The Sedevacantist Wager

While I see the potential in the arguments of some sedevacantists, I cannot follow them because I believe that it is not fitting for there to be no pope.

As things heat up in the Church, and as even mainstream diocesan bishops and clergy are questioning whether Pope Francis has published material or formal heresy, the nagging question of whether the “Pope is the pope” is circulating.

Personally, I don’t subscribe to the notion that the Pope, Francis or otherwise, has lost his office, and thus I am not a sedevacantist and will never be. Now, this does not mean that the “sedes,” as they are called, do not present strong arguments. It is true, there are great saints and theologians of the past who have opined about what it might be like in an age where the pope promulgated heresy or caused great scandal to the faithful.

However, as strong as those arguments are, I believe that ultimately they cannot be taken as dogmatic, as there has never been a definitive teaching on how a pope could lose his office, or what we should do if he did. Ultimately, these are questions I cannot answer, and I wait for the day—if it ever comes—when a dogmatic pronouncement is made to settle this issue.

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In the meantime, we are left with a bit of a mess, and there are souls who earnestly consider the idea that Francis is not the pope, or that one of his predecessors may not have been the pope either. My intention here is not to argue with the sedes—from my experience it is a bit of a thankless task, at least on social media—but instead to consider what any consideration of the sedevacantist position might do to our catholicity.

Again, I make no judgment on any individual who questions this papacy or another. I am just offering some points for consideration to Catholics who find themselves between the proverbial “rock and a hard place” as we suffer through this papacy.

When you read through Aquinas you will of course find logically sound and invincible arguments about a number of theological quandaries. Aquinas presents something like theological mathematics, which is to say he presents arguments that offer moral certainty that no stronger counter argument could be made. However, in the works of the Angelic Doctor, we also find a line of argumentation or speculation that is more ethereal, which is not to say less logically invincible.

There are certain theological questions that are difficult to answer, such as why Christ had to die in the exact manner He did, or why it had to be Rome and not some other place where the Church was established. There are, of course, good reasons for this. But when Aquinas comes to what might be an impasse for some in consideration of such questions, he sometimes offers the following answer: Such and such is the way it is because it is fitting for it to be so.

In other words, it is the way it is because in God’s wisdom it is fitting that Catholics would have a faith, a Church, and a Savior in the way that they do.

I would offer to the reader that I view the papacy in such a manner. While I see the potential in the arguments of some sedevacantists, I cannot follow them because I believe that it is not fitting for there to be no pope. Take that as you will, but it is what I believe.

Let us make a wager.

We have all heard of Pascal’s Wager in reference to the question of the existence of God. It goes roughly as follows: If there is a God and you believe, you gain everything; if you don’t, you lose everything; if there is no God and you still believe, you lose nothing.

Basically, believing in God and acting as if He exists costs you nothing in the long run if there is no God. What is the worst that could happen? You behave too morally? 

The atheist might retort that it would be a wasted life to live by God’s supposed laws, as there is no eternal point because there is no afterlife. But the atheist betrays his lack of reasoning skills when he says this because if there is no afterlife, then he should not be concerned with how you live your present life which will amount to nothing—just like his. 

In any case, I think we can take this logic and made the “Sedevacantist Wager.”

Suppose there is a pope and we have to be in the Church where he reigns in order to be saved—normally speaking. Then we ought to do just that. If we submit to the pope—in a manner properly understood—then we lose nothing ultimately and stave off the risk of losing everything. If there is no pope but in our Catholic sense we act as if there is, what could we lose?

Will we stand before God at the end of our lives and be chastised for praying too much for Francis or any other pope?

It is Catholic to believe and act as if there is a pope, as this is how Catholics have always lived. In a word, it is fitting to live and think as such.

Even if the sedevacantists were right—which I don’t believe is true—they run a great risk if they are wrong. Of course, if someone is confused, that is one thing—God knows the heart; but if one lives a life of anathematizing other Catholics for an opinion they have no business to dogmatize, then this presents a grave problem.

In the end, if we wager that there is a pope, then we live as Catholics have always lived and we hope to die as Catholics ought to hope to die. Ultimately, wagering that there is no pope offers us little if anything, other than a great risk if we aren’t careful.

[Photo Credit: Pixabay]

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