Guest Post: A Friendly Challenge to Robert Siscoe

From frequent combox contributor, “Smith.”

A Friendly Challenge To Robert Siscoe

I have the book True or False Pope, and have read it a couple of times. I think it is literally monumental; an extremely scholarly work, upon which extraordinary diligence has been exercised.
In spite of the huge respect I have for it I must admit that there were a very few assertions made therein that seemed to me to be lacking the necessary support of fact and/or logic.
One of these was the claim that, once a pope is accepted with moral unanimity of the Church, that very fact guarantees the validity of his election.
For the sake of furthering public debate, with a view to clarifying this issue, I think myself obligated to rebut this position.
I will not be preaching or pontificating here, just stating what seem to be facts, and questioning your position.
Let me say beforehand that I am personally quite comfortable with the situation in the Church, only insofar as it does not in the least shake my Faith. Moreover, it is perfectly clear to me that the infallibility and indefectibility of the Church, and all Her dogmas, are perfectly safe regardless of whether Francis is really a pope or not. There are perfectly good arguments, in either eventuality, to show that neither case impugns the fact that the Catholic Church is the true Church.
That means that I have no emotional investment levering me toward one conclusion or the other.
Let me begin.
If I have your position correct, the guts of it all is this:
1) Assertion: It is a dogma that once a pope is accepted with moral unanimity by the Church, he is a valid pope, regardless of any antecedent irregularities.
A) It was defined as such by Martin V (Dz 674)
B) It is the unanimous teaching of the Church’s theologians
2) The arguments of said theologians run as follows:
A) M — Dz 674 is infallible; it is a dogma that once a pope is accepted with moral unanimity by the Church, he is a valid pope, regardless of any antecedent irregularities.
m — Francis has been accepted with moral unanimity
c — Francis is the pope
B) M — If the Church were mistaken about a rule of faith it would not be infallible, and we know that cannot happen due to Christ’s promise that the gates of hell would not prevail against Her.
m — The pope is the rule of faith.
c — In saying Francis is pope, the Church is not mistaken.
3) All this means that it is a heresy to say that Francis is not a real pope.
I respond:
Firstly, and by far most importantly, it is utterly impossible that a determination of the *present* juridical status of anyone can be a matter of divine Faith. The thing itself is obviously not comprehended among the two primary objects of Faith; matters of doctrine and morals. It is simply a question of present juridical validity. For instance, it is certainly not recorded in either Scripture or Tradition (which obviously concern the past) that Francis is a real pope. Neither has any past pope (again, obviously!) declared that Francis’ election has been valid.
But your contention is not this, but that it is a matter of the *secondary* object of Faith; that is, you say it is a dogmatic fact. But this does not work for present popes, only past ones. Why? A dogmatic fact is one that is so connected to a *primary* fact of faith that, without it, that primary fact becomes impossible. In the present question, we can take as an example the dogmatic fact that Pius IX was a real pope. Why is this a matter of divine Faith? There are two reasons:
First and most important is that he himself defined the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. If he wasn’t a real pope, that is no longer, and never was, a dogma. If the Church were to come to believe a “dogma” through a supposed solemn papal declaration that never occurred because the supposed pope was not a pope at all, it wouldn’t be a dogma, so the Church would be in error on a matter supposed to be infallible, thus the Church would be fallible, which would mean the Church had defected.
Secondly, the indefectibility of the Church is a primary dogma, but that requires an unbroken line of popes, because a pope is an essential requirement in the constitution of the Church as such, as decreed by Divine Law. If Pius IX were not a true pope, the line of succession would have been broken (especially considering his long reign).
But there HAVE been interregnums, and no one knows exactly how long one could last before it constitutes a break in the line. It could be as long as a generation, and probably not longer. But therefore, as long as a *current* putatative pope reigns, there is the possibility that his election was invalid, regardless of universal acceptance. If he is a fraud, and exposed as such, there is no great difficulty in reversing all his “papal” acts. Therefore, none of his acts can be a matter of dogmatic fact; there are no dogmas whatever that depend on *the present pope* being a valid pope. Neither can his standing as a link in the unbroken chain of popes be definitively established, because if he is not a real pope then, even assuming that Benedict XVI is not still the pope, we are simply in an interregnum. Thus the current pope’s validity cannot be a matter of dogmatic fact in that regard either.
MAJOR POINT: The designation of dogmatic fact as to the validity of a papal election can only apply to *past* popes.
