This article contains several serious errors.  Significantly, John was not wrong.   The central doctrine surrounding universal acceptance is very solid, and by no means only the opinion of a single theologian.  Further, the thesis that John injected another supreme was mistaken.  Passive infallibility is underlying principle of universal acceptance, not the active infallibility incorrectly purported.

How these problems will be addressed in this essay has not been decided.  But for now, to prevent link rot, the original article is still being posted.  Special thanks to TOFP (True or False Pope) for responding in detail to request made in the Addendum section.  See the below links for more information:

TOFP's review of this article.

TOFP's reply to a related request.

John Was Wrong

John of Saint Thomas said it is infallibly certain that a Pope is a Pope if he was universally accepted.  But universally accepted means he was accepted by everyone except the Pope.  But only the Pope is infallible.  Hence, universal acceptance cannot impart infallibly.  Therefore, John was wrong.


That is the outline, now the details…  The Peaceful and Universal Acceptance of a Pope (PUAP), an article by John Salza and Robert Siscoe, is largely a prerequisite for this syllogism.  This article critiques PUAP and presumes an understanding of the underlying issues.

It is certain the concept of two supremes is logical nonsense.  The question being raised is if John of Saint Thomas introduced a second supreme.  Unquestionably, he did.  Namely, the process of universal acceptance is claimed to be infallible, and thus binding upon subsequent Popes.  There are two levels to this.  For the first, consider PUAP’s quote of Monsignor Van Noort:


“…when someone has been constantly acting as Pope and has theoretically and practically been recognized as such by the bishops and the universal Church, it is clear that the ordinary and universal magisterium is giving an utterly clear-cut witness to the legitimacy of his succession.”


While this is true, the “utterly clear-cut witness” is partly specious since it doesn’t necessarily imply infallibility was asserted.  But it is completely circular because “the ordinary and universal magisterium” absolutely requires a valid Pope to render an infallible judgement: an antipope confirming himself pope is hardly infallible.

The second level, expressed by John of Saint Thomas, is twofold.  1) “Thus, the Cardinals… represent the Church in all that concerns the election of her head, the successor of Peter.” 2) “…yet it is the Church… that by its acceptance ultimately confirms as a truth of faith the fact that this man is truly the highest rule of faith and the supreme pontiff.”

John’s new supreme is not the Cardinals but “the Church.”  While including the full hierarchy, it also includes the laity.  In fine, universal acceptance is effectively a vote (an act of the will) by everyone but the Pope.  This “vote” is claimed to be infallible.  Do the two supremes collide?  That is, is there overlap in jurisdiction?  For theoretically, two supremes could coexist if there is no overlap (albeit this is actually two domains with independent supremes).

There are two possible collision points: a) prior Pope, b) future Pope.  The last will be considered first.  According to the common theory, Pope A can be deposed after formal heresy is proven.  Here, Pope A was the Supreme Pontiff until he was deposed, which coincides with the conviction of heresy, or possibly some point afterwards.

Universal acceptance says Pope B could not declare Pope A as an antipope with his presumed pontificate being entirely invalid.  This is a collision: a Pope is restricted by the infallible voice of the people.  This is partly a moot point as Pope B could throw out everything (non-infallible) that Pope A did.

Regarding judicial conflict with a prior Pope, John’s argument is that infallibility resides in the very act of acceptance.  This renders everything else independent, such as election validity.  Namely, if it is infallibly true that A is Pope, it follows his election was valid (or it doesn’t matter), and so forth.

This brings out the possible collision:  Pope C defines the elections rules.  Pope D is then elected and confirmed by universal acceptance.  It is subsequently learned the election was invalid.  Universal acceptance says tough cookies, we the people have spoken: Pope C’s elections rules are moot.

This is quite radical and raises the question if universal acceptance is actually infallible.  The answer given here is that not only is it not infallible, but asserting its infallibility is heretical.  Specifically, universal acceptance defines a supreme power in conflict with the Supreme Pontiff. 


