Objections & Answer to the Peaceful and Universal Acceptance

Robert Siscoe
(February 2020)

Steven Degele: “John of Saint Thomas said it is infallibly certain that a Pope is a Pope if he was universally accepted.  But universally accepted means he was accepted by everyone except the Pope.  But only the Pope is infallible.  Hence, universal acceptance cannot impart infallibly.  Therefore, John was wrong.”

TOFP:  We reviewed your piece and unfortunately it contains a number of serious errors - most especially your conclusion that the doctrine "is heretical".  Here are a few comments.

TO BEGIN WITH, the doctrine in question – i.e., that the legitimacy of a Pope, whose election has been accepted by the entire Church, is an infallible dogmatic fact - is not the doctrine of John of St. Thomas.  It is rather the common doctrine of the Church. See, for example:

1)    Fr. E. Sylvester Berry, The Church of Christ (1927), Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2009, pp. 288-290.
2) Cardinal, D. Ioannis Claudii Puteobonelli ... In primam (-tertiam) partem d. Thomæquæstiones selectæ: In primam secundae S. Thomae Quaestiones selectae, Volume 2, ex typographia Iosephi Pandulphi Malatestae, 1707, Quest V Art II
3)    Monsignor G. Van Noort, Christ’s Church, Westminster, Maryland: Newman Press, 1957, p. 153 (emphasis added).
4)    Louis Cardinal Billot, De Ecclesia Christi, (1909), "Tractatus de Ecclesia Christi", I, Editio quinta, apud aedes Universitatis Gregorianae, Romae, p. 623
5)    Cardinal Journet, The Church of the Word Incarnate (1955), (London and New York: Sheed and Ward, 1955), pp. 481-482
6)    Monsignor G Van Noort, Sources of Revelation (Westminster, Maryland: Newman Press, 1957), p. 265
7)    Ludwig Van Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, Fourth Edition, May 1960 (Rockford, Illinois: TAN Books and Publishers, 1974).
8)    Tanquerey, Dogmatic Theology (1959) vol I, (New York; Tournai; Paris; Rome: Desclee Company, 1959), p. 146.
9) F. Dominico a Trinitate Carmelita Discalc,  Bibliotheca theologica: Septem Libris Distincta Prouincia, ROMAE; Typographia Philippi Matiz Mancini, 1668,  lib III, Sectio IV, caput X
10)    Abbot Guéranger, O.S.B., The Liturgical Year, Vol XII, pg. 188 1875
11)  Rev. James Kavanagh, D.D., A Reply to Mr. Gladstone’s Vaticanism, Dublin, James Guffy, 1895, p. 54
12)  Hervé, Hervé, Manuale Theologiae Dogmaticae, (1952) Berche et Pagis, Editores, Parisiis, 1952) Vol. I.500 (b), I.514. 
13) Salaverri, Sacrae Theologiae Summa 1B (1955), On The Church of Christ, On Holy Scripture, 3rd ed., translated by Kenneth Bakker S.J., (Keep the Faith, Inc. 2015),  bk II, ch. III, a. II., N. 812.
14)  Rev. Louis Farris, Ferraris, PromptaBibliotheca Canonica. Iuridica Moralis Theologica, Romae: S. C. De Propaganda Fide, (1764)
15) Billuart, Rene’, Summa S. Thomae Hodiernis Academiarum Moribus Accommodata (Everardum Kints, Leodii, Liege), Tract: De Regulus Fidei, 1754, p. 99
16)  Hurter, S.J. Theologiae Dogmaticae Compendium (1885)
17)  Fr. Sydney Smith, S.J., The Tablet (1895)
18)  American Ecclesiastical Review, Fr. O’Connor’ Q&A (December 1965)
19)   Sixtus Cartechini S.J. On the Value of Theological Notes and the Criteria for Discerning Them (Rome, 1951 
20) John of St. Thomas CURSUS THEOLOGICUS, Tome 6.  Questions 1-7 on Faith.  Disputation 8. 1640 1 2 3 4 5 
