Sedevacantist Watch…

       Sedevacantist apologists will often cite the case of Nestorius as “proof” for their position that a
Sedevacantist Bishop, Donald Sanborn
prelate who publicly teaches heresy is deposed, ipso facto, without the Church having to establish the fact of the crime. They base their argument on two points.  First, they note that certain individuals (priests and laity), who lived during the time of Nestorius, cut off communion with him when he began preaching heresy, and before the Church rendered a judgment. Second, they point out that Bellarmine quotes Pope St. Celestine who taught that the excommunications inflicted by Nestorius, after he began preaching heresy, were null and void, since, as Celestine wrote, “he who had already shown himself as deserving to be excommunicated [i.e., Nestorius], could not excommunicate anyone by his sentence.” 
       The Sedevacantists believe that these two points prove that Nestorius was deposed ipso facto, by “Divine law,” the moment he began preaching heresy. We will address both of these points, and in so doing, prove that Nestorius was not deposed by “Divine law” the moment he began preaching heresy, but was instead deposed after the Church itself rendered a judgment. We will also show that although some people did formally separate from Nestorius before the Church rendered a judgment of his crime, their example cannot be followed by faithful Catholics today. Rather, the example that must be followed is no less than that of a saint and Doctor of the Universal Church, who also lived through the events, and refused to sever communion with Nestorius before the Church rendered a judgment.

Sedevacantist Error #1:
Nestorius Was Deposed Ipso Facto for Preaching Heresy

       We will allow the Sedevacantist, Steve Speray, to present Sedevacantist error #1. He begins by quoting the following from St. Robert Bellarmine:

       “And in a letter to the clergy of Constantinople, Pope St. Celestine I says: ‘The authority of Our Apostolic See has determined that the bishop, cleric, or simple Christian who had been deposed or excommunicated by Nestorius or his followers, after the latter began to preach heresy shall not be considered deposed or excommunicated. For he who had defected from the faith with such preachings, cannot depose or remove anyone whatsoever.’”

       Speray then gives us his private interpretation of the above quotation:

       “In other words, Nestorius lost his office immediately after he began preaching heresy, which is why he had no authority to depose or remove anyone. It happens by Divine law, not by sentence of Church law.”[1]

       Notice that Mr. Speray begins by saying “in other words, Nestorius lost his office immediately.” 
Nestorius the Heretic
That may well be what Steve and his fellow Sedevacantists would prefer St. Celestine to have said, but that’s not what the sainted Pope actually said. All he said is that the excommunications and depositions inflicted by Nestorius, after he began preaching heresy, were later declared to be null and void. But this in no way implies that he had already been deposed ipso facto by Divine law. It just means that the unjust acts of the one who himself was on the road to excommunication (Nestorius) were later declared null.
       In fact, we know with certainty that Nestorius was not immediately deposed by Divine law the moment he began preaching heresy.  How do we know this? We know it because Nestorius was deposed three years later at the Council of Ephesus, after the Church had investigated the matter and rendered the necessary judgment. The following is the deposition of Nestorius, as pronounced by the Council:

       “The holy synod said: As, in addition to all else, the excellent Nestorius has declined to obey our summons and has not received the holy and God-fearing bishops we sent to him, we have of necessity started upon an investigation of his impieties. We have found him out thinking and speaking in an impious fashion, from his letters, from his writings that have been read out, and from the things that he has recently said in this metropolis which have been witnessed to by others; and as a result we have been compelled of necessity both by

1)       the canons; and by

2)       the letter of our most holy father and fellow servant Celestine, bishop of the church of the Romans, to issue this sad condemnation against him, though we do so with many tears.

“Our Lord Jesus Christ, who has been blasphemed by him, has determined through this most holy synod that the same Nestorius should be stripped of his episcopal dignity and removed from the college of priests.”[2]

       There are a number of important points to note from the above pronouncement: First, the council summoned Nestorius and even sent bishops to call him to answer the charges. In other words, the council followed the teaching of St. Paul (Titus 3:10) in issuing Nestorius formal admonitions (“warnings”) in the hope was that he would renounce his error[3] so that he would not have to be deposed. When he refused to respond (thereby showing his bad will and pertinacity), they investigated the matter and found him guilty as charged. Next, the council bishops acted on their judgment under the authority of Pope Celestine. Finally, Nestorius was deposed. And notice the language used in the deposition: It says Jesus Christ determined, through the council (through the judgment of the council) that Nestorius “should be stripped of his episcopal dignity and removed from the college of priests.” If the council stripped him of his episcopal dignity, it means he possessed it up to that point (since a person cannot be stripped of what he does not possess). 
       So we can see just how mistaken the Sedevacantists are to claim that Nestorius was immediately deposed, ipso facto, the moment he began preaching heresy (in 428 A.D.), which was three years before he was deposed at the Council of Ephesus (in 431 A.D.)  On the contrary, he was deposed at the council, as St. Bellarmine himself taught, when he wrote: 

