Response to a misguided accusation…
The Ultramontanism Objection
We hear the accusations all the time: “Papolater!” – “Papal positivist!” – “Uber-Papalist!” – “Ultramontanist!” Among those who consider themselves traditional Catholics but accept Francis’ claim to being the Pope, the Catholic doctrine on the Papacy is not very popular, and it is easy to see why: Forcing Jorge Bergoglio through the template of the Papacy yields grotesque results.
Epithets like the ones mentioned are being hurled at us sedevacantists because we proclaim, as every Catholic did until the death of Pope Pius XII in 1958, that the teaching of the Roman Pontiff requires our submission — it is not subject to review, criticism, or validation by every Tom, Dick, and Harry who happens to have access to a copy of Denzinger and knows how to hit “publish” on a blogging platform. But for people who accept Bergoglio as Pope, Catholic truth about the Papacy is hard to endure (cf. Jn 6:61).
For example: “Fr.” John Hunwicke, a convert to the Novus Ordo from Anglicanism, likes to complain about an “Ultrahyperueberpapalism” he sees among those who uphold the traditional teaching on the Papacy, whether it is enunciated and applied by Novus Ordos who think Francis is Pope or by sedevacantists, who know he is not. The Catholic Herald contributor “Fr.” Alexander Lucie-Smith is on record claiming that appealing to the authority of the Pope instead of the Magisterium (huh?) constitutes “Ultramontanism”, which he calls the “deformed and illegitimate offspring” of the Petrine ministry — before proceeding, ironically, to appeal to the putative authority of “Pope” Benedict XVI to back up his claim. In October of last year, the spokesman for the much-touted Filial Correction, Dr. Joseph Shaw, confidently proclaimed the “death” of Ultramontanism when in fact he should have proclaimed the death of the idea that Francis could possibly be the Pope. And then of course there are the usual pseudo-theological comedians like Hilary White and Steve Skojec, whose posts and tweets are strong in rhetoric but infallibly bereft of any serious theology. These latter we can safely ignore.
But while semi-trads may be excited that they have found an erudite-sounding label to slap on their theologial opponents, how many of them even know what Ultramontanism really is and what the term has signified in Church history?
The aim of this post is to clarify the true nature of Ultramontanism, to remind everyone of what the Church teaches regarding the Pope and all Catholics’ obligation to submit to him, and to refute a handful of specific instances in which high-profile Novus Ordos have argued against this obligation.
We’ll begin by taking a look at recent claims made by five Novus Ordo personalities who have tried to contain the damage “Pope” Francis has been doing by distorting, in some way or another, the Catholic teaching on submission to the Pope. We will respond directly to their points towards the end of this article; for right now, we will simply let them state their arguments:
(1) “Bishop” Athanasius Schneider
Third, the Pope cannot be the focal point of the daily life of the faith of a Catholic faithful. The focal point must instead be Christ. Otherwise, we become victims of an insane pope-centrism or of a kind of popalatry, an attitude which is alien to the tradition of the Apostles, of the Church Fathers and of the greater tradition of the Church. The so called “ultramontanism” of the 19th and 20th centuries reached its peak in our days and created an insane pope-centrism and popolatry. To mention just an example: There had been in Rome in the end of the 19th century a famous Monsignor who led different pilgrim groups to the Papal audiences. Before he let them enter to see and hear the Pope, he said to them: “Listen carefully to the infallible words which will come out of the mouth of the Vicar of Christ”. Surely such an attitude is a pure caricature of the Petrine ministry and contrary to the doctrine of the Church. Nevertheless, even in our days, not so few Catholics, priests and bishops show substantially the same caricatural attitude towards the sacred ministry of the successor of Peter.
(2) Edward Feser
Protestants sometimes accuse Catholics of believing that a pope has the authority to make up new doctrines or even to contradict Scripture. If a pope decided one day to add a fourth Person to the Trinity, or to declare abortion morally permissible, or to delete the Sixth Commandment, then – so the idea goes – Catholics would be duty bound to salute crisply, bark an enthusiastic “Yes, sir!”, and fall in line robotically with the new doctrine du jour. Call this the “Crude Protestant Caricature” of papal authority. (In fairness, it must be acknowledged that there are many Protestants who do not believe the Crude Protestant Caricature. Also, unfortunately, there are some overzealous and under-informed Catholics who do essentially believe the Crude Protestant Caricature.)
(3) Claudio Pierantoni
[Interviewer:] How far is the neo-conservative movement in the Church responsible for creating this crisis by confusing (over many years) ultramontanism for orthodoxy?
[Claudio Pierantoni:] Certainly there is some responsibility: far too often it’s been the case that many people say that something is true “because the pope said it,” avoiding the trouble of studying the sources of the Tradition and Scripture, and also the difficulty of thinking through the philosophical foundations of ethics. This is definitely something we need to correct: the papacy is an immense gift for Catholics, but it shouldn’t be turned into an incentive for ignorance and laziness, as when people adopt the Pope’s position uncritically, without really examining or understanding the issues.
(4) Joseph Shaw
What can the Ultramontanists, those with an exaggerated view of papal authority so prominent in the debate over Amoris laetitia, make of this situation?
Now, the official Ultramontanist line is that Papal authority, being supreme and (for practical purposes, always) infallible, can never be self contradictory. But between these two papal statements there is a contradiction as plain as the nose on your face. The suggestion that the 2017 statement is a ‘development’ or ‘clarification’ of what was said in 1952, or that is draws out implications of this and other expressions of the Church’s teaching on capital punishment over the centuries, is not something one needs to haggle over. It is simply insane.
But for those who wish to haggle, a simple test of the development of doctrine is to ask if later authors can continue to accept earlier expressions of a doctrine as being true. Thus, we find the discussion of grace in Augustine lacking some distinctions developed by later authors and used in dogmatic statements, but Augustine is not for that reason wrong, and what he writes is not, with hindsight, heresy. It might on occasion be misleading to quote Augustine on grace, but one need not disavow him. In this case, by contrast, it is evident that Pope Francis disagrees with Pope Pius XII: they can’t both be right.
Today’s Ultramontanists are in a bind, therefore. In order to uphold the supreme and (for practical purposes, always) infallible authority of Pope Francis, they are going to have to admit that the authority of Pope Pius XII was not so supreme or infallible after all.
(5) “Fr.” Mark Drew
The tendency we call ultramontanism, which puts an exaggerated weight on the will of individual popes and minimises the limits which divine law puts on their prerogatives, has been influential for centuries. The truths of our faith were revealed by God through the Apostles and the Pope’s task is not to preside over new revelations but to preserve and teach what has been handed down.
As Francis’ chaotic pseudo-pontificate continues, we can expect to see more and more of these types of claims being made. It is important, therefore, that the record be set straight about Ultramontanism and the divinely established limits within which the Papacy operates.
