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The following study is taken from my 2009 book, The Greatest Conspiracy Ever.

The Accusation: Sedevacantism contradicts The First Vatican Council.

When asked how sedevacantism contradicts the passages of Vatican I, an immediate misrepresentation of sedevacantism and Vatican I is given. Straw-man arguments are common with anti-sedevacantists. Therefore, we will go through each point of Vatican I and explain how sedevacantism doesn’t contradict the council. The quotes from Vatican I will be in green and italics.

Vatican I, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of Christ, Sess. 4, July 18, 1870: “But, that the episcopacy itself might be one and undivided, and that the entire multitude of the faithful through priests closely connected with one another might be preserved in the unity of faith and communion, placing Peter over the other apostles He established in him the perpetual principle and visible foundation of both unities, upon whose strength the eternal temple might be erected, and the sublimity of the Church might rise in the firmness of this faith.”

Part 1 of Argument: [Since sedevacantism holds that the papacy has stopped, the perpetual principle and visible foundation failed.]

Answer: Sedevacantism is not a position that holds that the papacy has stopped. The context of Vatican I is that Peter is Head over the faithful as the faithful are in unity with him.

Does this mean or imply there must always be a pope? No. The office is what Christ established. The office of the papacy is perpetual and visible when it’s vacant. If it meant that there must always be one holding the office, then this Vatican I statement fails every time a pope dies. The papacy endures forever even if the Chair of Peter is vacant. Every time a pope dies, the Chair is vacant, but the papacy remains with the perpetual principle, as does the visible foundation.

Anti-sedevacantists falsely interpret this passage to mean that there must always be a pope, but if that were true, Vatican I failed with the death of Peter.

The perpetual principle means two things. The Chair of Peter was intended to be filled (not that it would be filled if Christ comes during an interregnum period) at some point after the death of the last pope, but no time limit was ever given and the ability to fill the office is always present. Also, the Office of Peter is perpetually over the Church regardless if it were filled. In other words, the teachings of past Popes remain as the primary authority of the Church along with Holy Scripture and Tradition. Never does a past teaching become equal to or less than a teaching from a mere bishop or some other person. However, perpetual principle does not mean there must always be a pope actually in the Chair. Therefore, sedevacantism is not contrary to this passage of Vatican I.

Vatican I, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of Christ, Sess. 4, Chap. 2:

Chapter 2.
On the permanence of the primacy of blessed Peter in the Roman pontiffs

  1. “Moreover, what the Chief of pastors and the Great Pastor of sheep, the Lord Jesus, established in the blessed Apostle Peter for the perpetual salvation and perennial good of the Church, this by the same Author must endure always in the Church which was founded upon a rock and will endure firm until the end of time.”

Part 2 of Argument: [Sedevacantism does not believe the Chair of Peter will be successfully filled until the end of time.]

Answer: Vatican I is not saying that the Chair of Peter must be successfully filled until the end of time. It is saying the PRIMACY of Peter and his successors must remain until the end of time. Does this mean there will always be a pope? Absolutely not!

Does this mean there will always be a pope in office until the end of time? Absolutely not! Christ could return during an interregnum period. Therefore, the papal office need not always be filled till the end of time.

The line of argumentation by Vatican 2 apologists is faulty. If Christ came a year after Pope St. Marcellinus died, then Vatican I would have already have failed, since it was three and half years after St. Marcellinus died before St. Marcellus was elected. Perpetual does not mean always having a pope in office.

  1. “For no one can be in doubt, indeed it was known in every age that the holy and most blessed Peter, prince and head of the apostles, the pillar of faith and the foundation of the Catholic Church, received the keys of the kingdom from our lord Jesus Christ, the savior and redeemer of the human race, and that to this day and forever he lives and presides and exercises judgment in his successors the bishops of the Holy Roman See, which he founded and consecrated with his blood.”

Part 3 of Argument: [Sedevacantism cannot hold that Peter lives and resides forever if there is no forever.]

Answer: Sedevacantists do not believe there is no forever. This passage means that as long as there is a pope in office, Peter exercises judgment in him, and this is how He lives forever. This passage doesn’t even imply that there would always be a pope in office as it couldn’t without failing each time a pope dies or voluntary leaves his office.

