Now, if my assertion is correct, it reveals a fundamental flaw in one of the principle arguments (if not the principle argument) used in defense of the Sedevacantist position, which could result in an unraveling of the entire Sedevacantist thesis. Fr. Cekada, being well aware of this, reacted at once by posting an article of his own on his website in an attempt to counter my assertion. Fr. Cekada’s attempted refutation included two points: 1) He claims that Bellarmine never said a pope must be warned before losing his office due to manifest heresy. 2) He also argued that two quotations (one from Bellarmins’s fourth opinion and another from Bellarmine’s fifth opinion) which were included together in the article (separated by an ellipses) were referring to “two different issues”. As we will see later, these two quotations do not refer to two different issues, but are logically connected one to another.
I contacted Fr. Cekada directly to ask if he would allow me to respond to his public allegation (which, I’m sorry to say, was replete with sarcastic insults and name-calling), and if he would be willing to include my response beneath his own article on his website. He replied cordially by saying that his website is just not set up for that sort of thing, and furthermore, if he permitted me to respond to his public allegations, he’d have to do the same for others. Heaven forbid! But to his credit, he did edit the original article by removing most of the sarcastic insults and inappropriate name-calling, thereby bringing his article slightly more in accord with what one would expected from a person who had been elevated to the dignity of the priesthood.
As Providence would have it, after reading Fr. Cekada’s piece, and while looking up the source for a quotation I had used in the April article, I happened across an extremely thorough treatise on the deposition of a heretical pope, which, as far as I know, has never been translated into English (at least not in its entirety). I discovered it in Cursus Theologici, Tract. De Auctoritate Summi Pontificis, Disp II, Art III (1640), written by John of St. Thomas, who is considered one of the greatest minds of the “Counter-Reformation” era, as it is sometimes called. This brilliant professor of Scholastic theology and philosophy, who is recognized as one of the foremost Thomists the Church has known - possibly second only to St. Thomas himself - addresses every aspect of the question with incredible precision, utilizing Thomistic metaphysics and unassailable logic, while citing historical examples and canon law. Through the use of distinctions, he reconciles apparent contradictions in the writings of theologians over this question, and explains, in precise detail, the way in which a heretical pope falls from the Pontificate.
His treatise reveals many errors of today’s Sedevacantists, using some of the same arguments that have appeared in this publication. He even discusses, at length, and confirms the very point I made in the April 2014 article - which Fr. Cekada mocked an ridiculed as “windbaggery from someone who has no idea what he is talking about” – namely, that Bellarmine held the position that a heretical Pope must be warned before losing his office due to heresy.
I will use this response to Fr. Cekada to introduce some of the material contained in this magnificent treatise, which will likely be published, in its entirety, in an upcoming book on Sedevacantism, which should be out in the Spring of 2015.
"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.” (2)
Notice that Fr. Smith addresses both opinions regarding the question of how a pope loses his office (which relates to point #4 above), and then notes that “both opinions agree that he must at least be declared guilty of heresy by the Church.” (point #2).
And it should be noted that Fr. Smith’s book was carefully examined by two canonists in Rome following its initial publication. The Preface of the Third Edition explains that Cardinal Simeoni, Prefect of the Propaganda Fide, “appointed two Consultors, doctors in canon law, to examine the ‘Elements’ and report to him. The Consultors, after examining the book for several months, made each a lengthy report to the Cardinal-Prefect”. (3) Their detailed reports noted five inaccuracies or errors that required revision. The above quotation was not cited as an error, or even a slight inaccuracy. Hence it remained in the Third revised Edition from which the above quotation was taken. If the statement was in incorrect, it would have been noted by the canonist and revised. The fact that it was not revised shows that the statement is correct.
