Mittwoch, 17. Februar 2010

Sedevacantism revisited

Due to the current - and highly unfortunate - fall of two formerly Catholic apologists on youtube to the cult of sedevacantism, the youtube Catholic community sees it as a moral obligation to respond to this situation in defense of the Catholic faith. This entry will be my humble contribution against the threat of heresy and schism - and consequently damnation - posed by sedevacantism.

In this, my objective is to show that the claim of sedevacantists that they are the "real Catholics" cannot be taken seriously at all. My argument will be based on Catholic ecclesiology (which demands visible unity), and the doctrine of Papal Supremacy as outlined by Tradition and dogmatically formulated by the First Vatican Council.

To achieve this goal, I intend to demonstrate the following points (it must be said that this exposition is not for those who reject the Catholic faith altogether):

communion with the Holy See, i.e. Rome, is a sine non qua for the Catholic faith

the communion we speak of is visible (due to the visible unity of the Catholic faith)

such visible communion with the Holy See necessitates the existence of a Roman Pontiff

visible communion with the Roman Pontiff is essential to Christian unity

an interregnum is necessarily temporary

problems with sedevacantism

on I:

St. Irenaeus:
But since it would be too long to enumerate in such a volume as this the successions of all the churches, we shall confound all those who, in whatever manner, whether through self-satisfaction or vainglory, or through blindness and wicked opinion, assemble other than where it is proper, by pointing out here the successions of the bishops of the greatest and most ancient church known to all, founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious Apostles, Peter and Paul - that church which has the traditionand the faith which comes down to us after having been announced to men by the apostles. For with this Church, because of its superior origin, all churches must agree, that is all the faithful in the whole world. And it is in her that the faithful everywhere have maintained the apostolic tradition." [Ad Haereses 3:3:2]

St. Cyprian of Carthage:
"And He says to him again after the resurrection, 'Feed My sheep.' It is on him that He builds the Church, and to him that He entrusts the sheep feed. And although He assigns a like power to all apostles, yet He founded a single Chair, thus establishing by His own authority the source and hallmark of the (Church's) oneness. No doubt the others were all that Peter was, but a primacy is given to Peter, and it is (thus) made clear that there is but one flock which is to be fed by all the apostles in common accord. If a man does not hold fast to this oneness of Peter, does he imagine that he still holds the faith? If he deserts the chair of Peter upon whom the Church was built, has he still confidence that he is in the Church? This unity firmly we should hold and maintain, especially we bishops, presiding in the Church, in order that we may approve the episcpate itself to be one and undivided." (The Unity of the Church, 4-5 [a.D. 251-256])

Pope Boniface I:
"The institution of the universal nascent Church began from the honor bestowed on Blessed Peter, in whom its government and headship reside. For from him as its fountainhead did ecclesiastical discipline flow throughout all the churches, when now the culture of religion had begun to make progress. Nor the canons of Nicaea testify otherwise, inasmuch as they do not venture to make any regulations in his regard, seeing that nothing could be conferred that was superior to his own dignity, and knowing that all things had been given him by the words of Christ. It is certain, then, that this See stands, in relation to the churches spread over the whole world, as the Head is to its own members; from which Church whoso has cut himself off becomes an outcast from the Christian religion, since he has ceased to be in the same bonds of fellowship." (Ep. 14 to the Bishops of Thessaly)

The Hormisdan Formula:
"The first condition of salvation is to keep the rule of the orthodox faith and to deviate in nothing from the laws of the Fathers. And one cannot pass in silence the affirmation of Our Lord Jesus Christ who says 'Thou art Peter and upon this Rock I will build My Church,' etc. may not be ignored is proved by the result: for it is in the Apostolic See that the Catholic religion has always been preserved immaculate. Not wishing therefore to separate ourselves from this hope and from this faith, following in everything the laws of the Fathers, we anathematize all heresies [such heretics as Nestorius, Eutyches, Dioscorus, Timothy the Cat, Peter Mongos, Acacius, and Peter of Antioch receive specific condemnation]...We receive and approve all the Letters written by Pope Leo I on the Christian religion, desiring to follow in everything, as we said, the Apostolic See; and proclaiming all its constitutions. I hope therefore to enter into communion with you representatives of the Apostolic See; it is there that the Christian religion finds its perfect solidity. I promise, then, that in future I will not recite in the celebration of the Holy Mysteries the names of those who have been separated from the communion of the Catholic Church, that is to say, those who are not in agreement with the Apostolic See."

