Better a vacant Chair than a defected Chair!
A Church without Popes forever?
Response to an Inquiring Writer at One Peter Five
On July 23, 2020, an article appeared on the One Peter Five web site that is addressed to sedevacantists:
- “Asking Sedevacantists: A Church without Popes Forever?” (One Peter Five)
The piece was written by Mr. Nishant Xavier, and it represents a reasonable and evidence-based challenge to the sedevacantist position. This is unusual for One Peter Five, which in the past (and also since then) has revealed itself to be a theological comedy site more than anything. Of course that is not to say that the write-up succeeds in refuting sedevacantism, only that it is, at first sight at least, a well-done article that deserves a response.
Xavier’s monograph begins thus:
Recently, an event of significance for sedevacantists came to pass. The last bishop consecrated to be appointed to office in 1958 — i.e., during the reign of Pope Pius XII — finally passed into eternity. That this is so can also be verified at the Catholic Hierarchy website and the updated lists at Wikipedia.
Why is all this of consequence for sedevacantists? Because many sedevacantists hold that Pope Pius XII was the last pope and that the See of St. Peter has been vacant since then, for almost 62 years.
(Nishant Xavier, “Asking Sedevacantists: A Church without Popes Forever?”, One Peter Five, July 23, 2020)
The deceased bishop in question is a Chilean by the name of Manuel José Bernardino Piñera Carvallo (1915-2020). He was, indeed, the last living bishop appointed by Pope Pius XII (on Feb. 11, 1958, consecrated on Apr. 27, 1958), and he is dead now.
Xavier argues in his piece that since ordinary jurisdiction for bishops can only be received by papal appointment, for sedevacantists the last bishop with ordinary jurisdiction is now dead, and that’s impossible, as there must always be at least one bishop with ordinary jurisdiction in the Church.
This he attempts to use as a reductio ad absurdum argument, meaning he thinks this proves sedevacantism to be absurd, and the happy solution to it all is — you guessed it — that sedevacantists “come home” to “Pope” Francis — yet without, of course, actually submitting to him. This is presented as the glorious solution to the conundrum of having a “church” as orthodox and indefectible as the Church of England (Anglican sect), where the guy at the top is considered totally legit but is followed only insofar as each believer agrees what he preaches is actually correct.
Now, for an event that was supposedly of great significance to sedevacantists, hardly anyone seems to have noticed or cared about Bp. Piñera Carvallo’s passing — including Novus Ordo Watch. One reason is that it is far from certain that this valid bishop was still in possession of ordinary jurisdiction as late as 2020.
Loss of Office, Loss of Jurisdiction
His legitimate appointment by Pope Pius XII 64 years ago is one thing — retaining the office then received is quite another. According to the GloriaTV news blurb linked to in Xavier’s own article, “Carvallo was a modernist”, so a sedevacantist would certainly have had no more use for him than any other bishop or “bishop” keeping communion with the Vatican II Sect and promoting its program of apostasy — and that is totally prescinding from the question of personal culpability. We are concerned here with the external state of affairs as it can be known objectively by others, not about the subjective state of Bp. Piñera’s soul before God, which is not for us to judge (see Pope St. Pius X, Encyclical Pascendi, n. 3).
Together with his public defection from the Faith in the external forum, according to the 1917 Code of Canon Law (Canon 188 n. 4), Bp. Piñera would have tacitly resigned his episcopal office and in this manner also lost his jurisdiction.
The study The Administration of Vacant and Quasi-Vacant Dioceses in the United States, published by the Catholic University of America Press in 1932, confirms this:
This crime [public heresy or apostasy] presupposes not an internal, or even external but occult act, but a public defection from the faith through formal heresy, or apostasy, with or without affiliation with another religious society…. The public character of this crime must be understood in the light of canon 2197 n. 1. Hence, if a bishop were guilty of this violation and the fact were divulged to the greater part of the town or community, the crime would be public and the see ipso facto [by that very fact] becomes vacant.
(Rev. Leo Arnold Jaeger, The Administration of Vacant and Quasi-Vacant Dioceses in the United States [Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1932], p. 82. Full disclosure: Purchases through this Amazon link benefit Novus Ordo Watch.)
When the episcopal see becomes vacant in this manner, the bishop loses his jurisdiction immediately and automatically, according to the same author:
…when a bishop tacitly resigns, as in the case of apostacy [sic], heresy, etc., the see becomes fully vacant the moment the crime becomes public. According to a strict interpretation of the law, the jurisdiction of the bishop passes at that moment to the Board [of Diocesan Consultors], who may validly and licitly begin to exercise its power, as long as there is certainty that the crime has become public. In practice, however, it would probably be more prudent on the part of the Board, instead of assuming the governance of the see immediately, to notify the Holy See without delay, and await for such provisions which the Supreme Authority might choose to make.
