Does an anti-Pope become legitimate when the real (but deposed) Pope dies?

Church history has several (more than a dozen) episodes such as this example:

Pope St. Martin-1 was deposed and imprisoned by the Byzantine Emperor Constans-2 in June, 653. Sadly, the Church abandoned support for Martin and elected Pope St. Eugene-1 in Aug. 654 while Martin was yet alive, and Eugene reigned for more than a year before Martin died (in prison, under miserable conditions) in Sept 665.

Since Martin did not abdicate (even under duress), Eugene would have clearly been an anti-Pope for the first year of his reign.

In such a situation, does the Church teach that an anti-Pope becomes legitimate when the real Pope dies? It would seem to be the case - after all, Eugene is a Saint of the Church and is recorded on the Church’s roll of Popes. But, I wonder if there is any actual teaching about this.

FWIW, Because of the oppressive conditions under which Pope St. Martin died, he is considered a martyr (and a Saint) by both the Catholic and Orthodox Church. He is the last Pope regarded as a martyr.

Correction: an anti-pope can become pope after the pope dies. History has plenty of examples of anti-popes who did not become pope when the pope died.

Yeah, I meant the anti-Pope who was elected by the College of Cardinals (or whatever system of election was in-place at the time for legitimate Popes).

I was really wondering this in regard to the Great Western Schism. The College of Cardinals elected Pope Urban-6 in 1364. They soon grew dissatisfied with their choice, and, within only a few months, the same College (of mostly the same guys that elected Urban) “deposed” Urban and elected the anti-Pope Clement-7 (and thus began the 40-year Great Western Schism).

Nobody disputes that Urban was legitimately elected. But (mostly) the same Cardinals turned around just a few months later and elected Clement (whom nobody disputes was an anti-Pope at the time of his election). Urban died in 1389, while Clement still “reigned” (until 1394).

By the time Urban died, there were two Colleges of Cardinals. The Roman College elected Bonafice-9 upon Urban’s death. The Church has never said if Bonafice was legitimate, but most Catholic theologians and historians favor the Roman line, and thus believe Bonafice was legitimate.

But the anti-Pope Clement (who was largely elected by the same guys that elected Urban, at a time when there was only ONE College of Cardinals) still claimed the Chair of Peter.

Why should the legitimate Papacy fall to Bonifice, and not “revert” to the (otherwise legitimately elected) anti-Pope Clement, in the same manner as the Papacy “reverted” to the (otherwise legitimately elected) anti-Pope Eugine?

I don’t understand how the Church could say that Pope St. Eugine “became” legitimate (when he was clearly an anti-Pope for the first year of his reign) and yet say that Clement did NOT “became” legitimate upon the death of the Pope Martin.

I’m generally not one to quote the 1917 Catholic Encyclopedia, but I actually think what it says here, about who was the legitimate pope in those days, is pretty good:

(4) To contemporaries this problem was, as has been sufficiently shown, almost insoluble. Are our lights fuller and more brilliant than theirs? After six centuries we are able to judge more disinterestedly and impartially, and apparently the time is at hand for the formation of a decision, if not definitive, at least better informed and more just. In our opinion the question made rapid strides towards the end of the nineteenth century. Cardinal Hergenröther, Bliemetzrieder, Hefele, Hinschius, Kraus, Brück, Funk, and the learned Pastor in Germany, Marion, Chenon, de Beaucourt, and Denifle in France, Kirsch in Switzerland, Palma, long after Rinaldi, in Italy, Albers in Holland (to mention only the most competent or illustrious) have openly declared in favour of the popes of Rome. Noel Valois, who assumes authority on the question, at first considered the rival popes as doubtful, and believed “that the solution of this great problem was beyond the judgment of history” (I,8). Six years later he concluded his authoritative study and reviewed the facts related in his four large volumes. The following is his last conclusion, much more explicit and decided than his earlier judgment: “A tradition has been established in favour of the popes of Rome which historical investigation tends to confirm”. Does not this book itself (IV, 503), though the author hesitates to decide, bring to the support of the Roman thesis new arguments, which in the opinion of some critics are quite convincing? A final and quite recent argument comes from Rome. In 1904 the “Gerarchia Cattolica”, basing its arguments on the date of the Liber Pontificalis, compiled a new and corrected list of sovereign pontiffs. Ten names have disappeared from this list of legitimate popes, neither the popes of Avignon nor those of Pisa being ranked in the true lineage of St. Peter. If this deliberate omission is not proof positive, it is at least a very strong presumption in favour of the legitimacy of the Roman popes Urban VI, Boniface IX, Innocent VII, and Gregory XII. Moreover, the names of the popes of Avignon, Clement VII and Benedict XIII, were again taken by later popes (in the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries) who were legitimate. We have already quoted much, having had to rely on ancient and contemporary testimonies, on those of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries as on those of the nineteenth and even the twentieth, but we shall transcribe two texts borrowed from writers who with regard to the Church are at opposite poles. The first is Gregorovius, whom no one will suspect of exaggerated respect for the papacy. Concerning the schismatic divisions of the period he writes: “A temporal kingdom would have succumbed thereto; but the organization of the spiritual kingdom was so wonderful, the ideal of the papacy so indestructible, that this, the most serious of schisms, served only to demonstrate its indivisibility” (Gesch. der Stadt Rom im Mittelalter, VI, 620). From a widely different standpoint de Maistre holds the same view: “This scourge of contemporaries is for us an historical treasure. It serves to prove how immovable is the throne of St. Peter. What human organization would have withstood this trial?” (Du Pape, IV, conclusion).

