Part XI: Sedevacantism & Pope Paul IV’s Apostolic Constitution “Cum ex Apostolatus Officio”

Pope Paul IV’s Apostolic Constitution
“Cum ex Apostolatus Officio”

It is the belief of most Sedevacantists that the Chair of Peter has been empty since the ascension of Pope John XXIII to the Papacy in 1958. This, of course, is an absurd position, profoundly destructive to the Catholic doctrine regarding Christ’s promise that He would be with the Church until the end of time. It will be beneficial here to quote the teaching of Vatican Council I:

“That which the Prince of Shepherds and great shepherd of the sheep, Jesus Christ our Lord, established in the person of the Blessed Apostle Peter to secure the perpetual welfare and lasting good of the Church, must, by the same institution, necessarily remain unceasingly in the Church, which, being founded upon the Rock, will stand firm to the end of the world. For none can doubt, and it is known to all ages, that the holy and Blessed Peter, the Prince and chief of the Apostles, the pillar of the faith and foundation of the Catholic Church, received the keys of the kingdom from our Lord Jesus Christ, the Saviour and Redeemer of mankind, and lives, presides and judges to this day, always in his successors the Bishops of the Holy See of Rome, which was founded by Him and consecrated by His Blood. Whence, whosoever succeeds to Peter in this See does by the institution of Christ Himself obtain the primacy of Peter over the whole Church. The disposition made by Incarnate Truth (dispositio veritatis) therefore remains, and Blessed Peter, abiding in the rock’s strength which he received (in accepta fortitudine petrae perseverans), has not abandoned the direction of the Church.”

If the See of Peter has been empty for the past 56 years, then it is certainly evident to most persons of good sense that the Papacy is at an end. This is a necessary conclusion from the fact that since all the acts of John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I, John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis I would have to be considered invalid, there would now exist no valid Cardinals needed to elect a new Pope. The Church, in other words, would have failed, despite the promises of Our Lord, and despite the teaching of Vatican I as quoted above.

The fact that such an absurdity is given serious consideration is due largely to two factors: 1) the continuing revelations concerning the philosophical and theological errors of recent Popes ( given increased impetus by the scandal of the Papacy of Jorge Bergoglio) and, 2) the employment by Sedevacantists of an Apostolic Constitution written by Pope Paul IV in 1559, titled Cum ex Apostolatus Officio.

Concerning the first of these factors:

I have previously dealt with the very necessary distinction which must always be kept in mind between believing, teaching, and writing heresy on the one hand, and being considered a true heretic on the other. In order to be considered a formal heretic a person must persevere in his errors despite correction. His “heresy”, in other words, must be pertinacious or obstinate.

In addition, I believe this question has become profoundly complicated due to the current, widespread rejection of Thomistic cosmology and metaphysics – this denigration of Thomism engulfing even the Papacy. This denial of scholastic cosmology and metaphysics is due almost entirely to the effect of reductive analytical physical science upon Catholic thinking. And because of the almost universal ambience of this reductive materialism, there are all sorts of people of “good will” out there – persons who truly wish to follow Christ and his Church – who are desperately and foolishly trying to understand such concepts as Transubstantiation and Original Sin in a manner which will accord with what they believe is the irrefutable worldview of modern science. It is this “scientific worldview” which has supposedly necessitated doing an end-run around the Thomistic view of being and substance. And it is this loss of the understanding of being and substance which erodes the foundations of virtually all the articles of our Catholic Faith.

I have explored this problem in depth in many articles published on this website. Suffice to say here that these people are certainly immersed in very serious philosophical error, and that these errors severely affect their proper understanding of defined doctrine. What is hard to determine is whether they can truly be considered as individuals who have “lost the faith.” It is certainly my contention that recent Popes have fallen into these errors. However (and this is a huge “however”) it is even more my certain belief that, in keeping with the doctrine laid down by Vatican I concerning the never-failing faith of Peter and all his successors, none of them can be considered to have “lost the faith” (I refer the reader to my article The Sifting: The Never-Failing Faith of Peter for a fuller discussion of this subject).

This doctrine regarding the “never-failing” faith of Peter and his successors is taught by Vatican I in several passages. Here we will offer two of them:

“This gift, then, of truth and never-failing faith was conferred by Heaven upon Peter and his successors in this Chair, that they might perform their high office for the salvation of all; that the flock of Christ, kept away by them from the poisonous food of error, might be nourished with the pasture of heavenly doctrine; that, the occasion of schism being removed, the whole Church might be kept one, and resting in its foundation, might stand firm against the gates of hell.”