And we can see where it leads when individual Catholics in the pew begin to decide for themselves who is, and who is not, a true Pope, when we consider that we now have a Sedevacantist who claims Pope Innocent (d. 1143) was the last true pope. He posted the following on his website:
In his objection to the fourth opinion, Bellarmine employed the use of a syllogism (4) in order to arrive at a theological conclusion that refutes it. A theological conclusion is a conclusion derived from two premises, one of which is a revealed truth (the Major), while the other is a truth known by reason (the Minor). The following is the syllogism used by Bellarmine.
“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 cannot be defended. For, in the first place, it is proven with arguments from authority [Major] and from reason [Minor] that the manifest heretic is ipso facto deposed, The argument from authority is based on Saint Paul (Titus, 3:10), 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 [Major] (…) . Now, a Pope who remains Pope cannot be avoided, for how could we be required to avoid our own head? [Minor] … therefore the manifest heretic cannot be Pope.” [Conclusion]
Now, before showing how this syllogism requires a warning for a pope to be considered a manifest heretic, I need to address Fr. Cekada’s primary argument against my April article. He claimed that a single quotation from the article, which included a statement from Bellarmine’s fourth opinion, along with a statement from the fifth opinion (the two being separated by an ellipses), were completely unrelated. He wrote: “You don’t have to be a Latinist to figure out that two passages with several intervening columns in small print might just possibly refer to two different issues.” He then used this assertion as the basis for a sarcastic ad hominem attack, which, unfortunately, is a common tactic of Fr. Cekada against anyone who dares to write against the errors of Sedevacantism.
What Fr. Cekada apparently didn’t realize (or pretended not to realize), is that the two quotations included the Major from the syllogism (found in the fourth opinion), along with a statement from the fifth opinion that is virtually identical to the Conclusion of the syllogism. Hence, there is a logical relation between the two citations, which Fr. Cekada claimed not to see. The following is how the syllogism reads when the quotation from the fifth opinion replaces the Conclusion from the syllogism in the fourth opinion:
Major: According to St. Paul, a heretic must be avoided after two warnings.
This teaching of John of St. Thomas is confirmed by the eminent 18th Century Italian theologian, Fr. Petri Ballerini – who is an adherent of Bellarmine’s fifth opinion. A portion of the following quote was included in the April article, but what was not specifically pointed out is that, according to Fr. Ballerini, before the Pope is warned he is still a legitimate Pope (which will become more clear in the commentary that follows). He begins by saying that a Pontiff who “defended heresy” would be a grave danger to the faith. He then asks who would have the authority to issue a warning to a Pope, and explains what such a warning would accomplish:
Notice that he begins by explaining that an inferior can warn a superior. The reason he mentions this is because the Cardinals, or those who are charged with issuing the public warning, are inferior to the Pope. What this shows is that, according to Fr. Ballerini, a Pope who “defended heresy” would still be Pope prior to the public warning – just like John of St. Thomas said – since a “Pope” who had already lost his office due to heresy would no longer be superior to the Cardinals. Only after remaining obstinate in the face of the “public and solemn” warning would pertinacity be sufficiently manifest. Prior to the public warning, and up to the time of the public declaration, the man would still be a legitimate Pope. This point becomes more evident from what Fr. Ballerini had to say next:
Notice that all of the actions (warnings, rebukes, etc.) that occurred before the “declaration of his contumacy and heresy” would be directed to one who was still Pope, which is why such actions would constitute an obligation of charity, rather than jurisdiction (since the Cardinals have no jurisdiction over a Pope). This citation confirms what John of St. Thomas said above, namely, that even if a Pope appears to be a heretic externally, he does not lose his office until he has been juridically warned.
Being incapable of effectively ruling the Church due to his manifest heresy, God himself severs the bond that unites the man to the office, and he falls ipso facto from the Pontificate - even before being formally declared deprived of the Pontificate by the Church.
