Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Who is Right, Athanasius Schneider or Robert Bellarmine?

For the last few years, debate has swirled among traditionalist Catholics as to whether Francis may be a heretic. Implicit in the discussion has been the assumption that if he were a heretic, then he would forfeit his papal office and/or make himself liable for judgment or official deposition by the rest of the Church.

The debate often seemed to turn on the differences between material heresy, formal heresy, manifest, notorious or public heresy and so on, and the possible juridical component of some of those definitions - who had the ability or right to pronounce or judge it, if such an official judgment was necessary.

Curiously, among the traditionalist circles and sources that I participate in and follow, the debate seems to have recently somewhat quieted. Unfortunately, this has occurred because the general answer, however we might niggle over the precise definitions, seems to be now fairly widely agreed on, in private if not widely in public - Francis is probably a heretic.

Interestingly, it was Bishop Athanasius Schneider who implicitly confirmed that the debate may now be over. In his recent On the Question of a Heretical Pope, published in March, Schneider didn't name Francis as a heretic. But that was the elephant in the room. The purpose of his piece was to ask (and answer) the next question: Assuming he is a heretic, what do we do? Or, rather, Schneider's essay was largely addressed to what the bishops should do.

His answer was that they can and should do nothing.

To be fair, Schneider didn't mean literally nothing - there are all sorts of things that he argued might be done, ranging from prayer to publicly calling out or correcting any further heretical papal claims or actions - but on the question of whether, say, an imperfect council should be called to depose the pope (or declare that he has deposed himself), his answer was forcefully in the negative. Schneider wanted to definitively settle the issue. The question of papal heresy would now be in one sense moot. Even a heretical pope remains pope.

There are two parts to Schneider's argument, the first we might call the practical positive argument. It can be summarized simply: Deposing an heretical pope just wouldn't work and/or it would do more harm than good: 
The theory or theological opinion allowing the deposition of a heretical pope or the loss of his office ipso facto because of heresy is in practice unworkable.
A few paragraphs later he continues:
A formal schism, with two or more pretenders to the Papal throne – which will be an inevitable consequence of even a canonically enacted deposition of a pope – will necessarily cause more damage to the Church as a whole than a relatively short and very rare period in which a pope spreads doctrinal errors or heresies.
And later:
The deposition of a heretical pope will ultimately foster the heresy of conciliarism, sedevacantism, and a mental attitude similar to that which is characteristic in a purely human or political community.
It is not my purpose here to pronounce on the soundness of this part of the argument. Certainly, it is thoughtful and well-presented and deserves a high level of consideration. Schneider, an auxiliary bishop of Astana, Kazakhstan is not only one of the most implacable defenders of Catholic tradition alive today but appears to have an extensive knowledge of theology and history. Anyone would be a fool to dismiss his well-considered opinions out of hand.

But there is a second part of his argument, and this is what I wish to focus on here. Schneider is well aware that the view that a heretical pope should not or cannot be deposed is not the historically accepted view among Catholic theologians.

