Ultrapapalism is the other side of the coin of Sedevacantism

I extend my compliments to Fr. Hunwicke today for an excellent observation at his excellent blog Mutual Enrichment.

Here is an excerpt from the post I have in mind. You can read the whole thing there:

Two very brief pointers.

(1) Sedevacantism is the other side of the coin of Ultrapapalism (Hyperbergoglioism?) expressed by a number of the undesirables who surround the Holy Father. In each case, there is the same erroneous major premise.

The Pope is a demigod;
Bergoglio is clearly not a demigod;
Therefore Bergoglio is not pope.

The Pope is a demigod;
Bergoglio is pope;
Therefore Bergoglio is a demigod.

BOTH ARE HERESIES contrary to the teaching of Vatican I about the papal office.

(2) Whichever of the many forms of sedevacantism you are tempted by, subject it to the Pope Honorius Test. He was condemned by an Ecumenical Council and anathematised by a successor. But can anyone produce any evidence that the Council, or any subsequent popes who condemned him, or any reputable ecclesistical writer, has ever argued that Honorius had ceased to be Pope at the moment when he acted heretically?

Whether or not you like Bergoglio, he is, beyond any shadow of doubt, the Pope.

Well done.

I will add, Ultrapapalism is the other side of the coin of Sedevacantism .

Furthermore, former-Father Greg Reynolds is still excommunicated.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. JRP says:

    To be completely fair, Bellarmine’s opinion on this subject should not be ignored: I’m sure the good Father is aware of it, but it’s unfair to gloss over it just because his arguments have never, to my knowledge, been adequately translated into English.

  2. Matthew Gaul says:

    Problem is, at least in the English-speaking church, ultrapapalism and centralism are *deeply* ingrained in many folks’ self-identity as “Romans.”

    As soon as “one of their guys” gets into the Chair of Peter, the old “loyal to Rome” rhetorical whuppin’ stick comes back out. Mods and trads just hand the stick back and forth.

    The great windowing of western liturgical rites in the last 500 years, plus the smallness of the world now, are the main – but not the only – reasons.

    The Latin Church would benefit from more intermediary institutions, both geographically universal (like the Ordinariate and the personal prelature(s) ), and also regional (more local rites and uses, etcetera).

    Having 95% of Catholics the world over on the same rite and without an intermediary patriarch or other distinction between them is certainly not reflective of the conservative diversitarianism prior to Quo Primum.

    Uniformitarianism helped to birth ultrapapalism.

  3. Matthew Gaul says:

    Darn auto-correct. I meant “winnowing.” :-)

  4. benedetta says:

    Matthew Gaul’s thoughtful comment reminds me of something I was considering the other day watching Gov. Andrew Cuomo give a comment to Fox News’ Jesse Watters outside the DNC convention floor. (I know, I know, but that guy’s back and forth with people is hilarious plus I have a teenage guy at home what can I say…) Anyway, Gov. Cuomo said something startling, that municipalities had the right at any time to just disregard/openly defy federal law. I am one who detests utilizing the contemporary American political polarities and scene to define and analogize to Church issues however in this case it does strike me with respect to what M Gaul says and it’s not too far out of the realm given that US jurisprudence certainly historically owes its existence to canon law and Roman law before that. I find it interesting that during the Reagan et al years there was much assertion of state’s rights but now one only hears about the power of the federal government to have its way. And yet again it seems that it is now also fashionable to say that not only that historic back and forth but that municipalities can just thumb its nose to both at will…It is interesting though to consider what could be, or what alternatives, flexibility, or say the larger framework may withstand or help flourish.

  5. Mike says:

    To be completely fair, Bellarmine’s opinion on this subject should not be ignored . . .

    Agreed, nor Suarez’, which together (as I read them) boil down to saying that
    (a) it is possible for any occupant of the Chair of Peter, while in office, to forfeit the papacy through heresy;
    (b) it is not for any one of us unilaterally to declare the Chair of Peter vacant, however much—or however frequently—one is tempted to do so.

  6. LovedSinner says:

    I agree with this article, Fr. Z. Although I will add that when we disagree with the Holy Father, we should do so respectfully.

    By the way, you may know this Fr. Z., but Lord Acton, whom the Acton Institute is named after, invented the quote “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

    Furthermore this quote was invented when Lord Acton talked about the aftermath of Vatican I and Papal Infallibility. Lord Acton opposed Vatican I, and he opposed Papal Infallibility, but he stayed a Catholic even after his side lost. Presumably he gritted his teeth and even reluctantly agreed with the Council too, after it became a matter of faith that he must agree. That must have been so hard for him.

  7. Luvadoxi says:

    Hi Mike–that’s interesting–who does have the right to declare the Chair vacant though? Just wondering if they addressed this.

  8. Gerard Plourde says:

    The Honorious Test also has the following wrinkle. He was condemned for supposedly personally having favored Monothelitism (although this may disputed because the solution he backed was the compromise of Monoenergism, a concept that was not actually defined). He never issued anything that favored Monothelitism. One could argue that he therefore never preached heresy and that the Council of Constntinople’s judgment was related solely to his reported personal belief. Finally, I t should also be noted that the Council was not attended by the Pope personally and that Pope Leo, who accepted the decision of the council, took great pains to make it clear that in accepting the council’s condemnation of Honorius, he did so not because Honorius taught heresy, but because he was not active enough in opposing it.)

  9. JMody says:

    Fr. Z, I’m not sure how to ask this in a way that reflects undeniable faithfulness, charity and mere healthy curiosity, so I will settle for blunt — how does the Church deal with today’s situation where we claim we have a Pope and a Pope Emeritus, which is not sedevacantism, but just whites it? My understanding is that the previous “retiree” went into seclusion, but also gave up all trappings, titles, etc., went back to his given name and lived as a simple monk. Benedict XVI has not done this. Does this change anything with respect to papal infallibility? Does this charism extend to both men? Has it been retained by Benedict until he forsakes all things papal?

  10. lairdangusmcangus says:

    Let me add one small addendum to my above comment. I said that I was “astonished.” That isn’t really the right word. In truth, I am heartbroken.

    I converted to Roman Catholicism 6 years ago. It has become central to my life. I feel so blessed to have been guided into the Faith by the Holy Spirit and by the example of great Catholics like Pope Saint John Paul II, Father Malachi Martin, Mother Teresa, and others. The saints are my constant companions, especially Thomas the Apostle, Teresa of Avila, Raphael and Michael, Mary Magdalene, Jude, Teresa of Lisieux, Joseph and Anthony. I am consecrated to Our Lady, and everything I have is hears.

    But I am not blind to the crisis the Church is facing or to its enemies within. Under John Paul II and Benedict XVI, I felt confident that, at the very least, Peter was with us. With this Pope, I genuinely believe that he would sell all of us to the Powers of this World, not (necessarily) out of malice but out of a terribly misguided personal character.

    What will it take for this man to fulfill the apostolic mantle and DEFEND us, DEFEND our faith? Does he speak with Jesus and Mary? How does he answer to them when he fails to defend his own priests against heretical savages who defile the mass with blood and blasphemy?

  11. JabbaPapa says:

    But can anyone produce any evidence that the Council, or any subsequent popes who condemned him, or any reputable ecclesistical writer, has ever argued that Honorius had ceased to be Pope at the moment when he acted heretically?

    Such would have occurred only if the heretical action or statement carried a penalty of automatic excommunication latae sententiae, surely, which in most cases is not true.

    Sad indeed to live in such times when even a prudent Catholic should need to seriously ponder this question …

  12. WesleyD says:


    The pope’s powers and the charisms granted to him aren’t affected by names or uniforms. The next pope could decide to keep his birth name and wear a tuxedo, while giving white vestments to all the cardinals. This would be a horrible decision, but it wouldn’t affect the pope’s powers of order, magisterium, or jurisdiction. So while one can certainly question the prudence of Ratzinger/Benedict’s choice of name and vestments, these choices don’t change the fact that he resigned the papacy.

    I think that the media is partially responsible for the confusion, because they refer to Benedict as “the pope emeritus”. But that’s a mixture of English and Latin. It would be better to keep the whole title in Latin (papa emeritus) or translate the whole title into English (retired pope). After all, in Latin “emeritus” simply means “retired”. In the classical era, it was most commonly used for veterans. And as everyone knows, a retired colonel who fought valiantly for his country deserves our deepest respect — but he is not saluted, nor is he in the chain of command. In just the same way, a retired pope (papa emeritus) has absolutely no power of jurisdiction or magisterium.

    Finally, even if Benedict tomorrow were to go insane and claim to be the true pope with powers of jurisdiction and magisterium, he would still have no power. Papal resignations are carefully described in the Code of Canon Law (both the 1917 code and the 1983 code), and it is clear from the canons that such a resignation cannot be revoked at a later time. Indeed, if a Catholic chose to recognize Benedict as the pope after 28 February 2013, that would be just as much an act of rebellion as it would have been to not recognize him as pope before 28 February 2013, since the act of resignation was made by Benedict when he did possess the fullness of papal authority!

  13. WesleyD says:

    lairdangusmcangus wrote:

    In truth, I am heartbroken.

    I have felt the same way, far too often, during the last three years.

    But I try to remind myself that Jesus, not the pope, must be the center of my heart. Fr. Z’s post above (quoting Fr. Hunwicke) said it very well — the pope is not a demigod, and when we make him one in our hearts, we are misunderstanding the Church.

