Sedevacantism and the Manifest Heretic
by Robert J. Siscoe
In this three part series, we will consider the question of loss of Papal office due to manifest heresy. We will consider the question in light of distinctions that are often overlooked, but which are critical when considering this question. We will look at some historical examples that have a bearing on the current situation in the Church, such as prelates who taught heresy publicly, and see how the Church and their contemporaries reacted at the time. We’ll consider the opinion of theologians regarding the loss of Papal office due to manifest heresy, and see how such a situation would be dealt with in practice. We will also consider two historical examples of popes who were considered by their contemporaries to have fallen into heresy: one was accused of being an unbeliever who purchased the Papal See through simony, and the other seemed so heretical that he was deposed and replaced by a new pope while still living. We will see what, if anything, these examples tell us about the sedevacantist position.
Internal and External Bonds of the Church
Let us begin by considering the internal and external bonds that unite a man to the Church. The internal spiritual bonds are the theological virtues (faith, hope and charity), sanctifying grace, and the gifts of the Holy Ghost. The external and visible bonds are profession of the true faith, communion in the same sacraments, and union with the hierarchy, especially the pope, the visible head of the Church.
These internal and external bonds correspond to what St. Robert Bellarmine and various catechisms refer to as the body and soul of the Church. Before proceeding, a word of caution should be mentioned regarding the use of these terms. During the first half of the 20th Century, certain theologians of a more liberal bent began using these terms as signifying two separate Churches. They implied that the Roman Catholic Church, the body, was one Church, while the Mystical Body of Christ, the soul, was a separate Church. The late Msgr. Joseph Clifford Fenton published several articles in The American Ecclesiastical Review in which he strongly resisted this erroneous use of the terms.
Pope Pius XII also reacted to this error in the encyclical Mystici Corporis Christi (1943) and then again in Humani Generis (1950), when he taught that “the Mystical Body of Christ and the Roman Catholic Church are one and the same thing”, and referred to those who were undermining this truth as being “deceived by imprudent zeal for souls”.
The soul and body of the Church should not be understood as two separate beings, or as if the former merely “subsists” in the latter, while at the same time “present and operative” within other religious bodies. Rather, the soul and body are two distinct parts of the one Church of Christ, which is the Roman Catholic Church. Cardinal Ottaviani expressed it as follows: “There is only one true Church of Jesus Christ… The visible Church and the Mystical Body of Christ are one and the same reality considered from different aspects”. (1)
With this cautionary note in mind, it should also be said that the distinction between the body and soul of the Church, when properly understood, can serve as a useful analogy in understanding the nature and being of the one Church, as well as the various bonds, internal and external, which unite a man to the Church. The Catechism of Pope St. Pius X explains the body and soul of the Church as follows:
“Question: In what does the Soul of the Church consist? Answer: The Soul of the Church consists in her internal and spiritual endowments, that is, faith, hope, charity, the gifts of grace and of the Holy Ghost, together with all the heavenly treasures which are hers through the merits of our Redeemer, Jesus Christ, and of the Saints”.
“Question: In what does the Body of the Church consist? Answer. The Body of the Church consists in her external and visible aspect, that is, in the association of her members, in her worship, in her teaching-power and in her external rule and government”.
The internal spiritual bonds unite a man to the soul of the Church, while the visible bonds unite him to the body.
Now, a man can be perfectly or imperfectly united to the body of the Church, and perfectly or imperfectly united to the soul. One is perfectly united to the soul of the Church when he possesses all three theological virtues – faith, hope and charity – and is thereby living the supernatural life of grace. He is imperfectly united to the soul of the Church when he possesses supernatural faith – or faith and hope – but is cut off from the life of grace (e.g. a Catholic in mortal sin). Perfect union with the soul of the Church is absolutely necessary for salvation.
Perfect union with the body of the Church exists when one is a formal member of the Roman Catholic Church. Imperfect union with the body exists when one desires to be joined to the Church (e.g. a Catechumen). The latter is said to be united to the body of the Church in voto (desire), and not in re (in actuality). In certain circumstances, this imperfect union can suffice for salvation. Before proceeding, let us demonstrate this by the following scenario.
Let us imagine a man who was validly baptized in a non-Catholic sect as a child. When he reached adulthood, through prayer and study he arrived at the firm belief that the Roman Catholic Church was the true Church, and immediately began taking instructions from a local Priest. In addition to believing all that the Church taught, during the time of his instruction, but before being formally received into the Church, he received a special grace from God enabling him to make an act of perfect contrition for his past sins, and thereby obtained the state of grace. If the man died in this state before being formally received into the Church, his perfect union with the soul of the Church, combined with his desire and intent to formally enter the body of the Church, would suffice for salvation. Just as the will and intent to sin satisfies the requirement for mortal sin (Mt. 5:28), so too the will and intent to formally join the Church can suffice in place of actual membership in certain circumstances. To conclude this point, in order to be saved, a person must die perfectly united to the soul of the Church (must possess faith, hope and charity), and be united to the body at least in voto.
Matter and Form of Heresy
Material heresy, or the matter of heresy, is a belief that is contrary to a defined dogma – a belief at variance with what a Catholic must accept with divine and Catholic Faith. The matter of heresy exists in the intellect and can be present with innocent ignorance, or with sinful pertinacity in the will.
The form of heresy – what renders an erroneous belief formally heretical – is pertinacity in the will. When a person knowingly rejects a dogma of the faith, or when he willfully doubts a defined dogma, he is guilty of formal heresy in the internal forum (the realm of conscience). And since heresy is contrary to faith, a person who willfully disbelieves a single article of faith immediately loses all supernatural faith. Just as one mortal sin removes all supernatural charity (grace) from the soul, so too a single heresy removes all supernatural faith.
St. Thomas: “Just as mortal sin is contrary to charity, so is disbelief in one article of faith contrary to faith. Now charity does not remain in a man after one mortal sin. Therefore neither does faith, after a man disbelieves one article… Therefore it is clear that such a heretic with regard to one article, has no faith in the other articles, but only a kind of opinion in accordance with his own will”. (2)
A man who is guilty of the sin of heresy immediately loses all supernatural faith; and since faith is the foundation of the supernatural life, when faith is lost, so too are the theological virtues of hope and charity, which, along with faith, unite a man to the soul of the Church. Therefore, when one loses the faith – the foundation of the supernatural life – he is completely severed from the soul of the Church.