In his I am With You Always: The Divine Constitution and Indefectibility of the Catholic Church, the late Catholic historian Michael Davies sums up what is the accepted view:
The problem which would face the Church if a legitimately reigning pope became an heretic has been discussed in numerous standard works of reference. The solution is provided in the 1913 edition of The Catholic Encyclopedia: "The Pope himself, if notoriously guilty of heresy, would cease to be pope because he would cease to be a member of the Church." Many theologians have discussed the possibility of a pope falling into heresy, and the consensus of their opinion concurs with that of The Catholic Encyclopedia. The Pope must evidently be a Catholic, and if he ceased to be a Catholic he could hardly remain the Vicar of Christ, the head of the Mystical Body. St. Robert Bellarmine taught: "The manifestly heretical pope ceases per se to be pope and head as he ceases per se to be a Christian and member of the Church, and therefore he can be judged and punished by the Church. This is the opinion of all the ancient Fathers" [part of I am With You Always is excerpted here].
Bellarmine would go on to cite St. Cyprian (AD 200-256):
This is the opinion of all the ancient Fathers, who teach that manifest heretics immediately lose all jurisdiction, and outstandingly that of St. Cyprian (lib. 4, epist. 2) who speaks as follows of Novatian, who was Pope [antipope] in the schism which occurred during the pontificate of St. Cornelius: "He would not be able to retain the episcopate, and, if he was made bishop before, he separated himself from the body of those who were, like him, bishops, and from the unity of the Church." 
According to what St. Cyprian affirms in this passage, even had Novatian been the true and legitimate Pope, he would have automatically fallen from the pontificate, if he separated himself from the Church [from De Romano Pontifice Book II, Chapter 30, excerpted here].
Thus, an educated reader might ask, how could Schneider be right and all the rest of Catholic tradition be wrong?

Schneider knew that he had to give sort of an answer. He did so by claiming that in fact the purported tradition isn't the tradition. Or if it is, it's only a relatively recent tradition that has no magisterial or determinative theological authority. It is worth quoting Schneider at length, here: 
The theory or theological opinion that a heretical pope can be deposed or lose office was alien to the first millennium. It originated only in the High Middle Ages, in a time when pope-centrism arrived at a certain high point, when unconsciously the pope was identified with the Church as such. This was already in its root the mundane attitude of an absolutist prince according to the motto: “L’État, c’est moi!” or in ecclesiastical terms: “I am the Church!” 
The opinion, which says that a heretical pope ipso facto loses his office, became a common opinion starting with the High Middle Ages until the twentieth century. It remains a theological opinion and not a teaching of the Church and therefore it cannot claim the quality of a constant and perennial teaching of the Church as such, since no Ecumenical Council and no pope has supported such an opinion explicitly. The Church, however, condemned a heretical pope, but only posthumously and not during the term of his office. Even if some saint Doctors of the Church (e.g. St. Robert Bellarmine, St. Francis de Sales) held such an opinion, it does not prove its certainty or the fact of a general doctrinal consensus. Even Doctors of the Church have been known to err; such is the case with Saint Thomas Aquinas regarding the question of the Immaculate Conception... 
The theory – deposing a heretical pope or the loss of his office ipso facto because of heresy – is only a theological opinion, that does not fulfil the necessary theological categories of antiquity, universality, and consensus (semper, ubique, ab omnibus). There have been no pronouncements of the universal ordinary Magisterium or of the Papal Magisterium, that would support the theories of the deposition of a heretical pope or of the loss of his office ipso facto because of heresy.
Note that as far as I can tell, Schneider provides no sources for his central historical assertion.

So here are the positions:

The theory or theological opinion that a heretical pope can be deposed or lose office was alien to the first millennium.
This is the opinion of all the ancient Fathers.
Just so as there is no confusion, the point is this: not only does Schneider differ with Bellarmine on the theological question itself (which Schneider fully admits), he also differs with him on the historical facts (which Schneider is silent on). There is, not to put it too finely, a yawning difference between the two claims, though one that could presumably adjudicated by looking at the historical evidence.

I suppose we might start with St. Cyprian.

This post, uncharacteristically for me, isn't intended to answer a question so much as to ask one. And the question is important. Schneider argues that the theological views of Bellarmine and many other Doctors of the Church concerning the deposition of a heretical pope are only opinions, opinions based on a relatively recent sort of theological trend or fad stemming at least partly from medieval and post-medieval political theories. Davies and others have written that these "opinions" are in fact historically universal among the Fathers and Doctors of the Church. As far as I can tell, this more accepted view is based at least partly on the writings of Bellarmine himself.  

Who is right, Bishop Schneider or Robert Bellarmine? 


