See Part I here.
Changing directions a bit, I would like to discuss some of the other fundamental issues that lead people into Sedevacantism, such as the crisis in the Church.
Siscoe/Salza: Yes, this is important because the crisis in the Church is often what leads people into Sedevacantism, since it is presented as the solution for explaining the current crisis. In reality, it is a false solution which ends by causing more problems that it purports to solve. But there is a real crisis in the Church which raises many difficult questions. Bishop Athanasius Schneider recently said in a public interview that the Church today is experiencing “the fourth great crisis” in her history.
What are the other three crises that Bishop Schneider spoke of, and do you address them in the book?
Siscoe/Salza: Yes, we address all of them. The first great crisis he spoke of is the Arian Crisis of the fourth century, which Bishop Schneider referred to as “the deepest crisis.” He went on to say: “This was a tremendous crisis; all the episcopacy, almost all, collaborated with the heresy. Only some bishops remained faithful, you could count them on the fingers of one hand. This crisis lasted more or less 60 years.” The Arian crisis has many parallels to the current situation in the Church. There was also the papal crisis of the tenth century, when “the papacy was occupied by some very wicked and immoral Roman families” (Bishop Schneider). The third great crisis was the Great Western Schism of the fourteenth century, when there were two and then three men elected to the Papal office - all reigning at the same time. There was so much confusion and uncertainty over who was the true Pope that there were saints on either side.
You mentioned that the current crisis is similar to the Arian crisis of the fourth century. Can you elaborate on this?
Siscoe/Salza: It is similar to the Arian crisis in the sense that the heresy of today (Modernism, like Arianism) has in some way or another infected virtually the entire hierarchy. As we show in the book, during the Arian crisis, even the Pope wavered and excommunicated one of the greatest defenders of the Faith at the time, St. Athanasius. This is very similar to what we are experiencing in today’s Modernist crisis. Almost the entire episcopate is infected in some way with Modernism, which is an error that obscures the object of faith (i.e. what it is that Catholics must believe by Faith), which naturally leads to a weakening and eventually to a loss of faith. Modernism doesn’t merely attack one doctrine; it attacks all doctrines by undermining the immutability of truth itself.
Would you say that Modernism has even infected the Pope?
Siscoe/Salza: I don’t think anyone who understands Modernism, as it was explained by St. Pius X in the encyclical Pascendi, would deny it. Pascendi, in fact, provides the key to understanding much of the doctrinal confusion in the Church today. Modernism is the root cause of the current crisis in the Church; and the crisis in the Church is what has led the Sedevacantists to reject the recent Popes and the rest of the bishops.
Does the book address the crisis in the Church or just Sedevacantism?
Siscoe/Salza: It deals with both. It addresses and answers virtually all the questions that Catholics (and Sedevacantists) have about the situation in the Church. In other words, the book doesn’t just point out the problems and the mistaken reaction to the problems (i.e., Sedevacantism); rather, it answers the difficult questions that naturally arise due to the current situation in the Church. The book is much more than just a refutation of the errors of Sedevacantism. We answer the difficult questions by relying on the teaching of the councils, Popes, Doctors and some of the Church’s best theologians. In so doing, the book helps Catholics navigate through the crisis using the map of Tradition, while at the same time refuting the many modern errors on both the Left and Right - most notably the errors of Sedevacantism.
What are some of the fundamental errors that cause people to embrace Sedevacantism?
Siscoe/Salza: One of the main errors is an incorrect understanding of the doctrine of papal infallibility. There are many Catholics today who, like the Sedevacantists, do not properly understand this doctrine and its limitations.
Can you explain?
Siscoe/Salza: When the First Vatican Council defined the doctrine of papal infallibility, it did so by listing four very specific conditions which, when satisfied together, render the decision of a Pope infallible. The conditions are that he is 1) defining a doctrine (not just saying something) 2) of faith or morals, 3) to be held by the universal Church as a matter of Catholic faith. And he must impose the doctrine on the Church 4) with the full force of his authority.
Can you explain in more detail how papal infallibility operates?
Siscoe/Salza: Papal infallibility is a negative charism. It is not to be confused with revelation, which is the communication of a truth to man by means that are above the normal course of nature. Nor is it to be confused with inspiration which is a positive divine influence that moves and controls a human agent in what he says or writes. Infallibility is a charism that prevents a Pope from binding the Church to error, according to the promises of Christ Himself: “Whatever you bind or loose on earth, shall be bound or loosed in Heaven” (cf. Mt 16:18-19).
Is it possible for a Pope to err when he does not meet the conditions defined by the First Vatican Council?
Siscoe/Salza: Yes and we provide many examples of this in the book.
Can you provide mention some of these examples?
