peter was not established by the Lord Christ as the chief of all the apostles, and the visible head of the whole militant Church, … let him be anathema.
In other words, affirming the reign of Peter requires affirming his perpetually visible reign.
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 the ages. 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, [cf. Council of Ephesus, see n. 112].
the bishop of Rome is the successor of Peter, and Peter always presides and legislates in the bishop of Rome, whether we like it or not. Fortunately, his presiding presence in the bishop of Rome as such is perpetually protected from wedding the Church to error.
Insofar as the Petrine reign is for the perpetual good of the whole Church, the good Lord would not deprive His Bride of such an integral good. The only way, however, by we can point to and submit to the successor of Peter, and thus to the Church of Christ, is by virtue of the fact he always presides in the living bishop of Rome, whoever that man may be at some point in time. Where the Bishop of Rome, there is Peter, et ubi Petrus, ibi Ecclesia. Just as, by analogy, the Lord abides even in the smallest crumbs of the Host, so Peter presides even during the interregna of his successors.
Therefore, whoever succeeds Peter in this chair, he according to the institution of Christ himself, holds the primacy of Peter over the whole Church. “Therefore the disposition of truth remains, and blessed Peter persevering in the accepted fortitude of the rock does not abandon the guidance of the Church [et beatus Petrus in accepta fortitudine petrae perseverans suscepta Ecclesiae gubernacula non reliquit] which he has received.” For this reason “it has always been necessary because of mightier pre-eminence for every church to come to the Church of Rome, that is those who are the faithful everywhere,” so that in this See, from which the laws of “venerable communion” emanate over all [in ea Sede, e qua venerandae communionis iura in omnes dimanant], they as members associated in one head, coalesce into one bodily structure.
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 [reigning] Roman Pontiff is not the successor of blessed Peter in the same primacy, let him be anathema.
I realize that sedevacantists have all kinds of retorts and caveats to this, but I’m just taking the “dumb sheep” defense on something so fundamental to the good of the Church. To believe that Christ has left the Church without His Vicar for fifty-five years is tantamount to saying that Christ has left the Church behind (contrary to His promise in the Great Commission). Reformed Protestants say much the same thing by claiming that the last Apostle was the last true Vicar of Christ on earth. With a Lord so prone to abandoning His Bride to the wolves, why bother calling Him sovereign? We’d be little better off than Jews who long for the reconstruction of Temple sacrifices.
Indeed, the parallel between Reformed schismatics and unreformed sedevacantatists is not merely philosophical: it’s dogmatic. The Council of Constance, over six hundred years before Vatican II, condemned the following claims by Wyclif (session 8, DS 581 –and remember, as you read, in order to hear the Church’s positive teaching on the point at issue, just remove the negative terms):
“If the pope is foreknown [by God as doomed] and evil and, in consequence, a member of the devil, he does not have power over the faithful given to him by anyone, unless perhaps by the emperor. After Urban VI [or Pius XII? or Pius V?] no one should be recognized as pope, but we should live like Greeks under our own laws [i.e. solely as sacramental communities guided solely by Tradition under clerics not united to the See of Rome].”
Likewise, at session 15 (DS 646 ) the Council condemned this claim by Hus (remembering again to reverse the relevant negations in order to hear the positive teaching):
“Nobody holds the place of Christ or of Peter unless he follows his way of life [and teaching?]…. The pope is not the manifest and true successor of the prince of the apostles, Peter, if he lives [and thus teaches?] in a way contrary to Peter’s. … If the pope is wicked, and especially if he is foreknown to damnation, then he is a devil like Judas the apostle, a thief, and a son of perdition and is not the head of the holy Church militant since he is not even a member of her. … The pope or prelate who is wicked and foreknown to damnation is a pastor only in an equivocal sense and truly is a thief and a robber. … If a pope lives [by word and deed?] contrary to Christ, even if he has risen through a right and legitimate election according to the established human constitution, he would have arisen by a way other than through Christ [i.e. as Judas entered by the way of the devil], even granted that he entered upon office by an election that had been made principally by God. … The apostles and faithful priests of the Lord … would continue to [govern the Church] until the Day of Judgment if–which is very possible–there were no pope.“
Heady stuff, but, “This is Denzinger.” I especially like that last clause, since it shows how the only groups that even countenance the idea that the Church could possibly function without a reigning pope and without the requisite election body of a college of valid cardinals, are radical Reformers and sedevacantists. Read in conjunction with the canons Vatican I cited at the beginning, I see absolutely no logical grounds for defending sedevacantism: a Church that governs believers without union with the visible and active Successor of Peter, is a schismatic Church, and so, if there is no living Successor of Peter, then the entire Church is cut off (schismatic) from its Head. Causa finita est.
I realize that this post may seem incoherent or disingenuous coming from someone like myself who has been “all about” criticizing the current papacy for months, but such a reflex captures what I think is so amiss in contemporary Catholic discourse. The reigning tendency is to give the laity a binary choice between unblinking obsequiousness (aka clericalism, or, “pay, pray, and obey”) and disaffected withdrawal when the soup is not to one’s liking (aka schism, or “look, no one’s forcing you to be Catholic”). I’m trying to keep alive the legitimate practice of discerning the signs of the times, of testing all things, which is a duty of all the faithful. Besides, if I were truly a papal rebel, why would I maintain one of the most extensive online collections of pro-Roman-papacy statements by Eastern Fathers?
With our loyalty as a given, I think we are still obliged to reject any heretical or even “heterodoxoid” statements the pope (or his top advisor) makes (e.g. the latest notion that encountering the “other” means making myself like the other, and that non-Catholic religious “views and traditions” are as equally “valid and absolute” as Catholic ones), but it is not within our ambit to declare him an anti-pope without ecclesial due process. Along those lines, I read an interesting point yesterday: just as the Church assumes that every marriage is valid until otherwise proven null, so every pope is assumed to be valid until declared to be invalid by some formal act of the Church. However, just because I assume my neighbors are validly married, I don’t have to take their adultery and swinging in stride. Likewise, just because I embrace the pope as the legitimate successor to Peter by default, does not mean I have to blindly ape his imprudent and scandalous model on all things. Hence, even though, as Brother IANS has lately been showing with his usual vigor, the arrogation of papal powers to itself by the SSPX is schismatic–which is why I can’t fathom why the Vatican goes back and forth on the matter–, this does not mean that their concerns about the impact and ambiguities of Vatican II are wholly groundless. There needs to be a place for such conscientious objection within the bounds of papal loyalty, otherwise we are in the grip of a clericalism like none ever seen.