Historically speaking, anyone who uses the epithet “Ultramontanism” to refer to a perceived erroneous notion of papal authority finds himself in bad company. Since at least the time of the Protestant Reformation, those who used the term “Ultramontanists” to deride Catholics loyal to the Pope were almost always on the side of the enemies of the Church, or at least advocated a position that was ultimately rejected by the Church definitively.
In fact, in 1873, several years after the close of the First Vatican Council, Pope Pius IX had cause to complain about those who were using that label to bad-mouth genuine and zealous obedience to the Pope. Addressing the St. Ambrose Circle of Milan, Pius IX warned of so-called “liberal Catholics” who “grow indignant at anything which savors of devotedness which is fully and absolutely at the service of the desires and the counsels of the Holy See” and who “dub its most zealous and most obedient sons Ultramontanes or Jesuits” (Apostolic Letter Per Tristissima; excerpted in Papal Teachings: The Church, n. 418).
Anyone, then, who considers himself a true Catholic had better think twice about decrying “Ultramontanism.” If history is any indication, the position thus rejected will turn out to be true.
“Papolatry” or simply Adherence to Catholic Teaching?
What more and more semi-traditionalists are decrying as “Ultramontanism”, “Papolatry”, or “Papal Positivism” is in reality simply the Catholic teaching of submission to the Roman Pontiff, a submission that must be given not only when he speaks infallibly, that is, when he defines a dogma ex cathedra, but also when he exercises his non-infallible authentic Magisterium and when he makes disciplinary laws (which laws, by the way, are also infallible if they are universal).
We see this clearly taught, for example, by Pope Pius IX:
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)
Nor can we pass over in silence the audacity of those who, not enduring sound doctrine, contend that “without sin and without any sacrifice of the Catholic profession assent and obedience may be refused to those judgments and decrees of the Apostolic See, whose object is declared to concern the Church’s general good and her rights and discipline, so only it does not touch the dogmata of faith and morals.” But no one can be found not clearly and distinctly to see and understand how grievously this is opposed to the Catholic dogma of the full power given from God by Christ our Lord Himself to the Roman Pontiff of feeding, ruling and guiding the Universal Church.
(Pope Pius IX, Encyclical Quanta Cura, n. 5)
In an Apostolic Letter to the Archbishop of Munich-Freising of Dec. 21, 1863, the same Pope noted:
…it is not sufficient for learned Catholics to accept and revere the aforesaid dogmas of the Church, but that it is also necessary to subject themselves to the decisions pertaining to doctrine which are issued by the Pontifical Congregations, and also to those forms of doctrine which are held by the common and constant consent of Catholics as theological truths and conclusions, so certain that opinions opposed to these same forms of doctrine, although they cannot be called heretical, nevertheless deserve some theological censure.
(Pope Pius IX, Apostolic Letter Tuas Libenter; Denz. 1684)
Along these lines, Pope Leo XIII reminded the Archbishop of Paris in 1885:
To the shepherds alone was given all power to teach, to judge, to direct; on the faithful was imposed the duty of following their teaching, of submitting with docility to their judgment, and of allowing themselves to be governed, corrected, and guided by them in the way of salvation. Thus, it is an absolute necessity for the simple faithful to submit in mind and heart to their own pastors, and for the latter to submit with them to the Head and Supreme Pastor.
…[I]t is to give proof of a submission which is far from sincere to set up some kind of opposition between one Pontiff and another. Those who, faced with two differing directives, reject the present one to hold to the past, are not giving proof of obedience to the authority which has the right and duty to guide them; and in some ways they resemble those who, on receiving a condemnation, would wish to appeal to a future council, or to a Pope who is better informed.
This is the Catholic teaching, and it is neither difficult to understand nor difficult to accept for a Catholic, whose understanding is continually brought “into captivity … unto the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor 10:5).
The True Meaning of Ultramontanism
What, then, is Ultramontanism?
To understand the term and its usage, we’ll consult a few different sources. The most concise definition of the term is perhaps the one found in Attwater’s Catholic Dictionary:
ULTRAMONTANISM (Lat., ultra, beyond; montes, the mountains). A term invented by the Gallicans to describe the doctrines and policies which upheld the full authority of the Holy See. With the noun and adjective ultramontane it was used down to the end of the 19th century (especially at the time of the Vatican Council), and still is sometimes, usually by non-Catholic controversialists, to describe a real or supposed exaggeration of papal prerogatives and those who supported them….
(Donald Attwater, ed., A Catholic Dictionary, 3rd ed. [New York, NY: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1961], s.v. “Ultramontanism”; italics and bold print given.)
A much more elaborate explanation, written by the famous Anti-Modernist Mgr. Umberto Benigni, is found in the Catholic Encyclopedia of 1912:
A term used to denote integral and active Catholicism, because it recognizes as its spiritual head the pope, who, for the greater part of Europe, is a dweller beyond the mountains (ultra montes), that is, beyond the Alps….
In a very different sense, the word once more came into use after the Protestant Reformation, which was, among other things, a triumph of that ecclesiastical particularism, based on political principles, which was formulated in the maxim: Cujus regio, ejus religio. Among the Catholic governments and peoples there gradually developed an analogous tendency to regard the papacy as a foreign power; Gallicanism and all forms of French and German regalism affected to look upon the Holy See as an alien power because it was beyond the Alpine boundaries of both the French kingdom and the German empire. This name of Ultramontane the Gallicans applied to the supporters of the Roman doctrines–whether that of the monarchical character of the pope in the government of the Church or of the infallible pontifical magisterium–inasmuch as the latter were supposed to renounce “Gallican liberties” in favour of the head of the Church who resided ultra montes. This use of the word was not altogether novel; as early as the time of Gregory VII the opponents of Henry IV in Germany had been called Ultramontanes (ultramontani). In both cases the term was intended to be opprobrious, or at least to convey the imputation of a failing in attachment to the Ultramontane’s own prince, or his country, or his national Church.
In the eighteenth century the word passed from France back to Germany, where it was adopted by the Febronians, Josephinists, and Rationalists, who called themselves Catholics, to designate the theologians and the faithful who were attached to the Holy See. Thus it acquired a much wider signification, being applicable to all Roman Catholics worthy of the name. The Revolution adopted this polemical term from the old regime: the “Divine State”, formerly personified in the prince, now found its personification in the people, becoming more “Divine” than ever as the State became more and more laic and irreligious, and, both in principle and in fact, denied any other God but itself. In presence of this new form of the old state-worship, the “Ultramontane” is the antagonist of the atheists as much as the non-Catholic believers, if not more–witness the Bismarckian Kulturkampf, of which the National Liberals rather than the orthodox Protestants were the soul. Thus the word came to be applied more especially in Germany from the earliest decades of the nineteenth century. In the frequent conflicts between Church and State the supporters of the Church’s liberty and independence as against the State are called Ultramontanes. The [First] Vatican Council naturally called forth numerous written attacks upon Ultramontanism. When the Centre was formed as a political party it was called by preference the Ultramontane party. In a few years the “Anti-Ultramontane Reichsverband” came into existence to combat the Centre and, at the same time, Catholicism as a whole.
