A victim of his own panache…

Pope or Antipope?
“Fr.” John Hunwicke and the Case of Felix II

The English Novus Ordo presbyter John Hunwicke is once again outdoing himself on his Mutual Enrichment blog. In a post published Aug. 9, 2020, entitled, “Holy Antipopes, pray for us”, the convert from Anglicanism can barely contain his excitement with regard to what he calls “the Mysterious Affair of Pope Felix II”.

In a style reminiscent of a child who’s just found a big box of candies and knows Momma isn’t looking, “Fr.” Hunwicke revels in a discovery he’s made that he apparently thinks is a tremendous blow to sedevacantists, to Francis, or to both. It is difficult to wade through his post because his manner of writing is so insufferable. The only thing the reader is not left in doubt over is what the author thinks of his own genius. The complete absence of links to back up any claims made is just par for the course.

Presumably referring to the post “The Strange Case of the Antipope Venerated as a Saint” by Gregory DiPippo on the New Liturgical Movement blog, Mr. Hunwicke says he is “concerned here with [only] one aspect the ‘Case'”, namely:

The other day, on the festival of S Martha, your Pre-Bugnini Missal offered you a commemoration of Saint Felix II, Pope and Martyr (he was combined, for convenience, with some other saints … the older customs of the Roman Rite allowed this even when the saints concerned had no connection with each other). But in 1947, the Annuario Pontificio demoted him to the status … of an antipope! (My 1950 Altar Missal still calls him pope, but he got demoted soon after that.)

(John Hunwicke, “Holy Antipopes, pray for us”, Fr. Hunwicke’s Mutual Enrichment, Aug. 9, 2020; italics given.)

The Annuario Pontificio Mr. Hunwicke is referring to is the pontifical yearbook published by the Vatican. It “includes well over 1,900 pages of information on the life and activities of the reigning Pope, the names and biographies of cardinals, the names of all bishops of the world …, etc.” (Michael Williams, The Catholic Church in Action [New York, NY: P. J. Kenedy & Sons, 1958], p. 155). It also includes a list of Popes from St. Peter to the present.

The former Anglican continues:

Let us now ‘fast-forward’ to the 1998 CDF Commentary on Ad tuendam fidem (paragraph 11). This document gave examples of “truths connected to revelation by historical necessity and which are to be held definitively”. One was “the legitimacy of the election of the Sovereign Pontiff“.

(Hunwicke, “Holy Antipopes, pray for us”; special formatting given.)

The document in question from the CDF (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which at the time was headed by a certain “Cardinal” Joseph Ratzinger) can be found linked just below, in addition to the “Apostolic” Letter Ad Tuendam Fidem, which John Paul II released concomitantly:

With his motu proprio, John Paul II played conservative guardian of orthodoxy for a change and updated his own scandalous canon law with an insertion that states that not only must Catholics believe in divinely-revealed and defined dogmas, they must also accept and hold whatever is taught by the Church definitively, even if not divinely revealed (e.g., the impossibility of conferring the priesthood on women or the legitimacy of a particular Pope).

The idea is by no means new. In a Dec. 21, 1863 letter to the Archbishop of Munich and Freising, Pope Pius IX emphasized that

…it is not sufficient for learned Catholics to accept and revere the aforesaid dogmas of the Church, but that it is also necessary to subject themselves to the decisions pertaining to doctrine which are issued by the Pontifical Congregations, and also to those forms of doctrine which are held by the common and constant consent of Catholics as theological truths and conclusions, so certain that opinions opposed to these same forms of doctrine, although they cannot be called heretical, nevertheless deserve some theological censure.

(Pope Pius IX, Apostolic Letter Tuas Libenter; Denz. 1684.)

On this point, then, John Paul II was merely repeating traditional doctrine, and he ordered the Professio Fidei (Profession of Faith) to be updated accordingly. The Professio Fidei is a formula for professing the Faith — a sort of “expanded creed” — which the Church requires Catholics to recite before admitting them to certain positions (for instance, before receiving major orders, before becoming a professor of sacred theology, or before being made a cardinal). This is legislated in Canon 1406 of the 1917 Code of Canon Law.

The first such formula for a Professio Fidei was instituted by Pope Pius IV in 1564. It was slightly updated after the First Vatican Council to declare explicit belief in the dogmas on the Papacy the council had promulgated. The full text can be found in Denzinger 994-1000.

After the so-called Second Vatican Council, the Novus Ordo Sect also modified the Professio Fidei, shortening it significantly but including, as already mentioned, a line professing acceptance of everything the Church teaches definitively, even though not as divinely-revealed dogma: “I also firmly accept and hold each and everything definitively proposed by the Church regarding teaching on faith and morals” (underlining added). It is this statement the CDF is commenting on, where it states:

With regard to those truths connected to revelation by historical necessity and which are to be held definitively, but are not able to be declared as divinely revealed, the following examples can be given: the legitimacy of the election of the Supreme Pontiff or of the celebration of an ecumenical council, the canonizations of saints (dogmatic facts), the declaration of Pope Leo XIII in the Apostolic Letter Apostolicae Curae on the invalidity of Anglican ordinations…

(Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, “Doctrinal Commentary on concluding formula of ‘Professio fidei'”, n. 11; underlining added; italics given.)