(Jaeger, Administration, p. 98; underlining added.)
Thus, the passing of Bp. Piñera Carvallo as the last bishop appointed by Pope Pius XII is really of no significance to sedevacantists, insofar as he was, apparently, simply another adherent and promoter of the Vatican II religion.
A further important thing to remember is that when Pius XII appointed Pinera in 1958, he gave him ordinary jurisdiction (as an auxiliary bishop) only for the diocese of Talca, Chile, according to the records at Catholic Hierarchy. He left this diocese in 1960, when “Pope” John XXIII made him bishop of Temuco. In 1983, “Pope” John Paul II appointed him Archbishop of La Serena, where he ultimately died. This means that if we assume that Carvallo retained ordinary jurisdiction in spite of his public defection to the Vatican II religion, he did so only for the territory of the Talca diocese, in which he was not even present and over which he was not actually exercising any jurisdiction for the last 60 years. On account of what canon law calls “common error” (see Canon 209), it is possible that the appointments by John XXIII and John Paul II were in fact valid, inasmuch as practically the whole world thought these men were true Popes, but even then, the only jurisdiction exercised by Bp. or Abp. Piñera Carvallo would have been that pertaining to the sees in question and only for the time period specified, respectively.
In any case, regardless of these historical details, on the face of it the argument Xavier makes is not unreasonable, namely:
- Apostolic succession requires ordinary jurisdiction
- Ordinary jurisdiction can only be given by the Pope
- Therefore, given a long-term absence of a true Pope, apostolic succession will eventually run out
- But by divine promise, apostolic succession cannot run out
- Therefore, there cannot be a long-term absence of a true Pope
- Therefore, Sedevacantism, which maintains there hasn’t been a true Pope since the death of Pope Pius XII (Oct. 9, 1958), is false
However, there are a few errors in his presentation that we must now address.
Apostolicity in Origin and Doctrine
First, although Xavier rightly states that “[t]he Church cannot cease to be apostolic (as we profess in the Creed)”, he errs in thinking that apostolicity is confined merely to lawful episcopal succession from the Apostles. Of her very nature, the Church is always and unchangeably apostolic not merely in her hierarchical succession (ministry) but also in her origin and her doctrine.
The theologian Fr. Elwood Sylvester Berry (1879-1954), a long-time seminary professor, explains the concept of apostolicity in his ecclesiology handbook The Church of Christ:
The Church is Apostolic in origin, because it is and must ever remain, the identical society founded by Christ and organized through the ministry of the Apostles; it is Apostolic in doctrine, because it teaches the selfsame truths that Christ committed to its custody in the persons of the Apostles. Finally, the Church is Apostolic in ministry (or succession), because the authority which Christ conferred upon the Apostles has come down through an unbroken line of legitimate successors in the ministry of the Church.
(Rev. E. Sylvester Berry, The Church of Christ: An Apologetic and Dogmatic Treatise [St. Louis, MO: B. Herder Book Co., 1927], p. 139; italics given.)
When we say that the Catholic Church cannot cease to be apostolic, therefore, we mean that she cannot cease to be apostolic in her origin, in her doctrine, or in her ministry. The entity we loosely call the Novus Ordo Church or Vatican II Church is obviously not apostolic in origin or in doctrine, for which reason we sedevacantists repudiate it. Its (mostly invalid) bishops may indeed be able to trace their lineage back to the Apostles, but this is of no use to Xavier if (a) the orders are invalid and/or (b) the bishops do not profess the true Faith, the apostolic doctrine.
In fact, it was none other than “Pope” Paul VI who, shortly after the close of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), spoke of a “conciliar church”, into whose image he exhorted people to transform themselves. The term “conciliar church” was not unjustified, considering that the council had presumed to redefine the very nature of the Catholic Church in its dogmatic constitution Lumen Gentium (n. 8), something that was happily admitted by “Cardinal” Karol Wojtyla, the future “Pope” John Paul II, in his 1977 book Sign of Contradiction. A church with a different nature than that of the Catholic Church under Pope Pius XII, a “church of ecclesial elements” that exist fully in the Roman Catholic Church but partially also in Protestant sects, is not the Church founded by Jesus Christ and therefore cannot be traced back to the Apostles.
How the ecclesiological doctrine of Vatican II differs from the perennial Roman Catholic doctrine, is explained in detail in the following links:
- The New Ecclesiology: An Overview (Bp. Donald Sanborn)
- Ratzinger’s Subsistent Error (Bp. Donald Sanborn)
- Frankenchurch Rises Again: Ratzinger on the Church (Fr. Anthony Cekada)
- Resisting the Pope, Sedevacantism and Frankenchurch (Fr. Anthony Cekada)
- Communion: Ratzinger’s New Ecclesiology (Bp. Donald Sanborn)
- Debate: Is the Vatican II Doctrine on the Church heretical? (Bp. Donald Sanborn vs. Dr. Robert Fastiggi)
The evidence that the doctrine of the Vatican II Church is not apostolic, hardly needs to be spelled out in this post. The false and novel teachings of the organization presently headed by Jorge Bergoglio (“Pope Francis”) are what Nishant Xavier and his co-religionists resist, after all.