Your Assertion (1) is faulty on both counts (both A and B)
Re/ 1,A — It was most certainly not defined as a dogma by Martin V that a pope accepted with moral unanimity by the Church is definitely a valid pope, because:
Firstly, ALL dogmas must be stated in clear terms as to what exactly is being defined (Cartechini, De Valore, ch. 3, part I, Tradibooks ed.). But Dz 674 does not do so. It says that a Hussite recanting of his heresy must be asked: “Whether he believes that a pope, canonically elected, who lived for a time, his proper name being expressed, is the successor of Blessed Peter…”
What exactly does “who lived for a time” (quo tempore fuerit) mean?
Literally it means “in the time which he *was* [pope]”. This probably is referring to former popes, excluding the present one. In any case, it is not clear what we are being asked to believe here. As Cartechini says: “Lex dubia nulla est” (a doubtful law is null).
There are many other reasons that I could quote from Cartechini to show that Dz 674 cannot be a dogma, but I don’t want to get bogged down in details right now. Let me just add a quote from your own book, True or False Pope, p. 440, footnote 8: “A dogma…means a clear cut proposal, as we have previously explained…”
Secondly, there is grave question as to whether Francis was “canonically elected”. In fact, that’s the whole thrust of the Substantial Error argument; that he was NOT canonically elected. Dz 674 then, far from militating against that position, actually supports it, since it requires canonical regularity in an election of a valid pope.
Re/ assertion 1,B — I would like to know how one can speak of the “unanimous teaching of theologians”. You only cite five. How does such a small number constitute unanimity? Besides, excepting John of St. Thomas, all these theologians were active in modern times; there is no real theological tradition on this point, so far as I am aware, and without it we cannot speak of unanimity in any meaningful sense.
Firstly, your citation of Berry is not to the point, because the context of his discussion concerns PAST popes, not present ones. Scratch Berry. He seems to support my position, not yours.
Secondly, your citations of Van Noort:
The first citation clearly also addresses past popes, not present ones.
The second one does indeed concern present popes. His book was published in 1957, and therefore written before that, and Pius XII died in October of 1958. Here, Van Noort claims that Pius XII is guaranteed to be a valid pope by the infallible Ordinary Magisterium, as follows:
“The Church possesses infallibility not only when she is defining some matters in solemn fashion, but also when she is exercising the full weight of her authority through her ordinary and universal teaching. Consequently, we must hold with an absolute assent, which we call ‘ecclesiastical faith,’ the following theological truths:..Pius XII is the legitimate successor of St. Peter.”
Most unfortunately, there is a completely irredeemable and fatal flaw of fact in this reasoning. What Van Noort seems to forget here is that the Universal Ordinary Infallible Magisterium requires universality not only in space, but in time. In other words, the bishops’ unanimous teaching of a particular truth must be not only something they, worldwide, are agreed on NOW, but also something which they have Traditionally always agreed upon.
In support of this I have to adduce your OWN exposition of this fact, given in True or False Pope, pp. 439ff, in particular p. 440: “Ordinary acts of the magisterium…to be considered as belonging to the Church’s [infallible] teaching…are infallible only insofar as they fit into the constant teaching…reflect or echo the permanent teaching and unchanging Faith of the Church.” (Canon Berthod)
I am afraid that this does not at all jive with Van Noort’s exposition. You have to pick one or the other; it’s either Van Noort or your own opinion as supported by other authorities. Since your teaching in ToFP is consonant with the Old Catholic Encyclopedia article, Infallibility (V. 7, p. 800), which you also cite, not to mention many other authorities that could prove that this is the Traditional teaching of the Church on the OUM, I suggest you go with Tradition, and your own previous position, and chuck Van Noort here.
So scratch Van Noort too. It seems you aren’t even sure if you agree with him.
What about your next theologian, Card. Billot?
His thesis certainly supports your position. (NVP: perhaps not. It seems ++Billot was selectively quoted)
Let’s move on to Cardinal Journet.
First of all, let’s just note that he’s not exactly a paragon among theologians. And though he had the reputation of being conservative in his day, he went along with Vatican II. Call that an ad hominem if you want, but aside from that, while the quote you give from him does indeed support your position, so far as I can see, it really offers no arguments, or even authorities, just assertions. I find the citation valueless. I could explain why in detail, but I think the reader should not be subjected to such a waste of time.
Cardinal Journet is on your side too then, though I think his opinion here is worthless.
So far, I believe that theologians are *not* unanimous in agreeing with your position. We are about to find that John of St. Thomas most likely is not on your side either. If I am right, we have a grand total of two theologians that support your contention.
Now what about John of St. Thomas?
An examination of the quotes you cite from him reveals that most of his argument hinges upon a seeming presumption that the teaching of Martin v in Dz 674 is de fide.
I want to keep this as short as possible, leaving details for later if necessary, so I’m going to stab at the vitals of the matter.
1) That Dz 674 is simply not de fide, I’ve explained above. It is doubtful if John of St. Thomas even claims Dz 674 is infallible. Since he seems to be speaking of past popes, not current ones, the basic perennially known dogma of the indefectibility of the Church could be the dogma he is referring to, and he may only quote Dz 674 as support for this.
2) If he claims that universal acceptance guarantees validity, John’s whole treatment speaks not of a presently reigning pope, but only of past ones.
As to the second point, let me give a few quotes:
Quote 1: “we discuss whether or not it is de fide that this specific person, who *has been* legitimately elected…”
Note the past tense. And please don’t suggest that it is past *progressive*, thus implying something that has occurred and is continuing up to the present. I do not have John’s original Latin text, but I don’t need it in order to eliminate this possibility. I don’t need it because there is no such *thing* as a past progressive tense in Latin. This is past tense, period.
Quote 2: “It is immediately of divine faith that this man in particular, lawfully elected and accepted by the Church (past tense), is the supreme pontiff…”
One may say that the present tense “is” in the last clause qualifies the entire statement as speaking of a pope that *was* elected, but is *presently* pope. That would be hasty. Latin has no articles. Therefore, “is *the* supreme pontiff” could just as legitimately be rendered as “is *a* supreme pontiff”. The first usage would imply that we are speaking of the pontiff currently reigning. The second that we are speaking of pontiffs in general, and thus possibly past cases only. This quote is not clear enough to show anything.
As an aside, note also that, in the following context, John says “although it [the certainty of validity of election] is made much more manifest…when de facto the pope defines something.”
And you yourself correctly comment on this: “the Pope acts as the rule of faith only when he defines a doctrine to be believed by faith.” In other words, when he makes a solemn, ex cathedra definition of a dogma.
This last observation is pertinent to my point above, that it could only be a dogmatic fact that a *current* pope is a valid pope if he *has* at some time already made a dogmatic definition, as did Pius IX or others. Otherwise, all bets are off, since the only other way is for him to pass away and be dead for some decent length of time.
Quote 3: “…this matter — namely, whether a particular man has been (past tense) lawfully elected and canonically established (past tense) as the rule of faith — is something that the Church can determine as a truth of faith.”
This clearly means that the Church can determine as a truth of faith (more exactly, as a dogmatic fact), that a *past* pope has been a real pope. Again, I say this is simply because the indefectibility of the Church requires an unbroken succession of popes. It is not because Dz 674 is a dogma; Dz 674 merely gives authoritative support to that dogma, which has always existed in the Church.
Given the facts about the quotes just given, let’s come back to Cardinal Billot’s teaching.
As far as I can tell, he truly does think that the valid election of a *present* pope is a dogmatic fact. As I believe I have definitively shown, that is completely impossible. Therefore, Cardinal Billot is just plain wrong.
We have to admit that he is one theologian who is clearly on your side.
One could speculate that he read John of St. Thomas with an ultramontane prejudice. After all, he was a Jesuit, and of the good old school. He no doubt took very seriously that fourth vow of the Jesuits: to serve the pope in whatever way asked. And he was asked to serve as a papal theologian. It is not at all hard to imagine that he just went overboard a bit here.
I have completely ignored John of St. Thomas’ discussion concerning whether lack of the necessary conditions for a papal election could invalidate it. This is because I see nothing wrong whatever in his treatment — whether here or elsewhere — PROVIDED we are speaking of a pope who has already passed into history.
I conclude that it is an extravagant statement to say it is a heresy to deny that Francis is pope. While it is in normal times not prudent to question the validity of a papal election, these are most certainly not normal times, and there are very good reasons to question this one in particular. All the faithful should feel no scruples in doing so, provided they do so with prudence, with serious and objective reasons, and out of a love of the Church.
I would be very interested to hear your sed contra, if any. As I said, I am not stuck on the Substantial Error theory, or any other. I must say, however, that I don’t presently see how it is even POSSIBLE to mount a serious argument against my MAJOR POINT. I would find it fascinating to be proven wrong.
Thank you once again for that excellent book, True or False Pope.