Certainly far more examples may be provided, but since we are dealing with those claiming to be "Catholics", it seems rather unnecessary to expound more on this issue that is evidently part of Catholic tradition.

on II:
Now it is clear that according to Catholic ecclesiology, the unity of the Church is visible. This is the necessary conclusion to be drawn from the fact that we are called to be one by means of communicating with each other and being in communion with St. Peter through communion with his successors.

Session IV of the First Vatican Council:

4 In order, then, that
  • the episcopal office should be one and undivided and that,
  • by the union of the clergy,
  • the whole multitude of believers should be held together in the unity of
    • faith and
    • communion,
  • he set blessed Peter over the rest of the apostles and
  • instituted in him the permanent principle of both unities and
  • their visible foundation.

St. Cyprian of Carthage:
"After such things as these, moreover, they still dare - a false bishop having been apointed for them, by heretics - to set sail and to bear letters from schismatic and profane persons to the throne of Peter, and to the chief church whence priestly unity takes its source; and not to consider that these were the Romans whose faith was praised in the preaching of the apostle, to whom faithlessness could have no access." (To Cornelius, Epistle 54/59:14 [a.D. 252])

Since the Church is visible, the unity of the Church must also be visible by means of being in communion with the Holy See.

St. Ambrose:
"But he was not so eager as to lay aside caution. He called the bishop to him, and esteeming that there can be no true thankfulness except it spring from true faith, he enquired whether he agreed with the Catholic bishops, that is, with the Roman Church?" (The death of Satyrus, 1:47 [a.D. 378])

"Your grace must be besought not to permit any disturbance of the Roman Church the head of the whole Roman world and of the most holy faith of the Apostles, for from thence flow out to all (churches) the bonds of sacred communion. " (To Emperor Gratian, Epistle 11:4 [a.D. 381])

What is schism?

from the Catholic Encyclopedia:

The union of the faithful, he says elsewhere, should manifest itself in mutual understanding and convergent action similar to the harmonious co-operation of our members which God hath tempered "that there might be no schism in the body" (1 Corinthians 12:25). Thus understood, schism is a genus which embraces two distinct species: heretical or mixed schism and schism pure and simple. The first has its source in heresy or joined with it, the second, which most theologians designate absolutely as schism, is the rupture of the bond of subordination without an accompanying persistent error, directly opposed to a definite dogma. This distinction was drawn by St. Jerome and St. Augustine. "Between heresy and schism", explains St. Jerome, "there is this difference, that heresy perverts dogma, while schism, by rebellion against the bishop, separates from the Church. Nevertheless there is no schism which does not trump up a heresy to justify its departure from the Church (In Ep. ad Tit., iii, 10). And St. Augustine: "By false doctrines concerning God heretics wound faith, by iniquitous dissensions schismatics deviate from fraternal charity, although they believe what we believe" (On Faith and the Creed 9). But as St. Jerome remarks, practically and historically, heresy and schism nearly always go hand in hand; schism leads almost invariably to denial of the papal primacy.

St. Cyprian had said: "It must be understood that the bishop is in the Church and the Church in the bishop and he is not in the Church who is not with the bishop" (Epist., lxvi, 8). Long before, St. Ignatius of Antioch laid down this principle: "Where the bishop is there is the community, even as where Christ is there is the Catholic Church" (Smyrnæans 8.2).

In this sense, we must understand that thoe who refuse to submit to the authority of the Supreme Pontiff, the bishop of Rome, cannot be considered to be part of the Catholic Church. He who thus rebels against the bishop, is outside the Church.

on III:
This is a rather tricky issue, since sedevacantists claim that they are indeed "in communion with the Holy See" and thus are "real Catholics" without however pointing to any pope, since they claim to live in a state of interregnum.