However – and this point is important when considering the sedevacantist position – the loss of faith does not, in and of itself, sever a man from the body of the Church. Let me repeat that: A mortal sin against faith does not, in and of itself, sever a man from the body of the Church. And if the man who loses the faith happens to be pope, he does not thereby lose his office. This is a crucial point that is often missed by even the most learned defenders of the sedevacantist position.
Formal heresy in the internal forum only severs a man from the soul of the Church. It requires formal heresy in the external forum to sever a man from the body of the Church and, without getting too far ahead of ourselves, formal heresy in the external forum is declared heresy – either declared by the proper authorities, or else “declared” by the individual himself who becomes a notorious and publicly manifest heretic (more on this point later).
In all the discussions this author has had with defenders of the sedevacantist position, only two have been aware of this important point. All others erroneously believe that the sin of heresy (internal forum), and consequent loss of faith, severed a man from the body of the Church, thereby causing a pope who losses the faith to lose his office.
Why is this point significant? It is significant because a false premise results in erroneous reasoning and often leads to a false conclusion. If one believes that a pope who loses the faith thereby loses his office, even if the pope in question has not openly and clearly denied a defined dogma, they could easily reason their way to the conclusion that a pope who was suspect of heresy had thereby lost his office; or that such a man, who they suspect to have been a heretic prior to his election, was not a valid candidate for the Papacy, since a heretic is not eligible to be elected pope. Yet this would be erroneous reasoning since the loss of faith in and of itself (which is not equivalent to formal heresy in the external forum) does not result in the loss of office; nor does it prevent a man from being validly elected pope since de internis ecclesia non judica (the Church does not judge internals).
In the following quote, the great Jesuit Suarez explains that faith is not absolutely necessary for a man to hold office and retain jurisdiction in the Church. He explains that a pope who is a heretic (internal forum) is indeed cut off from the “substance and form” (the soul) of the Church, but nevertheless remains the visible head of the body, and therefore retains charge and action.
Suarez: “[T]he faith is not absolutely necessary in order that a man be capable of spiritual and ecclesiastical jurisdiction and be able to exercise true acts which demand this jurisdiction …. The foregoing is obvious, granted that, as is taught in the treatises on penance and censures, in case of extreme necessity a priest heretic may absolve, which is not possible without jurisdiction. (…) The Pope heretic is not a member of the Church as far as the substance and form [soul] which constitute the members of the Church; but he is the head as far as the charge and action; and this is not surprising, since he is not the primary and principal head who acts by his own power, but is as it were instrumental, he is the vicar of the principal head, who is able to exercise his spiritual action over the members even by means of a head of bronze; analogously, he baptizes at times by means of heretics, at times he absolves, etc., as we have already said”. (3)
The French canonist Bouix (+ 1870) teaches the same:
“Faith is not necessary for a man to be capable of ecclesiastical jurisdiction and that he might exercise true acts which require such jurisdiction. (…) Moreover, the power of orders, which in its way is superior, can remain without faith, that is, with heresy; therefore ecclesiastical jurisdiction can do so too (…) To the argument that, not being a member of the Church [the soul], the heretical Pope is not the head of the Church either [the body] … one can give the following answer: I concede that the Pope heretic is not a member and head of the Church in so far as the supernatural life which commences by faith and is completed by charity [the soul], by which all the members of the Church are united in one body supernaturally alive; but I deny that he might not be a member and head of the Church as far as the governing power [the body] proper to his charge”. (4)
We find the same teaching in the writings of St. Robert Bellarmine who taught that a pope who is an occult (secret) heretic remains pope. Occult heresy is formal heresy – the sin of heresy – in the internal forum, but which has not become manifest in the external forum. In the following quote from Bellarmine, we see that an occult heretic remains externally united to the Church, and if the heretic in question is a Pope, he retains his office.
Bellarmine: “[O]ccult heretics are still of the Church, they are parts and members… therefore the Pope who is an occult heretic is still Pope. This is also the opinion of the other authors whom we cite in book De Ecclesia. …the occult heretics are united and are members although only by external union; on the contrary, the good catechumens belong to the Church only by an internal union, not by the external”. (5)
To be clear, an occult heretic is not a person in material error, but rather a formal heretic in the internal forum – that is, one who is guilty of the sin of heresy and who has thereby lost the faith. Commenting on the above quote from Bellarmine, the great 20th Century Thomist, Fr. Reginald Garrigou Lagrange, wrote the following:
“This condition is quite abnormal, hence no wonder that something abnormal results from it, namely, that the pope becoming secretly a heretic would no longer be an actual member of the Church [the soul], according to the teaching as explained in the body of the article, but would still retain his jurisdiction by which he would influence the Church [the body] in ruling it. Thus he would still be nominally the head of the Church, which he would still rule as head, though he would no longer be a member of Christ, because he would not receive that vital influx of faith from Christ, the invisible and primary head. Thus in quite an abnormal manner he would be in point of jurisdiction the head of the Church, though he would not be a member of it.
“This condition could not apply to the natural head in its relation to the body, but such a condition is not repugnant in the case of the moral and secondary head. The reason is that, whereas the natural head must receive a vital influx from the soul before it can influence the members of its body, the moral head, such as the pope is, can exercise his jurisdiction over the Church, although he receives no influx of interior faith and charity from the soul of the Church. More briefly, as Billuart says, the pope is constituted a member of the Church by his personal faith, which he can lose, and his headship of the visible Church by jurisdiction and power is compatible with private heresy. The Church will always consist in the visible union of its members with its visible head, namely, the pope of Rome, although some, who externally seem to be members of the Church, may be private heretics”. (6)
So, while the loss of faith completely severs a man from the soul of the Church – from the internal bonds that unite him to Christ and the Church – nevertheless, such spiritual shipwreck does not, in and of itself, sever him from the body of the Church. Therefore, a pope who loses the faith does not, for that reason alone, automatically lose his office and jurisdiction.
Now St. Bellarmine is of the opinion that a pope who becomes a manifest heretic does automatically cease to be pope, but let us not equate the sin of heresy and the consequent loss of faith, with manifest heresy. The sin of heresy can be present in the internal forum alone, or it can be manifest in the external form. As long as the heresy does not become publicly notorious the person remains a member of the body of the Church, and if the person in question is a Pope or Bishop, they retain their jurisdiction.
1) Acta, Series II, Vol. II, Pt. III, pgs. 994-95
2) ST. Pt II-II, Q. 5, A. 2
3) De Fide, disp. 10, section 6 nn. 3-10, pp. 317
4) Tract on the Pope, Tom. II, pp. 662
5) De Romano Pontifice Bk. 2
Suspicion of Heresy
Before considering what constitutes manifest heresy, or public and notorious heresy – a crime and violation of divine law that some believe results in immediate loss of office for a Pope – let us consider some actions that merely render a man suspect of heresy – which, it should be noted, does not result in the immediate loss of office for a Bishop or Pope.
