“The ancient authors everywhere admitted the axiom, ‘A doubtful pope is no pope’ and applied it to solve the difficulties which arose from the Great Western Schism. Now this axiom could be understood in several ways. For instance, a ‘doubtful pope’ can be understood not negatively, but positively - i.e., when, after a diligent examination of the facts, competent men in the Catholic Church would pronounce: 'The validity of the canonical election of this Roman pontiff is uncertain’. Moreover, the words 'No pope' are not necessarily understood of a pope who has previously been received as certain and undoubted by the whole Church, but concerning whose election so many difficulties are subsequently brought to light that he becomes 'a doubtful pope' so that he would thereby forfeit the pontifical power already obtained. This understanding of the axiom concerning 'a doubtful pope' should be reproved because the whole Church cannot entirely fall away from a Roman pontiff who has been legitimately elected, on account of the unity promised to His Church by Christ.
“But the other part of this axiom could have the meaning that a Roman pontiff whose canonical election is uncertain and remains subject to positive and solid doubts after studious examination, absolutely never did acquire also the papal jurisdiction from Christ the Lord. For this reason the bishops gathered together in a general council, in the event that they subject to examination a doubtful case of this kind, do not pronounce judgement on a true pope, since the person in question lacks the papal jurisdiction. Now if the axiom be understood in this last sense, the doctrine which it contains is entirely sound.
“Indeed this is what is deduced in the first place from the very nature of jurisdiction. For jurisdiction is essentially a relation between a superior who has the right to obedience and a subject who has the duty of obeying. Now when one of the parties to this relationship is wanting, the other necessarily ceases to exist also, as is plain from the nature of the relationship. However, if a pope is truly and permanently doubtful, the duty of obedience cannot exist towards him on the part of any subject. For the law, 'Obedience is owed to the legitimately-elected successor of St. Peter,' does not oblige if it is doubtful; and it most certainly is doubtful if the law has been doubtfully promulgated, for laws are instituted when they are promulgated, and without sufficient promulgation they lack a constitutive part, or essential condition. But if the fact of the legitimate election of a particular successor of St. Peter is only doubtfully demonstrated, the promulgation is doubtful; hence that law is not duly and objectively constituted of its necessary parts, and it remains truly doubtful and therefore cannot impose any obligation. Indeed it would be rash to obey such a man who had not proved his title in law. Nor could appeal be made to the principle of possession, for the case in question is that of a Roman pontiff who is not yet in peaceful possession. Consequently in such a person there would be no right of command - i.e. he would lack papal jurisdiction.
"The same conclusion is confirmed on the basis of the visibility of the Church. For the visibility of the Church consists in the fact that she possesses such signs and identifying marks that, when moral diligence is used, she can be recognized and discerned, especially on the part of her legitimate officers. But in the supposition we are considering, the pope cannot be found even after diligent examination. The conclusion is therefore correct that such a doubtful pope is not the proper head of the visible Church instituted by Christ. Nor is such a doubtful pope any less compatible with the unity of the Church, which would be in the highest degree prejudiced in the case of the body being perfectly separated from its head. For a doubtful pope has no right of commanding and therefore there is no obligation of obedience on the part of the faithful. Hence in such a case the head would be perfectly separated from the rest of the body of the Church. Cf. Suarez, De Fide, Disp.10, sect.6, n.4, 19." (Fr. Franz Xaver Wernz, Ius Decretalium ad Usum Praelectionum In Scholis Textus Canonicisive Juris Decretalium, , Tomus II, (Romae: De Propoganda Fide, 1898) Scholion 618). Ius Decretalium
“It happened a little afterward, that Sylverius died and Vigilius, who to that point sat in schism, now began to be the sole and legitimate Pontiff for certain through the confirmation and reception by the clergy and the Roman people.” (Bellarmine, De Romano Pontifice, IV, chapter 10)
Fr. Jourdain Hurtaud, 0. P., Professor of Dogmatic Theology
Revue Thomiste Lettres De Savonarole
Aux Princes Chrétiens
Pour La Réunion D'un Concile
it remains doubtful in the external forum that the election is valid, does the Pope that issued forth from this election not himself become doubtful? And is it not
the case that a council can be convened to draw the Church out of this
a Pope emerging from a doubtful election is doubtful when the doubt bears on
the very substance of the election, as regards its essential conditions,
such as they are defined by natural law or positive law. For example, if there
had been serious reasons to believe that the election had been violent, or that
the person elected did not receive two-thirds of the votes. On the observance
of these conditions certainly depends the validity and therefore the reality of
the election. If the opposing cardinals seriously dispute the freedom of electoral
operations, or the number of votes obtained, etc., then the principle Jactum
non supponitur sedprobatur applies, and the fact of free and regular election must
But here [in the present case under consideration - i.e., Alexander VI] the doubt concerns the circumstance of simony, not as
to the fact, but as to whether simony itself can vitiate the election and taint it with
nullity. The doubt is a legal doubt [i.e., doubt of law, not doubt of fact], and in this case, apart from a positive decree
deciding the question, one must regulate one's conduct by this principle: lex dubia,
lex nulla (a doubtful law is no law). The one chosen is in possession of his election
by the fulfillment of the certain conditions necessarily required, and the infraction of a dubious law cannot deprive him of it. A doubtful law, which therefore has no effect, cannot serve as the basis for
requiring the declaration of nullity, and, consequently, for justifying an act
as serious as that of calling into question the reality of the pontifical power in the holder of the Primacy, at the risk of causing trouble in the Church.