  1. Bellarmine. PF is not only a manifest, pertinacious, public heretic, he is also an apostate & now idolator, who has claimed there is no Hell, God wants religious diversity, supports LGBT prelates & clergy, & lately in an interview with Scalfari apparently denies the Divinity of Christ. It is the God=given duty of our prelature to denounce this incumbent & either reinstate PBXVI or hold a conclave without PFs appointees who should similarly be excommunicated.

  2. Ana: 👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏

  3. "Who is right, Bishop Schneider or Robert Bellarmine?"

    For me Bellarmine. Chances are, at least for now, nothing much will be done about Pope Francis position. However, each Catholic must decide whether to follow Francis teaching or not. For me as a practical matter, given all of his heretical statements his status should be considered uncertain and his direction should not be followed.

  4. Absolutely agree with Ana. Heresy is Francis' middle name. Jorge Heresy Bergoglio.

    1. I like to call him Heresiarch Jorge the Humble

  5. JMJ


    Since it appears that the ancient fathers, along with Bellarmine, support their claim through ontology (BEING) -- a wilful heretic by the very fact of his heresy, ceases BEING Catholic, so a heretical pope, no longer BEING Catholic, ceases being pope because BEING Catholic is a prerequisite for the papacy -- it is necessary to look at our current papal situation through the BEING lens:

    A resigning pope, because papacy is not an indelible mark on a man, ceases BEING pope when he fully resigns: it is a charism he is shedding, and it is a binary act (no partial). Benedict XVI did not fully resign -- still has title, papal whites, Vatican residency, etc. -- so he still IS Pope! Also, the nature of the papacy allows for only one man BEING pope, thus heretical Bergoglio never was pope, and is basically a criminal pretending tp be one.

    1. No, with respect.
      Ontology, once gained, cannot be lost. A Catholic is forever a Catholic, even in hell. A bishop is forever a bishop, even in hell.

      An abdicating pope (it is not a resignation but an abdication) does not stop "BEING" Pope because, as you correctly stated, it is not an ontological mark. What happens is that the juridical nature of the Office is set down by the sovereign Pope so that it can be transferred/bestowed upon another, who then becomes the juridical sovereign.

      Can more than one man share the same juridical Office in the Catholic Church? Yes. That is the point of a Bishop and an Auxiliary Bishop. That is at least two individuals in one juridical Office. Can there be more than one individual in the juridical Office of the Pope? Yes. In the Early Church, Rome, Antioch, Alexandria were seen as a singular Petrine Office with Rome having the headship.

      Even if you were to look at a late medieval monarchical model of the Papacy, the monarchical model allows for the situation that we have today. When a monarch would abdicate the throne to pass on their juridical authority to their successor, they still wore the crown but were now the subject of their successor who sat on the throne and held the scepter and sword.

      There are other models of the Petrine Office out there but none actually prevent what Pope Benedict XVI did. What people are doing is thinking of the Petrine Office as a constitutional monarchy and saying that the abdication was not valid because it violated the constitutional nature of the Office. However, the papacy is not a constitutional Office.

    2. But B16 did not abdicate, he resigned.

      It would have been better, clearer and correct if he did abdicate.

  6. Mr. Spalding,

    Great post. Thank you.

    Catholic Monitor,

    Fred Martinez

  7. My question to Bishop Schneider; are you willing and able to tell us exactly which of Bergoglio's teachings/utterances/actions we may resist?

  8. "a relatively short and very rare period in which a pope spreads doctrinal errors or heresies."

    Who can think that is true? PF continues to appoint bishops and create like-minded "Cardinals". This won't end with his death. He is creating a "legacy" of fellow heretics and apostates who will ensure it continues and will not condemn it or him.

  9. It seems to me that Bishop Schneider is saying that the late medieval theory of a Pope ipso facto loosing his Office and being deposed was unheard of during the first millennia because it originated from late medieval theology and political theory. Well, of course.

