Refuting a common objection…
Have the Gates of Hell Prevailed?
One of the most common objections made against the Sedevacantist position is that if it were true that Francis or any of his five predecessors are not valid Popes, it would mean that the gates of hell have prevailed against the Church and therefore Christ’s promise in Matthew 16:18 that this could never happen would be made void. Although one would hope that most people who have looked into Sedevacantism would know by now that surely no one would hold this position if it were that easy to refute it, it is nevertheless useful to give it some renewed attention.
To properly evaluate the objection that Sedevacantism implies that our Lord Jesus Christ has failed to keep His promise that the gates of hell would not be able to prevail aginst His Church, we must do three simple things: We must (1) examine what our Lord actually promised, and then (2) find out how the Catholic Church understands this promise before we then (3) apply these things to the situation we find ourselves in today. In other words: What did our Lord actually promise, and what does this mean for the church since Vatican II? We will now proceed to answer these questions.
The Promise of Our Lord in Matthew 16:18
Let us begin by quoting the scriptural source passage with its surrounding context:
And Jesus came into the quarters of Caesarea Philippi: and he asked his disciples, saying: Whom do men say that the Son of man is? But they said: Some John the Baptist, and other some Elias, and others Jeremias, or one of the prophets. Jesus saith to them: But whom do you say that I am? Simon Peter answered and said: Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answering, said to him: Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona: because flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but my Father who is in heaven. And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose upon earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven.
(Matthew 16:13-19; underlining added.)
This is the occasion on which our Lord announces to Simon Peter that he will be the head of His Church. Hence He gives him a new name, Peter [Greek Petros, the masculine of petra, “rock”; cf. John 1:42], to indicate the nature, function, and gravity of this most exalted office. Notice that our Lord is speaking in the future tense: “I will build my Church” — because at this point the Church has not yet come into existence, and hence Peter is not yet the Pope. He will not actually become Pope until after the Resurrection, when Christ charges him with feeding His flock. The First Vatican Council taught this explicitly: “And upon Simon Peter alone Jesus after His resurrection conferred the jurisdiction of the highest pastor and rector over his entire fold, saying: ‘Feed my lambs,’ ‘Feed my sheep’ [Jn 21:15ff.]” (Denz. 1822; italics added).
Although the Pope is typically referred to as the head of the Church, properly speaking he is merely the visible head of the Church, while Christ is and remains at all times the invisible Head. Thus the Pope is called the Vicar of Christ, i.e. the substitute or stand-in: “For Peter in virtue of his primacy is only Christ’s Vicar; so that there is only one chief Head of this Body, namely Christ, who never ceases Himself to guide the Church invisible, though at the same time He rules it visibly, through him who is His representative on earth” (Pope Pius XII, Encyclical Mystici Corporis, n. 40).
As there would be no need for a visible substitute-head before the Resurrection, when Christ was still on earth, it makes sense that our Lord does not make St. Peter Pope until after the Resurrection and before ascending into Heaven. Yet, as Pope Pius XII pointed out, “Between Christ and Peter there existed from the day of the promise at Caesarea Philippi and its accomplishment by the sea of Tiberias a mysterious but eminently real bond, occurring once in time, but which had its roots deep in the eternal designs of the Almighty” (Allocution to the College of Cardinals, June 2, 1944).
Furthermore, it is very significant that before promising that the Church will not be overcome by the gates of hell, our Lord changes Simon’s name into Petros, Rock, especially when considering what our Lord teaches elsewhere in the same Gospel:
Every one therefore that heareth these my words, and doth them, shall be likened to a wise man that built his house upon a rock, and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and they beat upon that house, and it fell not, for it was founded on a rock. And every one that heareth these my words, and doth them not, shall be like a foolish man that built his house upon the sand, and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and they beat upon that house, and it fell, and great was the fall thereof.
Hence it is easy to see why our Lord first names Simon as the Rock and then proceeds to declare that the gates of hell will not be able to prevail against the Church which is founded upon this very Rock. It is also striking that our Lord announces the Petrine office to Simon-Peter right after the latter confesses his faith in Jesus as the Son of the Living God (cf. Lk 22:31-32). Pope Pius IX highlighted this in a speech in 1873:
Such was Peter’s faith; such must be our own. Faith was the strongest characteristic of the Prince of the Apostles. This it was which made him answer Christ: Tu es Christus Filius Dei vivi, “Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God”; this it was which won for him the title of blessed: Beatus es, Simon Bar-Jona, quia caro et sanguis non revelavit tibi: Blessed art thou, because neither flesh nor blood has put on your lips the confession of my divinity, but because it is my eternal Father who has revealed it to you from heaven: quia caro et sanguis non revelavit tibi, sed Pater meus qui in coelis est [Mt 16:16-17]. From this comes the order establishing Peter as the foundation of the Church.
