At some time, we have all encountered a sedevacantist — if not in person, at least online. I won’t bore you with the theology of the sedevacantism except to say they hold that a heretic cannot be pope, with the most common strain affirming that Pius XII was the last legitimate pope (although I did once come across one who believed that Pius V was the last legitimate pope).
Oftentimes, sedevacantists lived through the turbulent times after Vatican II or are the children of those who did. They know either first- or second-hand of the terrible persecution of orthodoxy and suppression of the Tridentine Mass. They often fought valiantly against the heresies constantly flowing from the Vatican and were maltreated by many local bishops and priests. Many know their faith very well and can easily explain the errors of liberalism, modernism, and countless other heresies. In all respects but one, they are orthodox Catholics.
The one error of sedevacantism is essentially pride. They raise their opinion over that of the Church when judging that the pope is a formal and manifest heretic, while we know that the Church teaches that the First See is judged by no man.
But what about Luciferianism?
With the crisis in the Church since Vatican II, many comparisons have been drawn with the Arian crisis of the 4th century, when the majority of the Church’s bishops fell into the heresy of Arianism. There are four parallels that can be drawn between the Arian crisis and the crisis in the Church today. There are, as Michael Davies noted, the heroic Athanasius, Hilary, and Eusebius of Vercelli (not to be confused with the ecclesiastical historian Eusebius of Caesarea or the leading Arian heretic Eusebius of Nicomedia, Eusebius seemingly being a popular name among 4th-century mothers) who are types of the heroic clerics such as Archbishop Lefebvre, Bishop de Castro Mayer, and other orthodox priests who suffered persecution for their defense of the Faith. There are also the diabolical prelates such as Arius, Saturninus, and Eusebius of Nicomedia, who resemble those infiltrators who infected the Church prior to the Second Vatican Council and sowed the seeds of doctrinal and liturgical destruction (think de Lubac, Congar, Rahner etc.). Then there are the orthodox princes of the Church who, knowing the truth, succumb to outside pressures and outwardly join the ranks of the victorious heretics, much like Pope Liberius. Finally, there are those who can see the errors of heretics for what they are and take a heroic stand against them; however, they succumb to their own pride and employ schism to fight heresy.
It is this final parallel in which we can see the Luciferianism within the sedevacantist movement. There is the remarkable similarity between today’s sedevacantists and a group of schismatics who were spawned during the Arian crisis: the Luciferians.
The Luciferians were less nefarious than their name implies. Rather than being devil-worshipers, they were simply followers of the schismatic Bishop Lucifer of Cagliari. (The interesting naming trends of 4th-century mothers continues — what mother looks at her newborn son and thinks, “He looks like a Lucifer”?) Nothing much is known about Lucifer’s origin, save that he was born at some time in the early 4th century. Those familiar with Church history will know that during the Arian crisis, the greater number of bishops had fallen into the Arian and semi-Arian heresies.
Most Catholics know of St. Athanasius’s heroic defence of orthodoxy during the crisis, but few will know of his good friend and stalwart defender of the faith, Lucifer of Cagliari. At the egregious Council of Tyre, Athanasius was condemned and exiled, and Pope Liberius wished to defend him by calling a new Council at Milan to resolve the Arian Crisis. Liberius chose Lucifer as his representative at this council, which was convened in 355 A.D. At the council, Lucifer spoke strongly in favor of St. Athanasius and the Homoousion doctrine (which holds Christ is consubstantial with the Father) and convinced many bishops, including Dionysius of Milan, to support the orthodox cause. Sadly, however, the Arian bishops retained their majority, and with the support of the Arian Emperor Constantius, they confirmed their heretical Homoiousion positions (which holds that Christ is only of a similar substance to the Father); flogged the orthodox prelates; and exiled many, including Lucifer.
Another great blow to orthodoxy was dealt in 357 A.D., when Pope Liberius succumbed to the great pressure of Emperor Constantius; signed the formula of Hosius, which denied the Homoousion doctrine; and excommunicated Athanasius.
In his wonderful work History of the Catholic Church, Fr. Mourett described Lucifer as “an impetuous orthodox bishop.” In 360, Lucifer advocated shunning dealings with Arian heretics in De non consentiendo cum haereticis and compared Emperor Constantius with the idolatrous kings of Israel in De regibus apostaticis. At no stage throughout the crisis did Lucifer succumb to heresy; however, he certainly gave in to imprudence. Finally, after many more trials and tribulations too long to expound upon, Athanasius, Lucifer, and the orthodox prelates were restored, and a council was convened in Alexandria to finally resolve the Arian crisis.
At the Council of Alexandria, which did largely resolve the Arian crisis, the holy fathers deemed that all of those priests and bishops who had worked with the Arians and sided with them in various councils, but who had not publicly professed the heresy of Arianism, could retain their offices and sees within the Church. It further declared that those who publicly renounced their heresy could return to communion with the Holy Catholic Church. This was too much for the “impetuous” Lucifer. He had fought the good fight since the very beginning, was ridiculed, and suffered terrible persecution for the Faith. He had been a loyal servant to his pontiff, Liberius, but even his friend Liberius had abandoned the orthodox Homoousion proposition under pressure. Along with Saints Hillary, Athanasius, and Eusebius, and a handful of others, he was at one time one of the last orthodox prelates in the entire Church.
Seeing the Arians and semi-Arians he had fought against at Milan and elsewhere rehabilitated was too much for his pride to swallow. How could they, who had been at enmity with Christ and His Church, be returned to their sees and positions of power above him, when he, a valiant defender of orthodoxy and veteran of the underground Church, still fought the good fight?
Lucifer turned against his former friend Athanasius and decried the measures taken to restore the repentant Arians. Pope Liberius ratified the decisions of the council, but he was a heretic. He had signed the heretical formula of Hosius, which had rejected the Homoousion doctrine. He had not been condemned as a heretic, but he was a heretic nonetheless, and heretics are to be shunned. Lucifer declared that heretics — even repentant heretics — could not hold ecclesiastical offices, and he proceeded to condemn Liberius, Athanasius, and all the bishops of the Church who would not support him. He abandoned the Church and retired to Sardinia with his followers, who took up the name “Luciferians.” There Lucifer would live out the remainder of his life separated from communion with the pope, Athanasius, and the Church. The once great defender of orthodoxy died in schism.
When one is tempted to reject the pope and all the bishops of the Church due to the heresy and scandal they constantly promote, remember the example of St. Athanasius, who always fought to remain in communion even with the heretic Pope Liberius. When you recognize and resist the pope, you are in communion with St. Athanasius, but when you reject and resist him, you are in communion with Lucifer.
Writer’s note: I have an uncle whose misfortune it is that I bear his name (we’ll call him “Michael Massey the Greater”). Consequently, when I have written on sedevacantism in the past, a concerned sedevacantist wishing to send me his…ahem…constructive feedback thoroughly confused my dear uncle by sending him a voluminous tract in “refutation” of “his” essay. Suffice it to say, to avoid any confusion, please address any criticisms to Michael Massey the Lesser, and leave poor Uncle Mick alone.
Michael Massey is a young Catholic from Australia with a great love the Church and her history. He writes history pieces for the Remnant newspaper in his spare time and struggles through law school the rest of the time.