Sedevacantist Watch…


       Those who have carefully read the writings of Sedevacantists over the years are no doubt familiar with their tactics. If they happen upon a quotation that they think supports their position, the author in question will be praised to the skies and the quotation presented as absolute and irrefutable “proof” for their position. This is the case with any quotation that can be spun to support their position. On the other hand, when the quotation from an authority of equal or even greater weight is presented that explicitly and directly refutes their position, they simply ignore it. Or, if pressed to comment, they will declare that he is wrong, and move on without a second thought. They will even do this when they are presented with quotations of their own favorite theologians, when the particular quotation directly refutes their position. When they believe he agrees with them, he is treated as an infallible oracle whose teaching cannot be doubted; yet when the very same theologian disagrees with them, they will disregard and even publicly reject the teaching without a scruple.
       For those Sedevacantists who are of good will (and based on some recent e-mails we’ve received, there are many of you out there), we are going to provide a quotation from one of the greatest canonists of the early seventeenth century, which directly and explicitly refutes the Sedevacantist position (which, by the way, the Church herself had already done nearly 800 years prior, at the Fourth Council of Constantinople). The quotation does not require any additional steps of reasoning for it to apply to the question at hand. It directly addresses the hypothesis of a notoriously heretical Pope, who is nevertheless being tolerated by the Church. In other words, as applied to our times, even if someone believes that Pope Francis is a notorious heretic, this quotation directly addresses what would happen if such a one was left in office and continued to be recognized as Pope by the Church. 
       The quotation is from Fr. Paul Laymann, who lived at the time of St. Bellarmine and was a fellow member of the Jesuit Order.  Fr. Laymann was born in Germany in 1574, entered the Jesuit Order in 1594, and was ordained a priest in 1603. He taught philosophy at the University of Ingolstadt from 1603-1609, taught moral theology at the Jesuit house in Munich from 1609-1625, and taught canon law at the University of Dillingen from 1625-1632. The Catholic Encyclopedia explains that “he was one of the greatest moralists and canonists of his time, and a copious writer on philosophical, moral, and juridical subjects.”
       The following quotation dealing with a heretical Pope is taken from Laymann’s book
Theologia Moralis, Book 2, Tract 1, Chapter 2, p. 153, published in 1700. It provides us with a clear teaching concerning what happens in the case of a notoriously heretical Pope who is being tolerated by the Church. Here it is:

       “It is more probable that the Supreme Pontiff, as concerns his own person, could fall into heresy, even a notorious one, by reason of which he would deserve to be deposed by the Church, or rather declared to be separated from her. … The proof of this assertion is that neither Sacred Scripture nor the tradition of the Fathers indicates that such a privilege [i.e., being preserved from heresy when not defining a doctrine] was granted by Christ to the Supreme Pontiff: therefore the privilege is not to be asserted.
       "The first part of the proof is shown from the fact that the promises made by Christ to St. Peter cannot be transferred to the other Supreme Pontiffs insofar as they are private persons, but only as the successor of Peter in the pastoral power of teaching, etc. The latter part is proven from the fact that it is rather the contrary that one finds in the writings of the Fathers and in decrees: not indeed as if the Roman Pontiffs were at any time heretics de facto (for one could hardly show that); but it was the persuasion that it could happen that they fall into heresy and that, therefore, if such a thing should seem to have happened, it would pertain to the other bishops to examine and give a judgment on the matter; as one can see in the Sixth Synod, Act 13; the Seventh Synod, last Act; the eight Synod, Act 7 in the epistle of [Pope] Hadrian; and in the fifth Roman Council under Pope Symmachus: ‘By many of those who came before us it was declared and ratified in Synod, that the sheep should not reprehend their Pastor, unless they presume that he has departed from the Faith’. And in Si Papa d. 40, it is reported from Archbishop Boniface: ‘He who is to judge all men is to be judged by none, unless he be found by chance to be deviating from the Faith’. And Bellarmine himself, book 2, ch. 30, writes: ‘We cannot deny that [Pope] Hadrian with the Roman Council, and the entire 8th General Synod was of the belief that, in the case of heresy, the Roman Pontiff could be judged,’ as one can see in Melchior Cano, bk. 6, De Locis Theologicis, last chapter.
       "But note that, although we affirm that the Supreme Pontiff, as a private person, might become a heretic … nevertheless, for as long as he is tolerated by the Church, and is publicly recognized as the universal pastor, he is still endowed, in fact, with the pontifical power, in such a way that all his decrees have no less force and authority than they would if he were a truly faithful, as Dominic Barnes notes well (q.1, a. 10, doubt 2, ad. 3) Suarez bk 4, on laws, ch. 7.
       "The reason is: because it is conducive to the governing of the Church, even as, in any other well-constituted commonwealth, that the acts of a public magistrate are in force as long as he remains in office and is publicly tolerated.”[1]

       Here we have a renowned canonist, from the time of Bellarmine and Suarez (and of their same Jesuit order), who directly addresses what would happen of a Pope fell into notorious heresy, yet nevertheless was tolerated by the Church and recognized as its head. He explains that in such a situation, the Pope would retain the pontifical power, and “all his decrees [would] have no less force and authority than they would if he were a truly faithful.”
       Now, we can already anticipate the response of the Sedevacantists to this quote. They will no doubt say “canonists and theologians are not infallible.” That, of course, is true, but no Sedevacantist apologist has ever produced an authoritative quotation that contradicts what Fr. Layman wrote. All they have produced are quotations that speak of the speculative question concerning how a Pope would lose his office (which we addressed in our article “Sedevacantist Errors of Fact and Law). However, never have they produced a citation that directly addresses what would happen if a heretical Pope remained in office, while the Church (understood to be a moral unanimity of Catholics throughout the world) continued to recognize him as its head. Fr. Laymann, on the other hand, addressed the question directly and cites other authorities who teach the same. And no reputable theologian we are aware of has ever disagreed with what he taught. That is because Fr. Laymann’s explanation reflects the constant teaching and practice of the Catholic Church.

[1] Laymann, Theol. Mor., bk. 2, tract 1, ch. 7, p. 153 (emphasis added).

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