Apostolicity in Hierarchical Succession
Second, with regard to apostolicity of hierarchical succession, which the author hangs his entire argument on, we turn once again to Fr. Sylvester Berry, who gives a succinct explanation:
SUCCESSION. Apostolicity of origin and of doctrine are easily understood without further explanation, but some knowledge of succession is necessary for a proper conception of apostolicity of ministry. Succession, as used in this connection, is the following of one person after another in an official position, and may be either legitimate or illegitimate. Theologians call the one formal succession; the other, material. A material successor is one who assumes the official position of another contrary to the laws or constitution of the society in question. He may be called a successor in as much as he actually holds the position, but he has no authority, and his acts have no official value, even though he be ignorant of the illegal tenure of his office.
A formal, or legitimate, successor not only succeeds to the place of his predecessor, but also receives due authority to exercise the functions of his office with binding force in the society. It is evident that authority can be transmitted only by legitimate succession; therefore, the Church must have a legitimate, or formal, succession of pastors to transmit apostolic authority from age to age. One who intrudes himself into the ministry against the laws of the Church receives no authority and consequently can transmit none to his successors.
TWOFOLD POWER. Succession in the Church differs from that in other societies from the fact that there is a twofold power to transmit, — the power of Orders and the power of jurisdiction or government. The power of Orders is purely spiritual and concerned directly with the conferring of grace; it is obtained through the Sacrament of Orders validly received and cannot be revoked by any power of the Church. For this reason, the power of Orders may be obtained by fraud or conferred against the will of the Church by anyone having valid Orders himself, and therefore does not depend upon legitimate succession.
Jurisdiction is authority to govern and must be transmitted in the Church as in any other society; it can be conferred only by a lawful superior, according to the constitution and laws of the society, and may be revoked at any time. Consequently jurisdiction in the Church can neither be obtained nor held against the will of her supreme authority; its transmission depends entirely upon legitimate succession. It is not sufficient, therefore, that a church have valid Orders; it must also have a legitimate succession of ministers, reaching back in an unbroken line to the Apostles, upon whom our Lord conferred all authority to rule His Church.
UNION WITH ROME. No one can be a legitimate successor in any society unless he receive due authority therein; it follows, therefore, that there can be no legitimate successor in the Church of Christ who has not received jurisdiction either directly or indirectly from her supreme authority. But, as will be proved elsewhere, supreme authority in the Church of Christ was committed to St. Peter and his lawful successors, the bishops of Rome: consequently all legitimate succession, or Apostolicity of ministry in the Church, depends upon communion with the chair of Peter and is lost the moment that communion is severed. Hence no particular part of the Church is indefectibly Apostolic, save the see of Peter, which is universally known by way of eminence as the Apostolic See.
(Rev. E. Sylvester Berry, The Church of Christ: An Apologetic and Dogmatic Treatise [St. Louis, MO: B. Herder Book Co., 1927], pp. 139-141; italics given.)
Thus, while it is perfectly legitimate to ask where the lawful Catholic hierarchy with ordinary jurisdiction is today if the sedevacantist position is correct, we know that the answer cannot lie in accepting as lawful Catholic shepherds people who (a) do not have valid orders (in most cases), (b) do not profess the Catholic Faith as it was known until the death of Pope Pius XII, and (c) do not recognize the vacancy of the Apostolic See but instead profess communion with and follow a manifest apostate who continually teaches and imposes his apostasy on the entire church.
Nevertheless, how do we answer Xavier’s challenge?
The first thing we can do is point out that there is one bishop in the entire world who does not need to be appointed by the Pope to receive ordinary jurisdiction. That one bishop is, of course, the Pope himself. His jurisdiction is received immediately from Christ the moment he becomes Pope. Therefore, as long as the Church retains the capacity of providing for herself a true Pope, apostolicity in the Church would seem to be assured.
But sedevacantists don’t have a Pope, so isn’t the point moot? It isn’t. After all, we sedevacantists very much believe in the Papacy, we just don’t believe that Pius XII’s apparent successors (John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I, John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and now Francis) ever legitimately held that office, nor do we know of anyone else who did or does hold the papal office. But that doesn’t mean we believe the Church cannot ever have another Pope, although we may not be able to identify, or agree with each other on, how the next true Pope would be chosen.
