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The Question of Papal Heresy - Part 6c

May 09, 2017
The papal cathedra at St. John Lateran, Rome

This final section of Part 6 of Fr. Gleize’s precise study of whether or not a heretical pope loses his investiture must be read in the light of the previous sections.

The author of this series, Fr. Jean-Michel Gleize, has been a professor in the SSPX's Seminary of St. Pius X in Econe, Switzerland for 20 years, where he is currently teaching ecclesiology. He is the author of numerous articles in Courrier de Rome and is a consultant to the SSPX commission responsible for doctrinal discussions with the Holy See.

Editor’s Note

This final section of Part 6 of Fr. Gleize’s precise study of whether or not a heretical pope loses his investiture must be read in the light of the previous sections. This section closes out Fr. Gleize’s critical analysis of the various speculative approaches to the issue of the papacy and heresy.

Part 6c – Does a pope who falls into heresy lose his investiture in the Primacy?

Comments on Using St. Clement as an Authority

The new explanation of Fr. Devillers presented earlier is untenable. First of all because the argument from authority that it invokes is nonexistent. In the passage quoted from the Epistle to the Corinthians, St. Clement does not maintain any of the assertions that are attributed to him by Fr. Devillers (see Part 6a).

The citation produced in the article by Fr. Devillers says

such a deposal can be made only with the utmost prudence, with humility, discretion and without envy, as St. Clement says in the cited passage, and only in a case of grace necessity.”

But the passage itself by St. Clement (Epistle to the Corinthians, §44 in Migne’s Patrologie grecque, vol. 1, cols. 295-299) deals with something completely different. St. Clement is speaking about the pastors who have been set by the apostles at the head of their flock and have governed “cum humilitate, quiete, nec illiberaliter.” On the other hand, the entire context of this §44 of the Epistle is unrelated to the subject considered in this study of a heretical pope. In fact, St. Clement is speaking about the apostles who appointed bishops to lead the faithful. He mentions the possibility that he, the Pope, might depose these bishops, but only to say that he would commit a sin if he did so without serious reason. This passage in §44 is not about the divine institution of the papacy by Christ or about the deposition of the pope.

Incidentally, nowhere in his treatise De comparatione does Cajetan mention this passage by St. Clement in support of his thesis. The reasoning that is based on this supposed passage does not hold up either (see Art. cit., p. 162, note 2). Fr. Devillers  nevertheless asserts that “Cajetan cites this letter in support of the thesis that we are defending here,” referencing chapters 18 and 19 of De comparatione. But the citation is not found there at all, nor anywhere else in the entire treatise. It is probably a mistaken reference, and the author is noting the citation given not by Cajetan but by Suarez. In fact, Fr. Devillers has acknowledged and denounced this mistake as such: it is necessary therefore to correct his text by attributing the reference not to Cajetan but to Suarez.

Further Critical Remarks on Authority

The argument made by Fr. Devillers in what he presents as a “Sed contra” is twofold: there is an argument from theological reason which itself includes a second argument from authority. The argument from authority is the one on which the major premise of the theological reasoning is supposedly based, and this is the authority of Pope St. Clement. The citation of St. Clement (Epistle to the Corinthians, §44) notes the initiative of the apostles, who provided bishops as successors for themselves, so that after their death there would be no division within the local Church. This initiative has the force of a definitive law. But the theological reasoning based on this is incapable of proving his conclusion: in fact, it consists of making a comparison with the case of a heretical pope, who is spiritually dead.

But this comparison is not sufficient to authorize the conclusion because the differences are too noteworthy. On the one hand, it makes a logical leap from physical death in the proper sense to death understood metaphorically to designate heresy: just because a deceased prelate must be replaced it does not mean that a heretical prelate must be too. On the other hand, it turns from the particular case of bishops (established as such by the apostles) to the altogether different case of the pope (established as such by Christ). It is an attempt to prove that a heretical pope must be deposed based on the fact that dead bishops must be replaced. Now there is no proof that one implies the other. Ultimately, this argument in the “Sed contra” listed on p. 165 of his study would be correct, provided it was offered as an example confirming a thesis that had already been proved, by resorting to an explanatory analogy; but it cannot be a genuine proof. 