The Last Gospel

According to John of Saint Thomas, the Pope “by the very fact he is accepted by the Church as legitimately elected, is in fact [the] Pope.”  Regarding the timing, acceptance occurs “As soon as men see or hear that a Pope has been elected, and that the election is not contested, they are obliged to believe that that man is the Pope, and to accept him.”

The current election decree, Universi Dominici Gregis (UDG) 88, states “After his acceptance, the person elected… is immediately Bishop of the Church of Rome, true Pope and Head of the College of Bishops.”  Thus, when the white smoke goes up, it is an ecclesial fact which the faithful are obliged to believe.

The case of interest is when a Pope is elected without initial conflict.  Many could be unhappy with the expected direction of the new papacy.  But “everyone” accepts him under the definition of acceptance meaning a willingness to follow and to be obedient.  So, there is a new Pope.  Then a year later, evidence comes to light that puts the election in question.

According to John, it is dogmatic fact the man elected is Pope.  Since this is infallible, it follows the election was valid and thus any conflicting evidence to the contrary is false.  As a concrete example, since the validity of last conclave is infallibly known, it is impossible that any Sankt Gallen Mafia activity could have invalidated it.

This fact follows because no one initially contested the election.  Indeed, no one possessed such information since no one spoke up and therefore it is impossible for such information to exist.  Thus, all subsequent claims are false.

From a human perspective, this is a most ridiculous assertion.  The guilty are not going to talk and keeping their tracks covered for a year is not hard to imagine.  However, John maintains this scenario is impossible, ostensively because of the indefectibility of the Church.  In other words, God would not permit it.

To repeat the Johannine conclusion, vote solicitation by Sankt Gallen Mafia did not occur because none of the faithful knew about it at the time, for either they or the guilty would have mentioned it.  This actually isn’t the best example, but you get the picture regarding the assertion the conclave can no longer be contested.


Just the facts, ma’am

A dogmatic fact must be derived from at least one dogma.  With PUAP, however, from John’s first principle, the Pope is a living rule of faith, it goes to the conclusion that universal acceptance establishes this as fact without any proof.  This is the key inference, and evidently is the core problem with John’s thesis.

This inference, though, is probably based on the Church’s constitution dogmas such as indefectibility, unity, sanctity, and so forth, which generally are de fide.  But these attributes do not carry over absolutely to its members, whose defects are endless.  In this regard, universal acceptance is evidently based dogmas without definite limits in the sense that the extent of members faults, and of critical importance here – their ignorance, depends on God’s permitting will.  The Church does not have dogmatic teachings defining the limits of God’s permitting will.  These limits are unknown.  They can’t be defined nor derived.

Universal acceptance asserts that God must soon bring about an election’s contention, almost immediately with today’s communication systems.  It may well be the case that God will always reveal that there is a problem, virtually immediately, to some people.  But to claim that this will immediately manifest itself into open contention, to repeat, is unprovable.  Nothing can prevent God from allowing initial grumblings to evolve, slowly over time, into a contested election.  Neither theologians nor the Church can define the boundaries of Providence.

The present election decree (UDG) does not have a statute of limitations for contesting the election.  While John of Saint Thomas presumes all election laws will be honored, he implicitly implies that an explicit clause, say one specifying a ten years limit, would be invalid.  For his theory is a theological conclusion that cannot be legislated away.  In fine, John’s new supreme trumps the Supreme Pontiff by imposing limits on election contention.

While PUAP is the primary promoter of John’s thesis, it was OnePeterFive’s support that triggered the recent uproar, including Steve Skojec’s conjecture that the thesis is dogmatic though no one knows when it was defined.  Evidently, Skojec is still waiting for that to come to light.  It will be very long wait for the following reason.