The 1917 code of canon law teaches that to knowingly and willingly assist in the propagation of heresy (canon 2316), or to actively assist at sacred functions of non-Catholics (ibid.) only renders a man suspect of heresy. The highly respected commentary on the 1917 code of canon law by Wernz-Vidal, teaches that there is merely suspicion of heresy in those who take part in the exercise of magic, of charms or of divination, and of those who become members of sects which, whether openly or secretly, hatch plots against the Church. (7)
To be clear, a man caught in any of these acts is not thereby considered a manifest heretic, but is only considered suspect of heresy. And what is the penalty for such actions?
“Canon 2315 affirms that ‘the suspect of heresy who, once he has been admonished, does not remove the cause of the suspicion is to be prohibited from legitimate actions and, if he be a cleric, when the warning has been once repeated in vain, he will be suspended a divinis; and if the suspect of heresy does not amend himself in the space of six full months, starting from the moment when he incurred the penalty, he will be considered as a heretic, subject to the penalties of heretics’. Let us observe from this how patient and prudent the Church is in respect of such people. In addition to the warning which must be reiterated in the case of a cleric, she gives six months for the retraction or for ultimate clarifications before imposing the penalties proper to heretics. These penalties are not automatic; rather, they must be imposed by the bishop who may ultimately have reasons for not putting them into effect”. (8)
So a man can propagate heresy, practice magic, or be a member of a secret sect that hatches plots against the Church, and he is only considered suspect of heresy, and allowed six months to amend before being considered a heretic. And if the man is a Bishop, he retains his jurisdiction. As the above quotation says, “let us observe from this how patient and prudent the Church is in respect of such people”.
But consider how easily one could reason their way to a false conclusion if they erroneously believed that the sin of heresy, as such, results in the loss of Papal office. How easy would it be for one to conclude that a Pope who was caught “in the exercise of magic”, or “propagating heresy”, or who took “active part in non-Catholic worship” had lost the faith, and thereby lost his office? But as we have seen, the loss of faith in and of itself does not result in the loss of office; neither do the actions which merely render a man suspect of heresy. From this we can see how a false premise results in erroneous reasoning and easily leads to a false conclusion.
Before we discuss the issue of manifest heresy, let’s consider the following hypothetical case. Let’s imagine a Bishop, or perhaps an Archbishop, who publicly preached heresy to a body of important governmental figures. We’ll say that the heresy in question was a public denial of a basic truth of the faith, such as the dogma that the Pope is the head of the universal Church. And let’s say the liberal media gleefully published this throughout the region for all to read, thereby resulting in untold scandal to the faithful. And to take it a bit further, let’s say that this Archbishop was warned by the Pope himself that his belief was heretical (thereby removing any chance of innocent ignorance), yet retracted nothing.
Should such a man be considered a manifest heretic? And if so, would he have immediately lost his office? I venture to say that most, if not all sedevacantist apologists, would respond in the affirmative before citing a litany of Saints, Doctors, and canonists to support their position. In fact, many would say that a Catholic who remained in union with such a man should be considered a heretic themselves for remaining in union with a public heretic. Is this not the kind of reasoning sedevacantists often engage in?
Yet this hypothetical scenario of the Archbishop is not hypothetical at all. It is instead the historical case of Msgr. Darboy, Archbishop of Paris, who lived at the time of Pope Pius IX – the Pope in the above story who warned him that his public position was heretical.
The following historical account of the Darboy affair is taken from the article Heresy in History, written by the sedevacantist author, John Daly, who no one can accuse of distorting the facts in order to undermine the position he himself holds. Let us consider what Mr. Daly wrote about the case of Archbishop Darboy.
“In 1865 Mgr Darboy, archbishop of Paris and member of the French senate expressed in an important speech to the senate ideas clearly opposed to the divinely instituted primacy of the Roman Pontiff over the entire Church, which, unlike papal infallibility, already belonged to the corps of Catholic doctrine. The speech was a public defiance of the pope and a refusal to recognize the pope’s ordinary and universal jurisdiction in the dioceses of France.
“Pope Pius IX, already aware of the ideas of this wayward bishop, reprimanded him sternly in a private letter in which he reminds him that his stated ideas are comparable to those of Febronius (already condemned) and opposed to the teaching of the IVth Lateran Council. In the same letter the pope complained also of the presence of Mgr Darboy at the funeral of a freemason and other scandals.
“Darboy did not reply to the pope for some months and, when he finally did so, adopted a haughty tone to justify himself and to rebuke the pope! He retracted nothing whatever of the errors which had been reported throughout France with glee by the anti-Catholic press! … Nothing was done and in 1867 he met the pope in Rome, but, contrary to the hope he had given, did not mention the subject of this conflict at all.
“In 1868 a new clash ensued between Mgr Darboy and Rome, when the private letter of the pope dated 1865 was “leaked” and widely published. Still Rome allowed the situation to “ride” and meanwhile the Vatican Council was in preparation. Before and at the council, Darboy, needless to say, opposed the dogma of papal infallibility. For more than five years, despite the rebukes of the pope and of the nuncio, he never withdrew his extremely public errors against the faith. And then when the council proclaimed the dogmas concerning the pope, in 1870, he did not adhere to them. On 2nd March 1871, he at last informed the pope privately of his adherence to these dogmas, and even then he continued to delay before carrying out his duty of promulgating these decrees in his diocese. Only that promulgation at last constituted an implicit withdrawal of the false doctrines he was on public record as holding, despite the rebuke of the pope, since 1865.
“Now was Mgr Darboy during that period a public heretic or not? If one answers “yes”, one is in manifest disagreement with Ven. Pope Pius IX. And of course those who not only accuse others lightly of heresy, but even hold that remaining in communion with un-condemned heretics is an act of heresy, schism or at best a grave public sin entailing exclusion from the sacraments must conclude that all the Catholics of Paris, laity and clergy, simultaneously fell from grace by continuing to recognize Darboy as their bishop even when they deplored his behaviour”. (9)
As Mr. Daly asked, was Msgr. Darboy a public heretic or not? After all, aren’t we told by sedevacantist apologists that if someone makes a heretical statement pertinacity is presumed in the external forum until the contrary is proven (10), and that “if the delinquent… be a cleric, his plea for mitigation must be dismissed” due to his “ecclesiastical training in the seminary (11). And don’t they conclude from this that a Bishop who makes a heretical statement has “publicly defected from the faith” (canon 188.4) and thereby lost his office? And further, that we are morally bound to withdraw from communion with the one they declare to be a public heretic lest we share in the heretic’s guilt?
