Why Suarez’s position cannot be held today

The Opinion of Francisco Suarez on the Question of a Heretical Pope

As Neo-Traditionalists John Salza and Robert Siscoe begin to ship the first copies of their new book against Sedevacantism to their hapless recipients, we continue to rain on their parade by refuting some of the errors we expect to see in their work, which have been around for decades. The following is an excerpt from John Daly’s book against the pseudo-traditionalist pioneer and SSPX apologist Michael Davies (1936-2004), whose research and argumentation has long been the bedrock for probably most of the English-speaking world on traditionalist issues, including Sedevacantism. The excerpt below is being reprinted with the kind permission of the author, from his exhaustive critique of Mr. Davies first published in 1989 and revised and expanded in 2015 (get it free here).


The following is an excerpt from the Appendix to Chapter 3 of the book Michael Davies: An Evaluation by John S. Daly (2015). The book is available for free download electronically here, and it can be purchased as a hardcopy in paperback here.

[From Appendix to Chapter 3: The Opinion of Suarez on the Question of a Heretical Pope]

Writing in The Remnant on 15th February 1987, Davies summarized his position on the consequences of a pope’s falling into heresy as follows:

And what of the Pope himself? Does what I have written imply that the Pope could never be a heretic and forfeit his office? Of course it does not. Such a possibility exists, but it would have to be manifest and so notorious a heresy that no doubt of its existence could remain in the minds of the faithful. Reputable canonists and theologians also teach that high authorities in the Church would have to make [sic] a declaratory sentence that the Pope had lost his office through heresy. The Pope would not be deposed as a result of this sentence. No one in the Church has the right to judge or depose the Pope. They [i.e., presumably, the “high authorities”] would simply be declaring what had been manifest through his own actions.

Davies gives the impression, perhaps accidentally, that the doctrine he is putting forward is held by all “reputable canonists and theologians”, which is very far from being the case. He neither gives references to any of the canonists and theologians in question, nor lets his readers into the secret that in every era of the Church there has been a much stronger contrary opinion holding that by formal public heresy a pope would lose his office ipso facto (automatically), prior to and irrespective of any declarations to this effect which might or might not be made by “high authorities in the Church”. As readers will be aware, the different schools of theological opinion on this subject (of which St. Robert Bellarmine enumerated five) are no longer of practical interest, because ecclesiastical authority has decided the entire question by the terms of Pope Paul IV’s definition on the subject contained in his bull Cum Ex Apostolatus (1559) and by Canon 188§4 of the 1917 Code of Canon Law [39]. However, it is true that there have been theologians and canonists (including several not without eminence) who have at some point in history maintained a position similar to that outlined by Davies in the quotation above, and to do his case justice it seems appropriate to examine this position briefly. 

As representative of this opinion, I have chosen the theologian whom I believe to have been its most illustrious and competent defender, the Spanish Jesuit Francisco Suarez (1548-1617) [40] who came from a converted Jewish family and was praised by Pope Paul V as “a pious and eminent theologian”. His consideration of this topic is found in his work De Fide, Spe et Charitate, tr. 1, disp. x, sect. vi, and covers about five closely printed and argued pages of Latin of folio size. 

Does it appear rash, it is worth asking before going any further, to embark upon what amounts to an attempt by a layman without formal theological training to refute the teaching of a holy and extremely erudite theologian? There are, in fact, two solid reasons why no apology is due on this score:

  • (i) The opinions of a theologian are not, and cannot be, of any greater weight, as such, than the arguments which he adduces in their favour, and such opinions may always be disputed by anyone sufficiently informed on the topic in question to understand the theology involved.
  • (ii) Those of us who decline to accept Suarez’s opinion have a number of very distinguished predecessors. To mention but one, St. Robert Bellarmine characterizes it as an opinion which in his judgement “cannot be defended”. (De Romano Pontifice, Cap. XXX)

I turn now to what Fr. Suarez has to say. To begin with, it must be made clear that he is not in agreement with Davies on everything. In fact he does not accept at all that a pope can fall into heresy, whereas Davies maintains that this is possible. Suarez considers the question only because his opinion that the eventuality is inconceivable was, though “more pious and more probable” and even “to be held”, not absolutely certain. As I also subscribe to the view that a true pope cannot fall into heresy even in his private acts, it is evidently a part of my position that all of the Conciliar “popes” forfeited their offices by falling into heresy long before their putative elections — making these elections null and void (a possibility which Suarez expressly recognizes). Nonetheless, it is obviously logical that the consequences of a pope’s falling into heresy after election (if that be possible) should be the same as if he had been a heretic prior to his election, for either it is possible for a public heretic validly to occupy the office of pope or it is not. Hence this question has at least indirect relevance to the situation existing today. 

