The Meaning of "Ipso Facto": A Response to Fr. Kramer

Note: The following is taken from a recent e-mail exchange between Fr. Kramer and the authors of True or False Pope.


Kramer, to John Salza: “How many times must I explain, "ipso facto", "ipso jure", "per se", i.e. (in Cardinal Burke's words), "it's automatic". It doesn't depend on some other person's judgment. Are you really too stupid to grasp this simple point?

Robert Siscoe replies: Before commenting, let me rephrase your position.  According to you, when theologians teach that an heretical pope is ipso facto and immediately/automatically deposed by Christ, they mean before the “fact” of his heresy has been legally established by the Church’s judgment; and anyone who holds that an antecedent judgment of the Church is necessary before the ipso facto loss of office takes place, is “too stupid to grasp this simple point”.

In response, I will cite two renowned theologians who explicitly teach that the ipso facto deposition by Christ takes place AFTER the Church establishes the “fact” of papal heresy – not before. And these citations are not brief, off the cuff comments given during an interview, nor are they isolated statements about a heretical pope contained in a theological book.  No, the works from which these citations are taken are very lengthy treatise, written specifically to address how and when a heretical pope falls from the Pontificate. Both of these theologians studied the matter thoroughly, addressed and commented on various theological opinions, cited the relevant canon law, and discussed applicable historical cases.  They knew what they were talking about, and, needless to say, they knew what the phrase “ipso facto” means.

The first citation is from one of the most respected Dominican theologians that the Church has ever produced, John of St. Thomas. And lest you’re tempted to disparage him, as Sedevacantists always do with theologians who serve as an obstacle to their opinion, here is what the entry in the Catholic Encyclopedia has to say about him:

“As professor of philosophy and theology in a monastery at Alcalá, he soon took rank among the most learned men of the time, and was placed successively (1630 and 1640) in charge of the two principal chairs of theology in the university of that city. His renown drew the largest number of scholars that had ever attended its theological faculties. No man enjoyed a greater reputation in Spain, or was more frequently consulted on points of doctrine and ecclesiastical matters. His theological and philosophical writings, which have gone through many editions, are among the best expositions of St. Thomas's doctrine, of which he is acknowledged to be one of the foremost interpreters.”

Let us see what this brilliant theologian, one of “the most foremost interpreters” of St. Thomas’ doctrine,” who “was more frequently consulted on points of doctrine and ecclesiastical matters” that anyone else in Spain during his day, had to say about when the “ipso facto” deposition by Christ.  Also be sure to note what opinion he says “cannot be held,” since this forbidden opinion is exactly you and your Sedevacantist comrades adhere to as if it were a dogma.

John of St. Thomas: “It cannot be held that the pope, by the very fact of being a heretic, would cease to be pope antecedently [prior] to a declaration of the Church.  It is true that some seem to hold this position [I’ll comment on this below]; but we will discuss this in the next article.  What is truly a matter of debate, is whether the pope, after he is declared by the Church to be a heretic, is deposed ipso facto by Christ the Lord, or if the Church ought to depose him.  In any case, as long as the Church has not issued a juridical declaration, he must always be considered the pope, as we will make more clear in the next article.”

Notice when the ipso facto loss of office occurs: it takes place after the Church has legally established the fact of papal heresy and declared it.  This is because, as Cardinal Cajetan explains that “the power of jurisdiction is by man’s appointment: both giving it and taking it away belong to human judgment. … more is required to incur deprivation ipso facto than to incur excommunication, since incurring the censure does not require a declaration, whereas incurring deprivation does, according to the jurists.”  Are you going to accuse John of St. Thomas and Cardinal Cajetan of being “too stupid” to know the meaning of the phrase ipso facto?  Implicitly, you already have.

And in anticipation of an objection, it should be noted that the declaratory sentence of the crime does not cause the loss of office, according to either of the two opinions mentioned above.  It only precedes the deposition, which occurs by a direct act of Christ.

According to the first opinion mentioned by JST (the ipso facto loss of office), it is the act of the heretical Pope himself that causes the loss of office dispositively; according to the second opinion, it is an act of the Church that produces the dispositive cause in the person of the Pope.  According to both opinions, Christ is the efficient cause of the loss of office (i.e., it is He who formally and authoritatively deposes the Pope by severing the bond that unites the man to the office), but Christ does not act until the Church has legally established and declared the crime (first opinion), or declared the crime and then performed the additional ministerial act of issuing a vitandus declaration (second opinion). 