“For the Holy Spirit was not promised to the successors of Peter, that by His revelation they might make known new doctrine, but that by His assistance they might inviolably keep and faithfully expound the revelation or deposit of faith delivered through the Apostles. And indeed all the venerable Fathers have embraced and the holy orthodox Doctors have venerated and followed their apostolic doctrine; knowing most fully that this See of Saint Peter remains ever free from all blemish of error, according to the divine promise of the Lord Our Saviour made to the Prince of His disciples: ‘I have prayed for thee that thy faith fail not; and thou being once converted, confirm thy brethren.’”

It is worth noting here that there exists within part of the “Traditionalist” movement a whole repertoire of oft-repeated and parroted arguments which seek to justify the claim that a Pope can lose his faith. One of the most frequently used argument employs the first sentence of the above quote, which states:

“For the Holy Spirit was not promised to the successors of Peter, that by His revelation they might make known new doctrine, but that by His assistance they might inviolably keep and faithfully expound the revelation or deposit of faith delivered through the Apostles.”

Taken out of the context of the entire paragraph quoted above, and then placed into the context of the polemics used by those who wish to establish the erroneous position that a Pope can “lose his faith”, this sentence can easily be made to appear to justify the notion that a given Pope can defy the workings of the Holy Spirit and become a heretic. But if we read this sentence in the full doctrine contained in the paragraph of which it is an integral part, then we can easily see that it means just the opposite: namely, “…that this See of Saint Peter remains ever free from all blemish of error, according to the divine promise of the Lord Our Saviour made to the Prince of His disciples: ‘I have prayed for thee that thy faith fail not; and being once converted confirm they brethren.’”

In other words, the Holy Spirit was promised and given to Peter and his successors to insure not only that the Pope will make no errors in the exercise of his infallible teaching office, but also to insure that he would not personally lose the faith. The infallibility of the “See of Saint Peter”, although not necessarily guaranteeing that the Pope cannot make a mistake in his personal opinions is therefore inherently linked to the never-failing faith of Peter as a simple person. The Pope, in other words, cannot be or become a formal heretic or “one who has lost the faith.” Jesus said, “I have prayed for thee that thy faith fail not.” It should not be necessary to point out that He did not pray for some sort of Office distinct or separate from Peter, but for the man himself.

Having said this, we shall now consider the second reason for this renewed interest in Sedevacantism: the Apostolic Constitution of Paul IV:

The teaching contained in Cum ex Apostolatus Officio is astonishingly direct. The most pertinent section reads as follows:

“6. In addition {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:

i) 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;

(ii) it shall not be possible for it to acquire validity (nor for it to be said that it has thus acquired validity) through the acceptance of the office, of consecration, of subsequent authority, nor through possession of administration, nor through the putative enthronement of a Roman Pontiff, or Veneration, or obedience accorded to such by all, nor through the lapse of any period of time in the foregoing situation;

(iii) it shall not be held as partially legitimate in any way;

(iv) to any so promoted to be Bishops, or Archbishops, or Patriarchs, or Primates or elevated as Cardinals, or as Roman Pontiff, no authority shall have been granted, nor shall it be considered to have been so granted either in the spiritual or the temporal domain;

(v) each and all of their words, deeds, actions and enactments, howsoever made, and anything whatsoever to which these may give rise, shall be without force, and shall grant no stability whatsoever nor any right to anyone;

(vi) those thus promoted or elevated shall be deprived automatically, and without need for any further declaration, of all dignity, position, honour, title, authority, office and power.” (all emphasis mine).

We will begin with the notion proposed by some traditionalists that this is a document whose teaching is infallible. The reader hopefully noticed the word “define” in the first sentence above. The object of infallible teaching is, of course, faith and morals – either those truths directly revealed by God, or truths connected to, or implicit in, revelation. We need to begin, therefore, by asking exactly what truth of faith or morals is being “defined” here.

Unquestionably, Cum ex Apostolatus “defines” in regard to any Bishops (including the Pope) who “prior to his promotion or his elevation as Cardinal or Roman Pontiff, has deviated from the Catholic Faith or fallen into some heresy”, that such a person’s promotion to said office is declared “null, void and worthless”, that he is deprived of “all dignity, position, honour, title, authority, office and power”, and that “all their words, deeds, actions and enactments…shall be without force and shall grant no stability whatsoever nor any right to anyone.”

Furthermore, this “definitive” stripping by Paul IV of the validity of all acts, both temporal and spiritual, also applies to bishops who have some time in their past “deviated from the Catholic Faith:

“to any so promoted to be Bishops, or Archbishops, or Patriarchs, or Primates or elevated as Cardinals, or as Roman Pontiff, no authority shall have been granted, nor shall it be considered to have been so granted either in the spiritual or the temporal domain”.