Another difference between Suarez and Davies is that, while Davies appears to hold the position that a manifestly heretical claimant to the Holy See would cease ipso facto to be pope, but that the faithful could not be allowed to act on this fact by withdrawing their allegiance from him until a general council had notified them of it, Suarez apparently opines that the public heretic actually remains pope until the general council takes official cognizance of his heresy, at which point he ceases to be pope. [41] Where they are in agreement, however, is on the principal point that one is not entitled to withdraw one’s allegiance from a Roman pontiff until he has been officially declared a heretic. 

Suarez recognizes that the main position conflicting with his is that of the school which holds that a heretical pope would be deposed ipso facto without need of any declaration. Considering, for reasons which I shall shortly examine, that the opinion of this school is untenable, he adopts the view which I have outlined above as his, but he did not adopt it, it must be emphasized, because there is any direct authority for it. His reason was simply that “it cannot be believed that Christ left the Church without any remedy in such a great danger [i.e. the danger arising from a heretical pope],” and that his own explanation is the only reasonable alternative to the ipso facto deposition, which he believes to be impossible.

Not surprisingly, Suarez recognizes that there are considerable difficulties associated with his position, and he does his best to resolve them as follows: 

To the difficulty of who would be competent to declare the pope a formal heretic, he replies, persuasively, that nobody except a general council of all the bishops could be competent to do this, but he is forced to admit that there is no express warrant in Divine or human law authorizing even a general council to make such a declaration. He then continues as follows:

Next, however, a second problem arises, namely how such a council could legitimately be assembled; for only the pope can legitimately summon one.

Once again he has no authority to answer this query, but reasons that there are two available solutions:

  • (a) That a series of provincial councils throughout the world all agreeing in the same conclusion would be tantamount to a general council without the difficulty involved in summoning all the bishops to one place. This theory, however, is evidently: 
    • (i) impractical, since the organisation of such a series of provincial councils would probably be exceedingly difficult if not impossible; 
    • (ii) false, because a series of provincial councils is not tantamount to a general council, since at the latter all the bishops can hear one another’s views, and this does not apply to the former; 
    • (iii) unreasonable, since it would leave the path open to countless disagreements, e.g. about what percentage of the bishops need to be agreed before the pope could be condemned; and 
    • (iv) of no value, because, as it is no more than a conjecture, it would be impossible to know that the theory was correct and constituted sufficient grounds for the faithful to withdraw their allegiance from the pontiff.
  • (b) That “perhaps … for this business specially concerning the pontiff himself, which is, in a sense, in opposition to him, a general council might be legitimately assembled either by the college of cardinals or by the consent of the bishops; and if the pontiff attempted to prevent such assembly he would have to be disobeyed because he would be abusing the supreme power contrary to justice and the common good.” This is once again quite useless, because, being only a hypothesis, the deliberations of such a questionable council could never have binding force. Moreover, the hypothesis has been officially rejected by the Church since 1917; the Code of Canon Law declares that “An Ecumenical Council not summoned by the Roman pontiff is an impossibility [‘dari nequit’],” (Canon 222§1) and that “the decrees of a council do not have definitive obligatory force unless they have been confirmed by the Roman pontiff and promulgated by his command.” (Canon 227)

The third difficulty which Suarez tries to solve is this:

By what right can a pope be judged by an assembly of which he is the superior?

