Bouix On The Question of an Heretical Pope

Bouix on the pope heretic
by Gerardus Maiella
Dominique Bouix, Tractatus de papa, ubi et de concilio oecumenico, vol. II , pars IIIa, cap. iii, p. 653ff.



§1. — The various opinions of the catholic doctors are expounded, who concord in denying to the council any authority over the Pope in the case of heresy.

THE FIRST OPINION which denies that there can be a case of a Pope heretic. (…)

THE SECOND OPINION which, supposing that the Pope can become a heretic, holds that he is deposed by heresy ipso facto. — Turrecremata, Augustinus de Ancona, Paludanus, Driedo, Castillio, Symmanchas, Jacobatius, and Salmeron have defended this opinion. Its chief arguments generally are these: 1° Faith is the necessary foundation of any ecclesiastical jurisdiction whatsoever. Therefore the papal jurisdiction cannot stand simultaneous with heresy. Therefore the Pope, falling into heresy, by this very fact ceases to be Pope, that is, he is deposed. — 2° Many texts of the holy Fathers clearly indicate, that anyone who lacks faith is not able to have jurisdiction in the Church (see the citations in Suárez, De fide, disp. X, sect. vi, n. 2). — 3° A heretic is not a member of the Church; therefore neither can he be the head. — 4° A heretic ought to be avoided (II Titus 13:10); and he ought not to be greeted (II John 10-11). Therefore a fortioriobedience is not owed to him. But a Pope to whom obedience is not owed, is no longer Pope, but has been deprived of the Papacy. Therefore the Pope, by falling into heresy, ipso facto loses the papal power.

This opinion is opposed by the following arguments: 1° If the Pope were deposed ipso facto because of heresy, this would happen either by divine law, or by human law. But it is neither. For since the penalty of deposition is most grave, in order that it be incurred by divine law, it would need to be expressed in divine law. But there is found no ordinance of divine law which establishes this, whether generally concerning heretics, or in particular concerning Bishops, or most particularly concerning the Pope. Nor is there any certain tradition concerning this. Moreover, neither by human law can a Pope heretic incur deposition ipso facto. For either a council would have passed that law, or a preceding Pope. If the former, it would be an invalid law, because passed by an inferior upon a superior. If the latter, it would still be invalid, because passed by an equal upon an equal. — 2° It would be most pernicious for the Church, if the Pope were deposed ipso facto because of heresy. For this is understood either only of notorious and public heresy, or also of external occult heresy, or of internal heresy. Regarding public and notorious heresy, there would be doubt as to how great the notoriety or infamy ought to be, in order that the Pontiff be considered to have fallen from the Papacy. Then there would follow schisms, and all would be perplexed, especially if, notwithstanding the notoriety alleged, the Pope were to retain the see through force or through some other way, and were to exercise many of the acts of his office. With regard to external but occult heresy, even greater detriments would arise. For all of the deeds of the Pontiff who is thus an occult heretic, would be null and void, and this would be known to but a few. It would be still more inconvenient, if the Pope were deposed ipso facto by internal heresy, as is clear. Wherefore it cannot be supposed that Christ willed the Pontiff to be deprived of the papacy on account of heresy, unless perhaps after the Church should declare the Pope to be a heretic in fact. — 3° Faith is not necessary for a man to be capable of spiritual and ecclesiastical jurisdiction, and be able to exercise true acts requiring such jurisdiction. For in extreme necessity, a priest heretic is able to absolve, as is taught in the treatises on penance and on censures; which absolution yet requires and supposes jurisdiction. Furthermore, the power of orders, which is more excellent in its mode, can exist without faith, that is, with heresy; therefore also ecclesiastical jurisdiction. — 4° Moreover, faith is lost through mere internal heresy, and yet there is no catholic doctor who would hold that Bishops or the Roman Pontiff are deprived of their jurisdiction on account of mere internal heresy; therefore jurisdiction can exist without faith. — 5° To the texts of the Fathers, in which it is taught that no one at all can have jurisdiction in the Church who lacks faith, it is responded: this is to be understood in the sense, that without faith, ecclesiastical jurisdiction cannot be fittingly exercised, and in the sense that a heretic merits the deprivation of his jurisdiction; or also, some texts of the same sort must be understood to concern canon law regarding deprived Bishops, namely, by which they are judged to be deposed ipso facto. — 6° To the argument, a Pope heretic is not a member of the Church, therefore neither is he its head, Suárez responds: « The Pope heretic is not a member of the Church as regards the substance and the form by which the members of the Church are constituted; yet he is the head as regards office and influence. And this ought not to be surprising, for he is not the first and chief head influencing by his own power, but is as it were instrumental, and the vicar of the first head, who can bestow spiritual influence upon the members even by means of a bronze head. By a proportional reason, he sometimes baptizes by means of heretics, and sometimes also absolves, as has been said » (De fide, disp. X, sect. vi, n. 5). It can also be responded to thus: the Pope heretic is not member and head of the Church, so far as to the supernatural life which is begun through faith and perfected through charity, through which supernatural life all the members of the Church coalesce into one supernaturally living body, I concede: he is not member and head as regards the power of government proper to his office, I deny. Indeed, it is not repugnant for Christ to have willed that the Pope (the same goes for a Bishop in respect of his Diocese), although no longer a part of his supernaturally living body because of heresy, yet should still have the power of ruling the Church, just as if he had not lost that supernatural life. Indeed as regards the power of orders, Christ willed that the heretic priest and Bishop is not deprived of it, even if he has now ceased to be, in the aforesaid sense, a member of the Church. It is no more repugnant that jurisdiction should exist in a Bishop and in the Pope who is a heretic, whether internally only, or even externally.

