Robert Siscoe’s Reply to “Smith’s Friendly Challenge”

Several months ago the website Non Veni Pacem posted an article titled, “A Friendly Challenge to Robert Siscoe,” by a regular commenter on the site who goes by the name “Smith”.  The Challenge was in response to an article on the ‘peaceful and universal acceptance’ (here), which was intended to demonstrate that the election of Francis is an infallible dogmatic fact. 

Smith offered a number of objections to the article, but the main one – the one he himself referred to
as his Major Point – is that “the designation of dogmatic fact as to the validity of a papal election can only apply to *past* popes,” not present Popes.”

Smith defended his position by stating that dogmatic facts require the assent of divine faith, and then noted that this level of assent is only given to the legitimacy of Pope due to his connection with a “primary dogma” (by which he means a revealed truth).   If there is no connection between the Pope and a primary dogma, he contends, his legitimacy does not require the assent of divine faith, and therefore cannot be an infallible dogmatic fact.   

He then provided several arguments to explain why he believes only past Popes can be connected with the dogma, and attempted to show why several of my arguments were erroneous. He further argued that two of the five quotations I included in my article referred to past Pope, not current Popes, and claimed these confirm his position. 

That seems to be the main thrust of his argument, but there’s much contained within it that needs to be unpacked.  This reply will be lengthy, but the importance of the doctrine being explained and defended cannot be overstated during the current papal crisis, for reasons that will become clear at the end (don’t miss the end).

I will also take the opportunity to respond to an objection that was raised against the doctrine by Bishop Garcia, and another from Fred Martinez, of the Catholic Monitor, in response to a two-part article I wrote for One Peter Five on this same topic (Part I, Part II).

Smith: I have the book True or False Pope, and have read it a couple of times. I think it is literally monumental; an extremely scholarly work, upon which extraordinary diligence has been exercised.  In spite of the huge respect I have for it I must admit that there were a very few assertions made therein that seemed to me to be lacking the necessary support of fact and/or logic.  One of these was the claim that, once a pope is accepted with moral unanimity of the Church, that very fact guarantees the validity of his election.

Siscoe: Thank you for the compliment about True or False Pope?.  Wait until you see the expanded second edition (with an additional 300 pages) that will be coming out soon.  It contains some real surprises for the Sedevacantists.

Regarding your statement about PUA seeming to be deficient in logic, it may seem that way at first, but if you delve into it and think about it, not only will you come to see the logic in it, but you will realize how important and even necessary it is – especially in the present papal crisis. 

I can also assured you that this doctrine is one that gives the Sedevacantists (at least the few who have studied it and understand it) the most difficulties.  Listen to what the Sedevacantist apologist, John Lane, admitted when he was asked why he accepts the Pontificate of John XXIII (whom he could not deny had been universally accepted as Pope):

“Because the theologians say that the adherence of the whole Church to any given claimant is in itself a proof that all of the necessary requisites [i.e., conditions] for validity are present. The reason for this is the indefectibility of the Church, which cannot adhere to a false visible head. It would in some ways be more convenient if this doctrine did not exist, but it does. J By the way, I think that this doctrine is chiefly what Archbishop Lefebvre had in view when he commented in the late '70s that the See of Rome could not be vacant because of the necessary visibility of the Church. In any case, it is certainly a powerful argument for sedeplenism [i.e. against Sedevcantism], which is perhaps why most sedevacantists never mention it.J[1]

That’s quite an admission. But in his unguarded moment, Mr. Lane admitted what anyone who understands the doctrine will already know.  Sedevacantism cannot hold up in the face of this doctrine.

I should also clarify that the reason he only concedes that it proves the legitimacy of John XXIII’s papacy, is not because he believes the doctrine only applies to past popes. The reason is because he has not been able to come up with any excuse, however weak, to justify the assertion his election was not peacefully and universally accepted by the Church. 

Lane’s fellow Sedevacantist apologist, John Daly, likewise readily admits that doctrine is true, and that it applies to the current Pope.  In a public exchange from 2006, Mr. Daly’s interlocutor wrote: “Cardinal Billot and other theologians speak about the fact that universal adherence to a certain man as pope results in an infallible fact that the man is indeed, pope.”  To which Daly replied: “Yes, if the universal Church with moral unanimity peacefully accept a man as legitimate pope, he must indeed be a legitimate pope.”

None of the informed Sedevacantists deny the doctrine itself.  What they do instead is try to find ways of explaining why the recent Popes have not been peacefully accepted by the entire Church.  But all such arguments are easily refuted and I suspect they realize it.  That explains why, as Lane admitted, rather than presenting unconvincing arguments in an attempt to show why PUA does not prove the legitimacy of all the recent Popes, most Sedevacansits simply avoid the doctrine and “never mention it.”

I recently happened across a public exchange from 2006, in which Lane was attempting to explain PUA to his fellow Sedevacantists, some of whom were unable to grasp it.  What I found nteresting is that he was being presented with the identical objections that I’ve received in the past few months, and almost all of his answers were identical to my own.  The only difference is that he lacked clarity on a few points – such as the meaning of “peaceful” which John of St. Thomas explains - the knowledge of which would have removed any reasonable doubt in his mind that the election of the recent Popes have all been peacefully and universally accepted. 

Here is one exchange between Lane and one of his fellow Sedes that I found interesting:

Ken: “I, too, find this [doctrine] nearly inexplicable. In God's eyes, a man is either the Pope or he isn't, and whether or not we believe him to be or not to be (Hamlet) does not determine the facts.”

Lane: “The opinion of men doesn't determine anything. The Church is a visible institution and therefore visible facts are determinate, not secret ones. The fact that men may or may not notice them is secondary and dependent upon those objective realities. Distinct from this is the adherence of the whole Church to a given claimant. It is not a question of ‘opinion’ but rather of ecclesiastical unity, precisely because it involves the whole Church. (…)

“I understand that these things are somewhat difficult but you'll have to trust the canonists and theologians who explain them. I can tell you, for what it's worth, that once you have spent time pondering these things they become clear. You can ‘see’ the realities and the various distinctions. They take on a clarity which makes the explanations of the authorities actually ‘explain’ them for you. But I am not sure that everybody has the kind of mind which can grapple successfully with these kinds of abstractions.”[2]

I don’t know if he is correct about some people lacking the ability to grasp the doctrine, but I do know that those who are able to grasp the principles (provided they are not out prove, at all costs, that the recent Popes were not true Pope), will no longer question the validity of Benedict’s resignation or Francis’ election.