(Pope Pius IX, Allocution to an international Catholic deputation, March 7, 1873; excerpted in Papal Teachings: The Church, p. 238, n. 420; italics given.)
The faith of St. Peter plays an essential role in his becoming Pope and being the rock on which the Church is founded. This is confirmed also by Pope Pius XI: “The same moment when Peter, in the presence of all the Apostles and disciples, confesses his faith in Christ, Son of the Living God, the answer he received in reward for his faith and his confession was the word that built the Church, the only Church of Christ, on the rock of Peter” (Encyclical Mit Brennender Sorge, n. 22).
During the Last Supper, Jesus prayed specifically that this faith of Peter would never fail: “Simon, Simon, behold Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and thou, being once converted, confirm thy brethren” (Lk 22:31-32). Our Lord being God, this prayer infallibly obtained its desired effect, of course. An unfailing faith is thus one of the essential characteristics of the visible head of the Church, guaranteed by the Invisible Head Himself. Commenting on this passage in the Gospel of St. Luke, Pope Pelagius II wrote the following to the schismatic bishops of Istria:
(For) you know that the Lord proclaims in the Gospel: Simon, Simon, behold Satan has desired to have you, that he might sift you as wheat: but I have asked the Father for thee, that thy faith fail not; and thou being once converted, confirm thy brethren [Lk 22:31-32].
Consider, most dear ones, that the Truth could not have lied, nor will the faith of PETER be able to be shaken or changed forever. For although the devil desired to sift all the disciples, the Lord testifies that He Himself asked for PETER alone and wished the others to be confirmed by him; and to him also, in consideration of a greater love which he showed the Lord before the rest, was committed the care of feeding the sheep [cf. Jn 21:15ff.]; and to him also He handed over the keys of the kingdom of heaven,and upon him He promised to build his Church, and He testified that the gates of hell would not prevail against it [cf. Mt 16:16ff.]. But, because the enemy of the human race even until the end of the world does not abstain from sowing cockle [Mt 13:25] over the good seed in the Church of the Lord, and therefore, lest perchance anyone with malignant zeal should by the instigation of the devil presume to make some alterations in and to draw conclusions regarding the integrity of the faith — and (lest) by reason of this your minds perhaps may seem to be disturbed, we have judged it necessary through our present epistle to exhort with tears that you should return to the heart of your mother the Church, and to send you satisfaction with regard to the integrity of faith….
(Pope Pelagius II, Apostolic Letter Quod ad Dilectionem; Denz. 246)
We see here that the correct interpretation of Luke 22:31-32 is that the Faith of Peter cannot be “shaken or changed”, on account of which Pope Pelagius is offering the erring shepherds he is addressing the “integrity of the Faith”. This was also the teaching of Vatican I (see Denz. 1836-37), as we will see in more detail later.
So far, then, it is clear that in Matthew 16:18 our Lord Jesus Christ promises to St. Peter that he will be Pope, the rock upon which the Church is built, on account of his Faith, and this will prevent the “gates of hell” from overcoming, or prevailing against, the Church. But what is meant by these mysterious “gates of hell”?
What are the “Gates of Hell” that will not prevail?
To understand what it means that the gates of hell will not overcome the Catholic Church, it is obviously necessary to first find out what is meant by these “gates of hell”. If we survey Catholic teaching on the matter, we find the following answers:
Let that false assembly, which without the Apostolic See … was held contrary to the traditions of the venerable fathers against the divine images, be declared anathema in the presence of our delegates, and let the word of our Lord Jesus Christ be fulfilled, that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against her” (Matt. 16:18); and again: “Thou art Peter…” (Matt. 16:18-19), whose throne holding the first place in all the world shines forth and holds its place as the head of the whole Church of God.
(Pope Adrian I, Apostolic Letter Pastoralibus Curis; Denz. 298)
Pope Adrian here clearly indicates that the gates of hell are being kept from prevailing by the Pope, by the faithful discharge of the office of the papacy, specifically (in the case cited) by his condemnation of the iconoclasts, lest their errors and sacrilege should infect the true Church and sully the stainless robe that is the purity of the true Faith.
These matters having been treated with thorough-going exactness, we bear in mind what was promised about the holy church and him who said that the gates of hell will not prevail against it (by these we understand the death-dealing tongues of heretics); we also bear in mind what was prophesied about the church by Hosea when he said, I shall betroth you to me in faithfulness and you shall know the Lord; and we count along with the devil, the father of lies, the uncontrolled tongues of heretics and their heretical writings, together with the heretics themselves who have persisted in their heresy even to death.
