Bouix on the “Heretical Pope”: A big Nothingburger from John Salza and Robert Siscoe
More than three years after the release of their book True or False Pope? A Refutation of Sedevacantism and other Modern Errors, John Salza and Robert Siscoe are still busy wasting everybody’s time.
On May 14, they posted on their web site an English translation of an excerpt from the 3-volume book Tractatus de Papa, ubi et de Concilio Oecumenico (“Treatise on the Pope and the Ecumenical Council”) written by the French canonist Marie Dominique Bouix (1808-1870). Bouix took the unusual position that if a Pope as a private person were to become a heretic, he would not lose the pontificate in any way, nor could anyone take it from him. In other words: If a Pope were to become manifestly heretical, he would still be Pope, and no one would be able to do anything about it.
The question of the Papa haereticus — that is, what would happen if a Pope were to become a heretic in his private capacity — was debated among theologians for centuries before the First Vatican Council (1870). Five different positions emerged in the course of the dispute:
- That the Pope cannot become a heretic even in his private capacity, so the question is moot.
- That a Pope who becomes a heretic even only internally (by pertinaciously assenting to heresy in his mind) would immediately and automatically fall from the pontificate.
- That a Pope who becomes a heretic does not fall from the pontificate, regardless of how manifest his heresy is.
- That a Pope who becomes a heretic loses the pontificate only after a declaration by the Church.
- That a Pope who becomes a heretic automatically falls from the pontificate as soon as his heresy is public and manifest.
Out of all the theologians who argued in depth about this subject, so far only one has been declared a saint and, more pertinently, a Doctor of the Church. It is St. Robert Cardinal Bellarmine (1542-1621). He was canonized by Pope Pius XI in 1930 and declared a Doctor of the Church by the same pope the following year.
In his monumental work on the Papacy, De Romano Pontifice (“On the Roman Pontiff”), St. Robert argued that “[i]t is probable and may piously be believed that not only as ‘Pope’ can the Supreme Pontiff not err, but he cannot be a heretic even as a particular [=private] person by pertinaciously believing something false against the faith” (Book IV, Chapter 6). In other words, Bellarmine believed that out of the five opinions enumerated above, Position 1 was the most likely to be correct.
In the event, however, that Position 1 was not correct and a Pope could indeed become a heretic, Bellarmine insisted on and argued convincingly for Position 5, that such a “heretical Pope” would immediately and automatically cease to be Pope, without the need for a declaration or other ecclesiastical intervention:
- Bellarmine: “Whether a Heretical Pope Can Be Deposed?”
Book II, Chapter 30 of De Romano Pontifice
Although Fr. Bouix, like Bellarmine, also believed that Position 1 was the most likely to be correct, he held that if it was possible for a Pope to become a heretic, then this would not affect his holding of the Papacy at all — in other words, he supported Position 3 as the correct one, although in his Tractatus de Papa it is numbered differently, namely, as Position 4. He concludes:
Certainly, just as to Suárez and many others, myself included, it seems more probable that the Pope, even as a private person, cannot fall into heresy. But in the hypothesis that the Pope could become a heretic privately, I would absolutely deny that he is ipso facto deposed, or capable of being deposed by any council.
It appears that Salza and Siscoe are now trying, as they have done in the past with other theologians, to advertise this as some kind of a “refutation” of the Sedevacantist position, which is identical to that of Bellarmine. St. Robert called the position Bouix takes “exceedingly improbable” and said that “it would be the most miserable condition of the Church, if she should be compelled to recognize a wolf, manifestly prowling, for a shepherd” (De Romano Pontifice, Book II, Chapter 30).
But what is perhaps even more significant, Bouix seems to be the only theologian who defended Position 3. The non-sedevacant Brazilian layman Arnaldo Vidigal Xavier da Silveira (1929-2018), whom Salza and Siscoe happily advertise on their site as endorsing their book, remarks: “This third opinion … is defended by one sole theologian, among 136 ancient and modern theologians whose position on this matter we could verify” (Da Silveira, Can the Pope go Bad?, trans. by John Russell Spann [Greenacres, WA: Catholic Research Institute, 1998], p. 31); and again a bit later: “…it has against it the practically unanimous Tradition of the Church” (p. 36); “We remind the reader that of 136 authors whom we consulted, only Bouix defends this opinion” (p. 36, fn. 16).
Moreover, the position Bouix takes is not even that taken by Salza and Siscoe themselves, nor does it apply to the case of the manifest heresies of “Pope” Francis, for Bouix explicitly states that he is talking only about the case of a Pope who becomes a heretic as a private individual, not a “Pope” whose private heresies become part of his magisterium, as is clearly the case with Francis:
There is no sufficient reason why Christ should be thought to have provided that a Pope heretic would be able to be deposed. Surely that reason would be the vast detriment which would come to the Church unless such a Pope were deposed. But that reason is not valid; as much because the Pope heretic is not so harmful an evil that the Church therefore must necessarily be ruined and perish; as because the remedy, the Pope’s deposition, would be a much worse evil. And firstly, the heresy of the Pope about which this question is moved, is not so grave an evil that it is necessary to think that Christ had willed the deposition of such a Pontiff. The matter is only of private heresy; not which the Pope professes as the Pastor of the Church and in his Papal decrees or acts, but to which he adheres as a private doctor, and only in his private sayings or writings. What is more, so long as the Pope, whenever he defines and speaks Pontifically, teaches the right faith, the faithful are sufficiently safe, although at the same time it would be clear that the same Pope privately adheres to some heresy. All would readily understand that the opinion argued for by the Pope as a private doctor lacks authority, and he is only to be followed when he defines and relates the faith ex officio and with Pontifical authority.
