The Religion of Abandonment
Sedevacantism and the Heresy of Conciliarism
Since the 1980’s, there has been a steady, if slow, movement among those who have been supporters of the SSPX into sedevacantism. It would seem only a matter of time until the SSPX produces sufficient fruits of division within its own ranks so as to facilitate a much more significant exodus. With the recently exposed conflict between Bishop Fellay and the other three Society bishops concerning the subject of reconciliation with Rome, this decay appeared imminent. Since the recent General Chapter of the SSPX, unity is now professed. However, a reading of the letter of the three Bishops to Fellay, and Bishop Fellay’s reply in which he accuses them of “lack of a supernatural view and a lack of realism,” would seem to indicate depths of division which are hard to reconcile with this surface profession of unity.
On the other side of this coin is the fact that as of this writing, the apparent intransigency of Rome in regard to its stated position that the SSPX must completely embrace Vatican II may itself be a very strong stimulus for many to consider the validity of the sedevacantist position. And, with Benedict XVI’s recent appointment of Cardinal Muller, a man who has clearly espoused heresy in regard to such doctrines as Transubstantiation and the Virginity of Mary, as Prefect of the CDF (and therefore the Guardian of the Church’s Magisterium), very many might feel impelled to consider that such a thing is irreconcilable with the actions of a true Pope.
Coupled with these recent developments and the divisions within the SSPX hierarchy itself (and, of course, among the member -priests, and the laity attached to the Society), it is a documented fact that Archbishop Lefebvre himself seriously considered the legitimacy of the sedevacantist position. From statements made by him over the years, it is evident that he simply was not convinced that the case was yet clear enough to justify such a conclusion. For him, the writings and words of Paul VI and John Paul II did not demonstrate sufficient evidence of explicit heresy. The Archbishop needed better evidence.
In a 1986 Address to seminarians, Archbishop Lefebvre said:
“Now I don’t know if the time has come to say that the Pope is a heretic. I don’t know if it is the time to say that. You know, for some time many people, the sedevacantists, have been saying ‘there is no more Pope,” but I think that for me it was not yet the time to say that, because it was not sure. It was not evident. It was very difficult to say that the Pope is a heretic, the Pope is apostate….So perhaps after this famous meeting of Assisi, perhaps we must say that the Pope is a heretic, is apostate. Now I don’t wish yet to say it formally and solemnly, but it seems at first sight that it is impossible for a Pope to be publicly and formally heretical. Our Lord has promised to be with him, to keep his faith, to keep him in the Faith – how can he at the same time be a public heretic and virtually apostatize? So it is possible we may be obliged to believe the pope is not pope.”
It seems almost certain that the Archbishop would now possess this requisite evidence in the writings and statements of Benedict XVI. The ironic thing about Benedict XVI is that, while appearing to be more traditional in several ways – the issuance of Summorum Pontificum, the lifting of the excommunications, his obvious distaste for some of the ecumenical and liturgical excesses that seemed to be John Paul II’s daily bread – it is a fact that the number and quality of statements made by Joseph Ratzinger which could be considered explicitly heretical totally overshadow anything said or written by John Paul II. The latter did things which implied heresy (such as Assisi, his other ecumenical activities, etc.), but the Archbishop could not be sure. Benedict XVI, on the other hand has explicitly written and said things about which there is no doubt.
In order to make this point quite clear, let us take just one Catholic doctrine, Original Sin.
In his book, < em>In the Beginning…A Catholic Understanding of the Story of Creation and the Fall, Joseph Ratzinger specifically wrote that Original Sin is a “certainly misleading and imprecise term,” proceeded to ridicule the traditional Catholic concept that it is something which is received through generation (at conception) as being “absurd” and comparable to people being interred by God in a consecration camp for the sins of their “relatives,” and then concluded by redefining the concept of Original Sin itself as something which is incurred through damaged relationships after conception and birth (see my article Point of Departure at http://www.waragainstbeing.com/parti-article5).
This rejection of the traditional doctrinal understanding of original sin is, of course, due to Joseph Ratzinger’s total embrace of evolution (explored here: http://www.waragainstbeing.com/node/40 ), and the consequent rejection of the whole concept of man as being created in a state of original justice. Thus, in his book Eschatology: Death and Resurrection, he writes the following concerning the emergence of spirit in man:
“This would then lead to the insight that spirit does not enter the picture as something foreign, as a second substance, in addition to matter: the appearance of spirit, according to the previous discussion, means rather that an advancing movement arrives at the goal that has been set for it….The clay became man at that moment in which a being for the first time was capable of forming, however dimly, the thought ‘God.’ The first ‘thou’ that – however stammeringly – was said by human lips to God marks the moment in which spirit arose in the world. Here the Rubicon of anthropogenesis was crossed.” (p. 46-47).
Such a being, as here described by Joseph Ratzinger, certainly does not possess the state of sanctifying grace, the preternatural gifts of intelligence – in regard to both natural and supernatural truths, or the moral culpability necessary for us to make any sense out of the concept of a “fall” from a state of original grace and nature. Thus, virtually all of Catholic theology and philosophy is thrown into chaos. Much of this has been explored in numerous articles on my website. (especially here: http://www.waragainstbeing.com/node/40).
It would appear, therefore, to be fully consistent with the thinking of Archbishop Lefebvre that any of his followers should now feel justified in embracing sedevacantism. The floodgates are open.
There is, however, one barrier left – the apparent sheer absurdity of it all. Even the sedevacantist must believe in the Church founded upon the Rock of the Papacy. He must therefore be able to stand in some hope of the Papacy being reconstituted. It is this conundrum, I believe, which prevents most followers of the Archbishop from embracing sedevacantism. Therefore, if sedevacantists are to win converts to their cause, this is the primary dilemma which must be resolved.
Many solutions have been proposed. The Cardinal Siri theory was believed by many, but is now largely rejected (even by Hutton Gibson, one of its strongest proponents). One sedevacantist gentleman personally offered to me the solution that Peter and Paul could descend from Heaven and designate a true successor to Peter. Another, a prominent author recently converted to the sedevacantist position, proposed to me in a letter that the sedevacantists in Rome could get together and elect a Pope. In other words, we are here dealing with an Alice in Wonderland situation. Each person becomes his own Mad-Hatter, concocting his own solution. Pope Leo XIII, in Satis Cognitum (on The Unity of the Church) wrote that without the Papacy as a source of unity, there are as many schisms to be expected as there are priests. Similarly, in the subjectivist world of sedevacantist scenarios for reconstituting the Papacy, there are as many Popes to be expected as there are sedevacantists. Endless, self-perpetuating schisms are the logical outcome.
Fr. O’Reilly: The New Prophet
The latest theory (proposed by John Daly, John Lane, and others) is a variant of the heresy of Conciliarism. Conciliarism, in its most succinct form simply states that a General Council is higher in authority than the Pope. It is intimately related to its sister-heresy, Gallicanism, so-called because of this heresy’s particular history and relationship to the Church in France. Historically, it is largely an outgrowth of the factors which led to the Great Western Schism, and the Councils that were called to end this crisis: the entirely false Council of Pisa, and the partially valid Council of Constance.
It is always the tendency for sedevacantists to reach back into history, and to find some saint, theologian, etc. whose writings they can use to justify their latest theory. In this particular case, they have found their hero in the 19th century Irish priest, Fr. Edmund James O’Reilly, S.J. (1811-1878).
Fr. O’Reilly’s essays are collected together in one book: The Relations of the Church to Society. Chapters Twenty-two and Twenty-three cover the Councils of Pisa and Constance. It is in these two chapters that his variant of the heresy of Conciliarism is clearly espoused.
I have said that Fr. O’Reilly’s errors are a “variant” of Conciliarism; Pure Conciliarism posits that the authority of General Councils is to always be considered higher than that of the Pope. Fr. O’Reilly’s version must be viewed as a “qualified” version of this heresy – applying only to these two particular Councils (Pisa and Constance), or any other similar situations which might historically arise in the future.
Following is a summary of his “variant”:
The Great Western Schism produced several claimants to the Papacy – as many as three at one time. Christendom became deeply divided (for a period of 39 years) – with various nations and their local Churches, peoples, rulers, and even saints professing that one or another of these men was the true Pope. Up until the Council of Pisa, there were two lines of these Papal claimants. Fr. O’Reilly offhandedly admits that one of them must have been genuine. He even admits that it was probably Gregory XII (but also denies certainty in this regard). But because Gregory was “doubtful,” he sees no impenetrable barrier to his being deposed by Pisa (this is evidenced, as we shall see, by the fact that he clearly believes that the Antipope John XXIII, elected by the "Fathers" of Pisa, had a "clearer claim" than Gregory XII to the Papacy).
The “Council” (Assembly) of Pisa excommunicated and deposed both Papal claimants (Gregory XII and Benedict XIII), and proceeded to elect a new Pope: Alexander V. Alexander soon died, and the same Council proceeded to elect another, John XXIII. It is John XXIII whom, as I have already noted,Fr. Reilly then considers the person with “clearer claims than either Gregory or Benedict to the Pontifical throne.”