…For Catholics it would be superfluous to ask whether Ultramontanism and Catholicism are the same thing: assuredly, those who combat Ultramontanism are in fact combating Catholicism, even when they disclaim the desire to oppose it.
(Catholic Encyclopedia, s.v. “Ultramontanism”; italics given.)
So Ultramontanism and Catholicism are the same thing. If you remember nothing else about this post, please remember that.
We see this confirmed, for example, by the Benedictine monk Dom Cuthbert Butler, who writes in his excellent book on the council:
A word should be said concerning the term ‘Ultramontane’, as designating what was in reality the Roman doctrine. Since the [First] Vatican Council there is no longer place for the term ‘Ultramontanism’; because that doctrine of the Papacy has, for all in communion with the Holy See, been stamped as Catholicism, much as at Nicea what had been ‘Athanasianism’ was stamped as Catholicism. But up to the Council, strictly speaking, it was not so; for the Gallican position was still permissible within the pale of the Catholic Church….
It is convenient, indeed necessary, when writing of the Vatican Council, to have some name for the school opposed to Gallicanism; and none other than Ultramontanism is to hand. The upshot of the Council was to identify the Ultramontanism of the Roman theological schools, as formulated by Bellarmine, with Catholicism, Gallicanism being ruled out.
(Dom Cuthbert Butler, The Vatican Council 1869-1870 [Westminster, MD: The Newman Press, 1962], p. 42)
The Novus Ordo edition of the Catholic Encyclopedia, called the New Catholic Encyclopedia, has the following on “Ultramontanism”:
A term created in the nineteenth century (jointly with its dialectic opponent Gallicanism) to describe the defenders of the Roman vision of the papacy (from the other side of the Alps) against the German or French national conception. In the Middle Ages, as papal claims to power and authority became more precise and also more extreme, they were backed by canonists and theologians from all countries who might well be called ‘‘protoultramontanes,’’ but it is only in later controversies that this designation is fully operative, as they dealt not only with ecclesiological particulars but two visions of Catholicism. This ‘‘early ultramontanism’’ represented the concern to maintain or restore a strong Catholic identity by focusing on the Roman center and developing common features susceptible to reunite and expand Christendom. Therefore, to the defense of Roman prerogatives and pyramidal ecclesiology was associated a forceful missionary program. In this perspective there is a direct continuity between post-Tridentine ‘‘Romanism’’ and nineteenth-century Ultramontanism.
After Vatican I, the concept of Ultramontanism is only analogical, for instance in the qualification of ‘integralist’ perspectives that arose during the Modernist crisis, or of oppositions to the Vatican II doctrine of collegiality [ha!].
(Thomas Carson and Joann Cerrito, eds., New Catholic Encyclopedia, 2nd ed., vol. 14 [Detroit, MI: Thomson/Gale, 2003], s.v. “Ultramontanism”, pp. 283, 285)
This clarifies things quite a bit, doesn’t it?
As we see above, the great antithesis to Ultramontanism in the 19th century was Gallicanism, which sought to curb and relativize papal authority in favor of the bishops, not unlike what we hear in our own times from the Society of St. Pius X and its theological cousins. Some central theses of Gallicanism had already been condemned by Popes Bl. Innocent XI (in 1682), Alexander VIII (in 1690; see Denz. 1322-1326), and Pius VI (in 1794; see Denz. 1599). Gallicanism was definitively rejected as heretical by the First Vatican Council and “is now professed only by the heretical sect of the Old Catholics”, writes Attwater in the late 1950s (Catholic Dictionary, s.v. “Gallicanism”).
In our day, unfortunately, Gallicanism has made a comeback, being pushed by those Novus Ordos and semi-traditionalists who are trying to explain the Francis “pontificate” by modifying the Catholic teaching on the Papacy rather than modifying their belief in the status of Jorge Bergoglio.
Errors Old and New
Now, it is indeed true that in the past there were also some individuals who exaggerated the true Catholic teaching on the Papacy; for example, by extending papal infallibility far beyond the strict limits later defined by Vatican I. Butler calls this a “New Ultramontanism” (see The Vatican Council 1869-1870, pp. 44-62). This error, however, does not seem to have been widespread and was limited only to some time before the council.
In our own day, one of the chief errors is definitely not the extension of papal infallibility to every utterance the Pope ever makes. Rather, a more dangerous and fundamental error is the idea, one particularly popular among adherents of the Society of St. Pius X and other semi-traditionalists, that unless something is proclaimed infallibly, then it is optional for the faithful to adhere to and, because not inerrant, can even contain heresy and blasphemy. Not only does this not follow, it is also plainly in opposition to Catholic teaching and assumes that the authority of the Church is essentially rooted in her inability to err, but this too is false, as once explained by Canon George Smith:
Herein lies the source of the obligation to believe what the Church teaches. The Church possesses the divine commission to teach, and hence there arises in the faithful a moral obligation to believe, which is founded ultimately, not upon the infallibility of the Church, but upon God’s sovereign right to the submission and intellectual allegiance (rationabile obsequium) of His creatures: “He that believeth…shall be saved, but he that believeth not shall be condemned” [Mk 16:16]. It is the God-given right of the Church to teach, and therefore it is the bounden duty of the faithful to believe.
But belief, however obligatory, is possible only on condition that the teaching proposed is guaranteed as credible. And therefore Christ added to His commission to teach the promise of the divine assistance: “Behold I am with you all days even to the consummation of the world” [Mt 28:20]. This divine assistance implies that, at any rate within a certain sphere, the Church teaches infallibly; and consequently, at least within those limits, the credibility of her teaching is beyond question. When the Church teaches infallibly the faithful know that what she teaches belongs, either directly or indirectly, to the depositum fidei committed to her by Christ; and their faith thus becomes grounded, immediately or mediately, upon the divine authority. But the infallibility of the Church does not, precisely as such, render belief obligatory. It renders her teaching divinely credible. What makes belief obligatory is her divine commission to teach.