       “Certainly, Nestorius was deposed from the episcopacy of Constantinople by the Council of Ephesus [A.D. 431], from the mandate of Pope Celestine, as Evagrius witnessed.”[4]

       In De Membris Ecclesia, St. Bellarmine further explained that heretical bishop are to be deposed by a council, or by the Pope Himself. 

       “And it is certain that the practice of the Church has always been that heretical bishops be deposed by bishop’s councils, or by the Sovereign Pontiff.”[5]

       Obviously, neither Pope Celestine, the Council of Ephesus, nor St. Robert Bellarmine say anything about a heretical bishop losing his office, ipso facto, simply because a layman in the street personally thinks he is a heretic, even if he is a bishop who is publicly preaching heresy.
       Today’s Sedevacantists, based on their erroneous interpretation of Bellarmine, will never be able to understand how Bellarmine could say “the Holy Fathers teach unanimously not only that heretics are outside of the Church, but also that they are ‘ipso facto’ deprived of all ecclesiastical jurisdiction and dignity,”[6] yet, in the very same book, explicitly state that Nestorius “was deposed from the episcopacy of Constantinople by the Council of Ephesus.”[7]
       The reason they will consider these two statements to be in direct contradiction to one another, is because they have failed to understand that the ipso facto loss of office for a manifest heretic occurs when the Church itself establishes “the fact” of manifest heresy, in the ecclesiastical forum, not simply when an individual Catholic personally “discerns” that the prelate is guilty of the sin of heresy, as Fr. Cekada, Steve Speray and others imagine (See: Sedevacantist Errors on Fact and Law).
Sedevacantist Error #2:
We Can Formally Separate From Prelates Who Preach Heresy

       During the Nestorian crisis, there were two different reactions of the laity and clergy in the face of Nestorius’ heresy: One group reacted by formally separating from Nestorius, who was the Patriarch of Constantinople, by publicly severing communion with him. The reaction of the second group was to remain in communion with Nestorius and wait for the Church to render a judgment, while resisting his heresy and hoping for his conversion.
       St. Cyril of Alexandria, who would later be declared a Doctor of the Church, took the latter approach. Although he resisted the heresy of Nestorius and even sent him letters in an attempt to bring him back to the true Faith, he refused to sever communion with him before the Church itself (the Pope) rendered a judgment – even though St. Cyril himself held the exalted office of Patriarch of Alexandria.  St. Cyril was so respected in hi day that he was chosen by Pope St. Celestine to be his legate at the Council of Ephesus, which is the council that oversaw Nestorius’ deposition.
       In the encyclical Lux Veritatis, Pope Pius XI discusses the response of this Doctor of the Church in the fact of the public heresy being preached by Nestorius.  Pius XI wrote:

       “These evil dogmas, which were not taught now covertly and obscurely by a private individual, but were openly and plainly proclaimed by the Bishop of the Constantinopolitan See himself [Nestorius], caused a very great disturbance of the minds of men, more especially in the Eastern Church. And among the opponents of the Nestorian heresy, some of whom were found in the capital city of the Eastern Empire, the foremost place was undoubtedly taken by that most holy man, the champion of Catholic integrity, Cyril,
Pope Pius XI
Patriarch of Alexandria. For as he was most zealous in his care of his own sons and likewise in that of erring brethren, he had no sooner heard of the perverse opinion of the Bishop of Constantinople than he strenuously defended the orthodox faith in the presence of his own flock, and also addressed letters to Nestorius and endeavoured in the manner of a brother to lead him back to the rule of Catholic truth. But when the hardened pertinacity of Nestorius had frustrated this charitable attempt, Cyril, who understood and strenuously maintained the authority of the Roman Church, would not himself take further steps, or pass sentence in such a very grave matter, until he had first appealed to the Apostolic See and had ascertained its decision. Accordingly, he addressed most dutiful letters to ‘the most blessed Father [Pope] Celestine, beloved of God,’ wherein among other things he writes as follows: ‘The ancient custom of the Churches admonishes us that matters of this kind should be communicated to Your Holiness. . . ‘ (Mansi, l.c. IV. 1011.) ‘But we do not openly and publicly forsake his Communion (i.e. Nestorius’) before indicating these things to your piety. Vouchsafe, therefore, to prescribe what you feel in this matter so that it may be clearly known to us whether we must communicate with him or whether we should freely declare to him that no one can communicate with one who cherishes and preaches such erroneous doctrine. Furthermore, the mind of Your Integrity and your judgment on this matter should be clearly set forth in letters to the Bishops of Macedonia, who are most pious and devoted to God, and likewise to the Prelates of all the East.’ (Mansi, l.c. IV. 1015.)”[8]