John XXIII then convoked the Council of Constance.
The First Decree [actually two Decrees - the Fourth and Fifth Sessions] of the Council of Constance (titled Sacrosancta – April 6, 1415) declared this Council to be a general counsel “assembled in the Holy Spirit,” that it “has its power directly from Christ,” and that “all persons of whatever rank or dignity, even a Pope, are bound to obey it in matters relating to faith and the end of the Schism and the general reformation of the Church of God in head and members.”
This Decree then allegedly gave the Council the right to subsequently depose the “uncertain” Pope John XXIII, and to elect a new Pope, Martin V.
Fr. O’Reilly believes this Decree Sacrosancta of the Fathers at Constance to be valid. He fully realizes that this Decree appears to contradict that of Vatican Council I, which established the infallibility of Popes and their “superiority over Councils.” In order to eliminate this “apparent” contradiction, and justify his estimation of the validity of Sacrosancta, he establishes what he considers to be a real distinction between “doubtful” Popes and those that are “certain and not doubtful.” Thus, in Father’s words:
“A Person may be of Papal dignity in different way; namely, either an undoubted Pope, or even one who is pretty well known not to be really Pope, but yet pretends to be such, and is acknowledged by many through perversity or mistake.” (p. 292)
It is in such situations of a “Doubtful” Papacy, that a General Council can justifiably be convoked, bypassing the normal requirement of being under the authority of a reigning Pope, and which then has its authority directly from God
According to Fr. O’Reilly, of course, the Council of Pisa therefore validly deposed both Gregory XII and Benedict XII (because they were “doubtful” Popes), and elected Alexander V and John XXIII. And the Council of Constance then deposed John XXIII (who Fr. O’Reilly considers one of these “doubtful” or “uncertain” Popes, even though he was allegedly validly elected by the Fathers of Pisa), and elected Martin V.
Fr. O’Reilly also thus claims to establish the right of any future Council to be formed which would take its power directly from God, and have the right to depose “uncertain or doubtful Popes”, and to elect a new one. It should be added that Fr. O’Reilly states that the election of Martin V “does not seem to have been absolutely dependent on the action of the Council. It was immediately the work of the Cardinals, associated, by their own consent, with other electors….” However, he nowhere explains how we can assert the validity of the votes of these Cardinals, the majority of whom were not elevated to that office by the valid Pope.
Fr. O’Reilly also proceeds to “reflect” that possibly the Great Western Schism, and its solution, could be a presage of stranger evils (involving long-term vacancies or “uncertainties” of the Throne of Peter) in the future. Thus, for John Lane and company, Fr. O’Reilly is a prophet predicting our present crisis, and establishing the means by which sedevacantists can reconstitute the Papacy.
The Certain Pope
There are manifold, very serious, errors in Fr. O’Reilly’s analysis. Since, however, his entire analysis rests upon his having posited a category of persons possessing a status of “Papal Dignity” who were “Uncertain Popes,” and, as this in turn is the fruit of his false analysis of historical realities, it is with a rather extensive examination of the historical facts with which we must begin. It is by this means that we will indeed establish that there was a “certain” Pope (Gregory XII) at the time of the bogus Council of Pisa, and also that it was this same Pope who ultimately convoked and legitimized the Council of Constance (at least in part – including the election of Martin V).
I would hope that such an examination will interest not only those who might be considering sedevacantism as an option, but all those Catholics who wish to strengthen the integrity of their faith. To believe that there was once a situation in the history of the Church in which there were three Popes at the same time, or that we still are under confusion as to who was the true Pope at that crucial point of the Council of Constance when unity was restored to Catholic belief in the Papacy, is bound to be debilitating to our Catholic identity.
The period of history with which we shall be dealing (the 14th and 15th centuries) is little known by most Catholics. The educated Catholic of course is familiar with the 13the century, the “greatest of centuries” – the age of St. Francis, St. Dominic, St. Thomas Aquinas. He is also familiar with the 16th century – Luther, Henry VIII, the Protestant Revolt, the Council of Trent. Something both astounding and devastating must have happened in the relatively short period of time between these two epochs in order to explain this profound devastation of Christendom. The subject which we are about to explore should therefore be of deep interest to any Catholic.
If any suspicion exists in the reader as to the following being only my personal reading of history, I preface my examination of this history with the following from the article on Pope Gregory XII in the 1910 Catholic Encyclopedia:
“Gregory XII (Angelo Corrario, now Correr), legal pope during the Western Schism….The Council of Constance finally put an end to the intolerable situation of the Church. At the fourteenth session (4 July, 1415) a Bull of Gregory XII was read which appointed Malatesta and Cardinal Dominici of Ragusa as his proxies at the council. The cardinal then read a mandatory of Gregory XII which convoked the council and authorized its succeeding acts [the fallacious decree Sacrosancta had been passed previous to this legitimization of the Council]. Hereupon Malatesta, acting in the name of Gregory XII, pronounced the resignation of the papacy by Gregory XII and handed a written copy of the resignation to the assembly. The cardinals accepted the resignation [thus making legitimate the subsequent election of Martin V], retained all the cardinals that had been created by him, and appointed him Bishop of Porto and perpetual legate at Ancona.”
As for John XXIII, who Fr. O’Reilly considers the claimant with the “clearer claims to the Pontifical throne than either Gregory or Benedict,” the same Catholic Encyclopedia nails him to the wall with five “clear” words:
“John XXIII, antipope of the Pisan party.”
The Great Western Schism
Note: The analysis which follows is heavily indebted to the following works: Ludwig von Pastor, History of the Popes: From the Close of the Middle Ages (1891), Vol I; Walter Ullman, Origins of the Great Schism (1948); Phillip Hughes: The Church in Crisis: A History of the General Councils (1960); Augusta T. Drane: The History of St. Catherine of Sienna, Vol.II (1898); Vida D. Scudder, Saint Catherine of Siena as Seen in Her Letters (1911); John P. McGowan: Pierre D’Ailly and the Council of Constance (1936); Charles Joseph Hefele: A History of the Councils of the Church, Vol I (1894); John Hine Mundy and Kennerly M. Woody, The Council of Constance (1961; George C. Powers: Council of Constance (1927): Warren Carroll: History of Christendom, Vol III: The Glory of Christendom (1993); The Catholic Encyclopedia (1910); Joseph Gill: The Council of Florence (1959) and Eugenius IV, Pope of Christian Union ((1961); Coleman J. Barry: Readings in Church History, Vol. I (1960).
In order to understand what precipitated the Great Western Schism, we must know something of what is called the “Babylonian Captivity” which preceded it – that period of 68 years (1309-1377) when the Papacy (7 Popes – all of whom were French)) resided in Avignon France. Ludwig von Pastor, in Vol I of his monumental work The History of the Popes; From the Close of the Middle Ages (1891), describes the consequences of this “exile:”
“Frenchmen themselves [speaking of the Avignon Popes], and surrounded by a College of Cardinals in which the French element predominated, they gave a French character to the government of the Church….This dependence on the power of a Prince [the king of France], who in former times had often been rebuked by Rome was in strange contradiction with the supremacy claimed by the Popes. By this subjection and by its worldliness, the Avignon Papacy aroused an opposition which, though it might for a moment be overborne while it leant on the crumbling power of the Empire, yet moved men’s minds so deeply that its effects were not effaced for several centuries….The catastrophe of the great Schism was the immediate consequence of the false position now occupied by the Papacy.” (p. 58-59
The first Avignon Pope, Clement V, had sought refuge in France under the protection of the French King because of political conflict in Italy which threatened the independence of the Papacy. The Papacy was now deeply dependent upon the French throne for its protection from the revolutionary forces which threatened all of Europe.
It is during this period that the principles of revolution which flowered into the heresies of Protestantism, Gallicanism, and the French Revolution were widely disseminated throughout Europe by such men as William of Occam, Marsiglio of Padua, Jean de Jandun, and Louis of Bavaria. According to Occam, the Emperor has the right to depose the Pope if he should fall into heresy. Both Pope and General Councils can err. Scripture, and the constant faith of the people, constitutes the rule of faith. According to Marsiglio, a General Council was to be considered superior to the Pope, whose authority is derived from a General Council. Church government is a matter of expediency, and not a matter of faith, or involving anything necessary for salvation. The election of a Pope requires confirmation by the State, and the convocation and direction of a General Council is under the authority of the Emperor, who has the right to punish even the Pope. With regard to civil government, Marsiglio also promoted the concept of “the sovereignty of the people,” such that both the legislative and executive powers are reducible to their will and election.
Thus, even the roots of the French Revolution and the “American Heresy” run deep into this period of the early Renaissance. All of these ideas created a profound distrust, and even hatred, of the Papacy. They constituted an intellectual reservoir that fueled every means possible of subjecting the Papacy to some force or institution beneath its Divinely constituted authority.