THE THIRD OPINION. — A general synod can and ought to depose a Pope heretic; not indeed by exercising jurisdiction over him, which is not possible, since the Pope is superior to a council; but by simply declaring him to be a heretic; and after this declaration has been made, the Pope is immediately deposed by Christ himself. — The chief defender of this opinion is Suárez; who yet defends it only hypothetically, that is, in the hypothesis that there can be a Pope heretic; which hypothesis, he considers ought more probably to be rejected. Suárez’s discussion on this matter can be summarized in a few words:

Firstly, he poses this conclusion: « If the Pope be a heretic, and incorrigible, when first a declaratory sentence of the crime is announced against him by the legitimate jurisdiction of the Church, he ceases to be Pope » (De fide, disp. X, sect, vi, n. 6). This conclusion, he says, is the common opinion of the doctors. — Secondly, he deduces the reasons for this conclusion in this manner: « It is gathered from Clement I, epist. I, where he says that Peter taught, that a Pope heretic is to be deposed. Now the foundation for this is, that it would be most gravely harmful to the Church to have such a pastor, nor be able to rescue itself in such grave peril. Moreover, contrary to the dignity of the Church, it makes her remain subject to a heretic Pontiff, nor can she drive him away from her. For as the ruler and priest is, so is the people customarily estimated to be. This likewise is confirmed by the arguments of the prior opinion; chiefly this one, that heresy spreadeth like a canker; because of which evil, heretics (so far as it is possible) are to be avoided; but much more is a heretic pastor to be avoided. But how can he be avoided, if he ceases not to be pastor? » (loc. cit., n. 6). — Thirdly, Suárez expounds by whom the aforementioned declaration is to be made; and he concludes that it is for all the Bishops of the Church, and hence for a general council. — Fourthly, he poses the objection of the difficulty of legitimately congregating a general council of this sort. And he says that perhaps a general synod ought not to be called, and provincial councils would suffice. Then he adds that a general council, even if it cannot ordinarily be called legitimately except by the Pope, yet in this case can be gathered, either by the Cardinals, or from the consensus of Bishops, even if the Roman Pontiff is unwilling. — Fifthly, he says that no act of superiority over the Pope is exercised by the Council by a declaration of this sort; but the Pope is deposed by Christ himself, as soon as the council has declared the Pope to be a heretic.

