Calling All Church Historians

Just as a way of I do not want to say “preparation for the worse”, but rather “exploration of our past”, I would be very grateful for credible sources and links concerning what exactly happened during (not after) the Pontificates of Popes like Liberius, Honorius, Formosus, or John XXII. 

Let me explain: though we all know that Liberius lost face and Honorius was declared heretic in the end, and after their death, that Formosus was also rather spectacularly condemned after death, and that John XXII renounced to his error the day before he died, I am rather curious to know more about the day-to-day dealing of the clergy and the the faithful when these Popes were still alive and in power. 

Take John XXII. 

Chappy goes around saying that there is no beatific Vision before the Universal Judgment. He says he is minded to proclaim this as dogma. His attempt is thwarted (methinks, some Dominican managed to let the stake appear to him a very real possibility; but that’s just me…) and he renounces to the proclamation of the dogma; but at this point, the world still has a Pope who is as officially heretical as can be; a formal heretic so attached to his error as to continue to defend it for almost the rest of his life in front of the brutal opposition of his own Church; one whose theology denies all the edifice of the Communion of saints, make a good part of the Mass senseless, et cetera, and still keeps saying he is right and Church Tradition and Mass are wrong.

How did the bishops deal with him? Did they deny him obedience in everything? Or only in that which pertained directly to his heretical thinking? If he issued encyclical letters, what value did they have? I know that the Sea was not declared vacant in the proper sense (say: with the large majority of Cardinals and Bishops declaring the Sea empty for manifest and persistent heresy; this is, in my understanding, the concept that St. Robert Bellarmine developed later), but do we know of bishops and cardinals who simply declared that they would deny obedience to such a Pope, without denying that he is Pope? What happens of the cardinals and bishops appointed by a Pope in manifest heresy? What of his letters, bulls, etc? What of his administrative orders, disciplinary measures,and such? They may be changed, of course. But were they valid?

It’s even more complicated for Formosus; because whilst we – AFAIK – know that many of his administrative acts were declared at least formally invalid after his death – I have little doubt many will have been validated by his successor anyway – there is a thick fog as to what  happened whilst Formosus was alive and in charge. Formosus remained Pope for around five years. This is a long, long time for the wrong kind of Pope. But then again it would appear the Sea was not declared vacant: not during his Pontificate, and not even retroactively after his condemnation in the famous “Cadaver Synod”. May his acts have been annulled, this does not make a Pontificate null. Nor does it answer the question whether his acts were obeyed at the time they were issued.

If Francis throws himself and the Church (or better: those member of her who will be reckless enough to follow him) in the abyss of blasphemy and heresy, it will be very important to have clear historical coordinates about what exactly happened in the past in at least comparable circumstances.

Ideally, from places like the SSPX a clear guidance should come before hand: how to behave in scenarios a, b, or c; what conditions must exactly be fulfilled for the Sea to be declared vacant; in which ways the SSPX would examine the matter and make it public, etc.

Mind, not only I do not think in the least that the Sedevacantist position is justified as I write this. I do not even think that Francis will ever be so stupid as to push things in that direction, because as I have already written it seems to me that when he had to show if he has the balls to plunge the Church into chaos he showed no balls whatsoever, but abundant Jesuitism instead.

But it is true that we are at the brink of a precipice, irrespective of how optimistic we may be concerning vast sectors of the Church ever falling into it.


I am grateful for usable historical material.

What times are we living in.

Ah? Uh? No? 


Posted on October 29, 2014, in Catholicism, Conservative Catholicism, Traditional Catholicism and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 21 Comments.

  1. Not a historian (sorry). But reading your post is dawned on me “why would Pope John XXIII (23rd) choose to continue after a heretical Pope?” I don’t see clergy clamoring for a Pope Sergius II. Just a thought. Looking forward to your responses to this post. I had the same questions. God bless you Mundy:+)

  2. Mundabor, if you subscribe to the Remnant (and if you don’t, I recommend you get the electronic edition) the July 20th and August 31st editions this year had an article by Chris Jackson telling about Pope John XXII and how he was opposed and eventually corrected on his erroneous position. He takes much of his article from a book by Fr. Victor Francis O’Daniel called “John XXII and the Beatific Vision”, written in 1912.