Into this situation in which there was every worldly justification for the Papacy to remain protected under the French King, God sent one of the fiercest, fighting souls every produced through the grace of Christ: St. Catherine of Siena. It was Catherine who, with her constant “entreaties, complaints, and denunciations,” finally persuaded Gregory XI, himself a Frenchman and the last Avignon Pope, to return the Papacy to Rome in 1377. With him came a College of Cardinals dominantly French.
Gregory XI died in Rome March 27, 1378. On April 6, 1378, 16 of the 22 Cardinals gathered for the conclave in the Vatican palace – 11 Frenchmen, 4 Italians, and 1 Spaniard. There were some sharp divisions within this group. The four Italian Cardinals obviously wanted an Italian Pope. But the French were also divided among themselves between the followers of the Cardinal of Limoges and Cardinal Robert of Geneva, who tended to favor Archbishop Prignano of Bari.
There was certainly pressure from the Roman people to pick an Italian, and preferably Roman Pope, justifiably fearing that a French Pope would return the Papacy to France. They shouted their demands for an Italian Pope as the Cardinals entered the conclave, but there was never any specific name promoted. Some Roman officials who had come to the palace with the not-yet enclosed Cardinals urged them to elect an Italian, but the Cardinals made no promises. Through the next night many people kept vigil outside the palace, chanting their support for an Italian Pope. The next day the bishop of Marseilles, who had the official task of guarding the conclave, told the Cardinals that there was real danger of violence if they did not elect an Italian. The cardinals debated the threat. They could have gone to the formidable fortress of Castel Sant’ Angelo close by, but did not think the threat sufficient to merit such a move.
The Cardinals were, as I have mentioned, divided among themselves. It was the Spaniard Cardinal de Luna who proposed the name of someone outside the Sacred College – Archbishop Prignano of Bari, someone with a reputation of sanctity, and a man whom the majority of the Cardinals already supported. He was an Italian, but not a Roman.
Interestingly enough, the most threatening situation occurred after the election, when, due to some confusion as to the name of the Pope (“Bar” sound like “Bari”), many thought that Jean de Bar, a French relative of the late Pope, had been elected. A crowd broke through the doors, and the Cardinals, in fear, persuaded the aged Cardinal Tebaldeschi (a Roman) to pose as Pope in order to satisfy the mob. The French Cardinals fled, Archbishop Prignano locked himself in a small room, and Cardinal Tebaldeschi was left to persuade the people that he was not Pope, but that an Italian had indeed been elected,
There had indeed been conflict, threats, and fear involved in this electoral process. But any notion that this involved the type of intimidation, torture, or debilitating fear necessary to invalidate anyone’s free choice or voting is preposterous. The fears and uncertainties which these 16 Cardinals had to face in that April, 1378 conclave were simply part of the job prescription, We shall see, in a moment, what St. Catherine of Sienna had to say in regard to those (15 of the 16 Cardinals) who tried to proffer such an excuse for electing the Antipope Clement VII.
On the night following the election, Cardinal de Luna calmly wrote a letter to several bishops in Spain: “We have elected a real Pope. The Romans may tear me limb from limb before they get me to go back on today’s election.” In a little less than six months, Cardinal de Luna would cast his vote to elect the Antipope Clement VII. And sixteen years later he would be elected to succeed Clement VII as Antipope Benedict XIII.
It is worthwhile, considering the events that would follow in less than six months, to dwell on the degree to which the Cardinals who elected this Pope joined in the coronation events, and rejoiced at his election. Thus, from Warren Carroll, who refers to Ullman and others:
“By the next day, the 9th, word of Prignano’s election had spread through the city; there was complete calm and general satisfaction. The Pope-elect formally asked the cardinals if they had elected him freely and canonically. They confirmed in writing that they had, and asked him if he accepted the election. He said that he did, and would take the name Urban VI, which was then announced to the people….The French Cardinal Pierre de Vergne wrote to the Bishop of Reti and Macerata that day [April 11- the day of the Coronation]: ‘Throughout my whole life I have not experienced such joy as I have today because we have completed this business so peacefully.’ On Holy Saturday, which fell on April 17 that year, all sixteen cardinals who had elected Pope Urban VI formally presented him with the Fisherman’s ring and the pallium and received Easter communion from his hands. On Easter Sunday he was consecrated. On Easter Monday the sixteen cardinals wrote to the six who had not come to the conclave, but remained stubbornly in Avignon: ‘We have given our votes for Bartolomeo, the Archbishop of Bari, who is conspicuous for his great merits and whose manifold virtues make him a shining example; we have in full agreement elevated him to the summit of apostolic excellency and have announced our choice to the multitude of Christians.’” (p. 430)
As Von Pastor writes, “It cannot, indeed, be denied that the election of Urban VI was canonically valid. The most distinguished lawyers of the day gave their deliberate decisions to this effect.” (p. 120)
What happened in the ensuing months is indeed tragic, but in no way affects the validity of the election of Urban VI. The following is from Von Pastor:
“The new Pope was adorned by great and rare qualities; almost all his contemporaries are unanimous in praise of his purity of life, his simplicity and temperance. He was also esteemed for his learning, and yet more for the conscientious zeal with which he discharged his ecclesiastical duties….It was but natural that the elevation of such a man should call forth the brightest anticipations for the welfare of the Church….But Urban VI had one great fault; a fault fraught with evil consequences to himself, and yet more to the Church; he lacked Christian gentleness and charity. He was naturally arbitrary and extremely violent and imprudent, and when he came to deal with the burning ecclesiastical question of the day, that of reform, the consequences were disastrous.” (p. 121).
Urban began his attempts at reform within the highest echelons of the Church. He refused many of the accustomed favors to his Cardinals. Preaching in open consistory, he harshly condemned the morals of bishops and cardinals. He absolutely forbade simony among them, forbade them to accept pensions, condemned their luxuries, called the Italian Cardinal Orsini a “blockhead, denounced Cardinal Robert of Geneva, for sowing discord and war, and warned that he might start excommunicating Cardinals for simony. He also confronted several of the French Cardinals with the promise to create a preponderance of new Cardinals who were Italian. His zeal for reform was admirable; his imprudence and lack of charity in attempting to institute that reform were not.
During the heat of summer, the French Cardinals all made excuses for reasons of health, and left Rome for Anagni. In mid-July they wrote a letter assuring Urban of their loyalty, while at the same time agreeing among themselves that the April election had been invalid because of duress from the Roman people, and that they would use this as an excuse for withdrawing support from Urban. According to Von Pastor, the French King Charles V secretly encouraged them, promising armed assistance. In August, all the French Cardinals at Anagni, along with the Spanish Cardinal de Luna, declared the election of Urban VI to be invalid because made under threat of death, and summoned him to Anagni to face their judgment. Cardinal de Luna’s confessor, the Prior of Santa Sabina, who was with him at Anagni, condemned him in the following words:
“Do not imagine that the things you told me earlier in Rome were just words written on water. If all of you here, now that you have come to this place, were to tell me the exact opposite of what you said before, I would not pay it any more attention than I would to that cat there playing with the flies on the wall….How can you go back on what you said earlier – on what you said then, speaking so calmly, to me, to your faithful friend, to your beloved son, to your fellow-countrymen? (Carroll, 434).”
On September 20, all 11 French Cardinals, plus Cardinal de Luna, elected Cardinal Robert of Geneva as Antipope. He took the name of Clement VII. The three surviving Italian Cardinals all abstained, but accepted Clement VII when he was enthroned and consecrated later that same day. Thus began the Great Western Schism.
King Charles V of France, upon hearing the news, cried out, “I am now Pope!’ St. Catherine of Siena offered a very different assessment. To the the three Italian Cardinals (Orsini, Corsini, and Bursano), obviously intending her fierce judgment to apply to all of the electors, she wrote:
“You clearly know the truth, that Pope Urban VI is truly Pope, the highest pontiff, chosen in orderly election, not influenced by fear, truly rather by divine inspiration than by your human industry. And so you announced it to us, which was the truth. Now you have turned your backs, like poor mean knights, your shadow has made you afraid. You have divided yourselves from the truth which strengthens us, and drawn close to falsehood, which weakens soul and body, depriving you of temporal and spiritual grace. What made you do this? The poison of self-love, which has infected the world. That is what made you pillars lighter than straw – flowers which shed no perfume, but stench that makes the whole world reek! ....This is not the kind of blindness that springs from ignorance. It has not happened to you because people have reported one thing to you while another is so. No, for you know what the truth is, it was you who announced it to us, and not we to you. Oh, how mad you are! For you told us the truth, and you want yourselves to taste a lie! Now you want to corrupt this truth, and make us see the opposite, saying that you chose Pope Urban from fear, which is not so; but anyone who says it – speaking to you without reverence, because you have deprived yourselves of reverence – lies up to his eyes…. What is it that proves to me the validity of the election of Messer Bartolomeo, Archbishop of Bari, and now in truth Pope Urban VI? The evidence was furnished by the solemn function of his Coronation, by the homage which you have rendered him, and by the favours which you have asked and received from him. You have nothing but lies to oppose to these truths. O ye fools! A thousand times worthy of death. In your blindness you perceive not your own shame. If what you say were as true as it is false, must you not have lied, when you announced that urban VI was the lawful Pope? Must you not have been guilty of simony, in asking and receiving favours from one, whose position you now deny?” (Carroll, 425).