(Second Council of Constantinople, Sentence against the Three Chapters)
It was Pope Vigilius who approved the decrees of Constantinople II in 553, and we find him identifying the gates of hell very explicitly with the “death-dealing tongues of heretics”.
The holy Church built upon a rock, that is Christ, and upon Peter or Cephas, the son of John who first was called Simon, because by the gates of Hell, that is, by the disputations of heretics which lead the vain to destruction, it would never be overcome; thus Truth itself promises, through whom are true, whatsoever things are true: “The gates of hell will not prevail against it” [Mt 16:18]. The same Son declares that He obtained the effect of this promise from the Father by prayers, by saying to Peter: “Simon, behold Satan etc.” [Lk 23:31]. Therefore, will there be anyone so foolish as to dare to regard His prayer as in anyway vain whose being willing is being able? By the See of the chief of the Apostles, namely by the Roman Church, through the same Peter, as well as through his successors, have not the comments of all the heretics been disapproved, rejected, and overcome, and the hearts of the brethren in the faith of Peter which so far neither has failed, nor up to the end will fail, been strengthened?
(Pope St. Leo IX, Apostolic Letter In Terra Pax; Denz. 351)
Pope St. Leo IX, too, leaves no doubt as to the identity of the gates of hell: They are “the disputation of heretics”.
So, this gift of truth and a never failing faith was divinely conferred upon Peter and his successors in this chair, that they might administer their high duty for the salvation of all; that the entire flock of Christ, turned away by them from the poisonous food of error, might be nourished on the sustenance of heavenly doctrine, that with the occasion of schism removed the whole Church might be saved as one, and relying on her foundation might stay firm against the gates of hell.
(First Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution Pastor Aeternus, Ch. 4; Denz. 1837)
Here the Vatican Council, with the authority of Pope Pius IX, declares that what constitutes the keeping of the gates of hell from prevailing is the discharge of the duty of the Pope to protect the faithful from error and heresy, to nourish them with true doctrine and thus to remove occasions of schism, all of which is possible because of the “gift of truth” and the “never-failing faith” that were “conferred upon Peter and his successors” by Christ the Lord. Thus we know that the gates of hell are what would run contrary to this, namely if the Pope were to feed the flock with the “poisonous food of error”, if he were to teach heresy or other errors in place of sound doctrine.
The Papacy is the Divinely-Guaranteed Institution that will never Fail
Now that we understand what are the gates of hell which shall never prevail against the Church founded by Christ our Lord, we can apply this knowledge to the divine promise given in Matthew 16:18 and draw a very straightforward conclusion: It is the Papacy that guarantees that the Catholic Church will never be overcome by false doctrine. This is so because the Papacy was instituted by God Himself as the rock upon which the Church rests, and this rock was established by the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity, who Himself vouches for the never-failing Faith of the Pope, not only of St. Peter personally but also all of his legitimate successors (cf. Denz. 1824-25). This is why the Church can and does teach, very emphatically, that we can never be led astray by firmly clinging to the Holy See and giving complete submission of intellect and will to the Vicar of Christ.
Nothing and no one can contradict this doctrine, because the Church teaches it authoritatively, to a large extent even infallibly. It cannot be denied, doubted, relativized, minimized, or ignored — no matter what happens. The truth of Catholic teaching is guaranteed by Christ Himself, and it is not conditioned by the times we live in or by specific circumstances we may find ourselves in. Therefore, no one can invoke pseudo-theological concepts such as “diabolical disorientation” against this teaching, nor say that the doctrine applies to only a certain period of time in Church history but not today (who has the authority to decide that, anyway?). Such ideas, in fact, are Modernistic, for they undermine the objective validity, universality, and immutability of truth (cf. Pope St. Pius X, Encyclical Pascendi, nn. 26-28; Decree Lamentabili Sane, nn. 58, 59).
What follows is a number of additional excerpts from Catholic magisterial teaching to confirm and underscore that our conclusion about the Papacy being the divinely-guaranteed institution that prevents the gates of hell from prevailing, is in fact correct:
From these events men should realize that all attempts to overthrow the “House of God” are in vain. For this is the Church founded on Peter, “Rock,” not merely in name but in truth. Against this “the gates of hell will not prevail” [Mt 16:18] “for it is founded on a rock” [Mt 7:25; Lk 6:48]. There has never been an enemy of the Christian religion who was not simultaneously at wicked war with the See of Peter, since while this See remained strong the survival of the Christian religion was assured. As St. Irenaeus proclaims openly to all, “by the order and succession of the Roman pontiffs the tradition from the Apostles in the Church and the proclamation of the truth has come down to us. And this is the fullest demonstration that it is the one and the same life-giving faith which has been preserved in the Church until now since the time of the Apostles and has been handed on in truth” [Adversus haereses, bk. 3, chap. 3].