Yet here we have the example of a Bishop who taught heresy in pubic, and “retracted nothing” after being warned by the Pope himself that his teaching was heretical. Yet Pius IX – the pope who gave us the Syllabus of Errors, Quanta Cura, and who ratified the First Vatican Council – remained in union with the man! If the sedevacantists were consistent, should they not conclude that Pius IX was an antipope for remaining in union with a “public heretic”? And what would this say about the First Vatican Council that he presided over and ratified?
Or could it be that the sedevacantist apologists are rash in claiming that a Bishop or pope who says something false, or seeming heretical, qualifies as a public heretic? Could it be that their interpretation and private application of canon law is erroneous?
Let’s consider just one more example from Mr. Daly’s article, which is of additional interest since it involves St. Robert Bellarmine, whom sedevacantists often quote as an authority for their position. Let us see how St. Bellarmine reacted to a professor and celebrated theologian from the university of Louvain who was publicly teaching heresy. And let us compare this example of a Saint and Doctor of the Church to the rashness of the sedevacantist apologists in our day.
“Doctor Michel de Bay (Baius), born in 1513 took part in the council of Trent and became a celebrated theologian at the university of Louvain where he opposed the Protestants, and in particular the Calvinists. ‘He seems to have been activated by a sincere desire to defend the Church, but…like so many of the Church’s impulsive and ill-equipped champions he fell into the very errors which he had set out to destroy.’ (Brodrick: Blessed Robert Bellarmine, Vol. II, p. 3) From his youth he had a love of novelty disguised as a return to more ancient traditions. He affected to disdain the scholastics, without being very familiar with them, and to adhere instead to St Augustine.
“A pronounced vice in his character was the ease with which he called heretics all those who failed to agree with his theological ideas, which, of course, he considered to be manifestly the only orthodox ones. From 1551 onwards he spread his errors from his professorial chair. In 1561 Pope Pius IV imposed silence on him, which he did not respect. In 1567 St Pius V drew up a decree condemning 79 of his theses, without promulgating it. De Bay was sent a copy and defended himself; reading his defense determined the pope to give public confirmation to the condemnation, in which several of de Bay’s ideas were qualified as heretical. De Bay himself, out of charity, was not named, as it was hoped that his opposition to the doctrines of the Church was not conscious.
“De Bay made himself the model of the future Jansenists… by pretending to submit, without changing his beliefs in the slightest. He continued to spread his errors on the pretext that the decree condemned only false interpretations of his thinking.
“St Robert Bellarmine arrived in Louvain as professor of theology also. From 1570 to 1576 he publicly opposed the errors of de Bay in his lectures, but without ever naming him. In speaking of him he always considered him as a learned Catholic, most worthy of respect, and at this time called him “prudent, pious, humble, erudite”.
“Nonetheless St Robert never ceased to hope for a new condemnation of his errors, and this appeared in 1579 (Pope Gregory XIII).
“Bellarmine returned to Rome and later the Venerable Leonard Lessius came to replace him at Louvain. By way of preparatory information, Bellarmine told him that in his opinion the doctrine of de Bay and his disciples on the subject of predestination was heretical
“Lessius wrote from Louvain to Bellarmine at Rome, informing him that de Bay continued to spread his errors in private, even after the new condemnation, and sometimes even in public, and that his numerous disciples propagated them with great enthusiasm.
“Supported by the advice of Bellarmine, Lessius continued to oppose these errors in his lectures, but without ever naming him or condemning the man who was the source of so much evil, and the precursor of Jansenism.
“Now in the light of this account, one is forced to ask whether some sedevacantists in our days are not very much prompter than St Robert Bellarmine was in identifying pertinacity, and more animated by the bad example of de Bay himself than by the good example of St Robert and of the Ven Leonard Lessius. For in the light of the principles of those who call all SSPX followers heretics or schismatics, and place all traditional priests save one or two in the same bag, how is it possible to deny that de Bay was a heretic? And that granted, how is it possible for them not to condemn St Robert Bellarmine, doctor of the Church, for having remained in communion with (and even praised) one whose heretical doctrines and manifest bad faith he was all too well aware of?
“Once again, if the Church presumes all who go astray in doctrine to be pertinacious, St Robert Bellarmine was clearly not aware of it. And while it can be possible to recognize someone as a pertinacious heretic even before the intervention of the Holy See, the fact remains that St Robert was slower to draw that conclusion, even after several Roman condemnations, than some are today when relying only on their own judgment of what seems evident”. (12)
Here we see St. Robert Bellarmine’s reaction to a man who continued to teach errors that had been formally condemned by the Church, but who himself had not been named in the condemnation. How did St. Bellarmine react to this man? Did he condemn him as a manifest heretic? Did he withdraw from communion with him and declare that all others must follow him, lest they share in the public heretic’s guilt? On the contrary, although the Saint desired that another condemnation of his errors would be forthcoming, in the meantime he treated him with respect and even referred to him as “prudent, pious, humble, erudite”. Neither did he assume pertinacity, even though one could have easily drawn such a conclusion since de Bay continued to promote his errors, which had just been condemned by the Church.
With Mr. Daly we must ask “whether some sedevacantists in our days are not very much prompter than St Robert Bellarmine was in identifying pertinacity, and more animated by the bad example of de Bay himself than by the good example of St Robert and of the Ven Leonard Lessius”. The answer to this rhetorical question is obvious.
We will now consider the issue of publicly manifest heresy.
Some theologians have held that if a pope became a manifest heretic he would automatically lose his office, thereby rendering the Chair of Peter vacant. The great Doctor of the Church, St. Robert Bellarmine, was of this opinion. He wrote:
Bellarmine: “[T]the Pope who is manifestly a heretic ceases by himself to be Pope and head, in the same way as he ceases to be a Christian and a member of the body of the Church; and for this reason he can be judged and punished by the Church”. (13)
The question we must consider is what constitutes manifest heresy in the external or public forum? According to the late Canon Gregory Hesse, who held a Ph.D. in canon law and Thomistic theology, a formal heretic in the external forum is a declared heretic. He explained that a heretic can be declared in one of two ways: either he is declared a heretic by the proper authorities, or he declares himself a heretic. But how would a person declare themself to be a formal heretic?
