Can Pope Francis excommunicate those who reject Traditionis?

There was a controversy in the early Church on when to celebrate the Crucifixion of Jesus: according to the timing in the Jewish faith for Passover, Nisan 14, or instead according to the day of the week, Friday [1].

Saint Robert Bellarmine discusses the case of Pope Victor I, who excommunicated whole churches in Asia minor, churches whose only offense was that they wanted to celebrate on the 14th of the month, rather than always on a Friday with different days of the month. This group was called Quartodecimans (basically, fourteeners). Saint Irenaeus and many others objected, thinking this decision to be too harsh. But the decision stood. They were excommunicated — whole churches were cut off from the one true Church for which day they wished to commemorate the Crucifixion.

Bellarmine: “Moreover, this must be observed, that although Irenaeus and others then thought that [Pope] Victor had acted imprudently, nevertheless, really he acted very prudently, as the whole Church judged afterward.” [2]

The first point is that, while many persons, even Saint Irenaeus thought the Pope was wrong, history proved him right. The Church, in order to maintain unity, must celebrate the Crucifixion on the same day. If one form of the Mass is needed, in the Roman Rite, to avoid schism, then that decision is prudent. Can unity be obtained in another way? The other path would be for those who oppose Pope Francis to repent and support him instead.

Bellarmine: “For in the same measure, whereby there were many displeased by the sentence of Victor, so they could more easily condemn or rather more preferably excommunicate Victor, if they thought he was one from the number of bishops, rather than the head and judge of all. But in reality, there was not anyone who taught that the sentence was void, or thought that Victor must be condemned or excommunicated; nor was there anyone who warned him lest he might exceed his limits and lest he might judge those not subject to him; in fact, they ought to have warned him if Victor truly was not the judge of all. Moreover, they reckoned Victor did what he could, not what he ought.” [3]

Notice how many opposed the Pope’s decision, and also that they could do nothing against him. The Pope could not be excommunicated. He could not be deposed. Instead, his decision on discipline prevailed, proving that the decisions of the Pope, even on discipline, have the full authority of Christ. No Pope exceeds his limits by a decision of discipline. He is the supreme judge of all the faithful. And the next Pope is also the supreme judge, and may make a change to discipline. Discipline is changeable, and is under the authority of each Pope.

Pope Francis has the authority to restrict or abrogate the Latin Mass, and if some priests and people refuse to comply, he can take action against them, including suspension, excommunication, or laicization.


1. Jesus died on Friday, Nisan 14. Should Christians keep this solemnity always on Friday or always on Nisan 14? The Church chose Friday, the day of the week, over the day of the month (Nisan 14 would not always be on a Friday).

2. Bellarmine, Robert. On the Roman Pontiff (De Controversiis Book 1) . Mediatrix Press. Kindle Edition.

3. Ibid.

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9 Responses to Can Pope Francis excommunicate those who reject Traditionis?

  1. P.J. says:

    That is very interesting, not just because of the main point about the Pope’s authority, but because I have just been puzzling over the fact that some Protestant groups claim that Jesus died on a Wednesday, and rose in the very early hours of the following Sunday. I finally found a video explaining their position, which is based on their need to literally accept Our Lord’s words in Mt. 12:40, “ For just as Jonah was in the belly of the whale for three days and three nights, so shall the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights.”
    A literalist interpretation requires that Jesus spent 72 hours in the tomb, so these groups have rejected the Church’s tradition of Good Friday- Saturday- Easter Sunday, and replaced it with their own account, late Wednesday- Thursday-Friday -Saturday- very early Sunday morning. I just mention this because it has been puzzling me, and also because it is good to be aware of arguments which may be put to you by opponents of our Church (the Baptist church that made the video is very, very anti-Catholic). Excuse the digression!

    • Ron Conte says:

      Digressions are fine. I’ve heard that claim before about 72 hours, even from scholars who were not fundamentalist. When Jesus says three days and three nights, you have to consider whether it is literal or figurative. So I don’t blame them, but it shows what happens when the faithful are without a Pope or a Magisterium to lead them.

    • justin1745 says:

      How do these Protestants square that interpretation with John 19:31? Seems like a literal interpretation would require you also to accept that Jesus was crucified the day before the Sabbath (i.e. Friday). From the Protestant KJV:

      “The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the sabbath day, (for that sabbath day was an high day,) besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.”

      Understanding an ancient text in a compulsively literal 21st century perspective is a sure way to error (in the case of these Protestants, the ultimate error would be atheism).

      Indeed, the is no way to definitely fix the interpretation of anything purely material, such as ink marks on a piece of paper, for any set of physical symbols can have multiple, mutually exclusive meanings. This is a philosophical reason for why the Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura is false, and why there needs to be an interpretive authority with some divine ability to know the truth, such as the church and it’s Ecumenical Councils. Moreover, as some councils seem impossible to reconcile with other councils, you need an authority to determine which councils are true and valid, which God has provided for us in Peter and his successors.

  2. M. Jean-Paul Benoist says:

    My dear Friends,

    Do you see “Pro qui cum tempore”…

  3. M. Jean-Paul Benoist says:


    St pie V, bulle quo primum tempore!

    In perpetuam!

  4. P.J. says:

    In reply to Justin1745– very astute of you to notice that! Of course, these Bible literalists have a way to answer your question; they say ( this is just from my memory) that Our Lord was crucified on Wednesday, and that the Thursday before ‘our’ Good Friday was a separate High Day, and that is what your quote refers to. Then Friday was an ordinary day, followed by the first day of Passover on Saturday. And Our Lord rose around 3 a.m. Sunday.

    Here is the link to the video. It is 31 minutes long, and shows the twists and turns to which they go to fit theory to facts, if you are interested. I have many Protestant friends, and always appreciate how their argumentativeness gets me to pick up my Bible and get studying!

  5. justin1745 says:

    P.J. that’s interesting. That’s a point of Biblical scholarship I’m not familiar with so I’ll drop that particular objection. Nevertheless, I think it does create a new difficulty: why would the women not come to the tomb on the first ordinary day, Friday? It also seems too long. If the crucifixion was on Weds, then Jesus is in the tomb part of Weds prior to sundown, all of Thursday, all of Friday, all of Saturday and part of Sunday. Aside from that, you’d have to account for how the church unified around a Friday crucifixion if at one point all of the leaders knew it was on a Wednesday or any other day, without leaving any historical trace of a controversy.

    • Ron Conte says:

      The Crucifixion was certainly on Friday. I would classify that as a dogmatic fact. Discussion of what some fundamentalists believe is interesting, but I don’t want this discussion to undermine the universally held and taught day of Friday for the Crucifixion.

  6. P.J. says:

    Reply to Justin1745– Your new points also make eminent sense! The argument put forward by these Baptists just affirms my trust in the teaching of the Catholic Church.
    As far as I know, all the early Reformers accepted the new doctrine of Sola Scriptura. However, I bet that none of them foresaw that some of their spiritual descendants would, nearly 500 years later, stand on the absolute inerrancy of one particular English translation, the King James Version. This not only means that the Bible is their only authority, a ‘paper Pope’, but that it becomes very close to being an idol, in my opinion. If one line in the Bible appears to contradict another, then they have to scramble to explain it, or their whole idol crumbles, like the images of the Baalim destroyed by Hezikiah!
    As Ron pointed out above, this is not a dilemma for us Catholics, as we have the Magisterium to guide us, and that is a solid rock!
    Thanks, Ron, for letting us discuss this here.

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