The “Lie” has been repeated many times during the past 525 years. It comes down to us in the form of Fr. O’Reilly’s analysis; it has come through the writings of many canonists, historians, and theologians who for whatever personal political or theological reasons needed to push Conciliarist or Gallicanist agenda; and it is now reincarnated in the sedevacantist agenda promoted by John Lane and others.
The Truth is that there were no “Doubtful” or “Uncertain” Popes at any time between the election of Urban VI and the convocation of the Council of Constance. There was Pope Urban VI, and his valid successors. There was Antipope Clement VII and his Antipope successors. And, as we shall see, there were the Antipopes Alexander V and John XXIII, both manufactured by the Fathers of the false Council of Pisa.
It should also be pointed out that there were many people of every walk of life, saints and sinners, during the tragic period in which these events unfolded who were deceived by this “Lie,” the responsibility for which is to be primarily laid at the feet of the Cardinal Electors. As Von Pastor points out, it is difficult for us now to imagine the situation in which people found themselves at the time. They did not, as we do now, have access to the relevant documents or historical facts. They did not have the means of communication that we now have. And possibly most important, this tragedy was deeply ensconced in the political alignments of the time. And, at the center of this political situation was the ambition of France and the French Kings. As Von Pastor writes:
“The outbreak of the schism was chiefly due to the worldly Cardinals stirred up by France, and longing to return thither. ’From France,’ as a modern ecclesiastical historian [Dollinger] well observes, ‘the evil proceeded, and France was the chief, and, in fact, essentially the only support of the schism, for other nations were involved in it merely by their connections with her. But the Gallician Church [France] had to bear the weight of the yoke, which, in her folly, she had taken upon her shoulders. Her Bishoprics, and Prebends became the prey of the needy-phantom-Pope [Robert of Geneva – Antipope Clement VII], and of his thirty-six Cardinals. He was himself the servant of the French Court, he had to put up with every indignity offered him by the arrogance of the courtiers, and to purchase their favour at the cost of the Church in France, thus subjected to the extortions of both Paris and Avignon.’”
This confusion, division, and prostitution before the world which was a daily reality of the Church for over one-hundred years (combining the period of the Babylonian Captivity with that of the Great Western Schism] spawned every sort of evil in the Christian world: corruption of clergy, indifferentism, loss of faith, revolutionary movements in all spheres of human thought and activity and, most destructive of all, a proliferation of heresies – the Beghards, Waldeneses, the Pantheistic Sect of Free Thought, the followers of John Wycliff, the Hussities, etc. – all of which would finally burst forth, and capture half of Europe, in the Protestant Revolt in the sixteenth century.
Popes and Antipopes
Pope Urban VI died October 15, 1389. Fourteen Cardinals, all of whom had been appointed by Urban VI since the schism, assembled in Rome and chose a new Pope, Boniface IX. Upon the death of Boniface IX in 1406, his Cardinals elected Innocent VII. And, upon the death of Pope Innocent VII, the Cardinals elected Pope Gregory XII, who reigned all during the period of the bogus Council of Pisa, and up to the point when he resigned at the Council of Constance. Thus, we possess certainty as to the line of true Popes.
The Antipope Robert of Geneva (Clement VII) died in 1394, and the Cardinals of his “obedience” elected Pedro de Luna (the infamous Spanish Cardinal who after the election of Urban VI wrote “We have elected a real Pope.The Romans may tear me limb from limb before they get me to go back on today’s election”) as the Antipope Benedict XIII. De Luna would maintain his claim to the Papacy until his death in May of 1423, six years after the valid election of Martin V by the Council of Constance in 1417.
It has always been the technique of Conciliarists to claim that we do not know with any certainty which of these two lines of claimants to the Papacy was genuine. As we have seen, this is manifestly false. Interestingly enough subsequent Popes have also manifested certainty in regard to who were the true Popes during this crisis. There are no subsequent Popes taking the names Urban VI, or Boniface IX, Innocent VII, or Gregory XII (all the valid Popes). Later Popes took the names and numberings of Urban VII, Innocent VIII, and Gregory XIII (there were no more Popes named Boniface). These latter Popes obviously considered their predecessors in numeration to be valid.
But there are indeed later Popes who obviously and quite deliberately took the names of the Antipopes Clement VII and Benedict XIII. The valid Pope Clement VII reigned from 1523-1534, and the valid Pope Benedict XIII reigned from 1724-1730.
By their choice of names and enumeration subsequent Popes have thus sent us a clear message as to the Antipope status of false claimants to the Papacy, and have with equal force testified as to the validity of the line of Popes reaching from Urban VI through Gregory XII.
We must therefore be certain of one thing: there was a true Pope, Gregory XII – who was very much alive and reigning during the entirely false Council of Pisa, and who eventually convoked the valid Council of Constance.
Before we look at these Councils, it will be helpful to provide some brief information concerning the Pontificate of Gregory XII. Warren Carroll writes:
“On December 12, 1406, thirteen days after his election as Pope, Gregory XII wrote to the stubborn [and we may well add: “duplicitous,” as we have clearly seen] Antipope (de Luna – Benedict XIII). Since the schism began, this letter was the first document in the exchange of the papal rivals to express the genuine spirit of Christian charity. Pope Gregory pleaded with de Luna to work with him for the sake of the Church. He was ready, Pope Gregory said, like the woman before Solomon, ‘to surrender his own child, the Church, rather than see it torn in two.’ They must meet, he said – ‘I will hurry to the place of reunion, by sea, in a fishing boat if necessary, or by land, with a pilgrim’s staff in my hand.’
Tragically he later failed to keep this promise. The history of the Great Western Schism is a trail of broken promises. But it was a pontificate well begun, and even better ended. It was fitting that the Pope who could thus offer to sacrifice himself at the beginning of his pontificate should have found, nine years later, the way out of the trap in which the Church was caught, which none before him in thirty-seven years had been able to find.” (p. 463).
The Principles of Revolution
The failure of Gregory XII and de Luna (Benedict XII) to resolve this crisis reached a climax in the desertion of most of the Cardinals from both “obediences,” and their uniting to call a General Council at Pisa. In the words of Ludwig Von Pastor:
“The Synod [Council] of Pisa (1409), according to Catholic principles, was, from the outset, an act of open revolt against the Pope. That such an essentially revolutionary assembly should decree itself competent to re-establish order, and was able to command so much consideration, was only rendered possible by the eclipse of the Catholic doctrine regarding the primacy of St. Peter and the monarchical constitution of the Church, occasioned by the Schism….A General Council cannot exist without the Pope or in opposition to him, for, as head of the Church, he is the necessary and essential head of the General Council, whose decrees receive their ecumenical validity solely from his confirmation.” (p.178).
And, from Carroll:
“Through the fall of 1408 and the winter of 1409 debate continued to rage among the theologians and canonists. Most of them, in varying degrees of desperation, now favored the council regardless of who the true Pope might be or how it was to be authorized. The famous French prelates Gerson, Cramaud, and D’Ailly all now proclaimed the ultimate authority of a council to act without papal authorization in a crisis, without saying who was to define when such a crisis existed or how authority could be differently derived in a crisis than in less critical times.” (p. 471).
The words rendered above in bold print reach to the absurdity of the Conciliarist position. In those periods when the channel of God’s authority and truth are most obscured, when the foundational principle of unity is most struck, and in which there is the most confusion, chaos, and division in the hierarchical Church, we are led to believe that it is precisely this moment when the principles of subjectivity, conciliarity (“collegiality?’), and majority rule are to be our salvation.
These are the principles of Revolution which were to be the seedbed of our modern world. As Pope Leo XIII pointed out in his encyclical Immortale Dei, The Protestant Revolution was the “climax” of a “harmful and lamentable rage for innovation.” If we are to understand both the roots of the Protestant revolt, and therefore our own world, it is to this period of history (200 years before the “Reformation”) to which we must come for understanding. Here we will find a multitude of authors, exercising a great influence over the minds of confused Christians, all promoting a reform of the Church which undermines its monarchical constitution.
Possibly the dominant intellectual force behind many of those (Gerson, D’Ailly, etc.) who adopted the Conciliarist position at both Pisa and Constance was the work titled “Proposition of Peace for the union and Reformation of the Church by a General Council,” written by Heinrich von Langenstein in 1381. The following is actually a summary of Von Pastor’s exposition of this work:
The key to Langenstein’s argument is the concept of “necessity.” The highest law, to which all else is subject is the “general good.” If Pope, Cardinals, Rulers betray this ideal, then they are to be resisted as enemies. Necessity breaks the law (even the Divine Constitution of the Church), because laws are finite and cannot comprehend every situation. If we are to be faithful to the will of the lawgiver, then we must look to the spirit rather than the letter. It is therefore not of the essence of a General Council that it has to be summoned by a Pope. In extraordinary cases this may be done by temporal Rulers. The authority of the Council stands higher than that of the Pope, “for of the Church alone is it said that the gates of hell should not prevail against her.”