Now to this I respond:
  • he set blessed Peter over the rest of the apostles and
  • instituted in him the permanent principle of both unities and
  • their visible foundation.
This shows that in Peter, the person, is to be found the permanent princinple of the unity of the Catholic Church. Wherefore, according to Catholic ecclesiology, we may not divorce the spiritual unity of the Church from her visible unity: we cannot claim to be in communion with any episcopate without being in communion with its bishop.

Session IV of the First Vatican Council:

6 And since the gates of hell trying, if they can, to overthrow the church, make their assault with a hatred that increases day by day against its divinely laid foundation,
  • we judge it necessary,
    • with the approbation of the sacred council, and
    • for the protection, defence and growth of the catholic flock,
  • to propound the doctrine concerning the
    1. institution,
    2. permanence and
    3. nature
  • of the sacred and apostolic primacy,
  • upon which the strength and coherence of the whole church depends.
Now, the sedevacantist may argue that he holds to this "permanence" of the "sacred and apostolic primacy", but this does not mean that there must be a successor to the papacy in all ages.

I respond by quoting from the acts of the Seventh Ecumenical Council contaning the letters of Pope Hadrian I:

For the Blessed Apostle Peter, himself the chief of the Apostles, who first sat in the Apostolic See, left the chieftship of his Apostolate, and pastoral care to his successors who are to sit in his most holy Chair forever. And that power of authority, which he received from the Lord God our Saviour, he too bestowed and delivered by divine command to the Pontiffs, his successors... In the whole world the chief rank and power was given to the Blessed Apostle Peter by the Redeemer of the world Himself; and through the same Apostle, whose place we unworthily hold, the holy Catholic and Apostolic Roman Church holds the first rank, and the authority of power, now and forever..."

Since we ought to interpret all things in light of the faith handed down to us, this means that the permanence of Papal Primacy means a permanence of successions. Thus an "interregnum" is by necessity a temporary matter. Further, this citation shows that the power and authority of St. Peter is transmitted to his successors. The Church cannot be visibly united when one rejects the visible principle and guarant of the visible unity of the Church. Such an idea would be an unholy mixture of protestant ecclesiology with the Catholic name.

Further, we must realize that - with regard to schism above - the only way to avoid being in schism is by being in communion with the bishops of the Church, first and foremost by being in communion with the Roman Pontiff, the Pope. We communicate though with the successor of St. Peter and not with an abstract idea; we owe the Pope obedience (in matters of faith, morals, and discipline), and not some abstract "invisible theory". Surely, this is not meant to point to ultra-montanism and to reject doctrinal unity (since doctrine is invisible), but rather to stress the theandric nature of the Church which necessitates unity on visible terms as much as on matters not seen by the eyes of man. There is no "unity" when one breaks the visible communion of the Church: such a notion is protestant, not Catholic. For this very reason, it is necessary that a Roman Pontiff permanently sits on the chair of Peter - without disregarding the temporary gaps caused by an interregnum.

This understanding can easily be bolstered by pointing to the First Vatican Council again:

Chapter 2 On the Permanence of the Primacy of Blessed Peter in the Roman Pontiffs

  1. That which our lord Jesus Christ, the prince of shepherds and great shepherd of the sheep, established in the blessed apostle Peter, for the continual salvation and permanent benefit of the church, must of necessity remain for ever, by Christ's authority, in the church which, founded as it is upon a rock, will stand firm until the end of time [45] .

  2. For no one can be in doubt, indeed it was known in every age that the holy and most blessed Peter, prince and head of the apostles, the pillar of faith and the foundation of the catholic church, received the keys of the kingdom from our lord Jesus Christ, the saviour and redeemer of the human race, and that to this day and for ever he lives and presides and exercises judgment in his successors the bishops of the holy Roman see, which he founded and consecrated with his blood [46] .

