Call me a dumb sheep, but…

…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 [1158]–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 [1220]) 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.

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About The Codgitator (a cadgertator)

Catholic convert. Quasi-Zorbatic. Freelance interpreter, translator, and web marketer. Former ESL teacher in Taiwan (2003-2012) and former public high school teacher (2012-2014). Married father of three. Multilingual, would-be scholar, and fairly consistent fitness monkey. My research interests include: the interface of religion and science, the history and philosophy of science and technology, ancient and medieval philosophy, and cognitive neuroscience. Please pray for me.
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19 Responses to Call me a dumb sheep, but…

  1. Flambeaux says:

    Well, another option is to conclude in light of the evidence that the Orthodox are correct: the Latin understanding of papal primacy, infallibility, and jurisdiction is novel and in error.

    Or that it is all nonsense, as the atheists contend.

  2. I have long felt that it is far more reasonable to schism from the Catholic Church and become an Eastern Orthodox if you find yourself convinced that Rome has by her own historic standards apostatized from her teachings than to become a sedevacantist. As Elliot demonstrated amply, sedevacantism is just not plausible. Sedevacantists are Latin Catholics who have become essentially Orthodox while stubbornly clinging to their Western spirituality.

  3. An Eastern Orthodox, an Oriental Orthodox, or an Assyrian I ought to have said. The Eastern Orthodox are just one of the four Apostolic communions.

  4. Tony Jokin says:

    “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.

    That summarized it nicely! I like the analogy as well!

  5. E.M. Howard says:

    This has helped me understand the papacy in a new light. Thank you for this!

  6. Tony Jokin says:

    For the dilemma to occur that leads to your conclusions, the Pope (or an approved Council) must make a dogmatic or binding statement that is Irreconcilable with a dogmatic or definitively defined truth that already exists in the history of the Church.

    But the Catholic faith prevents one from arriving at this dilemma

    A Catholic holds by faith that such a contradiction cannot happen (it is a logical impossibility for God does not allow it)
    From the above belief, a Catholic must also hold that if some authoritative statement were to be made that seems to contradict a doctrine defined in the past, there must exist an interpretation of it that is reconcilable with the past propositions that it contradicts

    I think it is difficult for any individual to conclusively say that (2) is verified to be impossible because a person cannot exhaust all possible interpretations. One might say we must go with the likely interpretation in such cases but one can also counter that by saying the likely interpretation is the reconcilable interpretation (given one holds (1) by faith).

    All of this is to say that a non-Catholic becomes a Catholic after he is 100% clear that it is the Catholic Church that he must assent to (those who are generational Catholics would hold that their parents or ancestors did the checking). After assent, s/he necessarily holds the proposition (1) by faith. So I must hold by faith that the dilemma you say is logically impossible to arrive at (so something like a square circle).

    To tie this to Sedevencatist, they consider that there is another alternative for the Catholic faithful i.e. that the faithful can conclude that the contradiction is because the Pope is an anti-pope. But in concluding this way, the Sedes forget (as Codg points out) that Catholic faithful do not have the authority to make such a judgement. Having the ability to make such a judgement seems to be an even stronger authority than that of the authority to teach (because the faithful would be able to ignore any teaching by calling the particular Pope that issues it to be an anti-Pope) and therefore seems nonsensical to even suggest such a thing. To have such an ability can only lead to utter chaos and confusion in the Church. So even if the Pope were an anti-Pope, we must wait for a Pope or Council to settle that matter. Till then, we must assume that the person elected in Rome is Pope.

  7. Tony Jokin says:

    EDIT: I should really check my comments before posting. I botched the Italics tags and it also ended up taking away the numbering of propositions. The (1) and (2) I refer to are

    (1) A Catholic holds by faith that such a contradiction cannot happen (it is a logical impossibility for God does not allow it)
    (2) From the above belief, a Catholic must also hold that if some authoritative statement were to be made that seems to contradict a doctrine defined in the past, there must exist an interpretation of it that is reconcilable with the past propositions that it contradicts

    Sorry about that Mr. Bougis!

  8. Jeff says:

    Very good point and granted all.

    But let’s approach from a different perspective.

    We KNOW that the papal office can go unfilled for years. We KNOW that there can be multiple claimants to the Papacy and that even saints can be confused about who is the Pope or even IF there is a Pope.

    Where would you propose drawing the line between sane sedevacantism and crazy sedevacantism?

  9. I’d say the extinction of all valid cardinals is one good criterion.

  10. Jeff says:

    So let’s say, as a thought experiment, that the cardinals gathered in conclave to elect a Pope and somebody dropped a bomb on the Sistine Chapel.

    Would we be reduced to giving up our faith?

    I very much take your point and agree in a general way. But I think we all need to think this through a bit given the present situation.

    It might happen that the Pope is imprisoned and that no conclave is allowed to be convened. It might happen that the Vatican is destroyed and no one knows for years if there is a Pope or if the whispered claims that there is one and he is Pope X is true or not.

    It might happen that secular powers so interfere with the election or actually manipulate it in some obvious way that the Pope makes many Catholics doubt whether he is the true successor of St Peter.

    We are so busy sometimes with in house worries that we forget to see that the doors may be closing on us. We think about “future perecution” but not clearly about how that might affect the Papacy, which is after all quite a vulnerable institution.

  11. You raise very interesting concerns (especially the Conclave Bomb!), so I suppose that the best way to find a solution is to look at how popes were appointed before the college of cardinals existed as such.

  12. And there’s this:

    “Sedevacantism, the theory’s proponents will say, leaves one in mystery, but not in contradiction. Having spent the above words questioning whether recognition of Francis and his predecessors really does leave one in contradiction, the Rad Trad heartily agrees that the theory leaves one shrouded in mystery. Without cardinals, a hierarchy of bishops, diocesan clergy in Rome, a Frankish overlord, or a Byzantine emperor how can a new Pope be elected? A conclave is out. An ecumenical council is out. The only real options are a miracle from above or converting the people or [of?] Rome to sedevacantist Catholicism and having them elect a Pope as a mob, as was done in the first millennium. Given Europe’s religious trends, Rome is more likely to embrace Jupiter or Saturn than it is to convert to sedevacantism.”

  13. Dear B.C. Thanks for the link and kind words. Excellent post this

    Pax tecum

  14. Tony Jokin says:

    On the conclave being delayed, during the persecutions of Decius (3rd century) it did happen. He took out Pope Fabian first (probably knew what he was doing) and until the persecution ended, there was no new Pope. Then afterward Pope Cornelius was elected by the vote of Bishops and the clergy in Rome. So I guess in the event that all Cardinals are eliminated, there is no reason why a new Pope cannot still be elected.

    Today we do have specific rules on election. But, during extraneous circumstances where the rules cannot be applied (no cardinals), I see no reason why one cannot revert to the ancient way.

    What cannot happen I think is the end of all lines of Apostolic Succession. That would make it impossible to elect a new Pope and to even ordain any new clergy.

    Now, SPOILER ALERT

    Something like your hypothetical scenario does happen in the fictional book “Lord of the World” by Robert Benson. Your hypothetical question reminded me of it 🙂

  15. Jeff says:

    I only hope that we won’t become like the Byzantines or the Shia, who had their main guy disappear into a pillar or a well to reappear again at some distant but critical moment.

    Then again, OUR Main Guy disappeared into the heavens and a cloud hid Him from sight. To come again at some near–or distant–moment. 😉

  16. At every epiclesis, my man!

  17. Pingback: Reply to comments on Rock and dark place… | FideCogitActio : "Omnis per gratiam" fidescogitactio @ gmail . com

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