Our priest, at that time, had circulated a talk given by a
traditionalist priest which stated that we, as Catholics, do not have the right
to judge the pope. In spite of this information being made available to me and
my having listened to the tape twice, I still didn’t take an anti-sedevacantist
position. Not until we had moved to a town where a Society of St. Pius X
chapel was located and where the priest took a very negative position towards sedevacantism, did I take a serious look at this subject or my position. In
talking to many sedevacantists, I have found the beginnings of sedevacantism
follow much the same path in others.
After being confronted with the necessity of making a
decision about just what was the right position, I started doing some research
into the subject. It wasn’t easy since there was nowhere in Catholic writing
that I could find the term "sedevacantism" even mentioned, other than in
writings since Vatican II. It seemed a little unusual for a so-called
traditionalist to be taking a position, in favor of traditionalism, when that
position titled "sedevacantism" couldn’t even be found. The position of
sedevacantism (that of believing that the chair of Peter is vacant even though
the Church Militant doesn’t know it) could be found as an example in history
just before and during the Great Western Schism, which illustrates the fruit of
After reading many different imprimatured articles and
rereading many articles in support of the sedevacantist position, it became
clear to me that there was a great deal of confusion and that there needed to be
an article written quoting the imprimatured articles and books that I had found
in my research. This article is an attempt to summarize what ended up being a
small book of mostly quotations.
The purpose of our looking at history is at least two-fold:
To understand tradition, and
To better understand our times.
Since tradition would likely be the historical position of
the Church, it is imperative that a traditionalist understand history in order
to truly be a traditionalist. If we are to apply the traditional teaching of the
Church to our times, we must understand history and whether or not sedevacantism
is in conformity to the teaching of the Church or rather a departure from the
teaching of the Church.
One has to look at history with some understanding of how
history arrived at the point one wishes to study. If one doesn’t understand the
background of that point in history, then one can’t understand why the events
took place or actually even what did take place. So that the target point in
history can be understood, some background information is necessary.
During the Great Western Schism, the Church was the world
power in that the Church controlled, more than anyone else, the countries of the
world. As a result, anyone who was very ambitious knew that the place of power
was in the Church as a member of the hierarchy. So we see in the times of the
Great Western Schism very bad churchmen in high places who very much scandalized
the Church then, and who are scandalous to us poor souls today who try to read
the historical accounts. It is not my intent to scandalize anyone, let alone the
Church. But it is important to understand how corrupt things were so that one
can understand why such things could happen and so better understand that things
today aren’t necessarily quite as they appear.
During the Great Western Schism there were many times when
the different factions believed the pope to be a heretic who should be deposed,
but, in every case, history has proven that those judging the pope were not only
wrong in their conclusion but were also wrong in their belief that they had a
right to judge the pope as the turn of events proved; for by judging the pope,
they only caused confusion and schism with as many as three claimants to the
papacy at one time. These churchmen had other than the Church’s interest at
heart; instead, it was usually their own personal gain or nationalism.
By 1294 the Church had had a number of popes who were poor
churchmen and some who had been scandalously corrupt. But the good cardinals
upon the death of the reigning pope elected Peter Morone, a pious, saintly
hermit, to the papacy as Pope Celestine V. The hermit had no experience in such
matters and in a short time had made quite a mess of things. He had protested
upon being elected. He hadn’t wanted to leave his hermitage and wanted only to
return to it. After a short time, Celestine V resigned so that another pope
could be elected.
Boniface VIII was the replacing pope. Since Boniface’s
enemies were saying that Celestine hadn’t or couldn’t resign, Boniface had
Celestine apprehended so that there wouldn’t be a schism. Celestine died while
in custody and was later canonized. These events clouded the beginning of
Boniface’s pontificate. When additional events are added, the people of the
time, who where so inclined, had reason to question the papacy of Boniface.
During the reign of Boniface VIII, Philip the Fair, the king
of France, wanted to take possession of some of the Church’s properties and
piling rights so as to increase his power and ability to tax. Philip used some
arguments based on what the Church had allowed in France, discussed later under
the title Gallicanism. Boniface countered with the idea that the pope had the
right to rule the states because the kings had come to the pope to be crowned.
Boniface prepared to excommunicate Philip.
Anticipating these developments, Philip had made plans to
capture the pope and bring him before a council to be judged and deposed. As a
result of Gallicanism, Philip had rationalized that he had the right to commit
these atrocities against the Church. Philip sent two thousand mercenaries who
captured Pope Boniface VIII and held him captive for three days. After having
been freed, the pope lived only ten days. The next pope also opposed Philip the
Fair and died suddenly, it is believed by poisoning. He was later canonized.
These episodes much weakened respect for the papacy and brought about
Gallicanism and sedevacantism which can only survive in an atmosphere of
disrespect for the pope and the papacy.
During the reign of the next couple of popes, Philip tried to
force the popes to condemn the dead Boniface, which they would not do. After the
death of Boniface’s personal enemies, even the French accepted the legitimacy of
the reign of Boniface. We often see in history how men or groups of men will
paint a distorted picture of someone or some event which then affects history
for some time.
Rome had been a world center for many centuries and with the
coming and going of so many people, it was a hotbed of disease. Since it was
also a center of power, a convergence of factions almost like separate nations
within the city caused free movement and dissemination of information to be a
problem. Because of the heat and humidity of summer, the hierarchy liked to
leave the city. This along with the extreme nationalism (particularly French),
led to the establishment of a papal palace at Avignon which was on the border of
Pope Clement V took up residence in Avignon beginning what
was termed "the Babylonian Captivity" because the reign from Avignon lasted
about as long as the Babylonian Captivity and was under the influence of the
French court. France had been controlling the papal elections, electing
Frenchmen to the office. This is one of the reasons the papal palace had been
set up in Avignon.
After Clement V died, there was a two-year, three-and-a-half
month period during which there was no pope. John XXII was finally elected to
the papacy, but damage to the respect for the papacy resulted from such a long
Pope John XXII took the same position as Boniface in that he
insisted that kings had no right to rule until the pope had given the Bestowal
of Imperial Dignity. King Louis of Bavaria would not submit to Pope John so the
pope excommunicated him. The king then went to Italy and had one of the pope’s
enemies proclaim John XXII a heretic, usurper, and oppressor of the Church and
deprived John XXII of all his papal dignities, supposedly. The king then
proclaimed an enemy of the pope, anti-pope Nicholas V. Through his position on
papal right to rule nations, John XXII caused quite a stir, but it wasn’t
anything compared to what was to come.
Pope John XXII had stated before his election that he
believed the soul didn’t posses the Beatific Vision upon death. He also gave a
series of five sermons stating his belief. At the University of Paris, a group
of theologians gave the opinion that the pope was seriously wrong, but that he
had not made an ex cathedra statement. As a result, it was not binding and was
simply a private belief of the pope. John stated that he had not intended to
teach contrary to Holy Scripture or the rule of Faith and before his death
declared his belief that souls separated from their bodies enjoyed the Beatific
Vision. Clearly the pope was not imposing his views or teaching ex cathedra.
Here we have an example from history of a pope taking positions contrary to the
traditions of the Church, but history shows that the man was still Catholic and
indeed the pope. We all err, but to be obstinate in our errors after being shown
our error or after being obstinate after being shown by the Church that one is
in error is when one rejects the Church’s teaching. Even though John XXII
corrected his wrong, much disrespect for the papacy resulted from his actions.