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Scratch That: How Salza & Siscoe misrepresent Fr. Laymann in their Crusade against Sedevacantism


For an article against Sedevacantism, John Salza omits crucial words from a canonist he quotes

The Austrian Jesuit Fr. Paul Laymann (1574-1635) was a renowned moral theologian and canonist in post-Reformation Europe. He was also the confessor of the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II.

In their 2015 book True or False Pope? Refuting Sedevacantism and other Modern Errors, Messrs. John Salza and Robert Siscoe quote Fr. Laymann in support of their claims against Sedevacantism. In 2016, they made an article available on their web site presenting their argument against Sedevacantism from Fr. Laymann’s moral theology work Theologia Moralis, book 2, tract 1, chapter 7. Here are the relevant links:

The title of the Salza/Siscoe article is inaccurate. A more appropriate title would have been, “A Renowned 17th Century Canonist Enunciates a Position at Odds with Sedevacantism”, as Fr. Laymann does not disprove Sedevacantism but merely argues a contrary position. But then such a title wouldn’t have had sufficient oomph.

Before we get to the actual Laymann passage in question, let’s look at what Salza and Siscoe have to say about it first. They claim:

Here we have a renowned canonist, from the time of Bellarmine and Suarez (and of their same Jesuit order), who directly addresses what would happen of a Pope fell into notorious heresy, yet nevertheless was tolerated by the Church and recognized as its head. He explains that in such a situation, the Pope would retain the pontifical power, and “all his decrees [would] have no less force and authority than they would if he were a [sic] truly faithful.”

So, are the authors saying that Fr. Laymann believes that such a “heretical Pope” would remain Pope? Their phraseology of “would retain the pontifical power”, based on the wording used by the Austrian canonist, is somewhat vague. However, if we turn to their book True or False Pope?, we find clear and unequivocal confirmation that they do indeed believe that Laymann held that such a “heretical Pope” remains a true Pope. They state:

In his classic book, Moral Theology, [Fr. Laymann] explained that if a Pope were to fall into heresy, and even “notorious heresy,” he would remain a true Pope as long as he was being tolerated by the Church and publicly recognized as its head.

(John F. Salza and Robert J. Siscoe, True or False Pope? Refuting Sedevacantism and other Modern Errors [Winona, MN: STAS Editions, 2015], p. 266; underlining added.)

Thus, it is clear that Salza and Siscoe maintain that Fr. Laymann’s position is that a Pope who were to become a notorious heretic would remain Pope for as long as the Church tolerates him and publicly recognizes him as her head.

And this is where the problem lies, for that is not Fr. Laymann’s position. To prove that, let’s look at Fr. Laymann’s words as quoted by Salza and Siscoe (all emphasis is theirs):

It is more probable that the Supreme Pontiff, as concerns his own person, could fall into heresy, even a notorious one, by reason of which he would deserve to be deposed by the Church, or rather declared to be separated from her. … The proof of this assertion is that neither Sacred Scripture nor the tradition of the Fathers indicates that such a privilege [i.e., being preserved from heresy when not defining a doctrine] was granted by Christ to the Supreme Pontiff: therefore the privilege is not to be asserted.

“The first part of the proof is shown from the fact that the promises made by Christ to St. Peter cannot be transferred to the other Supreme Pontiffs insofar as they are private persons, but only as the successor of Peter in the pastoral power of teaching, etc. The latter part is proven from the fact that it is rather the contrary that one finds in the writings of the Fathers and in decrees: not indeed as if the Roman Pontiffs were at any time heretics de facto (for one could hardly show that); but it was the persuasion that it could happen that they fall into heresy and that, therefore, if such a thing should seem to have happened, it would pertain to the other bishops to examine and give a judgment on the matter; as one can see in the Sixth Synod, Act 13; the Seventh Synod, last Act; the eight Synod, Act 7 in the epistle of [Pope] Hadrian; and in the fifth Roman Council under Pope Symmachus: ‘By many of those who came before us it was declared and ratified in Synod, that the sheep should not reprehend their Pastor, unless they presume that he has departed from the Faith’. And in Si Papa d. 40, it is reported from Archbishop Boniface: ‘He who is to judge all men is to be judged by none, unless he be found by chance to be deviating from the Faith’. And Bellarmine himself, book 2, ch. 30, writes: ‘We cannot deny that [Pope] Hadrian with the Roman Council, and the entire 8th General Synod was of the belief that, in the case of heresy, the Roman Pontiff could be judged,’ as one can see in Melchior Cano, bk. 6, De Locis Theologicis, last chapter.

