have always constituted a particularly distant group in
the Catholic resistance to the error of modernism. Their
main characteristic is to be found in their manifest disregard
of the Apostles' Creed in favor of their public support
and adherence to a rather odd, to say the least, theological
thesis. There have been certain occasions where "sedevacantist
priests" have gone so far as to refuse the sacraments
to faithful Catholics who sincerely profess the unchanging
Creed of the Church, but who show no enthusiasm for
their sedevacantist redemptive thesis, i.e., the
Thesis of Cassissiacum of which we will now give
1977, a former professor of theology at the seminary at
Ecône, Fr. Guérard de Lauriers, published a fanciful thesis
with the intention of proving without a shadow of a doubt
that Paul VI, Bishop of Rome, recognized and acknowledged
by the entire visible Church, was not, in fact, Pope at
all. This thesis is known under the title of Thesis of
Cassissiacum. This Father had previously attained widespread
notoriety thanks to his incomprehensible courses. This thesis
ran true to form. Literally no one could understand his
"distinctions," for instance, between the "sessio"
and the "missio." A handful of young priests,
just a little while before ordained by Archbishop Lefebvre
and, to say the least, greatly lacking in experience, imprudently
gave themselves heart and soul to the defense and explanation
of the Thesis of Cassissiacum. They referred to themselves
as "the syndicate." According to them, they were
the true Thomists who simply could no longer put up with
Archbishop Lefebvre's doctrinal infantilism. They soon left
the Society of Saint Pius X and the "syndicate"
then began to break up into rival tendencies, remaining
united only in their deep-seated detestation of the very
Bishop to whom they owed their ordination.
1980, there appeared a new "popular version" of
the "sedevacantist thesis," the so-called Blignières-Lucien
version. While side-stepping the core and essence of the
earlier thesis, i.e., the distinction between "material
pope" and "formal pope," it now concentrated
on trying to make it plain for all to see that there had
occurred a certain breakdown of papal infallibility, thus
proving that the person who then seemed to be the pope could
not in actual fact be the pope indeed. And so off they went,
mouthing their inanities before an amazed audience made
up of unqualified lay people full of admiration in the presence
of such a great display of "theological science."
Soon, in certain traditional chapels, there were to be found
self-proclaimed theologians repeating and re-echoing over
and over their new password: "material-formal; formal-material."
Thanks to their grotesque errors, these efforts discredited
them in the eyes of any learned, well-advised priest. Such
erroneous teachings, forgivable to some extent for laymen,
are completely inexcusable for priests, especially coming
as they do from those pretending to be radar beacons of
sedevacantists have since come up with an interesting novelty
which is a new rehash of the original Thesis of Cassissiacum
(see Sacerdotium, no.16). It is clear that sedevacantist
propaganda often seems to carry some weigh by its gravity
as well as its extensive research. The keenest among the
sedevacantists do not base their thesis on the abovementioned
theological fantasies. First of all, they seriously try
to elucidate or to clear up that reality which should exist
behind the distinction between "material pope"
and "formal pope." For those unfamiliar with philosophy,
it seems worthwhile to explain the meaning of such a distinction:
being is, in fact, composed of two essential co-principles:
matter and form. In the same way, an accidental
being (e.g., a football team, a community, a radio
station) is understood by analogy as a whole made up of
two co-principles which are like matter and form. But then
we have a superimposition of quasi-substantial or of almost-substantial
forms, and only the latter constitutes the compound being
in its essence. For example, the rungs of a chair in kit
form finally constitute or make up the chair only after
having been placed each in its own stable position, which
is an accident of relation. This accident acts as the "form"
of the chair.
the present case, a pope is a man, that is, a bodily, created
being, a man who has been baptized, a Catholic invested
with an episcopal character, and finally, a bishop designated
and recognized as the legitimate Pastor of the Church of
Rome. The human being constitutes the quasi-matter for the
superimposed supernatural accidental form: Baptism and supernatural
life. A baptized male who has thus been elevated to a life
of the supernatural order becomes the quasi-matter who receives
the "quasi-form" of the sacrament of Orders, etc.