21)  Dr. Boni, Professor of Canon Law at the University of Bologna, and Advisor of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts. “Beyond a Resignation. The Decision of Pope Benedict XVI and The Law,” Bologna, 2015.
22)  Franciscus Xav. Wernz, Petrus Vidal, "Ius canonicum", II, "De personis", apud aedes Universitatis Gregorianae, Romae, 1943, pp. 520-521
23)  St. Alphonsus Ligouri, Doctor of the Church, Verita Della Fede', Part III, Ch. VIII, p. 720. 1767
24)  W. Wilmers, ‘A Handbook of the Christian Religion,’ 3rd ed., Benziger Bros., New York, New York. 1891, page 95
25) Pope Martin V, Council of Constance, 1418
26) Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (Benedict XVI), Commentary on the 1989 Professio Fide, 1998 
27) Schmier, Benedict; Grimm, Georg; Merck, Aemilianus; Schmier, Benedict, Ecclesia Christi In Terris Militans: Seu Catholica Religio, Cum Fide, Spe Et Charitate Theolocica, Gratia Habituali, Iustificatione, Et Merito. Tractatus de Ecclesia Militante Questio XX, SALISBURGI: Typis Joannis Josephi Mayr, (1732)
28) Arbiol, Antonio O.F.M., Selectae disputationes scholasticae, et dogmaticaeCaesar-Augustae: Emm. Roman Univ, 1702, Disp II, Art XII.
29) A. Tanquerey – Synopsis theologiae dogmaticaefundamentalis: Ad mentem S. Thomae Aquinatis (1896)
30) Fr. Edmund O’Reilly, S.J., The Relations of the Church to Society (London, John Hodges, 1892, p. 308
31) Arnaldo De Salveria, L’Ordo Missae de Paul VI: Qu’en penser?, Paris, 1980, p. 72
32) Archbishop Lefebvre, The New Mass and the Pope, The Angelus, January 1980
33) Rev. Donald Sanborn (Sedevacantist Bishop), Explanation of The Thesis Of Bishop Guérard Des Lauriers, (2002)
34) Fr. Joseph Mariae de Turre , O.P., Institutionum ad verbi Dei scriptiintelligentiam Tractatus tertius, Typis Pauli Montii, (1711), Tract. III, Quaest V, App., q. 4., p. 176.
35) Fr. Francisco,  Palanco Tractatus De Fide Theologica. In 2. 2. Div. Thom. Ad illustrissimum d. d., Tract De Fide, Disp. III, Quaest. XI, Ad hac proposition Innocent XII, (1701) pp. 313-329.
36) Fr. Antonio De Alvalate, Cursus Theologicus...juxta mentem Doct. Joanni Dunsii Scoti, Tract II de Vera Relig., Disp III, Quaest III. (1757)  
37) Hunter, Outlinesof Dogmatic Theology, Volume I (New York, Cincinnati, Chicago, Benzinger Brothers, 1894) ch. VI, N. 211.
38) Thryso González de Santall, S.J. (general of the Jesuits) Deinfallibilitate Romani pontificis in definiendis fidei et morum controversiis (Rome: Felecis Caesaretti, 1689) Ch. XII, Disp I, Sect IX, XII.   pp. 124-127
39) Cardinal Franzelin, Theses de ecclesia Christi (Romae : S.C. de Propaganda Fide, 1887), Thesis XIII, pp 232, 234.
40) Fr. Jourdain Hurtaud, 0. P., Professeur de Théologie Dogmatique, Savonarole. Aux Princes Chrétiens, Revue Thomiste, 1899, p. 660-661.

The legitimacy of a Pope who has been peaceful and universal acceptance is the common doctrine of the Church, and it has been taught by canonists, theologians, Saints, and doctors of the Church for centuries.

Van Noort qualifies the doctrine as "theologically certain" (cf. Van Noort, Christ’s Church, p 112), and Fr. Sixtus Cartechini S.J., in his book “On the Value of Theological Notes and the Criteria for Discerning Them” (which was written for use by the auditors of the Roman Congregation), explains that the effect of denying the doctrine is “a mortal sin against faith.”
SECOND, the universal acceptance does not require a mathematical unanimity (100%, or “by everyone” as you said), but only a moral (or practical) unanimity, which represents the ‘one mind’ of the Church. 

