Why St. Robert Bellarmine would hold the Renunciation was invalid

by Br. Alexis Bugnolo

The Saints are a sure guide in every difficulty. We have only to find the Saints who encountered the same difficulty and examine their example or doctrine to find sound counsel for how we should respond.

For this reason, I have written previously or had published here a series of articles on the Saints who would be patrons in discerning what to do in the present Crisis in the Church:

  1. Saint Vincent Ferrer: who was lied to by a Cardinal for 38 years, into supporting an Antipope.
  2. Bless Pope Urban II: who fought and defeated an Antipope by his courage and generosity.
  3. Saint Bernard of Clairvaux: who fought against an Antipope on the principles of law.
  4. Bl. Ann Catherine Emmerich: who described in vision the crisis of Two Popes.
  5. Saint Ivo of Kermartin: who make sacrifices so that the poor would not be exploited by the powerful
  6. Saint Alphonsus dei Liguori: who wrote a tract on Legal Interpretation which gives sound principles for the reading of Pope Benedict’s Declaratio of Feb. 11, 2013

To these six, I wish to add a seventh, Saint Robert Bellarmine.

First, we probably have heard the principle, A doubtful pope is no pope. Which Saint Robert advances to resolve the question of whether the man elected in a Conclave which does not follow all the rules is therefore  a valid pope or not. He holds that he is not valid and should resign.

“Hence the saying of Bellarmine: a doubtful pope is no pope. ‘Therefore,’ continues the Cardinal, ‘if a papal election is really doubtful for any reason, the elected should resign, so that a new election may be held. But if he refuses to resign, it becomes the duty of the bishops to adjust the matter, for although the bishops without the pope cannot define dogma nor make laws for the universal Church, they can and ought to decide, when occasion demands, who is the legitimate pope; and if the matter be doubtful, they should provide for the Church by having a legitimate and undoubted pastor elected. That is what the Council of Constance rightly did.’” 8

(The Church of Christ: An Apologetic and Dogmatic Treatise, By Rev. E. Sylvester Berry, Page 229, Note 8: Bellarmine, “De Concilio, ii, 19)

(Source: here)

Now, in logic, any affirmation can be transformed into other true statements by a conversion. Let’s apply those principles to the maxim:

A doubtful pope is not the pope.

This is said in the context of a papal election, so let us add that condition to each side of the predication:

A doubtfully elected pope is not an elected pope.

Now let us transform the affirmation by changing the condition, from an election to a resignation:

A doubtfully resigned pope is not a resigned pope.

Now let us simplify the statement, with the logical equivalent of “not a resigned”

A doubtfully resigned pope is still the pope.

NOTE WELL, in the same passage from St. Robert, you see the affirmation of the Apostolic Right of the College of Bishops to intervene when there is an impeded see. I wrote about this in my article, Divine and Apostolic Right takes precedence in a State of Emergency.

But, more a propos to the present consideration: the Saint admits that God concurs with Canon Law in all such questions, there where the Saintly Cardinal in this passage from De Romano Pontifice lib. ii cap. xxx, says:

«Nam iurisdictio datur quidem Pontifici a Deo, sed hominum opera concurrente, ut patet; quia ab hominibus habet iste homo, qui ante non erat Papa, ut incipiat esse Papa; igitur non aufertur a Deo nisi per hominem, at hæreticus occultus non potest ab homine iudicari; nec ipse sponte eam potestatem vult relinquere.»

Which I render thus, in English:

For jurisdiction is indeed given to the Pontiff by God, but as One concurring with the works of men, as is clear: because from men this man, who before was not the Pope, has it, that he begins to be the Pope: therefore, it is not taken away (from him) by God, except through men, but an occult heretic cannot be judged by man; nor does the same want to relinquish that power willingly.

The key words here are: as One concurring with the works of men. This ablative phrase is not an absolute, it modifies God, and follows the classical Latin tradition of speaking of God under a certain restriction or condition. Here it speaks of God inasmuch as He agrees with men.

Saint Robert then explains: that a man who is elected has his office as pope  on account of the election made by men. The context here is a valid or legitimate papal election. And the presupposition is that the law is observed.

Now God concurs with the works of men in three ways, as it clear: by approving them, by disapproving them and by tolerating them. By approving them, when they are in accord with His Divine will for men — I use here will, in the sense of a thing willed, not the faculty of the Divine Nature.  By disapproving them, when they are not in accord with His divine will and hence in consequence He sends a punishment or sign of His disapproval. And by tolerating them, that is, when whether they be more or less perfect, they either do not transgress His will for men or they are the matter out of which He will bring a greater good.

For any one work of man God might be said to be approving, disapproving and tolerating each in a different respect. Approving of what is good, disapproving of what is morally disordered, and tolerating inasmuch He allows them to happen.

And since the ways of God are not always things which lay open to the discernment of men, it is not with great certitude that we can know God’s mind on any particular matter, unless we have certain knowledge of the Divine Mind. A thing which is only possible by Divine Revelation.

But of all the works of men, therefore, that God concurs with, we can say of one, that what God’s will for men is, because we have certain knowledge of the Divine Mind through the testimony of the Son of God as recorded in the Gospel of Saint Matthew and handed down in the Church as worthy of utmost faith:

And Jesus answering, said to him: Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona: because flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but my Father who is in heaven.

18 And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

19 And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose upon earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven.