To every ordinary bishop, however, there is still lacking
a "form" to become pope, that is, the legitimate
appointment, the recognition or acknowledgement of the Catholic
faithful of his authority over the Church of Rome.
the previously mentioned thesis, what is meant by the expression
It is a pope to whom would be lacking the ultimate "formality,"
meaning that ultimate accidental perfection which really
and finally "activates" the papacy in a subject,
that is, the man. It is through this "formality"
that the pope-not-yet-pope becomes pope-in-fact-and-in-deed.
All this being understood, the whole question resides in
knowing for sure whether this superimposed accidental perfection
actually exists outside the imagination of the sedevacantists.
aforementioned sedevacantists attempt to prove that there
is still something lacking to the bishop who has legitimately
been designated to occupy the Chair of Peter in Rome and
who has so been acknowledged by the entire visible Church.
It is obviously quite clear that Pope Paul VI as well as
Pope John Paul II have indeed met these conditions. What
is therefore lacking to them? To make a long story short,
we simply and briefly give the American sedevacantists'
conclusion, which is that the distinction between a material
pope and a formal pope is the distinction between
a legitimate pope without authority
and a legitimate pope with full authority.
is it really possible in fact to separate legitimacy from
authority? Can a ruler be simultaneously legitimate yet
without authority? Would it not be better to say that a
ruler loses his authority in the eyes of his subjects only
after having lost his legitimacy and that one does not lose
one without also losing the other? One needs only to consult
the treatise De legibus [Regarding Laws] to be convinced
that that which requires obedience on the part of a subject
is that which has been ordered by those enjoying legitimate
authority. In social philosophy, legitimacy and authority
are inseparable. The distinction dreamed-up by the sedevacantists
does not, in reality, exist at all.
American sedevacantists support their arguments by quoting
some very good authors. But these good authors speak of
something else. They speak of the authority of the law,
and not of the authority of the one who rules. There
is a difference. It is common knowledge that the ruler is
not infallible and that his subjects are also endowed with
free will. It can happen that an order contrary to reason
or injurious to the common good might be given by the legitimate
authority. If an individual comes to realize that the law
is harmful, he must not obey; for it is not, in truth, a
law, but a tyranny.
order to bolster their private judgment through the use
of good authors, the sedevacantist propaganda jumps from
the "intentio promulgendi errorem [intention
of promulgating an error]" to the "intentio
evertendae Ecclesiae per promulgationem erroris
[intention of overthrowing the Church by promulgating an
error]" (Sacerdotium, p.47).
latter entails or leads to the first, but not vice versa
(i.e., not reciprocally). The intention of a ruler
(i.e., any superior, the father of a family, an employer,
a teacher) to promulgate or proclaim something objectively
harmful to the common good is compatible with the intention
of promoting the common good1
because it is possible that the subject can sincerely, but
erroneously, believe that it is useful. How is it possible
for subjects to prove with moral certainty that their ruler,
in his heart of hearts (i.e., within himself), actually
hopes and wishes to cause and bring evil upon his subjects
and that it is on account of this evil will that he promulgates
such evil laws? It is not possible. To prove this proposal
is as impossible a task as proving a Pope's well-known public
material heresy is actually formal heresy.
Of course, errores et disciplinae nocivae non sunt leges
[harmful errors and disciplinary regulations are not laws]!
This only proves that a person invested with authority is
mistaken. It does not at all prove that his authority no
many acts contrary to the common good would it take on the
part of the ruler in order for his subjects to infer that
he does not wish, in a casehardened and habitual manner,
the common good and has, therefore, become a tyrant? Five
bad or evil laws? Ten bad laws? It is true, however, that
such a frequent and recurring will on the part of the ruler
to act against the common good gives rise to a legitimate
suspicion which obliges us to closely examine those laws.
Exactly in the same way, repeated teachings suspiciously
smacking of heresy inevitably lead to suspicions of heresy.
