Refuting a common misconception
Sedevacantism and Calvary:
A Brief Response to Cor Mariae
The Cor Mariae web site is an online discussion forum dedicated to promoting the “resistance SSPX” movement, that is, the splinter group(s) that came out of the Lefebvrist Society of St. Pius X a few years back around the time Bp. Richard Williamson was expelled by the Superior General, Bp. Bernard Fellay. As this forum is part of the false opposition to the Novus Ordo Sect, we keep a close eye on it.
On May 7, someone at Cor Marie published a post entitled “Sedevacantism and Calvary”, in which the poster quotes approvingly from a brief anti-sedevacantist article called “A Monster with No Head”, which itself appears to be part of a larger work called Old Battle, New Fronts. The essay is so atrociously poor in quality, advancing various straw men, half-truths, and long-refuted errors, that one may surmise that no one who has even a rudimentary grasp of the issues will take it seriously.
However, since one of the claims it advances — and this is what is quoted by the Cor Mariae poster — is an error that is currently gaining in popularity (thanks also to John Salza and Robert Siscoe), we decided it would be wise to address it.
The argument made is the following, excerpted from the “A Monster with No Head” article:
Thus we see that bad clergymen are indeed permitted by God. To decide that we cannot have a bad pope has no precedence in Church history. We know that Our Lord never took away the Priestly Office or Authority of Caiaphas, the High Priest at the time of Our Lord’s Crucifixion. Caiaphas’ behavior and speech was most certainly blasphemous and heretical. Yet Our Lord never uttered one word that stripped him of that office.
(Quoted by user Machabees, “Sedevacantism and Calvary”, Cor Mariae, May 7, 2017)
Here we see a very common tactic used by adherents of the resistance position: As they are usually quite unfamiliar with Catholic magisterial teaching on the Papacy and can’t be bothered to look it up, they instead make up their own inept arguments from Sacred Scripture or other sources which they think lend support to their thesis.
So the claim is made that Christ never stripped Caiaphas the High Priest of his office, despite his official rejection and condemnation of Him (see Matthew 26:57-66). This, the resistance adherent triumphantly believes, is the death blow to Sedevacantism!
There is just one problem with it: It isn’t true. Christ did strip the high priest of his office. More specifically, the high priest stripped himself of his office, by his own act of apostasy, the sentence being rendered by the divine law (thus Christ’s) itself.
Don’t take our word for it, though; take the word of St. Jerome, Doctor of the Church and patron saint of Bible scholars, commenting on this passage in St. Matthew’s Gospel:
And by this rending [of] his garments, [Caiaphas] shews that the Jews have lost the priestly glory, and that their High Priest’s throne was vacant. For by rending his garment he rent the veil of the Law which covered him.
(St. Jerome, Commentary on Matthew 26:65; quoted in St. Thomas Aquinas, ed., Catena Aurea: Commentary on the Four Gospels collected out of the Works of the Fathers Vol. I, Part III [Oxford: John Henry Parker, 1842], p. 926.)
In other words, St. Jerome tells us that when the high priest Caiaphas rent his garments and rejected Christ as the true Messias, he lost his authority and his office, automatically and without a declaration, by publicly defecting from the true religion. Does this sound familiar or what?
Thus, the author of the “Monster” article merely demonstrates his ignorance, as he does also by putting forward the old straw man argument that “To decide that we cannot have a bad pope has no precedence in Church history.” Of course we can have a bad Pope. What we cannot have, however, is a non-Catholic Pope — just as we can have a bad Catholic but not a non-Catholic Catholic because that’s a contradiction in terms. An article explaining this in full, with examples from history, can be found here:
So what we find at the Cor Mariae forum is people advising others theologically when they have no grasp of even such a basic distinction as sins against morals vs. sins against faith: “For not every sin, however grave it may be, is such as of its own nature to sever a man from the Body of the Church, as does schism or heresy or apostasy” (Pope Pius XII, Encyclical Mystici Corporis, n. 23; underlining added).
The excerpt of the “Monster” article continues:
The same for the very first Pope. St. Peter denied Our Lord three times, in truth, a mortal offense, not to mention the scandal it created. But recall that Our Lord knew Peter would fall. He prophesied that denial. Yet Christ did not take away Peter’s Office of Pope. Rather, Our Lord Jesus Christ told St. Peter, “But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and thou, being once converted, confirm thy brethren.” (Luke 22:32). We see thus that Christ states that St. Peter will fall into sin and error. But again, Our Lord Jesus Christ does not take away St. Peter’s office of Pope. But instead states, “I have prayed for thee”. Does this not tell us what we must do the same with our fallen Popes? We pray for them and for the Church.