…Therefore, whether her teaching is guaranteed by infallibility or not, the Church is always the divinely appointed teacher and guardian of revealed truth, and consequently the supreme authority of the Church, even when it does not intervene to make an infallible and definitive decision on matters of faith or morals, has the right, in virtue of the divine commission, to command the obedient assent of the faithful. In the absence of infallibility the assent thus demanded cannot be that of faith, whether Catholic or ecclesiastical; it will be an assent of a lower order proportioned to its ground or motive. But whatever name be given to it – for the present we may call it belief – it is obligatory; obligatory not because the teaching is infallible – it is not – but because it is the teaching of the divinely appointed Church. It is the duty of the Church, as [Cardinal Johann] Franzelin has pointed out, not only to teach revealed doctrine but also to protect it, and therefore the Holy See “may prescribe as to be followed or proscribe as to be avoided theological opinions or opinions connected with theology, not only with the intention of infallibly deciding the truth by a definitive pronouncement, but also – without any such intention – merely for the purpose of safeguarding the security of Catholic doctrine.” If it is the duty of the Church, even though non-infallibly, to “prescribe or proscribe” doctrines to this end, then it is evidently also the duty of the faithful to accept them or reject them accordingly.
(Canon George Smith, “Must I Believe It?”, The Clergy Review, vol. 9 [April, 1935], pp. 296-309; italics in original.)
This is a concise statement of the Catholic position, and it makes every sense in the world.
To say that a non-infallible statement could contain something that is theologically insufficient or even erroneous and therefore admits of later revision is one thing; to say that a non-infallible statement could contradict Divine Revelation or other known truths that have long been taught and believed by the Church, is quite another. An institution that can promulgate as part of its official teaching to the world something that manifestly contradicts other instances of its teaching authority, is not only not the Catholic Church, “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim 3:15), it is not even worthy of any human credibility whatsoever.
The Papacy and the Holy Ghost
But what are we saying, then? Are we saying that the Pope has absolute authority over Faith and morals, such that he could even change Divine Revelation and God’s own laws?
Definitely not. On the contrary, it is clear that the Pope is not an absolute monarch in the sense that he can make doctrines and laws according to his every whim. This is certainly not the case, and this absurd idea was explicitly rejected by Pope Pius IX:
…the application of the term “absolute monarch” to the pope in reference to ecclesiastical affairs is not correct because he is subject to divine laws and is bound by the directives given by Christ for his Church. The pope cannot change the constitution given to the Church by her divine Founder, as an earthly ruler can change the constitution of a State. In all essential points the constitution of the Church is based on divine directives, and therefore it is not subject to human arbitrariness.
Although this declaration was made the German episcopate in response to misleading accusations by Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, Pope Pius IX enthusiastically approved and endorsed this explanation: “…your declaration presents the truly Catholic understanding, which is that of the holy council of this Holy See” (Apostolic Letter Mirabilis Illa Constantia; Denz.-H. 3117).
So, it is clear that a true Pope cannot teach or legislate anything contrary to Divine Revelation or the Divine Law. But what distinguishes the correct understanding of the limits of papal authority from that put forward by today’s semi-traditionalists, is that according to the correct understanding — held by sedevacantists and even by many Novus Ordos — the term “cannot” truly means “is not able to”; it does not mean “is not supposed to and if he does anyway, we must resist him and his teaching doesn’t count.”
This becomes especially clear when we review the teaching of the First Vatican Council about the role of the Holy Ghost with regard to the Papacy, which is quoted so often by the semi-trads but never quite in context. To establish the full context, we need to look at Chapter 4 of the dogmatic constitution Pastor Aeternus in full:
That apostolic primacy which the Roman pontiff possesses as successor of Peter, the prince of the apostles, includes also the supreme power of teaching. This holy see has always maintained this, the constant custom of the church demonstrates it, and the ecumenical councils, particularly those in which East and West met in the union of faith and charity, have declared it.
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, 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.
What is more, with the approval of the second council of Lyons, the Greeks made the following profession: “The holy Roman church possesses the supreme and full primacy and principality over the whole catholic church. She truly and humbly acknowledges that she received this from the Lord himself in blessed Peter, the prince and chief of the apostles, whose successor the Roman pontiff is, together with the fullness of power. And since before all others she has the duty of defending the truth of the faith, so if any questions arise concerning the faith, it is by her judgment that they must be settled.”
Then there is the definition of the council of Florence: “The Roman pontiff is the true vicar of Christ, the head of the whole church and the father and teacher of all Christians; and to him was committed in blessed Peter, by our lord Jesus Christ, the full power of tending, ruling and governing the whole church.”
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, sometimes individually, sometimes gathered in synods, according to the long established custom of the churches and the pattern of ancient usage 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.
The Roman pontiffs, too, as the circumstances of the time or the state of affairs suggested, sometimes by summoning ecumenical councils or consulting the opinion of the churches scattered throughout the world, sometimes by special synods, sometimes by taking advantage of other useful means afforded by divine providence, defined as doctrines to be held those things which, by God’s help, they knew to be in keeping with sacred scripture and the apostolic traditions.
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.
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.
But since in this very age when the salutary effectiveness of the apostolic office is most especially needed, not a few are to be found who disparage its authority, we judge it absolutely necessary to affirm solemnly the prerogative which the only-begotten Son of God was pleased to attach to the supreme pastoral office.
Therefore, faithfully adhering to the tradition received from the beginning of the christian faith, to the glory of God our saviour, for the exaltation of the catholic religion and for the salvation of the christian people, with the approval of the sacred council, we teach and define as a divinely revealed dogma that when the Roman pontiff speaks EX CATHEDRA, that is, when, in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole church, he possesses, by the divine assistance promised to him in blessed Peter, that infallibility which the divine Redeemer willed his church to enjoy in defining doctrine concerning faith or morals.
Therefore, such definitions of the Roman pontiff are of themselves, and not by the consent of the church, irreformable.
So then, should anyone, which God forbid, have the temerity to reject this definition of ours: let him be anathema.
(Vatican I, Dogmatic Constitution Pastor Aeternus, Chapter 4; underlining added.)
Evidently, what Vatican I is teaching here is that because he is assisted by the Holy Ghost, the Pope will “religiously guard and faithfully expound the revelation or deposit of faith transmitted by the apostles” and will not “make known some new doctrine” by the revelation of the same Holy Ghost.
The semi-traditionalists, on the other hand, reduce this teaching to little more than a superficial banality: They act as though it simply means that the Pope isn’t supposed to make new doctrines, for that is not why the Holy Ghost was given him. Such an interpretation of the text is not tenable because this much is true of anyone, not just of the Pope alone. In fact, even a Protestant would agree that his parish pastor isn’t supposed to teach his own strange doctrines. That’s hardly a profound insight to be taught by a Catholic ecumenical council!
Secondly, notice that the conciliar constitution says that “the Holy Spirit was promised to the successors of Peter not so that they might, by his revelation, make known some new doctrine…” (italics added). If the semi-trads’ understanding of this passage were correct, it would mean that the Pope is not supposed to proclaim new doctrines that are nevertheless revealed to him by the Holy Ghost — a grotesque thing for a Catholic council to teach.