But, that's all - neither more nor less. All of which gives
rise to doubts which tend to discredit the law but not the
very existence of authority itself.
gets the feeling that the sedevacantists have indeed caught
a glimpse of the problem. They usually make at least two
attempts to get around this difficulty:
inasmuch as [authority] is a habit, it takes its species
from its proper act and formal object. The primary and
formal object, however, of the habit of authority is the
making, promulgation and execution of laws. The formal
object of law, however, is the promotion of the common
good. It follows that he who enjoys authority must have
the habitual intention of promoting the common good, as
otherwise he cannot have authority (ibid., p.14).
reply in the negative to this objection. We cannot justifiably
make a mental leap from the absence of obligation of a bad
law to the absence of authority of the ruler promoting such
a so-called "law." All of which simply means,
in plain language, that he who rules and gives orders favoring
evil at the expense of the public good, acts against nature
and sins, nothing more.
is not sufficient that he who holds authority intends
in his will the common good of the community, but rather
the good which he intends must be the true and objective
common good. The reason is that law is defined as an
order of reason for the common good. Therefore in
order that the will of a superior oblige in conscience,
it is necessary that he objectively intend the
common good [emphasis in original] (ibid., pp.14,15).
the sedevacantists were right in this case, he would prove
too much! They would imply both constitutive infallibility
as well as impeccability of all true authority!
first sophism can be found in the word authority.
The author has illogically leapt from legitimacy before
God (i.e., the ruler acts virtuously by ensuring
the common good of his subjects through good laws) to the
legitimacy before subjects (i.e., the order promulgated
by the legitimate ruler must be obeyed). The ruler sins
before God if he intends to harm society which he commands
by his evil laws. But this does not mean that he has thereby
lost his authority. An objectively bad law binds no one,
yet subjects must, in conscience, obey as long as they truly
believe them to be good, or even when they have doubts about
second sophism consists in leaping from the authority of
such a bad law to the authority of the ruler in general.
third sophism lies in the attempt to attribute such an absence
of authority to the ruler, objectively provable the moment
that it has been noted that a law is objectively bad.
is, of course, to be seen a moral correlation running throughout
all of these elements, that is to say, the praiseworthy
intention of the leader before God, a good law, the duty
of conscientious obedience on the part of the subjects,
together with the objective welfare or well-being of human
society. But there is in no way a metaphysical link here
at all. Here we see sedevacantists theorizing metaphysically
in spite of the fact that they are dealing, in truth, with
the physical political order.
VERY SAME DEAD-END AS WITH THE DEMONSTRATION OF THE POPE'S
authority can be understood either in its relation to I)
God, or 2) the society over which it is exercised.
The ruler (i.e., the person invested with authority)
as an individual subject, extends God's authority while
constituting a channel through which courses the common
good when he objectively desires that good through beneficial
laws. The Latin word auctoritas takes its origin
from the Latin root, auctor, meaning he who begets
or generates, increases, or adds to. The right of commanding
stems from the good generated. If the ruler enacts laws
lacking the proportionate good or well-being of his subjects
(despotism) or which cause damage or injury to the community
(tyranny), he simply has no such right before God, and
if he realizes his fault and is quite conscious of it,
he is in the state of sin and has no authority to continue
in such a manner.
Does this automatically give his subjects the right of
disobeying such a leader? No, not until they have positive
proof or evidence of the evil(s) befalling their community.
subject's obedience is not due to the inner dispositions
of the leader, but rather to the law, to the order coming
publicly from legitimate authority, together with the
necessary conditions required to make it a law in deed.
The social relationship of subject and authority
therefore remains, even in the case of the inner sinful
dispositions of the ruler.
have now come to the flaw which warps the Thesis of Cassissiacum:
subjects do not owe obedience to the inner dispositions
of their leader, but to the recognized social authority,
legitimate in the social body. Social function is inseparable
from legitimacy, while the conformity of the ruler's will
to the will of God can be separated from the question of
sedevacantists are able to explain this with remarkable
precision without noticing, I suppose, that the entire "proof”
of their theory has thus been struck and dashed to pieces:
society is a moral person, and by analogy to a physical
person, a society has its intellect and will. Therefore
it is possible and it often happens that a fact is able
to be true in the real order, and even most evident, but
is not recognized as such by society. For example, someone
is able to commit a murder, in front of many witnesses.