Definitive truth does not change from century to century. If all this is definitive truth, then it would have had to be true at any time in the history of the Church. This would mean that any bishops who were guilty of Arianism or semi-Arianism would have been deprived, not only of juridical authority, but also of all spiritual power; and all their acts, including consecrations of other bishops and ordinations of priest, would have been invalid.

The same “automatic” deprivation of office and invalidation of all consecrations of bishops and ordination of priests would have applied to any bishop tainted with Donatism, Monophysitism, Nestorianism, Monothelitism, Pelagianism the Iconoclastic heresy, Jansenism, or hundreds of other heresies or variations of heresies. There would be absolutely no validity of orders in the Eastern Orthodox Churches since they were rooted from the beginning in the rejection of the Roman Primacy.

In fact, considering St. Jerome’s statement that the whole world woke up to find itself Arian, and also considering the practical impossibility of finding a priest or bishop being able to trace his own ordination or consecration back to the likes of St. Athanasius (and, in addition, without subsequent “contamination” by some more recent heresy), it would seem very reasonable to postulate that there may not be a single priest or bishop in the world who has valid Orders. And if there were any, it would be impossible to tell who they were. We would certainly never be able to conclude that any Papal election was valid, since we would never be able to decide which, if any, of the Cardinal electors were not deprived of his office and power.

As far as the daily life of any of the faithful is concerned, we have only touched the surface. No Catholic, for instance, could be sure he had ever assisted at a valid Mass, or had ever received Jesus Christ in Holy Communion. He could never be sure that he had been absolved of his sins in Confession. He or she would never be able to know if their marriage was blessed by the Church. There would be no Magisterium, since there would be no certainty in regards to those who had promulgated its teachings. There would, in other words, be no security in anything Catholic.

The fact is that there is no valid precedent for such a teaching in the whole history of the Church. It did not exist before Paul IV, and it was largely ignored after his death, except by those who wished to use it as a means to undermine the truth concerning Papal Infallibility as defined by Vatican Council I. In other words, this document was so universally recognized as a “bad case”, that if it could be proved that Pope Paul’s use of the word “definimus” really involved the charism of infallibility, then it would have been clear to all the bishops at Vatican I that Papal Infallibility had been compromised in the past, and therefore could not be defined as a doctrine. Needless to say, the Fathers at Vatican I rejected this argument on the basis that Cum ex Apostolatus Officio was not a document that involved any infallible definitions whatsoever.

The foolishness involved in any attempt to make this document infallible does not end here. Cum ex Apostolatus Officio actually uses the word “define” four times (at least that is my personal count). It “defines”, for instance, that anyone “who shall have presumed in any way knowingly to receive, defend, favour, believe or teach the teaching” of such deprived bishops, Popes, etc. “shall be incapable of making a will,” “shall not accede to the succession of heredity,” and “if they shall have been Notaries, documents drafted by them shall be entirely without strength or weight.” Can anyone seriously believe that such things are proper matter for infallible definition?

Dr. Ludvig Von Pastor in his classic work History of the Popes makes it clear that Cum ex Apostolatus Officio has always been considered a disciplinary document, that the word definimus (“defined”) occurs in other non-dogmatic documents, and that “there is no question here of a dogmatic pronouncement, but only of a disciplinary act.” (Vol XIV, p.303-303 n.2).

The fact is, however, that we are faced with a situation of almost total insecurity even if we take Cum ex Apostolatus Officio seriously as only a disciplinary document. Pope Paul IV states that his Apostolic Constitution “is to remain valid in perpetuity.” Even if such “disciplinary” prescriptions are to be considered binding only since the year 1559, we are in much the same trouble, especially when trying to trace the progress of Modernist heresies through the Epicopate. Nor is the problem just Modernism. Among other relatively recent heresies, we also have Baiansim, Jansenism, and Conciliarism. And again, we would have to conclude the Eastern Orthodox to be entirely without valid Orders. Further, we could also consider such people as Cardinal Gibbons and much of the American hierarchy as being infected from its inception with what has come to be called the Americanist Heresy. Does that mean that the validity of virtually the entire American Episcopacy and priesthood is under question just because of this one heresy?

All this is simply more foolishness. Cum ex Apostolatus Officio is a matter of acute embarrassment in the history of the Church. This must be said, despite Pope Paul IV’s calling down the wrath of God upon anyone who should presume to contradict its teaching.

It is the accurate judgment of history that Cum ex Apostolatus Officio is the distempered work of a Pope whose zeal for reform of the Church carried him to excesses which were profound violations of justice and truth. This is not to say that he did not accomplish good things in the cause of this reform. But his naturally harsh temperament and zeal led him into many excesses. Fortunately, Pope Paul IV’s “in perpetuity” definitions” could not legally bind his successors, and it would devolve upon them to correct his excesses. The following is a short explanation of the personal tragedy which is at the heart of this sad incident in Catholic history.