Another way to explain the two opinions is this: according to the first opinion, the Pope separates himself from the Church by his own act (his own act is the dispositive cause); according to the second opinion, the Church legally separates from the heretic Pope by virtue of a vitandus declaration (in this case, the vitandus declaration produces the dispositive cause).  But, again, according to both opinions the crime must be legally established before Christ will act by authoritatively deposing a sitting Pope, as John of St. Thomas explained above.

Here is the sequence of events, according to each opinion respectively:

First Opinion

1)    The Pope falls notoriously into heresy (dispositive cause).
2)    The Church legally establishes the crime and declares it.
3)    Christ authoritatively deposes the pope ipso facto (efficient cause).

Second Opinion

1)    Pope falls notoriously into heresy.
2)    Church legally establishes the crime.
3)    In accord with Divine Law (Titus 3:10), the Church issues a vitandus “to be avoided” declaration to the faithful (which produces the dispositive cause).  This act of the Church legally obliges the faithful to avoid the heretical Pope (thereby rendering him incapable of governing the Church).  
4)  Christ then acts by authoritatively deposing the heretical Pope (efficient cause).

The next authority I will cite to show that the “ipso facto” deposition by Christ occurs after the Church declares the crime is Francisco Suarez.  And once again, lest you attempt to denigrate the Doctor Eximius et Pius, here’s what the Catholic Encyclopedia has to say about him:

Doctor Eximius, a pious and eminent theologian, as Paul V called him, born at Granada, 5 January, 1548; died at Lisbon, 25 September, 1617. He entered the Society of Jesus at Salamanca, 16 June, 1564; in that city he studied philosophy and theology from 1565 to 1570, and was ordained in 1572. He taught philosophy at Avila and at Segovia (1571), and later, theology at Avila and Segovia (1575), Valladolid (1576), Rome (1580-85); Alcalá (1585-92), Salamanca (1592-97), and Coimbra (1597-1616). All his biographers say that he was an excellent religious, practicing mortification, laborious, modest, and given to prayer. He enjoyed such fame for wisdom that Gregory XIII attended his first lecture in Rome; Paul V invited him to refute the errors of King James of England, and wished to retain him near his person, to profit by his knowledge; Philip II sent him to the University of Coimbra to give prestige to that institution, and when Francisco Suárez visited the University of Barcelona, the doctors of the university went out to meet him, with the insignia of their faculties. His writings are characterized by depth, penetration and clearness of expression, and they bear witness to their author's exceptional knowledge of the Fathers, and of heretical as well as of ecclesiastical writers. Bossuet said that the writings of Francisco Suárez contained the whole of Scholastic philosophy; Werner (Franz Francisco Suárez, p. 90) affirms that if Francisco Suárez be not the first theologian of his age, he is, beyond all doubt, among the first; Grotius (Ep. 154, J. Cordesio) recognizes in him one of the greatest of theologians and a profound philosopher…”.

Suarez did not live during a time of apostasy (like today), but at a time when the faith was flourishing, yet he is acknowledged as one of the greatest theologians of his day. 
Now, Suarez himself held to the ipso facto deposition opinion (the first opinion), and he explicitly states that the it occurs AFTER the Church has legally established and declared the crime, not before, as you claim.  Here is how Suarez explained his own position.

Francisco Suarez: “Therefore, others [e.g., Azorius] affirm the Church is superior to the Pope in the case of heresy, but this is difficult to say. For Christ the Lord constituted the Pope as supreme judge absolutely; even the canons indifferently and generally affirm this; and at length the Church does not validly exercise any act of jurisdiction against the Pope; nor is the power conferred to him by election, rather [the Church] merely designates a person upon whom Christ confers the power by himself. Therefore on deposing a heretical Pope, the Church would not act as superior to him, but juridically and by the consent of Christ she would declare him a heretic and therefore unworthy of Pontifical honors; he would then ipso facto and immediately be deposed by Christ…”

Are you going to accuse Suarez of not understanding his own opinion, and being “too stupid” to grasp the meaning of the term “ipso facto”?  If not, why?