“But note that, although we affirm that the Supreme Pontiff, as a private person, might become a heretic … nevertheless, for as long as he is tolerated by the Church, and is publicly recognized as the universal pastor, he is still endowed, in fact, with the pontifical power, in such a way that all his decrees have no less force and authority than they would if he were a [sic] truly faithful, as Dominic Barnes notes well (q.1, a. 10, doubt 2, ad. 3) Suarez bk 4, on laws, ch. 7.

“The reason is: because it is conducive to the governing of the Church, even as, in any other well-constituted commonwealth, that the acts of a public magistrate are in force as long as he remains in office and is publicly tolerated.”

(Fr. Paul Laymann, quoted in John Salza and Robert Siscoe, “A Renowned 17th Century Canonist Refutes Sedevacantism”, True or False Pope?, not dated; underlining, italics, and bold given.)

We have reproduced the text exactly as it appears on their web site. Below is a snapshot of the web page for verification. Notice that they also added scanned images of the Latin text to go along with the translation (unfortunately, not everything written in Latin was also contained in the English equivalent, as will be discussed momentarily):

As can be seen clearly, this quoted passage of Fr. Laymann’s Theologia Moralis contains two instances of so-called ellipses.

An ellipsis is a deliberate omission of text from a quotation, indicated by three dots (“…”). Ellipses have a very legitimate use in academic discourse, in articles, newspapers, blog posts, etc., as it is often unnecessary (and would be quite burdensome) to quote the entirety of something an author is saying. Two conditions must be fulfilled, however, to make the use of an ellipsis legitimate: First, it must ordinarily be indicated, usually by three dots, to alert the reader to the omission. Second, the omitted portion cannot alter or impact the meaning of the quoted text in any significant way. In other words, one cannot cut words out of a quote in such a way as to make the author say something he is not actually saying. For example, the sentence, “It is not lawful to park here” could not legitimately be shortened to “It is … lawful to park here”, since that would have the opposite of the intended meaning. On the other hand, if the full statement were, “It is lawful, as you probably already know, to park here”, it would perfectly fine to shorten it to, “It is lawful … to park here.”

Salza and Siscoe are very well aware of how ellipses work. In fact, they once accused Novus Ordo Watch of deceitfully shortening a text by St. Robert Bellarmine. Decide for yourself whether you think it was a fair accusation:

So Salza and Siscoe used an ellipsis twice in the above-quoted text from Fr. Laymann. The first instance is perfectly legit, for there they merely omit the references Fr. Laymann gives to other authors and their works for further reading on the subject. These are not relevant to understanding his position and can therefore be skipped.

The second instance, however, is problematic (and our thanks go to blogger Steve Speray for pointing this out). Here is an annotated snapshot of the relevant portion:

In case the image won’t display, the text is the following:

But note that, although we affirm that the Supreme Pontiff, as a private person, might become a heretic … nevertheless, for as long as he is tolerated by the Church, and is publicly recognized as the universal pastor, he is still endowed, in fact, with the pontifical power, in such a way that all his decrees have no less force and authority than they would if he were a [sic] truly faithful, as Dominic Barnes notes well (q.1, a. 10, doubt 2, ad. 3) Suarez bk 4, on laws, ch. 7.