Here the author blunders badly again. “Christ did not take away Peter’s office of Pope”? Even though that is correct, it is correct only because St. Peter had not yet received that office, so there was nothing for Christ to take away. The Papacy was not bestowed upon St. Peter until after the Resurrection, and only after he had repaired his threefold denial by a threefold affirmation of love towards his Lord:
And upon Simon Peter alone Jesus after His resurrection conferred the jurisdiction of the highest pastor and rector over his entire fold, saying: “Feed my lambs,” “Feed my sheep” [Jn 21:15ff.].
(First Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution Pastor Aeternus; Denz. 1822)
The same is stated even more explicitly in the Great Commentary of Cornelius à Lapide on St. John’s Gospel:
When Christ was about to go away into heaven, He here appoints Peter His vicar upon earth, and creates him Chief Pontiff, that the one church might be ruled by one shepherd. Christ had promised the same thing to Peter — Matt. xvi. 18 — but in this place He confers the gift, and constitutes him prince and ruler of the whole Church, lest any one, on account of Peter s threefold denial, should say that Christ had changed His decree concerning him.
(The Great Commentary of Cornelius à Lapide, Vol. 6, trans. by Thomas W. Mossman, 3rd ed. [London: John Hodges, 1892], p. 295)
It turns out that many people who vehemently oppose Sedevacantism simply are not familiar with Catholic teaching on the Papacy.
We can see this even in the very title of the article excerpted in the Cor Mariae post, “A Monster with No Head”. It is a straw man. We sedevacantists firmly believe that the Catholic Church has a head at all times. His name is Jesus Christ, who is, we recall, the invisible Head of the Church. The Pope, successor of St. Peter, is merely the visible head of the Church, the Vicar of Christ. This is standard Catholic teaching:
That this Mystical Body which is the Church should be called Christ’s is proved in the second place from the fact that He must be universally acknowledged as its actual Head. “He,” as St. Paul says, “is the Head of the Body, the Church” [Col. 1:18]. He is the Head from whom the whole body perfectly organized, “groweth and maketh increase unto the edifying of itself” [Cf. Eph 4:16; Col 2:19].
But we must not think that He rules only in a hidden or extraordinary manner. On the contrary, our Divine Redeemer also governs His Mystical Body in a visible and normal way through His Vicar on earth. You know, Venerable Brethren, that after He had ruled the “little flock” [Lk 12:32] Himself during His mortal pilgrimage, Christ our Lord, when about to leave this world and return to the Father, entrusted to the Chief of the Apostles the visible government of the entire community He had founded. Since He was all wise He could not leave the body of the Church He had founded as a human society without a visible head. Nor against this may one argue that the primacy of jurisdiction established in the Church gives such a Mystical Body two heads. For Peter in virtue of his primacy is only Christ’s Vicar; so that there is only one chief Head of this Body, namely Christ, who never ceases Himself to guide the Church invisible, though at the same time He rules it visibly, through him who is His representative on earth. After His glorious Ascension into heaven this Church rested not on Him alone, but on Peter too, its visible foundation stone. That Christ and His Vicar constitute one only Head is the solemn teaching of Our predecessor of immortal memory Boniface VIII in the Apostolic Letter Unam Sanctam; and his successors have never ceased to repeat the same.
They, therefore, walk in the path of dangerous error who believe that they can accept Christ as the Head of the Church, while not adhering loyally to His Vicar on earth. They have taken away the visible head, broken the visible bonds of unity and left the Mystical Body of the Redeemer so obscured and so maimed, that those who are seeking the haven of eternal salvation can neither see it nor find it.
(Pope Pius XII, Encyclical Mystici Corporis, nn. 34, 40-41)
Thus, to characterize the sedevacantist position as advancing the idea of a Church without a head — and thus, a monster — is simply false.
In addition, as the last two sentences quoted above demonstrate, Pope Pius XII taught clearly that unless we adhere loyally to Christ’s Vicar on earth, we “have taken away the visible head, broken the visible bonds of unity and left the Mystical Body of the Redeemer” disfigured. Where does this leave the resisters, who scream at the top of their lungs that we have a genuine Pope but then in the next breath proceed to require everyone to refuse him submission, lest they be tainted with his heresies? Who is the one disfiguring the Mystical Body of Christ here?