THIRD, your statement that “only the Pope is infallible,” fails to account for the passive infallibility of the Church in believing.  The Pope, whether alone or with the Bishops in a council, is infallible in teaching (i.e., defining), but the entire Church – both the hierarchy and laity - is also infallible in BELIEVING (which means the entire Church will never err in a matter of faith). 

In the following quotation, Fr. Berry confirms the ‘second’ and ‘third’ points addressed above: 

Fr. Berry, The Church of Christ: “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 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."

Notice that the acceptance does not require a mathematical unanimity, but only a practically unanimous consent of the bishops and faithful consenting (believing), to provide “infallible certainty of the fact.”

In his book, “Outlines of Dogmatic Theology,” Fr. Hunter consider the same issue, but only in relation to the ecclesia docens (teaching Church), and explains that the Divine Constitution of the Church would be destroyed if the entire hierarchy accepted as false Pope as the true Pope: 

Hunter, Outlines of Dogmatic Theology, Volume: “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 [Protestant] writers who think that they find proof in history that the election of a certain Pope was simoniacal and invalid, and 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 [this was a common Protestant argument during the 19th century].  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.

As Fr. Hunter explained, the indefectibility of the Church will not permit the entire hierarchy from accepting a false Pope as the true Pope, and as Fr. Berry noted, the Church’s passive infallibility, in believing, will prevent the entire Church – the hierarchy and the laity – from doing the same.

FOURTH, in your piece you wrote, “the PROCESS of universal acceptance is claimed to be infallible and thus binding upon subsequent Popes” and a little later:

“John’s argument is that infallibility resides IN THE VERY ACT of acceptance. This renders everything else independent, such as election validity.  Namely, if it is infallibly true that A is Pope, it follows his election was valid (or it doesn’t matter), and so forth.  This brings out the possible collision:  Pope C [e.g. John Paul II] defines the elections rules.  Pope D [e.g., Francis] is then elected and confirmed by universal acceptance.  It is subsequently learned the election was invalid.  Universal acceptance says tough cookies, we the people have spoken: Pope C’s elections rules are moot.”

TOFP:  The universal acceptance is not an infallible PROCESS.   This touches on an important point, which many people have a difficulty grasping.

The universal acceptance is “the sign and infallible effect of a valid election.” (Ius Canonicum II, Gregorianae, Romae, 1943, 520-521).  The effect proceeds from the cause, and will not be present if the cause is not present.   Hence, if the effect (universal acceptance) is present, it provides infallible certainty that the cause (legitimate Pope) is also present. 

The universal acceptance also logically provides infallible certitude that all the prerequisite conditions for him to have become Pope were satisfied, such as the condition that the papal see was vacant at the time, and the condition that his election was valid.  In other words, the universal acceptance precludes the possibility that the “collision” you are speaking of will ever occur, since it not only provides infallible certitude that he is the legitimate Pope, but the same degree of certitude that the conditions required for him to have become pope were satisfied.

FIFTH, you wrote:

“According to John, it is dogmatic fact the man elected is Pope.  Since this is infallible, it follows the election was valid and thus any conflicting evidence to the contrary is false.”

That is correct (for the reason given above), but I would add this qualification: The infallible certitude that the man elected is the true Pope does not preclude the possibility that there were irregularities in the election (or even a conspiracies), which will later be discovered.  All it guarantees is that any irregularities or conspiracies did not suffice to invalidate the election.  This brings up an important point.  

If an election law is violated, it does not necessarily follow that the election will be invalid.  For example, according to Roman canonists who have addressed the matter, violations of that which is forbidden in chapter VI of Universi Dominici Gregis (“Matters To Be Observed Or Avoided In The Election Of The Roman Pontiff”) would not have invalidated the election.

The esteemed canonist, Dr. Boni, professor of Canon Law at the University of Bologna, and Advisor of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, published a scholarly study in November of 2015 that examined the election violations alleged in Antonio Socci’s book, and concluded that, even if true, they would not have sufficed to render the election null. It is also worth noting that the esteemed canonist appealed to the doctrine of the peaceful and universal acceptance to further prove the legitimacy of Francis election.  The following is an excerpt from the study:

Dr. Boni: “even if what has been reported had happened [i.e., if the alleged irregularities in 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), 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, 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.”