Against this opinion of Suárez, these things can be objected: 1° That a general council can be congregated to declare the heresy of the Pontiff, and that after this declaration the Pontiff is deposed by Christ, is not a dogma, but a mere opinion. Therefore the faithful and the doctors will be free still to consider the Pope who has been declared a heretic as the true and legitimate Pontiff; and to reject as false the one who would be elected in his place. No indeed, it would easily happen that many Bishops would consider such a general council to be illegitimate, and would refuse to attend. But if such a council were at least celebrated, its legitimacy could licitly be denied; and moreover, it could also be denied that the Pope, who, before the synodal sentence, had not yet been deposed for heresy, was now deposed after the declaratory sentence. Therefore this system not only offers an evil remedy, but it adds a much greater evil; namely, it opens the door to a very entangled schism. — 2° The chief foundation of this opinion is, that Christ willed that a Pope heretic would not be deposed ipso facto through heresy, but only after he was declared a heretic by a general council; and this will of Christ is gathered from the fact that it is necessary in order to guard the Church against evils. But this argument is not valid. For it is much less harmful for the Church if the Pontiff, who notwithstanding his heresy, retained his jurisdiction, and retained it until death. Indeed, a great deal of time would have to pass, before the greater part of the Bishops acquire sure knowledge of the Pope’s asserted heresy, and of the facts by which it is made clear; and likewise, that the congregation of a general council be discussed and the greater part of the bishops consent to it, especially since the legitimacy of such a general council is at least uncertain, as is the efficacy of this means for deposing the Pontiff. Whence, such a remedy generally would not be employed, except when the pontificate of the Pope heretic was already coming to an end. No indeed, generally the Pope heretic would have died before such a council could be called and its declaratory sentence pronounced. But meanwhile, the discussions about celebrating the general synod and deposing the Pontiff would fill the whole Church with scandal, commotions, and divisions. It would certainly be less evil, if the heretic Pontiff, who through heresy loses not the power of ruling the whole Church, were to proceed to rule the Church thus until death. Therefore, if that is to be considered the will of Christ which better provides for the Church, without doubt Christ willed, either that the Pontiff can never fall into heresy, even privately, or he retains Pontifical jurisdiction even until death, notwithstanding his private heresy.

THE FOURTH OPINION. — A general synod can in no way make it so that a Pope heretic (if there can ever be such) is deprived of Pontifical jurisdiction. — It relies upon these arguments: 1° The Pontiff is not deposed ipso facto by private heresy,[2] because of the reasons deduced above against the second opinion. — 2° Nor is the general synod able, by its own power or jurisdiction over the Pope, to depose him. For ex hypothesi, although a heretic, he is still the Supreme Pontiff, retaining supreme authority, to whom the whole Church, and the general synod itself, is subjected. But an inferior cannot judge and depose his superior. — 3° Nor can the general synod, by declaring the Pope to be a heretic, make it so that he is deposed by Christ himself. For, in order that such a deposition would have force, it would need to be certain; that is, it would need to be certain, after the council’s declaration has been made, that the Pope is immediately deprived of the Pontifical dignity by Christ. But this is not a dogma, nor anything certain, but a mere opinion. Therefore, since the Pontiff, prior to that synodal declaration, still held his power, and is not proved with certainty to have been deprived of it after the declaration, in practice it is just as if he still retained it. — 4° Indeed, Christ could not depose a Pope heretic in this fashion, according to his divine wisdom. For in order that the general synod be able to arrive at that juridically passed sentence, by which it would declare the Pontiff a heretic, the Bishops would need to resist the Pope, who would prohibit the congregation of such a council; that is, it would have to be preceded by a schism. Namely, those bishops who, against the will and prohibition of the Pontiff, nevertheless would attempt to procure the celebration of such a council, by this very fact would deny obedience to the Pontiff, who would still retain full power of government. From this insurrection of inferiors against their superior, there would arise vast scandal and disturbance. Nor would the evil cease, even if the aforesaid synodal sentence were given: because after it was given, it would not be certain that the Pope was deposed, but this could be denied licitly. Moreover, a new Pontiff would be elected, who could licitly be considered false by all those hold to the contrary opinion. Certainly it should not be thought that Christ provided for his Church through a remedy which is worse than evil. — 5° Certainly a privately heretical Pope would be a grave evil; but not such that the Church could not subsist, and certainly not such that the mentioned remedy would need to be employed. For, ex hypothesi, such a Pontiff would retain full power of government prior to the sentence of the general council; neither would the Church thus perish in the meanwhile. There would be a lengthy period of time intervening before the general council would be celebrated, the congregation of which, in such circumstances, surely would be extremely laborious, dare I say impossible. If, therefore, the Church can exist soundly for such a long time under a privately heretical Pope, why could she not remain sound until his death? To the faithful it would be said: Hold to the orthodox faith which the Pope teaches and defines ex officio as Pontiff: but reject the heresy to which he is said to adhere as a private person. Of this personal sin of the Pontiff it would be said, just as of his corrupted morals: The scribes and the Pharisees have sitten on the chair of Moses. All things therefore whatsoever they shall say to you (ex cathedra), observe and do: but according to their works do ye not.[3] Therefore, if the case of a privately heretical Pope is possible, it should be thought that Christ willed that he would nevertheless retain his supreme authority, and would be unable to be deprived of it through a general council.