One elaborate theory that, if correct, would provide a clean answer to that question is the so-called Material/Formal Thesis; though it too is not without its difficulties:
Before any remedy to a problem can be attempted, it is of the utmost importance to render an accurate diagnosis. And it is here, at the very outset, that the recognize-and-resisters like Nishant Xavier fail spectacularly, as we point out on this web site continually. Here are just a few examples:
- No Jekyll-and-Hyde Magisterium: Against the Theological Sophistry of Peter Kwasniewski
- No, Catholics Can’t “Recognize and Resist”: Response to One Peter Five
- Built on Rock or on Sand? “Pope” Francis and the Divine Foundation of the Roman Catholic Church
- A Dangerous Experiment: Taking Francis’ Claim to the Papacy Seriously
- The Papacy as God’s GPS: A Simple Analogy to illustrate our Predicament
We must tread very carefully in theological matters and not ever affirm anything that Catholic dogma or doctrine does not permit us to affirm. For the time being, we may simply have to leave certain things to mystery. That this is not satisfying on a theological level, is understood. However, only fools would rush in where angels fear to tread, and it is infinitely more reasonable to plead ignorance or incompetence than to embrace obvious error or contradiction.
Not forgetting the Big Picture
In his challenge to sedevacantists, as we have seen, Xavier reduces apostolicity to episcopal succession, while forgetting that the Church is apostolic not only in her hierarchy but also in her origin and doctrine. What good is it to have, putatively, a line of apostolic successors if they do not teach the apostolic Faith? Our Lord established apostolic succession, among other reasons, for the sake of perpetuating His true doctrine until the end of time: “And I will ask the Father, and he shall give you another Paraclete, that he may abide with you for ever. The spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, nor knoweth him: but you shall know him; because he shall abide with you, and shall be in you” (Jn 14:16-17; cf. Jn 16:13).
The Church does not have apostolic succession for its own sake. Nobody needs easy-to-identify successors to the Apostles if they bring spiritual death to souls rather than eternal life (cf. Gal 1:8-9; Mt 7:15); in fact, such workers of iniquity are denounced by St. Paul as “false apostles” and “deceitful workmen, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ” (2 Cor 11:13).
That is what the First Vatican Council teaches in its dogmatic constitution on the Catholic Faith:
Moreover, in order that we may satisfactorily perform the duty of embracing the true faith and of continuously persevering in it, God, through His only-begotten Son, has instituted the Church, and provided it with clear signs of His institution, so that it can be recognized by all as the guardian and teacher of the revealed word.
(Vatican I, Dogmatic Constitution Dei Filius, Ch. 3; Denz. 1793; underlining added.)
The Church has distinctive marks, attributes, and properties precisely so that people can identify and adhere to it as the harbor of truth and holiness. As Bp. Donald Sanborn wrote in his June 2021 seminary newsletter, “…the organizational structures of the Catholic Church exist for the Catholic Faith and not vice-versa” (p. 2).
This is necessarily true also for apostolic succession, since apostolicity is one of the four marks of the Church. In the Oath against Modernism prescribed by Pope St. Pius X, a Catholic swears: “I firmly hold … and shall hold to my dying breath the belief of the Fathers in the charism of truth, which certainly is, was, and always will be in the succession of the episcopacy from the apostles.” This underscores that the succession of lawful bishops from the Apostles is intricately tied to the preservation of the true Faith, apart from which it has virtually no meaning (for which reason heretics who possess a valid episcopacy are just as anathema as heretics who don’t). What would be the purpose, after all, of a perpetual succession of heretics? (More on this can be found in the intriguing and powerful presentation, “Eclipse of the Church: The Case for Sedevacantism”.)
As Fr. Berry writes: “Christ has either failed in His promises, or the Church must ever preserve and teach all truths committed to her through the ministry of the Apostles. In other words, the Church must be Apostolic in her doctrine even to the consummation of the world” (The Church of Christ, p. 143; underlining added). But then again, Club Francis doesn’t even claim to be the true Church of Christ, at least not the way Pope Pius XII believed and taught, namely, that “the Mystical Body of Christ and the Roman Catholic Church are one and the same thing” (Encyclical Humani Generis, n. 27).
A church that teaches a false religion is not the true Church of Jesus Christ, not the Catholic Church. That much should be obvious.
Indeed, what right would the Catholic Church have to condemn heresy if she herself could teach heresy? Sedevacantist blogger Steve Speray put it this way: “If the Catholic Church can promulgate heresy by universal catechism (for instance), it would be the height of hypocrisy for the same church to condemn Protestantism for promulgating heresy”. So if the heresies of the Anglican and Protestant sects are evidence that they cannot be the true Church of Christ, then the heresies of the Vatican II Sect must disprove it for the same reason.