Now, in case you plan to argue that modern theologians have not required a declaratory sentence, I will provide a citation from the very end of the 19th century, taken from Elements of Ecclesiastical Law, which confirms that “both opinions agree” that the heretical pope must at least be declared guilty of heresy by the Church. 

“Question: Is a Pope who falls into heresy deprived, ipso jure, of the Pontificate?  Answer: There are two opinions: one holds that he is by virtue of divine appointment, divested ipso facto, of the Pontificate; the other, that he is, jure divino, only removable.  Both opinions agree that he must at least be declared guilty of heresy by the church, i.e., by an ecumenical council or the College of Cardinals.”

Any theologian who teaches that the loss of office occurs prior to the declaratory sentence must be understood as meaning it occurs dispositively, not formally. This distinction clarifies what would appear to be a direct contraction in the writing of some theologians, such as Billuart. 

For example, in his work Cursus Theologiœ, Billuart begins by saying a heretical pope loses his office before any declaration from the Church.  Then, in the very next sentence, he states that he must continue to be obeyed as Pope until he is declared a heretic by the Church.  The reason, he explains, is because he retains the papal jurisdiction (i.e., he retains the pontificate formally), up until the time of the declaration, not by right, he says, but by fact, due to the Will of God for the common good of the Church.

The apparent contradiction between losing the pontificate before the declaratory sentence is issued, while at the same time retaining papal jurisdiction until it is issued, is reconciled by distinguishing between the dispositive cause of the loss of office (resulting from an act of the pope himself), and the formal deposition by Christ (the divine act of severing the man from the Pontificate and thereby stripping him of his authority), which occurs after the crime has been declared. This apparent contradiction also explains why JST said that some theologians “seem” to hold that the loss of office occurs before the crime is declared by the Church.

Before ending, let’s consider the reason Suarez gives for why Christ will not authoritatively depose a heretical pope before he is legally declared a heretic by the Church, and then see if his reasoning has any relevance to our day.

Suarez: “[I]f the external but occult heretic can still remain the true Pope, with equal right he can continue to be so in the event that the offense became known, as long as sentence were not passed on him.  (…) because in this way would arise even greater evils. In effect, there would arise doubt about the degree of infamy necessary for him to lose his charge; there would rise schisms because of this, and everything would become uncertain…”.

Doubt about the degree of infamy necessary for him to lose his charge and schism is exactly what we see today as a result of you and your Sedevacantist comrades publicly declaring which pope has lost his office, and which has not, all based on your own private judgment.

You say the post Vatican II popes prior to Francis did not meet the “degree of infamy necessary” to lose their office, yet Cekada and his sect say they did. “Our Lady’s Resistance” claims all the Pope after Pius X were heretical Antipopes, yet Fr. Cekada’s sect disagrees with them, while Richard Ibranyi claims to have “definitive proof” that all the Popes for the last 9 centuries (from Innocent II forward) have been “heretical antipopes”.  This is where private judgment concerning who is and who is not a true Pope leads.

According to your private judgment, Francis is a heretical antipope, yet according to the judgment of Cardinal Burke (who you quote as an authority for your position), and the entire Magisterium of the Church, he is the legitimate Pope.  You publicly hold that Benedict is the true Pope, since his resignation was supposedly forced and hence invalid, yet Benedict himself publicly stated that “there isn’t the slightest doubt about the validity,” of his resignation, and that any “speculation about its invalidity is simply absurd.”  All of these schisms that you and your Sedevacantists associates have created – the “greater evils” Suarez mentioned - only make the situation in the Church far worse and discredit the traditional movement.


I will conclude with this question: since you claim ipso facto can only mean “before any human judgment”, and since you have declared John Salza “too stupid” to grasp that point, is it also you position that both John of St. Thomas and Suarez - the latchet of whose sandals you are not worthy to lose - of were too stupid do understand the meaning of the phrase, since they both explicitly taught that the ipso facto deposition by Christ follows an antecedent (prior) judgment of the Church?  If not, explain the reason for your double standard? We will see if you answer this question or resort to your usual diversionary tactic of name-calling and ad hominem attacks.

COMMENT:  Fr. Kramer had no reply.  In his follow up e-mail, he completely ignored the citations from JST and Suarez (as well as all the theological arguments presented above) and resorted to his customary ad hominem attacks and juvenile name calling.  

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