Now to your objections… 

The Legitimacy of a Pope is a Dogmatic Fact, not a Dogma

Smith: “If I have your position correct, the guts of it all is this: Assertion: It is a dogma that once a pope is accepted with moral unanimity by the Church, he is a valid pope, regardless of any antecedent irregularities.”

Siscoe: No, the legitimacy of a Pope is not a dogma (primary object of infallibility), but rather a dogmatic fact (secondary object of infallibility).  A dogma is a formally revealed truth (contained in Scripture or Tradition); a dogmatic fact is a truth that is related to the revealed deposit and necessary for its preservation. The identity of a Pope is not a truth contained in Scripture or Tradition, but it is something that must be known with infallible certitude, not only because the Pope is the rule of faith (in the doctrines he defines), but also because he is the head of the universal Church and principle of unity.   

Smith: “It was most certainly not defined as a dogma by Martin V that a pope accepted with moral unanimity by the Church is definitely a valid pope …

Siscoe: Correct. The teaching of Martin V is not a dogmatic definition.  It is one of 39 questions defined by the Council of Constance to be proposed to those who were suspected of heresy, or to those returning from heresy, in order to determine if they believe and profess the faith of the Church.  The question is whether they believe that the currently reigning Pope is the successor of St. Peter and possesses supreme authority in the Church.  Now, since those suspected of heresy are only interrogated concerning matters of faith, the theologians explain that this definition of Pope Martin shows the legitimacy of a Pope – the one recognized as such by the hierarchy - is de fide.  This point will be discussed later.

Smith: But your contention is not this [i.e., that it is a dogma], but that it is a matter of the *secondary* object of Faith; that is, you say it is a dogmatic fact. But this does not work for present popes, only past ones. Why?  A dogmatic fact is one that is so connected to a *primary* fact of faith that, without it, that primary fact becomes impossible. In the present question, we can take as an example the dogmatic fact that Pius IX was a real pope. Why is this a matter of divine Faith? There are two reasons: First and most important is that he himself defined the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. If he wasn’t a real pope, that is no longer, and never was, a dogma. If the Church were to come to believe a “dogma” through a supposed solemn papal declaration that never occurred because the supposed pope was not a pope at all, it wouldn’t be a dogma, so the Church would be in error on a matter supposed to be infallible, thus the Church would be fallible, which would mean the Church had defected.

Answer: But if there’s no certainty that the man the Church recognizes as Pope is the true Pope before he defines a dogma, why would it become certain that he was Pope after he did so? It wouldn’t.  Does anyone believe those who reject the validity of Francis’ election would accept him as Pope if he defined a dogma?  Highly unlikely.  If they personally disagreed with the dogma he defined, they would simply reject it on the basis that it wasn’t defined by a true Pope.  

Nor would defining a dogma do anything to resolve the doubts of Catholics who were unsure if Francis is the Pope.  On the contrary, they would doubt the dogmatic definition precisely because they doubted his Papacy.  Any antecedent doubt concerning the legitimacy of a Pope will necessarily result in consequent doubt about any doctrines he defined.  

This shows why it must be infallibly certain that the man the Church recognized as Pope is, in fact, the true Pope even before he defines a doctrine.

Smith: “Secondly, the indefectibility of the Church is a primary dogma, but that requires an unbroken line of popes, because a pope is an essential requirement in the constitution of the Church as such, as decreed by Divine Law. If Pius IX were not a true pope, the line of succession would have been broken (especially considering his long reign).

Siscoe: The Divine constitution of the Church not only requires an unbroken line of past Popes. It also requires that the man currently recognized as Pope is the legitimate Pope. As Fr. Hunter, S.J., explains Outlines of Dogmatic Theology (1894), if the entire body of bishops recognized (present tense) a false Pope as their head, the Divine constitution of the Church would be ruined:

“Dogmatic Facts: - But besides these speculative truths, there are certain matters of fact concerning which the Church can judge with infallibly certainty. These are called by many writers dogmatic facts [.] 

“First, then, the Church is infallible when she declares what person holds the office of Pope; for if the person of the Pope were uncertain, it would be uncertain what Bishops were in communion with the Pope; but according to the Catholic faith, as will be proved hereafter, communion with the Pope is a condition for the exercise of the function of teaching by the body of Bishops (n. 208); if then the uncertainty could not be cleared up, the power of teaching could not be exercised, and Christ's promise (St. Matt, xxviii. 20; and n. 199, II.) would be falsified, which is impossible.

“This argument is in substance the same as applies to other cases of dogmatic facts.  Also, it affords an answer to a much vaunted objection to the claims of the Catholic Church, put forward by writers who think that they find proof in history that the election of a certain Pope was simoniacal and invalidand that the successor was elected by Cardinals who owed their appointment to the simoniacal intruder; from which it is gathered that the Papacy has been vacant since that time.  A volume might be occupied if we attempt to expose all the frailness of the argument which is supposed to lead to this startling conclusion; but it is enough to say that if the Bishops agree in recognizing a certain man as Pope, they are certainly right, for otherwise the body of the Bishops would be separated from their head, and the Divine constitution of the Church would be ruined.” (Hunter, Outlines of Dogmatic Theology, Volume I (New York, Cincinnati, Chicago, Benzinger Brothers, 1894) ch. VI, N. 211.

You see, the Divine constitution of the Church doesn’t merely require that all previous popes who legitimate.  It requires that the man the entire Church presently recognizes as Pope be the true pope.  This certainly applies to Francis – at least for the first year; and if he was certainly the Pope for the first year, it proves that Benedict’s resignation was valid.

And notice what Hunter said above about the “much vaunted objection” concerning the invalidity of papal elections resulting in invalid cardinal electors being appointed, eventually resulting in an end of true Popes. This was a popular argument used by the Protestant scholars in the 19th century. 