It is simply not possible to say that the religion of “Pope” Francis is substantially the same as the religion of Pope Pius XII. It is not the same: not in doctrine, not in law, and not in worship. And it is precisely because it is not the same that people like Nishant Xavier see the need to resist it. It is precisely because they are two different religions that Steve Skojec, the former editor-in-chief of One Peter Five, in a candid moment declared: “Pre- and Post-Conciliar Catholicism Are Not the Same Religion”.
There you have it. It’s a different religion, a different church. They all know it — they just don’t follow Catholic principle, perhaps because it gets in the way of a convenient best-of-both-worlds theology: Enjoy all the advantages of having a Pope but reject whatever of his new religion you find objectionable. Put differently: Enjoy all the benefits of sedevacantism, with none of its difficulties. What’s not to like? Besides, you can reach and impress wide audiences with your “balanced” and “non-extremist” position, don’t need to drive hours to the nearest Latin Mass (although that may have changed now), and you can even get your marriage declared null, should the “need” ever arise.
By the way: It would be a mistake to think that the recognize-and-resisters are all in agreement on what constitutes a legitimate exercise of the papal magisterium, what actually ought to be accepted and what ought to be rejected. Just think of the change in teaching on the death penalty (which began with John Paul II), the introduction of the “Luminous Mysteries” of the Rosary, the Novus Ordo Catechism, John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, female Doctors of the Church, the theology behind Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae, whether Friday abstinence is optional and whether the Lenten fast still obliges, whether assistance at the Masses of the Society of St. Pius X is permissible, whether the “New Mass” is valid, etc. These are all things different “traditionalists” in the New Church will disagree with one another about.
And how could it be otherwise? Their problem is that they have a Pope who cannot be followed. Somehow he is Catholic enough to be Pope, just not Catholic enough to be followed. And so submission to the Pope becomes a theological free-for-all in which each individual gets to decide whether he accepts a particular papal teaching, law, saint, or decision, or considers it optional, or thinks it must be rejected outright by all who are “truly faithful” Catholics. It is an utter madhouse that completely obliterates the purpose for which the Papacy was founded: to ensure orthodoxy and unity in Faith, worship, and government.
With Jurisdiction comes Duty of Submission
So Mr. Xavier puts a lot of emphasis on his Vatican II Church having bishops with ordinary jurisdiction governing dioceses. That is fair enough, but it must be permitted to turn the question back on him and the entire “resistance” movement: What ordinary does the Resistance actually submit to?
They could not truly submit to any of their local ordinaries since each ordinary in turn necessarily submits to “Pope” Francis. As Fr. Berry notes: “It is … evident that the chief purpose of the [papal] primacy, — the preservation of unity, — could not be realized if the bishops of the Church were not subject in all things to her supreme pastor” (The Church of Christ, p. 409).
That is how traditional Catholicism works: Not only does every bishop have to submit to the Pope, every last Catholic layman does too, for the Pope has jurisdiction over all the faithful throughout the whole world:
Furthermore We teach and declare that the Roman Church, by the disposition of the Lord, holds the sovereignty of ordinary power over all others, and that this power of jurisdiction on the part of the Roman Pontiff, which is truly episcopal, is immediate; and with respect to this the pastors and the faithful of whatever rite and dignity, both as separate individuals and all together, are bound by the duty of hierarchical subordination and true obedience, not only in things which pertain to faith and morals, but also in those which pertain to the discipline and government of the Church [which is] spread over the whole world, so that the Church of Christ, protected not only by the Roman Pontiff, but by the unity of communion as well as of the profession of the same faith is one flock under the one highest shepherd. This is the doctrine of Catholic truth from which no one can deviate and keep his faith and salvation.
(Vatican I, Dogmatic Constitution Pastor Aeternus, Ch. 3; Denz. 1827)
The recognize-and-resist traditionalists do not in fact genuinely submit to the man they insist is the Pope, nor do they, really, submit to their local ordinary (who is, after all, not a traditionalist but a man of Vatican II). Any and all submission they might render is always provisional, ultimately dependent on whether they, in their own private judgment, believe that whatever is being taught or decreed is legitimate, that is, whether they believe it to be compatible with pre-Vatican II Catholicism. Thus the only authority they actually submit to, in the final analysis, is their own conscience, a conscience not formed by the teachings of the (putative) living and oh-so lawful shepherds of the Catholic Church, but only by what that Church used to teach, up until, roughly, Vatican II.