(Pope Pius VII, Encyclical Diu Satis, n. 6)
This chair [of Peter] is the center of Catholic truth and unity, that is, the head, mother, and teacher of all the Churches to which all honor and obedience must be offered. Every church must agree with it because of its greater preeminence — that is, those people who are in all respects faithful….
Now you know well that the most deadly foes of the Catholic religion have always waged a fierce war, but without success, against this Chair; they are by no means ignorant of the fact that religion itself can never totter and fall while this Chair remains intact, the Chair which rests on the rock which the proud gates of hell cannot overthrow and in which there is the whole and perfect solidity of the Christian religion. Therefore, because of your special faith in the Church and special piety toward the same Chair of Peter, We exhort you to direct your constant efforts so that the faithful people of France may avoid the crafty deceptions and errors of these plotters and develop a more filial affection and obedience to this Apostolic See. Be vigilant in act and word, so that the faithful may grow in love for this Holy See, venerate it, and accept it with complete obedience; they should execute whatever the See itself teaches, determines, and decrees.
(Pope Pius IX, Encyclical Inter Multiplices, nn. 1,7)
Union with the Roman See of Peter is … always the public criterion of a Catholic…. “You are not to be looked upon as holding the true Catholic faith if you do not teach that the faith of Rome is to be held”.
(Pope Leo XIII, Encyclical Satis Cognitum, n. 13)
In the Catholic Church Christianity is incarnate. It identifies itself with that perfect, spiritual, and, in its own order, sovereign society, which is the mystical body of Jesus Christ and which has for its visible head the Roman Pontiff, successor of the Prince of the Apostles. It is the continuation of the mission of the Saviour, the daughter and the heiress of His redemption. It has preached the Gospel, and has defended it at the price of its blood, and strong in the Divine assistance, and of that immortality which have been promised it, it makes no terms with error, but remains faithful to the commands which it has received to carry the doctrine of Jesus Christ to the uttermost limits of the world and to the end of time and to protect it in its inviolable integrity.
(Pope Leo XIII, Apostolic Letter Annum Ingressi)
So the fathers of the fourth council of Constantinople, following the footsteps of their predecessors, published this solemn profession of faith: ‘The first condition of salvation is to maintain the rule of the true faith. And since that saying of our lord Jesus Christ, You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church [Mt 16:18], cannot fail of its effect, the words spoken are confirmed by their consequences. For in the apostolic see the catholic religion has always been preserved unblemished, and sacred doctrine been held in honour. Since it is our earnest desire to be in no way separated from this faith and doctrine, we hope that we may deserve to remain in that one communion which the apostolic see preaches, for in it is the whole and true strength of the christian religion.’…
To satisfy this pastoral office, our predecessors strove unwearyingly that the saving teaching of Christ should be spread among all the peoples of the world; and with equal care they made sure that it should be kept pure and uncontaminated wherever it was received. It was for this reason that the bishops of the whole world … referred to this apostolic see those dangers especially which arose in matters concerning the faith. This was to ensure that any damage suffered by the faith should be repaired in that place above all where the faith can know no failing….
For the Holy Spirit was promised to the successors of Peter not so that they might, by his revelation, make known some new doctrine, but that, by his assistance, they might religiously guard and faithfully expound the revelation or deposit of faith transmitted by the apostles. Indeed, their apostolic teaching was embraced by all the venerable fathers and reverenced and followed by all the holy orthodox doctors, for they knew very well that this see of St. Peter always remains unblemished by any error, in accordance with the divine promise of our Lord and Saviour to the prince of his disciples: I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren [Lk 22:32].
This gift of truth and never-failing faith was therefore divinely conferred on Peter and his successors in this see so that they might discharge their exalted office for the salvation of all, and so that the whole flock of Christ might be kept away by them from the poisonous food of error and be nourished with the sustenance of heavenly doctrine. Thus the tendency to schism is removed and the whole church is preserved in unity, and, resting on its foundation, can stand firm against the gates of hell.
(Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution Pastor Aeternus, Ch. 4)
This is the true Catholic teaching on the Papacy. As such, it is of perennial validity, and it is as authoritative and binding as it is beautiful and eloquent.
Applying the Church’s Teaching to our Situation Today
Most readers will realize by now what we have been leading up to. Given the Catholic doctrine on the Papacy as the guarantor of the true Faith and the indefectibility of the Church, if we attempt to apply it to John XXIII and his successors, an absurd and grotesque picture emerges, for the church since 1958 — which we refer to by such names as the Vatican II Church or the Novus Ordo Sect — most definitely is not the church described in the magisterial pronouncements just quoted. To hold that such public apostates as Paul VI, John Paul II, and Francis — to name just the most obvious ones — could be what keeps the Church intact and the gates of hell from prevailing is laughable on its face. In fact, if the Novus Ordo church is not the perfect example of what a defected church looks like, it is hard to imagine what would fit that description. And although many in the semi-traditionalist camp, when cornered, will claim that the Vatican II Church has not defected (either by making up excuses or denying the obvious), we all know that virtually all of them are convinced that it has, because that is what all their actions objectively confirm and what they are usually quite ready to admit, in an unguarded moment, even in words.