Papal elections are legislative in nature.  Namely, the Cardinal electors are mandated to ensure the conditions for a canonic election are fulfilled.  For the last conclave, the conditions are defined by UDG.  The Church cannot dogmatically define election rules as these are not part of the deposit of faith.  These rules can be freely changed.  Indeed, Pope John Paul II abolished the ancient election forms of acclamation and delegation, removing them from Universi Dominici Gregis (see UDG 62). 

The non-dogmatic nature of election rules can further be seen by observing papal infallibility only applies to faith and morals.  In recent history, it is the Cardinal electors who are to judge if the election conditions are met.  This is a human judgment with respects to evaluating rule compliance.  It is not a judgement on faith and morals.  As such, the process is outside of dogmatic control.

UDG explicitly states that all actions contrary to the election decree are null and void.  John’s thesis is in direct violation of the Cardinal electors mandate to judge the conditions.  It pits a fictitiously infallible supreme against a decree from the Supreme Pontiff.

PUAP is part of a larger work whose goal is to combat certain modern heresies.  Ironically, it unwitting promotes John’s heresy, which is doubly ironic as John of Saint Thomas was a notable theologian.  Nevertheless, the Supreme Pontiff cannot be trumped: John was simply wrong.



When a long proof ends with a nonsensical conclusion, dissecting it isn’t necessary.  Two never equals three regardless of fifty pages of apparently sound logic.  And John of Saint Thomas’s lengthy treatise?  Sight unseen, two conclusions can be drawn with virtual certainty.  First, the basic outline is correct.  John would not have made a monumental blunder, and particularly one that hadn’t been discovered until now.  Secondly, his mistake was something along the lines as outlined above.  Namely, it contains an inference that, while generally true, is not absolutely true.  That it deals with the Pope being the rule of faith is a very good bet.

As a litmus test, universal acceptance, even the form as presented in PUAP, provides “near infallibility,” pardon the oxymoron.  It may well be the case that it doesn’t have an exception (prior to Francis).  Though flipping a two-headed coin would work just as well as the number of contested elections in modern history is miniscule.

That John’s thesis is brilliant, as claimed by PUAP, isn’t doubted, but only to the degree of explaining how this almost always works – for from an absolute perspective, its conclusion is suspiciously similar to false induction: I was alive yesterday, and the day before, and so on: therefore I will live forever.

While universal acceptance is a powerful test, it is not unbreakable.  Though it probably would take something of the order of deception as of a Francis to throw in a monkey wrench big enough to jam the gears.  But with a reasonable understanding of universal acceptance, such as Bishop Rene Gracida’s, this litmus test remains sound: Bergoglio was far from being universally accepted.  Nevertheless, the last conclave is governed by UDG, not litmus paper.

Furthermore, the near circular nature of PUAP’s notion of acceptance is also a weakness with John’s thesis: once the election result is announced, one must accept it (as opposition is schismatic), and therefore…

John Salza and Robert Siscoe remained silent after the hullabaloo triggered by Skojec.  But Catholic Monitor has raised the issue again.  However, the resolution more aptly falls on the plate of Salza and Siscoe (S&S).  They have strenuously presented John’s thesis as a dogmatic fact, which is to be gravely doubted: heretical conclusions are not dogmatic facts.

S&S have been diligent in countering arguments against their presentation.  They should show the same diligence to the objections raised against the core of John’s thesis.  S&S claim “This is the unanimous teaching of the Church’s theologians.”  So what is “this?”  That a dogmatic fact is infallible or that universal acceptance is infallibly certain?  A citation for this “unanimous teaching” should be provided.

But particularly, it is desired that S&S compile a high level outline of John’s treatise, not just the sketchy details thus far provided.  An English translation of John’s full thesis is not readily available.  Yet, everyone is reduced to the status of heretic if one doesn’t agree with it.  S&S are probably confident that John of Saint Thomas can withstand scrutiny.  But the safe money is on that two still equals two, not three as John attempted to prove.  For there is a deeper problem here.  There is no reason to believe an infallible papal election validator exists, not in terms of something short and sweet.


External links referenced in this essay
Revision history
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