+St. Robert Bellarmine+
This post will examine why the commentaries on Antichrist in Daniel and the Apocalypse are not always as helpful as they could or should be. Most of the theologians who commented on the Apocalypse were forced to address issues owing to the Protestant heresy that the Popes individually and the papacy as a whole constitutes Antichrist and his system. Among the commentators most devoted to this fight, the refutation of the papal antichrist heresy bled over into practically all of their commentary, sometimes to the extent that it prevented them from considering many things that might have helped us today.
This is especially true in the case of St. Robert Bellarmine, who of course lived during the heighth of the Reformation and was most involved in combatting those heresies. Bellarmine could not have known what we know today or have learned over the course of the past nearly 500 years how the Church’s teaching on various subjects would develop. While Protestants eventually gave up the papal Antichrist theory for a time, it has resurfaced with renewed vigor over the past several decades since the usurpers in Rome have become increasingly more liberal. This is especially true given the sex scandals that have rocked the Novus Ordo church. Although statistics show Protestant churches are just as plagued by these scandals as the Novus Ordo; they simply are more successful in keeping it quiet, since these incidents happen in numerous Protestant sects and are not attributed to Protestantism as a whole.
What is perplexing to us today is why Bellarmine did not make use of Pope Paul IV’s bull Cum ex Apostolatus Officio to quell the papal antichrist heresy, since this bull seems to have been especially written to refute it. True, he was only a teenager when the bull was written, but in his later career it seems that given his work on heresy, he might have had occasion to refer to it. If such a reference exists in his works, it is not known to us. But a consideration of the possible consequences of using this argument might explain why it was never put forth. To begin with, Paul IV, who was an avid reformer, was not a popular pope. As a cardinal he had advised Pope Paul III to call the Roman Inquisition and when it convened he was placed in charge of it. As a pope he set out to reform clerical and religious life and even the Roman Curia, something not appreciated by the cardinals, who he considered untrustworthy (Philip Hughes, A Popular History of the Catholic Church, p. 176). Hughes relates that he managed to reform clerical life in Rome to such an extent that even into the 20th century “Rome bears…something of the appearance of a monastery… [after] worldliness had dulled the achievement even of good popes.” Pope Paul IV “broke and broke forever… all the long tradition in which worldliness in the highly placed cleric was taken as rather in the nature of things” (Ibid., p. 173).
When Paul IV died, a Roman mob tore down the statute they had erected to him earlier and rioted for 12 days. But as Hughes notes, despite his rigidity and austerity — also his failings in not ridding himself soon enough of his nephews who damaged relations with the Papal States Paul IV had entrusted to them — his accomplishments in banishing worldliness stood. His campaign against heresy was no less ruthless as Cum ex… reveals. And it was one of his own cardinals, accused of promoting himself as a future pope and of sympathizing with Lutheran heretics, that prompted him to write Cum ex… But given the inroads already made by Luther and the other Reformers, it came too late. According to the bull, it was issued specifically to correct a false interpretation of Holy Scripture, which the papal antichrist heresy certainly was. It reads:
“The Apostle’s office entrusted, to Us by God, though beyond any merit of Ours, lays upon Us the general care of theLord’s flock. Hence We are bound, to watch over the flock assiduously, as a vigilant shepherd, with faithful protection and wholesome guidance. We must see attentively to driving away from Christ’s fold those who, in Our time more consciously and balefully than usual, driven by malice and trusting in their own wisdom, rebel against the rule of right Faith and strive to rend the Lord’s seamless robe by corrupting the sense of the Holy Scriptures with cunning inventions. We must not allow those to continue as teachers of error who disdain to be taught… And lest it befall Us to see in the holy place the abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel the prophet, We wish, as much as possible with God’s help, in line with our pastoral duty, to trap the foxes that are busily ravaging the Lord’s vineyard and to drivethe wolves from the sheepfolds.”
What better corrupts the sense of Holy Scripture than the heresy of Luther and other Protestant sects who pretend the popes are Antichrist? That was the prevailing heresy that consumed the commentators of that time and centuries afterward, even into the 1800s. And how could one more effectively explain the nuances of this outrageous claim than by simply pointing out the truth of how it could APPEAR to occur, and how it might be in danger of appearing to occur, if Paul IV’s bull was not issued? The Catholic Encyclopedia, in its article on Antichrist, makes the same distinction made by Pope Paul IV in the following:
“The defenders of the Papal-Antichrist theory have made several signal blunders in their arguments; they cite St. Bernard as identifying the Beast of the Apocalypse with the Pope, though St. Bernard speaks in the passage of the Antipope; they appeal to the Abbot Joachim as believing that Antichrist will be elevated to the Apostolic See, while the Abbot really believes that Antichrist will overthrow the Pope and usurp his See; finally, they appeal to Pope Gregory the Great as asserting that whoever claims to be Universal Bishop is Antichrist, whereas the great Doctor really speaks of the Forerunner of Antichrist who was, in the language of his day, nothing but a token of an impending great evil.”