John of St. Thomas goes on to explain how the Church plays a ministerial part in the deposition, rather than an authoritative part, since the Church has no authority over a Pontiff - even in the case of heresy. He employs the Thomistic concepts of form and matter to explain how the union between the man and the pontificate is dissolved. A distinction is made between the man (the matter), the Pontificate (the form), and the bond that unites the two. He explains that the Church plays a ministerial part in the deposition of a Pope, just as she plays a ministerial part in the election. During the election of a Pope, the Church designates the man (the matter), who is to receive the pontificate (the form) immediately from God. Something similar happens when a Pope loses his office due to heresy. Since “the Pope is constituted Pope by the power of jurisdiction alone” (10) (which he is unable to effectively exercise if he must be avoided) when the Church issues the declaratory sentence and presents him to the faithful as one that must be avoided, the Church thereby introduces a disposition into the matter (the man) that renders him incapable of sustaining the form (the Pontificate). God responds to this legitimate act of the Church (which it has a right do to in accord with divine law) by withdrawing the form from the matter, thereby causing the man to fall from the Pontificate.
Yet Sedevacantists, based on a hasty and superficial reading of Bellarmine, skip over all this and take matters into their own hands. Imagining that a manifest heretic is one they personally judge to be a heretic, they conclude that if they themselves become “morally certain” that the man is guilty of heresy it must mean he is not the pope. They then write articles explaining to others how they too can “detect” heresy in the pope in the hope that they will also become “morally certain” the man is a heretic and adopt the Sedevacantist position. This is one of their means of proselytism.
Here we see Bellarmine’s true thinking on this point. He doesn’t say that if an individual personally judges the Bishop to be a heretic, they can declare him a “manifest heretic” and then proclaim that he has lost his office. No. A heretic can be spotted, as he explains, but if the heretic is a bishop he is only to be deposed (or declared deprived) by the proper authorities. Also notice Bellarmine’s implicit endorsement of the “recognize and resist” (R&R) position, when he says (quoting our Lord) that “false prophets (heretical Bishops) are not to be listened to by the people”. Not listening to them is one thing; declaring them deposed is another. The former is commanded by Our Lord; the latter forbidden by Tradition.
What the half sentence giveth, the complete sentence taketh away. If it was the sin of heresy alone that caused the loss of office, a pope who fell into occult (secret) heresy would also cease to be pope. Yet, as Bellarmine teaches (citing the authority of Melchor Cano): “the Pope who is an occult heretic is still Pope.” (17)
Fr. Cekada’s position is also contradicted by John of St. Thomas who, no less than twelve times, states that it is the crime of heresy that causes the Pope to lose his office. Numerous examples have already been cited in this article. One more will suffice: John of St. Thomas speaks of “the deposition itself, which must be done after the declarative judgment of the crime.”
Unfortunately, a number of unsuspecting laymen have fallen for and embraced this particular teaching of Fr. Cekada, and then used it to defend the Sedevacantist position. One such person is Jerry Ming, who wrote an “Open Letter to John Vennari”, in response to an article he ran several years ago in Catholic Family News. Here is an excerpt from the “Open Letter”. See if it sounds familiar:
Notice that Mr. Ming not only parrots Fr Cekada, but he even quotes the same half sentence from Cardinal Billot (out of context) to make his point. Here we see the danger of following Sedevacantist priests without double-checking their sources and verifying the accuracy of their teachings.
This explains why Fr. Paul Laymann, S.J., (d. 1635), “one of the greatest moralists and canonists of his time” (20) said that a Pope who fell into heresy, but was nevertheless being tolerated by the Church, would remain Pope.
As bad as one may think the post-Vatican II Popes have been, they have not been publicly warned or declared guilty of heresy by the proper authorities, and therefore have retained their office. And since “it is absolutely necessary for the salvation of every human creature that he be subject to the Roman Pontiff,” (22) those who follow Fr. Cekada into Sedevacantism place their souls in mortal danger. This shows the wisdom of the decree from the Fourth Council of Constantinople, which forbade anyone to separate himself from communion with his patriarch before a careful enquiry and judgment in synod, attaching the grave penalty of excommunication to any laymen or monk who dared to do otherwise.