Siscoe/Salza: One example is the famous case of Pope John XXII (d. 1334), who publicly taught that those who die in the state of grace will not possess the Beatific Vision until after the general judgment. He taught this publicly and even tried to impose it on the Church, although he never did so with the full force of his authority. Because his novelty was contrary to the common teaching of the Church, it resulted in doctrinal confusion and division between those who followed the Pope and those who held to the Traditional teaching. Eventually, the Pope realized he was wrong and renounced his error on his death bed. His immediate successor defined the doctrine by affirming that the souls of the faithful departed do indeed enter the Beatific Vision before the general judgment. Clearly, those who followed Pope John XXII on the basis that he was the Pope were proven to be wrong. Those who resisted him and continued to profess the true doctrine were correct and were eventually vindicated. In this case, the faith was defended by those who opposed the teaching of the Pope. It is an unusual situation to be sure, but a situation that has occurred in the history of the Church. We should also note that the Church has never declared that John XXII lost his office when he publicly taught this error.
But if John XXII didn’t lose his office over this matter, doesn’t this historical example refute the Sedevacantist thesis?
Siscoe/Salza: Yes, it is one of many examples which show that a Pope can teach error (and even heresy) and not lose his office. We say “even heresy,” because it could certainly be argued that John XXII’s teaching was heretical even before his immediate successor, Benedict XII, issued the solemn definition, since the truth that John XXII denied had been part of the ordinary teaching of the Church, which is why there was such immediate and vigorous opposition to John XXII’s novel teaching.
How do the Sedevacantists reply to this historical example?
Siscoe/Salza: Most will argue that John XXII’s teaching was not strictly heretical because the doctrine had not yet been solemnly defined by the Church. However, the First Vatican Council does not limit infallibility to doctrines to have been solemnly defined. The Church can also propose a doctrine with a definitive character by the force of the Ordinary and Universal Magisterium, which would likely be the case with the doctrine that John XXII denied. If so, the denial of the doctrine would have qualified as heretical, even before it was solemnly defined.
Also, these same Sedevacantists argue that the early Eastern bishop, Nestorius, automatically lost his office for preaching heresy in 428 A.D. But this was before the Council of Ephesus defined the correct doctrine (theotokos) in 431 A.D. (three years later). The Sedevecantists can’t have it both ways; they can’t argue that John XXII’s error was not heretical because the truth he denied had not yet been solemnly defined, and at the same time hold that Nestorius was a heretic, when the doctrine he denied had also not yet been defined.
Do the Sedevacantists have any other explanation for why John XXII did not lose his office for heresy?
Siscoe/Salza: Yes. One popular Sedevacantist preacher (a former Presbyterian minister) argues that the reason is because he did not definitively “impose” his error on the universal Church with the full force of his authority. But the same can be said for all the post-conciliar Popes, since none sought to definitively imposed any modern errors (ecumenism; religious liberty) on the Church with the full force of their authority. In fact, in many cases the recent Popes have failed to explain what these novel doctrines mean, much less have they sought to definitively impose them on the Church as matters of faith.
Do you mention any other examples of papal errors?
Siscoe/Salza: Yes, we include many more. For example, during the papal crisis of the tenth century, which Bishop Schneider referred to as the second great crisis in the Church, we had Popes declaring that the ordinations of their predecessors were invalid. A series of Popes went back and forth reversing the teaching of previous Popes; one would claim that the ordinations of a previous Pope were invalid, while the next claimed they were not. This continued for years. Imagine how confusing this must have been for the faithful, who didn’t know for sure if the Masses they attended, or the absolutions they received in confession, were valid or invalid. As we show in the book, these declarations of invalidity were based on a doctrinal error concerning what is required for a valid sacrament. Yet in spite of this doctrinal error that underpinned the erroneous judgment, the Church never declared that any of these Popes lost their office. Note well: this was not simply a practical mistake, but an erroneous doctrinal judgment. In fact, it might be said that these errors, which directly regard Church doctrine (i.e., what is required for the validity of a sacrament) caused more consternation than the novelties of today, which usually attack Catholic doctrine indirectly (interfaith prayer, quickie annulments, etc.).
How do the Sedevacantist respond to this historical event, since its seems to contradict what they think is possible?
SiscoeSalza: We quote one Sedevacantist apologists whose only explanation is to claim that the Popes who erred over the matter of invalid ordinations were not true Popes. Even though they have always been recognized as true Popes by the Church, this is the only way he can reconcile this historical event with his position.
How does a consideration of the previous crises that the Church has endured help Catholics today in navigating their way through the current crisis?
