I’ve been debating on if I should post this or not, because sedevacantism is a dangerous thing. “Sedevacantism” is the school of thought that the Chair of Peter is vacant. Basically, sedevacantists believe our current pope (Pope Benedict XVI) is not the current Pope, and is an anti-Pope. They usually say that Blessed John Paul II was not a real Pope, and they deny his canonization was valid. Pope Paul VI? Pope John XXIII? Not real Popes. Vatican II? Not a valid council.
They claim to be Catholic, use Catholic materials to prove their points. They take a narrow view of Church history and of Church documents, selectively taking things and try to prove their point. Or, they’ll bombard you with documents and text with no historical context. Overall, there’s a risk in talking about the topic because for some people it’d be better they weren’t exposed to this stuff because it would either cause them scandal to think that Catholics would actually believe in sedevacantism, or even worse people would actually be fooled by their rhetoric.
I had a conversation with a sedevacantist a few weeks ago though, and I think posting some of my responses outweigh the cons I listed above. For all I know the readers of this blog will eventually encounter these kinds of people, so by reading this they can be prepared. Also, in the process of talking to him, I explained how we who follow mendicant spirituality view the documents of Vatican II, and how they are in-line with existing Church teaching. Also, it gives me a chance to talk about mendicant spirituality and Holy Father Francis*, which as this blog progresses people will come to see my love for both of those things (the mendicants and Francis).
First off, if the concept of sedevacantism all sounds very “reformation-era Protestant”, you’re not alone in thinking that. Rejecting papal authority, taking documents out of context, things like that. Ironic, of course, because most “sede’s” think that Protestants are destined to Hell (I’ll be talking more about this later on).
A big issue that sedevacantists have is with certain Vatican II documents, namely the documents on religious liberty/freedom. Namely, the idea that there are elements of Truth in other religions (but not the Fullness of Truth). They cling to the “no salvation outside of the Catholic Church” notion, however their perception and view of what is the Catholic Church is very small. They also lack knowledge of metaphysics and how God is not bound by our perceptions of time.
Typically at this point when talking to sede’s, I mention something that I call “The Lewis Dilemma”. Is CS Lewis in Heaven? His works certainly merit such. He never converted publicly to Catholicism. Yet as several documents state, everyone in Heaven is Catholic, so there is an apparent disconnect there.
Or is there?
Is it not possible that ten milliseconds before his death, he had a “Baptism of Desire”, so to speak? Is it possible he was so close to Catholicism, without knowing, and Christ gave him that chance to say “yes” to Catholicism? To Christ, ten milliseconds is an eternity. Being Catholic is the Absolute Truth, and better equips us to make that final “yes”, that I will not deny. But perhaps, the Divine Mercy of Christ allows for some to say “yes” in those final moments, in a “Baptism of Desire”**. In essence; Catholicism gives you a better chance to say “yes” before you die since you’re already Catholic, but that does not exclude the chance that others could say yes in the moments before their death.
The paragraph above shows no conflict with Church teaching; what I described clearly shows that everyone in heaven is Catholic. What it does do is leave room for the Mercy of God, while also still showcasing the need to spread the Faith and why people should consider converting to Catholicism; we want people in Heaven. We want them to know the Truth. Why should we deny them this?
This is how you can reconcile Vatican II with other Councils in this regard. Yes, everyone in Heaven is Catholic. It’s a question of when they convert, and in some cases they may convert before death.
To polish off this specific item, we can look no further than Aquinas, who says; As stated above (1, ad 2; 68, 2) man receives the forgiveness of sins before Baptism in so far as he has Baptism of desire, explicitly or implicitly; and yet when he actually receives Baptism, he receives a fuller remission, as to the remission of the entire punishment. So also before Baptism Cornelius and others like him receive grace and virtues through their faith in Christ and their desire for Baptism, implicit or explicit: but afterwards when baptized, they receive a yet greater fullness of grace and virtues. Hence in Psalm 22:2, “He hath brought me up on the water of refreshment,” a gloss says: “He has brought us up by an increase of virtue and good deeds in Baptism. Yet catechumens who die without baptism can be saved but only as through fire. That is, they are absolved of eternal punishment, not temporal punishment.”