Merely acknowledging someone as being the Pope is not enough. Every Protestant, every secularist, every pagan may do as much. What counts is submitting to him; and submission does not mean simply verbally professing the Catholic teaching on the Papacy:
What good is it to proclaim aloud the dogma of the supremacy of St. Peter and his successors? What good is it to repeat over and over declarations of faith in the Catholic Church and of obedience to the Apostolic See when actions give the lie to these fine words? Moreover, is not rebellion rendered all the more inexcusable by the fact that obedience is recognized as a duty? Again, does not the authority of the Holy See extend, as a sanction, to the measures which We have been obliged to take, or is it enough to be in communion of faith with this See without adding the submission of obedience, — a thing which cannot be maintained without damaging the Catholic Faith?
…In fact, Venerable Brothers and beloved Sons, it is a question of recognizing the power (of this See), even over your churches, not merely in what pertains to faith, but also in what concerns discipline. He who would deny this is a heretic; he who recognizes this and obstinately refuses to obey is worthy of anathema.
Again we see that so much rejection of Sedevacantism is based on ignorance about the traditional Catholic teaching on the Papacy. Instead of reading magisterial documents and theology books about the Papacy in order to get a true Catholic understanding of the subject, however, many people instead prefer to dabble in half-baked scriptural arguments (“St. Peter denied Christ!”) and erroneous analogies (“a bad father is still a father!”).
To be clear: It is not wrong to appeal to Sacred Scripture, of course (cf. 2 Tim 3:16-17), nor to draw analogies even from daily life. However, such aids can only be used to support or illustrate Catholic teaching, not to replace, neutralize, or contradict it. That is the difference.
Hence it is entirely legitimate to speak of a Mystical Passion which the Catholic Church is undergoing today. However, this concept of the Passion of the Church must be accepted in the sense in which the Church herself understands it, in line with Catholic Tradition, not making it up as we go along. There are some riveting lectures which synthesize and explain what Catholic Tradition says on this topic:
Francis does have a role to play in the Passion of the Church
The content posted at Cor Mariae is one more token of testimony to the odd “anything-but-sedevacantism” phenomenon we analyzed last month, where people grasp at straws to come up with anything at all to keep the (apparently comforting) illusion alive that Francis is the Pope of the Catholic Church — not, mind you, in order to have everyone loyally follow and submit to him, but only in order to then refuse him submission, effectively rendering the Papacy meaningless and depriving it of its very purpose of existence.
They think that our Lord’s promise, “And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Mt 16:18), means that there will always be a Pope, even if this Pope defects from Christ and the true Faith. But this is hardly what Pope Leo XIII had in mind when he taught:
From this text [Mt 16:18] it is clear that by the will and command of God the Church rests upon St. Peter, just as a building rests on its foundation. Now the proper nature of a foundation is to be a principle of cohesion for the various parts of the building. It must be the necessary condition of stability and strength. Remove it and the whole building falls. It is consequently the office of St. Peter to support the Church, and to guard it in all its strength and indestructible unity. How could he fulfil this office without the power of commanding, forbidding, and judging, which is properly called jurisdiction? It is only by this power of jurisdiction that nations and commonwealths are held together. A primacy of honour and the shadowy right of giving advice and admonition,which is called direction, could never secure to any society of men unity or strength. The words – and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it proclaim and establish the authority of which we speak. “What is the it?” (writes Origen). “Is it the rock upon which Christ builds the Church or the Church? The expression indeed is ambiguous, as if the rock and the Church were one and the same. I indeed think that this is so, and that neither against the rock upon which Christ builds His Church nor against the Church shall the gates of Hell prevail” (Origenes, Comment. in Matt., tom. xii., n. ii). The meaning of this divine utterance is, that, notwithstanding the wiles and intrigues which they bring to bear against the Church, it can never be that the church committed to the care of Peter shall succumb or in any wise fail. “For the Church, as the edifice of Christ who has wisely built ‘His house upon a rock,’ cannot be conquered by the gates of Hell, which may prevail over any man who shall be off the rock and outside the Church, but shall be powerless against it” (Ibid.). Therefore God confided His Church to Peter so that he might safely guard it with his unconquerable power. He invested him, therefore, with the needful authority; since the right to rule is absolutely required by him who has to guard human society really and effectively.
(Pope Leo XIII, Encyclical Satis Cognitum, n. 13; underlining added; italics given.)
In short: If the resisters believe Francis is Pope, then they must accept him as Pope, with all the consequences that follow from this. They must affirm of Francis whatever the Church affirms of the Papacy. But this they are not willing to do, because deep down they know very well that he is not a Catholic and that far from keeping the gates of hell from prevailing against the Church, he, more than any other, is the gates of hell.
As we have shown elsewhere, the gates of hell must be said to have prevailed against the Catholic Church not if Francis isn’t Pope… but if he is.