       Here we see the response of a “champion of Catholic integrity,” a Patriarch, and a future saint
St. Cyril, Doctor of the Church
and Doctor of the Church, when faced with a prelate publicly teaching heresy. We see that St. Cyril didn’t declare, on his own authority (which, as Patriarch of Alexandria, was quite significant), that Nestorius was deposed ipso facto by “Divine law,” nor did Cyril formally separate from Nestorius. On the contrary, he remained in communion with Nestorius and appealed to the Pope asking that he render a judgment.  Even though Nestorius was obviously preaching heresy and leading souls to ruin, St. Cyril refused to overstep his own authority by taking matters into his own hands. He certainly did not appeal to “Divine law” and declare Nestorius to have lost his office, even though he himself was a bishop with considerable stature and authority. St. Cyril would wait for the declaration to come from the Church, who alone had the authority to “strip” Nestorius of his “episcopal dignity.”
       This prudent response of St. Cyril would be vindicated later, when the Fourth Council of Constantinople (in the very territory where the Nestorian heresy originated) forbade anyone to sever communion with their Patriarch before the Church itself had rendered a judgment, attaching the grave penalty of excommunication to any layperson or monk who did so.  The council teaches:

       “As divine scripture clearly proclaims, ‘Do not find fault before you investigate, and understand first and then find fault.’ And does our law judge a person without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does? Consequently, this holy and universal synod justly and fittingly declares and lays down that no lay person or monk or cleric should separate himself from communion with his own patriarch before a careful inquiry and judgment in synod, even if he alleges that he knows of some crime perpetrated by his patriarch, and he must not refuse to include his patriarch’s name during the divine mysteries or offices. (…) anyone shall be found defying this holy synod … if a monk or lay person, he must be excluded from all communion and meetings of the church [i.e. excommunicated] until he is converted by repentance and reconciled.”

       While some might argue that the faithful in Nestorius’ day could have been excused for severing communion with their Patriarch before the Church rendered a judgment, those who follow their example today certainly cannot be so excused, because we now have the above teaching from the Council of Constantinople, which settled the matter once and for all by condemning the practice.

Which Example Do Sedevacantists Follow?

       Now, guess, dear reader, which of the two groups the Sedevacantists claim we should follow? That’s right, they claim we should follow those who formally severed communion with Nestorius before the Church rendered her judgment, instead of the example of Cyril of Alexandria - even though Cyril is a saint and Doctor of the Church, and even though the action taken by the former (those who severed communion by private judgment) has been formally condemned by the Church.
       For example, the Sedevacantist bishop, Donald Sanborn, cited the example of those who severed communion with Nestorius as our model for today.  After quoting a long excerpt which spoke of priests in Nestorius’ days who had “cut off communion with him [Nestorius],” Sanborn wrote:

       “In this excerpt, the reader should discover and meditate a few items of note. … the priests of the diocese, at least those who remain orthodox… have withdrawn communion from him. They obviously already consider him outside the Church for the fact of his public heresy, and this even before his official condemnation. … we should take the example from our orthodox forefathers: break communion with the heretics ...”[9]