However, even in embracing the pre-Vatican II teaching of the indisputably true Popes, the resisters prove themselves to be rather selective, as that teaching knows of no such thing as a recognize-and-resist approach to the Catholic magisterium. Ironically, it was none other than Pope St. Pius X (r. 1903-1914), the one man all traditionalists claim to revere and follow, who reminded Catholics of the true concept of obedience to the Pope, warning them not to imitate the Modernists, who try to evade this genuine submission to the Roman Pontiff by distorting its true nature and minimizing the obligations a Catholic has with regard to the Apostolic See. His Holiness said:
…I recommend to you only to remain strong in your determination to be loyal sons of the Church of Jesus Christ, at a time when there are so many who, perhaps without knowing it, have shown themselves disloyal. For the first and greatest criterion of the faith, the ultimate and unassailable test of orthodoxy is obedience to the teaching authority of the Church, which is ever living and infallible, since she was established by Christ to be the columna et firmamentum veritatis, “the pillar and support of truth” (1 Tim 3:15).
Jesus Christ, who knew our weakness, who came into the world to preach the gospel to the poor above all, chose for the spread of Christianity a very simple means adapted to the capacity of all men and suited to every age: a means which required neither learning, nor research, nor culture, nor rationalization, but only willing ears to hear, and simplicity of heart to obey. This is why St. Paul says: fides ex auditu (Rom 10:17), faith comes not by sight, but by hearing, from the living authority of the Church, a visible society composed of masters and disciples, of rulers and of governed, of shepherds and sheep and lambs. Jesus Christ Himself has laid on his disciples the duty of hearing the instructions of their masters, on subjects of living in submission to the dictates of rulers, on sheep and lambs of following with docility in the footsteps of their shepherds. And to shepherds, to rulers, and to teachers He has said, Docete omnes gentes. Spiritus veritatis docebit vos omnem veritatem. Ecce ego vobiscum sum usque ad consummationem sæculi (Mt 28:19-20): “Going, teach ye all nations. The Spirit of truth will teach you all truth. And behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world.”
From these facts you can see how far astray are those Catholics, who, in the name of historical and philosophical criticism and that tendentious spirit which has invaded every field, put in the foremost rank the religious question itself, insinuating that by study and research we should form a religious conscience in harmony with our times, or, as they say, “modern”. And so, with a system of sophisms and errors they falsify the concept of obedience inculcated by the Church; they arrogate to themselves the right of judging the actions of authority even to the extent of ridiculing them; they attribute to themselves a mission to impose a reform — a mission which they have received neither from God nor from any authority. They limit obedience to purely exterior actions, even if they do not resist authority or rebel against it, opposing the faulty judgment of some individual without any real competence, or of their own inner conscience deceived by vain subtleties, to the judgment and commandment of the one who by divine mandate is their lawful judge, master, and shepherd.
Oh, my dear young men! Listen to the words of him who truly wishes you well: do not let yourselves be seduced by mere outward show, but be strong to resist illusions and flatteries and you will be saved!
But the official Church, they say, wants ignorance, impedes the development of religious studies; an intolerable discipline imposes silence. No, dear students: the Church, representing Jesus Christ, continually preaches those same words He addressed to the Jews: Mea doctrina non est mea, sed eius qui misit me; “My doctrine is not mine, but his that send me”; and He added: Si quis voluerit voluntatem eius facere, cognoscet de doctrina, utrum ex Deo sit, an ego a meipso loquar: “If any man will do the will of him, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself” (Jn 7:16-17). That is why the Church has always honored, not only the early Fathers and Doctors, but also the writers of every age who have studied and published works to spread the truth, to defend it against the attacks of unbelievers, and to throw into relief the absolute harmony which exists between faith and reason.
Do not let yourselves be deceived by the subtle declarations of others who do not cease to pretend that they wish to be with the Church, to love the Church, to fight for her so that she will not lose the masses, to work for the Church so that she will come to understand the times and so to win back the people and attach them to herself. Judge these men according to their works. If they maltreat and despise the ministers of the Church and even the Pope; if they try by every means to minimize their authority, to evade their direction, and to disregard their counsels; if they do not fear to raise the standard of rebellion, what Church are these men speaking about? Not, certainly, of that Church established super fundamentum Apostolorum et Prophetarum, ipso summo angulari lapide, Christo Jesus: “upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone” (Eph 2:20). So We must have ever before our mind’s eye that counsel of St. Paul to the Galatians: “If we ourselves or if an angel should teach you any other Gospel than that which we have taught you, let him be anathema” (Gal 1:8).
(Pope Pius X, Address Con Vera Soddisfazione, May 10, 1909; in Acta Apostolicae Sedis, vol. I (1909), pp. 461-464; underlining added. Translation taken from Papal Teachings: The Church, nn. 716-720; italics given.)
