THEORETICAL: Is an Antipope Always Defined Contra an Actual Pope?

I was thinking about sedevacantism recently and the thought occurred to me: Can there even be an antipope without a legitimate contender?

The Catholic Church has had quite the robust history with antipopes, but as far as I can tell every antipope has had a “legitimate” Pope contemporaneous to him. There has never been an antipope during the interregnum, for example. Is there anything in Catholic teaching requiring an antipope to be “anti” a legitimate, living Pope, or could there be, theoretically speaking, antipopes without legitimate, contemporaneous Popes?

There were several antipopes during the most recent interregnum (See ‘Pope’ Michael, more aptly called David Allen Bawden).

An antipope is simply anyone who claims to be the Bishop of Rome and is not. If I were to gather my friends, and have them elect me as pope, I would be an antipope. There is no need to officially recognize one.

NB: A short mention that the Coptic Pope doesn’t claim to be the Bishop of Rome, or anything else that the pope is, so he doesn’t qualify as an antipope.

There have been plenty of prominent antipopes who were alive between the death of the real Pope and the election of his successor (e.g antipopes Clement III, Clement VII, Benedict XIII, John XXIII, etc.). So in that sense, yes, there have been.

However, every group who has ever declared a Pope to have fallen out of the Church due to heresy, but still saw the papacy as an integral aspect of the Church (from St. Hippolytus’'s group (he later reconciled and was martyred) to William of Okham’s group, etc.has proceeded to do the logical thing and elect a new “Pope.” Of course, they have all been on the wrong side ultimately.

A perpetual abstract papacy without a real Pope is not really a Catholic possibility. The Church has defined many times (at Constance against Hus, at Vatican I, etc.) that by divine law the Church should be ruled perpetually by a living head. So in those times when there is no Pope, the power to restore a living head remains in the Church and the Church has a duty to use that power to elect a new one.

The legitimacy of the Roman Pontiff has long been held to be a dogmatic fact as noted by this CDF document ( )–the episcopacy cannot err in this matter. Here’s how an old theological manual explained why this must be so:

[quote=Hunter’s Outlines of Dogmatic Theology Vol 1:]First, then, the Church is infallible when she declares what person holds the office of Pope; for if the person of the Pope were uncertain, it would be uncertain what Bishops were in communion with the Pope; but according to the Catholic faith, as will be proved hereafter, communion with the Pope is a condition for the exercise of the function of teaching by the body of Bishops (n. 208); if then the. uncertainty could not be cleared up, the power of teaching could not be exercised, and Christ’s promise (St. Matt. xxviii. 20; and n. 199, II.) would be falsified, which is impossible.

This argument is in substance the same as applies to other cases of dogmatic facts. Also, it affords an answer to a much vaunted objection to the claims of the Catholic Church, put forward by writers who think that they find proof in history that the election of a certain Pope was simoniacal and invalid, and that the successor was elected by Cardinals who owed their own appointment to the simoniacal intruder; from which it is gathered that the Papacy has been vacant ever since that time. A volume might be occupied if we attempted to . expose all the frailness of the argument which is supposed to lead to this startling conclusion; but it is enough to say that if the Bishops agree in recognizing a certain man as Pope, they are certainly right, for otherwise the body of the Bishops would be separated from their head, and the Divine constitution of the Church would be ruined. In just the same way the infallibility extends to declaring that a certain Council is or is not ecumenical.

The Great Westerm Schism (1378 to 1418) comprised a 40-year span in which multiple people claimed to be Pope. The Church has never confirmed who was actually Pope during this period, or if anyone was.

Pope Urban-6 was elected (legitimate) Pope in 1378, but the Cardinals were soon dissatisfied with him, and just a few months later the same guys that elected Urban-6 elected the anti-Pope Clement-7.

Nobody disputes that Urban-6 was legitimate and Clement-7 was not. But what happened after that is uncertain. Most theologians favor the Roman line. I am personally of the opinion that nobody after Urban was legitimate because the definition of “Pope” is whomever is recognized by the Church as the Bishop of Rome (even if he’s not IN Rome), and the Church was pretty evenly divided during those 40 years (there were two, and later three, Colleges of Cardinals). Again, the Church has never said who, if anyone, was legitimate, but, if I’m right, then several anti-Popes reigned when no legitimate Pope reigned.

The Schism was ended by the Council of Constance, which deposed all three Papal claimants and installed Martin-5. But a Council cannot actually depose a Pope, so if one of those three claimants WAS legitimate (and I’m wrong about the 40-year interregnum) then Martin was an anti-Pope, meaning that an anti-Pope definitely reigned during a time in which the legitimate Pope did not.

So, either way, an anti-Pope has reigned without a legitimate counterpart. That much is beyond dispute.

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