Towards the end of his life, Pope Paul became obsessed with the idea of preventing certain persons, mainly Cardinal Pole and Cardinal Morone, from ascending to the Papacy after his death. Cardinal Pole was out of reach in England, but on May 31, 1557 the Pope had Cardinal Morone arrested and taken to the Castle of St. Angelo. The next day the Pope informed the Cardinals in a General Congregation that he had ordered Cardinal Morone’s arrested on suspicion of heresy. “To tell the truth”, he said, “we wish to meet the dangers which threatened in the last conclave, and to take steps during our lifetime, so that the devil may not succeed in days to come in placing one of his own on the throne of St. Peter.”

Cardinal Marone spent the next 26 months in prison, until the death of Paul IV. Deprived of being able to offer, or even hear, Mass, he was subjected to full and continuing examination by the Inquisition. All his books, papers, and letters were confiscated, and all means exhausted in order to unearth sufficient material for a judgment of heresy. Cardinal Marone was able to refute all charges against him. Because of mounting evidence of his innocence, he was at least twice offered his freedom if he would ask mercy of the Pope. He replied that since he was not guilty of anything, he sought not mercy but only justice. It should be noted that Cardinal Morone was not the only one to suffer such injustice at the hand of Paul IV, but only the most famous, most revered, and in the eyes of Paul IV, most detested and feared (we remember that this is the Pope who brought about war and the sack of Rome because of his personal animosity towards the Hapsburgs and Phillip II).

Upon the death of Pope Paul IV, Cardinal Morone was immediately released. The new Pope, Pius IV, immediately ordered a revision of the case against Cardinal Morone. In the words of Dr. Von Pastor:

“After strict investigation by Cardinals Puteo and Ghislieri, of whom one was celebrated as a legal authority, and the other as a theologian, Pius IV pronounced the final sentence on March 13th, 1560. This [sentence] blames the proceedings of the Inquisition under Paul IV, on a number of points, both with regard to the actual facts and to the procedure. The imprisonment of Morone had been effected without the slightest legitimate grounds for suspicion. The investigation itself, as well as the whole conduct of the process, in which the prescribed and necessary forms had not been observed, was stigmatized as invalid, indiscreet and unjust. It was further established that there neither existed any reason for the condemnation of the Cardinal, nor any suspicion, however slight, as to his orthodoxy, and indeed that the very opposite of the accusation against him had come to light, and that the Cardinal must therefore be declared absolutely innocent.” (Vol. XIV, p. 307).

We must add the very significant fact that Cardinal Ghislieri, one of the two Cardinals appointed by Pius IV to thoroughly investigate this case, would, in less than 6 years, ascend to the throne of the Papacy as Pope St. Pius V. We thus have the witness of two Popes (Pius IV and St. Pius V) as to the profound injustices involved in this case, which was instigated and unremittingly pursued by Paul IV.

It should also be added that the injustices perpetrated by Paul IV went far beyond Cardinals Morone and Cardinal Pole. Working constantly with the Inquisition, he instituted a virtual Reign of Terror in Rome. After his death a mob stormed the Capitol, mutilated a statue of the Pope which had been erected there, decapitated the statue and left the head to be mocked at, and finally dragged it through the city and sank it in the Tiber. According to Von Pastor, “A decree of the Roman people on August 20 ordered the removal of all the coats-of-arms and inscriptions of ‘the tyrannical house of Carafa.’”

In conclusion, there is no doubt that the Apostolic Constitution Cum ex Apostolatus is a non-infallible document issued by a Pope carried to excess by intemperate zeal and paranoia for the Church. At the end of his life, Paul IV himself realized, at least partially, the extent of the tragedy unleashed upon the Church by his own harsh temperament. Again, from Dr. Von Pastor:

“Three days before his death he summoned the General of the Jesuits, Lainez, to his side and said to him: “How bitterly flesh and blood have deceived me! My relatives [speaking of the Carafa family and their hatred of the Hapsburgs, which led to war with Phillip II) have plunged me into an unhappy war, from which many sins in the Church of God have arisen. Since the time of St. Peter there has been no such unhappy pontificate in the Church! I repent bitterly of what has happened; pray for me.”

Cum ex Apostolatus officio should be considered not as a justification for considering the Chair of Peter to be empty, but rather as an object-lesson to traditionalists who, like Paul IV, are tempted to intemperate harshness and zeal in the face of the present crisis in the Church. When anger, bitterness and despair become the soul’s invited guest, then charity and intelligence flee. What is most astonishing in all this is that normally intelligent, and even learned, Catholics are entertaining or embracing such foolishness – a foolishness which, if taken seriously, would simply mean the end of the Catholic Church.