(Bouix, Tractatus de Papa, vol. II, p. 670; underlining added.)
Precisely what, then, are Salza and Siscoe attempting to accomplish by putting up Bouix’s theological argumentation concerning the Papa haereticus?
It seems they are trying to amass writings from theologians that dispute the position taken by sedevacantists regarding “heretical Popes”. There is only one problem: With one possible exception (one that we still need to investigate fully), as far as we have seen, all the “evidence” they have published in that regard comes from books that were written before the First Vatican Council, which promulgated rich teaching on the Papacy such as the following:
So, this gift of truth and a never failing faith was divinely conferred upon Peter and his successors in this chair, that they might administer their high duty for the salvation of all; that the entire flock of Christ, turned away by them from the poisonous food of error, might be nourished on the sustenance of heavenly doctrine, that with the occasion of schism removed the whole Church might be saved as one, and relying on her foundation might stay firm against the gates of hell.
(Vatican I, Dogmatic Constitution Pastor Aeternus, Ch. 4; Denz. 1837; underlining added.)
The ecclesiastical approbation given to Bouix’s Tractatus de Papa is dated Aug. 20, 1868, almost two full years before the promulgation of Pastor Aeternus. The first two volumes were published in 1869, the third in 1870. The translated excerpt published by Salza and Siscoe is from volume 2.
In addition, one should keep in mind that although Bouix was writing roughly 250 years after Bellarmine’s death, he was writing before St. Robert was canonized or declared a Doctor of the Church, or even beatified (his beatification took place in 1923). In other words, although he certainly took Bellarmine’s argumentation into consideration as coming from a most capable and renowned theologian, he did not have the privilege of learning from SaintBellarmine, Doctor of the Church.
The notion of a “heretical Pope” — at least the kind the world has seen in the Vatican II “popes” since the 1960’s — is impossible to reconcile with the teaching of Pastor Aeternus. Whoever doubts it is advised to take our special papacy test with regard to the manifest heretic Jorge Bergoglio. Our test replaces every mention of the phrase “Roman Pontiff” in the conciliar constitution with the words “Pope Francis” — and the results are… interesting:
Although Vatican I did not address the issue of the Papa haereticus directly in its dogmatic constitution on the Papacy, the question did indeed come up during the deliberations, and the deputation on the Faith responded to it. Abp. John Purcell of Cincinnati relates what happened and how the council answered:
- The Question of a Heretical Pope considered by the First Vatican Council
- Heretical Popes and Vatican I: A Follow-Up
After Vatican I, the alternatives to Position 1 and Position 5 were abandoned, and instead we find theologians in agreement that a “heretical Pope” would automatically cease to be Pope:
…it cannot be proved that the Roman Pontiff, as a private teacher, cannot become a heretic, for example, if he contumaciously denies a dogma previously defined; this impeccability was nowhere promised to him by God. On the contrary, [Pope] Innocent III expressly admits that the case can be conceded. But if the case should take place, he falls from office by divine law, without any sentence, not even a declaratory one. For he who openly professes heresy places his very self outside the Church, and it is not probable that Christ preserves the Primacy of His Church with such an unworthy individual. Consequently, if the Roman Pontiff professes heresy, he is deprived of his authority before any whatsoever sentence, which [sentence] is impossible.
(Rev. Matthaeus Conte a Coronata, Institutiones Iuris Canonici, vol. I, 4th ed. [Rome: Marietti, 1950], n. 316c; our translation; underlining added.)
For more examples of what theologians writing after Vatican I have said about the scenario of a “heretical Pope”, please see our informative commentary on the recent “Open Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church” accusing Francis of heresy:
Quite frankly, the Bouix text Salza and Siscoe have presented is a big nothingburger: So they found a theologian writing before Vatican I who argued that a Pope cannot lose his pontificate at all, no matter how manifestly heretical he is. So what? In Church history you can find all sorts of theologians writing on disputed questions before they were settled by the Church, including a position on the Beatific Vision by St. Bernard of Clairvaux that was later declared to be heretical (see Fr. Joseph Sagüés, On the Last Things, p. 298, n. 30).
The real question is: Is it possible to affirm of the Novus Ordo “popes” everything the Catholic Church teaches about the Papacy and still remain faithful to the Catholic religion of Pope Pius XII and his predecessors? But we all know the answer to that.
By the way: Bouix’s Tractatus de Papa ends with the words: “Scripta mea omnia judicio ac correctioni Romani Pontificis subjicio” — “I subject all my writings to the judgment and correction of the Roman Pontiff” (vol. 3, p. 436).
Would John Salza and Robert Siscoe do that?