Aquinas’ is probably the worse case scenario, where those who receive a baptism of desire likely undergo a purification process, however they still get into Heaven. All told, I think it’s safe to say there’s no contradiction there.
Something else I want to talk about is the interaction we can have with other faiths. 800 years or so ago St. Francis went to the Middle East to meet with the Sultan. He tried to convert him, and failed miserably. Going back home after failure, St. Clare told him the infamous quote that we have all heard at this point. He went back, and told the Sultan that they would not actively preach using words, instead they would work with the poorest of the poor, their lepers and their sick. The uneducated. If they were asked questions they would answer, but they would not shove nor force the beliefs on anyone. Proactive with actions, reactive with words. Also, in exchange for the helping of the least of the Sultan’s people, Francis asked for better treatment of prisoners.
The Sultan was amazed by all of this, and amazed by Francis. He called Francis a “Sufi”, which means “holy man”. Francis continued his work in the area, working with Jews and Muslims. In around 1342, via Papal Bull, the Franciscans became the Custodians of the Holy Land.
Throughout that entire time, they worked with Jews and Muslims. They acknowledged that there were elements of truth in both of those. They did pray with both groups, as all three groups believe in God the Father. Later on, this grew to praying with other Christians as well.
And remember; Francis did take ideas from the Muslims (such as moving the Tabernacle to the middle of the Sanctuary). Liturgically, the early Franciscans used some vernacular in their liturgy. Francis and Clare both banned Gregorian chant (Gregorian chant being used by Franciscans is actually a Vatican II novelty. The priest faced the people, as the fraternity always came first, and the Franciscans were never to be clerical).
Which brings me to the last thing; PERFECTAE CARITATIS, which saved religious life in the Church. It’s a call for Orders to go back to the visions of their founders. In the time between Vatican I and Vatican II, the consecrated religious lost their way. You had Franciscans owning property and driving cars, some were living not in community. You had clerics and non-clerics. With the monastics, you had people living beyond the walls. You had Orders not following the Rule of the Order. Orders that should have served the poor were serving middle or upper class folks. Your had Bishops forcing Orders to ordain to covers off priest shortages. It reached the point where some of the Orders looked hard at themselves, and realized that the founder would not have been welcome in their Order. With the Franciscans, it was the realization that if Holy Father Francis showed up in 1960, he could not have been the head of the Order as he was never a priest. He was only a cleric near the end of his life, a Deacon.
The call went out to Rome that Orders needed help. Pope Paul VI listened. He wrote PERFECTAE CARITATIS, which informed the Church that Orders must return to their roots. Pope John Paul II followed up with Vita Consecrata. It was hard at first, some people left their Orders. Others adjusted. You had Orders leave parishes because they were never meant to be there, or because they needed to move back to the community. In the end though, it was worth it. Now we’re seeing a renewal. Now we are seeing the fruits. Vocations are exploding in Orders who follow the Rule and the original charisms, and the vision of their founder. It’s an exciting time to be a consecrated religious, or a member of a Secular Order.
The problem with being a “sede” is the same as those who follow the “spirit of Vatican II”. It’s an obvious one; the Church doesn’t exist in a vacuum. The Church is forever, with a continual line of Popes from Peter to Benedict XVI, with all the Councils and whatnot. It all fits together to form pieces of the puzzle.
The logic of being a sede and saying that the chair is vacant is no different than the protestants who say the “true” church that was 100 AD or 200 AD or whatever was in hiding until the reformation. The church between then was not the “true church”, and until Luther showed up it was a faux form of Christianity.
The documents of Vatican II do fit in with the greater tapestry of Catholicism. I mentioned ecumenism already, that fits perfectly (the concept of “separated brethren” predates Vatican II).