Although the witnesses know that such a man is a murderer,
nevertheless, before the law, he is held as innocent until
he should be condemned by a court of law. In other words,
in the eyes of society, he is not a murderer until he
is convicted, even if it is absolutely certain to the
witnesses that he is a murderer.
example: in matrimony a spouse simulates [i.e.,
pretends - Ed.] consent. Before God and in reality,
there is not a bond of matrimony in this case; but before
the Church, the marriage is valid until it can be proven
that the consent was simulated. If the priest should discover,
by the confession of a spouse, that the consent was simulated,
he must forbid the spouses the use of matrimony, because
before God the bond does not exist, although before the
Church the bond does exist until it shall be declared
null by a legal declaration......Because of this distinction
between a real fact and a legal fact, the Church - and
every society - is distinguished from a mere mob (ibid.,
very precise and apt remarks are aimed at those intending
to prove the deposition of the pope through Canon 188, §4
of the 1917 Code of Canon Law.
sedevacantists have done an excellent job on the canonical
meaning of heretical notoriety (ibid., pp.62-65;
72-74). In the canonical sense, "notorious heresy"
means heresy acknowledged by society, that is to say, a
pertinacious heresy (i.e., persistent and determined
to the point of stubbornness). One's own personal subjective
convictions concerning the pope's writings have no social
point must be made unmistakably clear: it means, for example,
that a priest must celebrate Mass in union with the pope,
no matter what intimate conviction that such a priest may
entertain regarding the pope's "heresy" or "schism,"
since the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is not a private
prayer, but an act of the Church's official public
worship as such, and the pope remains pope as long as he
be so acknowledged legitimacy. He remains pope before the
public as long as he has not been proven pertinacious. This
is why the priests of the Society of Saint Pius X include
the name of the current pope when celebrating Holy Mass.
pope remains pope as long as he is not pertinacious. Pertinacity
is determined by the public acknowledgement of the heresy
by the legitimate authority. Is this possible in the case
of the pope who has no superior here on earth? - Maybe,
as in the case of his rejection from the communion by the
moral unanimity of the episcopacy. This is what occurred
at the Council of Constance (1414-1418).
human society, legitimacy is inseparable from authority.
The loss of the one in the social order entails the loss
of the other. The sudden changes and reversals of fortune
encountered, for instance, at the Council of Constance constitute
a classic case. Things had reached a point where, in the
eyes of all of the bishops, even in the view of his own
personally-appointed cardinals, a pope's obstinacy in prolonging
the Great Schism was incompatible with the will to promote
the common good, and caused the loss of all legitimacy and
thus all authority.3
lose social legitimacy means exactly the same things as
to lose authority.
take our conclusion from the American sedevacantists themselves.
As long as the Catholic episcopacy does nothing, there is
no one capable of providing the certainty of conscience
that the presently-reigning pope has been stripped of his
problem today - which is indeed horrendous - is that all
the sees of authority, at least apparently, teach the
errors of Vatican II as the magisterium [doubtlessly meaning
here as belonging to the revealed Deposit of Faith - Ed.],
and all electors of the pope4
participate in the errors of Vatican II, in such a way
that there is no one who, in a legal way, is able to recognize
or ascertain the fact of error in the magisterium, and
therefore the absence of authority in those who promulgate
it (ibid., p.51).
are truly obsessed by the question of the papacy. One may
well wonder if in many of them this is not due to some psychological
trauma. Their understandable ancestral veneration for the
pope seems to unleash a veritable panic at the idea of contrasting
their cherished, idealized image of the papacy with such
popes as Paul VI and John Paul II.
appears to be more of a psychological than a theological
problem. It would be both easy and cruel to evoke here some
of the variations, as well as the successive divisions fostered
by their numerous cliques and the astounding reversals and
turnabouts coming from their inconsistent motives.
why be so harsh with them? Are not those reproaches, which
they make regarding the Pope's teaching, his pastoral approach,
including some erroneous Vatican II teachings, indeed well
founded? Admittedly, some indulgence could be shown for
some theological error which, for the moment, has but little
practical consequences, if we were not to note and observe
the dire consequences brought upon the faithful. We now
see only too well what effects those theological outpourings
produce in passionate Catholics. They now have become their
own pope. They judge their own priests. No longer do many
of them have recourse to the sacrament of Confession. No
longer do they hearken to the Church's infallible teachings.