The fact that a canonists of Dr. Boni’s weight appealed to the peaceful and universal acceptance to prove the legitimacy of Francis election, should suffice to end the absurd claim that John Paul II (in Universi Dominici Gregis) forbade anyone to appeal to the doctrine to confirm the legitimacy of an election.

SIXTH, you wrote:

“Papal elections are legislative in nature.  Namely, the Cardinal electors are mandated to ensure the conditions for a canonic election are fulfilled.  For the last conclave, the conditions are defined by UDG.”

TOFP: Have you noticed that Cardinal electors – those mandated (and qualified) to ensure that the conditions of the election were fulfilled – are not the ones questioning if the conditions were fulfilled, or raising doubts about the validity of Francis election?  It has been more than six years since the election.  Every cardinal who participated in the election recognizes Francis as Pope, and none have publicly raised doubts about the validity of his election. This fact alone should suffice to prove that all the requisite conditions of the election were satisfied.

Additionally, the universal acceptance (effect) confirms that the requisite conditions were satisfied, since the “infallible effect” doesn’t only provides infallible certitude of the legitimacy of the Pope (cause), but also provides infallible certitude that the conditions required for him to have become pope were satisfied.

This is explained at lengthy by Cardinal Billot, the former professor at the Gregorian University.  Billot is recognized as one of the greatest Thomists of the first half of the 20th century and served as the main drafter of Pius X’s encyclical Pascendi (against the Modernists).  The following is taken from his celebrated book, De Ecclesia Christi, which was one of the primary manuals used to train priests in Catholic seminaries prior to the Second Vatican Council:

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. It is not necessary to look far for the proof of this, but we find it immediately in the promise and the infallible providence of Christ: ‘The gates of hell shall not prevail against it,’ and ‘Behold I shall be with you all days.’ For the adhesion of the Church to a false Pontiff would be the same as its adhesion to a false rule of faith, seeing that the Pope is the living rule of faith which the Church must follow and which in fact she always follows. As will become even more clear by what we shall say later, 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. 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.”

LASTLY, you wrote:

“Pope John Paul II abolished the ancient election forms of acclamation and delegation, removing them from Universi Dominici Gregis (see UDG 62).”

TOFP: The doctrine of the peaceful and universal acceptance has nothing to do with the ancient form of election by public acclamation.  This was done away with many centuries ago.  The form of papal election by 2/3rd vote of the Cardinals was established in the 12th century, and has been the practice of the Church ever since.  Since all the authorities I cited wrote in the past three centuries, it should be evident that the doctrine of the peaceful and universal acceptance applies to elections by the cardinals.  It is what provides infallible certainty that the one elected is, in fact, the legitimate Pope. 

If this doctrine were not true the Church would have no way of knowing, for sure, that a particular pope was a true and legitimate Pope.  Hence, we would have no way of knowing of a doctrine had been defined, or the definitive decrees of a council, had been ratified by a true Pope or a false Pope.  Consequently, the object of the Faith itself (the dogmas that must be believed) would be uncertain, and the determination of which dogmas were defined by true Popes, and which were not, would be left to the private judgment of individual Catholics to decide. Those who denied various dogmas would only have to cast doubt upon the Popes who defined them in order to justify their incredulity. With fallen human nature as it is, such uncertainly would end I chaos.  This explains why the Church must have infallible certainty that the one she recognizes as Pope is, in fact, the true Pope. And such infallible certainty is manifest by the universal acceptance of the Pope. 

To deny that is just as much a mortal sin against faith today as it was in 1951, when Cartechini published On the Value of Theological Notes and the Criteria for Discerning Them, for use by the Roman Congregation.  In fact, according to the clarification on the 1989 Profession of Faith, signed by Cardinal Ratzinger, “the legitimacy of the election of the Supreme Pontiff” must be accepted definitively, and the assent owed to it is equal, as to the “full and irrevocable character”, as that which is owed to a defined dogma.  The document further states that anyone that would reject the legitimacy of a Papal election, would “no longer be in full communion with the Catholic Church.”

For more on this last point, and the other questions you raised, see this article: