TRUE OR FALSE POPE? Refuting Sedevacantism and other modern errors. By John Salza and Robert Siscoe. Pp 710. STAS editions, Winona 2016. Price 35 USD.
“It is never the case that one man out of sheer wickedness suddenly invents a false doctrine. (...) A movement begins, often very rightly, by a vigorous and extreme opposition to some patently false teaching. Then this way or looking at things crystallizes and hardens; it is taken up enthusiastically by some school, it becomes a point of honour with a certain party to insist upon it... At last, someone gets hold of the theory, oversteps every limit in his defence of it, and is eagerly supported by the rest of the party. And then he finds himself condemned by the Church”.
Sedevacantism is not a major threat in our country, but it is becoming one and the day-to-day activities of the current Holy Father are accelerating the situation. It is truly ‘a false solution to a real problem’. This no one can deny. The situation in the Church is not helping a normal faithful to live his life normally. Nay rather, a heroic virtue of faith is expected of them. Yet the Son of man, when he cometh, shall he find, think you, faith on earth?
Having said this, Sedevacantism is a major threat for very many traditional Catholics, esp. in the United States. While there is no dearth of material (usually online) available on pro-sedevacantism, the same cannot be said of ‘anti-sedevacantism: ‘A comprehensive and definitive refutation firmly grounded in ecclesiology, has been sorely needed’ (Bp. Fellay, foreword). And this exactly is what this book under review is all about. This brilliant ‘refutation of sedevacantism and other modern errors’ by John Salza and Robert Siscoe has done the difficult task remarkably well. To those trained in scholastic philosophy and desirous of getting an answer to this ‘neo-docetism’, this book may be an eye opener.
The fundamental theme of the book is this: If you follow Sedevacantist path, you will eventually abandon the saving faith on the Church. Chapter 1 and 2 deal with the Church and its attributes and its marks. Here the authors patiently analyze the thesis of various Sedevacantists and prove how they end up denying the basic notion of the Church, which is visible.
Chapter 3 – 12 is Sedevacantism in genere. Here they explain very many principles elegantly. Some chapter headings are provocative (like chap. 8: can a Pope fall into heresy?). Chapter 13-20 treats of Sedevacantism in specie. Here too, the authors show how sedevacantism is a false solution to a true problem. Chapter 21 is a “fruit – tasting session”. We can judge a tree by its fruits: The authors rightly give example from the mouth of Sedevacantists themselves about their ‘cult’. A certain Sedevacantist Mr. Lane writes “people who get interested in Sedevacantism become unstable in their spiritual lives (..) often destabilize others in their parish, and very often more broadly disturb the peace of the parish. I’ve observed all of this myself, and so often that I can’t answer. It’s true!” (p. 654). There is also an appendix chart on the ‘Theological opinions on the loss of office for a heretical Pope’. A bibliographical index and an index (unfortunately not a complete one) concludes the volume.
This conspectus on the ‘theology of Sedevacantism’ is quite the most remarkable of work of its kind available in English. It is outstanding not only for its exposition, but also for clarity in expression and in typographical presentation. Readers will definitely enjoy many concrete examples provided in each chapter and this just adds more weight to the argument (but the storey of ‘death of Fr. Hermann’s mother (p. 137) derives its strength from private revelation and it does slow down the tempo). And also, not everything will be accepted equally by theologians (like the essence of Eccl. Faith (p. 177), Valor of theological conclusions are still questiones disputatae). We can also notice one or two mistakes, on p. 203 it is Pope Pius IX (not Pius XI). A table explaining various ‘theological censures’ in chap. 7 could have been more useful. May be in the second edition, or if we may make our wish, in the second volume, it would be more profitable to treat of ‘Cassiacum thesis’ and ‘De Papatu Materiali’ extensively.
This ‘summa on Sedevacantism’ is an achievement. This is a book that may be warmly recommended to priests, seminarians and laity as well. It does require a slow reading and calm analysis but the effort made to penetrate the arguments will strengthen our faith without which it is impossible to please God.
All English trad- world owe a debt of gratitude to the authors and the publisher for giving us such a monumental work. May this ‘magnum opus’ render immense service to lead us ‘through the narrow gate that leads to life, erring neither to the left nor to the right’! (Bp. Fellay.)
Fr. Therasian Babu