  1. Therefore whoever succeeds to the chair of Peter obtains by the institution of Christ himself, the primacy of Peter over the whole Church. So what the truth has ordained stands firm, and blessed Peter perseveres in the rock-like strength he was granted, and does not abandon that guidance of the Church which he once received.

Part 4 of Argument: [Sedevacantism can’t hold that guidance and truth can be given to the whole Church since there may never be another pope.]

Answer: This argument doesn’t reflect the passage. Does this say there will always be a pope? No, it says that whoever succeeds the Chair of Peter has the same primacy as Peter did for the truth to remain.

  1. For this reason it has always been necessary for every Church–that is to say the faithful throughout the world–to be in agreement with the Roman Church because of its more effective leadership. In consequence of being joined, as members to head, with that see, from which the rights of sacred communion flow to all, they will grow together into the structure of a single body.

Part 5 of Argument: [Sedevacantism can’t have a single body, since there may never be another pope.]

Answer: Every time a pope dies, the Church remains a single body. Even when the Church went three-and-a-half years without a pope, the Church remained. Does this passage mean there will always be a pope? No, it says that each individual church is to be in “agreement” with the See of Peter. It doesn’t imply that the Roman Church (everyone but the pope) has authority over individual churches when the Chair of Peter is empty since the “effective leadership” is in the pope who alone has supreme authority.

We are always to be in conformity with the Roman Church, not the counterfeit Roman Church.

  1. Sess. 4, Chap. 2, [Canon]: “Therefore, if anyone then says that it is not from the institution of Christ the Lord Himself, or by Divine right that the blessed Peter has perpetual successors in the primacy over the universal Church . . . let him be anathema. or that the Roman pontiff is not the successor of blessed Peter in this primacy: let him be anathema.”

Part 6 of Argument: [Sedevacantism doesn’t believe the Church has had perpetual successors.]

Answer: There are two ways of looking at this Canon. Both ways are harmonic with sedevacantism.

One way of understanding this passage is that there will always be successors to the papacy. We’ve had perpetual successors up to Pius XII. Now we are in an interregnum period still waiting for the next pope to be elected. Since Vatican I does not give a time limit on an interregnum period, it cannot be argued that sedevacantism is going against Vatican I.

Some Vatican 2 apologists argue that the interregnum period ends with the death of the last cardinal. However, several theologians, such as Cardinal Billot after Vatican I, have taught that the College of Cardinals could become extinct, and a new pope can still be placed in Peter’s Chair.

Another way of looking at this and perhaps the best way is there is perpetual successors IN THE PRIMACY because the Eastern Orthodox recognize that Peter has successors but not in the primacy. The pope is the successor of St. Peter in the primacy perpetually, meaning, every time there is a pope until the end of time, he is a successor in the same primacy with the same authority as St. Peter.

Now notice what follows, “or that the Roman pontiff is not the successor of blessed Peter in this primacy: let him be anathema.”

This counters the Protestants that don’t believe that the Roman Pontiff is the successor of Blessed Peter in this primacy.

The first part counters the Eastern Orthodox that recognize that Peter has successors but not in the primacy. The second part counters the Protestants.

This explanation flows with the overall statement because the first part is countering the argument that Peter’s successors have primacy, and the next part “or that the Roman pontiff” is countering the argument that popes are not Peter’s successors.

None of the Vatican I statements say there must always be a pope or else every time a pope dies, Vatican I statements would fail. This argument from Vatican I is a straw-man argument against sedevacantism and it is used over and over.

Part 7 of Argument: [Since sedevacantists say John XXIII through Francis I are not the successors of blessed Peter, they have anathematized themselves.]

Answer: This argument is placing “Benedict, JPII, etc” in place of the word “Roman pontiff” and therefore sedevacantists must be saying that whoever is presumed to be the Roman pontiff is not the successor because there must be a successor in the office until the end of time.

This is not what the statement is saying.

Sedevacantists believe the Roman Pontiff is the successor of Peter but don’t believe John XXIII through Francis are the Roman Pontiffs. Article 1 is referring to the “OFFICE” which does hold the primacy until the end of time regardless if one is actually holding the office. Vatican I never states that there will always be a pope in the office. It couldn’t say that or it fails every time a pope dies.

And just because someone is presumed to be pope doesn’t mean he actually is pope. Only a Catholic can be pope. If one is a public heretic, his election to papacy cannot be valid regardless if everybody thinks it is.

