The Traditional View of the Papacy

“The Pope is the great and visible sign of unity.  As the top of the pyramidal structure that is the Catholic Church, we can be assured that he knows better than any of us in all matters of theology.  The Holy Spirit speaks directly to us whenever he opens his mouth and every encyclical he writes must be examined and read by all Catholics.  The “magisterium” of the Church exudes forth from his pen and mouth as doctrines and dogmas develop and evolve from their primitive forms.  Indeed, the lack of a protestant pope is sure sign of our righteousness and their falseness.  The SSPX are protestant schismatics and cut off from the Church for refusing to submit to his wishes.  The Orthodox are… (Wait, what are the Orthodox again?  How ecumenical are we supposed to be at this precise moment?)…

“Anyway… the existence in our church of an infallible leader is proof that we are true church.  Long Live Pope X!”

At least, so the apologists state.  The vigilante, on the other hand, is neither an Ultramontanist nor a Doctrinal Darwinian.  The need to convert to the faith is indeed dire, but an unrealistic view of the papacy will never help with that.  Indeed, he would argue that portraying the papacy as perfect will only lead to falling away as the confused and impressionable convert cannot understand Catholics’ differing opinions of their “infallible” leader (God help the converts if they learn of Rodrigo Borgia or the 9th century pontiffs!).  The vigilante knew, from the time he was ten years old, about the Cadaver Synod and thus never held the opinion that any pope was above sin, evil, or a regular human mistake.

Leave my corpse alone, you savages!

It turns out that Catholics were not always under such delusions.  One would think that any leader would leap at the chance to be portrayed as an inerrant demigod on earth (as the ruling family of Northern Korea has done), but time and time again the popes and Catholics of old made many statements and actions to destroy such a notion (and send the modern sedevacantists into apoplectic fits).

Now for some examples…

St. Hippolytus of Rome, Martyr and Antipope. Patron Saint of Horses.

Hippolytus martyrdom.jpg

Perhaps better known for the so-called “Anaphora of St. Hippolytus” on which the Pauline “Eucharistic Prayer II” was “based”,  Hippolytus is a far better parallel to Venerable Marcel Lefebrve than St. Anthanasius.  In the third century, in the last great Roman persecutions before Diocletian’s, Hippolytus led a revolt of highly orthodox Christians against the current pope, St. Zephyrinus.  Believing the church in the City of Rome to be under the influence of anti-trinitarian Sabellian heretics, he convinced many to stand with him against heterodoxy and perceived hetorodoxy.  Gifted with an incredible mind (he refuted an early pagan attempt to “trace” Christianity to older pagan cults, as many modern secularists attempt to do), he guided his followers through the reigns of several popes as both his faction and the other gave many martyrs for the faith.  Despite the condemnation of the Sabellian heresy by pope St. Calixtus, it wasn’t until both Hippolytus and pope St. Pontian were exiled to the Sardinian mines that unity was restored.  For his brutal death for Christ, he is still regarded as a saint and martyr.  His defiance to the Bishop of Rome is forgiven, for it was borne from a desire to protect the faith (a desire most future antipopes lacked).

Pope Vigilius and the Fifth Ecumenical Council

By the 6th century, there was a genuine desire among the Chalcedonian Christians to reconcile the Monophysites and Miaphysites.  The Emperor and the bishops of the east met and condemned the “Three Chapters” (some writings revered by the Nestorians written by men who were not necessarily Nestorians) in an attempt to prove that Council of Chalcedon had not endorsed Nestorianism.  Vigilius refused to allow this to occur and told the Eastern bishops they could not call a council without him present nor would he attend a council that planned to condemn the Three Chapters.  The emperor responded by sending men to bring the pope to Constantinople, where he would reside for eight years.

Eventually, the pope’s approval of the condemnation and the council was received.  The bishops of the east put into motion preparations for restoring Communion with the Anti-Chalcedonians (a hope that was never realized) while the West underwent a series of schisms in entire regions that refused to accept the council (as far as I have read, the Spanish Church at the time never officially accepted it and greeted the next council as the “Fifth Great Council”).