No one in his right mind can look at the sorry Modernist Vatican institution today and say, “This is the Ark of Salvation, outside of which no one can attain to eternal happiness; it is the fortress that keeps the powers of hell at bay, the citadel of truth that steadfastly opposes the errors of the world as it faithfully nourishes Christ’s true followers with the pure milk of salutary doctrine and wholesome discipline.” And if anyone could be so foolish as to say this about the Vatican II Sect, Francis will be the first one to tell him that it isn’t true!
In a recent video broadcast of the semi-traditionalist Remnant Forum, published on Dec. 19, 2015, Michael Matt went on record complaining that “this isn’t the Catholic Church anymore”, and his associate Christopher Ferrara, elaborating on this obvious fact, explained that instead it is a “massive, ongoing, now-in-its-fiftieth-year fraud upon the faithful, a false religion [!!] being masqueraded as the Catholic religion”, while, however, quickly adding his lawyerly copout, “not in any official way though” (see 16:42 mark and following). We will ignore, for the purposes of this blog post, the lie that this new religion is somehow not “official”, which Ferrara always rolls out whenever it’s convenient, while at other times he writes column after column slamming the rather official errors of the New Church contained in its official liturgical ceremonies, its official disciplinary laws, its official “canonizations”, its official encyclicals and other “papal” documents, and so on.
Ferrara should stop skyping with his Remnant editor friend and instead spend more time reading actual Catholic teaching, such as this:
For any man to be able to prove his Catholic faith and affirm that he is truly a Catholic, he must be able to convince the Apostolic See of this. For this See is predominant and with it the faithful of the whole Church should agree. And the man who abandons the See of Peter can only be falsely confident that he is in the Church. As a result, that man is already a schismatic and a sinner who establishes a see in opposition to the unique See of the blessed Peter from which the rights of sacred communion derive for all men.
(Pope Pius IX, Encyclical Quartus Supra, n. 8)
In fact, only a miracle of that divine power could preserve the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ, from blemish in the holiness of Her doctrine, law, and end in the midst of the flood of corruption and lapses of her members. Her doctrine, law and end have produced an abundant harvest. The faith and holiness of her children have brought forth the most salutary fruits. Here is another proof of her divine life: in spite of a great number of pernicious opinions and great variety of errors (as well as the vast army of rebels) the Church remains immutable and constant, “as the pillar and foundation of truth”, in professing one identical doctrine, in receiving the same Sacraments, in her divine constitution, government, and morality….
(Pope Pius X, Encyclical Editae Saepe, n. 8)
Since Matt and Ferrara (as well as John Vennari and many others, esp. adherents of the Society of St. Pius X) have publicly admitted that the religion of what they recognize as the Holy See is not their religion, it is clear that by their own reasoning and ideas, they cannot consider themselves to be part of the institution they claim is the Roman Catholic Church. Thus we can see what an absolute and hopeless theological mess is engendered by pertinaciously clinging to the absurdity that Francis is the Pope and his sect is the Catholic Church.
To illustrate very effectively the absurdity we are constantly being asked to accept by people like Matt, Ferrara, and Vennari — and now also especially by John Salza and Robert Siscoe, who have authored a new book against Sedevacantism —, we have put together a short little video that sums up the facts about Catholic teaching on the Papacy and contrasts this with the apostasy of Francis, thus proving that Jorge Bergoglio cannot be the Pope of the Catholic Church:
You are welcome to distribute this video freely and post it on Facebook, on Twitter, on forums, and even embed it in your own blog or web page. We invite Messrs. Salza and Siscoe, or anyone else, to respond to it. We have created a new separate page at Novus Ordo Watch specifically on the topic of Sedevacantism, at which we have linked all our relevant posts, and on which we will publish all of our responses to the book by Salza and Siscoe. Our special page can be accessed directly by clicking here or by going to TrueOrFalsePopes.com.