According to Von Pastor, “These theories, by which Langenstein broke with the whole existing system, soon became widely diffused. Henceforward this most dangerous doctrine of the natural right of necessity was the instrument used in all efforts to put an end to the schism.” (p. 184)
Other authors, both then and now, have of course proposed all sorts of “necessities” – Unity, Peace, “the Good of Souls” (a favorite with the SSPX) – to justify denying the Will of God as expressed in the Monarchical Constitution of His Church. These ideas proliferated like weeds at the time of the Councils of Pisa and Constance, as they do now. One cannot help but think here of the use of of canon 1323, #4 of the New Code of Canon Law and the employment of the concept of “necessity” in order to justify Archbishop Lefebvre’s consecration of bishops specifically against a Papal mandate not to do so. The Divine Constitution of the Church is simply set aside for a “higher good.”
One other author and work deserves mentioning here. Again, Von Pastor:
“In like manner the celebrated Canonist, Zabarella, who afterwards became a Cardinal, sought to raise the Sacred College to the position of a standing governing committee in the Church, and thereby to secure for it the lion’s share in the contemplated changes. The treatise [composed in 1408] in which he put forward this idea is most important, as it gives us for the first time the Council theory in all its fullness. Zabarella ascribes the plenitudes of power to the Church, and consequently to the General Council as her representative. The Pope, in his view, is only the highest servant of the Church, to whom the executive power is entrusted. Should he err, the Church must set him right; should he fall into heresy, or be an obstinate schismatic, or commit a notorious crime, the Council may depose him. The Church, or the General Council, cannot sit permanently, and therefore the Pope commonly wields the supreme power. He can, however, issue no decree binding on the whole Church without the consent of the Cardinals, and, if he should differ from them, the Council must decide the matter. It is to be summoned by the Pope, or, in the event of a schism, or of his refusal to summon it, notwithstanding urgent necessity [my emphasis], by the College of Cardinals. If this body is unable or unwilling to act, the duty devolves on the Emperor.” (p. 186-187)
Thus, we have the agenda of the Council of Pisa.
The Entirely False Council of Pisa
The Cardinals who had deserted both the true Pope Gregory XII and Antipope Benedict XIII came together and formally sent out proclamations convening a Council which was to be opened in Pisa on the Feast of the Annunciation, March 25, 1409. This was done in direct opposition to the will of Pope Gregory XII, who in fact summoned a Council of his own (which was of no effect, since he had been deserted by the majority of his Cardinals).
It would seem appropriate therefore to repeat Von Pastor's assessment of Pisa:
“The Synod of Pisa (1409), according to Catholic principles, was, from the outset, an act of open revolt against the Pope. That such an essentially revolutionary assembly should decree itself competent to re-establish order, and was able to command so much consideration, was only rendered possible by the eclipse of the Catholic doctrine regarding the primacy of St. Peter and the monarchical constitution of the Church, occasioned by the Schism (p. 188).”
After declaring itself to be canonically summoned, and representing the whole Catholic Church (ecumenical), the Council of Pisa then proceeded to declare Pope Gregory XII and Antipope Benedict to be both heretical and schismatic, and deposed both, and ordered a new election. They then hastily elected Cardinal Petros Filargis of Milan as Antipope Alexander V on June 26, 1409. One of the things pointed out by virtually all historians Of Pisa and Constance is that this election did less than nothing to restore unity to Christendom. Instead of two claimants to the Papacy, there were now three.
Less than a year later, on May 3, 1410, Alexander V died, and the Cardinals immediately elected Cardinal Baldassare Cossa, as his successor John XXIII. We have already pointed out the extent to which subsequent Popes have been solicitous in assuring us of the illegitimacy of Antipopes by assuming their name. This has been continued through the assuming of the title of Pope John XXIII by the recent Pope John XXIII.
The Council of Constance
It is largely due to the power and will of the Emperor Sigismund that Antipope John XXIII, who stood in a very precarious political and religious position, agreed to convoke the Council of Constance, this despite the fact that he knew it meant his almost certain deposition. He said to Barthomeo Valori, “I am aware that the Council is not in my favour, but how can I contend against my fate?” (Von Pastor, p. 195 f.).
On the 9th of December, 1413, Antipope John XXIII signed the Bull convening the Council of Constance. In the Fourth and Fifth Sessions, two Decrees which together have come to be called Sacrosancta were passed. They read:
“This holy synod of Constance, forming a general council for the extirpation of the present schism and the union and reformation, in head and members, of the Church of God, legitimately assembled in the Holy Ghost, to the praise of Omnipotent God, in order that it may the more easily, safely, effectively and freely bring about the union and reformation of the church of God, hereby determines, decrees, ordains and declares what follows: - It first declares that this same council, legitimately assembled in the Holy Ghost, forming a general council and representing the Catholic Church militant, has its power immediately from Christ, and every one, whatever his state or position, even if it be the Papal dignity itself, is bound to obey it in all those things which pertain to the faith and the healing of the said schism, and to the general reformation of the Church of God, in head and members. It further declares that any one, whatever his condition, station or rank, even if it be the Papal, who shall contumaciously refuse to obey the mandates, decrees, ordinances or instructions which have been, or shall be issued by this holy council, or by any other general council, legitimately summoned, which concern, or in any way relate to the above mentioned objects, shall, unless he repudiate his conduct, be subject to condign penance and be suitably punished, having recourse, if necessary, to the other resources of the law. . . .” [Bold emphasis mine].
These Decrees are an expression of Conciliarism in its purest form. Again, in the words of Von Pastor:
“By these decrees a power which had not been instituted by Christ was constituted supreme over the Church, and this was done in order to provide the Assembly of Constance [as versus the legitimate Council of Constance, which only came to exist, as we shall see, through the agency of Pope Gregory XII] with a theoretical basis on which to act independently of the Pope. But although defended by D’Ailly and Gerson, they never received the force of law. They proceeded from a headless Assembly, which could not be an Ecumenical Council since it was not acknowledged by any Pope….It was evident, then, that they could only be regarded as an act of violence, an expedient to put an end to the existing confusion….The necessary consequence of this attempt to carry out reforms by means of the Episcopate alone, was, as a modern Canonist [Georg Phillips] well observes, that in the next century many denied the authority of both Pope and Bishops.” (p.198).
In other words, the spiritual child of the “Assembly” of Constance – at which the authority of the Papacy was denied – is the Protestant Revolution, in which the entire hierarchical structure and authority of the Church is denied.
Less than two months after the Decree em>Sacrosancta, on May 29th, the Council then proceeded to exercise what it conceived as being its supreme power: it deposed John XXIII. The same Conciliarist Cardinals (and others) who had created this Antipope, had now devoured their own illegitimate child. John P. McGowan (Pierre D’Ailly and the Council of Constance) writes:
“Baldassare Cossa [John XXIII] was declared to be guilty of simony and a waster of the goods of the Church both in things spiritual and temporal. The Council also criticized his personal life, which it described as a scandal to all Christendom. Because he was guilty of all these crimes, the Council declared that it was justified in releasing all the faithful from obedience to John XXIII and forbade them in the future to call him Pope.” (p. 65).
Again, from McGowan, “Two days later, John XXIII signed the decree of the Council and confirmed his own disgrace.”
As McGowan points out, this deposition placed the Council in a very untenable position. It was, of course, John XXIII who had provided the Council with some façade of legitimacy by his bogus convocation. The “Assemblies” of Pisa and Constance had now supposedly deposed three claimants to the Papacy, and Constance was now in an exclusively Conciliarist position. It was just as “Headless” as Pisa.
In the words of Von Pastor, “Gregory XII solved its difficulties by his magnanimous resolution to abdicate. John Hine Mundy and Kennerly M Woody’s work, The Council of Constance: The Unification of the Church, contains Cardinal Fillastre’s Diary at the Council. On p. 253-54 of their work is reprinted the following account in the Cardinal’s Diary:
“On Thursday, July 4, a happy and a famous day indeed, the Council held a session, the King being present….At this session Charles Malatesta abdicated with great solemnity from the papacy on behalf of Angelo Corario, called Gregory XII. The following order was observed in the proceedings….First was read a bull of the said Gregory, mentioned above, conferring on his delegates power to sanction the council. Next was read a bull addressed to Charles alone, conferring the same and even fuller power….When these had been read, Charles rose and explained the terms of the bulls, saying that since by force of the second bull he had fuller power than the Cardinal of Ragusa [the head of the “Assembly”], including the power of appointing a substitute, therefore he appointed the Cardinal of Ragusa as his substitute for the time being….Then, by authority of his lord Gregory, he convoked and sanctioned the Council and all the acts it should thereafter perform [approval of specific decrees or doctrinal teaching would, of course, have to be confirmed by a subsequent Pope, as set forth in the memorandum which he then read….”
