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Friday, March 3, 2017

Robert Siscoe Responds to Fr. Kramer Concerning the Case of Celestine III

By:   Robert Siscoe
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Fr Paul Kramer Fr Paul Kramer

A number of people raised questions concerning the recent article on the case of Pope Celestine III.[1] Some have asked why the Pope’s erroneous judgment, and its incorporation into Canon Law, did not violate the Church’s infallibility. This question and is understandable due to the common tendency of our day to extend infallibility beyond its proper limits. 

Fr. Paul Kramer raised a different objection to the article in an attempt to explain away, or at least lessen, the significance of Pope Celestine’s serious error. His objection was quickly posted on Sedevacantist websites and presented as a refutation of the original article. We will address both of these issues now, and, in so doing, demonstrate that Fr. Kramer’s objection is entirely without merit.

Objection by Fr. Kramer

Fr. Kramer claims that Pope Celestine did not “rule that the woman could divorce and remarry,” but only that the Pontiff erred in his understanding of the Pauline Privilege, and, consequently, expressed the erroneous opinion (not ruling) that her second adulterous union was legitimate. He also claims that Celestine and Innocent III were ruling on two different cases. He posted the following on his Facebook page:

I have read relevant the Latin text of Celestine III, and of Innocent III. They were ruling on two different cases. Gregory (incorporating Celestine's ruling into Canon Law) ruled that the husband who defected from the faith out of hatred for his wife, thereby forfeited his matrimonial rights, so that the wife was not bound to return to her first husband, but was free to enter the monastic life, even with the husband opposed; and that the husband could marry the former infidel wife, converted to the Catholic faith, only after the death of the first wife.

Celestine & Gregory did not rule that the woman could divorce and remarry, but only that she was not bound to return to the first husband, and was free to enter religious life, even against the opposition of her husband, who had forfeited his matrimonial rights. Celestine did make the error of basing his correct ruling [i.e., that she could enter religious life] on an erroneous interpretation of the Pauline Privilege, and thus condoned the woman's second marriage (…) He expressed an erroneous opinion that the woman's second marriage was legitimate, but that was not his RULING but only an erroneous basis for a CORRECT RULING that the woman was free to enter religion against the will of her first husband. (…) Siscoe's claim that, ‘The case eventually reached Pope Celestine III (d. 1198), who considered the matter and judged that the woman should remain in her second adulterous union, rather than returning to her true husband,’ is utterly false.

Unfortunately, this explanation is not supported by the actual text, [2] as we will see. And it is worth noting that Fr. Kramer provided nothing to support his assertion. He simply says he read Latin and claims that is what it says. But if that’s the case, why didn’t he translate the relatively short text for his readers so they could see for themselves what it says? Wouldn’t it have been more convincing if he actually demonstrated that his assertion is true, rather than simply asserting it?

Had he provided his readers with a translation, what they would have seen is that Pope Celestine was rendering a judgment on five different questions: one primary question - i.e., whether the woman could remain in the second [adulterous] union rather than returning to her first husband - and four related questions. Fr. Kramer simply chose two of the five judgments and claimed they alone constituted his “ruling.” This argument, however, is entirely erroneous, which explains why no historian or theologian who has commented on the case of Celestine (included St. Bellarmine, as we will see) used this excuse in an attempt to explain away Celestine’s error and its incorporation into canon law. 

The following is the text from Pope Celestine with the Latin in the footnotes:

Again, is there any right in the following case, which you have cared to propose: a Christian man denied Christ out of hatred for his wife and united himself to a pagan woman, with whom he procreated children. The Christian woman, who had been abandoned unto the dishonor of Jesus Christ, went into a second marriage with the assent of the Archdeacon and had children.

The Pope then rendered his judgment concerning the matter:

It does not seem to us (non enim videtur nobis) that if the first husband returns to the unity of the Church she ought to depart from the second [husband] and go back to the first, especially since she was seen to have departed from him by the judgment of the Church. As St. Gregory testifies, “the affront to the Creator dissolves the right of marriage for the one who is left out of hatred of the Christian faith.”[3]

This is the primary answer given and it is absolutely clear. Pope Celestine considered the matter and judged that the woman could remain in her second [adulterous] union – just as we said in the original article. He then cited the teaching of St. Gregory (which was included in the Decretum of Gratian) in support of his judgment. The problem is that this teaching relates to the Pauline Privilege (1 Cor. 7:15) and, consequently, applies only to a natural marriage bond, not to an indissoluble bond of a sacramental marriage.