Did you notice the three dots? That’s where Salza and Siscoe indicate they have omitted some of Fr. Laymann’s words. But what are those words, and why were they cut out? This is where it gets interesting.

The deleted words are the following: “and therefore cease to be a true member of the Church (as the Church is the congregation of the faithful, thus any heretics, by the very fact that they reject the true faith of Christ, are neither faithful, nor true Christians, according to St. Augustine, Enchridion, chap. 5).” This can be verified by consulting the original Latin (omitted words underlined):

In other words, the original full quote of Fr. Laymann reads as follows:

But note that, although we affirm that the Supreme Pontiff, as a private person, might become a heretic and therefore cease to be a true member of the Church (as the Church is the congregation of the faithful, thus any heretics, by the very fact that they reject the true faith of Christ, are neither faithful, nor true Christians, according to St. Augustine, Enchiridion, chap. 5), nevertheless, for as long as he is tolerated by the Church, and is publicly recognized as the universal pastor, he is still endowed, in fact, with the pontifical power, in such a way that all his decrees have no less force and authority than they would if he were truly faithful, as Dominic Barnes notes well (q.1, a. 10, doubt 2, ad. 3) Suarez bk 4, on laws, ch. 7.

Salza and Siscoe omitted Fr. Laymann’s explicit affirmation that a Pope who were to become a heretic in his capacity as a private person (not in his official capacity as Pope — such a scenario was not admitted by anyone as even a theoretical possibility!) would cease to be a member of the Church “by the very fact” of having become a heretic.

This is highly significant for two reasons: First, because it shows that Fr. Laymann does not share Salza and Siscoe’s thesis that a legal declaration is necessary for someone to cease to be a member of the Church on account of heresy; and second, because it shows that Fr. Laymann does not consider such a “heretical Pope” to be a true Pope because he does not even consider him to be a true member of the Church.

Is it perhaps possible that Fr. Laymann thought a heretic could be a true Pope and yet not be a true member of the Church? No, this is not possible, for two reasons: (a) because it is contrary to reason, and (b) because Fr. Laymann held that the pontifical power of a “heretical Pope” is supplied to him, which can only be the case if he is not in fact a true Pope, otherwise there would be no need to supply this power since he would not be lacking it.

We will now look at both of these reasons in greater depth.

First, it is impossible for someone to be the visible head of the Church (Pope) without being a member. Such an idea involves a manifest contradiction since the head is a member, in fact a very specific one. As St. Robert Bellarmine writes:

A non-Christian cannot in any way be Pope, as Cajetan affirms in the same book [Tract. De auctoritate Papae et Concilii], and the reason is because he cannot be the head of that which he is not a member, and he is not a member of the Church who is not a Christian. But a manifest heretic is not a Christian, as St. Cyprian and many other Fathers clearly teach [Cyprian, bk 4, epist. 2.; Athanasius, Contra Arianos, serm. 2; Augustine, de gratia Christi ch. 20; Jerome Contra Luciferianos, and many others]. Therefore, a manifest heretic cannot be Pope.

(St. Robert Bellarmine, De Romano Pontifice, Book II, Chapter 30; Grant translation; underlining added.)

Second, Fr. Laymann himself confirms that the “heretical Pope” is not a true Pope, although he does exercise “the pontifical power”. What may seem to be a blatant contradiction at first sight is quickly resolved once we understand what Fr. Laymann means by this — which one can glean from what he says but only if one reads the actual Latin text instead of relying on the translation provided by Salza and Siscoe, which, it turns out, is not complete.

That’s right, Salza and Siscoe have omitted yet more words from Fr. Laymann that shed light on this — except, this time, they did not even put an ellipsis to alert the reader to the omission! They simply cut the text short, something no reader would notice unless he bothered to check it closely against the Latin original.

Let us examine the evidence.

Notice that in their long quote from Fr. Laymann above, they end with: “…the acts of a public magistrate are in force as long as he remains in office and is publicly tolerated.” However, as the Latin original shows, there are a few more words after “tolerated”, namely: “according to the law of Barbarius, and following [the work] On the Office of Praetor“. This can be seen here:

What is the significance of this excluded portion? What is the “law of Barbarius”?