    Why is God permitting the Church to pass through this time of trial? I don’t know. Perhaps he is testing us. Perhaps Cardinal Sarah will be elected the next pope and be followed by many decades of equally wonderful Holy Fathers. Or perhaps the next pope will be wonderful, and then the pope after him will be even worse — another Honorius or Liberius or Alexander VI or Julius III — and yet Catholics will be able to survive that papacy by remembering the lesson of this current trial: popes come and go, while Christ’s Church remains. Or maybe Francis is being used by God to reach out to Catholic liberals and open their eyes to the importance of eucharistic adoration, Marian devotion, fervent prayer, the all-male priesthood, and the plan for marriage built into the male and female bodies [these are all points on which Francis is very orthodox and plainspoken, to the dismay of liberal Catholics], and then after many liberals have their eyes opened, God will bring them back to the fullness of the faith. I don’t know.

    But I keep thinking of the end of Chesterton’s The Everlasting Man, where he lists several times that the Church, had she been a human institution, would have died. She has survived worse crises than this one.

  14. lairdangusmcangus says:


    There is no such thing as a “liberal Catholic.” Liberals by definition embrace the modernist heresy–the mother of all heresies. There are only liberals who pretend to be Catholic.

    Our Church would be much better, much stronger if they all just left. They do not revere Christ and His Mother. They are not in communion with the Saints. They do not accept the historical teachings of the Church. They openly advocate infanticide, blasphemy, perversity, and degeneracy. They are not Catholics. They are not even Christians.

    It pains me to say this, but it is the plain truth. The Church is shrinking–fine, let it shrink faster. Let it shrink down to those who truly believe and are obedient to it. Maybe then–once our parishes are populated only by those who truly follow Christ–we can finally get our Churchmen back in line.

  15. BenjaminiPeregrinus says:

    I have to say, when I first became Catholic 15 years ago now I had an exaggerated understanding of the papacy. Over time I gradually moved to what I now believe is the authentically Catholic understanding. I think one possible fruit of the current papacy is that many will stop treating the pope as an idol and demigod.
    The same Idea of Sedevacantism and HyperSuperUltraMontenism being 2 sides of the same coin occurred to me a couple of years back https://benjaminiperegrinus.wordpress.com/2013/09/20/can-the-pope-be-a-heretic/
    I quite agree with Fr. Hunwicke.

  16. Uxixu says:

    I would respectfully dispute Matthew Gaul in one important aspect: it was completely contrary to the intent of both the Council of Trent and Quo Primum on the ‘winnowing’ of the western Church, which specifically allowed for those Rites and uses older than 200 years. As Fr. Bonniwell O.P. pointed out in his history of the Dominican Rite, Rome always went to great lengths to allow diversity in the liturgy, quite unlike the East where the Byzantine way was the only way.

    To paraphrase, he points out how Cardinal Bona spoke of the Catholic Church as a flower garden, beautiful for its diversity, with the flowers being various rites. Rome quite specifically not only allowed diversity in her own Patriarchate with variation of her own Rite (as seen with Sarum, Carthusian, and others) but also legislated to protect divergent rites such as the Gallican, Ambrosian, and Mozarbic.

    The Dominican Rite, specifically, preserved the ancient Roman Office and many elements of the Mass of the 12th to 13th centuries which perpetuated great treasures from antiquity, even if they weren’t suited for to be retained universally [sounds familiar!], as was also common in the Uses of Lyons, Paris, and Salisbury, among others. It was not the intention of St. Pius V that these venerable uses be discontinued, though they could not prevent them from Romanizing as they would later wish.

    Uniformity in the West was not caused by Quo Primum nearly so much as by Divino Afflatu, which left no room for ancient traditions hundreds of years older than that of Trent, and that uniformity mentality was only amplified in the dreaded “Spirit of Vatican II.”

    Regional differentiation should not be embraced though. As Fortescue demonstrated, Rome always went to great lengths to avoid national and ethnic churches for the obvious problems that result, chiefly conflation of ethnic and/or national identity with orthodoxy… this has always been prevalent in the East, under the Basileus and Sultan, though most manifest recently as autocephaly.

    The best solution is to retrace our steps back to Quo Primum.

  17. Mike says:

    . . . who does have the right to declare the Chair vacant though?

    Nineteenth-century American canonist Reverend S. B. Smith is quoted as saying, “Both [Bellarmine’s and Suarez’] opinions agree that [a heretical pope] must at least be declared guilty of heresy by the church, i.e., by an ecumenical council or the College of Cardinals.”

    Father Smith quickly adds “The question is hypothetical rather than practical,” which seems a reasonable interpretation given the tumult of the Counter-Reformation era (and our own).

  18. Filipino Catholic says:

    Related to the right to declare a vacancy of the Petrine chair — it might also be good to remember that there have been many examples of the sitting pontiff being called out on various matters by his contemporaries. From St. Paul scolding St. Peter for acting the hypocrite, to St. Catherine of Siena writing more frankly to Gregory XI than many would ever dare today, to Fra Girolamo Savonarola outright blasting Alexander VI — just because the pope is the pope does not mean he is above correction.

    Again I would say there ought to be a position to fill the shoes of St. Paul, someone to withstand the Successor of Peter to his face whenever he is worthy of reproach.

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