In several councils the Church herself has called antipopes antichrists just as St. Bernard called the antipope Anacletus antichrist, so this is nothing new. Joachim of Fiore had the right idea because this is exactly what Pope Paul IV explained in defining a usurper pope as the abomination of desolation standing in the Holy Place. As for the universal bishop quote, that could be compared to the schismatic Coptic and Russian Orthodox sects who indeed have set their own popes and patriarchs up against the true popes as “universal bishops.” In any case, these are the answers to the “blunders” in the papal antichrist theory and it was Pope Paul IV who explained that the only way such a person could appear to be pope and actually teach heresy (when Protestants were saying a duly elected pope was guilty of teaching error ex cathedra) is if he were actually a heretic pre-election. But there seems to be little appreciation for what Pope Paul IV actually did.
Not only did he explain how a heretic could insinuate himself into the papacy, but he also outlined in great detail how such a person would be invalid from the start, would have no power whatsoever, would be incapable of effecting any valid or licit acts of any kind, spiritual or temporal, and need only be gotten rid of even if this required the aid of the temporal power. Such an abomination could ascend but could NEVER be a valid pope. Therefore no one could ever say that such a one was ever a true pope in any way, meaning no canonically elected pope could ever become Antichrist. Only if an invalidly elected individual succeeded in being accepted as legitimate and no attempt was made to cast him out could it only APPEAR that one teaching error from that seat was a true pope. The very dissemination of such error, Pope Paul IV teaches, either before or after any pretended assumption of office results in “ipso facto[excommunication]… Without need for any further declaration, [they shall] be deprived of any dignity, position, honor, title, authority, office and power.”
What might have happened if St. Bellarmine had invoked Cum ex… and had actually used it as a weapon to disprove the papal antichrist heresy? First it would have provided the Protestants with a new axe to wield for they would first claim Paul IV to be no authority in the matter and secondly, they would claim that he had admitted that what they were proposing could actually happen. The distinctions made above in the Catholic Encyclopedia article would be easily swept away, although we wish these distinctions had been addressed by St. Bellarmine in his works on Antichrist for our edification. But had he pushed the point that only a heretic invalidly elected and appearing to be pope could qualify as Antichrist then another argument would have erupted, since the papal election laws were issued by the popes themselves and the Protestants do not and will not recognize him. It was a no-win situation and trying to prove it would only have complicated matters.
It is possible that the early Christians knew quite well that Antichrist would be a false pope, and this can be surmised from 2 Thess. 2: 5-8. After reminding his flock that a revolt would come first before the Man of Sin was revealed, St. Paul added: “Remember you not that when I was with you, I told you these things? And now you know what withholdeth that he may be revealed in his time. For the Mystery of Iniquity already worketh; only now that he who now holdeth do hold until he be taken out of the way. And then the wicked one shall be revealed…” Henry Cardinal Manning interprets this what withholdeth as the papacy and the who withholdeth as the pope, and other commentators have considered it a possibility. It may be that what St. Paul refers to was an oral Tradition not written down because of the possibility of scandal to the weak and to catechumens. By the Mystery of Iniquity he may have been referring to Simon Magus who already had attempted to purchase the papacy and to the Gnostics and Judaizers who then threatened the early Church. Protestants may have somehow divined that he who withholdeth was the papacy and deliberately distorted it to suit their own purposes. Pope Paul IV tried to set the record straight but by that time the heresies of the Reformation were too far advanced to allow a correction by theologians, even doctors like St. Bellarmine.
Although the prophetic nature of the bull was not appreciated nor remembered, Cum ex Apostolatus Officio became the basis for nearly all the laws written into the 1917 Code of Canon Law on heresy. As such it retained its status as a law under the new code (see the Archives section of the site for these articles). Try as they might to pretend it was abrogated by the Code and no longer is applicable to us today, those eager to dismiss its significance for us in these times have failed to produce one scintilla of evidence that Cum ex… is not an infallible bull that continues to bind us all. In his The Question Box, Rev. Bertrand Conway differentiates as follows between a disciplinary decree and an infallible one. “A disciplinary decree prescribes what one must DO, and not what one must BELIEVE…” Conway notes that in infallible decrees, there is clearly “an intention to propose a doctrine to be held by the universal Church,” adding from another source that the pope must “speak in person” for a definition to be considered infallible. Clearly Pope Paul IV speaks in person in his bull, and there can be no doubt that he is speaking infallibly, given the quote from Cum ex… below:
“Upon advice and consent concerning such as these, through this Our Constitution, which is to remainforever effective, in hatred of such a crime the greatest and deadliest that can exist in God’s Church, Wesanction, establish, decree and DEFINE, THROUGH THE FULLNESS OF OUR APOSTOLIC POWER [that those] who in the past have, as mentioned above, strayed or fallen into heresy or have been apprehended, have confessed or been convicted of incurring, inciting or committing schism …or who, in the future, shall stray or fall into heresy or shall incur, incite or commit schism or shall be apprehended, confess or be convicted of straying or falling into heresy or of incurring, inciting or committing schism, …[are] also automatically and without any recourse to law or action, completely and entirely, forever deprived of, and furthermore disqualified from and incapacitated, for their rank …” Clearly Pope Paul IV is teaching what one must believe in such matters in a solemn bull issued in his own name. This appears in paragraph three of the bull, having been preceded by the statement in paragraph one regarding Pope Paul IV’s definition of the abomination of desolation in Holy Scripture as capable of penetrating the “Holy Place.” This he later defines as meaning even the Holy See, by stating that the Roman Pontiff also could become a heretic pre-election. So by not believing that two men who clearly intended to create an entirely new church were incapacitated for office and therefore could never be what they appeared to be, the hierarchy and educated laity disobeyed an infallible papal bull and failed to provide the Church with a true pontiff. It is as simple as that.