  3. Therefore whoever succeeds to the chair of Peter obtains by the institution of Christ himself, the primacy of Peter over the whole church. So what the truth has ordained stands firm, and blessed Peter perseveres in the rock-like strength he was granted, and does not abandon that guidance of the church which he once received [47] .

  4. For this reason it has always been necessary for every church--that is to say the faithful throughout the world--to be in agreement with the Roman church because of its more effective leadership. In consequence of being joined, as members to head, with that see, from which the rights of sacred communion flow to all, they will grow together into the structure of a single body [48] .

  5. Therefore,
    • if anyone says that
      • it is not by the institution of Christ the lord himself (that is to say, by divine law) that blessed Peter should have perpetual successors in the primacy over the whole church; or that
      • the Roman pontiff is not the successor of blessed Peter in this primacy:
      let him be anathema.

What are we to make of this? Vatican I commands us to be in agreement with the Roman Church, that Church to whom the Saints and Fathers rightly attribute indefectibility.
Our conclusion is that we must condemn any theory which suggests that the Church is left without a Successor to St. Peter.

on IV:
This is easily demonstrated again by pointing to Vatican I:

Chapter 3 On the Power and Primacy of the Roman Pontiff

3 In this way, by unity with the Roman pontiff in communion and in profession of the same faith , the church of Christ becomes one flock under one supreme shepherd [50]

It does not say "by some odd claim to unity with the Holy See without its bishop", but rather "by unity with the Roman Pontiff": this necessitates the existence of the Roman Pontiff.

Vatican I continues by saying:

4 This is the teaching of the catholic truth, and no one can depart from it without endangering his faith and salvation.

on V:
Because of all things shown above, we must therefore conclude that the Catholic faith teaches that an interregnum is but a temporary matter. The word itself already reveals this truth: "inter-regnum" which means "between the reign". This is to express the short period of the chair of Peter being vacant between the end of the reign of the deceased Pontiff and the beginning of the reign of the newly elected Pope.
This state factually made permanent would mean that the Catholic faith is false. Wherefore, this position must be condemned. Certainly sedevacantists will claim that there are no official documents showing that an interregnum can be limited to a certain time. This is false. Granted, the rules have changed over the course of history, and the longest inter-regnum the Church had was about 3 years. Such interregnum differ substantially from the sedevacantist "interregnum" though. One may ask how this is true? It is true because the interregna of the past always preserved a system by which a new pope could be elected. The sedevacantists of today are faced with the decrees of Venerable Pope Pius XII who ruled that Cardinals are the ones to elect the Roman Pontiff. Though, this is better discussed later.

Nevertheless, I will quote from the 23rd Session of the Ecumenical Council of Basel-Florence to show that the claim there are no decrees regarding papal elections is simply false:

"The holy general synod of Basel, legitimately assembled in the holy Spirit, representing the universal church, for an everlasting record. Since a good shepherd is the salvation of his flock, it is the duty of this sacred synod to strive, with all the diligence that human law can contrive, that the Roman pontiff, who is first in the Lord's flock and the supreme shepherd, should be and continue to be such as to provide for the salvation of all souls and the benefit of the whole christian world and to fulfil worthily so great an office. Therefore it renews the constitutions about the election of Roman pontiffs which sacred councils and supreme pontiffs have issued and it adds to them some further salutary norms. It decrees that whenever the apostolic see falls vacant, all the cardinals of the holy Roman church who are present in the place where the election of the supreme pontiff is to be held, shall meet together on the tenth day after the see becomes vacant in some chapel or place near the conclave." [on the election of the supreme Pontiff]