Then the Council, through the mouth of the Archbishop of Milan, who stood high in the pulpit along with the four prelates from the four nations, accepted the said convocation and sanction as contained in the memorandum just read. And the four prelates answered, ‘Placet,’ for the four nations [in a manner without precedent, voting in this Council was by nations], and the Cardinal of Ostia answered, ‘Placet,’ for the college of cardinals. This was the first time [during Constance] that an answer was made for the cardinals….But note that this acceptance was compulsory because without it Charles refused to carry out the abdication. It seemed better to the Council to make some concession in return for the greater gain than to lose the advantage of Gregory’s abdication.”
It would seem few at the Council of Constance, including Cardinal Fillastre, understood that this acceptance of Gregory’s terms was not just the means towards his abdication, but the only means by which the Council itself became a legitimate General Council. As the canonist Georg Phillips wrote (quoted from Von Pastor, p. 201):
“If even we admit the proposition that Gregory XII’s fresh convocation and authorization of the Council were a mere matter of form, this form was the price to which he attached his abdication; and it meant nothing less than that the Assembly should formally acknowledge him as the lawful Pope, and accordingly confess that its own authority dated only from that moment, and that all its previous acts – in particular those of the fourth and fifth Sessions [the decree Sacrosancta] – were devoid of all ecumenical character [this constitutes a total negation and refutation of Fr. O’Reilly’s position]. The recognition of Gregory XII’s legitimacy necessarily included a similar recognition of Innocent VII, Boniface IX and Urban VI, and the rejection of Clement VII, and Benedict XIII.”
The tragic irony, of course, is that if these Cardinals, and their predecessors, had recognized this as a truth (rather than just a necessary expediency, as they finally did at Constance)) from the beginning, there would never have been a Great Schism at all. Nor would Fr. O’Reilly or John Lane and many others have been able in future centuries to “make hash” out of the widespread errors that then prevailed. While it is possibly true that there is no instance in the history of the Catholic Church that more clearly instances the principle that “God writes straight with crooked lines,” we must equally consider the almost certain fact that an innumerable number of souls have been lost because of these “crooks.”
The Decree Frequens – The Council “Binds” the Pope
By his legitimate convocation of the Council of Constance, and his own resignation, Gregory XII made possible the election of a new and valid Pope. However, it would take two years to accomplish this task. Gregory XII’s abdication occurred on July 4, 1415; Martin V was elected on November 11, 1417.
Historians concur that Emperor Sigismund was the most important moral and political force behind the Council’s work. Simply stated, he held it together and kept it going.
Two tasks distracted the Emperor during this period: attempts to make peace between France and England and, even more crucial, the effort to obtain an abdication from the last false claimant to the Papacy, Antipope Benedict XIII (Pedro de Luna) – the “Spanish Pope” from Aragon. Pedro de Luna never did abdicate, but the Emperor obtained the total, and public, withdrawal of all support from de Luna by the King of Aragon, Prince Fernando of Castille. Interestingly, the Spanish Saint, St. Vincent Ferrer (his mother was Spanish, his father Anglo-Scottish), who had supported de Luna from the beginning, now deserted him, and “in a thundering sermon told de Luna he must yield, and if he did not, no Christian should obey him any longer.” (Carroll, p. 493). St. Vincent Ferrer is the most prominent example given by those who might contest St. Catherine of Sienna’s vehement testimony as to the validity of Urban VI’s election, and the line of Popes descending from him. In his withdrawal of support from de Luna, St. Vincent Ferrer thus gives strong testimony to the fact that she was right, and he was simply mistaken.
We also must take into consideration the fact that because the Council of Constance had accepted Gregory XII’s convocation and resignation does not at all mean that Conciliarism was now dead or a thing of the past. It was, in fact, very much alive. The following is from George Powers:
“On October 1, 1416, the leader of the party [of Conciliarists], Cardinal D’Ailly, read a treatise in which he discussed at length the question of Papal and Conciliar power. Though he declared that it would be heretical to deny that the Pope is the Head of the Church universal, he insisted on the other hand that the plenitude of power does not reside in the Pope, but in the Church universal itself and in the General Council. He further maintained that inerrancy which belonged to it could not be extended to the Pope.” (p. 100).
Cardinal D’Ailly’s words are, of course, an extension of the principles of Sacrosancta. The “Fathers” of Constance were obviously not finished pushing the heresy of Conciliarism upon the Church, and it blossomed into the Decree Frequens, which was passed in the thirty-ninth Session on October 9, 1417 (one month prior to the election of Martin V).
This Decree is especially notable for the degree to which it “binds” the Papacy not only to the decisions of General Councils, but also to a kind of constant state of being subject to the vigilance and superior authority of these same Councils. Nine times it uses the term “bound” in relation to actions which the Pope is required to take. He is bound to call a General Council every ten years (except for the two councils successive to Constance which are to be called in five and seven year intervals respectively). He is “bound” to announce changes in time and place at least a year ahead of the scheduled Council. If such a situation arises that there are two or more claimants to the Papacy, each claimant is “bound” to announce a Council to be held within one year. Each is “bound” to attend the Council personally. Failure to obey these conciliar prescriptions places the offender “under pain of eternal damnation, of the automatic loss of any rights that he had acquired in the papacy….” And, in such a situation of a disputed Papacy, “all contenders of the papacy are suspended by law as soon as the council has begun, on the authority of this holy synod, from all administration; and let not obedience be given in any way by anyone to them, or to any one of them until the question has been settled by the council.”
Thus, we have come to see the ultimate tyranny of Conciliarism laid bare for all to see.
Pope Martin, and the Partial Confirmation of Constance
Martin V’s coronation took place on November 21, 1417. The next day he appointed a commission of cardinals and representatives from the nations represented at the Council to undertake reform of the Church. It would be a long time in coming.
Antipope de Luna refused obedience to the new Pope. His last three Cardinals, however, abandoned him, and thus ended any serious claim on his part to the Papacy. The schism was truly ended.
Martin V, however, was faced with a dilemma – just exactly how much, and in what words, to confirm the decrees of Constance. His own past was one of vacillation between “obediences.”
George Powers writes:
“He had been created Cardinal by Innocent VII [true Pope in the line from Urban VI] and at the Council of Pisa had deserted that Pope’s successor, Gregory XII, and joined the entourage of the Pisan Pope. At the Council of Constance he was an early sympathizer with the purpose of John XXIII and when that unfortunate claimant fled to Schaffhausen he himself followed shortly after. Returning then once more to Constance he had assisted in the deposition of John. But regardless of his former attitude, Martin V now fully realized the powers of the Papacy and was prepared to defend the prerogatives of his office.” (p. 162).
Pope Martin refused in any way to give credence or approbation to the revolutionary principles laid down in the decrees Sacrosancta and Frequens. Even more crucial, in the Bull Inter Cunctas, issued on February 22, 1418, he taught the traditional doctrine concerning Papal Supremacy. Again, quoting Powers:
“The Council had, during the previous June, condemned the libel of the Dominican, John Falkenberg, who, on behalf of the Teutonic Knights, had called the King of Poland an idolater and declared that it was more meritorious to kill him than a pagan. Toward the end of February 1418, the delegates of King Wenceslaus asked Martin V also to give his explicit condemnation to the libel; but the new Pope refused to comply with their wishes. When the Pole appealed from the Pope to a future Council, Martin V declared that: “no one may appeal from the supreme judge, that is, the Apostolic See, or the Roman Pontiff, Vicar of Christ on earth, nor may he decline his authority in matters of faith….” (p. 164)
Faced, therefore, with the need to defend the prerogatives of the Papacy, but also with the very real possibility of reconstituting the schism if he should condemn any particular decrees of the Council, Martin V was faced with an enormously delicate situation in the necessary task of confirming the Council. Warren Carroll writes:
“No Pope could have been better fitted to such a task. Martin V had been Odo Colonna, member of an ancient Roman family which had served the Church, for better or for worse, for centuries. He could therefore draw, not only on his personal experience – service to the Church since the desperate pontificate of Urban VI, from which he may well have learned the necessity of exceptional prudence in high Church office – but on that of his family, in devising a verbal formula that would transcend the apparently unavoidable contradiction he faced. The phraseology he found was masterful. He confirmed the work of the Council, ‘all that here has been done, touching matters of faith, in a Conciliar fashion, but not otherwise or after any other fashion.’ Unpacked, this meant that he confirmed everything the Council had decreed regarding doctrine and heresy, and everything else it had done in its proper role as a council, that is, not against the necessary authority of the Pope, but that he did not confirm anything it had done which was not proper for a council, that is, which did challenge the necessary authority of the Pope. Neither the Pope nor the Council wanted to say or ask what this convoluted formula precisely meant, though its meaning can hardly have been unclear to any well-educated canonist. Obviously it would not lay the question to rest, but enabled the struggle over the rival authority of Pope and Council to be deferred for years, while the papacy was regaining the strength drained from it by the Great Schism.” (p. 502)
Pope Martin V finally made his way back to Rome on September 28, 1418. The effect of the Babylonian Captivity and the Great Western Schism upon the City can only be described as one of devastation. Von Pastor's description follows:
“Martin V found Rome at peace, but in such a state of misery that, as one of his biographers [Muratori] observes, ‘it hardly bore the semblance of a city.’ The world’s capital was completely in ruins, its aspect was deplorable, decay and poverty met the eye on every side. Famine and sickness had decimated its inhabitants and reduced the survivors to the direst need. The towers of the nobles looked down upon foul streets, encumbered with rubbish and infested with robbers both by night and day….The city in which these poor creatures lived consisted of a few miserable dwellings scattered through a great field of ruins….If any statues were found, they were mutilated or completely destroyed as heathen; moreover, the ancient edifices were used as quaries for building materials, and for burning into lime….Most of the houses had fallen, many churches were roofless, and others had been turned into stables for horses. The Leonine City was laid waste.” (p. 215-216).