So far, so good. All this is consonant with traditional teaching. So-called dogmatic facts fall under the Church’s infallibility, not as its primary but as its secondary object: “A dogmatic fact is one that has not been revealed, yet is so intimately connected with a doctrine of faith that without certain knowledge of the fact there can be no certain knowledge of the doctrine” (Rev. E. Sylvester Berry, The Church of Christ: An Apologetic and Dogmatic Treatise [Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 1955], p. 290).

So what is “Fr.” Hunwicke all frantic about? He explains:

Well, the Case of Pope Felix II seems to be a matter of some doubt as far as the legitimacy … or not … of Pope S Felix II’s pontificate is concerned. Doubt at the highest Vatican levels!!

And he’s not the only one.

Quite a bag of popes here about whose legitimacy (or illegitimacy) greater or lesser doubts are openly expressed. If the list-makers are themselves in such states of doubt, how can the ordinary Catholic know how to submit to the requirements (“to be held definitively”) implied by the Commentary?

(Hunwicke, “Holy Antipopes, pray for us”; italics given.)

Apparently the former Anglican cleric labors under the impression that the pontifical yearbook, the Annuario Pontificio, is a magisterial document and that its list of Popes (which has undergone revisions as new historical evidence has emerged) is a definitive judgment by the Church concerning the legitimacy of each and every papal name listed there. However, that is not so. In fact, the Annuario Pontificio is not even an official Church publication at all, at least not in the proper sense of the term: “The only official publication of the Holy See is the Acta Apostolicae Sedis in which all official acts and laws in whatever form are promulgated” (The Catholic Church in Action, p. 155).

The legitimacy of most Popes in Church history is clear and uncontested, but there are some cases where things are not so clear and the scarcity of historical data obscures the truth. This problem is exacerbated if the reliability and/or authenticity of the historical sources that are available cannot be verified or is disputed, or if different individuals have the same or a similar name. Thus, for instance, it is quite possible that Antipope Felix II (d. 365) was at some point confused with Pope St. Felix III (d. 492). In short, at times it can be quite difficult to ascertain historical truth, especially when it regards people and events of many hundreds of years ago.

For this reason, as the historical sciences progress and uncover more evidence or become more accurate in their analyses and judgments, it may happen that the historical record regarding the names or identities of Popes gets corrected. Mr. Hunwicke seems to have been unaware of this.

In cases where it is simply not possible to know with sufficient certitude whether a particular papal election was valid or not, that is, whether the man claiming to be Pope really is/was Pope or not. Such is called the scenario of a doubtful Pope. Hunwicke briefly references it but only to add further confusion (or perhaps to impress his audience) — there is no serious effort on his part to actually understand the subject matter. But we can help him out:

When there is a prudent doubt about the validity of an election to any official position, there is also a similar doubt whether the person so elected really has authority or not. In such a case no one is bound to obey him, for it is an axiom that a doubtful law begets no obligation — lex dubia non obligat. But a superior whom no one is bound to obey is in reality no superior at all. Hence the saying of [St. Robert] Bellarmine: a doubtful pope is no pope [papa dubius, papa nullus].

(Berry, The Church of Christ, p. 229; italics given.)

There is no need to elaborate on this. The point is that Hunwicke doesn’t quite know how to reconcile historical uncertainty about the validity of papal elections with the Church’s infallibility concerning the legitimacy of individual Popes, in consequence of which their legitimacy must be “definitively held.”

Instead of consulting the appropriate theology books — he can even read them in their original Latin, which he never ceases to suggest to his readers he is proficient in — the English presbyter prefers to unleash a confused and confusing blog post upon the unsuspecting digital world, one in which he offers as his “tentative conclusion” the idea that the legitimacy of the election of the Supreme Pontiff as something to be definitively held “is intended to point pastorally and reliably to where authentic Church Life is, here and now, to be found and lived” and is not “an implacable iron rule to resolve every doubt in past history” (italics given). Whatever that is supposed to mean.

The correct solution to the conundrum is really quite simple: The list of Popes in the Annuario Pontificio is not an infallible declaration that every Pope listed was a true Pope. It is not even an authoritative list at all because it is not an official list magisterially proposed by the Vatican. If Hunwicke has any evidence to the contrary, he is welcome to share it.

The real question is why he didn’t just look all this up. He would have found an explanation as to how and when the Church exercises her infallibility with regard to dogmatic facts:

A dogmatic fact is one that has not been revealed, yet is so intimately connected with a doctrine of faith that without certain knowledge of the fact there can be no certain knowledge of the doctrine. For example, was the [First] Vatican Council truly ecumenical? Was Pius IX a legitimate pope? Was the election of Pius XI valid? Such questions must be decided with certainty before decrees issued by any council or pope can be accepted as infallibly true or binding on the Church. It is evident, then, that the Church must be infallible in judging of such facts, and since the Church is infallible in believing as well as in teaching, it follows that the practically unanimous consent of the bishops and faithful in accepting a council as ecumenical, or a Roman Pontiff as legitimately elected, gives absolute and infallible certainty of the fact.