Let us first remind ourselves of Davies’s solution to this obvious and grave question. He simply maintains that the maxim “prima sedes a nemine judicatur” (“the first see is judged by no one”) does not apply. Because the pope has already forfeited his office automatically when his heresy was made public, the council is not deposing its superior, but declaring that he who seems to be its superior is in fact not so because he is bereft of all authority. This solution, of course, concedes that the pope actually forfeits his office ipso facto on being publicly guilty of heresy, and therefore leaves no grounds whatever for Davies’s insistence that those who are aware of this fact prior to its being officially declared are obliged to continue to submit to a non-pope as if he were the Vicar of Christ. 

Now let us turn back to Fr. Suarez. As I have indicated, he differs from Davies on this point, holding that it is only as a result of the council’s condemnatory sentence that the pope loses his office. 

He too addresses himself to the problem of how a council could condemn its own superior who “can be judged by none”, and in doing so he refutes a specious argument which has been used by the theologian Cajetan to cope with this difficulty. 

Cajetan’s argument was that the council would not be condemning the pope as pope but as a private individual. But this theory, as Suarez convincingly points out, cannot be accepted. If it were accepted, it would be possible for anyone presumptuous enough to judge a pope simply to claim that he was judging him in his private rather than his public capacity, an interpretation which would negate the very principle which the maxim is intended to safeguard: that the pope is not to be judged. The solution which Suarez proposes, and which he considers to be, unlike Cajetan’s, not only sufficient to account for the deposition of a heretical pope, but also reconcilable with the principle that the pope must not be judged, is as follows:

So should the Church depose a heretical pope, she would not do this as a superior, but by the consent of Christ the Lord she would juridically declare him to be a heretic and hence utterly unworthy of the pontifical dignity; thereupon he would be deposed immediately by Christ and, having been deposed, would then be inferior and could be punished as such.

But I fear that in reality he comes no closer to solving the difficulty than Cajetan did. If the judgement of a general council that the pope is a heretic were to be considered binding even against the pope’s own judgement that he was not a heretic, this could only be on the bases:

  • (a) that appeal is made from the pope’s judgement to a council, an action which incurs automatic excommunication under Canon 2332, and
  • (b) that a council can be the pope’s superior, at least for some purposes — a proposition which is heretical.

Anyhow, once again the hypothesis is of no value precisely because, being hypothetical, there could be no certainty that it is correct, and indeed, as I have shown, since 1917 at the latest it has been certain that it is not correct.

Thus, Suarez’s opinion that a heretical pope would forfeit his office, not automatically, but only by virtue of condemnation by a council, involved its author in insoluble doctrinal difficulties, owing to its incompatibility with other doctrines. This incompatibility alone would compel us to reject Suarez’s opinion concerning heretical popes, but perhaps more important still is the fact that Suarez makes it clear that he has adopted his theory, not because of its intrinsic merit, but because it is the most reasonable alternative he can see to the rival view that offices are lost automatically by virtue of public heresy, a view which he found unacceptable. Hence, if it is possible to show that Suarez’s reasons for rejecting this latter opinion are definitely mistaken, because they have been denied by the Church’s authorities, we may conclude that Suarez lends no support at all to Davies’s thesis. Indeed we may be certain that its author would himself have rejected it had he been alive today, owing to the fact that his only reasons for not accepting the doctrines of Bellarmine and others have been repudiated by the Church whose docile son he was.

But to establish this bold claim that Suarez is really a negative witness against Davies, the objections which Suarez makes to the theory that a heretical pope would lose his office automatically must be carefully examined. This theory, which Davies rejects but which I maintain is today inescapably certain for all Catholics, was evidently well known to Suarez, for he devotes careful attention to it. After outlining his own theory of how to cope with a heretical pope, he refers to the view of others that such a pope “is immediately deposed by God Himself without regard to any human judgement.” He then sets out what he considers to be the four best arguments used by the defenders of this view and gives, in each case, his reasons for not being convinced by them. First he shows — to his own satisfaction, if to no one else’s — that the thesis in question is not compellingly true; then he adds further reasons for thinking that it is not only doubtful but in fact definitely wrong.

My next task is therefore to examine Suarez’s stated reasons for rejecting the position I am defending.

I shall begin my examination by considering his refutation of the arguments in favour of my position and I shall do this with a view to showing (a) that they are of no force, and (b) that they are no longer opinions that a Catholic is entitled to maintain.