Since formal heresy requires pertinacity, in order for a statement that is materially false to be considered formally heretical in the external forum, pertinacity would also have to be manifest. Without a formal declaration by the Church, and short of the man in question leaving the Church, or publicly admitting that he rejects a defined dogma, pertinacity would have to be demonstrated another way. The other way, according to St. Robert Bellarmine, would be for the man to remain manifestly obstinate after two warnings. Only then would pertinacity be demonstrated in the external form, thereby rendering him a manifest heretic.
Bellarmine: “The fourth opinion is that of Cajetan, for whom the manifestly heretical Pope is not “ipso facto” deposed, but can and must be deposed by the Church. To my judgment, this opinion cannot be defended. For, in the first place, it is proven with arguments from authority, and from reason, that the manifest heretic is “ipso facto” deposed. The argument from authority is based on Saint Paul, who orders that the heretic be avoided after two warnings, that is, after showing himself to be manifestly obstinate – which means before any excommunication or judicial sentence”. (14)
So according to St. Bellarmine, who bases his opinion on St. Paul, a heretic is considered to be manifestly obstinate after receiving two warnings. But who would be responsible for warning the Pope? The eminent eighteenth-century Italian theologian, Father Pietro Ballerini, discusses this very point.
Fr. Ballerini: “The Cardinals, who are his counselors, can do this; or the Roman Clergy, or the Roman Synod, if, being met, they judge this opportune. For any person, even a private person, the words of Saint Paul to Titus hold: ‘Avoid the heretic, after a first and second correction, knowing that such a man is perverted and sins, since he is condemned by his own judgment’ (Tit. 3, 10-11). For the person, who admonished once or twice, does not repent, but continues pertinacious in an opinion contrary to a manifest or public dogma – not being able, on account of this public pertinacity to be excused, by any means, of heresy properly so called, which requires pertinacity – this person declares himself openly a heretic. He reveals that by his own will he has turned away from the Catholic Faith and the Church, in such form that now no declaration or sentence of any one whatsoever is necessary to cut him from the body of the Church. (…) Therefore the Pontiff who after such a solemn and public warning by the Cardinals, by the Roman Clergy or even by the Synod, maintained himself hardened in heresy and openly turned himself away from the Church, would have to be avoided, according to the precept of Saint Paul. So that he might not cause damage to the rest, he would have to have his heresy and contumacy publicly proclaimed, so that all might be able to be equally on guard in relation to him. Thus, the sentence which he had pronounced against himself would be made known to all the Church, making clear that by his own will be had turned away and separated himself from the body of the Church, and that in a certain way he had abdicated the Pontificate, which no one holds or can hold if he does not belong to the Church”. (15)
In the next quote, the great Jesuit Suarez comments on this same point:
Suarez: “I affirm: if he were a heretic and incorrigible, the Pope would cease to be Pope just when a sentence was passed against him for his crime, by the legitimate jurisdiction of the Church. This is the common opinion among the doctors, and it is gathered from the first epistle of Saint Clement I, in which one reads that Saint Peter taught that a Pope heretic must be deposed. (…) In the first place, who ought to pronounce such a sentence? Some say that it would be the Cardinals; and the Church would be able undoubtedly to attribute to them this faculty, above all if it were thus established by the consent or determination of the Supreme Pontiffs, as was done in regard to the election. But up to today we do not read in any place that such a judgment has been confided to them. For this reason, one must affirm that, as such, it pertains to all the Bishops of the Church, for, being the ordinary pastors and the pillars of the Church, one must consider that such a case concerns them. And since by divine law there is no greater reason to affirm that the matter is of more interest to these bishops than to those, and since by human law nothing has been established in the matter, one must necessarily sustain that the case refers to all, and even to the general council. That is the common opinion among the doctors”. (16)
A pope who merely seems to have lost the Faith, or who has made statements that are erroneous or even heretical, yet who has not openly left the Church or been publicly warned, does not constitute a manifest heretic. And since no such warnings have been given to any of the post-Vatican II popes, either before or after their election, none of them qualify as a manifest heretic.
And it should also be noted that many theologians have held that a manifestly heretical pope does not automatically lose his office. According to Suarez, this was the common opinion in his day.
Suarez: “[I]in no case, even that of heresy, is the Pontiff deprived of his dignity and of his power immediately by God himself, before the judgment and sentence of men. This is the common opinion today”. (ibid.)
If one reads sedevacantist materials (which are usually the same quotations transferred from one website to another), they are left with the impression that virtually all agree that a Pope who becomes a manifest heretic automatically loses his office. Yet as we just saw, it was the common opinion in Suarez’ day that a heretical pope could only be deprived of his office by the judgment and sentence of men.
Below, Suarez explains why a Pope would not lose his office without a judgment and declaration of men, and then list the effects that would result if a declaration was not necessary – “effects” that sound like prophecies today.
Suarez: “[I]f the external but occult heretic (17) can still remain the true Pope, with equal right he can continue to be so in the event that the offense became known, as long as sentence were not passed on him. And this for two reasons: because no one suffers a penalty if it is not “ipso facto” or by sentence, and because in this way would arise even greater evils. In effect, there would arise doubt about the degree of infamy necessary for him to lose his charge; there would rise schisms because of this, and everything would become uncertain, above all if, after being known as a heretic, the Pope should have maintained himself in possession of his charge by force or by other”. (ibid.)
Do these prophetic words not reflect the situation today for those who reject what was, according to Suarez, the common opinion of his day? How many “popes” have been elected by the sedevacantists to date? Well over a dozen. And how many more schisms are there between the various sedevacantist groups who have not gone so far as to elect their own pope?
And it should be noted that others have argued that a Pope could not be deprived of his office, even due to public heresy, because of the harm it would do to the Church. While this is only a minority opinion, the following teaching of the French canonist Bouix is worth citing.