    That said, of course the early Church struggled with the question of a heretical / apostate popes. All one has to do is to look to the early schisms between the Churches East and the West as well as between the Oriental Orthodox.

    If one were to make a study of it, one would look at these questions.
    1.) Why did the particular Eastern/Oriental Church feel that they could break with Rome?
    2.) How did they understand what happened to the Chair of Peter (lost, goes into suspension, transferred to another Petrine See).
    3.) How did Rome understand them to be incorrect in their theology?
    4.) How does this apply to today's issue?

    I do think that Bp Schneider is correct in saying that deposing a heretical Pope is unworkable, but only in today's climate. The fear of schism, which should be feared, is out of proportion to the reality of the Church's present condition. The fear is preventing people from speaking up because the reality of the situation is that the orthodox prelates would probably lose in a direct fight -- there is just too few of them, the proof being that Pope Francis was elected.

    There is also the ramifications of a long term schism that is weighing on Bishop Schneider and others. This is a serious weight but there is also a bit of willful ignorance to consider that Pope Francis isn't going to be followed by Francis II.

    Taking Pope Francis off of the table (in anyway) doesn't erase all the errors that he has promulgated in official acts of the Apostolic See. The solution between the fight between the "hermaneutic of continuity" and the "hermaneutic of rupture" can only be solved by moving towards a real doctrinal Eccumenical Council (as much as I disdain that idea) that issues some anathemas.

  10. You are absolutely correct. However, we have a problem which I wish some astute person would address. Our prelature is so corrupt that I fear the overwhelming majority support Bergolio, with many sharing his views. It only gets worse each day with his appointments. Any action taken will be a small minority, but they will be the Catholic Church, not those who remain with the apostate heretic Bergolio and his defenders. Does even this small minority exist?

  11. With all due respect, there seems to be some kind of force which promotes interest in questions and events which are periferal, the end benefit of which is keeping Bergoglio in power. We fail to recognize that the cause of Bergoglio is not Bergoglio but the Cardinals and Bishops who rejected Benedict and wanted him out at all costs, even of Canon Law. Being a faithful Catholic requires many things, but first of all it requires that when a pope wants to resign that you keep canons 40 and 41 and either help him to it canonically or explain that his act is deficient when it is. If you usher him out, or ignore this so that his act remains ineffective, you set up a situation where the apparent successor is nothing of the kind. If Catholic bloggers keep ignoring this, because it is more juicy to speak of this or that, then they are failing Christ. It has been clearly demonstrated by reason, facts and Church documents that a resignation of ministerium does not cause the loss of an ecclesiastical office, no matter how much or who would want it to. That they do is an irrational will and a substantial error. If we do not fix that, all the rest we do is in vain, because we are by our neglect actually willing to join in the apostasy which they produced.

  12. John F. KennedyNovember 2, 2019 at 2:17 PM

    "a relatively short and very rare period in which a pope spreads doctrinal errors or heresies."

    Answer: Not rare, not short. In our present age heresies began with Modernism, the taking over of the Catholic Church, by Freemasonry. This has been well underway since the end of the French Revolution. It received significant impetus when it became the Charter of the Catholic Church at Vatican II, and now with Pope Francis it is running full throttle into paganism and eventually atheism with no end or relief in sight

  13. Its not really a question of Bellarmine Vs Schnieder. For one, although Bellarmine had his theories, of which the fifth is the commonly cited and the strongest of them, there were other opinions of prominent Thomistic theologians that disagreed him in full or in part, especially as to how this vacancy would be recognized and a new pope elected. The problem we have that Bellarmine never discussed was, even if the pope loses his office due to heresy, what was the action to be taken by everyone in the Church? Yes, he says he loses it ipso fact. Great, does that mean that as each priest and bishop starts his own sedevacantist parish? For one, it seems that Bellarmine thought that a large number of the faithful, tota Ecclesia, would speak out to first formally accuse him of heresy, more than once, and then offer a public refutation and correction, allowing the pope to respond. The fact is, Bellarmine never thought that a large number of the Cardinals, bishops, priests and laity would remain silent, or worse agree with him! the fact is, although most agree Francis has espoused public heresy, we have no movement from a large number of Catholics as a body to put pressure on him to renounce his heresies or step down due his loss of power over the faithful due to his abandonment of the chair. There is no easy answer here unfortunately, and for us traditional Catholics, that is a hard pill to swallow! I would also recommend buying the recently translated works of Bellarmine on the papacy and the councils and read them for yourself as I am doing. Cutting and pasting a few quotes here and there does not prove you actually understand what he is saying in full context.