As pure coincidence would have it, these few omitted words turn out to be highly useful for understanding Fr. Laymann’s nuanced position accurately, for the Lex Barbarius is the first known instance of jurisdiction being supplied on account of common human error for the acts of an illegitimate magistrate.

Here is the story in a nutshell: In ancient Rome, there was once a first-century B.C. fugitive slave named Barbarius Philippus who pretended to hold the office of a Roman magistrate called a Praetor. Since he was not a Roman citizen, he was ineligible to hold the position. When eventually he was found out to be a usurper, an impostor, his pretended acts were nevertheless judged valid, for even though he had been no genuine Praetor, he was commonly thought to be one by the people, who were simply in unsuspecting error about his true status, and this through no fault of theirs. This is regarded as the origin of the principle of common error as supplying for jurisdiction that would otherwise be lacking.

In her own law, the Church too knows of the principle of supplied jurisdiction on account of common error. Canon 209 of the 1917 Code of Canon Law states: “In common error or in positive or probable doubt about either law or fact, the Church supplies jurisdiction for both the external and internal forum” (Peters translation). It would be a mistake, however, to think that this legal principle is built on nothing more than the historical case of Barbarius Philippus. In his book on the correct understanding of Canon 209, Fr. Francis Miaskiewicz discusses the historical development at great length (pp. 30-106) and makes clear that “the real, full development of the doctrine of the supplying of jurisdiction is in the last analysis the result of the Church’s teaching on equity [=fairness]” (Supplied Jurisdiction according to Canon 209 [Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1940], p. 31).

What all of this means for our case here is that Fr. Laymann’s true position is actually the following: If a Pope were to become a public heretic and yet were to refuse to vacate his position (and thus “remain in office” materially), and if the Church were to tolerate this state of affairs by still recognizing him as Pope, then the Law of Barbarius would apply, that is, the jurisdiction for the acts of this “heretical Pope” would be supplied (by the Church or by Christ Himself) for the good of the Church, just as if he were a valid and true Pope.

Laymann agrees with us, then, that such a heretic in papal garb would not be a true Pope because if he were, then no power would need to be supplied. So the very fact that Fr. Laymann brings up the Law of Barbarius — a reference unduly suppressed by Salza and Siscoe — proves that he does not recognize such a “heretical Pope” as a genuine Pope but acknowledges him to be an impostor. So that is the true position of Fr. Laymann — not the absurd idea that a manifestly heretical Pope would still be a true Pope, as Salza and Siscoe want you to believe.

Now whether Laymann’s position is correct is a different matter altogether and one that does not concern us in this post, which is merely to establish that the anti-sede duo Salza and Siscoe misrepresents the teaching of this Jesuit theologian and even resorts to deleting words from his text so as to make it seem as if his position agreed with theirs.

As a quick aside: On p. 266 of their book True or False Pope?, the two authors curiously do not omit the words “and therefore cease to be a true member of the Church”, although they do leave out the parenthetical words “as the Church is the congregation of the faithful, thus any heretics, by the very fact that they reject the true faith of Christ, are neither faithful, nor true Christians, according to St. Augustine, Enchridion, chap. 5”. Does the left hand know what the right hand is doing there?

But it gets better still.

Not only does Laymann contradict Salza and Siscoe on the question of whether a “heretical Pope” would be a true Pope, he also contradicts them on the submission to be given to such a “heretical Pope”. For whereas Salza and Siscoe would have you recognize and resist such a “Pope”, Laymann argues the opposite. Precisely because the necessary jurisdiction is supplied to him, “he is still endowed, in fact, with the pontifical power, in such a way that all his decrees have no less force and authority than they would if he were truly faithful….”