The holy synod decrees that the person elected as pope is obliged to express his consent to the election in the manner stated below. It is fitting that this consent should be made to the cardinals, if the person elected is present in the curia, or to one of the cardinals or someone mandated by them if he is not present there, in the presence of a notary and at least ten persons. After he has been informed of the election, he is bound to act within a day of the demand. If he does not do so, his election is annulled and the cardinals must proceed in the Lord's name to another election. But if he expresses his consent, as stated above, the cardinals shall straightaway make due obeisance to him as supreme pontiff. Once the obeisance has been made by the cardinals, nobody has any right to challenge his pontificate. [On the profession of the supreme pontiff]

from the Catholic Encyclopedia:
layman may also be elected pope, as was Celestine V (1294). Even the election of a marriedman would not be invalid (c. "Qui uxorem", 19, caus. 33, Q. 5). Of course, the election of a heretic, schismatic, or female would be null and void. Immediately on the canonical election of a candidate and his acceptance, he is true pope and can exercise full and absolute jurisdiction over the whole Church. A papal election, therefore, needs no confirmation, as the pontiff has no superior on earth."

on V:

Now comes the part where I will enumerate the difficulties of the sedevacantist position:

1) Sedevacantism cannot demonstrate to be in communion with the Roman Church. The Holy See is in communion with His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI and all Cardinals of the Catholic Church are in communion with him. Sedevacantism has no claimant to the chair of Peter with whom they can profess visibly their communion. If sedevacantism cannot even demonstrate that it is in communion with the primatial See, the source of presbyterial unity , then how can sedevacantists even claim to be "Catholic"?

2) The "Conciliar Popes" have been validly elected and accepted by the Cardinals and thus no person may challenge their pontificate by private judgement.

3) The claim that the Holy See has "defected from the faith" is condemned by the Catholic faith.

4) Sedevacantists lack unity amongst themselves. E.g.: the sedevacantist Dimond brothers have already condemned as heretics and schismatics the sedevacantist movements known as the SSPV and the CMRI. This obvious lack of unity is the consequence of their "departure from the unity of the chair of Peter".

5) They have no Pope. Vatican I understood in light of tradition shows that the permanence of the Papal Office necessitates a permanent succession of Roman Pontiffs. Sedevacantists, however, are without any "pope". Some who are better called "sede-impedists" claim that "the Holy See is occupied by an antipope and thus no real pope can be elected". This is not to be taken seriously since, Rome had already been temporarily occupied by antipopes without impeding the possibility of havign a legitimate Pope. The legitimate Pope - though not spatially in Rome - remains the Bishop of Rome despite an antipope being in the eternal city.

6) Sedevecantists only see problems everywhere without offering a solution: they oppose the Popes, nay, they even dare declare them as "manifest heretics" and thus "cannot be popes". At the same time, they have no idea whence the "new and real pope" is supposed to come from. What of the canonical procedures to the election of the Roman Pontiff?

7) Rival bishoprics. Here is presented a problem which turns out bad for the sedevacantist position regardless of which position of two is true. On the one hand, sedevacantists may have set up their own episcopates - thus rivalling the Catholic episcopate in communion with His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI. This would be a manifest proof of the schism that they are in. Such a step would only be consistent in their claims that the new order of ordination is invalid and that Pope John XXIII, Pope Paul VI, Pope John Paul II, and Pope Benedict XVI are not only heretics, but also apostates and thus have no clerical office whatsoever, nay they are supposedly not even Catholics! Now, if this position were true, then the sedevacantist cult would have the obligatory burden of appointing Cardinals and then electing a new - supposedly real - "pope". But the persons who have recently fallen from the Catholic faith are sedevacantists, not conclavists (those sedevecantists who realized that they must elect a "pope" and have done so: there are various groups with their respective "popes"), wherefore they are "popeless" (this gives a new meaning to John Salza's term "capitavacantists"!). But for some unknown reason, the sedevacantists seem to refuse to actually consequently follow through their ideas, hence another possibility is raised: that they - though not formally - factually recognize the jurisdiction of the Catholic episcopate in communion with His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI. But this cannot be an option at all, since this would go against their claims regarding the supposedly "invalid ordination formula" and the "apostasy" of the "Conciliar Church". Either way, the sedevacantist position seems likewise absurd.

8) Finally, the question is raised as to who is now in charge of the Holy See?
The Camerlengo, the College of Cardinals, and the Roman Curia are all in communion with His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI. Has the entire apparatus of the Catholic Church become "apostate"?