If Nishant Xavier applied St. Pius X’s teaching to Francis and his Novus Ordo magisterium, he would now be writing for Where Peter Is instead of One Peter Five, and he would perhaps be engaged in interreligious dialogue, congratulating Hindus on their feast of Diwali, joining Native Americans for a smudging ceremony, worshipping Pachamama with “Cardinal” Gianfranco Ravasi, or telling Jews the Old Mosaic Law is the way of salvation for them. Or maybe he would now be defending adultery as a venial sin, promote the idea that “time is greater than space” (Evangelii Gaudium, n. 222), or assert that Martin Luther wasn’t wrong in rejecting Catholic dogma on justification. At any rate, he would surely be telling others to stop proselytizing, or at least to treat “Mother Earth” with tenderness, while perhaps accompanying fornicators towards a pseudo-marriage.
It is therefore somewhat puzzling that Xavier would be so insistent on the necessity of bishops with ordinary jurisdiction, when in fact nobody in his recognize-and-resist camp actually submits to one. What need is there to have bishops with ordinary jurisdiction if there is no corresponding duty of submission? As we said earlier, these semi-traditionalists are trying to enjoy the benefits of sedevacantism (no submission to Modernists) without having to deal with any of its problems (so where is the hierarchy with jurisdiction?). But Catholicism isn’t Burger King — you can’t have it “your way”.
Of course the author thinks that his way out of this terrible mess is simply that future Pope who will set all things in order one day: “How do we know that God may not, after Pope Francis, give us a sovereign pontiff strong in the Catholic faith?”, Xavier asks. What he does not seem to grasp is that, according to his own recognize-and-resist principles, a future Pope will not be able to fix things. That’s because every Pope has an equal amount of authority, the full primacy of St. Peter, and so just as Xavier & Co. now claim it is legitimate to resist Francis in his magisterium, so others will be able to claim in the future that the new “restorer Pope” can and must likewise be resisted. In other words, the chaos will never end. It cannot end because their own false theology has made it impossible to end, for they have made submission to the Pope dependent on each Catholic’s personal agreement with what the Pope teaches, legislates, or decrees. Just as the semi-trads are now justifying their refusal of submission by pointing to that hoped-for future Pope, so others will be able to justify their refusal of submission by pointing to a Pope even further into the future, and it will never end.
The semi-trads have veritably destroyed the concept of submission to the Pope. None other than Remnant columnist Chris Jackson has now realized this and has commendably exposed the absurdity of the recognize-and-resist approach in a recent article:
Let us also say that by some miracle, at the next conclave a true Traditional Catholic is elected pope and immediately sets about restoring the Church. Yet, what power does he now have? The Blaise Cupiches, the Walter Kaspers, the James Martins could all then quote the anti-Vatican I Traditionalists as justification for completely blowing off the new Traditional pope as, in their minds, they have a good faith basis to do so. They will use the new papal paradigm of the neo-Gallican Traditionalists to say that the new Trad pope is contradicting Francis’ teachings which were a legitimate implementation of Vatican II, a general ecumenical Council of the Church and therefore, need not be obeyed. Stripped of almost all of the divine powers that were recognized as given to him in Pastor Aeternus, what are we left with as our pope? A figure head monarch such as the Queen of England? What power or moral authority would such a papacy have to tell these new dissenters to get in line, after having jettisoned so much papal authority to protect us from obedience to Francis?
(Chris Jackson, “How About We Keep the Papacy and Dump Bergoglio?”, The Remnant, July 29, 2022)
In this manner, the semi-trads have utterly wrecked the Papacy. This confirms once more the truth of the adage that theology has consequences.
Xavier quotes the great Benedictine abbot Dom Prosper Guéranger to score a point against sedevacantism, totally oblivious to the fact that the quote actually undermines his own recognize-and-resist position:
Dom Prosper Guéranger writes how those who lost the Faith were unable to transmit the mission to others: “By God’s permission, the sees of Alexandria, Antioch, Constantinople, and Jerusalem, were deﬁled by heresy; they became chairs of pestilence; and having corrupted the faith they received from Rome, they could not transmit to others the mission they themselves had forfeited. Sad indeed was the ruin of such pillars as these! Peter’s hand had placed them in the Church. They had merited the love and veneration of men; but they fell; and their fall gave one more proof of the solidity of that ediﬁce, which Christ Himself had built on Peter.”
With this quote, Xavier just shot himself in the foot, for it is he who is arguing that jurisdiction is retained and transmitted by heretics and apostates who are “deﬁled by heresy” and whose teachings must therefore be rejected, not excluding even the “Pope” himself! (Is “Chair of Pestilence” not an apt description of the office Bergoglio exercises?)
Therefore, when Xavier writes: “Conversely, if it is impossible that the Catholic Church defects and loses apostolicity, it follows that the popes doing the appointing to continue the succession must necessarily have been true popes”, he is wrong for two reasons: (1) because he fails to take into consideration the thesis that apostolicity of hierarchical succession requires, at an absolute minimum, only the possibility of producing a true Pope; and (2) because he fails to take into account that these “true popes” he mentions have themselves defected from the apostolic doctrine, thus rendering any apostolicity of hierarchical succession dead on arrival.