D. Bouix: “There is not sufficient reason to think that Christ had determined that an heretical Pope could be deposed. … We deny absolutely, however, that Christ could have established as a remedy the deposition of the Pope. For … such a remedy would be worse than the evil itself. Indeed, one either supposes that this deposition would be carried out by Christ himself, as soon as the Pope were declared a heretic by a general council according to the doctrine of Suarez, or one supposes that it would be realized by virtue of the authority of the general council itself. Now, in both cases the evil would be aggravated, and not remedied. For the doctrine according to which Christ himself would depose the Pope heretic, as soon as the General council declared him a heretic, is no more than an opinion, rejected by any, and with which it is licit, for anyone whatsoever, to disagree. … Such being the case, even after it were declared by a General Council that a certain Pope were a heretic, it would absolutely not become certain that that Pope would be deposed; and in such a doubt one must rather continue to respect his authority. If another Pope were elected not only would he be of uncertain legitimacy, but he would even have to be branded as an intruder. Therefore, the remedy of a deposition made by Christ in the moment of a conciliar declaration, not only would not remedy the evil, but would create an evil much more grave, that is, a most intricate schism. Consequently, by no means should one think that Christ established such a remedy. But neither should one think that He established as a remedy deposition by the authority of the council itself. For, the deposition of a Pope by a council, besides being impossible, as will be said further on, would be followed by a worse evil if it were possible”. (18)
Although the above citation represents a minority opinion, it shows that whether or not a pope would automatically lose his office through manifest heresy is an open question.
7) Essay on Heresy, by Arnaldo Vidigal Xavier da Silveira
9) Heresy in History
10) “The very commission of any act which signifies heresy, e.g., the statement of some doctrine contrary or contradictory to a revealed and defined dogma, gives sufficient ground for juridical presumption of heretical depravity” McKenzie, The Delict of Heresy, CU Canon Law Studies 77
12) Heresy in History
13) De Romano Pontifice, Bk. 2
15) De Potestate Ecclesiastica, pgs.104-105
16) De Fide, disp. X, sect. VI, nn. 3-10, pg. 316-317
17) An external but occult heretic is one who has manifested his heresy to a small group, but not to the general public
18) Tract. de Papa, tom. II, pgs. 670-671
Hypothetical vs. Practical
But even if one does hold to the opinion of St. Bellarmine, namely, that a pope who becomes a manifest heretic automatically loses his office – this is only a hypothetical question, and as such is the object of the speculative intellect, which is merely concerned with the consideration of a truth (19). But when faced with the actual situation – not merely the hypothetical question – the difficulty arises of how to apply the principle in practice, including who has the authority to make the necessary judgments and declaration. These are two distinct issues: one hypothetical and the other practical. On the practical level, if faced with a heretical pope, or at least a pope who seems to be a heretic, who would have the authority to determine that he had crossed the line into manifest heresy and thereby lost his office?
In the following quote, taken from Elements of Ecclesiastical Law (1895), Sabastian B. Smith discusses the two-fold opinion with respect to the hypothetical question of a heretical pope, and then explains how it would be dealt with on the practical level.
“Question: Is a Pope who falls into heresy deprived, ipso jure, of the Pontificate? Answer: There are two opinions: one holds that he is by virtue of divine appointment, divested ipso facto, of the Pontificate; the other, that he is, jure divino, only removable. Both opinions agree that he must at least be declared guilty of heresy by the church, i.e., by an ecumenical council or the College of Cardinals. The question is hypothetical rather than practical”. (20)
As we can see, while there are two common opinions with respect to the hypothetical question, “both opinions agree” when it comes to the practical aspect. And what both opinions agree on is that, on the practical level, it would require a declaration of heresy from the Church in order for the pope to be removed.
Sedevacantist apologists often quote St. Francis de Sales saying: “Now when he [the Pope] is explicitly a heretic, he falls ipso facto from his dignity and out of the Church…”. That quotation usually ends in mid sentence with an ellipsis. But interestingly, if you read the full sentence you see that he is actually alluding to both hypothetical opinions mentioned above, as well as the practical application. This is evident because the Saint immediately says the Church must either depriving him or declaring him to be deprived. This is the entire quote:
“We do not say that the Pope cannot err in his private opinions, as did John XXII; or be altogether a heretic, as perhaps Honorius was. Now when he is explicitly a heretic he falls ipso facto from his dignity and out of the Church, and the Church must either deprive him, or as some say, declare him deprived, of his Apostolic See, and must say as St. Peter did: Let another take his bishopric – Acts 1 (St. Francis de Sales, Doctor of the Church). (21)
Notice he says “the Church must deprive him” or “declare him deprived”. Either way, it requires a judgment and declaration by the Church. So whether a person holds to the opinion that a pope automatically loses his office through manifest heresy, or to the opinion that he is only deposable, it does not follow that individual laymen, or even individual priests, have the authority to make such judgment and declaration. Regardless of which opinion one holds, on the practical level a judgment of guilt must be made, and such a judgment belongs to the proper authorities alone.
To confirm this point, St. Thomas teaches that it belongs to one and the same authority to write the law, interpret the law, and apply it to particular cases:
St. Thomas: “Since judgment should be pronounced according to the written law, as stated above, he that pronounces judgment, interprets, in a way, the letter of the law, by applying it to some particular case. Now since it belongs to the same authority to interpret and to make a law, just as a law cannot be made except by public authority, so neither can a judgment be pronounced except by public authority, which extends over those who are subject to the community”. (22)
Individual laymen and individual priests have no authority to interpret and apply canon law or divine law to particular cases, much less to make public declarations. Such judgments and declarations belong to the proper authorities.
Commenting on the words of St. Jerome, who taught that a heretic departs on his own from the body of the Church, John of St. Thomas explains that this does not preclude a judgment from the Church. He then applies this to a heretical pope specifically. He wrote:
“St. Jerome – in saying that a heretic departs on his own from the Body of Christ – does not preclude the Church’s judgment, especially in so grave a matter as is the deposition of a pope. He refers instead to the nature of that crime, which is such as to cut someone off from the Church on its own and without other censure in addition to it – yet only so long as it should be declared by the Church… So long as he has not become declared to us juridically as an infidel or heretic, be he ever so manifestly heretical according to private judgment, he remains as far as we are concerned a member of the Church and consequently its head. Judgment is required by the Church. It is only then that he ceases to be pope as far as we are concerned“. (John of St. Thomas) (23)
There have been times in the past when scandalous popes have held office; and there have been instances in which men who lived during those times believed the pope was not a true pope. One example is Jerome Savonarola who lived at the time of Pope Alexander VI – a truly scandalous pope. Not only did Savonarola accuse Alexander VI of being an unbeliever, but he also accused him of acquiring the Papacy through simony. This is what he wrote Charles VIII:
“The Church has been invaded from head to foot by ignominy and iniquity… I declare to you in the name of God that this Alexander VI is not the Pope and cannot pass off as such. Beside the infamy he committed in buying the Pontifical See by an act of simony … (and) his other vices which are well-known to everyone, I declare that he is not a Christian, that he does not even believe in the existence of God, which surpasses all the limits of incredulity” (24)
That was the opinion of a man who lived at the time of Pope Alexander VI. Yet in spite of the above testimony from one of his contemporaries, as well as all that history tells us about the scandals of Pope Alexander VI, the Church has never declared that he was not a true pope, or that he lost his office. He may have acquired the Papacy through simony, he may have lost the faith and “surpassed all the limits of incredulity”, yet a sentence was never passed against him by the Church, and as such the Church has never taught that he ceased to be pope.