  3. Ooooh, yes please. This is exactly the sort of information I would like in order to better understand too. It all gets too complicated for my little goat brain. I can see the obvious pitfalls in Sedevacantism….and I know…indefectability of the Church….but in my darkest moments I can’t help wondering….but what if? It would really be helpful to have a pre-prepared answer to what if? Not that it’s going to happen….but it would be nice to have a secure answer….just in case. Otherwise I could be left doing a fainting goat act.

  4. Great post. Have you by chance watched the videos of the highly regarded Fr. Gregore Hesse–also a canon lawyer? He gives clear answers and scenarios to this end. He was never SSPX, but he always praised them for their work. I believe he was given last rites by a Society priest. His talks on this issue are available on youtube. I think the SSPX might not be inclined to make such public statements–which would not be smart. Like you, many are wondering if such a time will ever come, and if it does come, they ask how they ought to be able to read the situation and respond.

  5. You can find his videos at Defeat Modernism –

  6. I apologize for not having read your reply till now. Thanks to Jewel for putting up a link. Here is another talk on Schism, Formal Heresy, Invalidity et alia. Fr. Gregory Hesse is very keen on distinctions and definitions.

    And a Link to all Fr. Gregory Hesse’s talks by Defeat Modernism:

  7. I don’t understand why so many struggle with this issue so. The Church has spoken on this:

    Pope Paul IV, Bull Cum ex Apostolatus Officio, Feb. 15, 1559 states: “… by this Our Constitution, which is to remain valid in perpetuity We enact, determine, decree and define: that if ever at any time it shall appear that any Bishop, even if he be acting as an Archbishop, Patriarch or Primate; or any Cardinal of the aforesaid Roman Church, or, as has already been mentioned, any legate, or even the Roman Pontiff, prior to his promotion or his elevation as Cardinal or Roman Pontiff, has deviated from the Catholic Faith or fallen into some heresy: the promotion or elevation, even if it shall have been uncontested and by the unanimous assent of all the Cardinals, shall be null, void and worthless…”

    • This isn’t the answer, either.

      Heresy here can only mean formal heresy, not material one. The election of Liberius, Honorius or John XXII was not put in doubt: they are all part of the official list of elected popes (no antipopes). The sea was never declared vacant. They really were the Popes in the times they were in charge.

      And I still do not what happened in real life, in the day by day activity, during the pontificate of these Popes.


  8. Mundabor, Fr. Hesse died in 2006. I think the videos were made a few years before the election of Benedict XV (circa 1999-2000). So, while the internet was around at that time, there was no youtube.

  9. To narrow the search, I’d focus efforts on the period of the so-called “Pontificuli” (896-903) which came in the wake of the Formosus Affair: Stephen VI (896-897, murdered), Romanus (897, deposed after 4 months), Theodore II (20 days, sudden death), John IX (898-900, sudden death), Benedict IV (900-903, died, apparently of natural causes), Leo V (1 month, disposed and imprisoned by Christopher, who reigned 6 month, also disposed and imprisoned, later declared anti-pope).

    Of course, this was but a foretaste of the debauchery which followed with the election of Sergius III, but these Pontificuli must have caused ample outrage among clergy and laity alike. In regards to the elevation of John IX, the historian B. Platina relates – long after the fact, but very likely on the account of good sources – that public protests broke out in Rome of such ferocity that the Pope removed himself and the council he convoked to Ravenna – which didn’t help, it seems, as he suddenly and unexpectedly “died” shortly afterwards.

    I know it’s not much to go on, as many of these popes ended up either dead or deposed before actual charges of heresy could be brought upon them, but perhaps those with access to better sources can find something usable in regards to the reactions of the laity and priesthood during this period.

    • Thanks!

      It is notable, though, that the idea of obedience (even “administrative” one) was not really developed. On the other side, those were rather rough time in more sense than one.


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