There are two items of relevance to take from this nearly forgotten incident:

  1. Contrary to Ultramontanism, the will of the pope and the will of the Church are not necessarily the same thing.  It is not an innovation or “the heresy of collegiality” to state that a synod of bishops can justifiably defy the pope yet still remain in the Church.
  2. Contrary to the claims of some Eastern Orthodox, the pope is absolutely required to make a council Ecumenical.  The First Council of Consantinople would be a barely-remembered local Greek Synod had the pope’s signature not been attached, Pope Leo’s rejection invalidated the Robber Synod of Epheseus, and the Eastern Churches realized the need for the pope’s approval in the Fifth Council that they were willing to essentially kidnap him to attain it.

Pope Honorius and the Sixth Ecumenical Council

In something of a sequel to the previous episode, attempts to reconcile with the Monophysites had sporadically (due to the Arab conquests) continued for the next hundred years with unintended results.  The heresy of Monothelitism had emerged as an attempted compromise and had riled much of the Church into action against it.  Constantine IV, seeking to restore inner unity, called a council which condemned Pope Honorius and four previous patriarchs of Constaninople, deposed the current Patriarch of Antioch, and witnessed a Monothelite priest unsuccessfully attempt to resurrect a corpse.

Some theologians, in attempting to defend the papacy, have stated that Honorius was never guilty of heresy but of “not doing enough”.  Sadly, to accept this would necessitate calling Pope Leo II a liar.  Both he and Pope Agatho claimed that Honorius “actively subverted” true doctrine by encouraging the heretical Patriachs of “New Rome”.  A letter written by him was even used at the council by the Monothelite camp to defend their position.  We will never know to what extent Honorius fully understood Monothelitism or the orthodox position, as all his works were destroyed by the Romans.

Sidenote: If, as some sources claim, the Maronites were Monothelites then it gives a whole new meaning to their boast of “always being loyal to Rome”.  It doesn’t matter anymore and should not be taken as a slight against them.  Only buffs of Church History should find the point relevant.

Honorius continued to be condemned by all popes after Leo II until sometime in the 11th century.   Liturgically, one can still actively condemn his teachings in the Byzantine Rite (which has a feast for almost every single one of the original seven councils).

Verse 5. Because of Thy Name have I waited for Thee, O Lord; my soul hath waited upon Thy word, my soul hath hoped in the Lord.

O glorified ones, verily ye did refute Pyrrhus, Sergius, Honorius, Eutyches, Dioscorus, with Nestor the ugly, saving the flock of Christ from the fall of either side, proclaiming Christ aloud as dual in Nature and one in Person, manifest in acts alone. Him, therefore, we worship with the Father and the Spirit, perfect God and perfect Man, and honor you with glory.

Sunday of the Fathers of the First Six Ecumenical Councils, Great Vespers

“Sts.” Ariald and Herlembald and Popes Alexander II/Urban II

By the 11th century nearly all of Western Christendom had embraced clerical celibacy as the law.  One of the last holdouts was in Northern Italy, notably Milan where the clergy defended clerical marriage as their proud tradition passed on from  the days of St. Ambrose.  This was seen by many outsiders as not only immoral, but scandalous and perhaps even heretical.  It was not long before some started moving to upset the order of things in Milan.  Lombardy had also been a hotbed for the neo-Manichean heresy of Patarinism, which held all marriage as sinful and had been diligently combated by the wedded priests of the region.  It also certainly did not help that simony was prevalent in Milan and undermined the high ground the diocese might have otherwise held.  The grudges the laity held against the clergy ran deep and were ripe for the right opportunist to exploit.

Enter the deacon Ariald from a village near Milan (who some sources state was a “woman hater” from a young age).  In 1057 he entered Milan and began to denounce the priests of the city.  Mobs began to form and assault the Milanese clergy and the Archbishop Guido ordered Ariald to desist.  Ariald defied the bishop and his fanatics began to subject the priests and their wives “to every sort of violence and indignity”.