And, in the words of Warren Carroll, “Martin V began at once the work of restoration [of Rome], which symbolized the restoration of the unity and the true constitution of the Church to which his pontificate was dedicated.” (p. 503).
The actual restoration of unity in regard to faith in the Petrine Primacy, however, was some distance down the road.
The Aftermath of Constance
Because of still-dominant Conciliarism among the Cardinals, and due also to political conflicts, and the ambition of secular rulers (especially the King of France) to subject the Church and the Papacy to their dominion, the practical reality of Papal Supremacy was in a much weakened condition after the Council of Constance. Martin V, and his successors made many concessions in regard to such things as the calling and location of Councils, the appointment of bishops, the awarding of benefices, etc, But this was also a period in which all of the Popes strongly rejected the Conciliarist principles of the Decree Sacrosancta, and therefore also strongly resisted the ongoing attempts to make the Papacy subject to the authority and decisions of General Councils. In order to understand something of the power and malice of the heresy from which the Papacy was in labor to extract itself, it is well that we look at the Council of Basel.
Much like the Council of Constance, the Council of Basel-Ferrara-Florence is another example of a Council which received only partial confirmation by a Pope. It was opened on December 14, 1431. Pope Eugene IV, Martin V’s successor, exhibited much vacillation (with much justification) towards this Council. He dissolved it, and then reopened it, transferred it to Ferrara (September 18, 1437) and then to Florence (January, 1439).
The “Fathers” at Basel were violent in their attempts to totally subject the Papacy to the principles of Sacrosancta. Early on, in response to the Pope’s attempt to dissolve the Council, they:
“re-enacted the decree Sacrosancta, asserting its supremacy over the Pope, and declared that the Pope did not have the power to transfer or adjourn it or to prevent anyone from attending it. By Easter the Council had grown to 83 high-ranking members (bishops, abbots, and representatives of princes and universities) and on April 29 it summoned the Pope and his cardinals to appear before it within three months or face formal prosecution, in the manner that the Council of Constance had proceeded against Antipope de Luna. On June 5 Cesarini [Cardinal] wrote to the Pope upholding the doctrine of conciliar supremacy in the Church and stating that an ecumenical council had the power to try, judge, and depose a Pope for heresy or for giving scandal through schism and failure to reform the Church.” (Carroll, p. 529).
Even after the Pope formally transferred the Council to Ferrara and Florence, the Council of Basel (with many desertions) continued to sit. On July 7, 1439, it enacted a Decree which deposed Pope Eugenius IV. In part, it reads:
“The same holy Council, sitting as a tribunal, with the help of our Protector, the Holy Ghost, enunciates, decrees and declares by this definition and sentence, which it inscribes in its records, that Gabriel (Condulmaro), formerly called Pope Eugenius the Fourth, has been and is notoriously and manifestly contumacious, that he disobeys the orders and instructions of the Universal Church, violates assiduously and disregards the holy canons of the Councils, is a notorious disturber of peace and unity of God’s Church, a simoniac, a perjurer and incorrigible man, a schismatic, an apostate from the Faith, an obstinate heretic, a squanderer of the Church’s rights and property, incapable and harmful to the administration of the Roman Pontificate, and that he has made himself unworthy of any title, grade, honour and dignity. Therefore, this holy Council announces and declares him deprived “ipso jure” of the Papal dignity and of the Pontificate, deprives him thereof, removes and deposes him, therefrom and degrades him, deciding, moreover, that subsequently he will be proceeded against by means of some other legal penalties to which this same holy Council condemns him by this sentence.” (Colman J. Barry, Readings in Church History, Vol. I, p. 510).
Basel clearly revealed the chaos and viciousness inherent in Conciliarism. Although this heresy would never be completely extinguished, it had now shown forth its true colors, had pitted the fullness of its strength against the Rock of the Papacy, and had failed.
In September of 1439 Pope Eugenius IV issued his Bull Moyses vir Dei, which offered a detailed examination of the Conciliarist heresy and its roots in the early sessions of Constance “while schism was still in being.” Eugenius specifically condemned the so-called “Three Truths” which Basel had attempted to impose on all Catholics, and which were spelled-out in the following propositions:
“The truth about the power of a General Council, representing the universal Church, over a pope and anyone else whatsoever, declared by the General Councils of Constance and this one of Basel, is a truth of the Catholic faith. This truth, that a General Council, representing the universal Church…in no authoritative way can be dissolved without its own consent, or prorogued to another time, or transferred from place to place by a pope, is a truth of the Catholic faith. Anyone who persists in opposing the above-mentioned two truths is to be held heretical.” (Joseph Gill, The Council of Florence, p. 310).
The following analysis of the significance of Moyses vir Dei is offered by Joseph Gill:
“The burning question between Basel and Eugenius was the relation of a General Council to a pope. The decree of union with the Greeks had already given part of Eugenius’ answer, but had made no reference (as indeed it hardly could) to the decree [Sacrosancta] passed in the fifth session (6 April 1415) of the Council of Constance, on which the Council of Basel based its obdurate belief. This Bull Moyses vir Dei supplemented the answer, adumbrating Eugenius’ attitude to Constance – the decree in question was the work of but one ‘obedience’, and that after the flight of its own antipope, and so was not the decision of a Council representing the whole Church.” (p. 313).
The decree of union with the Greeks of the Council of Florence (mentioned above) taught the general truth that the Roman Pontiff holds “the primacy throughout the entire world,” and that “full power was given to him in blessed Peter by our Lord Jesus Christ, to feed, rule, and govern the universal Church….” But it was incumbent upon the Fifth Lateran Council (1516) to specify what this meant in terms of the relationship which exists between Pope and General Council.
“…it is clearly established that the Roman Pontiff alone, possessing as it were authority over all Councils, has full right and power of proclaiming Councils, or transferring and dissolving them, not only according to the testimony of Sacred Scripture, from the words of the holy Fathers and even of other Roman Pontiffs, of our predecessors, and from the decrees of the holy canon, but also from the particular acknowledgment of these same Councils.” (Denzinger, 740).
The Church had triumphed over the Conciliarist Heresy, but this by no means meant its extinction – any more than the Church’s triumph over Gnosticism or Arianism eliminated these heresies, and their perennial resurgences. France continued to be the “nest” of Conciliarist thinking and militancy. For instance: “In 1663 the Sorbonne solemnly declared that it admitted no authority of the pope over the king’s temporal dominion, nor his superiority to a general council, nor infallibility apart from the Church’s consent.” (1913 Catholic Encyclopedia, vo. VI, p. 254). King Louis IV assembled the clergy of France (36 Prelates and 34 deputies of the second order) who adopted these four articles and transmitted them to all the other bishops and clergy of France.
The principles of Gallicanism and Conciliarism also spread into other countries of Europe in the Eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. They were promulgated at the Synod of Pistoia in Italy, and condemned by Pope Pius VI in his Constitution Auctorem fidei in 1794 (Denzinger 1501 f.).
But the power of Conciliarism is to be found not only in its fully formulated heresies, but also in a multitude of other forms of intellectual confusion which have infected Catholic thinking and Faith, and which promote disobedience to the supreme doctrinal and juridical authority of the Pope.
St. Robert Bellarmine
St. Robert Bellarmine’s writings are a constant recourse for sedevacantists. It is necessary therefore to give some attention to his errors. In regard to the situation in which there might be no (certain) Cardinals remaining alive who could elect a Pontiff, Bellarmine writes:
“If there were no papal constitution on the election of the Supreme Pontiff; or if by some chance all the electors designated by law, that is, all the Cardinals, perished simultaneously, the right of election would pertain to the neighboring bishops and the Roman clergy, but with some dependence on a general council of bishops.
In this proposition, there does not appear to be universal agreement. Some think that, exclusive of positive law, the right of election would devolve on a Council of Bishops, as Cajetan, tract. De Potestate Papae & Concilii, cap. 13 & 21 & Francis Victoria, relect. 2. quest. 2. De potestate Ecclesiae. Others, as Sylvester relates s.v. Excommunicatio, 9. sec. 3, teach that in that case the right of election pertains to the Roman clergy. But these two opinions can be reconciled. Without a doubt, the primary authority of election in that case pertains to a Council of Bishops; since, when the Pontiff dies, there is no higher authority in the Church than that of a general Council: and if the Pontiff were not the Bishop of Rome, or any other particular place, but only the general Pastor of the whole Church, it would pertain to the Bishops either to elect his successor, or to designate the electors: nevertheless, after the Pontificate of the world was joined to the bishopric of the City [posteaquam unitus est Pontificatus orbis Episcopatui Urbis], the immediate authority of electing in that case would have to be permitted by the bishops of the whole world to the neighboring bishops, and to the clerics of the Roman Church, which is proved in two ways.