Thirdly, the surrounding context given in Chapter 4 of Pastor Aeternus establishes the prerogatives and uniqueness of the Papacy, protected by the Holy Ghost. What sort of divine protection would the Holy Ghost provide if the Pope were merely “not supposed to” invent new doctrines but nevertheless be quite capable of doing so? Wouldn’t that be true also of your local grocery store clerk and the grumpy bus driver on your morning commute? Aren’t they, too, “not supposed to” come up with a new gospel but quite capable of doing precisely that?
It is manifest, therefore, that Vatican I teaches, not that the Pope ought not to teach new (or false) doctrine, but that he actually does not. That is the significance of the special assistance of the Holy Ghost for the Pope. To use more technical terminology, we can say that the council’s doctrine about the Holy Ghost’s assistance for the Pope is descriptive — it describes a truth about the Papacy — and not merely normative — establishing a norm the Pope is expected to follow. The Holy Ghost acts a priori — before the Pope does anything, by preventing him from teaching or legislating grave errors such as heresy — not a posteriori, by means of the Pope’s inferiors correcting his magisterium after the fact.
By the way, treating dogmas as merely normative and not descriptive is actually an error characteristic of Modernism, one explicitly singled out and condemned by Pope St. Pius X in his Syllabus of Modernist Errors: “The dogmas of the Faith are to be held only according to their practical sense; that is to say, as preceptive norms of conduct and not as norms of believing” (Pius X, Decree Lamentabili Sane Exitu, error n. 26). This statement is to “be held by all as condemned and proscribed”, Pope Pius X decreed.
To give a perfect example of reinterpreting Vatican I in a merely normative sense, we can use the article by Ed Feser referenced earlier. In it, the professional philosopher writes:
In short, the Church puts the pope in a doctrinal box. Even when he is speaking ex cathedra, he must stay within the parameters he has inherited. He can draw out implications implicit in earlier doctrine, but he cannot make up new doctrines out of whole cloth. And what he teaches must be consistent with the entire body of past binding teaching. He is not permitted to contradict past doctrine and he cannot pit one doctrine against another.
(Edward Feser, “Catholic theologians must set an example of intellectual honesty: A reply to Prof. Robert Fastiggi”, Catholic World Report, Oct. 30, 2017; underlining added.)
Take a look at the underlined phrases and notice how Feser turns it all into a matter of permission and obligation rather than ability, thus making the teaching seem normative rather than what it truly is, descriptive; and Feser even extends this to infallible ex cathedra pronouncements! How does Feser envision this to work in practice, even for non-infallible teaching? The Pope makes a pronouncement, and then the faithful decide whether he’s stayed “within the parameters he has inherited”? Does the rest of the Church then proceed to examine “the entire body of past binding teaching” to ensure consistency, to make certain he didn’t “contradict past doctrine” or “pit one doctrine against another”? And what if cardinals, bishops, priests, or lay faithful disagree among themselves as to whether the Pope’s teaching is up to snuff? Are there committees that continually review the papal magisterium to ensure its orthodoxy? If so, why not get rid of the Pope altogether and simply have the committee issue the teachings?
This is obviously a prescription for chaos. No, St. Robert Bellarmine had it exactly right when he taught that the Roman Pontiff “is the Teacher and Shepherd of the whole Church, thus, the whole Church is so bound to hear and follow him that if he would err, the whole Church would err” (De Romano Pontifice, Book IV, Chapter 3). Apparently this Doctor of the Church didn’t get the memo about the Feserian notion of the papal magisterium being kept in check by the Pope’s inferiors a posteriori.
The Ultramontanists of the Past
If we look at the past few centuries, we discover that the most faithful and zealous Catholics were the Ultramontanists. People such as St. Pius X, St. Robert Bellarmine, Cardinal Joseph Hergenrother, Dom Prosper Gueranger, and Fr. Frederick Faber were all bona fide Ultramontanists. Yet, anyone who quotes their teaching today (without mentioning the source) can be counted on to be denounced as a Papolater, Hyper-Ultramontanist, Papal Positivist, or whatever else. Yet all the rhetorical blustering of our semi-traditinalist critics cannot conceal the fact that it is they, the semi-trads, that have it wrong, not the Ultramontanists, who are but Catholics.
In his response to the heretico-schismatic “Munich Declaration” of the excommunicated heretic Fr. Johann Joseph Ignaz von Döllinger, who publicly refused to accept papal infallibility after it had been proclaimed a dogma by Vatican I, Cardinal Joseph Hergenröther rebuked the newly declared heretic, reminding him that:
A Catholic has to believe everything the Church proposes to him for belief [and] to subordinate his private judgment to that of the teaching Church. The theological virtue of faith is something supernatural; according to Scripture and the Fathers [of the Church], Faith is not based on intrinsic evidence and research but on authority; it is simplicity and obedience.
(J. Hergenröther, Kritik der v. Döllinger’schen Erklärung vom 28. März d. J. [Freiburg: Herder, 1871], p. 2; our translation.)
Cardinal Hergenrother is speaking here with regard to what is de fide, “of Faith”, what has been proposed dogmatically and infallibly. And one of the teachings proposed in this manner is the following:
If anyone thus speaks, that the Roman Pontiff has only the office of inspection or direction, but not the full and supreme power of jurisdiction over the universal Church, not only in things which pertain to faith and morals, but also in those which pertain to the discipline and government of the Church spread over the whole world; or, that he possesses only the more important parts, but not the whole plenitude of this supreme power; or that this power of his is not ordinary and immediate, or over the churches altogether and individually, and over the pastors and the faithful altogether and individually: let him be anathema.
(Vatican I, Dogmatic Constitution Pastor Aeternus, Chapter 3; Denz. 1831)
The semi-traditionalists want a Papacy without consequences, but such a Papacy does not exist.
Preaching a sermon on Pentecost Sunday of 1861, the well-known Fr. Frederick Faber beautifully spelled out the Catholic duty of devotion to the Church, a devotion that would be most deadly to one’s soul if the Novus Ordo Sect were in fact the Roman Catholic Church:
But we may forget, and sometimes do forget, that it is not only not enough to love the Church, but that it is not possible to love the Church rightly, unless we also fear and reverence it. Our forgetfulness of this arises from our not having laid sufficiently deeply in our minds the conviction of the divine character of the Church… The very amount of human grandeur which there is round the Church causes us to forget occasionally that it is not a human institution.