  • (i) The first of his four best arguments against his own thesis (and in favour of that of writers like his contemporary and confrère St. Robert Bellarmine) is stated by Suarez as follows:

‘All the jurisdiction of the Church is founded upon faith,’ so those who have no faith cannot have jurisdiction.

In answer to this reasoning Suarez denies the fact, pointing out that the power of Order is superior to that of jurisdiction but that it is a dogma that Holy Orders are not lost if faith is lost and that, moreover, faith can be lost without exterior indication whereas the opinion that even occult heretics [42] forfeit their offices has not “a shadow of probability”.

My response to this refutation is that it would lose its force entirely if he had stated the argument more correctly, and had said instead that external profession of the true faith is a necessary foundation of ordinary jurisdiction. Suarez’s comparison with the power of Order is inconclusive because, although Order is admittedly a greater power than jurisdiction, it is also a different kind of power, and there is thus no reason for thinking that what applies to one will necessarily apply to the other.

  • (ii) Moving on to the second argument against him which he tackles, Suarez admits that: “The Fathers often indicate that no one who lacks faith can have jurisdiction in the Church [he then gives references to SS. Cyprian, Ambrose, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas and Popes Gelasius and Alexander II].” But his only response to this is that there are (also) “Fathers who… consider that a heretic deserves to be deprived of all dignity and jurisdiction,” thus implying that such heretics are not already ipso facto deprived thereof.

On this subject Suarez’s credibility is open to serious question, for his contemporary St. Robert Bellarmine, who was thoroughly familiar with the whole of patristic literature, assures us in his own consideration of this subject [43] that “the Fathers are unanimous in teaching, not only that heretics are outside the Church, but also that they are ‘ipso facto’ deprived of all jurisdiction and ecclesiastical rank.” Certainly, the single instance adduced by Suarez in support of his statement shortly after the words quoted above does nothing to weaken St. Robert’s assurance, for Suarez’s claim that some Fathers differed from the view he rightly attributes to SS. Cyprian, Ambrose, Augustine, etc., is, he says, gathered from the first epistle of Clement I [the fourth pope, writing to the Corinthians in the closing years of the first century] which says, according to Suarez, that St. Peter taught that a heretical pope is to be deposed (rather than automatically deposed). And yet the fact is that St. Clement nowhere represents St. Peter as having said anything of the kind, as readers can confirm by reference to any of the translations of this epistle available in good libraries. The nearest St. Clement approaches to the subject is his statement that “our Apostles”, i.e. SS. Peter and Paul, “knew that there would be contention concerning the name of the episcopacy” and consequently left instructions “in what manner, when they [bishops and deacons] should die, other approved men should succeed them in their ministry (Chapter 44).” It is of little consequence whether Suarez was trusting an unreliable secondary source, or a corrupt primary text, or whether he has just made a mistake ; what cannot be denied is that his position is based on a misrepresentation of the teaching of the Fathers.

In passing, it should perhaps also be mentioned that, if any of the Fathers did assert that heretics deserve to be deprived of their dignity, this would not necessarily imply that they had not forfeited their office ipso facto, because it could equally refer to their de facto possession of the external trappings of the office. [44]

  • (iii) In his examination of the third argument against him, Suarez says that the position against which he is arguing

… is reinforced by a popular [‘vulgari’] argument to the effect that a heretic is not a member of the Church and cannot therefore be its head.

His response to this argument involves a subtle distinction, so I cite it in full:

It is replied [i.e. Suarez himself replies] that a heretical pope is not a member of the Church as to the substance and form by which the members of the Church are made such, but that he is nonetheless its head as to office and influence [‘influxum’]; which should cause no surprise as he is not the first and main head acting by his own power, but, as it were, the instrumental head and vicar of the first head who is able to convey His spiritual influence to His members through any secondary head whatsoever; for in a similar way He sometimes baptizes and on occasion even absolves through heretics.