(Berry, The Church of Christ, p. 290; underlining added.)

As the historical record makes clear, Felix II was never accepted as Pope by virtually all the bishops and faithful. On the contrary, the 1909 Catholic Encyclopedia states that “the laity would have nothing to do with him and remained true to the banished but lawful pope [Liberius]” (s.v. “Felix II”). Thus the Church’s infallible witness was not extended to Antipope Felix II. It really doesn’t matter if the Vatican Publishing House once released a list of Popes in which he is listed as a true Pope — that is simply not how the Church exercises infallibility with regard to the legitimacy of the Roman Pontiff. It is unfortunate that Mr. Hunwicke couldn’t be bothered to do some basic research before publishing his wisdom to the world, thereby bewildering and potentially scandalizing souls in the process.

Now, some might wish to argue that since Antipope Felix II was included in the Roman martyrology, the Church was thereby infallibly proposing him as a saint. However, that is not so. As the theologian Mgr. Gerard van Noort writes in his dogmatic theology manual, “the presence of a person’s name in the Martyrology is not conclusive proof that that person is enjoying the bliss of heaven” (Dogmatic Theology II: Christ’s Church [Westminster, MD: The Newman Press, 1957], p. 123, n. 20). Thus Donald Attwater wrote about the mysterious “Pope” Felix II rather nonchalantly back in 1939:

There is no doubt whatsoever that he was an antipope, but owing to error and confusion (perhaps deliberate) with Liberius himself and, probably, with a certain martyred Felix, he gained the reputation of being a true pope, an opponent of Constantius and a martyr for the Faith! As such he still figures in the Roman Martyrology (July 29) and in ancient lists of popes, thus making wrong by one the numeral order of later pontiffs of that name.

(Donald Attwater, A Dictionary of the Popes: From Peter to Pius XII [London: Burns Oates & Washbourne Ltd, 1939], p. 31; italics removed.)

“Infallibility is claimed for canonization only”, van Noort clarifies (p. 117); and saints were not papally canonized until the 10th century (Pope John XV‘s canonization of St. Ulrich being the first one). In fact, “[s]ome scholars … think that it is not absolutely impossible that someone who is not a saint might appear among those who, without being formally canonized, have a commemorative or even a full office in the Breviary” (p. 118). Therefore, the strange case of Antipope Felix II, who made his way into the liturgy as “St. Felix II, Pope and Martyr”, need not trouble us. It does not vitiate the Church’s infallibility, since Felix was never canonized and was never accepted as Pope except by a handful of Roman clergy.

Given all this, we can see that Mr. Hunwicke’s smug comment that the CDF’s “Commentary was simply clobbering modern sedevacantists … and so it jolly well should … all power to its elbow”, merely reveals that the English scholar doesn’t know what he’s talking about. The quoted portion of the CDF Commentary simply restates the traditional teaching. Yet, tellingly, instead of questioning his premise regarding the authority of the papal yearbook, Hunwicke prefers to mock the Church’s doctrine: “Over the years, apparently, definitive tenendum [‘to be definitively held’] gradually and gracefully evaporates.” Not so. The only thing evaporating here is the Reverend’s credibility, and not for the first time.

Of course the whole reason why Hunwicke is bringing up this issue in the first place is that he is desperately looking for justification for holding that Francis actually is Pope, while at the same time refusing him submission. The happy prospect that the Argentinian apostate could one day be considered a false pope, appears to provide just enough of a vindication in Hunwicke’s mind for such a position.

By making this argument, however, Hunwicke runs afoul of his coreligionists John Salza and Robert Siscoe, who think they have infallible certitude that Francis is a legitimate Roman Pontiff, precisely because he has been, supposedly, peacefully accepted by the whole Church. But of course they can make such an argument only by supposing that the hordes of Novus Ordo believers that make up the vast majority of today’s “Catholics” who accept Francis — most of them imbued with all kinds of Freemasonic ideas and devoid of any understanding of traditional Catholicism — are in fact genuine members of the Roman Catholic Church, collectively capable of providing an infallible witness to the legitimacy of the Roman Pontiff.

But are they? We are talking about people who scream for quicker and easier marriage annulments, who don’t believe in the Real Presence, rarely attend church, and think Aquinas is a zodiac sign. They are people who cohabitate, contracept, engage in unnatural vice, and abort, or at least approve of other people doing so. They believe in the primacy of conscience and in evolution; they long for women clergy and listen to the cry of the earth. They associate meditation with yoga rather than with the Holy Rosary.

Such people — think: Joe Biden, Richard Rohr, Peter Kohlgraf, and John Stowe, for instance –, if they constitute an infallible witness to anything, testify to the fact that the blathering apostate from Buenos Aires who heads their religion is anything but the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church.

Image source: composite with elements from Wikimedia and shutterstock.com
License: public domain and paid

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