Here’s an example of how councils work sometimes; the calling of the Orthrodox as schismatics. Schismatic is a present tense word, it is when one performs a schismatic act. The Orthodox are long past the original people who broke away. As a result, they are in schism, but not outright schismatic. With Protestants, Benedict XIV says that they are not the same protestants as were at the reformation. They are a different animal now, and this is entirely true; we now have groups who have spent centuries away, they are not the same people. Anglican folks are no longer the same people who followed Henry. Lutherans, as you may have noticed in the Joint Declaration, now no longer support Luther’s own position. As a result, the language shifts somewhat.
In five years or so, I’m not sure where I will be vocation wise (another post will be required to discuss that further). But I do know that Sede’s will be a men without a Church, without the Vicar of Christ. I will be protected by Matthew 16:18, apostolic succession, and authentic Franciscan tradition. They’ll be left with the conspiratorial rumblings demeaning an ecumenical council which prevented the destruction of every religious order in the Church. My views on Council documents is not private, it mirrors that of the current head of the CDF and the current Pope. A Pope whom I will be making a promise of obedience to.
Which is one more reason why sede’s would find Francis to be a heretic. He would tell them to place your trust in the Church, and trust in the Pope. After all, Franciscans are bound to obey the successors of Francis and the Pope unless they cause you to sin. Failure to do this results in disciplinary actions. They would argue that to believe in Vatican II is to sin, however I would say the very nature of PERFECTAE CARITATIS and JP2’s subsequent followup means that inherently there is nothing wrong with Vatican II, as it saved the religious. And like it or not, religious is the lifeblood of the Church.
The question remains if they had an issue with the Franciscans who had vernacular in their Mass at the time of Francis, had the priest facing the people, had the priest dressed the same as everyone else, received Communion in the hands, and had Gregorian chant banned. Receiving on the tongue and Gregorian chant are modern novelties to the Franciscans, you see, and are only allowed if the Superior allows it. 700 years of those things.
Some sede’s refuse to acknowledge this, and they also point towards declining vocations as a means to prove their point, they fail to see that the above are clear examples of what was happening to religious orders pre-Vatican II. They resembled nothing like their founders envisioned, they were not following the rules. The most obvious example is that the Franciscans were becoming incredibly clerical, to the point where Francis himself would not have been able to lead the Order if he showed up again. Their broke free from lady poverty, which goes directly against the Rule.
Are there some groups with declining vocations? Yes. Guess which ones? Ones which aren’t following the Rule or charisms that their Order has. Guess which groups have solid vocations? Ones that embrace the message of their founder. Friars of the Renewal, Friars of the Strict Observance, and the Franciscan Brothers of Life are all solid examples.
Meanwhile, context is needed for the “flourishing” vocations pre-Vatican II, however this is definitely a case of quantity over quality. Would you rather 500 Dominicans who did refused to preach or live in community, or would you rather 200 Dominicans who actively performed the work of the Order of Preachers? Would you rather 500 Franciscans who lived alone in wealthy parishes, or 300 Franciscans who lived out the Gospel through obedience, and strove to lay next to Lady Poverty? Anyone who knows even a little bit knows that the latter is preferable. The state of religious orders pre-Vatican II was not sustainable in the sense that once an Order is removed from the vision of the founder, the Rule, or their charism, they cease to yield fruit.
As for Francis; “the Rule is to observe the Gospel in obedience”. He would be fine with Vatican II, and he would recognize the Pope as being the Pope. He would greatly enjoy his sons and daughters returning to the Rule. During his time he did several things which some would call strange; moving the tabernacle, not using chant, singing hymns, using local languages. Sede’s would definitely have called him a heretic.
Another issue is the date sede’s pick that there was no longer a valid Pope. Why an arbitrary date on when the Chair became vacant? Why not an earlier date? Why do they accept the liturgical changes to the Divine Office that took place in the early 1900’s? Why do they accept the Extraordinary Form when the one formed at the Council of Trent was based off of the old Franciscan Missal? Do they reject the One Baptism for the forgiveness of sins? Do they re-baptize Anglicans when they come back to Rome? Do they reject the Anglican Use? Do they reject the East, who kept their liturgical traditions when they came back centuries ago? Do they believe “west is best”? Do they believe that euro-Catholicism is the only Catholicism?