In other words, unlike Salza and Siscoe’s, the position of Fr. Laymann is quite sensible and consistent: If the Church were to mistakenly recognize a heretical pseudo-pope as a true one, the necessary powers of the Papacy would be supplied to him, lest the entire Church should suffer the completely incongruous situation of recognizing and following a false pope into heresy or other pernicious errors that injure souls gravely. Whether this position be right or wrong, it is intrinsically consistent, that is, it makes sense: The Church at large is mistaken about the person she acknowledges to be her visible head, but this “common error” does not vitiate the promises of Christ for the Papacy because our Lord Himself supplies whatever is needed to remedy the effects of this unhappy mistake.

Right or wrong, that is the position of Fr. Laymann, and it is not the position of John Salza or Robert Siscoe, who do not want you to actually follow Francis in his official teachings or acts precisely because they know that doing so would lead you into heresy and other mortal sins — and so they dedicate 30 pages in their book to defending the recognize-and-resist position (True or False Pope?, Chapter 20, pp. 621-651), of which the Austrian canonist, presumably, knew nothing (if they have evidence to the contrary, let them provide it).

Thus it turns out that far from Fr. Laymann supporting the Salza/Siscoe stance on a “heretical Pope”, the contrast between the two positions could hardly be greater:

  • Fr. Laymann’s position: A “heretical Pope” is a non-Catholic and false pope whose official exercise nevertheless requires submission because Christ supplies the necessary powers, lest the Church should suffer by following a false pope by mistake
  • Salza/Siscoe’s position: A “heretical Pope” is a Catholic and true Pope whose official exercise nevertheless ought to be rejected (insofar as it reflects his heresies or other errors) because, although Christ guarantees him to be a true Pope, our Lord doesn’t guarantee that he is safe to follow

When contrasted like this, it is easy to see that Fr. Laymann’s position is compatible with the overall doctrine of the Church and ultimately safeguards the promises of Christ; whereas Salza and Siscoe’s viewpoint ultimately preserves nothing, for even though it guarantees that the man recognized as Pope is in fact Pope, his being Pope is to no purpose but is entirely to the detriment of souls, indeed to the detriment of the entire Church, in the final analysis.

As explained in a different post, the Salza-Siscoe conundrum is that they can only vindicate Jorge Bergoglio’s claim to the Papacy at the expense of the Papacy itself. That is, the only way one could concede that Francis is Pope is if one reduced the Papacy to utter meaninglessness, in which case the affirmation that he is Pope — on which they insist so dogmatically — is likewise rendered devoid of meaning:

Readers who are interested in more information on this ever-recurring topic of the “heretical Pope”, will find lots of good information in the following Novus Ordo Watch posts:

It must be kept in mind, however, that Sedevacantism does not hinge on the “heretical Pope” issue. That is one way one can make the case for Sedevacantism, but it is by no means the only, or even the most compelling, approach. Here are some alternatives:

Most people are probably not aware yet, but John Salza has actually abandoned his affiliation with the Lefebvrist Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) as of late and is now gradually moving away from the more extreme versions of the recognize-and-resist position, as he appears to be discovering more and more the traditional Catholic teaching on the Papacy. He has been firing salvos against the SSPX in public recently — keep in mind, that is the group that published, endorsed, and distributed his book, with then-Superior General Bp. Bernard Fellay contributing the foreword! — and now believes it is a mortal sin to attend Masses offered by priests of the SSPX. That is a drastic change in position.

We predict that Salza will end up a full-blown Novus Ordo before long. The force of logical necessity, even in the case of false premises, is not to be underestimated. Perhaps he can have future articles published the Where Peter Is web site, where the Novus Ordo editors not only say Bergoglio is Pope but actually treat him as one, no matter how absurd the consequences. Even if the writers there don’t see eye-to-eye with Salza on all points of theology just yet, they could always … edit a few things out.

Surely John Salza wouldn’t mind.

Title image source: composite with elements from Google Books and youtube.com (screenshots; modified)
Licenses: public domain and fair use

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