21 thoughts on “Guest Post: A Friendly Challenge to Robert Siscoe”

  1. Thank you for this excellent post. I am impressed by the arguments that devout souls are keeping before the public.
    I can barely keep up, but it is heartening to see that truth seekers keep on and do not give up. It is so important to know the truth.

  2. Thank you Smith. And N. V. P.
    We’ll see how S3—the Salzacoejek—responds after having just been spanked by His Excellency Gracida.
    Meanwhile I say “Rejoice in the Lord Alway, and again—“
    Rejoice, O Virgin Mary, alone thou hast destroyed all heresies!
    Happy Annunciation, the Feast of the Greatest event in Human History.

  3. It seems to me that a good analogy here is a marriage that observed all the apparent canonical norms and was accepted by all those known by the couple, but was later found to be invalid due to lack of proper intention or other defect that was not known at the time. Because of its defects, the marriage never actually took place, even though it appeared to do so.

  4. THAT’S HOW you will become SAINTS
    not some kind of wishy washy limpy whatever……

    1. You are correct. I picked that up from other people when I was a kid. Nice to get old bad habits busted!

  5. Dear Non Veni Pacem,
    I am happy to respond to Smith’s objections, but I would like to contact you directly first. Will you please provide me with your e-mail address?
    Thank you,
    Robert Siscoe

      1. BTW, Robert, since you have seen this post, you will probably see this comment.
        Just wanted to let you know that I originally tried to email this post to you at your trueorfalsepope address, and it got bounced. I didn’t want to post this as a sort of open letter without notifying you of that intention, but I wasn’t able to contact you.

