Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Jeremiad on Sedevacantism (the Denial that Pope Benedict XVI is Actually the Pope, and Utter Rejection of Ecumenism)

By Dave Armstrong (3-2-11)

This post came about in a private Facebook group e-mail exchange. Somehow I got on the list with several sedevacantists (literally, "the seat is vacant" or the notion that there is no valid current pope, and/or that Pope Benedict XVI is a heretic). Perhaps this was God's providence.

I certainly spoke my mind! I have little patience with this line of thought, so forgive me beforehand for any lack of charity exhibited. I can't reveal other comments, since it was a private discussion; hence, the somewhat "choppy" nature of my comments.

Above all, please fervently pray and do penance for people who are trapped in this sad way of thinking. There was no reasoning with them. The Holy Spirit will have to do a work of grace here, to open blinded eyes. All of my reasoning seemed to fall on deaf ears; yet we never know how the Lord might be working on someone, from the inside. The apologist must always remember this, even in the midst of the most immensely frustrating encounters, as this was.

* * * * *

Here I'm replying to a bald statement that Pope Benedict XVI was a "heretic":

Rather, you are a schismatic. You incoherently reject the method that Holy Mother Church has providentially adopted in order to select her popes. This undermines all authority by logical extension, since you have adopted private judgment: a fundamental rejection of the Catholic rule of faith. Hence, people of your persuasion also reject ecumenical councils that are every bit as valid as Trent was.

Why not become a Catholic liberal? You would fit right in, with this mentality. The liberal, so-called "progressive" dissidents don't want to do what the pope says. You take it a step further and reject the authority of the sitting pope altogether. Thus, it is a sort of super-liberalism.

You're in a bad spiritual place. I strongly urge you to seriously reconsider this error.

* * *

After many more rants and blasts of Church and pope alike, I stated, with sarcasm, but with perfect seriousness; making a logical point:

Why don't you proclaim yourself to be pope [several sedevacantists have done exactly that]; then we can start on the road to recovery, led by your manifest wisdom?

* * *

Someone said that they accepted the papacy, just not Benedict XVI.

Well, you actually don't, because, as I noted, you reject the method that Holy Mother Church has long since established for selecting her popes; hence you reject the present pope, and with him, the orthodox idea of the papacy itself. The Catholic can't simply make himself the judge over the Church. That was Luther's error. Why play games at being a Catholic with this absurd method and incoherent ecclesiology that you espouse?

* * *

And what is his false doctrine, pray tell, Pope [His name] I? A brief summary shall suffice.

* * *

I was informed that the Catholic Church now thinks Allah and the Christian God are one and the same (because of some ecumenical statements in Vatican II); thus, that the Church has rejected trinitarianism. I had several thoughts about that:

I've dealt with this thoroughly wrongheaded notion of what Vatican II taught about Islam in my paper: "Does the Catholic Church Equate Allah and Yahweh?"

By your convoluted reasoning, our Lord Jesus was clearly a heretic and wild-eyed liberal ecumenist because he commended the pagan Roman centurion for his faith (and said he had more faith than most -- or all? -- in Israel):

Matthew 8:5-13 As he entered Caper'na-um, a centurion came forward to him, beseeching him [6] and saying, "Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, in terrible distress." [7] And he said to him, "I will come and heal him." [8] But the centurion answered him, "Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. [9] For I am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, `Go,' and he goes, and to another, `Come,' and he comes, and to my slave, `Do this,' and he does it." [10] When Jesus heard him, he marveled, and said to those who followed him, "Truly, I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such faith. [11] I tell you, many will come from east and west and sit at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, [12] while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth." [13] And to the centurion Jesus said, "Go; be it done for you as you have believed." And the servant was healed at that very moment.

By the same token (by your reasoning), St. Paul was a heretic and no Catholic Christian, since, after all, he commended the pagan, idolatrous Athenians for their religiosity (Acts 17:22) and pragmatically utilized their existing worship of "the unknown god" as a bridge to preach the gospel to them (17:23-31).

Paul is a terrible heretic. Look at what he says in Romans 2! He talks about "Gentiles who have not the law" (2:14) -- by analogy, not possessing the full revelation of the gospel -- and implies that they quite possibly could be saved despite their ignorance (2:15).

Many Muslims are at least as pious as the Roman centurion or the pagan Athenians or the Gentiles "without the law," yet with a conscience, whom Paul discussed in Romans 2.

You have a dim understanding of the biblical motifs that underlie ecumenism, and also historic Catholic ecumenism, such as seen in St. Thomas Aquinas in his developed theology of baptism of desire, etc. and in popes of the last 150 years. It didn't just start with Vatican II. But the radical Catholic reactionary (RadCathR) myth and mantra would have it so, so there can never be any serious or deep enough analysis to help you see the error of your ways.

* * *

Fellow orthodox Catholic and friend William Albrecht commented:

Your assertion that Benedict XVI praying with Muslims is tantamount to heresy is outrageously ignorant. Only God knows the minds and hearts of individuals, and if you consider this an act of heresy, then Paul lost his office also for calling the Pagans very religious and for entering synagogues. A thorough, intelligent examination of the Pope's actions is due.

That's a good point, William, about synagogues. It's another related argument: Paul and Peter and the early Christians worshiped in the temple and in the synagogues; they observed Jewish feasts. Paul acknowledged the legitimate authority of the high priest (over himself) even during his trial.