This fourth opinion, it seems to me, ought to be preferred to the second and third; but the first is to be preferred overall. Certainly, just as to Suárez and many others, myself included, it seems more probable that the Pope, even as a private person, cannot fall into heresy. But in the hypothesis that the Pope could become a heretic privately, I would absolutely deny that he is ipso facto deposed, or capable of being deposed by any council.

Regarding the texts which suppose the contrary, we have already expounded them above after the first opinion.

§2. — That the Pontiff, for the crime of heresy, is subjected to the jurisdiction of the general council, and can be judged and deposed by it, is an erroneous opinion, and entirely to be rejected.

PROPOSITION I. It is not certain that there can be a case of a Pope heretic; because of this fact, the opinion which subjects him to the council for heresy would remain at least uncertain. — That the Pontiff cannot, even as a private person, fall into heresy, is supported by very weighty reasons, deduced in the paragraph above, where we expounded the first opinion; and many doctors think thus; and Suárez considers it to be more probable. Therefore the contrary opinion is by no means certain; but it is liable to controversy amongst catholic doctors. But now, if it is at least uncertain that there can be a Pope heretic, by this very fact it is uncertain that the Pope can ever be subjected to the jurisdiction of a general council for the crime of heresy.

PROPOSITION II. — Given, not conceded, that the Pope can fall into heresy, if the heresy were internal and occult, the Pontiff would never be able to be subjected to the council for it. — Indeed, no one ceases to be a member of the Church through internal and occult heresy. Likewise it is beyond controversy, that prelates of the Church are not deprived of their jurisdiction for heresy of this kind. And the reason is clear. For otherwise all jurisdictional acts would be of dubious valor, since it could not be known with certainty whether someone is an internal and occult heretic or not. This accordingly would lead to the greatest harm to the Church. Therefore it is repugnant that the Church have been constituted by Christ with this law, that the Pope or other prelates would lose their jurisdiction ipso facto for internal and occult heresy. But they cannot be deprived of it in any other way by any human tribunal; indeed, such heresy cannot be known and proved. Whence, if the matter is of internal and occult heresy, it would be absonous to contend that the Pope is subject to the general council for it. Moreover, occult heresy does not impede the supreme Pontiff from satisfying his office of ruling the Church. To be sure, ex hypothesi externally he teaches the right faith; and that which he perversely thinks internally, is unknown, so that this internal and occult heresy of his can be a scandal to no one, nor can it harm the universal governance of the Church.