To conclude: are we living in the age of an anti-pope?

The Problem of Analogy

Next and most importantly, Fr. Devillers’s the analogy is not legitimate (see Part 6a). For the Church is a society that is unique in its order: the first principles that are valid in the natural order are not contradicted in this supernatural order, but if they are transposed to the level of the Church, their very logic no longer suffices to legitimize just insurrection in the case of tyranny. In fact, in the Church the pope is never anything but the vicar of the true Head, and this is why in the Church there will never be tyranny properly speaking. Tyranny indeed supposes that the formal principle of public order has been attacked through its guiding principle: there is a corruption of the social order, that is, of the common good, and this corruption of the common good itself results from the corruption of the social authority.

Now, in the Church the pope’s authority is not the final and ultimate principle of the common good: it is a relative guiding principle, because it is a vicarious authority. It is always possible to have recourse to the first and absolute principle, which is Christ’s authority.

One could insist, however, by saying that this authority of Christ is a mystical, not a social authority, and that consequently on the social level the pope is the ultimate authority. But this distinction between mystical and social is not valid here. Indeed, social authority is the authority of one man over other men by means of a human action; whereas mystical authority would be authority in the metaphorical sense and would be that of God who acts by His Providence and grace. Now in Christ’s case there are both, since Christ is man and God at the same time. Therefore Christ exerts over His Church a true social authority and not only a divine government of a mystical order. And the fact that Christ is glorious only reinforces this human action of His social government.

The possibility of such recourse, even if it authorizes resistance up to a certain point, does not imply the dethronement of the head. Or more precisely, in order for that dethronement to be licit, it would be necessary to prove that Christ’s positive will intended it: this brings us back then to the set of problems discussed by the older authors, in which they endeavored to show that the deposal of a heretical pope is foreseen by divinely revealed law.

Since it is not sufficiently clear that it was, we cannot conclude decisively. And in the absence of decisive conclusions, we can do no better than to stick with the surest side, from a practical perspective. This is how the founder of the Society of Saint Pius X reasoned:

As long as I have no evidence that the Pope is not the Pope, well then, I have the presumption in his, the Pope’s favor. I am not saying that there could be no arguments that might call this into question in certain cases. But there has to be evidence that it is not just a doubt, a valid doubt. If the argument was dubious, we do not have the right to draw enormous consequences!”

(As an aside, in his study, Fr. Devillers applies his conclusions to explain what happened at the time of the Council of Constance. The Church, he says, deposed - in the strict sense of the term - three popes. But this is the explanation that Suarez gives, as a result of his own thesis. Franzelin and Billot for their part adopt another explanation, which coincides better with the decision made under Pius XII that considers legitimate the genealogy of the popes of Rome from Urban VI to Gregory XII. To the historian’s way of looking at them, the events are somewhat perplexing, and the facts may have the appearance of a deposal. But the true explanation that must take into account the nature of these facts belongs not to the historian but to the theologian, and the latter must at least refrain from positing in principle the superiority of the Church over the pope. And among the possible explanations in keeping with the dogma of papal sovereignty, there is one that safeguards this sovereignty better than the others, by saying that Gregory XII, the only legitimate Pope, abdicated.)

Is It Prudent to Call Francis an Anti-Pope?

Would it be prudent then to conclude that, if Pope Francis refuses to comply with the formal demand of the four cardinals, then he will have to be considered an anti-pope? This is the whole question: would it be “prudent”? The question will be posed to the cardinals in the same manner it was posed to Archbishop Lefebvre and to the Society founded by him. Since the circumstances are not strictly the same today as in 1979, and since the Society is not cardinalatial either, the prudent answer could no doubt be different. But in any case, the answer will be that of prudence. And whatever course of action is adopted, it will be necessary above all to ask ourselves whether it offers a serious probability of improving the situation and of preserving the common good of Church unity, which is identically a unity of faith and of government.