How did the Catholic apologists reply?  What they didn’t do is attempt to refute each allegation of an illegal election.  Not only would such an endeavor have taken years, but it would never have resolved the controversy with any degree of certitude.  The way the Catholic canonists and theologians refuted these Protestant claims, was by appealing to the doctrine of the peaceful and universal acceptance, which is all that is required to prove the validity of an election.  Here is one of many examples that could be given of a Catholic canonist refuted this Protestant objection:

“Mr. Gladstone need not be alarmed about the papal succession.  Independently of all previous proceedings, the acceptance of Martin V by the Universal Church as lawful Pope proves that his election was canonical and legitimate; for the recognition of the true Pope is a dogmatic fact in which the Universal Church cannot err.” (Rev. James Kavanagh, D.D., A Reply to Mr. Gladstone’s Vaticanism, Dublin, James Guffy, 1895, p. 54) 

The universal acceptance is the primary argument used by the Catholics scholars to refute the Protestant claims of invalidly elected Popes – and they used the same argument to prove the legitimacy of currently reigning Pope’s election.  And it should be noted that most of the objections raised by the Protestants at the time were far more persuasive than those being used to deny the validity of Francis’ election today.


Smith: But there HAVE been interregnums, and no one knows exactly how long one could last before it constitutes a break in the line. It could be as long as a generation, and probably not longer. But therefore, as long as a *current* putatative pope reigns, there is the possibility that his election was invalid, regardless of universal acceptance.

Siscoe:  The Divine Constitution of the Church does not require that there always be a reigning Pope, but it does require that the man presently recognized by the entire Church, as Pope, is the legitimate Pope, for the reason Fr. Hunter mentioned above.  Cardinal Billot directly addresses this point as well in the following quote:

Cardinal Billot: “God can permit that at times a vacancy in the Apostolic See be prolonged for a long time. He can also permit that doubt arise about the legitimacy of this or that election. He cannot however permit that the whole Church accept as Pontiff him who is not so truly and legitimately.”

Regarding the question of how long an interregnum could last, the best answer is given by Salaverri.  Before the Pope dies, he appoints certain men to carry on the government of the Church during the time of the vacancy (e.g., the Major Penitentiary Cardinal, the Camerlengo, etc.).  Salverri states that the Church can continue for as long as these men live, and no longer. (Sacrae Theologiae Summa 1B, I.3.3. Scholium 5). 

Smith: MAJOR POINT: The designation of dogmatic fact as to the validity of a papal election can only apply to *past* popes.

Siscoe: Your Major Point is also your Major Error, and the cause is a failure to realize that the legitimacy of the presently reigning Pope has a connection to multiple “primary dogmas.”  One example is seen the article on dogmatic facts in the Catholic Encyclopedia (1909), which uses the dogma that the Pope is the successor of St. Peter to prove why the validity of the election of the presently reigning Pope (Pius X) was a dogmatic fact:

“The following questions involve dogmatic facts in the wider sense: Is Pius X, for instance, really and truly Roman Pontiff [1909], duly elected and recognized by the Universal Church? This is connected with dogma, for it is a dogma of faith that every pontiff duly elected and recognized by the universal Church is a successor of Peter.” (Catholic Encyclopedia)[3]

Smith: Firstly, and by far most importantly, it is utterly impossible that a determination of the *present* juridical status of anyone can be a matter of divine Faith

Siscoe: Incorrect again, but this error does flow logically from your “Major Error”. The same Catholic encyclopedia article goes on to explain that the validity of Pius X’s election must be accepted with “divine faith” because of the connection between a validly elected Pope and the dogma that the Pope is the successor of St. Peter.

“Some theologians hold that definitions of dogmatic facts, and especially of dogmatic facts in the wider acceptation of the term, are believed by Divine faith. For instance, the proposition, ‘every pope duly elected is the successor of Peter’, is formally revealed. Then, say these theologians, the proposition, ‘Pius X has been duly elected pope’, only shows that Pius X is included in the general revealed proposition that ‘every pope duly elected is the successor of Peter’. And they conclude that the proposition, ‘Pius X is successor to Peter", is a formally revealed proposition; that it is believed by Divine faith;”

Cardinal Journet provides an identical explanation if The Church of the Word Incarnate. (see comment about ecclesiastical faith)  [1]

Do Fr. Berry and Van Noort refer to Past Popes?

Smith: “Firstly, your citation of Berry is not to the point, because the context of his discussion concerns PAST popes, not present ones. Scratch Berry. He seems to support my position, not yours.”

Siscoe: No, Fr. Berry refers to the currently reigning Pope.  You may have been confused because the publication date of the book I referenced was 1955 (when Pius XII was Pope), but the book was originally published in 1927, during the reign of Pius XI. Here is the same quotation as found on page 507 of the book published in 1927: 

"DOGMATIC FACTS. A dogmatic fact is one that has not been revealed, yet is so intimately connected with a doctrine of faith that without certain knowledge of the fact there can be no certain knowledge of the doctrine. For example, was the [First] Vatican Council truly ecumenical? Was Pius IX a legitimate pope? Was the election of Pius XI valid?  Such questions must be decided with certainty before decrees issued by any council or pope can be accepted as infallibly true or binding on the Church. It is evident, then, that the Church must be infallible in judging of such facts, and since the Church is infallible in believing as well as in teaching, it follows that the practically unanimous consent of the bishops and faithful in accepting a council as ecumenical, or a Roman Pontiff as legitimately elected, gives absolute and infallible certainty of the fact." (Berry, The Church of Christ, London: Herder Book Co. 1927, p. 507).

Notice, he says the legitimacy of the currently reigning Pope must be known with certainty before he issues any decrees (if not, they would be in doubt), and says the way it is known with certainty is by the “the practically unanimous consent of the bishops and faithful” recognizing him as Pope.

Smith: Secondly, your citations of Van Noort: The first citation clearly also addresses past popes, not present ones.