The Mystery of Iniquity and the Operation of Error
But what is the answer then? many will ask. If we have to rule out as a possibility that the institution currently headed by Francis is the Catholic Church, what remains? The answer to this question is found in what Divine Revelation has to say about what will happen with regard to the Papacy in the latter days. Specifically, the relevant passage in Holy Scripture appears in St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Thessalonians:
Let no man deceive you by any means, for unless there come a revolt first, and the man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition, who opposeth, and is lifted up above all that is called God, or that is worshipped, so that he sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself as if he were God. Remember you not, that when I was yet with you, I told you these things? And now you know what withholdeth, that he may be revealed in his time. For the mystery of iniquity already worketh; only that he who now holdeth, do hold, until he be taken out of the way. And then that wicked one shall be revealed whom the Lord Jesus shall kill with the spirit of his mouth; and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming, him, whose coming is according to the working of Satan, in all power, and signs, and lying wonders, and in all seduction of iniquity to them that perish; because they receive not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. Therefore God shall send them the operation of error, to believe lying: That all may be judged who have not believed the truth, but have consented to iniquity.
(2 Thessalonians 2:3-11)
In a series of lectures given in 1861, Cardinal Henry Edward Manning (1808-92) explained the meaning of this mysterious prophecy concerning the “operation of error” and “man of sin” that God would permit in the last days. His Eminence based his lectures not on his own opinions but upon the teachings of the Church Fathers and recognized theological authorities. He notes in the very beginning of his first lecture: “In treating of this subject, I shall not venture upon any conjectures of my own, but shall deliver simply what I find either in the Fathers of the Church, or in such theologians as the Church has recognised, namely, Bellarmine, Lessius, Malvenda, Viegas, Suarez, Ribera, and others” (p. 3; full citation below).
Studying Cardinal Manning’s exposition of this scriptural passage, then, is entirely safe, for we can rest assured that what we are being given is not simply one man’s opinion but the mind of the Church. Cardinal Manning is merely the messenger of what the Church has been saying through various authorities over the centuries. In the words of His Eminence:
As there is a perpetual working of this mystery of iniquity, so there is a perpetual hindrance or barrier to its full manifestation, which will continue until it be removed; and there a fixed time when it shall be taken out of the way…. Now, inasmuch as this wicked one shall be a lawless person, who shall introduce disorder, sedition, tumult, and revolution, both in the temporal and spiritual order of the world, so that which shall hinder his development, and shall be his direct antagonist after his manifestation, must necessarily be the principle of order, the law of submission, the authority of truth and of right….
We have now come nearly to a solution of that which I stated in the beginning, namely, how it is that the power which hinders the revelation of the lawless one is not only a person but a system, and not only a system but a person. In one word, it is Christendom and its head; and, therefore, in the person of the Vicar of Jesus Christ, and in that twofold authority with which, by Divine Providence he has been invested, we see the direct antagonist to the principle of disorder….
The history of the Church, and the history of our Lord on earth, run as it were in parallel. For three-and-thirty years the Son of God incarnate was in the world, and no man could lay hand upon Him. No man could take Him, because His “hour was not yet come.” There was an hour foreordained when the Son of God would be delivered into the hand of sinners. He foreknew it; He foretold it. He held it in his own hand, for He surrounded His person with a circle of His own Divine power. No man could break through that circle of omnipotence until the hour came, when by His own will He opened the way for the powers of evil….
In like manner with His Church. Until the hour is come when the barrier shall, by the Divine will, be taken out of the way, no one has power to lay a hand upon it. The gates of hell may war against it; they may strive and wrestle, as they struggle now with the Vicar of our Lord; but no one has the power to move Him one step, until the hour shall come when the Son of God shall permit, for a time, the powers of evil to prevail. That He will permit it for a time stands in the book of prophecy. When the hindrance is taken away, the man of sin will be revealed; then will come the persecution of three years and a half, short, but terrible, during which the Church of God will return into its state of suffering, as in the beginning; and the imperishable Church of God, by its inextinguishable life derived from the pierced side of Jesus, which for three hundred years lived on through blood, will live on still through the fires of the times of Antichrist.
(Cardinal Henry Edward Manning, Lecture III, “Who or What Restrains the Manifestation of the Antichrist?”, in The Present Crisis of the Holy See Tested by Prophecy [London, 1861], pp. 36-56; see The Pope and the Antichrist: The Great Apostasy Foretold)
It is absolutely crucial to understand this so that we are not scandalized by the terrible afflications Holy Mother Church has had to endure since “Pope” John XXIII and his “Second Vatican Council”. It is a matter of divinely-revealed prophecy, as Cardinal Manning makes clear, that at some point the Vicar of Christ would be “taken out of the way” for a time, in order to permit the mystery of iniquity to unfold. If he were not taken out of the way, then the powers of evil would not be able to unleash the operation of error because the rock that is the papacy, by divine institution, would unfailingly prevent it — just as no one was able to overcome our Lord Jesus Christ until He, of His own free will, decided to allow it (cf. Jn 7:30; 10:18).