One cannot defend the Church’s apostolicity by an argument that, although it vindicates apostolicity of succession, necessarily leads to the conclusion that apostolicity of doctrine has been lost. It is an all-or-nothing matter: The Catholic Church being apostolic in her essential (and therefore unchangeable) constitution means that she will forever be apostolic not only in ministry (hierarchical succession) but also in origin and doctrine. What Xavier is trying to do is establish apostolicity of ministry at the expense of apostolicity of doctrine. Any such effort is necessarily doomed from the start.
Granted, we sedevacantists don’t have a neat, orderly, quick-and-easy answer to the great theological conundrums of our time either, but at least we do not have the impossible contradictions inherent in the recognize-and-resist position of the semi-traditionalists.
It is good to remember that God does not demand of us to have all the answers; but He does demand of us to be faithful Roman Catholics, and that means professing the true Faith, submitting to the true hierarchy (at least in intention, even if we cannot discover it), administering/receiving the true sacraments, and refusing religious unity with heretics and apostates.
As far as those theological questions we cannot (fully) resolve, we must recall that the virtue of divine Faith does not seek demonstration. It is therefore perfectly alright if we cannot “figure it all out”. Here is a quick refresher on the virtue of Faith, “without [which] it is impossible to please God” (Heb 11:6), from the traditional Roman Catechism:
The word believe does not here mean to think, to suppose, to be of opinion; but, as the Sacred Scriptures teach, it expresses the deepest conviction, by which the mind gives a firm and unhesitating assent to God revealing His mysterious truths. As far, therefore, as regards use of the word here, he who firmly and without hesitation is convinced of anything is said to believe.
Faith Excludes Doubt
The knowledge derived through faith must not be considered less certain because its objects are not seen; for the divine light by which we know them, although it does not render them evident, yet suffers us not to doubt them. For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath himself shone in our hearts [2 Cor 4:6], that the gospel be not hidden to us, as to those that perish [2 Cor 4:3].
Faith Excludes Curiosity
From what has been said it follows that he who is gifted with this heavenly knowledge of faith is free from an inquisitive curiosity. For when God commands us to believe He does not propose to us to search into His divine judgments, or inquire into their reason and cause, but demands an unchangeable faith, by which the mind rests content in the knowledge of eternal truth. And indeed, since we have the testimony of the Apostle that God is true; and every man a liar [Rom 3:4], and since it would argue arrogance and presumption to disbelieve the word of a grave and sensible man affirming anything as true, and to demand that he prove his statements by arguments or witnesses, how rash and foolish are those, who, hearing the words of God Himself, demand reasons for His heavenly and saving doctrines? Faith, therefore, must exclude not only all doubt, but all desire for demonstration.
(Catechism of the Council of Trent for Parish Priests, McHugh/Callan translation [Rockford, IL: TAN Books, 1982], pp. 14-15; italics given; underlining added. Available online here.)
In two powerful sermons, delivered, respectively, on June 28 and Aug. 3, 2020, Bp. Donald Sanborn drew attention to the incredibly great Faith of Abraham, who acted on pure Faith in a situation that appeared to be completely contradictory, even contrary to God’s own promises:
So, to answer Nishant Xavier directly and succinctly:
It is better to have a vacant Apostolic See and no clear answers on how all this will be resolved, than to have a defected Apostolic See imposing apostasy on the faithful, and no way it will be resolved.
All the (putative) apostolic successors in the world are of no use if they preach a false gospel (cf. Gal 1:8-9), administer false sacraments, and govern souls into spiritual ruin.
In his masterful encyclical on the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ, Pope Pius XII taught:
The Eternal Father indeed willed [the Church] to be the “kingdom of the Son of his predilection” [Col 1:13]; but it was to be a real kingdom, in which all believers should make Him the entire offering of their intellect and will [Vatican I, Dei Filius, Ch. 3; Denz. 1789], and humbly and obediently model themselves on Him, Who for our sake “was made obedient unto death” [Phil 2:8]. There can, then, be no real opposition or conflict between the invisible mission of the Holy Spirit and the juridical commission of Ruler and Teacher received from Christ, since they mutually complement and perfect each other — as do the body and soul in man — and proceed from our one Redeemer who not only said as He breathed on the Apostles “Receive ye the Holy Spirit” [Jn 20:22], but also clearly commanded: “As the Father hath sent me, I also send you” [Jn 20:21]; and again: “He that heareth you heareth me” [Lk 10:16].
(Pope Pius XII, Encyclical Mystici Corporis, n. 65; underlining added.)
The bottom line is this: An apostate institution preaching a false religion is not the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, even if its hierarchs can materially trace their succession back to the Apostles.
Image source: shutterstock.com (TTstudio)
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