I hope that I have been able to demonstrate that not only is the position presented by sedevacantism highly absurd due to its lack of communion with the Holy See, but that it also is a "troublemaking" cult which leads to nothing other than division without being able to offer any real solution to the problem they claim to be confronting.

It should be noted that I am not claiming that the Catholic Church is not undergoing a certain crisis, no I would not deny that, however I would reject any time any cult arrogant enough to think it can judge the Papacy instituded by none other than Christ Himself to make us all subject to Him in charitable unity and concord. I reject any such idea especially when it is apparent the the cult promoting such heresy cannot even be considered to be part of the Catholic Church. Our unity is visible and forever tied to the Roman Pontiff. To claim otherwise is to follow in the footsteps of all schismatics of the past, present and the future.

I put up this treatise with the intention of saving Catholics from falling for the lies of this heretical and schismatic community. Let us recall the words of the Catholic Church:

Pope St. Agatho wrote the following in a letter to Emperor Constantinus Pogonatus (the first part is incorporated in the Acts of the 6th Ecumenical Council):

"Sancti quidem Doctores venerati atque secuti (Apostolicam Sedem); haeretici autem falsis criminationibus ac derogationum odiis insecuti."

"The holy Doctors have always held it (the Apostolic See) in reverence and clung to it; while heretics have ever persecuted it with their slanderous falsehoods and hateful calumnies." (Mansi, tom. xi. Col. 239)

Beware of the danger of schism!

St. Augustine of Hippo:
"There is nothing more grievous than the sacrilege of schism...There can be no just necessity for destroying the unity of the Church...To start a schism from the unity of Christ, or to be in schism, is an immense evil." (contra Epistulam Parmeniani, II, 2; Contra Cresconium, II, 1, 5)

St. Irenaeus:
"The spiritual disciple will judge also those that work schisms; who are devoid of the love of God, considering their own advantage than the unity of the Church; and who for slight and trivial causes, rend and divide the great glorious Body of the Christ, and as far as in them lies, bring it to nothing. They speak peace, but work war; a straining indeed at a gnat, and swallowing a camel. No correction they can effect will compensate for the injury which arises from schism." (Ad Haereses 4, 33:7)

As St. Augustine of Hippo said:
"Salvation no one can have but in the Catholic Church. Out of the Catholic Church, he may have anything but salvation. He may have honor, he may have Baptism, he may have the Gospel, he may both believe and preach in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit; but he can find salvation nowhere but in the Catholic Church." (Sermo ad Caesariens. De Emerit.)

And St. Iraenaeus:
The Church "is the entrance to life; all others are thieves and robbers. On this account we are bound to avoid them...we hear it declared of the unbelieving and the blinded of this world that they shall not inherit the world of life which is to come...Resist them in defense of the only true and life giving faith, which the Church has received from the Apostles and imparted to her sons." (Ad Haereses III [a.D. 202])

Thus we believe firmly:

"...It is a perfectly well-known Catholic dogma that no one can be saved outside the Catholic Church. and that those who are contumacious against its authority and the definitions of that same Church, and those who are pertinaciously divided from that unity of the same Church and from Peter's Successor, the Roman Pontiff, to whom the custody of the Vineyard has been committed by the Saviour, cannot obtain salvation." (Blessed Pope Pius IX, Singulari Quidam)

The answer often is very simple. To those scandalized by the fall of two formerly Catholic apologists, I would like to recall in their minds the words of St. Ambrose:


"Where Peter is, there is the Church."

May the Lord preserve you Catholics in the one true faith and in communion with His Vicar, Pope Benedict XVI; may He lead back to the Catholic Church those who have gone astray for the praise and glory of His Name, for their own salvation and the salvation of those who listen to them.


  1. Well done, good and faithful servant of God. I have linked to this post and your post on the 1917 CIC because they are the best refutations of sedevacantism I have read anywhere.

    God bless you and yours,
    Will R. Huysman

  2. Thank you both for your very kind posts! And I am sorry for my late response (I was moving and was not notified of the responses).

    God bless