This distinction seems exaggerated, for the pope is evidently more than a merely passive instrument of Christ. Certainly a heretic can validly baptize and in some circumstances even validly absolve, for he is then truly a “mere” instrument through whom Christ acts. But the manner in which the popes govern the Church and exercise jurisdiction is quite different, for it is their own intellects which they use to make the numerous decisions that have to be made, and a pope is therefore visible head of the Church in a much more than instrumental sense. It is one thing for Our Lord in rare cases to use enemies of the Church for the specific purpose of validly administering certain sacraments; it is quite another for Him unconditionally to delegate His Divine authority to such an enemy for the purpose of governing the Church. Hence Suarez’s distinction seems quite unjustified and a wholly inadequate response to his opponents. 

  • (iv) The last argument against himself that he puts forward is:

Likewise a heretic must not be greeted, but entirely avoided, as is taught by Paul in Titus 3 and by John in his second epistle; so much less must he be obeyed.

To this objection Suarez answers that “heretics are to be avoided as much as possible [‘quoad fieri potest’]” and that this does not contradict his theory but merely makes it imperative to proceed to depose the pontiff at the earliest opportunity.

I would suggest that it certainly does contradict both his theory and Davies’s. If they are right, it means that in the inevitable interim period before a heretical pope could be deposed — a period which might be long in duration — the faithful would be subject to, and required to obey, a man whom they are Divinely commanded to shun. And here we do not need to rely solely on logic, clear though the position is, for St. Robert Bellarmine, Doctor of the Church, has given short shrift to Suarez’s opinion, enquiring:

How can we be asked to avoid our own head? How could we separate ourselves from a member who is attached to us? [45]

These four arguments, as I have said, constitute Suarez’s response to his opponents’ position. Next, he gives his grounds for thinking that the view he offers as an alternative to that of his opponents is the correct one, and these grounds must now be considered. I shall allow Suarez to state his case before assessing its validity, and I shall do my best to allow him to do so in his own words, although the length of the original text and its desultoriness make it impossible to achieve this except by placing in sequence extracts which do not occur consecutively in the original — a method which I believe to be justified in the circumstances, as it in no way misrepresents or weakens its author’s case:

The main question is whether he [a pope] can be deprived against his own will…. There does not seem to be anyone by whom he can be deprived. In the case of heresy [some] say that he is deposed immediately by God himself.Against this opinion I say that… in no case, even of heresy, is the pontiff deprived of his dignity and power by God without the previous judgement and sentence of men…. And later in considering the other punishments of heretics …we show that no one at all is deprived by Divine law of ecclesiastical dignity and jurisdiction because he is guilty of heresy. (Emphasis added)Because it is a very grave punishment, for it to be incurred ‘ipso facto’ it would have to be expressed in the Divine law; but no such law is found laying down this rule about all heretics in general or about bishops in particular or with special reference to the pope; nor is there a certain tradition on the matter.Nor can the pope fall from his dignity ‘ipso facto’ because of a human law, because this would have been passed either by his inferior [i.e. someone below the rank of pope] … or by his equal [i.e. some previous pope] —  … but neither a previous pope nor anyone inferior to the pope is… able to punish the pope actually reigning, given that the reigning pope will be equal to the latter and superior to the former.

So the nub of Suarez’s argument is that neither Holy Writ nor sacred tradition contains any Divine law according to which heretics are ipso facto deprived of their offices, and indeed it is his view they are not deprived of their offices except by the legitimate intervention of ecclesiastical authority; that there is no human law on the subject either, but that even if there were, this would not bind a pope because he is necessarily superior to all human law.

Suarez goes on to consider the objection that a human law on the subject could bind the pope if it were interpretative of a Divine law. This he rejects as an idle hypothesis (“commentitium”) because no such Divine law exists, nor any human law interpreting it.