Siscoe/Salza: Great question. The answer demonstrates how God brings good out of evil. The previous crises assist us by showing what God can permit his Church to endure. They also add experiential knowledge to the revealed knowledge that the Church possesses. The experiential knowledge helps to flesh out what the Church knows by her own doctrine. For example, the Church teaches that a Pope is infallible in very rare circumstances; the previous crises shows us, in practice, that Popes indeed can err when they don’t meet these conditions. Experiential knowledge adds much light to the doctrinal knowledge that the Church possesses by virtue of divine revelation. This helps us by showing that if a Pope is teaching something that is clearly opposed to what the Church has always taught (as did John XXII), or what is taught in the Catechisms, he should not be blindly followed on the basis that his novel teaching is infallible. He is only protected from error (that is, infallible) when he defines a doctrine for the universal Church. It also shows us that if a Pope does profess error, or even heresy, it does not “prove” he is not a true Pope, as the Sedevacantists claim.
Is there any other way that the previous crises in the Church help in the current crisis?
Siscoe/Salza: The previous crises also assist us by showing that no matter how bad things appear, the Church will always make it through and come out stronger on the other side. This helps to give us hope, which is a much needed virtue today.
Why do you say that hope is a much needed virtue today?
Siscoe/Salza: The reason is because, in the current crisis, many are tempted to despair over the situation in the Church, and hope is the virtue that overcomes despair. We resist a temptation by practicing the opposite virtue, and realizing that God will bring His suffering Church through the present crisis will help to strengthen our hope.
Based on some of the previous interviews you have given, and some of the endorsements I have read, the book goes into some very deep theology.
Siscoe/Salza: It goes into much depth on the nature of the Church, infallibility, the bonds of union with the Church, and some of the more controversial (and misunderstood) doctrines, such as No Salvation Outside the Church. A seminary professor (priest and rector) told us that our chapter on the doctrine No Salvation Outside of the Church is the most complete he has ever read in one source. It was necessary to go into such depth because of the depth of the errors of Sedevacantism. Their errors could not have been properly treated without delving deep into theology.
How will the deep theology help the average reader?
Siscoe/Salza: It will do so by answering all of the questions they have, not only by providing a surface explanation, but also by answering on the deeper level; but even at the deeper level, the book is written in a way that can be understood by the average reader. It answers the difficult questions, not based on emotion (anger or frustration over what is taking place in the Church), but based on sound doctrine. If we allow ourselves to be guided and form our judgments based on the teachings of the Church, it is surprising how much clarity we can gain – even in the midst of the confusion and darkness of our day.
And we are actually fortunate today (in the current crisis) because we have so many council texts, papal encyclicals, and writings of Doctors, saints and theologians to help guide us. Those who lived during the Arian crisis did not have such a treasure-trove of Church teachings to rely on. Our book is full of extensive quotations which provide the answers we are all looking for.
In your opinion, what is happening in the Church today?
Siscoe/Salza: It has traditionally been believed that the life of the Church would parallel the life of Christ, which means she would suffer a Passion similar to what Christ himself endured. We are currently in the midst of the Passion of the Church. Just as Christ was virtually unrecognizable during His Passion, so too the Church today is, in many respects, virtually unrecognizable when compared to what it was a mere six decades ago.
Are there any parallels between the time of our Lord’s Passion and today, with respect to the followers of Christ?
Siscoe/Salza: During Christ’s Passion, the Apostles themselves lost faith that he was the Messiah. They couldn’t understand how Christ could suffer what He did. They probably retained their faith in the Old Testament revelation that predicted the coming of the Messiah, but no longer believed that Jesus was the Promised One. In the same way, the Sedevacantists claim to have retained their faith in the New Testament Revelation (the teaching of Christ), but have lost their faith in the Church – the Mystical Body of Christ – as it undergoes a Passion of its own. Given the situation in the Church, it is not at all surprising that some individuals would be so scandalized that they would lose their faith in the Church. Considered in this light, it is not at all surprising that the error of Sedevacantist exists in our day.
After one loses faith in the Church, what happens next?
Siscoe/Salza: Some simply leave the Church for another religion or for a Protestant denomination. With the Sedevacantists, however, since they mistakenly believe that the suffering Church has defected (and become a New Church), they become the most bitter persecutors of the Catholic Church as it endures its own Passion. They expose all of the wounds of the Church, not so that they can be dealt with, dressed and healed, but in order to mock and ridicule the Church. Each new wound brings them joy and satisfaction, and encourages them in their efforts. We have the Modernists attacking the Church on one side, and the Sedevacantists on the other. The Modernists disfigure the Church (just as Christ was disfigured during His Passion) while the Sedevacantists point to all the wounds caused by the Modernists, as “proof” that the Church is not the true Church.
Who would benefit from this book?
Siscoe/Salza: Anyone who is struggling to understand what is happening to the Church, and not sure what to make of it, would greatly benefit. It is a must read for priests, and would also be great for college students or study groups. Even home-school students, and their parents, could benefit greatly from the book. Whoever reads this book will gain a much deeper understanding of the Church and the crisis that is currently assailing her.
How can people order the book?
Siscoe/Salza: The easiest way is to order on our website, at www.trueorfalsepope.com, where it can be ordered now. It will also be available in Catholic bookstores and on Amazon after the first of the year 2016.