Therefore we understand that, in practice, a Pope who emerges from a notoriously simoniacal election is, or should be held to be, the true Pope at least legally.
Was he really? Nothing less certain.
It is manifest, indeed, that if
such an election is null of itself, as one can believe theologically, the absence of a positive decree explaining the divine law and allowing its
invalidity to be pursued canonically would not suffice to validate it [an investigation]. But it remains true that if the one chosen did not emerge as Pope by the operations of the Conclave, he could nevertheless become [a legitimate] Pope. How? —By the
acceptance of the Church.
It should be noted, in fact, that
the initial right of election originally belonged to Christian society. The
Sovereign Pontiffs were able to limit the use of this right, by restricting its
exercise to the college of cardinals, but they [the Pontiffs] did not intend to extinguish the right altogether,
precisely for such a case in which it becomes the only resource to ward off
this distress of the society. The Church, in this case, does not supply
jurisdiction, as some theologians wrongly say; it supplies for the election by the
oath of obedience taken by the different parts of Christendom (1).
Alexander VI had received these oaths of obedience... We therefore do not think that the mere fact of simony, even if it was as well established and shameful as that to which Rodrigue Borgia owed his elevation, could justify the initiative of Savonarola to convening a council. The legal doubt was insufficient at the time of the election, and it lost its legal value as soon as the one chosen had been recognized by the Church. (Fr. Jourdain Hurtaud, 0. P., Professor of Dogmatic Theology, Lettres De Savonarole Aux Princes Chrétiens Pour La Réunion D'un Concile, Revue Thomiste, 7, no. 44, 1900).
Tractatus de Romano Pontifice cum prolegomeno de Ecclesia, 3rd Edition (Prati: Ex Officina Libraria Giachetti, Filii et Soc., 1902). pp. 222-223
This is confirmed by the practice and doctrine of the Church, which, in addition to heresies, also proscribed errors contrary to the truths which faith presupposes, or which are deduced from faith and reason: cf. the articles of Nicholas of Ultri condemned by St. Sede or 1348. (Denzinger p. 183.), the articles of Wycliff and Hus condemned in the Council of Constantia and so many propositions condemned by the following Popes. Specifically with regard to dogmatic texts, the Fifth Council was forced to proscribe three chapters: as to dogmatic facts, Martin V in the Bull Inter cuncta orders that suspects be questioned "whether they believe that the Pope, canonically elected Pope, who has reigned for a time, in his proper name, is the successor Blesse Peter, and has supreme authority in the Church of God." It is not defined, therefore, that he believes the truth in general, namely, that one canonically elected to the Roman See is the successor of Peter: but that this person (for that is what these words mean) expressed by his proper name, who now is Leo XIII, is the successor of Peter, having authority in the Church: this is a dogmatic fact. The Church therefore considers that it has the authority to propose such a truth to be held as a matter of faith by its subjects.
Idem confirmatur praxi et doctrina Ecclesiae quae, praeter haereses , proscripsit quoque errores adversos veritatibus, quas fides supponit, vel quae ex fide et ratione deducuntur : cf. articulos Nicolai de Ultri curia damnatos a S. Sede an . 1348. ( Denzinger p . 183. ) , articulos Wiclephi et Hus damnatos in Concilio Constantiensi et tot propositiones a sequentibus Pontificibus damnatas . Speciatim quoad textus dogmaticos , Concilium V. coactum est pro proscribendis tribus capitulis : quoad facta dogmatica , Martinus V. in Bulla Inter cunctas praecipit interrogari suspectos « utrum credant quod Papa canonice electus, qui pro tempore fuerit, eius nomine proprio expresso , sit successor b. Petri , habens supremam auctoritatem in Ecclesia Dei » . Non solum ergo definitur, credendum generatim hoc verum, nempe quod canonice electus in Romanam Sedem sit successor Petri: sed quod haec persona (id enim sibi volunt ea verba: eius nomine proprio expresso), puta hic homo , qui dicitur Leo XIII, est successor Petri, habens auctoritatem in Ecclesia: hoc porro est factum dogmaticum . Ecclesia ergo censet aucto ritatem sibi competere proponendi huiusmodi vera et exigendi in ea fidem a subditis.