PROPOSITION III. — Given, not conceded, that the Pope, as a private person, can fall into external and public heresy, by no means would the papal authority be subjected to the jurisdiction of the general council for such heresy. — For the Pope, because of heresy of this sort, either ipso facto is deposed, or not. But in neither case can it happen that the Pope be subjected to the jurisdiction of the general council. 1° If he is ipso factodeposed, he is no longer Pope. Hence the jurisdiction of the council over him, is not jurisdiction over the Pope, but only jurisdiction over a man who was Pope, but here and now is not Pope. Therefore in this hypothesis, jurisdiction or authority of the council over the Pope is metaphysically impossible. — 2° If, for the said heresy, the Pope is not ipso facto deposed, he still retains papal authority, that is, the primacy of jurisdiction. Then, so long as he retains papal authority, it is impossible that he be subjected to the jurisdiction of anyone. For it pertains to the papal authority that it be the ­full powerdivinely received of feeding, ruling, and governing the universal Church, as the Florentine general synod has defined. But as soon as the Pope were to have a superior and be subject to it, by this very fact he would lose that full power of government. To be sure, it would be mendacious to attribute to someone the full power of ruling and governing an entire society, if there were in this same society a superior authority to whom he himself would be subject. Wherefore if the Pope, notwithstanding heresy, retains papal authority, by this very fact it is impossible for him to be subject to the general council. — Likewise it pertains to the papal authority that it have the right of feeding the sheep and the lambs, that is, all the faithful; according to the words of Christ directed to Peter: Feed my lambs, feed my sheep. Now if, because of heresy, the Pope were subjected to the council, he would not feed the sheep, but would be fed and ruled by the sheep; that is, he would cease to be Pope. Therefore, if he does not lose the Papacy because of his heresy, by this very fact it is impossible for him to be subjected to the council. — Likewise, by force of the Pontiff’s primacy, the individual Bishops are bound to obey the Roman Pontiff. But it is repugnant that all of the Bishops as individuals be bound thus to obey, unless they are also bound collectively, that is, gathered in council, as has been proved above. Therefore even the entire conciliar consensus of Bishops is subject to the Roman Pontiff, so long as he has not lost the primacy, that is, the Papacy. Therefore, if, notwithstanding his heresy, the Pontiff retains the Papal authority, he is not subjected to the council, but rather the council is subjected to him. — Finally, such is the nature of the Papal primacy (from the words of Christ directed to Peter, and applying to his successors, from the definitions of the councils, from the doctrine of the Fathers, from the practice of the Church, and from the common opinion of catholic doctors), that it is a primacy of jurisdiction over the whole Church, that is, the supreme power of ruling the universal Church, the power which all the faithful and Bishops are bound to obey, a power which is truly monarchic. But now, it is repugnant that there exist in the Church a jurisdictional power which is above the primacy of jurisdiction, or (which is the same thing) over the first jurisdictional power with regard to the whole Church; likewise, that there be a power which is over the supreme power; likewise that there be a power over the monarchic power to which all are subject and which they are bound to obey. Therefore 2° if it be conceded that the Pope lapsed into heresy does not thus fall from the Papacy, but that he is still Pope and retains Papal jurisdiction, it is repugnant that he be subject to the general council, and that he be able to be judged and deposed by it. And 1° if it be said that the Pope is ipso facto deposed because of heresy, it is repugnant that the council be above the Pope, since one deposed from the Papacy is no longer Pope. Therefore in no case can it happen that the Pope be subject to the jurisdiction of the general council because of heresy.

You object. — These three things are to be admitted: 1° the Pope is not deposed ipso facto through heresy; 2° it must be thought that Christ had provided that a Pope heretic would be able to be deposed and expelled; 3° it must be thought that Christ willed and established that a Pope heretic would be able to be deposed through the authority of the general council. Therefore the Pope is subjected to the jurisdiction of the general council because of heresy.