We have been over this same ground many times before, but not necessarily in relation to the coming of Antichrist. Although it is assumed above that Cum ex… was not a disciplinary decree, even had it been entirely disciplinary, to deny that it binds Catholics would be heretical, according to Pope Pius IX. The argument against Cum ex… revived in the 1800s when one bishop proclaimed in a celebrated work, refuting the contentions of the Old Catholics, that disciplinary decrees are not infallible, (Bishop Fessler against the Old Catholic Dr. Schulte). The case against the bull hinged on the Old Catholic claim that the anathemas issued by Paul IV against heads of state were an attempt to assert power over civil officials and excommunicate them. Of course in the 1500s, the majority of the monarchies in the world were Catholic so this is something the Church could legitimately claim to do, Both Bp. Fessler and Henry Cardinal Manning, answering accusations by British Prime Minister Gladstone, refuted this argument, explaining that today, since there are no Catholic monarchs subject to the Church, all jurisdiction to excommunicate them and seize their possessions no longer exists. So this was a black eye given the bull to further discredit it, following the definition of infallibility and revived claims that Rome intended to take over the world. This made it even more unlikely to gain any credence in the future or shed its reputation as a mere disciplinary decree.
But Pope Pius IX, in a seeming response to the general dismissal of disciplinary decrees, wrote the following in Quartus Supra after Fessler’s book was published: “Discipline is often closely related to doctrine and has a great influence in preserving its purity. In fact, in many instances, the holy Councils have unhesitatingly cut off from the Church by their anathema those who have infringed its discipline… Nor can the Eastern Churches preserve communion and unity of faith with Us without being subject to the Apostolic power in matters of discipline. Teaching of this kind is heretical, and not just since the definition of the power and nature of the papal primacy was determined by the ecumenical Vatican Council: the Catholic Church has always considered it such and abhorred it.” (On the Church in Armenia,1873).
And in Quae in patriarchatu: “In fact, Venerable Brothers and beloved Sons, it is a question of recognizing the power (of this See), even over your churches, not merely in what pertains to faith, but also in what concerns discipline. He who would deny this is a heretic; he who recognizes this and obstinately refuses to obey is worthy of anathema” (Pope Pius IX, September 1, 1876, to the clergy and faithful of the Chaldean Rite). Both of these documents were written after Fessler died in 1872; Fessler was not saying that anyone should deny that the bull had its effect; he merely said it was not a teaching on faith or morals, but this was even then debated by others. Since that time a greater development of the doctrine of infallibility has clarified much — all documents issued by the Roman Pontiff now are considered binding if recorded in the Acta Apostolica Sedis. Certainly a bull as solemn as Cum ex…would merit inclusion in the Acta. Especially given the subject matter and its undeniable application to our own situation, it seems the bull deserves a more elevated rank than ever before. Manning, in his work The Vatican Decrees and their Bearing on Civil Allegiance wrote on much the same topic as Fessler, but five years after Fessler’s work. He fully holds, with Pope Pius IX, that the Vatican Council included disciplinary decrees within the scope of infallibility. He also defends certain bulls as infallible as well, even though Cum ex… is not named among them.
So what is the point of this blog? The point is that had more thought been given by the commentators to the actual mission and character of Antichrist rather than the claims of the Protestants; if Catholics in the 1800s had followed the teachings of the Roman Pontiffs and actually comprehended what Paul IV was trying to explain to the people — instead of going on the defensive and worrying about what the general population thought about the rights of the nobility — faithful cardinals and/or bishops might have been able to reverse this situation and elect a true pope in the 1960s. But the theologians valued their own opinions and arguments as superior to the popes’ and minimized papal authority. They also let prejudice regarding Pope Paul IV blind them to the true value of Cum ex Apostolatus Officio. When that bull is taken in its full context, given the circumstances that prompted its publication and in light of what we have encountered in our lifetime, no other conclusion could be drawn. We were given a great grace and we squandered it. And this is why now we have no idea what the future holds for the Church. Obviously it was God’s will that all this should happen, but it was never His will that we ignore the commands of His Vicar. We know only that wherever all this is going, either the Church will triumph briefly on earth, or Christ will reign with the Saints as king in Heaven following the Final Judgment. His will be done.