Siscoe: Nope, Van Noort refers to the presently reigning Pope as well.  His book was published in 1957, during the reign of Pius XII.  Here’s the quote: 

"Assertion 2: The Church’s infallibility extends to dogmatic facts. This proposition is theologically certain. A dogmatic fact is a fact not contained in the sources of revelation, [but] on the admission of which depends the knowledge or certainty of a dogma or of a revealed truth. The following questions are concerned with dogmatic facts: ‘Was the [First] Vatican Council a legitimate ecumenical council? Is the Latin Vulgate a substantially faithful translation of the original books of the Bible? WasPius XII legitimately elected Bishop of Rome? One can readily see that on these facts hang the questions of whether the decrees of the Vatican Council are infallible, whether the Vulgate is truly Sacred Scripture, whether Pius XII is to be [present tense] recognized as supreme ruler of the universal Church." (Van Noort, Christ’s Church, (Westminster, Maryland: Newman Press, originally published in 1957, p.112).

Notice the reason he said the legitimacy of Pius XII’s election is a dogmatic fact.  It’s not because of the connection between Pius XII and the dogma of the Assumption that he defined, but because of his connection to the dogma that the Pope is the supreme ruler of the universal Church. Let me provide one additional quote that confirms the same.

In the following quote, Fr. Hurter says the legitimacy of the present Pope is a dogmatic fact based on the connection between the Pope and the dogma that the Roman Pontiff is the center of Catholic unity.  The following is taken from his book, Theologiae Dogmaticae Compendium, which was published in 1885, during the pontificate of Leo XII:

 [Dogmatic  facts] include  things of this sort:  that  the  Sacred  Scriptures  we use are  genuine;  that  the Councils of Nicaea, Ephesus, Trent, etc.  were  legitimate; that  Pius IX, Leo  XIII,  etc.  were elected  legitimately  and  consequently were  legitimate successors to Peter as Bishops of Rome.  Just see what would result if you would let any of these things be called into doubt.  Definitions issued during Councils would not have certainty. There would be no sure way of  determining  the center  of Catholic  unity.  In short, what would result is the uprooting of faith itself and the destruction of Revelation. (Hurter, S.J. Theologiae Dogmaticae Compendium (1885) I.338, Thesis LV).

So, we’ve seen that the presently reigning Pope is connected to the dogma that 1) the Pope is the successor of St. Peter, 2) the he is the head of the universal Church (with supreme jurisdiction), and 3) the principle of unity.  Not just the dogma that the Pope is the rule of faith (i.e. possesses the authority to defined doctrines that must be held de fide).

In the next objection, you quote John of St. Thomas and then comment on what he wrote:

Smith:  “…we discuss whether or not it is de fide that this specific person, who *has been* legitimately elected…”  (John of St. Thomas).  Note the past tense. And please don’t suggest that it is past *progressive*, thus implying something that has occurred and is continuing up to the present.

Siscoe: The event that happened in the past is the election.  If the current Pope was legitimately elected (past tense), it means he became, and therefore is, the legitimate Pope (present tense).  The entire sentence shows that this is what John of St. Thomas meant:

John of St. Thomas: "In the present controversy we discuss whether or not it is de fide that this specific person, who has been legitimately elected [past tense], is the Pope and the head of the Church [present tense], as well as the degree of certitude with which this proposition is to be held." 

You’re objection actually raises an important point that needed to be clarified. When the theologians refer to the legitimacy of a Pope being a dogmatic fact, what they are referring to is the legitimacy of the election.   The dogmatic fact is that the election (past tense) was valid, since this is what determines if the man is (present tense) the head of the universal Church.  Dogmatic facts are historical facts that are related to the revealed deposit; and the historical fact that determines the legitimacy of a Pope is the validity of his election. 

You can see this in the quotation from Van Noort that was quoted above. Here it is again:  

‘Was the Vatican Council a legitimate ecumenical council? (…) Was Pius XII legitimately elected [past tense] Bishop of Rome? One can readily see that on these facts hang the questions of whether the decrees of the Vatican Council are infallible (…) whether Pius XII is to be [present tense] recognized as supreme ruler of the universal Church."

Also notice what Fr. Berry wrote in the quotation cited above.  He didn’t ask if Pius XI (the present Pope) was the legitimate Pope.  What he asked is whether “the election of Pius XI valid?”  Sometimes the legitimacy of the Pope himself is referred to as a dogmatic fact, but strictly speaking the dogmatic fact concerns the validity of his election.  This is an important point to keep in mind.

Quotation from Van Noort on the Ordinary and Universal Magisterium

Smith: “Your citations of Van Noort … The second one does indeed concern present popes. His book was published in 1957, and therefore written before that, and Pius XII died in October of 1958. Here, Van Noort claims that Pius XII is guaranteed to be a valid pope by the infallible Ordinary Magisterium, as follows:

“The Church possesses infallibility not only when she is defining some matters in solemn fashion, but also when she is exercising the full weight of her authority through her ordinary and universal teaching. Consequently, we must hold with an absolute assent, which we call ‘ecclesiastical faith,’ the following theological truths:..Pius XII is the legitimate successor of St. Peter.”

Most unfortunately, there is a completely irredeemable and fatal flaw of fact in this reasoning. What Van Noort seems to forget here is that the Universal Ordinary Infallible Magisterium requires universality not only in space, but in time. In other words, the bishops’ unanimous teaching of a particular truth must be not only something they, worldwide, are agreed on NOW, but also something which they have Traditionally always agreed upon. In support of this I have to adduce your OWN exposition of this fact, given in True or False Pope, pp. 439ff, in particular p. 440: “Ordinary acts of the magisterium…to be considered as belonging to the Church’s [infallible] teaching…are infallible only insofar as they fit into the constant teaching…reflect or echo the permanent teaching and unchanging Faith of the Church.” (Canon Berthod)

Siscoe: There’s an important distinction that you’ve missed.  Universality in time is necessary for a revealed truth (which has not been solemnly defined), to be infallibly proposed as an object of divine and catholic Faith by the ordinary and universal Magisterium (OUM), but it is not required for dogmatic facts to be infallibly known and taught by the OUM.

Context: In the pages of True or False Pope that you referred to, what is being discussed the infallibility of the ordinary and universal Magisterium according to the teaching of Dei Filius (from Vatican I), which is strictly limited to revealed truths.