He also asserts that the absence of such a Divine law “is confirmed by the fact that such a law would be pernicious to the Church,” a view which he supports by the consideration that, if occult [i.e. secret] heretics were automatically deprived of their offices, no one could be certain that a jurisdictional act was valid, whereas if only manifest heretics were thus deprived ipso facto, “greater troubles would follow, as we should be doubtful about how notorious the fact had to be for it to be considered that [the pope] had fallen from his dignity, so schisms would arise in consequence and everything would become perplexed …. ” 

Now these last two confirmatory objections can be dismissed at once, because the exact meaning of the terms “occult”, “public” and “notorious” have now been determined authoritatively for us by the Church in Canon 2197 and there is no doubt that it is only of public heretics that anyone seriously maintains the automatic loss of office. Moreover, it is not apparent that a theory can legitimately be rejected on the grounds that it could give rise to disputes and perplexities, because there is no Divine guarantee that the Church will be free of disputes and perplexities, as indeed is solidly proven by the fact that her history is full of them. Nor is there any basis for thinking that the doctrine according to which a general council or a series of provincial ones could indirectly depose the pope by judging him to be a heretic would be any less fecund in troubles, schisms and perplexities.

So we are left with Suarez’s argument that popes, like other clerics, retain their office in case of heresy until a judicial declaration of their heresy is made for the reason that there is no Divine law to the contrary. And this one remaining base on which Suarez’s position stands is totally annihilated by the fact that, notwithstanding the dignity it once had of being a respected though minority opinion, it is today known to be certainly false. I quote from De Processu Criminali Ecclesiastico by Dr. Francis Heiner [46] (Emphasis added):

Ancient authors disputed whether the penalty of privation of benefices [incurred by heretics] is incurred ‘ipso facto’ or after judicial sentence. But owing to the provisions of subsequent laws the matter is no longer doubtful. In the constitution Noverit Universitas of Pope Nicholas III dated 5th March 1280, for instance, it is said: ‘But heretics… are to be admitted to no ecclesiastical benefice or office; and if the contrary should have occurred, We decree that it is null and void; for, from now, We deprive the aforesaid of their benefices, wishing them to have none perpetually and in no wise to be admitted to the like in the future.’ Now the words ‘from now We deprive’ are equivalent to the words ‘ipso iure’ [by the law itself], as is taught by Suarez [De Legibus, Bk. 5, c. 7, n. 7] [47] and other canonists. Pope Paul IV says the same thing even more clearly in his constitution Cum Ex Apostolatus dated 15th February 1559, in which, after confirming the penalties established by his predecessors against heretics, he says in express words: ‘Of those who in any way knowingly shall have presumed to receive, defend, favour or believe those so apprehended, confessed or convicted [i.e. heretics] or to teach their doctrines, … each and every cleric … is by that very fact deprived… of all ecclesiastical office and benefices.’ Hence it cannot be doubted that clerics are deprived of their benefices ipso facto for the crime of heresy.

It will doubtless already have occurred to readers that Suarez’s position is anyhow untenable, because it conflicts with Cum Ex Apostolatus which expressly extends its provisions to the case of heretics elected to the Holy See. The fact is that, as I have already mentioned and as is clear beyond any doubt from the reasoning from his De Fide, Spe et Charitate that I have quoted, Suarez must have been unaware of that bull. And this of course destroys any possible credibility that his hypothesis could ever have had. One cannot possibly even begin to have a case if one is not in a position to deal with one of the most authoritative and compelling arguments against it.

And since Suarez’s time there has been an additional decree on the subject from the Holy See: Canon 188§4 of the 1917 Code of Canon Law, which provides that:

If any cleric … publicly defects from the Catholic Faith… all of his offices become vacant ‘ipso facto’ and without any declaration, by tacit resignation accepted by the law itself.

It is interesting to note that the last words of this canon effectively introduce a nicety which had evidently not occurred to Suarez in his argument that human law cannot deprive one who is equal or superior in authority to its promulgator — namely that the automatic loss of office incurred by heretics is not, strictly a privation, which is the act of a superior, but an act of resignation on the part of the heretics themselves. This is so even if they do not directly wish to resign, because by choosing a role radically incompatible with holding office in the Church (i.e. the role of heretic) they have externally expressed, at least interpretatively, the will to resign; and so the law itself interprets their action, and their office automatically falls vacant.