With the cry, “Cursed be he that witholdeth his hand from blood!”, Ariald and his followers expelled the priests and their wives from the city until there were few or no priests left to even provide sacraments.  Archbishop Guido bade his time until eventually the people turned on Ariald and the priests came back.

Ariald was then joined by his brother Herlembald, a warrior just returned from a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.  Armed by Pope Alexander II with the title “Defender of the Church”, he was bidden to carry out the ending of clerical marriage with fire and blade.  The priests were thrown out again and the brothers were excommunicated by a synod at Novara.  When the people of Milan rose in revolt to drive out Ariald, Herlembald descended upon them with a force of mercenaries and cut them down.

Guido decided that now was the time to openly oppose the brothers, but Herlembald responded by obtaining a papal excommunication… of Guido.  The archbishop responded by holding the bull aloft during a homily and denouncing the “disturbers and demagogues”.  Ariald and Herlembald barely escaped the city alive.

While they were preparing to regroup, the niece of the archbishop had Ariald captured and brutally killed.  Herlembald returned to Milan with the support of papal legates and devastated the land with his bloodthirsty retribution.  For several years, Milan was wracked by civil war until Herlembald was finally killed for taking part in an attempted sacrilege (“consecrating” the Holy Chrism of Pascha without a bishop to consecrate or approve the consecration).

With absolutely no concern for the actions and moral character of the candidates, Alexander II canonized Ariald while his successor Urban II canonized Herlembald.  These were highly political canonizations, as both popes were contemporaries of the men in question and had been in the faction against clerical marriage.  The people of the Church at the time, those who pray to the saints, remembered the profane acts the “saints” had committed and those that came after them did not care to remember the brothers of destruction and schism.  As a result, the entire incident fell into obscurity and these “saints” were largely forgotten.

Ariald only made it into some martyrologies while Baronius wisely chose to strike Herlembald from the official martyrology of Rome.

Pope Innocent IV

A far less drastic example than any others in this list, it still serves to demonstrate that lack of “absolute and unquestioning obedience” need not only apply to the “grave” matters, but to the “little” ones as well.

Clare of Assisi was an undeniably saintly woman who gave up a life of luxury to follow a “marriage” to God and found the female Fransiscans.  Pope Innocent IV was so impressed with her that he spoke of her in papal bulls while she still lived.  At her funeral, he tried to have the Mass for Virgin Saints celebrated instead of the Mass for the Dead.  The Fransicans outright refused this imprudent liturgical oddity, the pope’s advisers convinced him to not go through with it, and the canonization process of St. Clare began immediately.

Popes John XXII and Benedict XII

After his predecessor had incited much controversy for publicly teaching that the souls of the saved do not enjoy the Beatific Vision until the final judgement (and imprisoning at least a few orthodox dissenters who came to Rome to challenge him), Benedict XII released a succinct encyclical to refute the theological claim of John XXII.

Benedictus Deus

By this Constitution which is to remain in force for ever, we, with apostolic authority, define the following: According to the general disposition of God, the souls of all the saints who departed from this world before the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ and also of the holy apostles, martyrs, confessors, virgins and other faithful who died after receiving the holy baptism of Christ- provided they were not in need of any purification when they died, or will not be in need of any when they die in the future, or else, if they then needed or will need some purification, after they have been purified after death-and again the souls of children who have been reborn by the same baptism of Christ or will be when baptism is conferred on them, if they die before attaining the use of free will: all these souls, immediately (mox) after death and, in the case of those in need of purification, after the purification mentioned above, since the ascension of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ into heaven, already before they take up their bodies again and before the general judgment, have been, are and will be with Christ in heaven, in the heavenly kingdom and paradise, joined to the company of the holy angels. Since the passion and death of the Lord Jesus Christ, these souls have seen and see the divine essense with an intuitive vision and even face to face, without the mediation of any creature by way of object of vision; rather the divine essence immediately manifests itself to them, plainly, clearly and openly, and in this vision they enjoy the divine essence . Moreover, by this vision and enjoyment the souls of those who have already died are truly blessed and have eternal life and rest. Also the souls of those who will die in the future will see the same divine essence and will enjoy it before the general judgment.