If you look at the top of page 438, you will see that we included the phrase “according to Dei Filius” (in parenthesis) just before explaining the conditions for infallibility of the OUM. This was done intentionally, since the conditions for a doctrine to be proposed as an object of divine and Catholic faith by the OUM (which is what De Filius is referring to) are not the same as the conditions for a dogmatic fact to be proposed infallibly, as an object of faith.

Regarding the quotation from Canon Berthod, he too is commenting on De Filius, and therefore is referring exclusively to revealed truths. If you have the book, “Pope or Church?”, flip to page 57 and you will see that Canon Berthod quotes De Filius directly before commenting on it. The quotation we included at the top of page 440 of “True or False Pope?” is from the very next page 58, where he addresses the conditions.  

But the question that remains is why an undefined doctrine requires ‘universality in time’ to be infallibly proposed by the OUM, when the legitimacy of a Pope does not.  For the answer, flip to page 439, below the heading “Definitively Proposed.”  There we explain that only doctrines that have been definitively proposed are an object of faith.  The difference between a revealed truth that has been proposed definitively by a solemn definition, and one that has been proposed definitively by the OUM, is that the former occurs by a single definitive act of a pope or a council, while the latter acquires a definitive character, not by a single act, but by a multitude of non-definitive acts occurring over the course of the centuries, which coalesce in such a way that the entire Catholic world knows (or should know) the teaching is de fide, even without it having to be defined. 

And therein lies the difference between how an undefined ‘revealed truth’ is known to belong to the faith, and how a Pope is known to be Pope.  To know if an individual is the Pope, we don’t look back over the course of the centuries in an attempt to discern.  We look to the election. 

When the cardinals presents the newly elected Pope to the Catholic world, it is analogous to the single definitive act that takes place with a solemn definition, which removes all ambiguity about what is proposed for belief.  If the one presented by the cardinals as having been elected is accepted by the entire ecclesia docens (teaching Church), the legitimacy of the Pope is guaranteed by the infallibility of the ordinary and universal Magisterium.

The Election of a Pope vis-à-vis a Doctrinal Definition

John of St. Thomas compares the election of a Pope by a conclave to the definition of a doctrine by a council.   The difference, he says, is that when a council defines a doctrine it becomes de fide when it is accepted by the Pope, whereas when a conclave elects a Pope, his legitimacy becomes de fide when it is accepted by the Church.  He writes:

“The Church accepts the election and the elect as a matter of faith, because as she receives him as the infallible rule of faith, and as the supreme head to whom she is unitedfor the unity of the Church depends upon her union with him

"TO THE OBJECTION that there must be someone to propose this truth to the Church as de fide, I respond that the election and the one elected are proposed by the cardinals, not in their own person, but in the person of the Church and by her power—for she it is who committed to them the power of electing the pope and of declaring him to have been elected.  Wherefore they, in this respect and for this task, are the Church herself representatively. Thus the cardinals, or whoever else the Church (that is, the Pope) has legitimately designated to do the electing, represent the Church in all that concerns the election of her head, the successor of Peter. 

“Just as the pope gathers the bishops together in a Council, and yet its confirmation and the ultimate sentence in matters of faith depend upon him, so the congregation of cardinals elects the pope, and declares that he has been elected, and yet it is the Church, whose ministers they are, that by its acceptance ultimately confirms as a truth of faith the fact that this man is truly the highest rule of faith and the supreme pontiff.  Wherefore, if the cardinals elect him in a questionable manner, the Church can correct their election, as the Council of Constance determined in its 41st session.  Hence, the proposition [i.e., that he is the legitimate Pope] is rendered de fide, as already has been explained, by the acceptance of the Churchand that alone, even before the pope himself defines anything.”

By the election, the Cardinals propose the man to the Church as Pope (single act).  The acceptance of the Pope by the Church – and especially by the bishops dispersed throughout the world - is what provides the infallible certitude that renders the legitimacy of the Pope de fide, just as the Pope’s acceptance of a doctrine defined by a council is what renders the doctrine de fide

Notice that John of St. Thomas’ explanation is identical to that of Fr. Berry:

Fr. Berry: “Was the election of Pius XI valid?  (…) the practically unanimous consent of the bishops and faithful in accepting (…) a Roman Pontiff as legitimately elected, gives absolute and infallible certainty of the fact."

John of St. Thomas goes on to explain when the legitimacy of a Pope is a matter of faith (de fide). 

"All that remains to be determined, then, is the exact moment when the acceptance of the Church becomes sufficient to render the proposition [i.e., that this man is Pope] de fide. Is it as soon as the cardinals propose the elect to the faithful who are in the immediate locality, or only when knowledge of the election has sufficiently spread through the whole world, wherever the Church is to be found?

"I REPLY that (as we have said above) the unanimous election of the cardinals and their declaration is similar to a definition given by the bishops at a Council legitimately gathered. Moreover, the acceptance of the Church is, for us, like a confirmation of this declaration. Now, the acceptance of the Church is realized both negatively, by the fact that the Church does not contradict the news of the election wherever it becomes known, and positively, by the gradual acceptance of the prelates of the Church, beginning with the place of the election, and spreading throughout the rest of the world.  As soon as men see or hear that a Pope has been elected, and that the election is not contested, they are obliged to believe that that man is the Pope, and to accept him."

During the time John of St. Thomas’ was writing it likely took weeks for news of the election to spread, but it our day it is broadcast throughout the world in real time. The fact that Francis election was not immediately contested by members of the Magisterium proves that his election was valid.

Smith: Secondly, there is grave question as to whether Francis was “canonically elected”. In fact, that’s the whole thrust of the Substantial Error argument; that he was NOT canonically elected. 

Siscoe: This objection reveals a lack of understanding of the doctrine.  The universal acceptance of Francis not only proves that he was canonically elected. It also proves that Benedict’s abdication was valid.

I should clarify that the phrase used by John of St. Thomas is not canonically elected but canonically accepted (canonice acceptatus) – that is, accepted by the Church as having been canonically elected.  Such acceptance doesn’t prove that there were no shenanigans associated with the election, but it does prove that the election achieved its desired effect.  It also suffices to remedy any technical defect in the election, as the Council of Constance teaches (per JST).