A lot of questions. At one point someone once mentioned that there was “sede Francians”. Seriously, sede Franciscans. It goes without saying that the “sede Franciscans” of have broken from the Rule of Holy Father Francis due to disobedience directed towards the Pope. They have broken the Rule, and their vows. In accordance with the Rule (sealed with a Papal Bull, I may add. Only a Pope may change the Rule) but those sede Franciscans have excommunicated themselves.
Francis would not have accepted the sede position. He would have accepted the results of Vatican II. He would have seen the documents and celebrated that the Orders were returning to their roots, ecstatic that the Church was beginning to take on Franciscan positions and methods when it came to interacting with other faiths. And as always, he would acknowledge the Pope as the successor of Peter.
You would consider him no different than Benedict XVI, because Francis would have followed him. We know this through reading the Rule, and through reading Bonaventure biography of Holy Father Francis. We know this through reading the Franciscan masters such as Duns Scotus. We know this through authentic Franciscan writings and teaching.
This whole post can easily be distilled to a simple concept; in a matter of faith and morals, our current Pope has said “this is how things work”. In an ecumenical council (Vatican II) it was said, in a matter of faith and morals, “this is how things work”.
Vatican II was either;
A) A pastoral council that clarified existing dogma. Same message, same belief, just presented differently. “Here’s H2O, but instead of presenting it as a solid ice cube, here it is the same amount of H2O, but in liquid format”. Because it was a group of bishops publicly teaching doctrine of the Faith, it was an exercise in infallibility.
B) Any new dogma declared with the bishops and Pope using a council is an exercise in infallibility.
C) Both of the above.
Either way; the council was infallible. The Pontiff has spoken. Assent is required. Which is roughly what Pope Benedict XVI and the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith are saying.
In the end, the guy I was talking to called me a liar. He said that I didn’t know what I was talking about when it came to Francis. Am I liar? Of course not. What I am is a scholar of the Franciscan school and mendicant spirituality, and one with the Vicar of Christ, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI. If you get one thing from reading these 2500+ words, it’s this; stay home with Rome, and follow the Pope. He has the keys.
*Postscript #1: This post was written in 2012, during a time period in which I was seriously discerning the Secular Franciscans, and being mentored by an expert in Franciscan spirituality. The Franciscans refer to St. Francis of Assisi as “Holy Father Francis”, which I began doing during that time period in my discernment process. I was born on his Feast day, I came back to the Church thanks to a conference run by his “sons”, I owe my life to his intercession. Considering my experiences with my own father (which you can read about on this website), it should come as no surprise that as I discerned joining and studied the Franciscan masters under my mentor that I began to refer to Francis in the same way they did.
You fast forward four years, we now have a Pope Francis, who everyone calls “Holy Father Francis”. Which for non-Franciscans, could cause some confusion wen Franciscans refer to *their* Francis with the same title. Since then I’ve started calling him St. Francis again, ironically, to avoid confusion. That and my discernment process appears to have led me down a different path.
**Postscript #2: There has been some confusion as to why I used Baptism of Desire when talking about Lewis, who was Baptized as an Anglican. I used Lewis as an example of someone who many say died “outside the Church”, and that in a millisecond during the time of his death there stood a possibility he may have embraced the fullness of Truth. At the time of writing (2012), many sedes who I talked to at the time firmly believed Lewis is in Hell, full stop. The “Baptism of Desire” was used as a reference that if near the time of death if one had the desire for the fullness of Truth, they could receive mercy. To me, at the time, it seemed like an analogous comparison, not a literal one. Could it have been phrased better? Yes. However in this sense, I was using the term “Baptism of Desire” to explain something in the same way that people use being “baptized in the Holy Spirit” – obviously you’re not getting re-baptized, but “baptism” is used nevertheless in the term, it’s used as a descriptor, not a literal second Baptism. In the future, I’ll be more mindful regarding my analogies and metaphors, to once again avoid confusion.