And it should also be noted that Sovanarola – the very man who attempted to persuade Charles VIII that Alexander VI was “not the Pope” – submitted to the excommunication that he incurred from Alexander VI, and, just before being put to death, knelt at the feet of Bishop Romolino to receive the blessing and indulgence granted to him by the same Pope.
On the other hand, we have the story of Pope Liberius, who, according to the judgment of his contemporaries, fell into the Arian heresy. What was the response of his contemporaries? The Roman clergy – who at the time had the responsibility of electing the Pope – reacted by deposing Pope Liberius, and electing Pope Felix II in his place. Although the move was controversial at the time, St. Bellarmine defended the action taken by the Roman clergy. This is what he wrote:
St. Bellarmine: “Then two years later came the lapse of Liberius, of which we have spoken above. Then indeed the Roman clergy, stripping Liberius of his pontifical dignity, went over to Felix, whom they knew to be a Catholic. From that time, Felix began to be the true Pontiff. For although Liberius was not a heretic, nevertheless he was considered one, on account of the peace he made with the Arians, and by that presumption the pontificate could rightly be taken from him”. (25)
Here we have the case of a validly elected Pope being deposed by a “judgment and sentence” of the proper authorities, and a new Pope being elected in his place. This, however, does not support the sedevacantist position, since the action was taken by those had the authority to do so. This in no way implies that individual laymen have the authority to declare a pope to have lost his office due to heresy. It only shows that such measures are possible for the proper authority.
A future Pope or council may posthumously condemn the last several Popes for heresy, as the Third Council of Constantinople did with Pope Honorious I (26). But such actions are the responsibility of the proper ecclesiastical authorities alone. Before any such action is taken, it is the height of presumption and rashness for a laymen, or an individual priest, to usurp the authority that does not belong to them by making judgments and public “declarations” that they have no authority to make.
St. Thomas mentions three instances in which judgment is unlawful. One of the three is called “judgment by usurpation”, and takes place “when a man judges about matters wherein he has no authority”. (27) It is one thing to have a personal opinion about a matter that one has no authority to judge, and quite another to declare one’s personal opinion to be a fact. Such an unjust action is further aggravated when it is then implied that others have an obligation to accept their “declaration”. Such a usurpation of authority is, as St. Thomas teaches, contrary to justice:
St. Thomas: “Wherefore even as it would be unjust for one man to force another to observe a law that was not approved by public authority, so too it is unjust, if a man compels another to submit to a judgment that is pronounced by other than the public authority”. (28)
Even Savonarola, who personally believed Alexander VI was an unbeliever who purchased the Papal office through simony, sought to have a Council make the declaration. He realized that although he personally believed the Pope was not a real Pope, he had no authority to make such a definitive judgment and formal declaration; nor did he imply that others had an obligation to agree with his personal opinion. Neither did he claim that others must withdraw from communion with Alexander VI, lest they be guilty of remaining in union with a “public heretic”. And, as we saw above, in the end Savonarola acknowledged that Alexander was a true Pope, when he knelt at the feet of Bishop Romolino to receive Alevander VI’s Papal Blessing.
Heretic Cannot Be Elected Pope
The last point we will consider is the teaching that a heretic cannot be elected pope. The sedevacantist apologists provide a number of citations to support this position. The following is one such quote:
“Appointment to the office of the Primacy. What is required by divine law for this appointment: The person appointed must be a man who possesses the use of reason, due to the ordination the Primate must receive to possess the power of Holy Orders. This is required for the validity of the appointment. Also required for validity is that the man appointed be a member of the Church. Heretics and apostates (at least public ones) are therefore excluded”. (29)
Citations such as this are not referring to a member of the Church who has lost the Faith, since de internis ecclesia non judica (the Church does not judge internals). They are referring to a man who is a public heretic. So, for example, Pastor Bob of the First Baptist Church of Rome would not be eligible to be elected Pope, since heretics (at least public ones) are not members of the Church. Electing a public heretic as pope would be contrary to divine law, since one who is not a visible member of the Church cannot be its head. But a Cardinal who enters the conclave in good standing with the Church (at least externally), even if he has internally lost the faith, is certainly eligible to be elected Pope. If not, one would never know for sure if the person elected Pope was a true Pope, since neither man nor the Church can judge the internal forum.
To remove any doubt that a man elected by a conclave becomes the true pope, Pius XII issued the following decree which removes any “excommunications, suspension or interdict” that would prevent a candidate from being validly elected.
Pope Pius XII: “None of the Cardinals may, by pretext or reason of any excommunication, suspension, or interdict whatsoever, or of any other ecclesiastical impediment, be excluded from the active and passive election of the Supreme Pontiff”. (30)
Active election refers to the act of electing a pope; passive election refers to the act of being elected. Since the Church does not judge internals, and since faith is not absolutely necessary for Papal office, this decree of Pius XII, which is similar to previous decrees of Pius X, Clement V (1317), Pius IV (1562) and Gregory XV (1621), removes any doubt that a man who is elected by the conclave becomes the true Pope.
Just before our Lord’s Passion, He said to His disciples: “All you shall be scandalized in me this night. For it is written: I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be dispersed”. (Mt. 26:31) According to tradition, the life of the Church will parallel the life of Christ, and at the end experience a passion similar to that of its head. The Church today is following our Lord through His passion. We can even discern a mystical death taking place, in what seems to be a separation of the body and soul of the Church. At the end of our Lord’s Passion, His human soul separation of His body at once, and as such death was instantaneous. But with the Church, the mystical death – separation of body and soul – is extending over a period of time as more and more of its visible members defect interiorly from the Faith.
In such unusual circumstances as this, it is certainly understandable that Catholics would be confused; and it is equally understandable that they would be scandalized by the action and inaction of the recent Popes, who may indeed have lost the Faith. But as we have seen, the loss of faith, in and of itself, does not result in the loss of Papal office. Neither do actions that render a Pope suspect of heresy. And even if a Pope was a manifest heretic (which requires a public warning) there is a two-fold opinion on whether or not he would automatically lose his office, or only be rendered deposable; yet, as we have seen, on the practical level both opinions require a judgment and declaration from the Church. Since none of the recent popes have been given a public warning, and since none have been declared heretics by the proper authorities, they do not qualify as manifest heretics. Therefore, as bad as one may think they have been, they have retained their office.