I respond: 1° Permitting the hypothesis that the Pope as a private doctor can fall into heresy (which hypothesis many doctors reject, and which Suárez esteems as more probably false), we willingly admit, that the Pope would not ipso facto be deposed, although many catholic theologians have argued for the contrary. — 2° There is no sufficient reason why Christ should be thought to have provided that a Pope heretic would be able to be deposed. Surely that reason would be the vast detriment which would come to the Church unless such a Pope were deposed. But that reason is not valid; as much because the Pope heretic is not so harmful an evil that the Church therefore must necessarily be ruined and perish; as because the remedy, the Pope’s deposition, would be a much worse evil. And firstly, the heresy of the Pope about which this question is moved, is not so grave an evil that it is necessary to think that Christ had willed the deposition of such a Pontiff. The matter is only of private heresy; not which the Pope professes as the Pastor of the Church and in his Papal decrees or acts, but to which he adheres as a private doctor, and only in his private sayings or writings. What is more, so long as the Pope, whenever he defines and speaks Pontifically, teaches the right faith, the faithful are sufficiently safe, although at the same time it would be clear that the same Pope privately adheres to some heresy. All would readily understand that the opinion argued for by the Pope as a private doctor lacks authority, and he is only to be followed when he defines and relates the faith ex officio and with Pontifical authority. If someone nevertheless contends that the private heresy of the Pope can be so harmful, that Christ could not have left his Church without a remedy against so great an evil, we respond that we also think it more probably thus; but for the remedy we assign the peculiar providence of Christ that the Pope, even as a private doctor, not fall into heresy. But we absolutely deny, that Christ could have provided for this through the remedy of the deposition of the Pope. For secondly, this remedy would be a much worse evil. For either this deposition is supposed to be done by Christ himself, as soon as the Pope were declared a heretic by the general council, according to the doctrine of Suárez; or it is supposed to be done by the authority of the general council. Now in both cases the evil would be increased, not lessened. For, that Christ himself deposes the Pope heretic as soon as he is declared a heretic by the general council, is a mere opinion rejected by many, and from which it is free to anyone to dissent. Indeed for Suárez himself it is a less probable opinion, and indeed he thinks it more probable that there cannot be a privately heretical Pope. Therefore when the declaration has been made through the general council that some Pope is a heretic, it would in no way be certain that this Pope is deposed; and in such doubt one rather should still yield to his authority. But if another Pope were to be elected, not only would his legitimacy be uncertain, but he would rather have to be considered as false. Therefore the remedy of deposition, to be performed by Christ at the declaration of the council, not only would not amend the evil, but would induce an even greater evil, that is, a most intricate schism. Hence Christ in no way should be thought to have provided by means of such a remedy. But neither is he to be thought to have provided by means of a deposition performed by the authority of the council. For, besides the fact that it is impossible for the Pope to be deposed by the council, as shall soon be said, if it were possible, a greater evil would follow. For that Christ bestowed such authority to the council over the Pope heretic, is naught but a mere opinion; most commonly it is rejected by the catholic doctors, no indeed it is easily proved to be intrinsically repugnant. Therefore after such a deposition, it would in no way be certain that the Pope heretic has been despoiled of the Pontifical primacy; and he who would be elected in his place would be considered false by many, and would be able to be rejected licitly as such. Therefore a remedy would not be introduced, but schism, confusion, and dissension. — 3° Not only should Christ not be thought to have provided by means of a deposition to be performed by the council, but it should be said that a remedy of this sort is repugnant and is simply impossible. For if the Pope heretic is to be deposed [deponendus], and is not already deposed [depositus], he is still Pope, and retains the primacy of jurisdiction over the entire Church. Hence he is superior to any member of the Church, and any collection thereof. Or, in other words, by the very fact that he is still Pope, he is superior to any general council separated from him, and the authority of the council relative to him is inferior. Now it is repugnant and simply impossible for a superior to be subject to an inferior, and able to be deposed by him. It may not be said, that a decree by which Christ established that the Pope heretic would be subject to the general council is not intrinsically repugnant. Indeed, such a decree is not repugnant, so long as at the same time it is supposed that the Pope is ipso facto by heresy already deposed. For then, since he is no longer Pope, he is not superior relative to the council, but inferior. But such a decree is absolutely repugnant, if it is supposed that the Pope is to be deposed [deponendus]. For then Christ would have willed him, notwithstanding the heresy, to be Pope still, that is, superior to the council; and at the same time he would have willed him to be subjected to the council, that is, to be inferior; which is contradictory. Now it is repugnant that Christ willed and established contradictory things. Therefore the opinion which holds that the Pope is subjected to the council for heresy, and can be deposed by it, is erroneous and entirely to be rejected.

PROPOSITION IV. — That the Pope is subjected to the council for heresy, and can be deposed by it, is an opinion leading to schism and heresy. — 1° It leads to this practical conclusion: it is permitted to the Bishops, for the sake of the attempted accusation of heresy to the Roman Pontiff, to rise up against him, although he is still Pope; to deny obedience to him when he prohibits the congregation of the council; to reject him who is here and now Pope; and to separate themselves from him as the head. Now this sort of subtraction of obedience and separation from the Church’s head, the Roman Pontiff, is schism itself. — 2° It logically deduces to this conclusion, which is heretical: To the Roman Pontiff there was not committed by Christ the full power of feeding, ruling, and governing the universal Church. For if the Roman Pontiff, although he still retains Papal authority, is subjected to a superior authority, namely that of the general council, it is false that there belongs to him the aforesaid full power of government.

[1] Luke 22:32.

[2] The present discussion concerns only this: for he cannot be a heretic as Pontiff, that is, when he teaches the faith and defines it ex officio, or, as it is said, ex cathedra. [Auth.]

[3] Matt. 23:2-3.