Book II, Chapter 30
by St. Robert Bellarmine, Doctor of the Church
opinion is that of Cajetan, for whom the manifestly heretical Pope is
not ipso facto deposed, but can and must be deposed by the Church. To
my judgment, this opinion cannot be defended. For, in the first place,
it is proven with arguments from authority and from reason that the
manifest heretic is ipso facto deposed. The argument from authority is
based on St. Paul (Titus, c. 3), who orders that the heretic be avoided
after two warnings, that is, after showing himself to be manifestly
obstinate which means before any excommunication or judicial sentence.
And this is what St. Jerome writes, adding that the other sinners are
excluded from the Church by sentence of excommunication, but the
heretics exile themselves and separate themselves by their own act from
the body of Christ. Now, a Pope who remains Pope cannot be avoided, for
how could we be required to avoid our own head? How can we separate
ourselves from a member united to us?
This principle is most certain. The non-Christian cannot in any way be
Pope, as Cajetan himself admits (ib. c. 26). The reason for this is
that he cannot be head of what he is not a member; now he who is not a
Christian is not a member of the Church, and a manifest heretic is not
a Christian, as is clearly taught by St. Cyprian (lib. 4, epist. 2),
St. Athanasius (Scr. 2 cont. Arian.), St. Augustine (lib. de great.
Christ. cap. 20), St. Jerome (contra Lucifer.) and others; therefore
the manifest heretic cannot be Pope.
To this Cajetan responds (in Apol. pro tract. praedicto cap. 25 et in
ipso tract. cap. 22) that the heretic is not a Christian "simpliciter"
[i.e. without qualification, or absolutely], but is one "secundum quid"
[i.e. in a relative sense]. For, granted that two things constitute the
Christian - the faith and the character - the heretic, having lost the
faith, is still in some way united to the Church and is capable of
jurisdiction; therefore, he is also Pope, but ought to be removed,
since he is disposed, with ultimate disposition, to cease to be Pope:
as the man who is still not dead but is "in extremis" [at the point of
Against this: in the first place, if the heretic remained, "in actu,"
united to the Church in virtue of the character, he would never be able
to be cut or separated from her "in actu," for the character is
indelible. But there is no one who denies that some people may be
separated "in actu" from the Church. Therefore, the character does not
make the heretic be "in actu" in the Church, but is only a sign that he
was in the Church and that he must return to her. Analogously, when a
sheep wanders lost in the mountains, the mark impressed on it does not
make it be in the fold, but indicates from which fold it had fled and
to which fold it ought to be brought back. This truth has a
confirmation in St. Thomas who says (Summ. Theol. III, q. 8, a. 3) that
those who do not have the faith are not united "in actu" to Christ, but
only potentially - and St. Thomas here refers to the internal union,
and not to the external which is produced by the confession of faith
and visible signs. Therefore, as the character is something internal,
and not external, according to St. Thomas the character alone does not
unite a man, "in actu," to Christ.
Further against the argument of Cajetan: either faith is a disposition
necessary "simpliciter" for someone to be Pope, or it is only necessary
for someone to be a good Pope. In the first hypothesis, in case this
disposition be eliminated by the contrary disposition, which is heresy,
the Pope immediately ceases to be Pope: for the form cannot maintain
itself without the necessary dispositions. In the second hypothesis,
the Pope cannot be deposed by reason of heresy, for otherwise he would
also have to be deposed for ignorance, immorality, and other similar
causes, which impede the knowledge, the morality, and the other
dispositions necessary for him to be a good Pope (ad bene esse papae).
In addition to this, Cajetan recognises (tract. praed., ca. 26) that
the Pope cannot be deposed for the lack of dispositions necessary, not
"simpliciter," but only ad bene esse.
To this, Cajetan responds that faith is a disposition necessary
"simpliciter," but partial, and not total; and that, therefore, even if
his faith disappears he can still continue being Pope, by reason of the
other part of the disposition, the character, which still endures.
Against this argument: either the total disposition, constituted by the
character and by faith, is necessary "simpliciter," or it is not, the
partial disposition then being sufficient. In the first hypothesis, the
faith disappearing there no longer remains the disposition
"simpliciter" necessary, for the disposition "simpliciter" necessary
was the total, and the total no longer exists. In the second
hypothesis, the faith is only necessary ad bene esse, and
therefore its absence does not justify the deposition of the Pope. In
addition to this, what finds itself in the ultimate disposition to
death, immediately thereafter ceases to exist, without the intervention
of any other external force, as is obvious; therefore, also the Pope
heretic ceases to be Pope by himself, without any deposition.
Finally, the Holy Fathers teach unanimously not only that heretics are
outside of the Church, but also that they are ipso facto deprived of
all ecclesiastical jurisdiction and dignity. St. Cyprian (lib. 2,
epist. 6) says: "We affirm that absolutely no heretic or schismatic has
any power or right"; and he also teaches (lib. 2, epist. 1) that the
heretics who return to the Church must be received as laymen, even
though they have been formerly priests or bishops in the Church. St.
Optatus (lib. 1 cont. Parmen.) teaches that heretics and schismatics
cannot have the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, nor bind nor loose. St.
Ambrose (lib. 1 de poenit., ca. 2), St. Augustine (in Enchir., cap 65),
St. Jerome (lib. cont. Lucifer.) teach the same.
Pope St. Celestine I (epist. ad Jo. Antioch., which appears in Conc.
Ephes., tom. I, cap. 19) wrote: "It is evident that he [excommunicated
by Nestorius] has remained and remains in communion with us, and that
we do not consider destituted [i.e. deprived of his office by of
Nestorius] anyone who has been excommunicated or deprived of his
charge, either episcopal or clerical, by Bishop Nestorius or by the
others who followed him, after they commenced preaching heresy. For he
who had already shown himself as deserving to be excommunicated, could
not excommunicate anyone by his sentence."
