STEVEN SPERAY’S ERRONEOUS INTERPRETATION JOHN OF ST. THOMAS REFUTED
The Sedevacantist apologist, Steve Speray, recently posted an article on his website in which he argues that John of St. Thomas (JST) criticized St. Bellarmine for allegedly rejecting the need for warnings in the case of papal heresy. For years, Mr. Speray has been employing any and every tactic to avoid the fact that Bellarmine clearly teaches that a heretical Pope must be avoided “after two corrections/warnings” as St. Paul teaches concerning heretics. Mr. Speray located a snippet of John of St. Thomas’ writings on the internet, which he thought supported his erroneous interpretation of Bellarmine, and then used it in an attempt to defend his position.
What he didn’t realize is that he not only took JST completely out of context, but ended by interpreting him as meaning the exact opposite of what he actually says. In reality, JST affirms that Bellarmine requires warnings in the case of a heretical Pope. He then uses this teaching of Bellarmine (i.e., requiring two warnings) against him by demonstrating that according to Bellarmine’s own reasoning the position of Cajetan (which JST was defending) would have to be correct.
While Mr. Speray’s entire article is riddled with errors from start to finish (which is surely no surprise for those familiar with his writings), in Part I we will focus only on Mr. Speray’s assertion that JST “criticizes Bellarmine for rejecting the need for two warnings.” In Part II, we will address Mr. Speray’s equally absurd claim that “Bellarmine requires private judgment”.
From Speray’s article:
“ What Siscoe doesn’t tell his readers is that John of St. Thomas criticizes Bellarmine for rejecting the need for two warnings. That’s right, the very person Siscoe (and Salza) uses as the primary source against sedevacantists, supports sedevacantists on Bellarmine. John of St. Thomas wrote: “Bellarmine objected that the Apostle [St Paul] says that we must avoid the heretic after two admonitions, that is to say, after he clearly appears pertinacious, before any excommunication and sentence of a judge, as St. Jerome says in his commentary, for heretics separate themselves by the heresy itself (per se) from the Body of Christ.” … According to John of St. Thomas, Siscoe is wrong about Bellarmine.
As usual, Mr. Speray has it exactly backwards. When JST says, “Bellarmine objected that the Apostle says that a heretic is to be avoided after two corrections,” he doesn’t mean Bellarmine objects to the teaching “that the Apostle says that a heretic is to be avoided after two corrections,” which is what Mr. Speray thinks. Rather, he means Bellarmine objected to the teaching of Cajetan (that JST had just presented) by arguing “that the Apostle says that a heretic is to be avoided after two corrections”. The teaching that “the heretic is to be avoided after two warnings” is what Bellarmine himself used in an attempt to refute Cajetan; it is not an argument that Bellarmine “objected” to. This is the problem with Sedevacantist apologists, such as Steve Speray, who seek to interpret snippets found on the internet, while failing to understand the context or the underlying theology (the latter of which will be discussed in Part II).
Had Mr. Speray read the complete treatise of JST, the context would have made it abundantly clear that he was not “criticizing Bellarmine of rejecting the need for two warnings.” But even without knowing the context, what JST meant should have been evident to anyone familiar with Bellarmine’s refutation of the Fourth Opinion (Cajetan’s opinion), which is what JST was quoting. Here is Bellarmine’s argument against the Fourth Opinion, in his own words, taken from De Romano Pontifice:
“Bellarmine, De Romano Pontifice: “The fourth opinion is that of Cajetan, for whom the manifestly heretical Pope is not ipso facto deposed, but can and must be deposed by the Church. To my judgment, this opinion [of Cajetan] cannot be defended. For, in the first place [here comes Bellarmine’s argument against Cajetan’s position], it is proven with arguments from authority and from reason that the manifest heretic is ipso facto deposed. The argument from authority is based on St. Paul (Titus, c. 3), who orders that the heretic be avoided after two warnings, that is, after showing himself to be manifestly obstinate — which means before any excommunication or judicial sentence.”
As we can see, Bellarmine doesn’t object to the teaching that a heretic must be avoided after two warnings. He objects to the position of Cajetan by arguing that a heretic must be avoided after two warnings.
What Bellarmine is essentially arguing is that the loss of papal office happens, dispositively, by the act of the Pope himself in remaining hardened in heresy in the face of ecclesiastical warnings (the declaration of the crime merely being condition for Christ to depose him formally), and not due to any excommunication or juridical sentence. That is Bellarmine’s position. The position of Cajetan/JST is that it is not the act of the Pope, but rather the act of the Church herself declaring him vitandus (to be avoided) that produces the dispositive cause for the loss of office (this will be explained at length in Part II).
In case there is still any doubt that JST was presenting Bellarmine’s own position (as an objection to that of Cajetan), here is the teaching of Bellarmine, followed by JST’s presentation of Bellarmine’s teaching. I will also provide the previous sentence of JST (which Mr. Speray obviously didn’t read) since it clearly shows that he is presenting the objections of Bellarmine (and Suarez) against the teaching of Cajetan:
John of St. Thomas presenting Bellarmine’s argument against Cajetan: “The arguments of Bellarmine and Suarez against the foregoing opinions [of Cajetan] are easily refuted. For Bellarmine objects [to the teaching of Cajetan by arguing] that the Apostle says that a heretic is to be avoided after two corrections, that is, after he manifestly appears to be pertinacious; and that happens before any excommunication or judicial sentence…”
Bellarmine’s own argument against Cajetan’s position: “[I]t is proven with arguments from authority and from reason that the manifest heretic is ipso facto deposed. The argument from authority is based on St. Paul (Titus, c. 3), who orders that the heretic be avoided after two warnings, that is, after showing himself to be manifestly obstinate — which means before any excommunication or judicial sentence.”
As we can see, Mr. Speray has yet again “interpreted” an authority as meaning the exact opposite of what he actually says, which, given his track record, is not at all surprising. In light of this, we can now understand why it is that “Siscoe doesn’t tell his readers that John of St. Thomas criticizes Bellarmine for rejecting the need for two warnings.” Indeed Siscoe doesn’t, since JST did no such thing.
In Part II, we will used Mr. Speray’s absurd claim that “Bellarmine requires private judgment” to explain the somewhat complicated position of John of St. Thomas and Cajetan, which very few correctly understand.