Hence comes that wrong kind of criticism which is forgetful or regardless of the divine character of the Church. Hence comes our setting up our own minds and our own views as criteria of truth, as standards for the Church’s conduct. Hence comes sitting in judgment on the government and policy of Popes. Hence comes that unfilial and unsage carefulness to separate in all matters of the Church and Papacy what we consider to be divine from what we claim to be human. Hence comes the disrespectful fretfulness to distinguish between what we must concede to the Church and what we need not concede to the Church. Hence comes that irritable anxiety to see that the supernatural is kept well subordinated to the natural, as if we really believed we ought just now to strain every nerve lest a too credulous world should be falling a victim to excessive priestcraft and ultramontanism.
…Only let us once really master the truth that the Church is a divine institution, and then we shall see that such criticism is not simply a baseness and a disloyalty, but an impertinence and a sin.
(Rev. Frederick W. Faber, Devotion to the Church [London: Richardson & Son, 1861], pp. 23-24; italics in original; paragraph breaks added.)
We already looked briefly at a quote from St. Robert Bellarmine earlier, but it is worth taking a closer look at what he taught regarding the binding authority of papal teaching:
The Pope is the Teacher and Shepherd of the whole Church, thus, the whole Church is so bound to hear and follow him that if he would err, the whole Church would err.
Now our adversaries respond that the Church ought to hear him so long as he teaches correctly, for God must be heard more than men.
On the other hand, who will judge whether the Pope has taught rightly or not? For it is not for the sheep to judge whether the shepherd wanders off, not even and especially in those matters which are truly doubtful. Nor do Christian sheep have any greater judge or teacher to whom they might have recourse. As we showed above, from the whole Church one can appeal to the Pope yet, from him no one is able to appeal; therefore necessarily the whole Church will err if the Pontiff would err.
(St. Robert Bellarmine, De Romano Pontifice, Book IV, Chapter 3; translated by Ryan Grant as On the Roman Pontiff [Mediatrix Press, 2016], vol. 2, p. 160)
Here, too, we find nothing of the semi-trad idea that the Pope’s Magisterium is subject to review by his inferiors to ensure he stays within his “doctrinal box”.
In their 1875 defense of the true interpretation of the teaching of Vatican I against Bismarck’s distortions, the bishops of Germany called attention to the fact that “papal authority does not, as it were, suddenly appear [in order] to handle extraordinary events, but it is real and obligatory at all times and everywhere [sie hat immer und allezeit und überall Geltung und Kraft]” (Denz.-H. 3113; italics added). This explanation, we recall, was explicitly endorsed by Pope Pius IX in his Apostolic Letter Mirabilis Illa Constantia.
For almost 40 years, Dom Prosper Gueranger (1805-1875) was the Abbot of the Benedictine Monastery of Solesmes in France. He is well known for his monumental 15-volume work The Liturgical Year, but he also wrote other books, including a masterful refutation of Gallicanism and vindication of Ultramontanism, which was published during Vatican I. The name of the book is The Papal Monarchy, and it was written as a direct reply to the errors of Bishop Henri Maret, who had written a book using the pseudonym “Bishop de Sura”. The Papal Monarchy received the direct approbation of Pope Pius IX on Mar. 12, 1870. We will quote from this work extensively because it contains so many tidbits that rebuke and refute the errors of today’s semi-traditionalists:
…[A] system in which the one charged with feeding not only the lambs but also the sheep could not lead the sheep except with their consent — this system would be in flagrant contradiction with the institution established by Jesus Christ. (p. 60)
…[D]oes [Bp. de Sura] not endlessly repeat that the pope is only infallible when he is in agreement with the bishops, who have the right to judge and depose him if he should think otherwise; whereas we know that it is the bishops who derive infallibility from their agreement with him, whose duty it would be to judge them and depose them, if they were to separate themselves from his teaching? (pp. 60-61)
What does the Vicar of Christ become in the system of Bishop de Sura? This head, whose might and grandeur he was vaunting a moment ago, is nothing more than a subordinate. In reading the Gospel we would have thought that the apostles were established upon Peter, and now it is Peter who is established upon the apostles. The Faith of Peter could not fail, founded as it is upon the special prayer of the Savior; from the power of this divine prayer, ‘which the Father always hears’ [Jn 11:42], Peter would derive a faculty of teaching to which his brothers would owe their firmness and would escape the danger of being sifted as one sifts wheat; and here is someone telling us that Peter, if he wants people to accept the Faith that he formulates, needs to have his brothers verify the teaching that he proclaims from his lofty chair! Peter must feed the entire flock, the lambs and the sheep, and now the lambs cannot trust his word until the sheep have judged that one can safely comply with it! Jesus Christ had given to Peter the keys of the kingdom of heaven, which in biblical language signifies the scepter of authority in the Church; and now the laws passed by the authority of Peter no longer have value unless they are accepted by his subordinates! Let us say, rather, that he no longer has any subordinates; for now he holds no more than an executive power, which Bishop de Sura claims to subject to general convocations that would be held every ten years, while in the meantime he would remain under surveillance! (p. 61)
…[T]he uselessness of comparing the constitution of the Church with those of worldly States: the one being divine and unalterable, whereas the others are human and changing. Bishop de Sura betrays the basis for his thinking when he tells us: “No one, today less than ever, no doubt, will manage to make reason and conscience admit that pure and absolute monarchy, as the ordinary system of government, is the best of all.” (p. 62)
…[M]ore than ever the measure of respect that the episcopate maintains, in our age of independence, will be in proportion to the respect that the episcopate itself shows for the Roman Pontiff. The hallmark of Catholic piety today is veneration for the pope: it is the grace of our time. (p. 65)
There [in the See of Peter, in the Vicar of Christ] is found the salvation of the world… (p.65)
That some men who are not illuminated by the light of Faith should judge the Church as though it were a human society is perfectly natural… (p. 67)
Bishop de Sura forgets just one thing. That is, to tell us what will become of the learning Church [as opposed to the teaching Church] while waiting for a judgment which is so far from expeditious….
