22 February 2021


Somebody has told me that the First Vatican Council taught that "If the pope, as a private person, encourages heresy, the Apostolic See would be vacant, and then we must not innovate anything, but stick to what has been handed down."


I do not know where, in the Conciliar Acta, this occurs. Can anybody help me?


frjustin said...

Bishop Athanasius Schneider deals conclusively with the issue when he states:

"The act of deposition of a pope because of heresy or the declaration of the vacancy of the Papal chair because of the loss of the papacy ipso facto on behalf of a heretical pope would be a revolutionary novelty in the life of the Church, and this regarding a highly important issue of the constitution and the life of the Church. One has to follow in such a delicate matter – even if it is of practical and not strictly of doctrinal nature – the surer way (via tutior) of the perennial sense of the Church. Notwithstanding the fact that three successive Ecumenical Councils (the Third Council of Constantinople in 681, the Second Council of Nicaea in 787, and the Fourth Council of Constantinople in 870) and pope Saint Leo II in 682 excommunicated Pope Honorius I because of heresy, they did not even implicitly declare that Honorius I had lost the papacy ipso facto because of heresy. In fact, the pontificate of Pope Honorius I was considered valid even after he had supported heresy in his letters to Patriarch Sergius in 634, since he reigned after that another four years until 638.

The following principle, formulated by pope Saint Stephen I (+ 257) although in a different context, should be a guideline in treating the highly delicate and rare issue of a heretical pope: “Nihil innovetur, nisi quod traditum est,” i.e., “Let there be no innovation beyond what has been handed down.”


davidmorourke said...

I don't remember his name but back around the 6th or 7th was there not a pope who was an Arian?

William Tighe said...

I have the vague memory that Pope Paul IV may have said something very close to this in his bull Cum ex apostolatus officio of February 1559. I went to Wikipedia, but the article there is very short and lacking in detail; cf.:


I have never heard or read of any such statement emanating from Vatican I.

Protasius said...

I have found something very like this given as a quote from Saint Antoninus' Summa Theologica with the remark that it had been quoted in the acts of Vatican I. I have so far not been able to verify this claim, but maybe this is at least a bit useful.

Fr John Hunwicke said...

Dear Frjustin and others: I did not ask for the information you give about Honorius; in fact, I myself wrote about the significance of the case of Pope Honorius on this blog in February of 2015, perhaps even before Bishop Schneider got on to him!!

What I sought was help pinpointing the alleged quotation from Vatican I.

I do not believe that Vatican I ever said this, but there are problems about proving negatives.

Any help you can give with regard to this claimed "quotation" will be gratefully received.

frjustin said...

By analogy with what has often been claimed for Vatican II, I suspect that this "quotation" is thought to be "in the spirit of Vatican I", and not according to any rigidly accurate wording of the Council.

Actually, it seems to be neither in the spirit nor in the wording of Vatican I.

Vae Victis said...

Here is the source sir.


Pulex said...

To Fr. Hunwicke: This quote is not in any of the documents promulgated by the council. Maybe during the proceedings some council father said it?
To William Tighe: Paul IV in "Cum ex apostolatus" declares that if somebody was heretic before the election his election is null. The bull does not deal with a question of validly elected pope becoming heretic.

Fr John Hunwicke said...

Vae Victis

Thank you. I read that with interest. But it gives on information about the "quotation" which initiated my enquiry.

I am none the wiser! But, provisionally, I will assume that the "quotation" is spurious.

Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

Dear Father. Because Cum ex apostalatus was mentioned, here are two backgrounders on that matter:



Banshee said...

Vatican II says it, in "Sacrosanctum Concilium", 23:

"Finally, there must be no innovations unless the good of the Church genuinely and certainly requires them, and care must be taken that any new forms adopted should in some way grow organically from forms already existing."