  6. Well, Mr. Siscoe has not responded yet.
    That is all right. One telltale sign that you’re dealing with someone who is not to be taken seriously is that you posit to that person a serious question that requires careful research and thought, and they just fire something back at you right away.
    I know that Mr. Siscoe is a serious person, so I am happy to exercise a little patience.
    In the meantime, it seemed to me that it might be useful to give a whittled down and hopefully refined version of my position, as follows:
    The essential argument that a morally unanimous acceptation of a PRESENT presumed pope *cannot* make the validity of his election a dogmatic fact.
    1) Dogmas as such are the primary facts of Faith, and the direct and proper object of infallibility.
    2) Dogmatic facts are those that are so connected to a *primary* fact of Faith that, without them, that primary fact becomes impossible.
    3) Therefore, both dogmas themselves as well as dogmatic facts are matters of divine Faith.
    4) But only matters of Faith and morals can be dogmas.
    5) Therefore dogmatic facts, since they merely support dogmas, are also restricted to matters of Faith and morals.
    6) Now, that a PRESENT presumed pope is a real and valid pope cannot be a matter for dogma as such; a pope’s validity is not *directly* a matter of Faith or morals. All dogmas are immutable truths contained in either Scripture or Tradition, that, in their origins, go back to Christ Himself or the death of the last apostle at the latest, and obviously a question as to the juridical status of a present presumed pope cannot be contained in either of those sources.
    7) However, that a PAST presumed pope was in fact a real pope, while it is not a matter of dogma, since it was not taught from Apostolic times, it can be a dogmatic fact, and that in two ways:
    a) A past pope has made an ex cathedra definition of a dogma, or has approved a dogmatic definition of a Council. In this case, since the pope has the supreme teaching authority in the Church, those definitions are only valid definitions if the pope who approved them is a valid pope. Since the dogmas defined are immutable truths, it is also immutably true that the pope who defined them was a real pope; it is a dogmatic fact that this pope was real.
    b) It is a dogma that the Church is indefectible. Since the pope is an essential constituent of the Church, if the line of popes were to break, so would the Church; the Church would defect, or fail. That means that, excepting interregnums, there must always be a real pope.
    8) Problem: When an interregnum becomes so long as to become no longer an interregnum, but a break in the line, has never been defined. It has been suggested that an interregnum might last as long as a lifetime.
    9) One thing is certain, however: The validity of a PRESENT pope can never be a matter of either dogma or dogmatic fact, because:
    a) NO past or present pope’s validity falls into the domain of dogma as such, though a past pope’s can be a matter of dogmatic fact, as explained above.
    b) No present presumed pope’s validity can fall into the domain even only of dogmatic fact, because:
    i) If a present presumed pope “succeeds” to the “pontificate” by fraud, such that the previous pope is still pope, there is clearly no interregnum; there IS a pope, but the real pope is simply not the presumed one.
    ii) If the present presumed pope is fraudulent, and steps into a *vacant* papal see, there is an interregnum indeed, but that interregnum could arguably last a generation or even more.
    iii) It is argued that, since the pope is “the rule of faith”, the faithful must know who the pope is, or there will be no rule for them, and they must have one. But since the Faith per se is dogmas, and nothing but dogmas, the only time that a pope is the rule of faith is when he is defining a dogma. Most popes have never defined any dogmas. Moreover, if an impostor pope were to make a “dogmatic” declaration ex cathedra, that would STILL not prove he was a real pope. Why? Very simple. If he is not a valid pope he cannot validly make any definitions at all. If he is not IN cathedra, he cannot define anything ex cathedra. The reality of a papal definition obviously depends on that the person making it is really papal; only a real pope defines real dogmas; the validity of the pope has to be shown before the validity of the dogma is shown.

    1. He asked me to publish his formal reply on, which I agreed to do but also warning of my intention to editorialize whichever portions I disagreed with. He then probed a few questions, which I responded and I’m sure he didn’t like my answers. He never did send me the formal reply to your arguments, so here we sit.

  7. Well, doc, if by ‘editorialize’ you mean inserting comments or refutations to his arguments, I can’t say I blame him. You did do one editorial comment on *my* original post, adding that part about NVP’s claim of quoting Billot out of context. I appreciated that because I wasn’t aware of what NVP said, otherwise I might have included it…then again, on review of their claim I might also have disagreed that it was a true claim :o)
    Anyway, since you and I seem to be basically on each other’s “side” — though IMHO no one ought to have a “side” except that of the truth — it would seem that your editorializations would have the effect of tilting the playing field against Mr. Siscoe. I surely couldn’t agree to that. Personally I would have thought it better to let him have his unaltered say, then if you or anybody else wanted, to make objections after the fact.
    It is, however, your blog, and though I see nothing wrong in making suggestions, I wouldn’t dream of telling you how to run it.
    Agedum, et Deus benedicat!

  8. So far I have not seen, in this or any other venue, Siscoe or anyone else address my objections to the “(Present) Universal Acceptance” theory. Is this a case of Ignorantio Elenchi (ignoring the argument)? And if so, is this because no one really has an argument?

    1. I sent Siscoe an email yesterday and he agreed to send me his rebuttal for posting, as I agreed to post it without editorial comment. Stay tuned.

  9. Well, I’ve stayed tuned for over ten days, but the station isn’t broadcasting.
    Could it be that Mr. Siscoe is conceding?
    Even then, surely there must be some details, at least, that could be quibbled over?

        1. He posted the reply last week on (Siscoe and Salza site). See if you can find it, I don’t have time at the moment. He did send it to me first, but I’ve been caught up in a household move and business travel all month.

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