(not least because it takes care to include qualifiers like “opinion” and “not definitive”).

Yeah, I’m not trying to figure out which line was valid during the Western Schism (as if I could!). I’m wondering about the double standard.

In both examples, a conclave legitimately elected a Pope. The legitimate Pope was “deposed” and another Pope was elected by the same conclave. That second guy is an anti-Pope. Then the legitimate Pope dies while the anti-Pope yet “reigns.”

In the case of Martin/Eugene, Eugene is considered to have become legitimate upon the death of Martin (and Eugene became a Saint of the Church).

In the case of Urban/Clement, Clement is not afforded legitimacy upon the death of Urban.

The circumstances are practically identical. Both anti-Popes were elected by the same Conclave that elected the legitimate (but deposed) Popes. If the Pope had died or resigned (instead of being deposed), the elections of Eugene and Clement would have been 100% legitimate. But Eugene became legitimate, and Clement did not.

How to explain the double-standard?

I find this very interesting and understanding your point of view…we must keep this in mind always as I believe we might be asked to decide some day something similar, in a wondering thought… although I’m only speculating…

My forever love of Jesus our dear Lord,

It’s claimed that Pope Martin eventually agreed to Eugene’s election. It looks like he was actually a pretty good guy.

If I have time tonight, I’ll see if Warren Carroll has written anything about this.


I think you and I had a similar conversation in this thread:

When you posted this thread (the one we’re talking in now), I immediately thought back to that older thread, and went looking for it. Turns out, you posted that one too. Huh.

Anyway, I still think that an excommunicant can’t validly assume the papacy. The reason is, I don’t think they can validly assume any ecclesiastical office until the excommunication is lifted. Let me explain by an example using the modern conditions for electing a pope.

Suppose Pope Francis excommunicated Cardinal Kasper and then suddenly died. A papal conclave is held and, for some reason, the bishops choose to elect Cardinal Kasper as the next pope. Now, just because they elected him doesn’t mean he is pope yet – at least I don’t think it does. The consecration of a pope is, under current Canon Law, separate from the election, and at least one pope died after he was elected but before he was consecrated. (Pope-elect Stephen II)

So: let us suppose that the cardinals elected an excommunicated person to be the next pope. If I understand Canon Law correctly, an excommunicated person cannot validly assume ecclesiastical office. And I think that an exemption from Canon Law can only be granted by the pope or an ecumenical council confirmed by a pope. Therefore, if Pope Francis excommunicated Cardinal Kasper, I think the cardinals would be blocked from electing him by Canon Law, and no one would be available to grant an exemption. Therefore, his election would seemingly not be valid.

Therefore, I think the difference between the antipope at the time of the Western Schism and antipope Eugene, is that the antipope in the Western Schism was excommunicated by the legitimate pope, and therefore excluded from assuming the papacy.

Does my explanation for why that could happen make sense?

To which anit-Pope and legitimate Pope (wielding excommunication) do you refer?

I refer to the legitimate pope Urban VI excommunicating antipope Clement VII. See the previous post I linked to earlier for documentation.

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