First, because the right of election was transferred from all the neighboring bishops and the Roman clergy to the Cardinals, who are a certain part of the bishops and clergy of the Roman Church; therefore, when the Cardinals are lacking, the right of election ought to return to all the bishops and clergy of the Roman Church.
Second, because this is a most ancient custom (as we showed above from Cyprian), that the neighboring bishops, in the presence of the clergy, should elect both the Bishop of Rome and others also. And it is unheard of that the Bishops or Archbishops of the whole world should meet for the election of the Supreme Pontiff, except in a case where it is doubtful who should be the legitimate electors. For this doubt ought to be resolved by a general Council, as was done in the Council of Constance [emphasis mine].” (Bellarmine's Controversies, De clericis, bk. I, ch. 10. (Translation by James Larrabee)
Cardinal Bellarmine was wrong about Constance. The Council of Constance, as we have seen, did not choose electors, or elect a Pope (Martin V), stemming from any power or authority which it possessed on its own, but from the power and authority which it received from the convocation and legitimization of this Council by the valid Pope Gregory XII, who resigned and made such an election possible. There was no “doubtful” Pope at Constance, only a valid Pope who was doubted by those who were deceived by Antipopes. And there were no valid electors at Constance until Gregory approved them as such. The Council of Constance indeed used a very unusual method of electing Martin V (election by a General Council, which employed a complex system of voting by nations), but the approval and legitimization of this variation from normal procedures for Papal elections came not from any power or authority possessed by the Council itself, but from the convocation of this Council by Gregory XII and his approval of this electoral process.
Secondly, if there are no longer any Cardinal-electors living, the right of election of the Pope falls, according to the teaching of Pope Pius IV, to the clergy of Rome. The following is from the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia article on “Election of the Popes”:
“Should the college of cardinals ever become extinct, the duty of choosing a supreme pastor would fall, not on the bishops assembled in council, but upon the remaining Roman clergy. At the time of the Council of Trent, Pius IV, thinking it possible that in the event of his death the council might lay some claim to the right, insisted on this point in a consistorial allocution.”
There is, therefore, no power or right inherent in a General Council by which it can elect a Pope, unless it be empowered to do so by a reigning Pope. No General Council could ever come into valid existence in a situation where there is no reigning Pope, or where a valid Pope had not convoked and sanctioned a General Council before his death or abdication.
It should also be noted that, in his analysis, Bellarmine specifically designates a situation in which all the Cardinals or designated electors “perished simultaneously.” In such a situation, the juridical (not to mention moral and spiritual-sacramental) connections and bonds within the Roman Church would still be intact. We would presume, in Bellarmine’s scenario, that the previous Pope was valid. The interregnum would be relatively short. No such situation exists today after a 54 year period of alleged sedevacantism. We have had five Popes (Antipopes in the sedevacantist scenario), and the Cardinals who were alive at the time of the death of Pius XII took many years to all die. The Orders of the existing “Roman clergy”, in the sedevacantist perspective, are almost all invalid. Who will therefore determine what is constituted by the “Roman clergy”? One can almost imagine ads appearing in all the newspapers of Rome advertising for “Sedevacantist Clergy to Elect a Pope.” We are here dealing with buffoonery.
Therefore, even without considering the serious “conciliarist” errors found in Bellarmine’s analysis above, the use of this passage from his works as a solution to the present sedevacantist conundrum should clearly be seen as totally inapplicable.
One other quote attributed to St. Robert Bellarmine, which is often used by both sedevacantists and adherents to the SSPX, deserves mentioning. It too reflects a derogation of Papal Primacy, and is often a fellow-traveler with Conciliarism. It reads;
“When the Supreme Pontiff pronounces a sentence of excommunication which is unjust or null, it must not be accepted, without, however, straying from the respect due to the Holy See.” (I don’t seriously doubt that this is from Bellarmine, but have yet to see it documented).
Such resistance to “unjust excommunication” has been condemned by at least two Popes. Following is a passage from Pope Pius IX’s encyclical Quartus Supra (on the Armenian Schism), in which he quotes from Clement XI’s encyclical Unigenitus:
“Since this does not please the neo-schismatics, they follow the example of heretics of more recent times. They argue that the sentence of schism and excommunication pronounced against them by the Archbishop of Tyana, the Apostolic Delegate in Constantinople, was unjust, and consequently void of strength and influence. They have claimed also that they are unable to accept the sentence because the faithful might desert to the heretics if deprived of their ministration . . . The Jansenist heretics dared to teach such doctrines as that an excommunication pronounced by a lawful prelate could be ignored on a pretext of injustice. Each person should perform, as they said, his own particular duty despite an excommunication. Our predecessor of happy memory Clement XI in his constitution Unigenitus against the errors of Quesnell forbade and condemned statements of this kind . . . Through human weakness a person could be unjustly punished with censure by his prelate. But it is still necessary, as Our predecessor St. Gregory the Great warned, ‘for a bishop’s subordinates to fear even an unjust condemnation and not to blame the judgment of the bishop rashly in case the fault which did not exist, since the condemnation was unjust, develops out of the pride of heated reproof.’ But if one should be afraid even of an unjust condemnation by one’s bishop, what must be said of those men who have been condemned for rebelling against their bishop and the Apostolic See and tearing to pieces as they are now doing by a new schism the seamless garment of Christ, which is the Church?”
St. Robert Bellarmine was therefore also wrong on this issue. And this clearly reveals the danger of searching out, for the purpose of self-justification, theologians (Fr. O’Reilly is a prime example), canonists, and even Saints of the past whose opinions clearly contradict the obvious doctrinal positions of Papal documents, and the doctrinal teachings of legitimate Councils.
Another example of the influence of Conciliar thinking is to be found in the thought and writings of John Henry Newman. He was an “inopportunist” in regard to the question of the Pope’s solemn definition of the doctrine of Papal Infallibility at Vatican Council I. He expressed written sentiments desiring the death of Pope Pius IX and the election of a new Pope (to prevent the promulgation of this Dogma), or that he be driven from Rome (see my article Newman and the Pope at http://www.waragainstbeing.com/partvii). He was also of the stated position that Dogma promulgated by the Pope could not be considered infallible until approved by the whole Church, especially to be signified by the moral unanimity of bishops. He therefore held out hope, even after the Dogma’s promulgation, that the bishops of the “minority” (inopportunists) would coalesce in strong resistance to the Definition. He even went so far in his correspondence, during the period between the Dogma’s promulgation and the eventual surrender of all the minority bishops, to counsel others to avoid confessionals where the confessor might disturb their consciences by inquiring into their acceptance of this Dogma. While certainly not being a full-blown Conciliarist, nevertheless his thinking and Faith were obviously seriously affected by these errors.
It might be telling that that when Fr. O’Reilly was appointed to the chair of theology at the newly established Catholic University in Dublin, John Henry Newman was its Rector.
It is profoundly ingenuous for sedevacantists to call their alleged 54 year period of sedevacantism an “interregnum”. The word means “between reigns,” “between Popes.” It requires that there be a link, an “inter,” between two Papacies. The longest Papal interregnum in the history of the Church was two years and nine months. During that period, and all periods of true interregnums, the Papally legitimized process and persons required for election were present to complete the equation. No such situation, under the sedevacantist scenario of a 54 year vacancy, exists today. One side of the equation is empty, and cannot be filled.
The sedevacantist position is integrally one of despair. It is, in fact, a denial of the promise of Our Lord, which is so aptly summarized in Pastor Aeternus of Vatican Council I, and which is so easily understood without the aid of theologians, theological manuals, or canonists:
“That which the Prince of Shepherds and great shepherd of the sheep, Jesus Christ our Lord, established in the person of the Blessed Apostle Peter to secure the perpetual welfare and lasting good of the Church, must, by the same institution, necessarily remain unceasingly in the Church, which, being founded upon the Rock, will stand firm to the end of the world. For none can doubt, and it is known to all ages, that the holy and Blessed Peter, the Prince and chief of the Apostles, the pillar of the faith and foundation of the Catholic Church, received the keys of the kingdom from our Lord Jesus Christ, the Saviour and Redeemer of mankind, and lives, presides and judges to this day, always in his successors the Bishops of the Holy See of Rome, which was founded by Him and consecrated by His Blood. Whence, whosoever succeeds to Peter in this See does by the institution of Christ Himself obtain the primacy of Peter over the whole Church. The disposition made by Incarnate Truth (dispositio veritatis) therefore remains, and Blessed Peter, abiding in the rock’s strength which he received (in accepta fortitudine petrae perseverans), has not abandoned the direction of the Church.”
Sedevacantism is a religion of Abandonment by Christ.