Let us suppose that the judgment of the bishops is in conformity with the papal decision. It is still necessary for the Christian world to learn of it, in order for people to know that the decision has been made. If the bishops have publicized their arguments, it becomes, for the faithful Catholic, a matter of compiling statistics about the Episcopate on the five continents of the world, then of determining the nature of the episcopal judgments rendered in the various latitudes. Until he knows the result, the faithful Catholic will keep his Faith in suspense; for it is not permissible for him to adhere by faith to the apostolic Constitution that he has in his possession, seeing that the pope who issued it is fallible and might have incorporated error into the text. As the reports come in, the unknown result becomes clear bit by bit. Sometimes the news favor the acceptance of the Bull, but then sometimes one learns that this bishop hesitates, that another is in opposition. Where will it end? (pp. 73-74)
Does the reader believe, by any chance, that the Jansenists admitted that they were defeated? Far from it; they had their reply all ready…. (p. 75)
…[T]hen to pretend that papal definitions are valid only inasmuch as the episcopate has judged and approved them? In this way of understanding things, it is evident that the pope is no longer the Doctor [=Teacher] of all Christians; he is taught. Controversies about the Faith are no longer decided by his judgment; it is to those who judge him — him, the pope — that the right of definition belongs. (pp. 79-80)
[Bp. de Sura] tells us that the papal authority is superior only to the particular churches but that, in a council, the pope is bound to follow the opinion of the majority, under penalty of seeing himself judged and deposed; and this not only in the case where he had personally fallen into heresy (in which case he would no longer be pope), but in any case whatsoever, the moment that he had failed to hold the view of the majority of the bishops. (p. 80)
…Peter nevertheless had a great fall in denying his Master. Bishop de Sura takes that as a point of departure in order to weaken Peter’s claim to the duty of strengthening his brethren. It is not difficult to formulate an answer. Peter’s office was not to begin until after the Savior’s departure. The Vicar is not needed when the one whom he must represent is still present. Thus Our Lord speaks at first in the future tense… Thus He says to Peter: “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church” [Mt 16:18]; therefore it was not yet built. “I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven” [Mt 16:19]; therefore He does not yet give them to him. “Thou, being once converted [i.e. once thou art converted], confirm thy brethren” [Lk 22:32]; this privilege, therefore, was not to be exercised until some time after the fall and the conversion of Peter. The wondrous gift of this Faith which will never fail was reserved, then, for the days when the speech of the Incarnate Word would no longer be audible to the senses. Then, too, only after His resurrection does the Savior — having established Peter’s conversion undeniably by a triple interrogation in the presence of the apostles — finally grant him possession of the promised power, by saying to him, not in the future but in the present tense: “Feed My lambs, feed My sheep” [Jn 21:15ff.]. The supreme Pontificate is about to begin; until that moment is existed only in promise. Bishop de Sura, therefore, has no reason to see the fall of the pope in the fall of Peter before the passion of his Master. (pp. 95-96)
(Source for all these quotes: Dom Prosper Gueranger, The Papal Monarchy [Fitzwilliam, NH: Loreto Publications, 2007]; italics given.)
As a reminder, Abbot Gueranger’s book was explicitly approved by the Pope. The papal brief of approbation is printed on pp. xxi-xxiii of the English edition.
Consider also what the great anti-Modernist Spaniard Fr. Felix Sarda y Salvany had to say about Ultramontanism in his 1886 book Liberalism is a Sin, which received the explicit approval of the Holy See under Pope Leo XIII, as explained in a preliminary note.
There have been books, pamphlets, and articles innumerable written on the proper interpretation of the propositions of [Pope Pius IX’s 1864] Syllabus [of Errors]. But the most authoritative interpretation ought to be that of its radical enemies, not of course in the absurdities of their misunderstandings or perversions, like Mr. Gladstone’s unfortunate attempt to distort some of its propositions into a sanction of civil disloyalty, a position from which he has since withdrawn, we are glad to be able to say. But outside of such patent misconstructions, we may rely upon the interpretation given by Liberals of all shades, especially in those points wherein we see them wince under its uncompromising phraseology. When Liberals regard the Syllabus of Errors as their most detestable enemy, as the complete symbol of what they term Clericalism, Ultramontanism and Reaction, we may rest assured that it has been well interpreted in that quarter. Satan, bad as he is, is not a fool, and sees clearly enough where the blow falls with most effect. Thus, he has set the authority of his seal—which after God’s is most reliable—on this great work, the seal of his inextinguishable hate. Here is an instance in which we can believe the Father of Lies. What he most abhors and defames possesses an unimpeachable guaranty of its truth.
Do [Liberals] not regard as their sole and most potent enemy what they contemptuously term “Clericalism,” “Ultramontanism,” and do they not describe the Church as medieval, reactionary, the opponent of progress and the nurse of superstition? When then the term is so intimately associated with a Rationalism so radically opposed to the Church, how may Catholics use it with any hope of separating it from its current meaning?
To know and serve God is the only freedom, and Liberalism completely severs the bond which links man to God. With a just and rational horror does a good Catholic regard Liberalism. Ultramontanism will never cause you to lose your soul; Liberalism is a broad road to the infernal abyss.
What the greatest Catholic polemists and Saints have done is assuredly a fair example for even the humblest defenders of the Faith. Modern Ultramontanism has never yet surpassed the vigor of their castigation of heresy and heretics. Charity forbids us to do unto another what we would not reasonably have them do unto ourselves. Mark the adverb reasonably; it includes the entire substance of the question.
A well-instructed Catholic—who thoroughly comprehends the rational grounds of his faith and understands the character of Liberal tactics under our national conditions—can alone successfully cope with the enemy face-to-face. Ultramontanism is the only conquering legion in this sort of warfare. It is for the vanguard of the army to surprise the enemy at his own ambuscade, to mine against his mine and to expose him before he has burrowed under our own camp. Ultramontanism is Catholicity intact and armed cap-a-pie [from head to foot]. It is Catholicity consistent in all its parts, the logical concatenation of Catholic principles to their fullest conclusions in doctrine and practice. Hence the fierce and unholy opposition with which it is constantly assailed. The foe well knows that to rout the vanguard is to demoralize the entire army; hence their rage and fury against the invincible phalanx which always stands fully armed, sleeplessly vigilant and eternally uncompromising.
(Fr. Felix Sarda y Salvany, Liberalism is a Sin, trans. and adapted by Conde B. Pallen [Rockford, IL: TAN Books, 1993], Chapters 11, 13, 14, 20, 33; pp. 53-54,61,70,101,160-161; italics given; available online here.)
Of course, we must not fail to quote the ultimate Ultrahyperüberpapalist-Ultramontanist, the man known as Pope Saint Pius X. The following speech of his is reproduced in the authoritative collection Acts of the Apostolic See of 1912:
And this is why, when we love the Pope, we do not dispute whether he commands or requires a thing, or seek to know where the strict obligation of obedience lies, or in what matter we must obey; when we love the Pope we do not say that he has not yet spoken clearly — as if he were required to speak his will in every man’s ear, and to utter it not only by word of mouth but in letters and other public documents as well. Nor do we cast doubt on his orders, alleging the pretext which comes easily to the man who does not want to obey, that it is not the Pope who is commanding, but someone in his entourage. We do not limit the field in which he can and ought to exercise his authority; we do not oppose to the Pope’s authority that of other persons — no matter how learned — who differ from the Pope. For whatever may be their learning, they are not holy, for where there is holiness there cannot be disagreement with the Pope.
Apparently even St. Pius X himself didn’t “get it” when it came to Catholic teaching of submission to the Papacy and devotion to the Pope (yes, to the Pope himself, not just to the Papacy).