They generally bring moral ruin on their own families. [These
are the self-titled and self-styled "home-aloners."-
used to know truly pious Catholics. After a few years we
met them again only to find them marked by a psychological
behavior found in types such as the Jehovah's Witnesses
or in protestants in general: haughty, understanding everything,
seeing everything through their jaundiced and obsessed eyes,
unceasingly shaking their rattles of definitive, final,
and unanswerable arguments which they do not understand
themselves. Beware the time when they lose their God-given
Faith and give up on everything.
can one explain such a breakdown in the Christian spirit?
We may well wonder if sedevacantism may not prove to be
even more grave, more serious than it first seemed. Experience
has proved that that which is understood by most of those
Catholics won over to the sedevacantist camp turns out to
be quite a simple idea: an unworthy pope is no longer pope.
This strangely resembles the unhinged teachings of Wycliffe
and of John Hus: A pope in the state of mortal sin is no
longer pope, a bishop in the state of mortal sin is no longer
bishop having authority in his own diocese, nor does a pastor
in such a state have any authority over his parish. And
the same for a king over his country, etc. We may
think that John Hus was sincere in his errors. His death
does not seem to be one of a formal heretic. But this fact
changes nothing with regard to the eventual ugly consequences.
The followers of Jan Hus later became bloodthirsty wolves
feeding on their exploited fellow citizens as they hunted
to death those bishops, pastors, kings and princes whom
they thought were not worthy of life.
speculation? A strange mixture of ideas? Do not be too sure.
Let those who know of the appalling affair of the lnstitut
Cardinal Pie think deeply about this: a half-crazed,
self-appointed leader had applied the Cassissiacum
thesis to the French political system. He preached that
those in power had no intention of working for the common
well-being of their people, and therefore their power was
only a sham, their places in government were vacant and
required being taken over by right-thinking men. "I,"
said their leader, "know what is necessary for the
welfare of France. This is my desire and intent and I therefore
constitute the legitimate power of the country." And
thus was founded a secret society levying taxes on its members,
passing judgments by internal tribunals, and spying on its
associates. Of course, such nonsense could not last and
soon fell apart. But the sudden appearance and taking form
of such a project and the seduction it was able to exert
over intelligent men and women proves that the spirit of
sedevacantism is indeed harmful to souls.
and editied by Rev. Fr. Kenneth Novak)
from Courrier de Rome, April, 1997)
This is readily admitted by American sedevacantists
without their fully realizing it: "The condition of
accepting authority sine qua non is that he who receives
it have the intention of promoting the common good of the
community over which he rules" (Sacerdotium,
no.16, p.54). Here it is a question of the subjective intention
of promoting the common good, which means that the candidate
can be mistaken. Otherwise we would be forced to acknowledge
the personal infallibility (?!) of every candidate seeking
public office or power.
This holds as a general rule. We have seen above that
many laws contrary to the common good give rise to legitimate
suspicions. At such a moment, doubt can militate against
See Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, article
"Constance"; and Le Concile de Constance au
jour le jour [The Council of Constance Day by Day] by
P. Glorieux, Descleé, 1964.
Here we take up and note one of the many errors of
American sedevacantists: They maintain that legitimacy depends
upon the regularity of the election as well as upon the
orthodoxy of the voting cardinals. This is a false and legalistic
idea of legitimacy. The enthronement ceremonies serve to
clearly establish the leader's legitimacy, but do not constitute
legitimacy itself. Some popes were installed by force, for
example, by the empress of Constantinople or by factions
of Roman nobility (9th and l0th centuries). They were true
popes, however, because their Roman episcopacy was acknowledged
and accepted by the faithful and the Catholic episcopate.
The election of Pope Alexander VI Borgia, although tainted
with simony, gives rise to no doubt as to his legitimacy
even today. This legitimacy follows from the de facto
acknowledgment of his authority by the Church. Indeed, this
is a classic theological thesis.
Courtesy of the Angelus
Press, Kansas City, MO 64109
translated from the Italian
Fr. Du Chalard
Via Madonna degli Angeli, 14
Italia 00049 Velletri (Roma)