Before ending, there is one final point that it would be remiss to pass over when considering the question of sedevacantism. Since our Lord Himself provided us with a criterion by which we should judge, we should not end without considering the fruits that are almost universal in sedevacantism. The “judgment by usurpation”, which is contrary to both justice and charity, extends beyond private individuals making public “declarations” that the Pope has lost his office, to the status of other Catholics, including their fellow sedevacantists, whom they rashly accuse of being heretics. Such rash judgments by those who have no authority to make such a declaration has resulted in one division after another, to the point where priests from one sedevacantist group now refuse communion to those affiliated with other sedevacantist groups.
There is probably more division between sedevacantists today than there was within Protestantism fifty years after Luther split from the Church. And interestingly, the root cause of such division is the same, namely, private judgment. Whereas Luther and his followers usurped the authority of the magisterium in teaching the Faith, and substituted it with their private interpretation of the Bible, the sedevacantists usurp the authority of the magisterium in interpreting and applying canon law, and replaced it with their private interpretation – again, not only with respect to the Pope, but with Catholic priests and laymen as well. Often, when someone does not accept their personal “declaration” they treat them with the greatest disrespect, often accusing them of being in schism or heresy. They hand down “binding” declarations on everything from baptism of desire and blood, to which of the new Sacraments are valid and which are not, and woe to the person who does not agree.
Some not only refused to attend a Mass in which Benedict XVI’s name is mentioned, but they also refuse to attend Masses offered by sedevacantist priests, since these lack the necessary jurisdiction. Such men are being strangled by the letter of the law, at a time when “the letter killeth” (2 Cor. 3:6). Interestingly, the Machabees fell into a similar error for a time, but death caused them to re-think their position (1 Mach 2:38-41). The Machabees ended by concluding what St. Thomas would teach fourteen centuries later: In the time of necessity there is no law. (31)
Some sedevacantists “decree” with seeming certitude that the New Rite of Ordination for Bishops is absolutely null and utterly void, as though the form for this Sacrament was given in specie (as is the case with baptism and the double consecration at mass), rather than in genere (32) (thereby explaining the difference from one approved Rite to the other); and as if the Church had no power to change the matter or form (33) required for validity, when such has been established by the will of the Church (34), rather than directly by Christ.
They hand down rash declarations they have no authority to make, and often condemn those who do not share their opinion. Using the same criteria, namely private judgment, some go so far as to declare that Pius IX (d. 1878) was the last true pope, and claim that all popes since Leo XIII have been antipopes! Each believes his personal opinion is correct and must be accepted by all, yet their differing opinions result in continual divisions. And it is worth noting that these rotten fruits are usually not found in the Traditional Orders in union with Rome.
As a parting thought I will end with this: For those Traditional Catholics who have been scandalized by the Passion and near death of the Church, and by the action of the recent popes who seem to be follow the example of St. Peter’s during our Lord’s Passion (Mt. 26:74); for those whose eyes gloss over when reading theological arguments with seemingly endless distinctions and categories, and who are still not sure what to think about Sedevacantistm. To those I offer the following advice: Apply the divinely inspired criterion given by our Lord Himself, and judge the sedevacantist tree by its “thorns” and its “thistles” (Mt. 7:16), and by its rotten and bitter fruits.
May the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, guide us all safely through the present tempest, and may the light of the Holy Ghost lead us along the straight and narrow path, not permitting us to deviate from the truth, either to the left, or to the right. Amen
Postscript: There are other arguments put forth in defense of the sedevacantist position, such as issues related to Papal Infallibility, universal disciplines, the 1983 code of canon law, and the Novus Ordo Missae. Space did not permit a consideration of these points; nor did they necessarily fall within the scope of the present thesis. A future article may appear in which these additional points are addressed.
19) St. Thomas: “For it is the speculative intellect which directs what it apprehends, not to operation, but to the consideration of truth; while the practical intellect is that which directs what it apprehends to operation”.
20) Elements of Ecclesiastical Law, 1895
21) St. Francis de Sales , The Catholic Controversy, pg 306
22) S.T. Pt II-II, Q 60, A 6
23) John of St. Thomas, Disp. II, art III 26
24) Victim of the Borgia Pope: Jerome Savonarola, pg. 106
25) De Romano Pontifice, Bk. 2
26) Council of Constantinople: There shall be expelled from the holy Church of God and anathematized: Honorius who was some time Pope of Old Rome, because of what we found written by him to Sergius, that in all respects he followed his view and confirmed his impious doctrines…To Honorius, the heretic, anathema!
27) S.T. Pt. II-II, Q 60, A. 2
28) ibid. A. 6
29) Institutiones Iuris Canonici, 1950
30) Vacantis Apostolicae Sedis, 1945
31) S.T. Pt I-II, Q 96, A.6
33) Catholic Encyclopedia: Granting that Christ immediately instituted all the sacraments, it does not necessarily follow that personally He determined all the details… prescribing minutely every iota relating to the matter and the form to be used. … For some sacraments (e.g. Baptism, the Eucharist) He determined minutely (in specie) the matter and form: for others He determined only in a general way (in genere) that there should be an external ceremony, by which special graces were to be conferred, leaving to the Apostles or to the Church the power to determine whatever He had not determined, e.g. to prescribe the matter and form of the Sacraments of Confirmation and Holy Orders. (…) This … can solve historical difficulties relating, principally, to Confirmation and Holy Orders.
33) “The question immediately arises as to what belongs to the substance of a particular Sacrament, and the answer will depend upon whether Our Lord instituted it generically (in genere) or specifically (in specie). … With regard to the form [given in genere] of a Sacrament, some Catholics have mistakenly identified the form itself with a particular formula employed by the Church to express it, and have concluded that this formula cannot be changed without invalidating the Sacrament. Hence they have fallen into the error of believing that the Church has no power to make changes in the matter and form of any Sacrament, having mistakenly identified the matter and form in current usage with the substance of the Sacraments themselves, which Trent taught could not be changed” (The Order of Melchisedech).
34) Pius XII: “the traditio instrumentorum is not required for the substance and validity of this Sacrament by the will of Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. If it was at one time necessary even for validity by the will and command of the Church, everyone knows that the Church has the power to change and abrogate what she herself has established (Sacramentum Ordinis).