As John of St. Thomas explains in his treatise, the validity or lack thereof of an election cannot be determined by the Church based on knowledge of what transpired behind the closed doors of the conclave, since the participants are all bound to secrecy under the pain of excommunication.  There must, therefore, be an external sign that provides the infallible assurance the Church needs, and indeed there is.

The theologians canonists have consistently taught that the universal acceptance of the Church is that external sign.  As the famous canonist, Fr. Wernz explains, the universal acceptance is “the sign and the infallible effect of a valid election.” (Ius Canonicum II, Gregorianae, Romae, 1943, 520-521).  Arnaldo de Salveira notes that this is the common teaching:

Silveira: In respect to a doubtful Pope, it is necessary to make it very clear here that the peaceful acceptance of a Pope by the whole Church is ‘a sign and an infallible effect of a valid election’. This is the common teaching of the authors.” (L’Ordo Missae de Paul VI: Qu’en penser?, Paris, 1980, p. 72).

Now, the universal acceptance is not only an infallible effect of a valid election, but it is also (logically), an infallible sign that all conditions required for validity were satisfied – such as the condition that the papal office was vacant at the time of the election.  Here is Cardinal Billot’s explanation of this point:  

Cardinal Billot: “one point must be considered absolutely incontrovertible and placed firmly above any doubt whatever: the adhesion of the universal Church will be always, in itself, an infallible sign of the legitimacy of a determined Pontiff, and therefore also of the existence of all the conditions required for legitimacy itself. (…) Therefore, from the moment in which the Pope is accepted by the Church and united to her as the head to the body, it is no longer permitted to raise doubts about a possible vice of election or a possible lack of any condition whatsoever necessary for legitimacy. For the aforementioned adhesion of the Church heals in the root all fault in the election and proves infallibly the existence of all the required conditions.”

Notice, from the moment the Pope is accepted by the entire Church, it is no longer permitted to raise doubts about any defects in the election or the lack of any conditions required for validity. 

The fact that Francis was accepted as Pope by the entire Church after his election provides infallible certainty that he became the Pope. And if it is infallibly certain that he became Pope, it is equally certain that Benedict’s resignation was valid, since a valid resignation is one of the conditions required for Francis to have been validly elected. 

This is what some people have a hard time grasping, but it is not difficult to understand.  
If someone turns on a light switch and the room lights up, it provides infallible certainty that there is a working light bulb in the socket.  But that’s not all it proves. It also logically proves that the switch works (condition 1); that the wires are connected from the switch to the light fixture (condition 2); and that the light fixture itself works (condition 3).  The fact that the light comes on when you flip the switch, not only proves there is a working bulb, it also proves that the conditions required for the bulb to come on were met.

So likewise, if the cardinals elect a Pope (flipping the switch), and his election is not at once contested by the Church (room lights up), it not only provides infallible certainty that the man is the legitimate Pope (working light bulb), but is also proves that the papal office was vacant at the time of the election, and hence that Benedict’s resignation was valid (condition 1); that no illegal activities of the St. Gallans Mafia were sufficient to invalidate the election (condition 2), and that Pope Francis himself personally met all the conditions required for him to become Pope.

Another way to put it is that if Benedict had remained Pope due to a defect in his resignation, or if any other condition for Francis to be legitimately elected was not satisfied, God would not have permitted his election to be accepted by the entire Church.  Cardinal Billot and John of St. Thomas both address this point directly: 
John of St. Thomas: it is not merely a pious belief, but a theological conclusion (as we have stated), that God will not permit one to be elected and peacefully accepted by the Church who in fact does not meet the conditions required; this would be contrary to the special providence that God exercises over the Church and the assistance that she receives from the Holy Ghost.

Cardinal Billot teaches the same:  the infallible providence of God will prevent it from ever happening that the whole Church adhere to a false head; consequently, no one will ever be accepted as supreme pontiff who does not meet all the conditions necessary to be a member, whatever those conditions may be. That visibility, therefore, by which the true Church is recognizable as such, is in no way imperiled.

Smith: I would like to know how one can speak of the “unanimous teaching of theologians”. You only cite five.  How does such a small number constitute unanimity?  Besides, excepting John of St. Thomas, all these theologians were active in modern times; there is no real theological tradition on this point, so far as I am aware, and without it we cannot speak of unanimity in any meaningful sense.”

Siscoe:  The reason it can be said that the doctrine is the “unanimous teaching of the theologians” is because it is taught in virtually all theological manuals, and the manuals that don’t mentioned, also don’t deny it.  As we saw earlier, even the Sedes admit the doctrine is true, even though it’s the one that gives them the most problems.  I would also note that you haven’t provided any authority who denies it, or any who support your position that it only applies ot past Popes. 

Regarding the doctrine not being rooted in Tradition.  Interestingly, Bishop Gracida raised the exact opposite objection in response to an article I wrote on this subject for One Peter Five.  He argued that the peaceful and universal acceptance is an “outdate doctrine” from the middle ages - from a time when there was no “printing press” (why that matters, he didn’t explain) - and then stated that John Paul II forbade anyone to appeal to it to confirm the legitimacy of a papal election.  He conveniently ignored the fact that I quoted numerous authorities from the 20th century (one from 1965) in the article he was commenting on.  He also ignored the fact that recent canonists have appealed to the doctrine to prove the legitimacy of Francis’ election.  Let me provide one such quote now.

Reply to Bishops Gracida’s Objection – “the Doctrine is too Old”[4]

In November of 2015, Dr. Boni, professor of Canon Law at the University of Bologna, and Advisor of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts (by appointment of Pope Benedict), published an article in response to Antonio Socci’s book that questioned the legitimacy of Francis election.  After addressing each of the objections Socci raised, the esteemed canonist ended the article as follows:

Dr. Boni: “On the contrary, even if what has been reported had happened [i.e., if the alleged irregularities that Socci presented were true], the procedure that followed, as I have demonstrated, would have been entirely ‘ad normam iuris’ (as provided by law): the election of Pope Francis, having reached the expected majority in the fifth ballot (the first, I remember, occurred on May 12), it would be valid, there would be nothing to heal, there would be no doubt, much less a ‘positive’ and ‘insoluble’ doubt (as the law postulates) of the validity.

