A Few Comments on the Thesis of Fr. Guérard de Lauriers
1. The Cassiciacum thesis holds that a person elected pope (and apparently accepting election) but who lacks the habitual will to realise the good of the Church does not have the authority and powers (infallibility, jurisdiction, etc) of a pope and in fact is not pope, but nonetheless has a special “hold” on the Holy See whereby he could become its legitimate occupant by manifesting suitably changed dispositions, and whereby no one else could be elected to it meanwhile unless the appointed electors should summon him to change his dispositions and he should fail to do so within an allotted span. This is the essence of the Cassiciacum thesis.
2. Although such an individual is not pope, and therefore unable to posit any papal act, there is one exception — he can, they claim, validly name cardinals. This is an accidental adjunct to the Cassiciacum thesis.
3. This, they say, has in fact been the case of the purported popes since (at least) the promulgation of the erroneous Vatican II declaration Dignitatis Humanae on Religious Liberty in 1965. This is the concrete, contemporary application of the Cassiciacum thesis.
4. The individual elected but indisposed for valid acceptance of the papacy (e.g. Montini, Wojtyła) is described as being materially (“materialiter”) pope, but not formally (“formaliter”) pope. This is the technical vocabulary of the Cassiciacum thesis, an analogical use, borrowed from scholastic philosophy. Among those who have not made a serious study of scholastic philosophy, it generally leads to confusion because they infer from the misunderstood adverb that Cassiciacum adherents think that Wojtyla is partly pope. It is therefore imperative to stress that the word “materially” approximates rather to the familiar word “potentially” and implies that Wojtyla is in a special state of ability to become pope, not that he is a half-pope. It must also be stressed, in this connection, that: (a) the thesis does not (as has been rashly claimed by some of its gainsayers) teach or imply the heresy that someone can be pope without having all the papal powers and authority — on the contrary it holds that Wojtyła lacks these powers and authority because he is not pope, unless we are to confuse potentiality with actuality — or in plain English confuse “could-become” with “is”; and (b) the thesis is thus not a half-way house between sedevacantism and the SSPX position — it is a variant of sedevacantism, and indeed the word “sedevacantism” was invented with reference to the Cassiciacum thesis. (c) There is in any event no need to recur to the materialiter-formaliter vocabulary to enunciate what the thesis holds, as can be seen from the clear statement of it above in Nos. 1 and 2. It is more important to seize what a man believes and wants to communicate than to get bogged down in questions of semantics — hence, though I think it regrettable, I have nothing more to say here about the technical Guerardian vocabulary and I shall not be using it again in these notes. I add however that the Cassiciacum thesis is also innocent of the charge of claiming that matter can exist without form. Matter cannot exist without form, but the matter of a particular entity can certainly exist without the due form of that entity, in which case the entity itself is not present. That is sound philosophy and is exactly what the Cassiciacum thesis affirms — that in John-Paul II there is the material element of a pope, but not the formal element, and thus that he is not in fact pope. Those who have made this unfounded objection seem to have confused the claim that “the matter of X exists without the form of X” with the absurd claim that “the matter of X exists without any form at all”.
5. The Cassiciacum thesis rejects classic “Bellarmine” sedevacantism on two grounds: (a) it does not consider that the delict of (pertinacious) heresy, sufficient to cause ipso facto loss of (or ineligibility to) the papal office, can be sufficiently made known to the Church without some intervention of authority; (b) it considers that the dogma of apostolicity requires that the jurisdiction necessary to elect a pope be maintained in the Church, for a pope elected by electors having no jurisdiction for this purpose received from a prior pope would not be one of the “perpetuos successores” of St Peter, but the first of a new line ... which is impossible.
6. The chief difficulty entailed by the thesis, to my mind is that it is pure invention. I realise that a very remarkable and unusual sort of crisis may seem to call for an ad hoc theory to explain it, but “via trita via tuta” — the beaten path is the safest. No theologian I have discovered talks of popes losing their status, divine protection, authority, jurisdiction and infallibility on a quasi-permanent basis by virtue of lacking the intention to realise the Church’s good, unless we are talking about a situation such as that which led St Vincent Ferrer to withdraw from the obedience of the man he believed to have been the legitimately elected Roman Pontiff ... in which case it would be nice to be told so and to have it explained in what way this differs from simple schism on the part of the non-pontiff accompanied by full-scale full loss of office. Meanwhile, it is obviously preferable to explain the crisis on the basis of data found in approved theology books if possible. Most approved theology books teach that a manifest heretic would automatically forfeit the papacy or be ineligible thereto. The Guérardian objection is capable of adequate refutation: those who hold the thesis have not studied the topic of heresy and pertinacity enough to know that the intervention of authority is not always necessary for heresy to exist, to be recognisable and to produce the effect of automatic forfeiture of office ... but that is what the best authorities hold.
7. A secondary difficulty is that shifting attention from heresy onto the absence of the will to realise the Church’s good resolves nothing. Heresy depends on pertinacity, which is invisible and can be known only by the external evidence of words and acts. Granted. But the same applies to the will to achieve the good of the Church. And telling us that it is the will to achieve the objective good of the Church does not help either. That Montini and Wojtyła did not want to make the Church holier and more effective in spreading the Gospel is my private conclusion drawn from publicly available evidence — exactly as is the fact that they taught the contrary of what they knew the Church had previously taught, i.e. were heretics..
8. The accidental adjunct of maintaining the not-yet-pope’s ability validly to name cardinals is also objectionable in that it is justified on the basis of a dogmatic necessity to maintain the Church’s apostolicity, but this necessity is not established. The Guérardian point 5 (b) above is a strong point, but the conclusion drawn from it is very weak, for it is quite arbitrary to confuse the continuance of cardinals with the continuance of persons possessing jurisdiction enabling them to elect a pope, since theologians do not consider it impossible for all the cardinals to be extinguished simultaneously, but hold that in such a case the rôle of competent electors of the next pope would devolve upon the Roman clergy or an imperfect general council of bishops (meaning of course bishops belonging to the hierarchy and named by a true pope, not traditionalist dispensers-of-confirmation-and-ordination who are not official successors of the Apostles). There is no proof that there are no surviving validly named Roman clerics or Catholic bishops in the full sense of that word, hence there is no incompatibility with dogma in taking the straightforward position that non-popes have no power whatever to posit papal acts and that this continues to apply to one who has (hypothetically) been elected to the papacy but has not yet validly accepted the office. Alternatively, it may be argued that certain acts of putative popes benefit from supplied jurisdiction owing to common error - a classic notion. But in this case the acts so benefiting cannot be limited to those essential for the continuity of the hierarchy and the papacy, nor can they be extended to include acts patently harmful to the Church such as the nomination of manifest heretics to ecclesiastical offices.
9. As held by individual adherents to it, the Cassiciacum thesis may be considered an over-reaction to two different errors or dangers — (i) the error of private individuals shrieking “heretic” too quickly and cutting off communion on the basis of private opinions, entailing consequent ecclesiastical anarchy; and (ii) the error of believing that not only the Holy See, but every other ecclesiastical office is also vacant, the source of jurisdiction having (temporarily or permanently) dried up. But classic “Bellarmine” sedevacantism does not imply or make necessary either of these ideas.
© John S. Daly 2004 A.D.