Ladies and gentlemen, can anyone doubt that what is being decried today as an exaggerated view of papal authority is in fact Catholic orthodoxy?
Response to the Misguided Accusations
Enlightened by all of the above, we can now respond to the accusations made by the five individuals quoted at the beginning of this article:
(1) To “Bp.” Schneider: Of course the Pope cannot be the focal point of daily Catholic life, but to tie this to Ultramontanism is silly and gratuitous. We live at a time in which the “Pope” has said he is not infallible, the Vatican II doctrine of collegiality reigns supreme, authority is decentralized, and the “Pope” has told Hans Kung that the dogma of papal infallibility is open to discussion. We venture to guess that Mr. Schneider would not be decrying any “insane pope-centrism” if Francis were preaching sound doctrine and genuine Catholic spirituality on a daily basis. Aside from that, when, where, in what manner, or how often the Pope decides to speak to the faithful is, frankly, up to the Pope, and not to an auxiliary from Kazakhstan. Schneider’s reference to an unnamed monsignor who in the late 19th century supposedly told pilgrims in Rome that every word of the Pope is infallible, is simply a vivid example that has no relevance to the discussion.
(2) To Dr. Feser: Dr. Feser rightly rejects as a caricature of papal authority the idea that the Pope is an absolute sovereign who can change anything he pleases, including Divine Revelation and the Divine Law. However, instead of inferring from Catholic doctrine on the Papacy and the special assistance of the Holy Ghost that such a thing cannot even be attempted, he resorts to arguing that the real protection lies not in divine prevention of such a scenario but in human resistance on the part of the Pope’s inferiors to any such papal attempts. In other words, Feser is saying that yes, the Pope can teach all sorts of heresies and blasphemies in his Magisterium, but then it doesn’t count because he’s not supposed to, and the faithful won’t stand for it. This bizarre position renders Catholic teaching on the Papacy practically meaningless.
(3) To Dr. Pierantoni: As amply proved in this article, Catholics have an obligation to assent to papal teaching, regardless of whether it is fallible or infallible. Although truth does not take its origin in a papal pronouncement, this does not take away from the fact that for Catholics, the Pope is the proximate rule of Faith, and whatever a true Pope decrees is obligatory for Catholics to adhere to. It is certainly not incumbent on the faithful to examine whether the Pope has done his research, much less to sit in judgment on his teaching. Rather, their duty is to “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, n. 7).
(4) To Dr. Shaw: Dr. Shaw is correct in pointing out that there is a contradiction between the teaching of Pope Pius XII and “Pope” Francis, but he draws the wrong conclusion. Instead of inferring that therefore Francis cannot be a true Pope, he decides instead to attack the doctrine of submission to the Roman Pontiff. The obligation of submission is so strong that if Francis actually were the Pope, a Catholic would have to assent to his teaching over that of Pius XII, because, as Pope Leo XIII taught clearly, “it is to give proof of a submission which is far from sincere to set up some kind of opposition between one Pontiff and another. Those who, faced with two differing directives, reject the present one to hold to the past, are not giving proof of obedience to the authority which has the right and duty to guide them” (Apostolic Letter Epistola Tua).
(5) To “Fr.” Drew: We have seen that Ultramontanism is simply Catholicism — it is the orthodox Catholic teaching on the Papacy, in refutation of Gallicanism. Mr. Drew’s claim that Ultramontanism “puts an exaggerated weight on the will of individual popes and mimises the limits which divine law puts on their prerogatives” has no foundation in reality. Yes, there was an exaggerated, “new” Ultramontanism for a short while, but it was not widespread, it did not have many adherents, it was shot down by Vatican I, and it has most definitely not been “influential for centuries”.
The semi-traditionalists have no idea what they are doing. It is safe to say that their doctrinal chaos here is rooted mainly in one thing: the desperate desire to reconcile the idea of Jorge Bergoglio being a true Pope with the Catholic doctrine on the Papacy. They have made themselves slaves to their unbreakable recognition of Bergoglio as a true Pope. Were it not for this compulsive effort to keep from saying that Francis isn’t Pope, these doctrinal contortions would presumably never even be attempted. Unfortunately, because of their unreasonable refusal to drop Francis from their list of true Popes, they have no other logical choice but to dispose of the Papacy instead. They have decided in favor of Francis at the expense of the Papacy.
Indeed, what would become of the Papacy if a fraternal or filial “correction” could undo the doctrine of the Supreme Pontiff? How supreme would he actually be? Sedevacantist bishop Donald Sanborn has pointed out the impossible dilemma that would result:
The very notion of correcting a pope in a matter of magisterium ruins the teaching authority of the Church. To which doctrine do we give assent? To the pope’s doctrine or to the correctors’ doctrine? Bergoglio has already characterized Amoris Lætitia as ordinary magisterium, which, if he were a real pope, would require our assent under pain of mortal sin.
(Most Rev. Donald J. Sanborn, “Formal Correction”, In Veritate, Aug. 25, 2017)
After the famous Filial Correction was issued last September, Bp. Sanborn returned to the topic:
A “correction” implies two obvious problems: (1) that we cannot trust the teaching of the pope; (2) that we should trust the teaching of the correctors.
What is the purpose of a pope if he is subject to correction by a self-appointed Board of Correctors? Who assists the Board of Correctors? The Holy Ghost? Where in Sacred Scripture or Tradition is a Board of Correctors mentioned?
To set up a system of “correction” of heretical “popes,” done by self-appointed “correctors,” implies that it is quite possible that a Catholic pope promulgate heresy to the entire Church, and quite normal that self-appointed “correctors” come to the rescue.
It means that the infallibility of the Church rests with a board of self-appointed correctors.
In such a case, why do we need a pope? Why not just have the Board of Correctors?
(Bp. Donald Sanborn, “Correctio Filialis”, In Veritate, Oct. 18, 2017)
We will end this lengthy treatise with a beautiful quote from Pope Pius IX:
But you, dearly beloved Sons, remember that in all that concerns the faith, morals, and government of the Church, the words which Christ said of Himself: “he that gathereth not with me scattereth” [Mt 12:30], can be applied to the Roman Pontiff who holds the place of God on earth. Ground your whole wisdom therefore, in an absolute obedience and a joyous and constant adherence to this Chair of Peter. Thus, animated by the same spirit of faith, you will all be perfect in one manner of thinking and judging, you will strengthen this unity which we must oppose to the enemies of the Church….
(Pius IX, Apostolic Letter Per Tristissima; excerpted in Papal Teachings: The Church, n. 419)
The problem isn’t Ultramontanism. The problem is accepting false popes as true Popes.
Image source: Flickr (Lawrence OP)
License: CC BY-NC-ND 4.0