Finally, it should be noted that Suarez’s contention that there is no Divine law whereby heretics are automatically deprived of their offices is not correct. The words of St. Paul and St. John forbidding communication between the faithful and heretics (as quoted by Suarez himself) constitute just such a law, [48] as the unanimous teaching of the Fathers to the same effect, vouched for by St. Robert Bellarmine, proves beyond question. Consequently the automatic exclusion of even uncondemned heretics from all ecclesiastical offices pronounced by Cum Ex Apostolatusand in recent times by Canon 188§4 do indeed “bind the pope”, because although promulgated by his equal, they are interpretative of Divine law.

It is thus certain that the premises upon which Suarez bases his hypothesis — namely the absence of any Divine law or human law applicable to a pope who falls into heresy, as well as the view that even non-papal heretics retain their offices until officially deposed — are entirely unfounded and in conflict with explicit judgements of the Church’s highest authority. The corollary of this fact is that it is not open to Catholics today to recognize Suarez’s view even as a legitimate opinion. The opposite opinion, taught by St. Robert Bellarmine, St. Alphonsus Liguori and countless others, is the official view of the Church herself. All heretics, including a heretic elected to the Holy See or a pope who, if such a catastrophe be possible, became a heretic after being validly elected, lose their offices ipso facto, and that both by Divine and by human law.


[39] While the pope is not directly subject to penal law, it is notable that Canon 188§4 is not a penal Canon. It does not deprive clerics of their offices for heresy; it interprets public defection from the faith as an act of tacit resignation from those offices, to which it gives immediate effect. In practice the theological debate about the loss of the papacy following pubic heresy closely parallels the debate (now closed) as to the loss of lesser ecclesiastical offices under the same circumstances.

[40] The fact that he wrote after the promulgation of Cum Ex Apostolatus in no way contradicts my assertion that this bull makes his position untenable, for, as will be shown later in this appendix, he was clearly not aware of the Bull’s contents.

[41] To both views, however, the words of St. Robert Bellarmine are equally apposite: “The condition of the Church would be most wretched if it were obliged to recognize a manifestly ravening wolf for its pastor.”

[42] I.e. those who fall into heresy but give no exterior indication of having done so. 

[43] De Romano Pontifice, a part of his famous Controversies

[44] This would appear to be supported by the nearest instance I know to a statement by a Father of the Church that heretics deserve to be deprived of their dignity. Pope St. Celestine I (422-432) in his letter to John of Antioch preserved in the Acts of the Council of Ephesus (Vol. 1, cap. 19), says: “If anyone has been excommunicated or deprived either of episcopal or clerical dignity by bishop Nestorius and his followers since the time that they began to preach those things, it is manifest that he has persevered and continues to persevere in communion with us; nor do we judge him to have been removed, because one who has already shown that he ought himself to be removed [‘se iam praebuerat ipse removendum] cannot by his own judgement remove another.” Here it is evident that in referring to Nestorius and his supporters as “removendi” — “those who ought to be removed” — St. Celestine does not mean that they retain their offices until deposed. That is precluded by the fact that he expressly judges their authoritative acts to have been null even prior to their deposition. His meaning is evidently that they ought to be removed physically from the accoutrements of the office which they had already ipso facto forfeited. See also the same pontiff’s letter to the clergy of Constantinople.

[45] De Romano Pontifice, XXX. 

[46] The author of this work, published at Rome in 1862, was an auditor of the Holy Roman Rota. 

[47] Heiner is not suggesting that Suarez agrees with him as to the ipso facto deprivation of heretics, but only to the equivalence of certain phrases to ipso iure or ipso facto, which is the subject of the chapter of Suarez to which he refers.

[48] Although the law is implicit rather than explicit in the Apostles’ words, it is nonetheless inescapable, as it would certainly not be compatible with these apostolic injunctions to recognize a heretic as having authority in the Catholic Church. Many other laws recognized to be Divine in origin — such as that prescribing the seal of confession — are deduced from passages of Scripture in which they are even more implicit, but nonetheless certain.


This was an excerpt from pp. 148-162 of John Daly’s book Michael Davies: An Evaluation (2nd ed., 2015). Italics in original.

The entire book is available for free electronically or for purchase in hardcopy:

We express our gratitude to Mr. Daly for kindly permitting us to provide this excerpt and for making the electronic version of his book available to the public for free.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons (cropped)
License: public domain

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