Setting the Record straight…

When did Nestorius Lose his Office?
A Refutation of John Salza & Robert Siscoe

Cardinal Louis Billot, S.J. (1846-1931)

The huffing and puffing anti-sedevacantist apologists over at are currently busy publishing countless excerpts from their 700-page book as separate, individual articles. One such article posted on Feb. 2 criticizes Sedevacantists for pointing out that Nestorius automatically and immediately ceased to be the valid bishop of the see of Constantinople at the moment he became a public heretic, and not only after a legal declaration by the Church. This, John Salza and Robert Siscoe maintain, is false: “Nestorius was not deposed by ‘Divine law’ the moment he began preaching heresy, but was instead deposed after the Church itself rendered a judgment”, they argue (italics given).

But is this true?

The main text usually quoted on this by us Sedevacantists comes from Saint Robert Bellarmine, the great Doctor of the Church, from his book On the Roman Pontiff:

Pope Celestine I, in an epistle to John of Antioch, which is contained in Volume One of the Council of Ephesus, ch. 19, says: “If anyone who was either excommunicated or exiled by Bishop Nestorius, or any that followed him, from such a time as he began to preach such things, whether they be from the dignity of a bishop or clergy, it is manifest that he has endured and endures in our communion, nor do we judge him outside, because he could not remove anyone by a sentence, who himself had already shown that he must be removed.” And in a letter to the clergy of Constantinople: “The Authority of our See has sanctioned, that the bishop, cleric or Christian by simple profession who had been deposed or excommunicated by Nestorius or his followers, after the latter began to preach heresy, shall not be considered deposed or excommunicated. For he who had defected from the faith with such preaching, cannot depose or remove anyone whatsoever.”

(St. Robert Bellarmine, De Romano Pontifice: On the Roman Pontiff, trans. by Ryan Grant [Mediatrix Press, 2015], p. 308)

This text Salza and Siscoe are trying to spin into a support for their position. They write:

All [Pope St. Celestine I] said is that the excommunications and depositions inflicted by Nestorius, after he began preaching heresy, were later declared to be null and void. But this in no way implies that he had already been deposed ipso facto by Divine law. It just means that the unjust acts of the one who himself was on the road to excommunication (Nestorius) were later declared null.

(John Salza and Robert Siscoe, “Sedevacantism Proven False by the Case of Nestorius”; italics given.)

Later in their essay, the authors repeat their central thesis one more time: “Nestorius did not lose his office when he began preaching heresy (but only after he was deposed by a council three years later)”.

To prove this claim false, we will simply refer our readers to someone who addressed the matter with a bit more competence than the ex-Masonic Wisconsin tax attorney and his theological sidekick: Cardinal Louis Billot, S.J. (1846-1931). Fr. Billot is considered to be the main drafter of Pope Saint Pius X’s landmark encyclical against Modernism, Pascendi Dominici Gregis (1907). On June 19, 1909, Pius X appointed Billot as a consultor to the Holy Office (see Acta Apostolicae Sedis I, p. 538), and in 1911, the same Pope raised the Jesuit priest to the rank of cardinal. It is no exaggeration to say that Billot was one of the most brilliant Catholic theologians of the twentieth century.

In his Tractatus de Ecclesia Christi (“Treatise on the Church of Christ”), Cardinal Billot addresses the question of occult (secret) vs. public heresy and teaches, in agreement with other theologians, that occult heretics are still members of the Church, whereas public heretics are not. Juxtaposing the consequences of occult heresy with those of public heresy, Billot invokes the case of Nestorius to support his thesis that public heretics cease to be members of the Church from the very moment their heresy becomes manifest, quite automatically and without the need for any judgment or declaration:

At length we come to another argument. To be sure, whoever dwells outside the Church is ipso facto rendered unfit for all ordinary jurisdiction, say, episcopal jurisdiction [1]. The reason is that a person who has ordinary jurisdiction or truly episcopal jurisdiction possesses the dignity of being the head, and no one can be the head of even a particular church if he is not a member of the Church. Indeed, what was ever a head that was not a member? Hence, if occult heresy were to put a man outside the Church, whenever a doubt about the legitimacy and authority of pastors could arise, there would not be moral certitude about their internal faith. But God forbid that the establishment of Christ should endure such a monstrous anomaly whereby the sinews of discipline would be loosened. We do not solely employ more probable arguments in this matter, because distinctly and expressly we are informed that a bishop by reason of heresy does not lose his own power of binding and loosing, except when he preaches heresy and openly professes it. In this regard, among other documents, there is extant the letter of Pope Celestine to the clergy and people of Constantinople in the case of Nestorius, where the Pontiff first urges Catholics to fight bravely for the faith, bear hardships patiently, and not fear exile. “No Christian,” he says, “should bewail a temporal exile imposed upon him, because no one is an exile to God. Let us fear exile from the realm of the living, that is, the realm that we wish to be our homeland. That is our perpetual and eternal abode. Indeed ours is no ephemeral place, but those things are truly ours, which a most certain hope promises.” Then declaring invalid the opinion whereby Nestorius had removed some people from either their office or the communion of the faithful, he continues: “Nevertheless, lest the opinion of one who had already called down upon himself a divine judicial sentence seem valid even at the time, the authority of our See has decreed that, from the moment that Nestorius and those like him begin to proclaim such [heresy], We do not regard as exiled or excommunicated any of the bishops or clerics or Christians by any profession who were dispossessed of office or cast out of communion by him and his followers. Rather all were and still remain in communion with Us, because a person who erroneously preached such [heresy] could not eject or remove anyone” [2]. Therefore you see that a bishop who is a heretic in secret is still vested with the power of binding and loosing, since he loses episcopal jurisdiction and the power of excommunication only from the time at which he begins to preach heresy openly. Furthermore, the conclusion is readily seen. For if he who is not in the Church cannot possess authority in relation to the Church, and a occult heretic can have authority — better still, at some time possesses it in reality — it clearly follows that a occult heretic has not yet been cut off from the body of the Church.


[1] Note the deliberate phrasing: of all ordinary jurisdiction; for with regard to extraordinary and merely delegated jurisdiction in a case of necessity, it is not the same idea, as will be readily clear upon consideration.

[2] Pope Celestine, Epistle 14, n. 7 (Migne, Patrologia Latina, volume 50). Also see the same Celestine’s Epistle 12 to John of Antioch, n. 2: “But if anyone has been either excommunicated or divested of episcopal or clerical dignity by Bishop Nestorius or those who follow him, it is clear that the person remained and remains in communion with Us from the moment [Nestorius and his followers] began to preach such [heresy], etc.”

(Louis Billot, S.J., Tractatus de Ecclesia Christi, 3rd ed. [1909], Thesis XI, Q. 7; pp. 300-301; italics in original; underlining added. Translation by Novus Ordo Watch.)

Cardinal Billot is contradicting verbatim the thesis of Salza and Siscoe, namely: “Nestorius was not deposed by ‘Divine law’ the moment he began preaching heresy, but was instead deposed after the Church itself rendered a judgment”. Billot, quoting no less of an authority than Pope St. Celestine, explicitly says that Nestorius had “already called down upon himself a divine judicial sentence” — “already”, as in, “before the judgment of the Church”; and obviously a divine judicial sentence is effective immediately and not dependent upon the Church confirming it later on. This Nestorius did by the public heresy itself (ipso facto). Pope Celestine’s clear statement that those whom the heretical Nestorius had condemned or pretended to remove “were and still remain in communion with Us” underscores the fact that Nestorius lost his office at the moment his heresy was public. Unlike what Salza and Siscoe would have the reader believe, St. Celestine does not say that such are being reinstated or that their reinstatement is to have retroactive force — as though Nestorius had had the power to validly condemn and remove them — but that they “were and still remain in communion with us”. But if this is so, it is because the communion was never lost, and the only way this is possible is if Nestorius, who “removed” them from communion, had no power to do so because he had already lost his office.

Here we see that what Salza and Siscoe are claiming is just a sedevacantist misreading of St. Robert Bellarmine is actually confirmed to be correct by one of the Church’s greatest theologians in the twentieth century! Or what are Salza and Siscoe asking us to believe? That Cardinal Billot got it wrong too? That he did not understand St. Celestine or St. Robert Bellarmine and was ignorant of Church history? That he held a minority position that was highly controversial, without saying so and without justifying it at length?

What’s interesting is that although the two anti-sedevacantist authors list Billot’s Tractatus de Ecclesia Christi in the bibliography of their book (p. 686), somehow the part about Nestorius didn’t make it into their argumentation — despite the fact that they assure us in their foreword (p. 13) that they studied “all of the writings (to our knowledge) of the Church’s greatest theologians on the question of a heretical Pope…” and spent 10 years researching these issues.

In case the objection will now be advanced that “Cardinal Billot was not infallible”, we respond immediately that although true, this is entirely irrelevant. If this obvious remark could be used to simply dismiss what any theologian says, why would the Church bother having theologians in the first place? Even more to the point, why then should anyone bother to look at what Salza and Siscoe have to say, since they too are not infallible and not even theologians?