“Give the complete lack of legal foundation for these suppositions [presented by Socci], even if one wanted to give credit to the information on which these claims are based, the rashly agitated claim of a ‘doubtful’ Pope actually seated on the chair of Peter vanishes. And anyway the canonists have constantly taught that the peaceful universal adhesion of the Church is a sign and infallible effect of a valid election of a legitimate Pope: and the adhesion of the people of God to Pope Francis cannot be placed in any doubt.”[5]

Dr. Boni followed up six months later by publishing a scholarly study on the same subject, titled Beyond a Resignation. The Decision of Pope Benedict XVI and The Law (Bologna 2015), and again used the doctrine of the peaceful and universal acceptance to prove the legitimacy of Francis election – which she would not have done if it was an “outdated doctrine” from the Middle Ages that John Paul II forbade anyone to appeal to confirm the legitimacy of a papal election, as Bishop Gracid claimed. 

I should also ask, since Bishop Gracida believes the only factor in determining if a papal election is valid, is if it meets the requirements of U.D.G (the legislation for Papal elections promulgated by John Paul II), what will happen if Benedict and Francis die, and the “Cardinals” appointed by Francis elect the next Pope?  Will Bishop Gracida accept the legitimacy of the one they elect, or will he reject it on the basis that the Cardinal electors were appointed by an antipope, and hence had no legal right to elect a supreme Pontiff?  

We don’t have to wonder what the answer is, since Bishop Gracida has already provided the answer:  The following demonstrates the grievous consequences of Bishop Gracida’s error:

Bishop Gracida: “Finally, it is important to understand that the sheer number of putative counterfeit cardinals will eventually, sooner or later, result in a situation in which The Church will have no normal means validly ever again to elect a Vicar of Christ.  After that time, it will become even more difficult, if not humanly impossible, for the College of Cardinals to rectify the current disastrous situation and conduct a proper and valid Conclave[.]”

In case you didn’t notice, this is the identical line of reasoning that the heretics of the 19th century used to argue that the legitimate succession of Popes had ceased - an error that the Catholics scholars of the day all refuted by appealing to the doctrine of the peaceful and universal acceptance.

Reply to Smith’s Objection – “the Doctrine is too New”
To address your objection I will provide an excerpt from the monumental work Prompta Bibliotheca Canonica (1746), which the Catholic Encyclopedia refers to as “a veritable encyclopedia of religious knowledge,” written by the renowned Italian canonist, Lucius Ferraris.

The book was published during the pontificate of Benedict XIV, who Farraris refers to by name and says his legitimacy is a matter of faith.  What else is significant is that Farraris cites the decree of Martin V to prove it – that is, to prove that the legitimacy of the currently reigning Pope is de fide:

“It is of faith that Benedict XIV [currently reigning Pope], for instance, legitimately elected and accepted as such by the Church, is the true Pope—(common doctrine among Catholics). This is proved from the Council of Constance, sess. ult. where Martin V. Const. Inter Cunctus, decrees that those who return from heresy to the faith shall be asked, among other points, ‘Whether they believe that the Pope canonically elected, for the time being, his name being expressly mentioned, is the successor of St. Peter, having supreme authority in the Church of God.’ For thereby he supposes it to be an article of faith, since those who abjure heresy are ‘interrogated only as to truths of faith.’ (…)
Through the mere fact that the Church receives him as legitimately elected, God reveals to us the legitimacy of his election, since Christ has promised that His Church shall never err in a matter of faith, . . . whereas she would err in such matter of faith if the conclusion did not hold.”[6]

Referring to the definition of Martin V, you wrote:

Smith: “What exactly does “who lived for a time” (quo tempore fuerit) mean?  Literally it means “in the time which he *was* [pope]”. This probably is referring to former popes, excluding the present one.

Siscoe: No, it is referring to the current Pope, which is why both Farraris and John of St. Thomas insert name of the currently reigning Pope when they explained the teaching. Here’s is John of St. Thomas’ explanation, which leaves no doubt that he understands it as referring to the present Pope:

 “Martin V, in the Council of Constance, in the condemnation of the errors of Wyclif, which is to be found after the fourth, fifth, and last sessions of the Council, in the interrogations that are to be made of those whose faith is suspect, to see whether they rightly believe, puts this question. 

‘Also, whether he believes that the Pope canonically elected, who is reigning at the time (his proper name being given), is the successor of Blessed Peter, having supreme authority in the Church of God?’

“These words do not speak of the truth of that proposition understood in a general sense—namely, that whoever is lawfully elected is the Supreme Pontiff—but in the particular, concerning whoever is pope at the time, giving his proper name, for instance, Innocent X [the Pope at the time he was writing].  It is of this man, whose proper name is given, that the pope [Martin V] is bidding the person suspect in faith to be asked, whether he believes that such a person is the successor of Peter and the Supreme Pontiff: therefore this pertains to the act of faith—not to an inference or a moral certitude; for neither of the latter two is a matter of faith.” (Corpus, n. 13)

There is no doubt John of St. Thomas believed the question pertained to the currently reigning Pope. Also note that both Farris and John of St. Thomas teach that the decree of Martin V proves that the legitimacy of the currently reigning Pope is de fide.

As we will see in a moment, the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith taught the same in its clarification on the 1989 Profession of Faith.  Before showing that, let me address one final objection.

St. Alphonsus on a Doubtful Election

It was recently brought to my attention that someone named Fred Martinez, of The Catholic Monitor, has posted numerous articles questioning why I provided the following quotation from St. Alphonsus Ligouri, without including the last sentence:

'It is of no importance that in the past centuries some Pontiff was illegitimately elected or took possession of the Pontificate by fraud; it is enough that he was accepted afterward by the whole Church as Pope, since by such acceptance he would become the true Pontiff. But if for a certain time, he was not accepted universally and truly by the Church, during that time then, the pontifical see would be vacant, as it is vacant at the death of a Pope.' 'Verita Della Fede', Part III, Ch. VIII, p. 720.'"

Martinez asks: “Did Siscoe leave it out because [1] he is a poor scholar or [2] for some other reason or [3] because it said ‘for a certain time’?  He nor I know when this ‘certain time’ is?  Is that ‘certain time’ immediately at the conclave or is it a few years after the conclave?”