Next, after rendering his judgment concerning the primary question, the Pontiff went on to answer four related questions that pertained to the specific case he was presented with. Here they are:

 1. However, the woman could enter the monastic life even if her first husband, who returned to the faith, refused.

2. If the abandoned wife died, and her first husband returned to the Church, he could licitly enter into a true marriage with his second wife, if she were to convert to the Faith. 

3. That, in the case of #2, the children born of the illicit union of their father and pagan mother would be considered legitimate by virtue of their parent’s later marriage in the Church.

4. That the children born of the first wife and her second husband, whom she married with the approval of her Archdeacon (while her first husband was still living), are considered legitimate.[4]

Before proceeding, we should point out that answer #1 only says the wife could enter religious life against the wishes of her first husband (Fr. Kramer claims this alone was the ruling that relates to the first wife), yet is silent about whether she could do so against the wishes of her second (and current) husband. Does this omission not seem odd? After all, as Fr. Kramer acknowledges, Pope Celestine mistakenly believed that the second marriage was legitimate, which is why he said, in the previous sentence, that she could remain with her second husband. In light of this, why would Celestine not mention whether she would need permission from her second “legitimate” husband before entering religious life? This seems to be a strange omission; unless...

Notice that answer #2 is only relevant if the first (abandoned) wife were to die. The Pope was simply answering a related question that could arise following the death of one of the spouses. Since he answered this question, would it not make sense that he would also answer a question that could arise following the death of another spouse? It most certainly does; and if answer #1 was given to address a question that could arise following the death of the woman’s second husband (i.e. whether the widow could enter religious life against the wishes of her first husband), it would explain why he was silent about the glaring question of whether she would also need to permission of her second and “legitimate” husband.

This is a Preview of the next Print/E-edition of The Remnant, to hit the newstands on Monday.   

St. Celestine then cited the testimony of more authorities in support his judgments[5] and then concluded his answer to the four related questions by saying:

These testimonies do not let us doubt that in these cases the one who wants to enter religious life has a permitted entry [against the wishes of her first husband who abandoned her]; and the one who returns to the faith may, after the death of the first [wife], licitly marry the woman who is converted; and that the children in both of the cases given above should be considered as legitimate.[6]

Why Fr. Kramer would limit the “ruling” to the first and second related questions (which may have only been applicable following the death of a spouse), and not also include the answers to the primary question, and the other related questions is anyone’s guess, but it is entirely fallacious. The fact of the matter is that Pope Celestine rendered five distinct judgments - one judgment that was false, and four others that were correct; and all five were incorporated into Canon Law and promulgated with the force of law for the universal Church.

The one difference we can note between Celestine’s answer to the primary question vis-à-vis his answers to four related questions, is that in responding to the former he only said “it seems to us” (videtur nobis), whereas, with respect to the latter, he said “there is no doubt” (dubitare non sinunt). So his judgment is presented as being more certain for the four related questions than it is for the primary question. But the fact remains that the Pope was rendering a judgment on five questions, not merely two, as Fr. Kramer would have his readers believe. 

The above explanation also demonstrates how mistaken Fr. Kramer was to claim that Pope Celestine and Pope Innocent were ruling on two different cases. No, they were ruling on the same case (or, more properly, the same general question) – i.e., whether “the affront to the Creator dissolved the matrimonial bond,” and, consequently, whether the abandoned spouse could licitly remarry. Celestine simply provided four additional answers to questions that related to the specific case on which he was ruling. And we should again note that when Pope Innocent provided his answer to the question that was proposed to him, he stated that his predecessor (Celestine) “thought otherwise,” which further confirms that they were addressing the same issue, not different issues, as Fr. Kramer claims.

Questions Concerning Infallibility

Regarding why the error of Celestine did not violate infallibility since it was incorporated into the Decretals that Pope Gregory promulgated for the universal Church, St. Bellarmine himself provided the answer. He explained that the teaching of Celestine was not an ex-cathedra statement, but was only what he believed to be more probable. He also stated that just because Celestine’s opinion was included in the Decretals did not render it de fide

Before reading Bellarmine’s commentary, we should recall that Papal Infallibility is a negative charism that prevents the possibility of error when certain conditions are met. Celestine did not meet two of these conditions when he issued his erroneous ruling, and, consequently, error remained possible. The fact that it was included in canon law did not render the non-infallible judgment infallible, nor does infallibility necessarily prevent an erroneous particular judgment from being included in the Decretals.