Next, the two authors seek support for their idea that Nestorius couldn’t have lost his episcopal see automatically upon the fact of being a heretic, in the Council of Ephesus (431 AD): “Nestorius was deposed three years later at the Council of Ephesus, after the Church had investigated the matter and rendered the necessary judgment.” The authors think that Ephesus lends support to their ideas because the council says Nestorius “should be stripped of his episcopal dignity and removed from the college of priests”.

This objection is tackled in John Daly’s book against Michael Davies, which neither Salza nor Siscoe apparently came across in their 10 years of research (its first edition was published in 1989):

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].


[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 præbuerat 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.

(John Daly, Michael Davies — An Evaluation, 2nd ed. [Saint-Sauveur de Meilhan: Tradibooks, 2015], pp. 156-157; italics given.)

This is not to say that it was not of the utmost importance for the Church to declare that the loss of office had taken place and move to a full-scale deposition of Nestorius. Deposition is a vindictive penalty which may involve not merely the loss of an ecclesiastical office, which it makes irreversible and perpetual, but also the deprivation of the benefice and dignities attached to the office. If Salza and Siscoe are using the term “deposition” as synonymous with “loss of office”, they are treading on thin ice. The canon law professor Fr. Henry Ayrinhac notes that deposition, at least as the term is used in modern-day church law (since 1917), “implies more than suspension or privation of office”, and, touching upon the question of Church history, he notes that “the language of councils or ecclesiastical writers when treating of this subject often lacks precision”, adding that the language did not become more exact until “the sixth and seventh centuries” (H. A. Ayrinhac, Penal Legislation in the New Code of Canon Law [New York: Benziger, 1920], pp. 163, 145). Of course none of this is helpful to the Salza-Siscoe thesis. But with this in mind we now understand how St. Robert Bellarmine could say both that “all the ancient Fathers … teach that manifest heretics immediately [mox] lose all jurisdiction” (De Romano Pontifice, Book II, Ch. 30; p. 309) and yet also maintain that the Council of Ephesus “deposed Nestorius by a command of a letter of the Roman Pope Celestine” (Book II, Ch. 13; p. 217).

Next, Salza and Siscoe attempt to hijack Pope Pius XI for their cause, quoting his encyclical letter on the Council of Ephesus, Lux Veritatis (nn. 11-12), in which the Pope commends St. Cyril of Alexandria’s appeal to Rome before deciding whether to break communion with Nestorius or not. But this will not help our anti-sedevacantist duo either, because while St. Cyril of Alexandria was not sure how to act with regard to Nestorius and therefore prudently appealed to the Holy See, knowing that this See would render a decision he had to abide by — note well, Messrs. Salza and Siscoe! — Pius XI nowhere says that those who immediately cut off communion with Nestorius did anything wrong. What the quote from the encyclical proves is only how St. Cyril acted, and that Pope Pius commended him for it — not, however, as though it would have been impermissible for St. Cyril to break communion with Nestorius before a judgment from Rome, but inasmuch as, unsure about what he should do, St. Cyril appealed to the Apostolic See for help, knowing that this See is pre-eminent and that the true Faith and right counsel can always be obtained from it for as long as it is validly occupied. It is his allegiance and recourse to the Holy See in what was to him a doubtful matter, for which Pius XI praises St. Cyril, not his failure to withdraw from communion with Nestorius per se. So, the anti-sede apologists are reading something into the text of Pope Pius XI’s encyclical that is simply not there.

This can be proved in another way by looking up the actual letter St. Cyril wrote to Pope Celestine I — something we surely hope Salza and Siscoe did before pontificating about the matter. Writing to the Pope, St. Cyril relates how virtually all Catholics reacted when Nestorius boldly preached his perverse doctrine concerning our Lord and His Most Blessed Mother:

When the most pious Nestorius was sitting on the throne in the assembly of the Church of Constantinople, he arose and dared to say in a loud voice, “If anyone says that Mary is the Mother of God, let him be anathema.” And there was a great shout from all the people and they ran out. They did not want to associate any longer with those who had such opinions, so that even now the people of Constantinople keep away except from a few shallower ones, and those who flatter him. But nearly all the monasteries and their archimandrites, and many of the senators do not join him. They fear lest they be injured in faith, while he and those with him, whom he brought when going up from Antioch, say everything perverted.

(St. Cyril of Alexandria: Letters 1-50, trans. by John I. McEnerney [Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1987], pp. 61-62; underlining added.)

But it gets better still. Cyril then tells the Pope that he himself also refuses communion with Nestorius, although not yet openly (i.e. in public) until the Pope has given him direction on whether it is right and prudent to do so:

But we do not throw off communion with him openly, until we have communicated these matters to your reverence. Wherefore deign to specify what seems best, and whether it is necessary to be in communion with him sometimes, or to forbid henceforward openly because no one is in communion who thinks and teaches such things.

