Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Another argument goes down in flames…

The Case of Pope Celestine III:
A Refutation of Robert J. Siscoe

The Pope is the one on the left

The master theologians of the recognize-and-resist camp are just too smart for their own good. On Feb. 21, 2017, Remnant contributor and True or False Pope? co-author Robert J. Siscoe published what he thought was a slam dunk against Sedevacantism. In an essay entitled “Pope Celestine III’s Error on the Indissolubility of Marriage”, published in the online edition of The Remnant, Siscoe argued that Pope Celestine III (1191-1198) had committed a serious doctrinal error which was later incorporated into universal Church law by Pope Gregory IX.

Of course, the whole idea behind anti-sedevacantists arguing this is that if an indisputably true Pope in the past has taught error or heresy, and this made its way into the official Magisterium of the Church and even became part of her universal disciplinary law, then there is no reason why we couldn’t accuse Francis of the same thing today and still maintain that he is a true Pope. In other words, the argument is basically this: “Just because Francis teaches rubbish doesn’t mean he’s not the Pope, because the Church has taught rubbish in the past.” A brilliant defense of, uh, Catholic teaching!

Sedevacantist author Fr. Anthony Cekada has now produced a video in which he responds to Siscoe’s argumentation. You can watch it here:

To sum up the facts of the matter:

  • It is true that the position of Pope Celestine III was erroneous; however:
  • Pope Celestine was merely offering his opinion on a matter that had not yet been settled, and on which a diversity of opinions was permitted at the time. Siscoe himself acknowledges this when he admits that St. Robert Bellarmine wrote that “the whole matter was still being thought out” (De Romano Pontifice, Book IV, Ch. 14; Grant translation). And the same St. Robert Bellarmine also clarified: “Neither Celestine nor [his successor] Innocent [III] stated anything certain on the matter” (ibid.).
  • Siscoe concludes rashly and incorrectly that “what this historical case does show is that a Pope can commit a serious error in judgment concerning a moral issue (one that should have been clear) as long as he does not intend for his judgment to be a solemn definition.” Rather, what the case really shows (and what Siscoe should have argued) is that a Pope can commit a serious error in judgment concerning a moral issue that has not yet been settled and that he merely offers an opinion on. But of course this isn’t helpful to Siscoe’s case because it does not contradict Sedevacantism.
  • Siscoe’s claim that the error of Pope Celestine III was included in the Church’s universal disciplinary law is false and based on his own ignorance about the text he relies on, which was not part of the authentic collection of canons — in fact, it was left out at the express command of Pope Gregory IX.

It is amazing that Siscoe seems undeterred by the fact that if his argumentation were correct, then he would have refuted not simply Sedevacantism but Catholicism altogether, since it is Catholic doctrine that the Church cannot promulgate universal disciplinary laws that are in themselves evil, harmful, heretical, or otherwise defective:

Certainly the loving Mother [the Church] is spotless in the Sacraments, by which she gives birth to and nourishes her children; in the faith which she has always preserved inviolate; in her sacred laws imposed on all; in the evangelical counsels which she recommends; in those heavenly gifts and extraordinary graces through which, with inexhaustible fecundity, she generates hosts of martyrs, virgins and confessors.

(Pope Pius XII, Encyclical Mystici Corporis, n. 66)


…as if the Church which is ruled by the Spirit of God could have established discipline which is not only useless and burdensome for Christian liberty to endure, but which is even dangerous and harmful and leading to superstition and materialism.

(Pope Pius VI, Bull Auctorem Fidei, n. 78; Denz. 1578)


[T]he discipline sanctioned by the Church must never be rejected or be branded as contrary to certain principles of natural law. It must never be called crippled, or imperfect or subject to civil authority. In this discipline the administration of sacred rites, standards of morality, and the reckoning of the rights of the Church and her ministers are embraced.

(Pope Gregory XVI, Encyclical Mirari Vos, n. 9)


The Church’s infallibility extends to the general discipline of the Church… By the term “general discipline of the Church” are meant those ecclesiastical laws passed for the universal Church for the direction of Christian worship and Christian living… The imposing of commands belongs not directly to the teaching office but to the ruling office; disciplinary laws are only indirectly an object of infallibility, i.e., only by reason of the doctrinal decision implicit in them. When the Church’s rulers sanction a law, they implicitly make a twofold judgment: 1. “This law squares with the Church’s doctrine of faith and morals”; that is, it imposes nothing that is at odds with sound belief and good morals. This amounts to a doctrinal decree. 2. “This law, considering all the circumstances, is most opportune.” This is a decree of practical judgment.

(Mgr. Gerard van Noort, Dogmatic Theology, vol. 2, Christ’s Church, pp. 114-115)


The Church is infallible in her general discipline. By the term general discipline is understood the laws and practices which belong to the external ordering of the whole Church. Such things would be those which concern either external worship, such as liturgy and rubrics, or the administration of the sacraments…. If she [the Church] were able to prescribe or command or tolerate in her discipline something against faith and morals, or something which tended to the detriment of the Church or to the harm of the faithful, she would turn away from her divine mission, which would be impossible.”