We must not fail to notice that His Eminence clearly speaks of the Pope as the victim of this persecution by the powers of hell, just as our Lord was the Victim in His Passion. Like Christ Himself, so the Vicar of Christ is the target of the powers of hell, not their henchman or protagonist. This stands in direct contrast to the nonsense currently being spouted by John Salza and Robert Siscoe, whose own peculiar version of a suffering church presents the Pope not as the victim of the persecution but as its commander-in-chief! This has everything totally backwards, as it would turn the rock that stands forever firm against the gates of hell into an antichrist that unleashes them.
When Cardinal Manning speaks of the Church returning to a “state of suffering, as in the beginning”, we remember that in the beginning, until Constantine, the Church had to operate underground, in the catacombs, in caves, secret places, etc., until Divine Providence saw fit to put an end to the persecution. Thus we must not be scandalized or discouraged if now once again the Church is, as it were, underground, and reduced to only a relatively small number, for this is how God preordained it from the beginning.
Who can doubt that we are now in the time spoken of by Cardinal Manning? Little did His Eminence know that less than 100 years lay between his lectures and the actual “taking out of the way” of the Vicar of Christ with the usurpation of the Throne of St. Peter by the first of the Novus Ordo antipopes, Angelo Roncalli (John XXIII), after the death of Pope Pius XII. But this is the situation we find ourselves in now. We must remember that the time period in which God chooses to place anyone is the time that is most beneficial to his soul. Shall we refuse God’s Providence? Shall we dispute or doubt His infinite wisdom, power, or benevolence? God “will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:4); “Yea, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore: you are of more value than many sparrows” (Lk 12:7).
What of the gates of hell, then? Does Manning not say that “the Son of God shall permit, for a time, the powers of evil to prevail”? Indeed he does, but a little bit further on he explains in what sense this must be understood:
We have already seen reason to believe that as our Divine Lord delivered Himself into the hands of sinners when His time was come, and no man could lay hand upon Him, until of His own free will He delivered Himself over to their power, so in like manner it shall be with that Church of which He said, “Upon this rock will I build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” [Mt 16:18]. As the wicked did not prevail against Him even when they bound Him with cords, dragged Him to the judgment, blindfolded His eyes, mocked Him as a false King, smote Him on the head as a false Prophet, led Him away, crucified Him, and in the mastery of their power seemed to have absolute dominion over Him, so that He lay ground down and almost annihilated under their feet; and as, at that very time when He was dead and buried out of their sight, He was conqueror over all, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven, and was crowned, glorified, and invested with His royalty, and reigns supreme, King of kings and Lord of lords,— even shall it be with His Church: though for a time persecuted, and, to the eyes of man, overthrown and trampled on, dethroned, despoiled, mocked, and crushed, yet in that high time of triumph the gate of hell shall not prevail. There is in store for the Church of God a resurrection and an ascension, a royalty and a dominion, a recompense of glory for all it has endured. Like Jesus, it needs must suffer on the way to its crown; yet crowned it shall be with Him eternally.
Let no one, then, be scandalised if the prophecy speak of sufferings to come. We are fond of imagining triumphs and glories for the Church on earth,— that the Gospel is to be preached to all nations, and the world to be converted, and all enemies subdued, and I know not what,— until some ears are impatient of hearing that there is in store for the Church a time of terrible trial: and so we do as the Jews of old, who looked for a conqueror, a king, and for prosperity; and when their Messias came in humility and in passion, they did not know Him. So, I am afraid, many among us intoxicate their minds with the visions of success and victory, and cannot endure the thought that there is a time of persecution yet to come for the Church of God. Let us hear, therefore, the words of the prophet Daniel. Speaking of the person whom St. John calls the Antichrist, whom he calls the king that shall work according to his own will, the prophet Daniel says, “He shall speak words against the High One,”— that is, the Almighty God,—“and shall crush the saints of the Most High.” Again he says, “It”— that is, the power of this king—“was magnified even unto the strength of heaven: and it threw down of the strength, and of the stars and trod upon them. And it was magnified even to the prince of the strength: and it took away from him the continual sacrifice, and cast down the place of his sanctuary.” Further, he says, “The victim and the sacrifice shall fail, and there shall be in the temple the abomination of desolation.” These three passages are taken from the seventh, and the eighth, and the ninth chapters of Daniel. I might add more, but they are enough, for in the Book Apocalypse (12:7) we find a key to these words. St. John, evidently referring to the Book of Daniel, writes of the beast, that is, the persecuting power which shall reign on the earth by might, “It was given unto him to make war with the saints and to overcome them.”