Siscoe: The answer is #2:  I left the last sentence off “for some other reason,” and the reason is because it does not apply to the controversy concerning the legitimacy Francis Pontificate.  And it may surprise Mr. Martinez to learn that I do indeed know what St. Alphonsus meant by “for a certain time,” since what he is referring to is something  canonists and theologians discuss quite regularly.

The last sentence is referring to the case of a Pope whose election is in doubt from the beginning, and who is later accepted as Pope by the entire Church.  He’s not referring to a Pope whose election was accepted by the entire Church for over a year, before being questioned by some, as is the case with the election of Francis.

The following quotation from Guéranger’s, The Liturgical Year, discusses the same situation that St. Alphonsus was referring to in the last sentence.  In the following quote, Guéranger uses the phrase “for a while,” which is essentially the same as “for a certain time”:

“The inevitable play of human passions, interfering in the election of the Vicar of Christ, may perchance for a while [i.e., “for a certain time”] render uncertain the transmission of spiritual power. But when it is proved that the Church, still holding, or once more put in possession of her liberty, acknowledges in the person a certain Pope, until then doubtful, as the true Sovereign Pontiff, this her very recognition is a proof that, from that moment at least, the occupant of the Apostolic See is as such invested by God himself.” (Abbot Guéranger, O.S.B., The Liturgical Year, Vol XII, pg. 188)

This is a common teaching of the canonists.  If a Pope is not accepted by the entire Church from the beginning, even if he is the legitimate Pope quoad se (in himself), no one is bound to recognize him as Pope.  This is what is meant by the axiom, “a doubtful Pope is considered no Pope at all”, which is an application of the principle, “a doubtful law is no law at all”.   Fr. Wernz discusses this at length in Ius Decretalium (1898).[7]

Cardinal Journet discusses the same situation in the The Church of the Word Incarnate, and explains that when a papal election is in doubt from the beginning (immediately contested by part of the Church) the election itself is considered to be ongoing:

Cardinal Journet: “The Church has the right to elect the Pope, and therefore the right to certain knowledge as to who is elected.  As long as any doubt remains and the tacit consent of the universal Church has not yet remedied the possible flaws in the election, there is no Pope, papa dubius, papa nullus [‘a doubtful Pope is no Pope’].  As a matter of fact, remarks John of St. Thomas, in so far as a peaceful and certain election is not apparent, the election is regarded as still going on.” (Cardinal Journet, The Church of the World Incarnate, London: Sheed and Ward, 1955, p. 481) 

That is the situation St. Alphonsus is referring to in the last sentence.  Again, the reason it was I did not include it in the article Mr. Martinez was commenting on is because it doesn’t pertain to the election of Francis.

Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith

Let me end with an important point about which most are unaware.  In the late 90’s the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith confirmed “the unanimous teaching of the theologians” by stating that the legitimacy of a papal election is de fide. It did so in the clarification of the Profession of Faith promulgated by John Paul II in 1989.  

The Profession contains various categories of doctrines that Catholics must accept.  The first category consists of defined dogmas (formally revealed truths) that demand the assent of divine and Catholic faith.  The second category consists of revealed truths (material dogmas) that have been infallibly proposed (but not infallibly proposed, as revealed), as well as non-revealed truths (secondary objects of infallibility) that have been infallibly taught, and hence demand the assent of faith.

Here is what the CDF wrote about the second category of doctrines and of a Catholic’s obligation of adhering to them.

 “The second proposition of the Professio fidei states: ‘I also firmly accept and hold each and everything definitively proposed by the Church regarding teaching on faith and morals.’
“The object taught by this formula includes all those teachings belonging to the dogmatic or moral area, which are necessary for faithfully keeping and expounding the deposit of faith, even if they have not been proposed by the Magisterium of the Church as formally revealed.
“Such doctrines can be defined solemnly by the Roman Pontiff when he speaks 'ex cathedra' or by the College of Bishops gathered in council, or they can be taught infallibly by the ordinary and universal Magisterium of the Church as a ‘sententia definitive tenenda’. Every believer, therefore, is required to give firm and definitive assent to these truths, based on faith in the Holy Spirit's assistance to the Church's Magisterium, and on the Catholic doctrine of the infallibility of the Magisterium in these matters. Whoever denies these truths would be in a position of rejecting a truth of Catholic doctrine and would therefore no longer be in full communion with the Catholic Church.
It goes on to further clarify what doctrines are contained in this category:

“The truths belonging to this second paragraph can be of various natures, thus giving different qualities to their relationship with revelation. There are truths which are necessarily connected with revelation by virtue of an historical relationship [i.e., dogmatic facts]; while other truths evince a logical connection [i.e., theological conclusions] that expresses a stage in the maturation of understanding of revelation which the Church is called to undertake. (…) With regard to those truths connected to revelation by historical necessity and which are to be held definitively, but are not able to be declared as divinely revealed, the following examples can be given: the legitimacy of the election of the Supreme Pontiff [.]”
Notice that.  The legitimacy of the election of the Supreme Pontiff must be accepted with a definitive assent – i.e., the assent of faith.

This shows that it is no minor error to reject the validity of Francis election, or treat it as a matter that can be doubted.  In the contrary, anyone who denies the legitimacy of a Papal election that the Church herself has accepted, which is certainly the case of Francis’ election, is “in a position of rejecting a truth of Catholic doctrine” and no longer “in full communion with the Catholic Church.”  Not being “in full communion with the Catholic Church” is Vatican II speak for being cut off from the Church – outside of which there is no salvation

[1] I should note that many theologians today maintain that doctrines which are not formally revealed, but instead only have a connection to revealed truths, are only held with ecclesiastical faith, not divine faith.  But the reason for this difference does not have any bearing on the matter at hand.

[6] Ferraris,Prompta Bibliotheca canonica., article Papa, p. 949; quoted in “Dr. Littledale’s Theory of the Disappearance of the Papacy,” Catholic Truth Society, Vol. XXVI, ( London, 1895) p. 7
[7] Fr. Franz Xaver Wernz, Ius Decretalium ad Usum Praelectionum In Scholis Textus Canonicisive Juris Decretalium, , Tomus II, (Romae: De Propoganda Fide, 1898) Scholion 618.

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