       Thus, rather than choosing to follow the example of a saint and Doctor of the Church, Bishop Sanborn puts himself under the condemnation of the Fourth Council of Constantinople. According to Sanborn, St. Cyril of Alexandria is not considered one of our “orthodox forefathers,” since he refused to “break communion with the heretics” before the Church rendered her judgment. And Bishop Sanborn has the temerity to tell his flock to “meditate” on the actions of those who contradicted St. Cyril and whose actions now come under the condemnation of an ecumenical council of the Catholic Church. If Sanborn and his flock were true Catholics like St. Cyril was, they would “meditate” on his example (the example of a Doctor of the Church) and the teaching of the Constantinople IV, and immediately abandon their Sedevacantist position. But such is not the road for those who are blinded by their own pride.
       The Sedevacantist layman, John Lane, also defends the practice of formally separating from prelates who profess heresy, before the Church has rendered a judgment.  And he too cites the example of those in Nestorius’ day who did what the Council of Constantinople would later condemn. In his article titled “Thoughtless Anti-Sedevacantism,” we find the following objection and answer:

“6. Catholics should not cut off communion with heretics who claim offices in Holy Church, but should wait for an infallible judgment, if one ever comes. 

“This also has been answered. The Catholics who immediately rejected Nestorius, until then Patriarch of Alexandria (sic), when he began preaching heresy, were justified by the pope after the fact. Their excommunications were declared to have been null and void, because ‘…he who had defected from the faith with such preachings, cannot depose or remove anyone whatsoever.’ (Quoted by Bellarmine.) In other words, once he became a public heretic he lost his office, automatically and without any declaration by Rome.”[10]

Sedevacantist Apologist, John Lane
       A few comments on what Lane wrote are in order. First, Nestorius was the Patriarch of Constantinople, not the Patriarch of Alexandria as Lane thinks. Second, the quotation Lane provided does not say Nestorius lost his office the moment he began preaching heresy, which is why Lane also had to begin his “interpretation,” just as Speray did earlier, by creatively adding the tagline “in other words.” Lane, of course, is telling us what he would have liked Pope Celestine (quoted by Bellarmine) to have said, rather than what the Pope actually said. All St. Celestine said is that the excommunications pronounced by Nestorius, after he began preaching heresy, were later determined to be null. Lane references nothing about Nestorius losing his office automatically the moment he began preaching heresy, and that is because Nestorius did not lose his office when he began preaching heresy (but only after he was deposed by a council three years later). Third, as we already noted, the faithful who severed communion with Nestorius before the Church rendered a judgment could possibly have been excused in their day, since this occurred centuries before the Council of Constantinople condemned the practice. Those who follow their example today, however, cannot be so excused, but rather put themselves under the condemnation of Constantinople IV.


       The case of Nestorius provides us with an invaluable precedent that completely negates the Sedevacantist thesis. It demonstrates that a prelate (even a bishop) who publicly teaches heresy – and stubbornly persists in his heresy - is not deposed, ipso facto, by “Divine law,” before the Church renders a judgment. This precedent alone completely destroys the Sedevacantist theory that prelates are deposed as soon as individual Catholics “discern” they are heretics by their own private judgment. And the case of Nestorius is a precedent that the Church has always followed throughout her history when dealing with heretical prelates, as we demonstrate in our book (e.g., Archbishop Darboy, Erasmus of Rotterdam, Michel de Bay, etc.). Indeed, the Sedevacantist thesis, which was hatched by diseased minds in the confusing decade of the 1970s, is an utterly inexcusable, anti-Catholic novelty, condemned by the Church, and leading souls to ruin. Whether the prelate is publicly denying that Mary is the Mother of God (Nestorianism), or undermining objective truth itself (Modernism), nothing can justify placing one’s private judgment of the prelate’s ecclesiastical status above the public judgment of the Church. When people formally separate from their Pope and bishops, before the Church renders her necessary judgments, they are severing communion with Christ Himself and with His Church, outside of which there is no salvation.

For a more thorough treatment of the case of Nestorius, see: A Point-By-Point Refutation Of Mario Derksen OnNestorius

[1] Speray, “The Remnant’s Latest Canon Law Fiasco” (emphasis added).
[2] The Council of Ephesus,
[3] See the words of Pope St. Celestine addressed to St. Cyril of Alexandria, quoted by Pius XI, in Lux Veritatis, No. 17.
[4] De Romano Pontifice, bk. 2, ch. 13.
[5] De Membris Ecclesiae, bk. I, De Clerics, ch. 7 (Opera Omnia; Paris: Viv├Ęs, 1870), pp. 428-
429 (emphasis added).
[6] De Romano Pontifice, bk. 2, ch. 30..
[7] De Romano Pontifice, bk. 2, ch. 13.
[9] Sanborn, “An Emperor We Have, But No Bishop,” http://www.mostholytrinitysemin