  14. The 'B&B16' Duo
    The confusion that can be seen in the Roman Catholic church is not a crisis but an epochal breakthrough.
    The last papal decision of Benedict XVI led to the transformation of the Saint Peter's Office into a synodal two-headed hybrid. Actually he dissolved - by virtue of power given to him [Matt 16, 19] by Jesus Christ - the same office on Feb. 28, 2013 at 8 p.m. (CET), so no he may already be a Roman Pontiff neither himself nor anyone else. This decision is irrevocable.
    The dissolution of the papacy does not mean that the gates of hell have overcome the militant Church [Matt 16, 18]. The Church will be reborn with the power of God as it was when the Mosaic religion degenerated into the form of the synagogue of Satan and Jesus Christ appeared to breathe new life into the Church of God and raise it to a higher level thrugh the Holy Sacraments.
    By the act of Feb. 10 (11), 2013, B16 released the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. These Keys are the Apocalyptic Woman and the Paraclete; only now the Church will shine on the whole earth with full splendor.

    The end of the papacy in Rome is precisely described in the Prophecy of Saint Malachi (+ 1148), the archbishop of Armagh:

    'Gloria Olivae' - Benedict XVI; the glory/finial of the Roman Catholic church are two olive trees [Rev. 11, 4], which will blossom only now at the end of times - the Paraclete and the Woman of the Revelation.

    'In persecutione extrema S.R.E. Sedebit' - 'S.R.E [Sancta Romana Ecclesia] is in a period of extreme persecution' - this is the phenomenon of Jorge Bergoglio, the destroyer of the Roman Catholic church (especially of the College of Cardinals, the very top of the Church hierarchy). Bergoglio, aside from the B16's dissolution of the papacy, as an apostate, could not be the vicar of Jesus Christ, and therefore Saint Malachi does not name his name among the Pontifex but only characterizes the effects of his actions.

    'Petrus Romanus, qui pascet oves in multis tribulationibus: quibus transactis civitas septicollis diruetur & Iudex tremendus iudicabit populum suum. Finis'. (“Peter the Roman will feed his flock in the midst of many persecutions, and when it ceases, the city of seven hills will be torn down and a terrible judge will judge his people”.)
    Saint Peter the Apostle was not a Roman (citizen of Rome). Peter the Roman is a Son of the Roman Catholic church (means a Roman) and is identical to the terrible Judge, the same as the Paraclete.
    The papacy in Rome was abolished definitively and irrevocably. What now? The fulfillment of this request addressed to God the Father for nearly 2,000 years: 'Come Thy Kingdom, thy will be done, as in heaven so also on earth.' The Kingdom of God on earth, finally!

  15. Myron, no one can abolish what Christ has instituted....despair is from the evil one....and your thesis has no support in revelation, tradition, doctrine, dogma or church law.

  16. BadcatholicNovember 2, 2019 at 5:34 PM

    "Our prelature is so corrupt that I fear the overwhelming majority support Bergolio, with many sharing his views."

    Sounds like Opus Dei which appears to be part of the 'controlled opposition'.

    "Controlled opposition is a term commonly applied to people or organizations who are working for the very corrupt interests they claim to oppose. The term is generally synonymous with "fake leaders" or "sheep in wolves' clothing."