Such a vision and enjoyment of the divine essence do away with the acts of faith and hope in these souls, inasmuch as faith and hope are properly theological virtues. And after such intuitive and face-to-face vision and enjoyment has or will have begun for these souls, the same vision and enjoyment has continued and will continue without any interruption and without end until the last Judgment and from then on forever.

(On hell and the general judgment)

Moreover we define that according to the general disposition of God, the souls of those who die in actual mortal sin go down into hell immediately (mox) after death and there suffer the pain of hell. Nevertheless, on the day of judgment all men will appear with their bodies “before the judgment seat of Christ” to give an account of their personal deeds, “so that each one may receive good or evil, according to what he has done in the body” (2 Cor. 5.10).

The Pisan Antipopes (Alexander V and John XXIII)

The Western Schism has sometimes presented a bit of a historical problem for the papal absolutist.  Those I have talked to from the Pre-Vatican II “good old days” opine that either the Pope of Rome was the true pope (which, seeing as the pope is the Bishop of Rome, seems to make the most sense) or that none of the two or three claimants were “valid popes” (as if the papacy is an extra sacrament).

Historically, though, the Pisan claimants were far better regarded than the ones from Avignon and their popes were even included in the official lists alongside the Roman ones for some time.  This is due to the very circumstances and motivations surrounding the Pisan claim.

By the beginning of the fifteenth century, the Western schism had reached a seemingly interminable deadlock.  The Avignon antipope and the Roman pope each had their own court of cardinals and about half the Catholic kingdoms of Europe on their respective sides.  Seeking to restore unity,  bishops and cardinals in both camps began to open talks with the hopes of organizing a great council to settle the matter.  Continually frustrated in their efforts by the obstinancy of the papal claimants, the cardinals of both courts met at Pisa.  There they deposed their former popes and elected a new one, Alexander V.  This did not break the deadlock as hoped and instead resulted in three claimants: one in Rome supported by half the kingdoms, one in Avignon supported by half the kingdoms, and one in Pisa supported by a large number of cardinals and bishops.

Alexander V’s successor, John XXIII (yes, John XXIII), convened the Council of Constance with the support of his Roman counterpart hoping that the matter would be put to rest.  It was indeed as all three were summarily deposed to make way for Martin V.

What to make of the Pisan attempt?  To start, it began with the desire to heal the schism that had afflicted the Church for decades.  It can certainly be credited with breaking down the impasse that existed before and for helping to usher in the decision at Constance (after all, it was the Pisan claimant who initiated proceedings at the urging of the “Holy Roman Emperor”).  Unlike the Avignon antipope, the Pisans have a sense of some legitimacy to their claim and backed down when the Church made its decision.  At worst they appear to be ultimately successful rebels who took extreme measures to try to end the wounds of schism.

And, as a vigilante, how can I condemn that?

Pope Adrian VI

And lastly, a quote from the only Dutch pope:

“I consider that, if one equates the Church of Rome with her Head, that is with the Pope, it is correct to say that she can err, even in matters touching the Faith, by giving encouragement to heresy, in issuing certain decrees, for example. Several Roman Pontiffs have in fact been guilty of heresy.”


The papacy is neither the bastion and guarantor of orthodoxy for the Church nor the “whore of Babylon” bent on destroying it.  It is what it is and always has been, the see of Peter’s successor who is the first bishop of the Church presiding in love aside his apostolic brethren.  A well-intentioned pontiff cannot always bring about the good he wishes any more than a wicked one can annihilate the Body of Christ.

For it is the Holy Spirit who ultimately guides the Church and not the bishop of Rome.


10 thoughts on “The Traditional View of the Papacy

  1. Your conclusion seems sound. The lord pope Nicholas, if I understand his position correctly, might find it wanting.

    Anyway, concerning the section about Honorius I, I can’t help but wonder, “His works were destroyed by the Romans? What about those extant letters to various bishops ( [8th heading])?” You also asserted, “Both he and Pope Agatho claimed that Honorius “actively subverted” true doctrine by encouraging the heretical [Patriarchs] of “New Rome”” At what basis do you form such assertions?