By sedevacantist "logic" they were completely off-base because in so doing, they were supposedly denying the Trinity and espousing the Jewish absolute monotheism (God is one Person rather than three). Jesus even told His followers to do what the Pharisees told them to do (Matthew 23:2-3), despite the fact that the non-Christian Pharisees did not accept the Trinity.

If you give me a ridiculous "Christian" religion that requires me to reject Jesus and Paul and Peter as heretics, then I will reject it every time. But this is what your "reasoning" entails. It's far more absurd than liberal Catholicism. At least liberal, dissident, pick-and-choose, "cafeteria" Catholics know that there is a sitting pope.



Pilgrimsarbour said...

An interesting discussion. However, since I am in no way qualified to comment in any meaningful way (though that never stopped me before) I do have this to say, which is quite in keeping with the situation:

since I was born in '58, does that mean I get to be 32 now (again)?

Dave Armstrong said...

Sure! I'll join ya!

Protestants got nothing on us when it comes to fringe fundamentalist, conspiratorial-type factions . . .

Dave Armstrong said...

I saw this whole progression take place right before my eyes in two people: Mario Derksen and Gerry Matatics. If they could do it, many others could as well.

Neil Parille said...


D. Bock in his commentary on Acts translates Acts 17:22 with the more neutral "I perceive that in every way you are very religious." The word for religious can also mean superstitous so Paul might be saying something quite negative. In any event he goes on to criticize their religion. I certainly doesn't sound like a modern day ecumenically oriented catholic.

There's also dispute about Romans 1 and whether pagan gentiles or gentile Christians are in view.

Neil Parille said...

Oops, I meant Romans 2.

Dave Armstrong said...

Paul's talk n Mars Hill is the classic exercise of ecumenism and apologetics together. He proclaims Catholic truth but in doing so he builds upon what was true in pagan religion (citing pagan poets and philosophers also). The first thing is apologetics, the second ecumenism. This is precisely one of the emphases of Vatican II: build upon what is true in all belief-systems.

That was also the method of the Church historically, in co-opting pagan holidays and "baptizing" or Christianizing them.

Neil Parille said...


Do you disagree with Bock's translation that I mentioned?

There is also a very sharp condemnation of pagan religion, which is certainly not characteristic of contemporary Catholic ecumenicalism. (Actually, the church uses 'ecumenicalism' to mean dialogue with fellow Christians and 'interreligious dialogue' for dialogue with non-Christians.)

Dave Armstrong said...

Hi Neil,

Do you disagree with Bock's translation that I mentioned?

Most translations I've seen use the word "religious" here, though the Greek can have the other connotation as well. I looked through many of my 30 or so versions of the Bible and the only one that has "superstitious" is KJV. Even the ASV of 1901 has "religious."

The word is Strong's #1174: deisidaimonestoros.

Kittel says that in Acts 17:22 it means "a good neutral expression for religion." Cf. Acts 25:19 (Festus). Vincent's Word Studies on the NT states that it could have either meaning according to context but that it is implausible that Paul would try to anger his audience right off the bat. Vincent writes:

"What he means to say is, You are more divinity-fearing than the rest of the Greeks. Thius propensity to reverence the higher powers is a good thing in itself, only, as he shows them, it is misdirected, not rightly conscious of its object and aim."

This is precisely as I have been saying. He took what was true of their religion and built upon it. He didn't condemn it outright.

W.E. Vine's Expository Dictionary of NT Words takes the same position: "the context too suggests that the adjective is used in a good sense."

So the translators and lexicons are with me, by and large. And these are all non-Catholic sources.

Neil Parille said...


What I was taking issue with is your claim that "he [Paul]commended the pagan, idolatrous Athenians for their religiosity (Acts 17:22). . . ."

I don't see Acts 17:22 as praising them, just noting the fact that they are religious.

Dave Armstrong said...

That may be true (neutral, as the lexicons say), but it's not a negative remark at any rate.

If he was dead set against absolutely everything in pagan religion he wouldn't have quoted a pagan poet and philosopher. This is clearly a use of what is true within a system that is ultimately not true in all aspects.

And that is what ecumenism does, and Catholic ecumenism. It has a clear basis in the Bible.

Neil Parille said...


Say I quote Freud or Marx positively (they said some good things after all). That doesn't mean I "commend" their general approach to things.

If talking to non-Christians about their faith and commonalities with Christianity that is one thing, but do you think Acts 17 provides a justification for, say, Cardinal Law taking part in an Islamic religious ceremony? Note that, unlike say the Assisi event, Paul never encouraged the pagans to pray to their idols.

Dave Armstrong said...

It has to be understood what is going on if we participate at all in an Islamic service. We don't have to enter fully into their worship. Muslims deny the Trinity; so do Jews. Was it wrong for Jesus, Paul, and the early Christians to attend synagogue and Temple services, since the Jews also rejected the trinity?

Was it a sin for Jesus to tell His followers to follow the teachings of the Pharisees (who weren't trinitarians): Matthew 23:1-4? Or for Paul to call himself a Pharisee twice, after he was a Christian?

Neil Parille said...


Do you believe that it is appropriate for a Christian to actively participate in a Moslem religious ceremony?

Dave Armstrong said...

Define "actively."

Ben said...

Historically, Rome became temporarily violent during the interregnums (see note 29 here)!

So if Sedevacantistism be true, might be a good idea to get one of these before visiting the holy city!

Just saying...