(Jean Herrmann, Institutiones Theologiae Dogmaticae, Vol. 1, p. 258)

All this really stands to reason because a church which can mislead the faithful to the point even of being effectively a cause of their damnation is useless, nay dangerous, and most certainly not the Church founded by Jesus Christ, against which the gates of hell cannot prevail (cf. Mt 16:18-19). But when Christ promised that the gates of hell wouldn’t prevail, He didn’t mean that the Church could teach all sorts of heretical and dangerous junk but would always be corrected by self-appointed guardians of orthodoxy such as John Salza, Chris Ferrara, John Vennari, or Robert Siscoe. Rather, the divine guarantee that the Church is indefectible means precisely that the Church cannot be overcome by heresy and will always be the Ark of Salvation to which people can cling with childlike trust and confidence. In other words, the scenario we now have with the Vatican II Sect is something that God guarantees can never happen to the true Catholic Church:

This is why we sedevacantists can be so absolutely sure that the monstrous Vatican II Sect is not the Catholic Church and its heads are not true Roman Pontiffs.

The Remnant is notorious for publishing half-baked arguments and flawed theology. Just recently, Remnant columnist Chris Jackson had tried to argue that history teaches us that Pope Clement XIV’s decree suppressing the Jesuit order was manfully resisted by true Catholics who refused to take papal nonsense — but then it turned out that Jackson hadn’t done his homework: The one bishop who did resist incurred an automatic papal excommunication, and St. Alphonsus Liguori, a canonized saint of the period, who is certainly to be imitated, submitted to the papal judgment, calling it “the will of God”! But readers didn’t hear this from The Remnant, they had to come to Novus Ordo Watch to find out:

It appeas that in their blind hatred of Sedevacantism, the stubborn defenders of the Gallicanesque recognize-but-resist position do not care if they tear down the entire Church with it. They would be more than happy to have a defected, dangerous, wicked church that resembles the Whore of Babylon rather than the Immaculate Bride of Christ, along with an irrelevant, anti-Catholic “Pope” whose every word and deed needs to be fought against lest we be led to hell by his teachings, laws, or liturgical rites — so long as they do not have to admit that they were wrong about Sedevacantism. And then they have the gall to say that if we don’t adhere to such a ridiculous position, we “end by losing the Faith in the Church Herself” (Siscoe, “Pope Celestine III’s Error”)!

Who has lost Faith in the Church here?

You can do a quick self-test to see if you believe in the Catholic Church or you do not. The following was written by the legendary 19th century priest Fr. Frederick Faber, and sedevacantists wholeheartedly agree with it:

But we may forget, and sometimes do forget, that it is not only not enough to love the Church, but that it is not possible to love the Church rightly, unless we also fear and reverence it. Our forgetfulness of this arises from our not having laid sufficiently deeply in our minds the conviction of the divine character of the Church… The very amount of human grandeur which there is round the Church causes us to forget occasionally that it is not a human institution.

Hence comes that wrong kind of criticism which is forgetful or regardless of the divine character of the Church. Hence comes our setting up our own minds and our own views as criteria of truth, as standards for the Church’s conduct. Hence comes sitting in judgment on the government and policy of Popes. Hence comes that unfilial and unsage carefulness to separate in all matters of the Church and Papacy what we consider to be divine from what we claim to be human. Hence comes the disrespectful fretfulness to distinguish between what we must concede to the Church and what we need not concede to the Church. Hence comes that irritable anxiety to see that the supernatural is kept well subordinated to the natural, as if we really believed we ought just now to strain every nerve lest a too credulous world should be falling a victim to excessive priestcraft and ultramontanism [“papolatry”? —N.O.W.].

…Only let us once really master the truth that the Church is a divine institution, and then we shall see that such criticism is not simply a baseness and a disloyalty, but an impertinence and a sin.

(Rev. Frederick W. Faber, Devotion to the Church [London: Richardson & Son, 1861], pp. 23-24; italics in original; paragraph breaks added.)

Can you apply these beautiful words to Francis and the Vatican II Sect? Hardly! And these words of Pope Pius XI aren’t helpful to the recognize-but-resist case either: “Not least among the blessings which have resulted from the public and legitimate honor paid to the Blessed Virgin and the saints is the perfect and perpetual immunity of the Church from error and heresy” (Encyclical Quas Primas, n. 22).

Just yesterday, The Remnant outdid itself once again, publishing a feature article by their star columnist Chris Ferrara with the absurd title, “Imploding Papacy Signals Triumph of Immaculate Heart”! These people are so far removed from Catholic doctrine on the Papacy that they do not even see the irony in such a headline. An imploding Papacy would be a victory for Satan, not for our Blessed Mother! The Modernist apostasy is an apostasy from the Vicar of Christ and the Church, not by the Vicar of Christ and the Church!

The recognize-and-resist position has done tremendous damage to what people who consider themselves traditional Catholics believe about the Church and the Papacy. Or when was the last time you heard its proponents quote, for example, the following?

Indeed one simple way to keep men professing Catholic truth is to maintain their communion with and obedience to the Roman Pontiff. For it is impossible for a man ever to reject any portion of the Catholic faith without abandoning the authority of the Roman Church. In this authority, the unalterable teaching office of this faith lives on. It was set up by the divine Redeemer and, consequently, the tradition from the Apostles has always been preserved. So it has been a common characteristic both of the ancient heretics and of the more recent Protestants — whose disunity in all their other tenets is so great — to attack the authority of the Apostolic See. But never at any time were they able by any artifice or exertion to make this See tolerate even a single one of their errors.

(Pope Pius IX, Encyclical Nostis et Nobiscum, n. 17)

You have a choice: You can have Francis and his five predecessors of infelicitous memory, or the Catholic doctrine on the Papacy.

But you can’t have both.