And in a letter to the clergy of Constantinople, Pope St. Celestine I
says: "The authority of Our Apostolic See has determined that the
bishop, cleric, or simple Christian who had been deposed or
excommunicated by Nestorius or his followers, after the latter began to
preach heresy shall not be considered deposed or excommunicated. For he
who had defected from the faith with such preachings, cannot depose or
remove anyone whatsoever."
St. Nicholas I (epist. ad Michael) repeats and confirms the same.
Finally, St. Thomas also teaches (S. Theol., II-II, q. 39, a. 3) that
schismatics immediately lose all jurisdiction, and that anything they
try to do on the basis of any jurisdiction will be null.
There is no basis for that which some respond to this: that these
Fathers based themselves on ancient law, while nowadays, by decree of
the Council of Constance, they alone lose their jurisdiction who are
excommunicated by name or who assault clerics. This argument, I say,
has no value at all, for those Fathers, in affirming that heretics lose
jurisdiction, did not cite any human law, which furthermore perhaps did
not exist in relation to the matter, but argued on the basis of the
very nature of heresy. The Council of Constance only deals with the
excommunicated, that is, those who have lost jurisdiction by sentence
of the Church, while heretics already before being excommunicated are
outside the Church and deprived of all jurisdiction. For they have
already been condemned by their own sentence, as the Apostle teaches
(Tit. 3:10-11), that is, they have been cut off from the body of the
Church without excommunication, as St. Jerome affirms.
Besides that, the second affirmation of Cajetan, that the Pope heretic
can be truly and authoritatively deposed by the Church, is no less
false than the first. For if the Church deposes the Pope against his
will it is certainly above the Pope; however, Cajetan himself defends,
in the same treatise, the contrary of this. Cajetan responds that the
Church, in deposing the Pope, does not have authority over the Pope,
but only over the link that unites the person to the pontificate. In
the same way that the Church in uniting the pontificate to such a
person, is not, because of this, above the Pontiff, so also the Church
can separate the pontificate from such a person in case of heresy,
without saying that it is above the Pope.
But contrary to this it must be observed in the first place that, from
the fact that the Pope deposes bishops, it is deduced that the Pope is
above all the bishops, though the Pope on deposing a bishop does not
destroy the episcopal jurisdiction, but only separates it from that
person. In the second place, to depose anyone from the pontificate
against the will of the deposed, is without doubt punishing him;
however, to punish is proper to a superior or to a judge. In the third
place, given that according to Cajetan and the other Thomists, in
reality the whole and the parts taken as a whole are the same thing, he
who has authority over the parts taken as a whole, being able to
separate them one from another, has also authority over the whole
itself which is constituted by those parts.
The example of the electors, who have the power to designate a certain
person for the pontificate, without however having power over the Pope,
given by Cajetan, is also destitute of value. For when something is
being made, the action is exercised over the matter of the future
thing, and not over the composite, which does not yet exist, but when a
thing is destroyed, the action is exercised over the composite, as
becomes patent on consideration of the things of nature. Therefore, on
creating the Pontiff, the Cardinals do not exercise their authority
over the Pontiff for he does not yet exist, but over the matter, that
is, over the person who by the election becomes disposed to receive the
pontificate from God. But if they deposed the Pontiff, they would
necessarily exercise authority over the composite, that is, over the
person endowed with the pontifical power, that is, over the Pontiff.
Therefore, the true opinion is the fifth, according to which the Pope
who is manifestly a heretic ceases by himself to be Pope and head, in
the same way as he ceases to be a Christian and a member of the body of
the Church; and for this reason he can be judged and punished by the
Church. This is the opinion of all the ancient Fathers, who teach that
manifest heretics immediately lose all jurisdiction, and outstandingly
that of St. Cyprian (lib. 4, epist. 2) who speaks as follows of
Novatian, who was Pope [antipope] in the schism which occurred during
the pontificate of St. Cornelius: "He would not be able to retain the
episcopate, and, if he was made bishop before, he separated himself
from the body of those who were, like him, bishops, and from the unity
of the Church."
According to what St. Cyprian affirms in this passage, even had
Novatian been the true and legitimate Pope, he would have automatically
fallen from the pontificate, if he separated himself from the Church.
This is the opinion of great recent doctors, as John Driedo (lib. 4 de
Script. et dogmat. Eccles., cap. 2, par. 2, sent. 2), who teaches that
only they separate themselves from the Church who are expelled, like
the excommunicated, and those who depart by themselves from her or
oppose her, as heretics and schismatics. And in his seventh
affirmation, he maintains that in those who turn away from the Church,
there remains absolutely no spiritual power over those who are in the
Church. Melchior Cano says the same (lib. 4 de loc., cap. 2), teaching
that heretics are neither parts nor members of the Church, and that it
cannot even be conceived that anyone could be head and Pope, without
being member and part (cap. ult. ad argument. 12). And he teaches in
the same place, in plain words, that occult heretics are still of the
Church, they are parts and members, and that therefore the Pope who is
an occult heretic is still Pope. This is also the opinion of the other
authors whom we cite in book De Ecclesia.
The foundation of this argument is that the manifest heretic is not in
any way a member of the Church, that is, neither spiritually nor
corporally, which signifies that he is not such by internal union nor
by external union. For even bad Catholics are united and are members,
spiritually by faith, corporally by confession of faith and by
participation in the visible sacraments; the occult heretics are united
and are members although only by external union; on the contrary, the
good catechumens belong to the Church only by an internal union, not by
the external; but manifest heretics do not pertain in any manner, as we
have already proved.