Matthew 16:17-19

And it follows, since, because John Paul II was the valid and legitimate successor of Saint Peter, that Peter lived in him, when he promulgated the Code of Canon Law of 1983. And thus, these words of Our Blessed Lord and Lawgiver Supreme: whatsoever though shalt bind upon earth, are engaged in upholding that Code of Canon Law.

Therefore, God concurring above all, expressly with the works of Peter, we are obliged by divine faith to hold that God concurred approvingly with the work of Pope John Paul II, who laid down in Canon 332, that a pope resigns when a pope renounces his munus. Not at any other time or occasion.

But Pope Benedict XVI did not renounce his munus. He renounced the ministry he had been confided through the hands of the Cardinals.

Therefore, God could not have concurred approvingly with that act, because if He did, He would have made Jesus Christ out to be a liar, or the Gospel of Saint Matthew out to be a fraud, or the Church which proposes both to be believed without any doubt, a trickster. But in such a case, there would be no reason to even care who is the pope and who is not! The Catholic Faith would be a fraud and not worthy of any attention!

But that is an impossibility. Therefore, so is the first premise, namely, that God concurred approvingly with that act.

Therefore, God did not concur approvingly with the Declaratio as an act of papal resignation.

Therefore, Saint Robert Bellarmine would hold that he is still the pope.

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8 thoughts on “Why St. Robert Bellarmine would hold the Renunciation was invalid”

  1. So interesting! Recently, some posers out there like Ryan Grant have used the very writings of Bellarmine selectively to say just the contrary. Hmm….

  2. This is what Abp. Lefebvre had to say about the new code of Canon law. “You know that the new Code of Canon Law (844.4) permits a priest to give Communion to a protestant. It is what they call eucharistic hospitality. These are protestants who remain protestant and do not convert. This is directly opposed to the Faith. For the Sacrament of the Eucharist is precisely the sacrament of the unity of the Faith. To give Communion to a protestant is to rupture the Faith and its unity.”

  3. Thanks for the response, Brother. If there were in fact, a law in the new code, which was unjust, can we reject it as being no law at all, or would we have to dismiss the entirety of the 1983 code? The reason I ask is that the sspx says we must reject codes 844, 1055.1 (ends of marriage), and 336 (codifies collegiality). Thank you.

    1. Canon 844 §2 is taught by Saint Alphonsus dei Liguori, who even says if there were no Catholic priests or Bishops in some remote land, a Catholic could seek ordination as a priest from Schismatic so long has he did not have to profess the errors of the Schismatic and the Schismatic had valid orders. The Saint Says this because the highest law is the salvation of soul.
      Here we must keep in mind that the schism of 1054 is a formal one, but not everyone in those Churches separated from Rome agrees with the separation. When someone from one of those churches seeks a Sacrament from the Catholic Church that is ipso facto proof that they do not adhere to the Schism. The other following Canons approach the matter in the same way, but must be understood according to canon 17, and §1 of the same canon, which speaks of what is licit. Thus it presupposes what is valid, namely, that the person seeking the sacraments seeks them with all the dispositions otherwise required. If one were to interpret it, without canon 17, then it could mean anything, but that is forbidden by canon 17. However, the problem in reading this canon is not so much in the code as in the one reading it, because the lawless man knows no restrictions. I think if you follow Canon 17, you will see that in cases of occult conversions, that is, when a non Catholic converts to the faith, but does not let anyone but the Catholic priest know of it, he can receive the sacraments. This is an ancient practice going back to the time of the Martyrs, and is necessary in lands, like Islamic ones, where such a revelation would be cause of their immediately execution by law or a mob. Therefore, it seems that the other sections of this canon § 3 and §4 apply. Finally, as regards this canon, it protects the SSPX, who are regarded by many as not being in full communion with the Church.

      As for Canon 1055 §1, it regards the ends of the marriage contract, not the Sacrament So it is speaking on the natural level. Canon 17 would forbid that definition from being transposed to the Sacramental level. Canon 1055 §1 has to define Marriage first on the natural level, because the marriage of a catholic to a catechumen who promises to receive the sacrament and who has the faith, is regarded as a natural matrimony, not a sacramental one, but one for which before the Council the Church granted a dispensation for the celebration of in Church, on account of removing scandal and encouraging in the strongest possible manner the conversion of non Catholics. Such a Sacrament of Matrimony revives upon the Baptism of the non Catholic, at which time both should be asked to renew their vows and make the Marriage a Sacramental one in the formal sense of both Sacrament and Canon Law.

      Canon 336 simply reiterates 2000 years of Church practice, because as Saint Robert Bellarmine points out, when the Apostlic See is impeded the Bishops have the right to intervene. Now this could not be unless the Bishops belong to some College by their consecration to which the Roman Pontiff also belongs by his office. This is why the ancient Ecumencial Councils were held without the presence of the Roman Pontiff, to show that the bishops had the right to act apart from his presence, even though they were there with his approval. What some may think collegiality means, contrary to canon 17, is their problem, but you certainly cannot fault canon 336 for saying this. Otherwise, you would have to deny that there is College of Apostles, and assert that Peter not only was Peter, but also was not one of the Apostles.

  4. Okay, I think I understand now. Thank you so much for taking the time to explain it to me, Br. Bugnolo. It seems the sspx could use some Canon lawyers in their midst.

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