Commenting on the various Popes who have been accused of heresy, Bellarmine wrote:

The thirty-third is Celestine III, whom Alphonsus de Castro asserted could not be excused of heresy in any way because he taught that Matrimony could be dissolved by heresy, and that it would be lawful for one to enter into another marriage when his prior spouse had fallen into heresy. (…) Moreover … Innocent III taught the contrary on Divorce and the Council of Trent defined the same thing.

I respond that neither Celestine nor Innocent stated anything certain on the matter; but each responded with what seemed more probable to them. That is manifestly gathered from the words of Innocent when he says his predecessor [Celestine III] ‘thought otherwise’. This shows that in his opinion the whole matter was still being thought out. [N.B.: It also shows that the two Popes were addressing the same question.] 

On the other hand, Alphonsus says the Epistle of Celestine was at one time among the Decretals. While certainly that is true, it cannot thence be gathered that a plainly apostolic decree was made by Celestine, or even one ex-cathedra, since it is certain that there are many Epistles in the Decretals which do not make any matter de fide, but only declare to us the opinion of the Pontiff on some affair.

To conclude, because Celestine’s judgment was not definitive, but only a probable; and because it was only a particular judgment directed to a specific case, rather than a general judgment applicable to the universal Church, his judgment was not protected from error by the charism of infallibility. As Bellarmine explains in another place, it is not impossible for a Pope to err in a particular judgment. He wrote: “We say first that the Pontiff cannot err in those precepts that are prescribed to the entire Church, [but] as we said above, it is not absurd that the Pontiff err in particular precepts and judgments.”

[1] Pope Celestine III’s Error on the Indissolubility of Marriage
[2] We should note that, strictly speaking, the question was not whether a woman could divorce and remarry, but whether a sacramental marriage bond would be dissolved by heresy, and if the abandoned spouse would be permitted to remarry. 
[3] Idem si quidem iuris erit in sequenti casu, quem proponere studuisti, quum S. Christiano viro propter odium uxoris Christum negante et sibi copulante paganam et ex ea filios procreante Christiana in opprobrium Iesu Christi relicta, cum assensu archidiaconi sui ad secundas nuptias convolavit et filios suscepit ex ipsis; non enim videtur nobis, quod si prior maritus redeat ad unitatem ecclesiasticam, eadem a secundo debeat recedere et resignari priori, maxime quum ab eo visa fuerit ecclesiae iudicio discessisse et teste Gregorio contumelia creatoris solvat ius matrimonii circa eum qui relinquitur odio fidei Christianae.
[4] Quod autem mulier possit primo viro qui ad fidem reversus est nolente ad vitam monasticam remeare, vel utrum ille reversus ad eam, quam ritu gentili sibi coniunxit, et quae propter eum ad fidem nostram cum liberis suis est conversa, mortua prima possit habere uxorem, et an filii ante conversionem geniti obtentu nuptiarum, quae post conversionem ritu ecclesiastico celebratae fuerunt, et similiter si filii illius, quae cum licentia archidiaconi sui marito priore vivente sed facto infideli nupsit viro catholico, legitimi sint habendi. The four points, as listed above, are a loose (but accurate) translation of the Latin.
[5] Tam regula quam doctrina Apostoli, qua dicitur: “si infidelis discedit discedat; non enim frater aut soror subiectus est in huiusmodi servituti,” [1 Cor. 2:15] quam illud decretum memorati Gregorii: “non est peccatum dimisso propter Deum si alii se copulaverit; infidelis enim discedens et in Deum peccat et in matrimonium;” nihilominus, quod praedecessor noster bonae memoriae Alexander III. ita dixerit: “tanta est vis matrimonii, ut qui antea sunt geniti post contractum matrimonium legitimi habeantur”.
[6] Nos in huiusmodi dubitare non sinunt, quin in his et liber aditus pateat ad religionem migrare volenti, et ille qui ad fidem revertitur, eam, quae conversa est defuncta prima sibi licite possit copulare, filii etiam in supradicto utroque casu legitimi censeantur.


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Last modified on Saturday, March 4, 2017