(St. Cyril of Alexandria: Letters 1-50, trans. by John I. McEnerney [Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1987], p. 63; italics and underlining added.)

Clearly, St. Cyril of Alexandria was merely in doubt about how to act in public with regard to Nestorius, and so he turned to the Apostolic See for authoritative guidance. This is what Pope Pius XI is praising St. Cyril for. Would Salza and Siscoe also turn to the (Modernist) “Holy See” for authoritative guidance in any theological matter? Fat chance!

One of the likely reasons why Salza and Siscoe are blundering so badly on this topic is that they confuse the loss of ecclesiastical office for heresy with the punishments for heresy. Loss of office is not a punishment per se, it is simply the necessary consequence of holding a faith different from that of the Church. Since the Church can have only one Faith, he who professes a different one cannot be a member of the Church, much less hold office in her. That’s why in the 1917 Code of Canon Law, the loss of office is dealt with in Canon 188, under the section “On Persons”, whereas the punishments for heresy are not covered until Canon 2314, under the section “On Delicts and Penalties”.

With their undue accusation of “private judgment” against Sedevacantists for saying that a manifest heretic loses his office immediately upon the fact, Salza and Siscoe are demonstrating that they do not believe that facts can be known apart from a Church judgment. Yet the Church teaches the exact opposite, legislating in her Code of Canon Law that facts that are “notorious” (Canon 2197 n. 3) — that is, things publicly known and carried out in such circumstances that they could not be concealed — need not be proved in an ecclesiastical court (Canon 1747 n. 1) because it would be pointless to prove something that is already known and cannot reasonably be questioned. The Catholic Encyclopedia explains:

Canonists have variously classified the legal effects of notoriety, especially in matters of procedure; but, ultimately, they may all be reduced to one: the judge, and in general the person in authority, holding what is notorious to be certain and proved, requires no further information, and therefore, both may and ought to refrain from any judicial inquiry, proof, or formalities, which would otherwise be necessary. For these inquiries and formalities having as their object to enlighten the judge, are useless when the fact is notorious.

(Catholic Encyclopedia [1911], s.v. “Notoriety, Notorious”)

Nor will the authors of True or False Pope? be able to argue that notoriety of fact is tied to a church judgment, because as the text just quoted shows, facts can be notorious even before such a judgment, and, in such a case, require no legal proof at all.

Messrs. Salza and Siscoe are continually misrepresenting the Sedevacantist position when they claim that we hold “that prelates are deposed as soon as individual Catholics ‘discern’ they are heretics by their own private judgment”. Obviously, no Sedevacantist claims that there is a loss of office when someone somewhere thinks that there is. Rather, what causes the loss of office is the objective and notorious fact of public heresy, regardless of who discerns it, and that is or at least can be a matter of objective fact; it does not have to be tied to a legal decision, as we just saw. And while one may perhaps argue about the precise point at which something occult (private) becomes objectively public, or exactly when a heretic is to be considered manifest, this has no relevance to Francis (or most of his five predecessors), for if he is not a public and manifest heretic, then the term simply has no meaning. Pick any heresiarch in history — Arius, Nestorius, Luther, Calvin, Jansen, John Paul II — Francis has outdone them all. That’s how bad the situation is that we are in today, and yet here we have two SSPX apologists writing 700 pages trying to convince you that a man can be the Vicar of Christ who is not even a Christian!

Then again, this absurd idea fits very well into our absurd world: Francis is “Pope” in a world in which Rachel Dolezal is black and Bruce Jenner is a woman. And only in such a world. This is actually quite a consoling thought!

click to enlarge

John Salza and Robert Siscoe are currently in all-out attack mode, and no doubt this will continue still for months to come. In all the rhetorical overkill you will continue to see from them, in all the grandstanding and shouting, in all the lawyerly techniques of persuasion, do not lose sight of one thing: At the end of the day, Salza and Siscoe are arguing that if it weren’t for Francis, and if it hadn’t been for Benedict XVI, John Paul II, John Paul I, Paul VI, and John XXIII, then the gates of hell would have prevailed against the Church.

Yeah, sure.

The simple truth is that it is possible for the Holy See to be vacant, but it is not possible for it to defect. And while they naturally insist that they do not believe the Holy See has defected, we all know that, de facto, Salza, Siscoe, and the entire SSPX/ Resistance gang believe precisely this, as their actions and often even their unguarded words betray them. They believe that the papacy has defected and that it is now their job to convert it back to Catholicism.

That is heresy.

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