The “OFFICE” will always hold the primacy and this is what Catholics say when trying to convert Protestants and Eastern Orthodox. When sedevacantists attempt to convert them, they always tell them that they must accept the papacy and believe that it holds the primacy over the whole church, knowing that the office is vacant.  All sedevacantists believe Peter’s successors hold the primacy and always will till the end of time.

The entire argument against sedevacantism from Vatican I is adding words to Vatican I with a meaning other than the original intent.

Anti-sedevacantists use Vatican I to say that sedevacantists don’t believe in perpetual successors. This is a lie. Now, if Vatican I says there must be a pope every 4 years, then sedevacantists are in trouble. However, this would only prove the Gates of Hell have prevailed.

Of course, when valid elections take place, then there will be a pope in office perpetually. Heretics cannot vote. Heretics cannot be elected. Heretics cannot hold the office of papacy. This is the crisis today.

The next parts of the argument have been added this year 2019 because of arguments presented by the Eastern Orthodox.

Part 8 of Argument: [Concerning infallibility, it would be a useless doctrine if Rome could defect because perpetual succession would be lost.  ​NOTE: The Sedevacantists’ position that Rome defected, right or wrong, is the reason they lost perpetual succession and cannot elect a legitimate bishop of Rome.]

Answer: It is not the position of sedevacantism that Rome has defected in the technical sense. When we say Rome has defected or apostatized, we are referring to one aspect of Rome, viz., the vast majority that makes up the Roman Church. The argument, then, concerns indefectibility, which applies in two different ways, whether the Church can defect into heresy and/or the disappearance of the Church from the face of the earth. If the whole church defected into heresy, then it would effectively disappear from the face of the earth. The doctrine doesn’t include a particular church which could disappear either into heresy/apostasy or just die off.

The See of Rome or Roman Church is the only church where indefectibility is assured. All other churches can defect individually, however, I submit that not all could defect together. Just as the body can’t exist without a head, neither can the head exist without the body. Therefore, the Body of the Church must exist as much as the Head.

As long as there is a congregation in or connected to Rome that holds the Faith, the Church of Rome still exists in that remnant, and it just so happens that true Catholic congregations still exist in Rome today.

What’s unique about the Church of Rome is that the rest of the Church can provide its head but it could not provide a Patriarch of Constantinople, Archbishop of Canterbury, or Bishop of New York.

Therefore, perpetual succession is not lost despite the circumstances. The perpetual principle is still present and will continue to be present. Cardinals are not needed in extreme circumstances as experts such as Cardinal Billot taught. A general council could provide a pope or as theologian and as professor Francisco de Vitoria OP (1483 –1546) points out, “Even if St. Peter would have not determined anything, once he was dead, the Church had the power to substitute him and appoint a successor to him … If by any calamity, war or plague, all Cardinals would be lacking, we cannot doubt that the Church could provide for herself a Holy Father…Hence such an election should be carried out by all the Church and not by any particular Church. And this is because that power is common and it concerns the whole Church. So it must be the duty of the whole Church.” (De Potestate Ecclesiae)

Saints and the Fathers of the First Vatican Council discussed what would happen if the Pope defected into heresy. See Vatican I’s Declaration is Foundation for Sedevacantism

Defection into heresy by a pope doesn’t imply a defection of Rome since a defected pope is no longer part of Rome. In fact, the same can be applied to every particular church. When the Patriarch of Constantinople defected into heresy, he defected out of the Church, therefore, the office of patriarch didn’t actually defect. When Nestorius defected, as one example, he was called an imposter by Pope Pius VI. In other words, he was no longer the Patriarch of Constantinople.

Again, we are always to be in conformity with the Roman Church, not the counterfeit Roman Church.

Part 9 of Argument: [If an antipope or even antichrist rules the Roman Church, then the Roman Catholic Church defected.]

Answer: An antipope sitting in Rome doesn’t mean the Church has defected. Many antipopes have sat in Rome, but they aren’t sitting in the Chair of Peter. A proposed antichrist sitting in Rome is no different than an antipope sitting in Rome. An antichrist wouldn’t be ruling anymore than an antipope rules. The Catholic Church is never ruled by an antipope just as the Eastern Catholic Church was never ruled by Nestorius when he defected.

What we find in every argument above is someone looking for a reason to reject the Catholic position of sedevacantism and/or the Catholic Faith. They all fall short.

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