    Personally, I believe that Honorius I meant well and that the divergence of Eastern and Western ecclesiastical technicalities at the time, the span of time between his death and condemnation, and his silencing campaign rendered it void. My opinion, if you care to examine it, is founded on the chapter on Honorius I in Mann, Horace, “The Lives of the Popes in the Early Middle Ages” Vol. I Part I. And also on this quote:

    “When in 641 John IV wrote his defence of Pope Honorius, it was re-echoed by St. Maximus in a letter to Marinus, a priest of Cyprus. He declares that Honorius, when he confessed one will of our Lord, only meant to deny that Christ had a will of the flesh, of concupiscence, since he was conceived and born without stain of sin. Maximus appeals to the witness of Abbot John Symponus, who wrote the letter for Honorius.” (

    If you find my sources unreliable (or heretical), I’m sorry and please don’t hurt me. I eagerly await your reply/reaction.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Some of my sources include: ‘History of the Councils of the Church’ by Karl Josef von Hefele and ‘The Pope and the Council’ by von Dollinger. Of course, there is also the council itself:

      “And with these we define that there shall be expelled from the holy Church of God and anathematized Honorius who was some time Pope of Old Rome, because of what we found written by him to Sergius, that in all respects he followed his view and confirmed his impious doctrines.”

      “and moreover, Honorius, who was Pope of the elder Rome, has actively employed them in raising up for the whole Church the stumbling blocks of one will and one operation in the two natures of Christ our true God, one of the Holy Trinity; thus disseminating, in novel terms, amongst the orthodox people”

      With regards to the character and intentions of Honorius, I cannot help but wonder the same thing. After all, some of us may still be ashamed of certain actions of JP2 (Q’ran kissing and Assisi), but who in their right mind can accuse him of malice?

      As for the “his writings were destroyed”, I have a habit of being a bit rhetorical (for instance, at the height of the rage of JP2’s canonization I said to both my anti-canonization and pro-canonization friends, “No one will remember or pray to him in 50 years anyway! He’ll be forgotten once the ‘John Paul the Great’ crowd loses its luster.”). Some of Honorius’ stuff has certainly survived but it is a fraction of what existed before ashamed Catholics started burning his writings.

      Do I really come across as scary, Mirai-san?


      • Well, couldn’t argue with a Council, right? But I feel sorry for Honorius I. He was a good man during his lifetime, then suddenly within a few decades after his death, he was anathematized. I really admired his work (judging from the few surviving letters of his Register and from Mann’s research), but the price of non-vigilance in Church matters really is terrible.

        Well, you kinda use strong language in some of your blog posts, so I thought you might rain righteous fury if I had been in error. Sorry about that.


      • I see. I might have to work on my image a bit. Although, the writings of the Fathers and the wording of the Councils were full of very strong language themselves.

        There are many people with heterodox views in history who meant well and could be considered “good men” with regards to personal virtue. No one had anything bad to say about Origen until the Fifth Ecumenical Council, von Hugel was described often as a kind man and had great devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, John Wesley was quite admirable in many ways, and Nestorius can be seen as a more sympathetic character than Cyril of Alexandria.

        I have no idea how God weighs these things when judging souls. That is way beyond anyone.


  2. The Ariald n’ friends case reminds me of many people in my FSSP parish. I used to be have hardline view towards mandatory celibacy but now I just see it as stupid. It is not a “venerable” tradition and priests are not monastics so it makes no sense to force clerics into life without a wife.

    Oh Lord, please give holy wives to all future priests!


    • Flipping the “Married Priests – On” switch will fix nothing. The root cause (suppression/trivialization of minor orders and the Diaconate due to the seminary system) can be mostly be addressed without lifting mandatory celibacy or by lifting it as a last step.

      Imagine a Church where men in the parishes, through years of serving in the Diaconate, could ascend to the Priesthood. Bringing back this approach should be the goal.


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