(Manning, Lecture IV, “Passion and ‘Death’ of the Church”, in The Present Crisis of the Holy See Tested by Prophecy, pp. 67-69; see The Pope and the Antichrist: The Great Apostasy Foretold)
The Son of God who guaranteed that the gates of hell would not prevail against His Church is the same Son of God (cf. Heb 13:8) who also taught, through St. Paul and St. John, that the mystery of iniquity would be successful for a time. Indeed, He is the same Son of God who was wholly victorious in His own apparent defeat, where it appeared that His enemies had triumphed over Him as He suffered His bitter but glorious Passion. We can only marvel at the beauty of God’s ways — when all seems lost and evil seems to have prevailed, He proves through the inscrutable designs of His infinite wisdom that the opposite is in fact the case. “For as the heavens are exalted above the earth, so are my ways exalted above your ways, and my thoughts above your thoughts”, says the Lord through His prophet Isaias (55:9).
Let us, therefore, not agonize over attempting to understand why God permits the operation of error, the mystery of iniquity, and the manifestation of the Antichrist to begin with. Let it suffice for us that the all-good, all-knowing, and all-powerful God has willed it so, and thus we know that, whether we understand it or not, it is ultimately to His glory and for the salvation of His elect (cf. Is 55:8-9; 1 Tim 2:3-4; 2 Thess 2:10-11; Rom 8:28).
As it was in Christ’s seeming defeat that His greatest Victory was to be found, so we may rest assured that it will also be with His Church: Although the gates of hell seem to have prevailed, they actually have not, and this was prophesied so that we would not be scandalized when the time came: “At present I tell you, before it come to pass: that when it shall come to pass, you may believe that I am he” (Jn 13:19); “Behold I have told it to you, beforehand” (Mt 24:25). It is supernatural Faith that gives us this assurance, that Faith which is not merely human, or a sum total of probabilities (cf. Pope Pius X, Decree Lamentabili Sane, n. 25), but which is a gift of God (Eph 2:8), absolutely indispensable for salvation (Rom 3:28; Heb 11:6) — that firm assent of the mind to what God has revealed because He has revealed it, He who can neither lie nor be mistaken: “For we walk by faith, and not by sight” (2 Cor 5:7).
We have every reason, then, to be full of faith, hope, and charity, for although our times are most distressing, nevertheless “all is going according to plan”, so to speak, as we see Catholic prophecy unfold exactly in the way intended by God from all eternity. All we are enduring is a confirmation of what we believe, not its negation. Pope Saint Pius X assures us that God will always draw good even out of the most terrible afflictions the Church may undergo:
Whether the wicked will it or not, God makes even error aid in the triumph of Truth whose guardian and defender is the Church. He puts corruption in the service of sanctity, whose mother and nurse is the Church. Out of persecution He brings a more wondrous “freedom from our enemies.” For these reasons, when worldly men think they see the Church buffeted and almost capsized in the raging storm, then she really comes forth fairer, stronger, purer, and brighter with the luster of distinguished virtues.
In such a way God’s goodness bears witness to the divinity of the Church. He makes her victorious in that painful battle against the errors and sins that creep into her ranks. Through this victory He verifies the words of Christ: “The gates of hell shall not prevail against it” [Mt 16:18]. In her day-to-day living He fulfills the promise, “Behold, I am with you all days, even unto the consummation of the world” [Mt 28:20]….
(Pope St. Pius X, Encyclical Editae Saepe, nn. 6-7)
The gates of hell cannot prevail against the true Catholic Church; the Son of God has promised it. And to this end He instituted the Papacy as the unconquerable guarantee that the Ark of Salvation would forever be pure in Faith and united in the bonds of charity. Hence the Pope had to first be “taken out of the way” to allow the mystery of iniquity to do its evil work, and this happened not by accident, nor by surprise, nor without God’s foreknowledge or permission. In fact, as no earthly power could possibly overcome the papacy, God Himself had to intervene to allow its apparent failure for a time, just as He brought about the hour when He would allow His enemies seemingly to triumph over Him for a short while.
And thus we see that while the rock — St. Peter and his successors — can be taken out of the way, it cannot fail. But if the “popes” after Pius XII — that is, John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I, John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis — are true Popes, then the rock has failed, which is impossible. And thus we know, with the highest possible certitude, that the Modernist Vatican II Sect is not the Catholic Church of our Lord Jesus Christ, and that its heads are not true Popes. Instead, the false church in Rome is in truth the “operation of error” that began to manifest itself in 1958, when “he who now holdeth” was “taken out of the way” so that people would “believe lying: that all may be judged who have not believed the truth, but have consented to iniquity” (2 Thess 2:7,10-11).
Wherefore: “Go out from her, my people; that you be not partakers of her sins, and that you receive not of her plagues. For her sins have reached unto heaven, and the Lord hath remembered her iniquities” (Apoc 18:4-5). Believe in the Lord, who conquered all in His apparent defeat and assured us: “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my word shall not pass away” (Mk 13:31).
Behold, He has told it to us beforehand.